Papers of Richard Baron

Scope and Content

12 letters to Baron, dated 1888-1907, including a letter from the naturalist, Alfred R Wallace and two letters from the botanist, H.W.Bates; an extensive series of letters of condolence to Baron’s widow and printed obituaries; miniature sketch book containing cartoons of the Betsileo mission 1870-80, report in French of a geological survey of the island, photographs, postcards and botanical drawings of Madagascar plants.

Administrative / Biographical History

Richard Baron was born on 8th September 1847 in Kendal. He was educated locally and then studied theology at Lancashire Independent College, later the Northern Congregational College. Following an appeal to students by the Rev William Ellis he volunteered to become a missonary in Madagascar with the London Missionary Society. Accepted by the Society he served in Madagascar for thirty-five years from 1872 until his death on 12th October 1907. He served in a number of country provinces in Imerina and Betsilio and was for a time Principal of the Theological College at Tananarive. He also wrote several Bible commentaries in Malagasy and was responsible for composing a number of very popular hymns in that language, including a translation of 'Rock of ages'. Baron was a prolific author in both English and Malagasy and, to a lesser extent, in French. Together with his fellow missionary in Madagascar James Sibree, he was founder-editor of the Antananarivo Annual: a record of information on the topography and natural productions of Madagascar and the customs, traditions, language and religious beliefs of its people which first appeared in 1875. During 1886 and 1887 the pair also produced, for private circulation only, Publications of the Malagasy Folk-lore Society.

While first and foremost a missionary Baron is perhaps better known as a man of science. He became a serious student of Madagascar's flora and during his missionary journeys in Madagascar collected and sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew around 7,000 plants of which 1,000 were new species. In 1882 he was made a Fellow of the Linnean Society. Baron was the author of a number of botanical works including a textbook in Malagasy and a catalogue: Compendium des plantes Malgaches. Baron also studied the geology of Madagascar, writing a number of books and articles on this subject in English and Malagasy. He also liaised in geological matters with the French authorities, following the French annexation of Madagascar as a colony in 1896. At the personal invitation of General Gallieni who held supreme military and political power in Madagascar, Baron took part in a geological and mining survey of the North and North West of Madagascar. Baron was also nominated one of the first members of the Academie Malgache which Gallieni instituted in 1902. He declined the offer of government service under the French administration preferring to remain a missionary.

In May 1907 Baron came on furlough to England, became ill with malarial fever and died very suddenly of heart failure at Morecambe on 12th October. He is buried at Kendal. Baron married four times. His first wife, Catherine Willey, and his second wife, Mary Selina Jenkinson, died shortly after their arrivals in Madagascar, in 1873 and in 1878 respectively. In 1882 Baron married Annie Pumphrey of the Society of Friend's mission in Madagascar but she died in 1898. In the following year Baron married Edith Condie. She retired from missionary work in 1907, following her husband's death. Baron left four children.


The papers are arranged in the following series: letters to Baron, letters of condolence and obituaries, notebooks and Baron's publications, photographs, drawings and miscelleaneous.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Donated to the Library by a descendant of Richard Baron.

Other Finding Aids

Handlist available

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Custodial History

The papers remained in the custody of members of Baron's family until their donation to the Library.

Related Material

Baron's official papers as missionary are held in the archive of the London Missionary Society in SOAS Library.

Baron's correspondence with the Botanic Gardens at Kew can be found in Director's Correspondence Vols 187 and 188 held int he Library and Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

Barons's correspondence with the geologist, Sir Archibald Geikie is held in Edinburgh University Library.