Barlow, Arthur Ruffell

Reference code(s): GB 0237 Edinburgh University Library Gen. 1785-1786
Held at: Edinburgh University Library
Title: Barlow, Arthur Ruffell
Date(s) of contents: 1903-1965
Level of description: Fonds
Extent and medium: 2 boxes, 1 file and 6 volumes


Name of creator(s): Barlow, Arthur Ruffell (1888-1965)

Administrative/Biographical history: Arthur Ruffell Barlow, Church of Scotland missionary and linguist, was born in Edinburgh in 1888. He was the nephew of David Clement Ruffell Scott, a Church of Scotland missionary in Malawi and Kenya. In 1903 at the age of seventeen Barlow joined his uncle at Scott's mission at Kikuyu, British East Africa (Kenya). He assisted with the mission's work in an unofficial capacity until 1908 when he was formally employed by the Church of Scotland. His interest in and grasp of the Kikuyu language and dialects meant he was often employed as a translator and his intimate knowledge of the Kikuyu people made him a trusted counsellor. He was a good friend of Jomo Kenyatta when both were young. In 1909 he became the first resident missionary at Tumutumu and acted, at various times, as superintendent at both Kikuyu and Tumutumu. He was one of the founders of the Kenya Missionary Council and acted as its secretary for a number of years as well as playing a prominent role in the debate on church and mission union in Kenya. Barlow's work with the Kikuyu language continued, he prepared a grammar which became a standard and initiated a bible translation. His knowledge of the language and culture and interest in questions such as land reform and the rights of Africans meant that he was also often consulted on African matters by government. After he retired on 30 June 1941 he continued his linguistic and translation studies, at first working for two years under an arrangement with the Church of Scotland. He published Studies in Kikuyu Grammar and Idiom in 1951 which followed an earlier 'tentative' work in 1946. He returned to Kenya from Scotland during the Mau Mau troubles and in 1953 took the role of Officer in Charge of the Translation Bureau of the African Information Services. He left Kenya for the final time in 1959. Barlow devoted a large amount of time in his later years to the production of a Kikuyu-English dictionary on which he worked with Canon Henry Leakey and Leonard Beecher, both of the Church Missionary Society. The dictionary was finally published in 1964 and Barlow died in 1965.

Custodial history: Before he died Barlow had collected some papers together with a view to writing a history of the Scottish missions in British East Africa. In early 1965 the papers were loaned to Brian G. McIntosh (one time lecturer in history at University College, Nairobi) who compiled a list of the papers which was then sent to Professor George A. Shepperson, Professor of Commonwealth and American History, at the University of Edinburgh.

Immediate source of acquisition: The papers were presented to Edinburgh University in 1967 by Mrs Barlow.


Scope and content/abstract: The collection consists of material about the Church of Scotland mission in Kenya, about Kikuyu language and culture, and about the interests and concerns of Africans and their relation to the government. In particular it includes: Barlow's comments on and additions to the Kikuyu-English Dictionary by L.J. Beecher and G.S.B. Beecher (including volumes of the 1935 dictionary with Barlow's handwritten amendments) with correspondence (1956-1962) about the publication of a revised version; Barlow's notes and personal volumes on the Kikuyu language, songs, music, customs and idioms; minutes and constitution of the United Kikuyu Language Committee (1908-1917); letters from Barlow to his father (1904-1905) and personal items such as testimonials and correspondence about his retirement and later return to Kenya; correspondence and other items relating to David C. Scott's estate at Kiambu; correspondence, reports, pamphlets and papers produced by and about the missions at Kikuyu and Tumutumu and from the Church of Scotland's Foreign Missionary Council; notes on the history of the mission in East Africa; papers on the Kenyan Mission Council and the proposed federation of mission societies; material on African affairs such as the Indian question, Harry Thuka, the Labour Bureau Commission, land tenure, the Kikuyu Association, female circumcision, and education; papers concerning the Mau Mau rebellion including Barlow's translation of Kikuyu documents; a manifesto of the Kenyan African National Union (1960); press cuttings; and photographs (1904-1915) relating to Kenya and in particular to the missions at Kikuyu and Tumutumu.

System of arrangement: The material is arranged in two boxes, with an additional loose file and six volumes. The first box (Gen. 1785/1-7) contains notebooks and papers on the Kikuyu language and the Beechers' dictionary; the second (Gen. 1786/1-8) contains eight files of papers and correspondence on the mission and African questions arranged broadly by subject but with much overlap; the loose file (Gen. 1786/12) contains mainly printed pamphlets and reports; three of the volumes (Gen. 1785/8-10) are the annotated Beechers Kikuyu-English Dictionary; and the remaining three volumes (Gen. 1786/9-11) are photograph albums. Some photographs are also filed in Gen. 1786/1.


Language: English and Kikuyu.

Conditions governing access: Contact the repository for details.

Conditions governing reproduction: Contact the repository for details.

Finding aids: Alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, the index only refers to some of the items in the collection. Two lists of the papers, compiled by Brian G. McIntosh in 1965 are filed in the front of the first box (Gen. 1785). A note at the top of the list states 'not in EUL' but the items listed are in the collection, although not in any particular order. Some of the items in the collection, such as the Kikuyu language material and the Mau Mau papers are not on McIntosh's list. The collection is mentioned in the Edinburgh University Library subject checklist (C3) Manuscripts on Africa.


Related material: Edinburgh University Library also holds the papers of John William Arthur (Gen. 762-765) and George A. Grieve (Gen. 766/3-5), both missionaries at Kikuyu. The papers of Scott's uncle, David Clement Scott (Edinburgh University Library Gen. 717/10), relate to an earlier period before Barlow went out to Africa. The Library's African Studies (CAS) collection has a collection of pamphlets and printed materials relating to the church at Kikuyu. The National Library of Scotland has a large collection of missionary records, including some letters from Barlow. Dr Brian McIntosh in his doctoral thesis The Scottish Mission in Kenya 1891-1923 (Edinburgh University, 1969) has a comprehensive list of sources for the history of the Kikuyu mission. He mentions Barlow records at the University of London and in private hands.

Copies: Edinburgh University Library Special Collections also has a microfilm of the collection (Mic. Dup. 357). A copy was sent to the Kenyan High Commission in 1982.


Archivist's note: Compiled by Caroline Brown, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives

Note: The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) Bibliographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, G.H. Anderson (ed.) (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998). (2) Church of Scotland Foreign Missionary Committee resolution, 16 February 1942 (Gen. 1786/4).

Date(s) of descriptions: 7 July 2000

Female Circumcision (Kenya)
Kikuyu language
Linguistic work
Mau Mau Emergency, 1952-1960
Politics and government

Personal names
Barlow | Arthur Ruffell | 1888-1965

Corporate names
Church of Scotland
Kikuyu Association
Kikuyu Mission
United Kikuyu Language Committee

East Africa
Kikuyu (Kenya)