MacAlpine, Alexander Gillon

Reference code(s): GB 0237 Edinburgh University Library MSS 3086-3090
Held at: Edinburgh University Library
Title: MacAlpine, Alexander Gillon
Date(s) of contents: 1893-1964
Level of description: Fonds
Extent and medium: 5 boxes (1 linear metre)


Name of creator(s): MacAlpine, Alexander Gillon (1869-1957)

Administrative/Biographical history: Alexander Gillon MacAlpine, Scottish missionary in Malawi, was born on 11 June 1869 in Linlithgow, the son of James MacAlpine and Janet Stanners. He was educated in Linlithgow and at George Watson's College in Edinburgh, then went to Edinburgh University and Glasgow Free Church College. He was ordained in 1893 and joined the Livingstonia mission at Bandawe, Nyasaland where he played a valuable role. His arrival coincided with a period of success in the life of the mission. He was very popular with the Tonga people and established close relationships with many African families, such as the family of Orton Chirwa. He was to become the first Clerk of the Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian. He was particularly interested in the languages and cultures of the area and was an able linguist. He prepared a dictionary of the Chitonga language, and translated and revised the New Testament in Chitonga as well as drawing up grammars and vocabularies. Family reasons compelled MacAlpine to return to Scotland in 1914 and he became minister of Monquhitter, Aberdeenshire. In 1921, however, he went back to Livingstonia after an urgent request from the Foreign Mission Committee of the Church of Scotland for assistance and he stayed in Africa until he retired in 1933. Returning to Scotland he became, in 1934, a minister at Elsrickle, Lanark where he stayed until the death of his wife, Annie, hastened his resignation in 1945. During his retirement in Glasgow he continued to preach and to keep up his interest in missionary activities. At the time of his death MacAlpine was the senior missionary on the retired list and a director of the National Bible Society. MacAlpine died in Glasgow, 8 September 1957.

Custodial history: MacAlpine, writing to Professor George Shepperson at the University of Edinburgh (3 September 1949, MSS 3087/15) said that he had destroyed 'a trunkful' of logs and diaries on leaving Elsrickle in 1945.

Immediate source of acquisition: The material was presented to Edinburgh University Library on three separate occasions. The Reverend Alexander Gillon MacAlpine junior presented items MSS 3086/1-25 in 1964 (previous reference Gen. 766/2) and items MSS 3086/26-34 in 1993. The remainder of the collection (MSS 3087-3090) was presented by Dr H.B.N. Auld in 1993.


Scope and content/abstract: The papers consist of biographical notes on African and missionary colleagues; diaries, notebooks and accounts of MacAlpine's life and journeys (1893-1949); correspondence about MacAlpine's work including testimonials (1933-1964); articles, papers and pamphlets on the Livingstonia mission and missionary conferences; a film strip of pictures of missionary work (1893-1933); notes and other items on African customs and folklore; and dictionaries, vocabularies and grammars of African languages in particular Chitonga, including printed editions of psalms and hymn books in Tonga and comments on and translations of the New Testament. The language items form the bulk of the collection.

System of arrangement: The material is arranged in five boxes. The first (MSS 3086) contains the material presented by the Reverend MacAlpine junior in 1964 and 1993. The remaining four contain the papers presented by Dr Auld with notebooks and correspondence in MSS 3087, printed items in MSS 3088, and grammars, vocabularies and dictionaries in MSS3089-3090.


Language: English and Tonga with some other African dialects.

Conditions governing access: Contact the repository for details.

Conditions governing reproduction: Contact the repository for details.

Finding aids: There is a fairly detailed handlist to the collection (H 48). The papers are mentioned in the Alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives and in Edinburgh University Library subject checklist (C3) Manuscripts on Africa.


Related material: Two manuscript copies of the Chitonga-English dictionary are said to be in the libraries of Glasgow and Witwatersrand Universities. Some of the papers of Robert Laws of Livingstonia are at Edinburgh University Library (Gen. 561-563). The National Library of Scotland has an extensive collection of missionary records including some MacAlpine correspondence.

Copies: Edinburgh University Library Special Collections also has a microfilm of the collection (Mic. Dup. 554) and a copy was sent to the National Archives of Malawi in 1984.


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

Note: The biographical history was compiled using items from the collection itself in particular: (1) biographical notes (MSS 3086/1.2). (2) resolution of the Church of Scotland Foreign Mission Committee (1957, MSS 3087/15).

Date(s) of descriptions: 7 July 2000

Linguistic work
Tonga language

Personal names
MacAlpine | Alexander Gillon | 1869-1957

Corporate names
Livingstonia Mission | Malawi

Southern Africa