United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel

Reference code(s): GB 0162 SPG
Held at: Bodleian Library - Special Collections
Domain: archival
Title: United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel
Date(s) of contents: 1701-1965
Level of description: Fonds
Extent and medium: 300 metres


Name of creator(s):
Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts 1701-1965
United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel 1965-

Administrative/Biographical history: The United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) came into existence on 1 January 1965. It was formed by the merger of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) and the Universities' Mission to Central Africa (UMCA). On 1 January 1968 the Cambridge Mission to Delhi (CMD) also joined USPG.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (the SPG) was founded as a result of an enquiry into the state of the Church of England in the American Colonies carried out by the Revd Dr Thomas Bray on behalf of the Bishop of London. The Church there was found to have little spiritual vitality and to be in a poor organisational condition. Therefore, King William III issued a charter on 16th June 1701, which established the SPG as an organisation able to send priests and schoolteachers to America to help provide the Church's ministry to the colonists. The SPG’s remit was soon broadened to encompass evangelisation of slaves and Native Americans, and by 1710 the Society stated that the “conversion of heathens and infidels ought to be prosecuted preferably to all others”. The Society's first missionaries began work in America in 1702 and by the time the USA claimed independence the SPG had supported the work of about 300 men and had made a substantial contribution to the foundation of the Episcopal Church.

The SPG's horizons began rapidly to expand, first in 1703 to the West Indies and soon after to Nova Scotia, and later in the 18th century to the rest of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and West Africa. Early in the 19th century the SPG began sending missionaries to countries where migrants from Britain and Ireland were not present in large numbers, such as India (1820) and South Africa (1821). Work among indigenous people came to have a higher priority than care of the colonists, although the Society’s emphasis on pastoral ministry and education remained. In 1866 the SPG established the “Ladies’ Association for Promoting the Education of Females in India and other Heathen Countries in Connection with the Missions of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel”, which became in 1895 the “Women’s Mission Association for the Promotion of Female Education in the Missions of the SPG” and which enabled British and Irish women to become missionaries in their own right, rather than only as the wives of male missionaries. The nineteenth century also saw increasing numbers of indigenous missionaries of both sexes being supported by the SPG, as was medical missionary work. In addition the SPG began to work in countries that were outside the British Empire, such as China (1863) and Japan (1873). Throughout the 20th century the SPG continued to represent the missionary aims of the Churches of England, Wales, and Ireland through its pastoral, educational and medical work, until its merger in 1965 with the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa and in 1968 with the Cambridge Mission to Delhi, to form the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

See also:
Charles Frederick Pascoe, Two hundred years of the S.P.G : an historical account of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701-1900 (London: published at the Society's Office, 1901).
Henry Paget Thompson, Into all lands: the history of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701-1950(London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1951).
Margaret Dewey, The messengers: a concise history of the USPG(London : Mowbrays, 1975).
Daniel O'Connor and others, Three centuries of mission: The United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1701-2000 (London: Continuum, 2000).

Custodial history: The archives and library holdings of the USPG were initially held at their offices, the last being in Tufton Street, London. When the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House accepted the manuscript collection, it also agreed to house temporarily the Society's library of pre-1944 printed works, and its collection of 19th century pamphlets. These pamphlets (of which there are ca.340) have been renumbered, disbound, and microfilmed as part of a major project sponsored by the Mellon Foundation.

Immediate source of acquisition: Deposited at Rhodes House Library under the terms of an agreeement dated 18 December 1985 between the University of Oxford and the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel


Scope and content/abstract:

• Correspondence 1701-1975
• Committee minutes 1701-1966
• Annual sermons and reports 1702-
• Copies of correspondence 1833-1928
• Original letters received 1850-1967
• Missionaries' reports 1856-1951
• Maps ca.1712-1965
• Financial records ca.1701-1979
• Lantern slides ca.1890-1968
• Photographs
• Papers relating to the Committee on Women's Work (minutes, correspondence, etc.) ca.1866-1930
• Papers relating to Codrington College, Barbados 1742-1955
• Correspondence with the Church of South India 1929-1956
• Papers relating to 'Dr. Bray's Associates' (correspondence, minutes, financial reports, annual reports, accounts, letter books, printed books, catalogues/lists of books sent to libraries, etc.) 1729-1940
• 'Home Series' - administrative records, mainly arranged by department (Secretary's Office, Editorial Department, Exhibitions Department, Education Department, Administration and Finance, Overseas Secretary, College of Ascension (Birmingham), Overseas Secretary, Appointment and Training Department, Scholarships, Advowsons, etc.), Includes correspondence, reports, minutes and accounts, 18th-20th century
• Papers of the Medical Missions Department (including personnel records, diocesan correspondence, hospital annual reports, and correspondence with individuals and organisations), 1905-1979

System of arrangement: *


Language: English

Conditions governing access: Bodleian reader's ticket required. The lantern slides are not to be subjected to artificial light without the Society's permission. Closure periods apply to certain classes of records as follows: Medical files, 100 years Personnel files, 75 years Other files, 30 years Files within these closed periods may, under exceptional circumstances, be opened to students but only at the discretion of the Society.

Conditions governing reproduction: No reproduction or publication without permission. Copyright held by USPG, but contact the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House in the first instance.

Finding aids: The library holds a card index of all manuscript collections in its reading room. Handlists are also available in the library reading room for the main collection, the 'X' series of miscellaneous material, the lantern slides and the pamphlets. Listed as no. 619 in Manuscript Collections in Rhodes House Library Oxford, Accessions 1978-1994 (Oxford, Bodleian Library, 1996).


Related material: The USPG's post-1945 library holdings were merged with the holdings of the Church Missionary Society to form the Partnership House Library. The USPG Archives at Partnership House in London hold most of the Society's post 1965 and some earlier records, including the SPG, UMCA and CMD missionaries' personal files, mid-19th century onwards. Lambeth Palace Library holds copies of some early minutes, early financial papers, letters from the Archbishop and his office, and the Fulham papers (containing important material for the history of the church in the American colonies). Many of these papers are duplicates of those held at the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House.

Copies: The library holds the following microfilm copies: Letter books, American material, 1702-1737 (A series) Letter books, American material, 1701-1786 (B series) Copy letter books, American material, 18th century (C 1-15) Church Abroad (periodical), 1903-1968, volumes 1-5 Delhi (periodical), volumes 9-26 The King's Messengers (periodical), [1905-1960] Transvaal and Southern Rhodesia Quarterly (periodical), 1927-1934, volumes 1(1)-8(1) Mountain Men (periodical), 1932-1938, volumes 80-93 USPG pamphlet collection (ca.340 19th century pamphlets) Sets of the microfilm of original material are available commercially from Microform Ltd.


Archivist's note: This description is based on the work of archivists at the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House and at Partnership House in London.

Date(s) of descriptions: 14 August 2002, 2004. Edited for for Mundus September 2004


Personal names

Corporate names
Church of South India
Codrington College
Dr Bray's Associates
Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts
United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel

New Zealand
South Africa
South Asia
United States of America