Laws Papers

Reference code(s): GB 0233 Laws Papers
Held at: National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division
Domain: archival
Title: Laws Papers
Date(s) of contents: 1868-1929
Level of description: Sub-fonds
Extent and medium: *


Name of creator(s):
Free Church of Scotland
Laws, Robert (1851-1934)

Administrative/Biographical history: Robert Laws was born on 28 May 1851 at Mannofield, Aberdeen. He was the son of an Aberdeen cabinetmaker, was educated at the Free East Church School, Aberdeen, then became an apprentice cabinet maker while studying in the evenings to achieve university entrance qualifications. He read arts and medicine at the University of Aberdeen, 1871-73 (graduating MA 1872), then studied divinity at the United Presbyterian Theological Hall, Edinburgh, while taking medical classes at Glasgow University and Anderson College, Glasgow, qualifying in both disciplines in 1875. Between 1873 and 1875, Laws was an agent of the Glasgow City Mission in smallpox and fever hospitals in the Glasgow area. In 1875 he was ordained by the United Presbyterian Presbytery of Aberdeen, being awarded the MB ChB degree, and the same year was appointed as missionary of the Free Church of Scotland Mission, Livingstonia, Nyasaland (now Malawi).

Laws joined the new mission as a medical officer, and second in command to Lieutenant E.D. Young. Young left the mission after two years, and Laws replaced him as head of the mission in 1878. He remained in post until retirement in 1927, and during his fifty years of service built a solid and stable base from which many other local and regional church, educational and social projects were successfully initiated. For a time he was also Principal of the Overtoun College, Livingstonia, and in 1894 was sent as a deputy to begin the Hope Waddell Training Institution in Calabar, now in Nigeria. After the First World War he encouraged the mission's members to form Native Associations, which later, in 1938, became the Nyasaland African National Congress. During his career as a missionary, Laws developed a Christian community of some 60,000 including African pastors, and founded over 700 schools which, on his death, were educating 44,000 pupils. His success was officially recognised when he was appointed moderator of the General Assembly of the United Free Church in 1908.

Laws never entered into African culture and society to the extent of some of his colleagues but acquired a good knowledge of the local languages. He translated the New Testament into Nyanja, published an English-Nyanja dictionary, compiled a Gunda-English and English-Gunda vocabulary, and published works in the Tonga language. He spotted and encouraged many talented individuals including David Kaunda whose son Kenneth was Zambia's first president. He also encouraged the formation of native associations which, in 1938, combined to form the Nyasaland African National Congress. For three years from 1913 he was a senior unofficial member of the Nyasaland Legislative Council. Laws married Margaret Troup Gray at Blantyre in 1879 and they had a daughter, Amelia, who was born in 1886 and who worked as a nurse in Europe during the First World War. He was awarded an honorary degree (DD) from Aberdeen in 1891 and received the LLD. in 1925. He was elected FRGS in 1884 and FRSGS in 1900. He was awarded a CMG in 1923 and in 1928 received the Freedom of the city of Aberdeen. Robert Laws died in London on 6 August 1934 and was buried at Aberdeen.

See also:
William Pringle Livingstone, Laws of Livingtonia: a narrative of missionary adventure and achievement (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1921).
Robert Laws, Reminiscences of Livingstonia (Edinburgh, London: Oliver & Boyd, 1934).
John McCracken, Politics and Christianity in Malawi, 1875-1940: the impact of the Livingstonia Mission in the Northern Province (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
Hamish McIntosh, Robert Laws, servant of Africa (Carberry: Handsel, 1993).

Custodial history: MS 10707 was formerly stored at the David Livingstone Centre at Blantyre, Lanarkshire.

Immediate source of acquisition: Accession 9220 was presented in 1986 by the Church of Scotland Department of World Mission and Unity. Accession 11242 was deposited in 1995. MS 10707 was deposited in 1965 by the Scottish National Memorial to David Livingstone Trust.


Scope and content/abstract: The collection includes correspondence both to and from Laws. The former category includes letters from other missionaries, from African workers, from correspondents in Nyasaland and Great Britain, official letters including correspondence from church officials, private letters including correspondence from members of the Church of Scotland mission at Blantyre in Malawi,

The collection also includes journals of mission stations associated with Laws, ie, of Cape Maclear (including meteorological, medical, and accounting records), and Bandawe and Kanininga (including meteorological and accounting records).

System of arrangement: The majority of the Laws papers form a subfonds of the Church of Scotland World Mission and Unity collection (Dep 298). This includes the following manuscripts:
7537, 7547, 7583, 7597-8, 7602, 7648-50, 7654-6, 7660-1, 7666-7, 7676, 7679-89, 7704-6, 7716, 7733, 7749, 7751-63, 7765, 7770-9, 7789, 7791, 7816, 7818-9, 7864-8, 7870, 7875-82, 7884-9, 7890-6, 7897-904, 7907-12, 7914, 7918, 7945, 7958-61, 7963-8, 7970-7, 7992, 7995, 8009.
Separate accessions are additionally held; chief of these include:
Acc 9220 Letters to Laws from other missionaries, African workers and others in Malawi and Great Britain.
Acc 11242 Letters of Laws.


Language: English.

Conditions governing access: *

Conditions governing reproduction:

Finding aids:
National Library of Scotland, Catalogue of manuscripts acquired since 1925; manuscripts 7530-8022: Scottish foreign mission records 1827-1929 vol VI (Edinburgh: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1984).

National Library of Scotland, Catalogue of manuscripts acquired since 1925 (volume VIII) manuscripts 9501-11000, charters and other formal documents 8501-8970 (Edinburgh: HMSO 1992).


Related material:
Edinburgh University New College holds archival material on Robert Laws. A note in item Gen 563 of this collection states that Amelia Laws made donations of material to St Nicholson Church Aberdeen, Aberdeen Museum, the Royal Geographical Society and the Wellcome Library.

The papers of Professor George Shepperson at Edinburgh University Library contain some original Laws documents. These include: Laws' correspondence with David Clement Scott, Horace Waller, Frederick Lugard (copy only), and the Jumbe of Kota-Kota (c 1885-1890) and Shepperson's correspondence about sources (Box File 24 and Malawi file); copy of a silver wedding address for the Laws (1904, wallet C); and papers and correspondence about the Chilembwe uprising (1916, File 14, folder 3). Edinburgh University Library also holds the papers of Robert Laws' daughter, Amelia Laws (reference: GB239 GD18), as well as the papers of another Livingstonia missionary, Alexander Gillon MacAlpine (1869-1957, missionary 1893-1933), (MSS 3086-3090).

Aberdeen University Library holds further Laws papers.

J. McCracken, Politics and Christianity in Malawi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977) also mentions the National Archives in Malawi and Zambia as sources.

Publication note:
National Library of Scotland, Catalogue of manuscripts acquired since 1925; manuscripts 7530-8022: Scottish foreign mission records 1827-1929 vol VI (Edinburgh: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1984).

National Library of Scotland, Catalogue of manuscripts acquired since 1925 (volume VIII) manuscripts 9501-11000, charters and other formal documents 8501-8970 (Edinburgh: HMSO 1992).


Note: Administrative history is that compiled for Mundus by Edinburgh University New College Library.

Date(s) of descriptions: July 2002.

Financial administration
Financial statements
Medical missionaries
Medical missionary work
Mission administration
Mission policy
Missionary work
Religous activities
Religous groups

Personal names
Laws | Robert | 1851-1934 | Free Church of Scotland missionary

Corporate names
Free Church of Scotland
Livingstonia Mission | Malawi

Cape Maclear
South Africa
Southern Africa