Moffat, Robert

Reference code(s): GB 0102 CWM/LMS Africa Personal Box 4
Held at: School of Oriental and African Studies Library
Domain: archival
Title: Moffat, Robert
Date(s) of contents: 1819-1970
Level of description: Fonds
Extent and medium: 1 box of archival material


Name of creator(s):
Moffat, Robert (1795-1883)

Administrative/Biographical history:

Born in Ormiston, East Lothian, Scotland, 1795; moved to England, 1813; under-gardener at High Leigh, near Liverpool; came under Methodist influence; moved to the employment of James Smith, a Scottish nonconformist, near Manchester, 1815; appointed London Missionary Society (LMS) missionary, ordained at Surrey Chapel, and sailed to South Africa, 1816; arrived at Cape Town, 1817; travelled in southern Africa, 1818; gained fame for his conversion of a bandit, Jager Afrikaner, on the northern frontier; visited Cape Town and married Mary Smith (1795-1871), sister of the missionary John Smith, 1819; they worked together among the Tswana; Moffat accompanied the deputation of the Rev John Campbell on his visit to the interior, 1820-1821; travelled in southern Africa, 1823-1825; settled at Kuruman (which was to become an important mission station), 1826; visited Mzilikazi (Moselekatse), chief of the Ndebele (Matabele), 1829; visited Cape Town to publish his version of St Luke’s Gospel and elementary books in the Tswana (Sechuana/Bechuana) language, 1830; returned to Kuruman, 1831; proposed a mission among the Ndebele, 1835; visited towns on the Yellow and Kolong Rivers, 1836; attempts to print his Tswana version of the New Testament in Cape Town proved abortive and he sailed to England to publish it, 1839; a pioneering linguist, his Tswana translations – which also included Pilgrim’s Progress and hymns - were important in the growth of Christianity in southern Africa; met David Livingstone in London, 1840; returned to Kuruman, 1843; made a long tour to the interior, 1854; completed the Tswana version of the Bible, published at Kuruman, 1857; visited the Ndebele to arrange a mission, 1857; returned to Kuruman, 1858; travelled to Cape Town to meet new missionaries appointed to the interior and returned with them to Kuruman, 1858; accompanied the missionaries to Inyati in Matabeleland, 1859; the trip resulted in the establishment of an LMS mission near Bulawayo; returned to Kuruman, 1860; undertook no further long treks; with his wife, returned to England for health reasons, 1870; Doctor of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, 1872; received a testimonial, 1873; attended Livingstone’s funeral, 1874; remained active in promoting foreign missions; retired from public speaking, 1878; died at Leigh, Kent, 1883; buried in Norwood cemetery.

The Moffats’ children included Mary (1821-1862), who married the missionary David Livingstone (1813-1873) in 1844, and John Smith Moffat (1835-1918), also an LMS missionary in southern Africa, who published The Lives of Robert and Mary Moffat (1885).

See also:
Robert Moffat, Missionary Labours and Scenes in Southern Africa (1840 and subsequent editions).

Custodial history:

The papers were deposited with the London Missionary Society by various donors and form part of the special series of personal papers of individual LMS missionaries and officers.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited on permanent loan with the records of the London Missionary Society by the Congregational Council for World Mission (later Council for World Mission) in 1973.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers, 1819-1970, of and relating to Robert Moffat and his family, comprising letters sent by Robert Moffat to various correspondents, 1838-1883, the bulk dating from the 1870s and 1880s; notes for sermons, undated; undated sketch of a tree; autographed photograph; coloured print of the mission premises at Kuruman station, undated (used as the frontispiece of Moffat’s Missionary Labours); papers of Mary Moffat (née Smith), including manuscript journal of her journey to South Africa, 1819 (perhaps a copy), and a typescript copy, receipt signed by her, 1840, and letter, 1842; papers relating to Moffat and his family, 1890s-1970, including correspondence, typescripts, and press cuttings, and a typescript genealogy of his descendants, 1930.

System of arrangement: *




Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

No publication without written permission. Apply to the Archivist in the first instance.

Finding aids:

Unpublished handlist.


Related material:

The School of Oriental and African Studies holds the records of the London Missionary Society (Ref: CWM/LMS), including letters from individual missionaries, among them Moffat (Ref: CWM/LMS South Africa Incoming Correspondence); reports by Robert Moffat at Kuruman, 1867-1868, and by his son John, 1869, 1875-1877 (Ref: CWM/LMS South Africa Reports Box 1 Files 2-4, 10-12); various photographs of or relating to the Moffats (Ref: CWM/LMS Africa Photographs); several photographs of Robert and Mary Moffat and photographs of other portraits of Moffat (Ref: CWM/LMS General Portraits Box 4); correspondence of the Moffat family with Holloway Helmore’s family (Ref: CWM/LMS Africa Personal Box 1); the Bruce Livingstone Collection, which comprises original correspondence between David Livingstone and Robert Moffat, 1844-1857 and undated (CWM/LMS Africa Miscellaneous Box 4); letters of Mary Livingstone (née Moffat), 1852-1855 (Ref: CWM/LMS Africa Miscellaneous Livingstone Wooden Box); and letters from Moffat to the missionary John Philip regarding the Kuruman mission station (Ref: GB 0102 CWM/LMS Africa Miscellaneous Boxes 12-14).

The National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, holds Moffat's correspondence with David Livingstone, 1841-1888 and undated (Ref: MSS 10701-10780, 10997 passim).

Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections holds a file containing four letters from Moffat, c1841, 1873-1875, texts in Tswana, 1841 and [after 1870], and an autographed portrait of Robert Moffat (Ref: Gen 1732), and another letter from Moffat, 1871 (Ref: Gen 863/8/66).

Edinburgh University, New College Library, has some Moffat correspondence and other material, particularly in the James Cunningham (CM) and William Dickson (WD) collections.

Cambridge University Library holds a letter from Moffat to Thomas Sturge, 1861 (Ref: Add MS 8330 3/2/10; copy at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Ref: MS 380605), and other letters of Moffat in the British and Foreign Bible Society archive.



Compiled using:
Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. by Gerald H. Anderson (Cambridge: William B. Erdmans, 1998).
A Register of Missionaries, Deputations etc from 1796-1923, ed. by James Sibree (London: London Missionary Society, 1923).
Dictionary of National Biography.
Archives Hub:
National Register of Archives:
Website of the Cory Library:

Date(s) of descriptions: 27th February 2002.

Ancient religions
Evangelistic missionaries
Evangelistic missionary work
Literary forms and genres
Missionary work
Newspaper press
Ordained missionaries
Press cuttings
Religious activities
Religious doctrines
Religious groups
Religious institutions
Religious movements
Religious texts
Travel abroad
Visual materials
Wives of missionaries
Women missionaries

Personal names
Moffat | Mary | 1795-1871 | née Smith | missionary x Smith | Mary
Moffat | Robert | 1795-1883 | missionary
Moffat | family | missionaries in southern Africa

Corporate names
LMS | London Missionary Society xx London Missionary Society xx Missionary Society
London Missionary Society xx LMS | London Missionary Society xx Missionary Society
Missionary Society xx LMS | London Missionary Society xx London Missionary Society

Province of the Northern Cape
South Africa
Southern Africa