Slessor Correspondence

Reference code(s): GB 0251 GD/X 260
Held at: Dundee City Archives
Domain: archival
Title: Slessor Correspondence
Date(s) of contents: 1876, 1901-1914
Level of description: Fonds
Extent and medium: 16 letters and miscellaneous newscuttings.


Name of creator(s): Slessor, Mary Mitchell (1848-1915)

Administrative/Biographical history:

Mary Slessor was born on 2nd December 1848 in Gilcomston, a suburb of Aberdeen, the second of seven children, only four of whom survived childhood. Her father, Robert Slessor, originally from Buchan, was a shoemaker to trade. Her mother, from Oldmeldrum, was a devout woman who had a keen interest in missionary work in the Calabar region of Nigeria. Alcoholism forced Robert Slessor to give up shoemaking and take work as a mill labourer. Mary Slessor followed suit by becoming an employeed as a jute worker at Baxter Brothers' Mill, where she was able to take advantage of a school provided by the mill owners; this arduous routine engendered the work ethic which was to dominate her life.

As a teenager Slessor came under the influence of a local mission, where she subsequently taught other children. Influenced by her mother's interest in Calabar, and inspired by accounts of missionary endeavours such as those of David Livingstone, Slessor herself applied to become a teacher for the Foreign Mission Board of the United Presyterian Church of Scotland. After training in Edinburgh Slessor set sail for Africa, arriving in Calabar at the end of 1876.

Slessor initially worked in the missions at Old Town and Creek Town, and her potential as a teacher was appreciated by her mentors. However, she was not felt suitable for the team approach employed at Calabar, so was assigned in 1888 to work alone, further inland amongst the Okoyong. She took an innovative approach to mission by integrating culturally with the indigenous people, occupying traditional habitations, wearing simple clothes and becoming fluent in the local language Efik. Slessor was successful in raising the status of local women, and worked to end the ritual slaughter of twins, incidentally acquiring a large adopted family. Her dedication and integration with the local people led to her appointment, in 1892, to the position of Vice-Consul in Okoyong, presiding over the native court, and in 1905 she was made Vice-President of Ikot Obong native court. Her letters to the administrator Charles Partridge chronicle this period of colonial expansion. Simultaneously, she constantly urged the Foreign Mission Board in Edinburgh to finance extensions of her work in the interior. As new missionaries took over responsibility for the posts vacated by Slessor, she was able to move ever further into the heartland.

This pioneering work was both dangerous and arduous; general hardship and repeated illnesses such as arthritis and fever debilited her but didn't prevent her from remaining in Calabar, where she died on 13 January 1915, having previously been awarded the Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1913. She was accorded a state funeral and memorial.

See also:
James Buchan, The expendable Mary Slessor (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1980).
William Pringle Livingstone, Mary Slessor of Calabar: pioneer missionary (Westwood, N.J.: Barbour, 1986).

The website of Dundee City Library includes pages relating to Slessor and material held in its Local Studies Department, including a list of reference works relating to Slessor.

Custodial history:

Immediate source of acquisition: Donated by a descendant of a relative of Charlotte Crawford.


Scope and content/abstract: The collection includes personal correspondence from Mary Slessor, Calabar, Nigeria, to her friend Miss Charlotte Crawford, Church Offices, Edinburgh (1876, 1901-1914). The correspondence covers matters such as informal views on village life, society, the effectiveness of mission, and relations with colonial administrators.

System of arrangement: Chronological.


Language: English.

Conditions governing access:

Conditions governing reproduction: No publication without written permission; apply to the City Archivist in the first instance.

Finding aids: None.


Related material:

Dundee Central Library holds correspondence from Slessor to the colonial administrator Charles Partridge (1903-8).

Dundee City Council, McManus Galleries hold correspondence, diaries and miscellaneous papers of Slessor (1876-1914). Typescript transcripts of this material are also held by the School of Oriental and African Studies (MS 380621).

Edinburgh University New College Library holds a letter from Slessor (ref: Gen 766/6), plus material relating to the Calabar Mission.

Copies: Typescript transcripts of the collection are held by the School of Oriental and African Studies (MS 380621).


Note: Compiled using:
Biographical dictionary of Christian missions, ed. by Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan, 1998).
Web pages of Dundee Central Library relating to Mary Slessor and web pages of the Mary Slessor Foundation.

Date(s) of descriptions: August 2002.

Colonial administration
Colonial countries
Cultural interaction
Educational missionaries
Educational missionary work
Missionary work
Political systems
Religious activities
Religious groups
Rural missionary work
Women missionaries
Women's missionary work

Personal names
Crawford | Charlotte | friend and correspondent of Mary Slessor
Slessor | Mary Mitchell | 1848-1915 | United Presbyterian Church of Scotland missionary in Nigeria

Corporate names
United Presbyterian Church of Scotland

West Africa