South American Mission Society

Reference code(s): GB N/A South American Mission Society
Held at: South American Mission Society
Domain: archival
Title: South American Mission Society
Date(s) of contents:
Level of description: Fonds
Extent and medium:


Name of creator(s):
Gardiner, Allen Francis (1794-1851)
Patagonian Missionary Society
South American Mission Society
South American Missionary Society

Administrative/Biographical history: The founder of what was to become the South American Mission Society, Allen Gardiner, was born in Basildon, Berkshire, entering Portsmouth naval college at the age of 13 and going to sea two years later. The death of his mother caused him to lose his Christian faith, only to undergo an evangelical conversion upon learning of his mother's prayers for him. He thenceforth decided to commit his life to mission, and, accompanied by his family, undertook extensive travel in search of suitable locations, for instance, in South Africa. However, he was repeatedly thwarted in his efforts by political indifference and the previous establishment of Catholic missions.

He therefore decided to venture further afield, and in 1841 he visited the Falkland Islands in order to explore the possibility of establishing missions in nearby Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. He returned to England in order to rouse support and to establish, in 1844, the Patagonian Missionary Society (PMS). An initial attempt to establish the Society in Tierra del Fuego was met with hostility from the indigenous people, leading to a return to England. Despite the discouragement of the Society, Gardiner decided that a Fuegian mission could work from its own boat. Accordingly, he again set sail, in 1850, accompanied by a team of six volunteers. Unfortunately, supply arrangements for the underfunded party failed, leading to the death of the entire expedition from scurvy and starvation in Spaniard Harbor (now Aguirre Bay), Tierra del Fuego.

The death of the missionary party had the belated effect of arousing public sympathy back in the UK, and the PMS was revitalised. Gardiner's original plan for the Society was threefold: to supply the spiritual wants of his own countrymen, of Roman Catholics, and of the unreached in South America. With these aims in mind, the Secretary of the PMS, the Reverend George Despard, determined to persevere with the work initiated by Gardiner. In 1854, one of the Falklands, Keppel Island, was established by Despard as the Mission's headquarters, from where, by boat, missionaries communicated with the Fuegians. Over the next five years, contact was maintained, with the Fuegians receiving visits, food and clothes, and Bible and agricultural instruction, and the missionaries learning the Yahgan language. Unfortunately, an attempt in 1859 to establish a permanent mission station on the mainland led in the massacre of eight missionaries. In 1863 the Reverend Waite Stirling joined the team on Keppel Island, and subsequent attempts at establishing stations, at Liwya and Ushuaia, were more successful. By the 1870s many of the local Fuegians had converted to Christianity; however, the native population dwindled to such an extent over the next couple of decades that the Fuegian mission was closed down in the opening years of the 20th century.

In the meantime, the PMS had, in 1864, been renamed as the South American Missionary Society. In 1860, Allen Gardiner's son, Allen Gardiner Junior, was sent by the Society to the Mapuche people of southern Chile. To further this work, Gardiner Junior became a chaplain to the British residents of Lota; due to Spanish and Portuguese legislation, furtherance of Protestant causes in most South American republics was extremely difficult at the time. Thus, rather than establishing actual mission stations, the South American Missionary Society concentrated on establishing chaplaincies, and working with seamen, during the latter half of the 19th century.

However, towards the end of the century, in 1894, fresh efforts were made to found a mission amongst the Mapuches in Araucania, Chile. The town of Cholchol saw the establishment of a church, schools, and dispensaries by male and female missionaries. During the next three decades, the missionaries' efforts expanded through the Araucania region, including the building of further schools and hospitals. Around the same time, in 1899, the Society started working in Paraguay, in the Chaco grassland region, over the next 40 years establishing schools and industrial missions. In turn, missionaries based in Paraguay turned their attention to Uraguay,

See also:
Wendy Mann, An unquenched flame: a short history of the South American Missionary Society (London: South American Missionary Society, 1968).
Phyllis Thompson,  An unquenchable flame: the story of Captain Allen Gardiner, founder of the South American Missionary Society (London: Hodder and Stoughton,1983).

Custodial history: The SAMS library and archive was held until 2010 at the Handsworth Centre in Sheffield. When the CMS and SAMS merged on February 1st of that year, the collection was moved to the Crowther Centre at Oxford.

Immediate source of acquisition:


Scope and content/abstract: As well as the archives of the Society, the collection includes:
Publications of the Society (Annual Reports (1863-1973), South American Missionary Magazine (1967-1963), Sent (1963-1974), Share (1975-present)).
A collection of works by Captain Allen Gardiner.
The library of the Society.
Audiovisual materials such as photographs and slides.
Artefacts such as the sextant and chronometer uses by Captain Allen Gardiner.

System of arrangement:


Language: English.

Conditions governing access:

Conditions governing reproduction: Permission to reproduce to be sought in writing from the Centre.

Finding aids:
There is a card (author) catalogue to the Society library.
The collection of works of Captain Allen is fully catalogued,and the collection of photographs and slides is partially catalogued.


Related material: The Department of Ethnography of the British Museum holds additional slides and photographs of the South American Mission Society, as part of its Pictorial Collection. However, at the time of writing the material awaits cataloguing in order to become routinely accessible.


Archivist's note: Compiled by Caroline Brick on behalf of the Mundus Project (August 2002), with reference to:
Wendy Mann, An unquenched flame: a short history of the South American Missionary Society (London: South American Missionary Society, 1968).

Date(s) of descriptions: August 2002.
February 2010.

Photographic slides
Visual materials

Personal names
Gardiner | Allen Francis | 1794-1851 | Captain | founder of the South American Mission Society

Corporate names
Church Mission Society
Patagonian Missionary Society
South American Mission Society
South American Missionary Society

South America