Church Missionary Society Photographic Collection

Reference code(s): GB 0115 Church Missionary Society Photographic Collection
Held at: Royal Commonwealth Society Library
Domain: archival
Title: Church Missionary Society Photographic Collection
Date(s) of contents:
Level of description: Fonds
Extent and medium: 2093 photographic prints, 395 negatives (with 14 prints), 621 glass slides.


Name of creator(s): Church Missionary Society

Administrative/Biographical history: In the late 18th century, the Church of England did not have a body to organise and effect its missionary activity and there became a growing realisation that there was scope for a society to evangelise indigenous people. In 1799, a group of Evangelical clergymen and laymen (all members of the Eclectic Society, an Anglican discussion society) met at the Castle and Falcon Inn in Aldersgate in the City of London and the Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East was formed. At that meeting, John Venn, rector of Clapham (and a member of the Clapham sect) laid down the guidelines which the CMS continues to follow. The basis was that the society should be loyal to the leadership of bishops and to the Anglican pattern of liturgy but that it was not to be dominated by clergy. It emphasised the role of laymen and laywomen and was and is primarily a membership society comprising its missionaries, its supporters and its staff at headquarters.

The Church Missionary Society (now renamed as the Church Mission Society) is administered by its committees and each Secretary to a main committee is in charge of a department at headquarters. The General Committee (now the General Council) is the most important and is responsible for overall policy and all CMS members are represented on the General Committee. The main departments at headquarters included the General Secretary's Department, the Finance Department (both in existence from the foundation of the Society), the Medical Department (set up in 1891), the Candidates Department (set up in 1897) and the Home Department (set up in 1871). Initially the Society had no designated offices but in 1813 it rented premises in Salisbury Square which had expanded by the end of the 19th century to house a large headquarters with a complex administration and numerous staff working under eleven Secretaries. The Society moved from the City of London in 1966 to its current premises in Waterloo Road.

The overseas mission work of the CMS began in Sierra Leone in 1804 but spread rapidly to India, Canada, New Zealand and the area around the Mediterranean. Its main areas of work in Africa have been in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Sudan; in Asia, the CMS's involvement has principally been in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China and Japan; and in the Middle East, it has worked in Palestine, Jordan, Iran and Egypt. It has also worked extensively in New Zealand (1809-1914) and Canada (1822-1930), with smaller missions in Abyssinia (1830-1842), Asia Minor (Smyrna) (1830-1877), Greece (1830-1875), Madagascar (1863-1874), Malta (1815-1843), Mauritius (1856-1929), Seychelles (1871-1894), South Africa (1840-1843), Turkey (1819-1821), Turkish Arabia (Baghdad, 1883-1919 and Mosul, 1900-1919), and the West Indies (1819-1861). All overseas mission work was administered by the Committee of Correspondence up to 1880. In 1880, the system of mission administration was revised and the mission field was divided into three geographical areas under three Group Sub-Committees and from 1935 the missions were administered by the Africa and Asia Committees.

Custodial history:

Immediate source of acquisition: The collection, from the Church Missionary Society's Photo Bureau, was presented to the Royal Commonwealth Society through Miss Rosemary Keen, Archivist of the Church Missionary Society, in 1988.


Scope and content/abstract: The photographs depict countries in which the Church Missionary Society operated. They include: Sudan, Egypt, Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, India, Pakistan, Ceylon/Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan. The majority of the photographs and slides date from after the Second World War, but there are some earlier ones of considerable historical interest. Among these, of Asian interest, are 32 slides of China, apparently taken from 19th century drawings.

The collection includes numerous images of identified hospitals, schools, missionaries and clergy at work - including portraits and scenes from rural and urban life.

System of arrangement: The collection falls into three main categories: Prints (numbered I - XVII), Negatives (numbered XVIII - XXIII) and Slides (numbered XXIV - XXXV).


Language: English

Conditions governing access:

Conditions governing reproduction:

Finding aids: A two-volume, detailed, typescript catalogue is available for consultation in the Manuscripts Reading Room of Cambridge University Library.



Archivist's note: Compiled using information from the University of Birmingham Information Services, Special Collections Department, and a description in Mapping Asia.

Administrative history compiled using:
Henry S. Cobb, 'The archives of the Church Missionary Society', Archives, vol 2, no 14 (1955).
Rosemary Keen, 'The Church Missionary Society Archives: or thirty years work in the basement', Catholic Archives, 1 (1981).
Church Missionary Society Archive, General guide and introduction to the archive: a guide to the microfilm collection (Adam Matthew Publications, 1998).

Date(s) of descriptions: Revised October 2002.

Audiovisual materials
Economic and social development
Educational missionaries
Educational missionary work
Health services
Medical missionaries
Medical missionary work
Missionary societies
Missionary work
Photographic slides
Religious activities
Religious groups
Religious organizations
Rural missionary work
Urban missionary work
Video recordings
Visual materials

Personal names

Corporate names
Church Missionary Society

East Africa
East Asia
Middle East
North Africa
Palestinian-administered Territories
South Asia
South East Asia
Sri Lanka