Methodist Missionary Society Archives (SOAS)

SOAS University of London, London



0207 898 4180


Opening Times

Access to the archive is by appointment only, Tuesday - Friday 10:00 - 16:00.


Toilets available

Toilet include disabled access toilets.

Café on site
Grade II listed


Parking available nearby


Methodist Missionary Society Archives (SOAS)

The archive of the Methodist Missionary Society (MMS) is housed at the university library of SOAS University of London, which serves as the UK National Research Library for Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Since 1978, the MMS collection has been held at SOAS on deposit from the Methodist Church. It encompasses the institutional records and library of the MMS and its successor, the Methodist Church Overseas Division (MCOD), along with the records of precursor mission societies, including the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, Primitive Methodist Missionary Society, and United Methodist Church.

Founded in 1932, the MMS was the international missionary society of British Methodism. It operated overseas districts across Caribbean, Europe, West Africa, Southern Africa, Central Africa, Kenya, India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma (Myanmar) and China. The MMS was formed from the merger of several different British Methodist missionary societies, which had been operating from the late 18th century onwards, In the early 1970s, during a phase of reorganisation throughout the Methodist Church, the MMS became the Methodist Church Overseas Division, marking a shift from overseas missions to ‘World Church Partnerships’ between autonomous Churches. The responsibilities of the MCOD were transferred to the World Church Office in 1996.

The MMS archive at SOAS includes central administrative records of the missionary society, correspondence from Methodist missionaries in the field, minutes, personal papers, and visual material. These documents detail the history of the organisation, its activities, as well as the communities with whom missionaries interacted and worked.

Alongside the archive, the MMS Library, also at SOAS, contains over 6,500 published items including annual reports, periodicals, and books relating to mission and the history of Methodist Churches around the world. Of note are the magazines for each society, including the Wesleyan Missionary Notices (1816-1904), Work and Workers in the Mission Field (1892-1904), The Foreign Field (1904-1931), and The Kingdom Overseas (1933-1969). The library also holds lists of missionaries for the MMS and its precursor mission societies.

The MMS collection offers a unique resource for the study of the history of Methodist mission and global Church partnership, as well as the places and communities in which missionaries worked. The MMS archive and library are kept within SOAS’s environmentally controlled archive storeroom and made available free-of-charge to the general public in the dedicated Special Collections Reading Room in central London.

Collection Highlights
  • Papers of Rev Dr Thomas Coke (1747-1814): Documents related to the first Methodist bishop and founder of international Wesleyan missionary work.
  • Missionary Photographs: Approximately 2500 images depicting missionary work and the regions and communities in which they work, covering regions such as India, Burma (Myanmar), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Australasia, Africa, China, and the Caribbean and Americas.
  • Papers of Rev. Thomas Birch Freeman (1809-1890): Records relating to the British missionary of colour, who was a significant figure in the early history of Methodism in Ghana and Nigeria and noted botanist.
  • Anti-Slavery Papers: A collection of papers and publications associated with the MMS campaign against enslavement and the transatlantic trade in enslaved people, including autobiographical accounts of formerly enslaved persons such as James Will.
  • Linguistic Papers and Translations: Early translations of Christian religious texts into languages of the regions where the MMS operated, with notable examples in Cree (First Nations in Canada), Miao (China), and Ila (Zambia).
  • Writings by the Hart Sisters of Antigua: Works by Elizabeth Hart Thwaites (1772–1833) and Anne Hart Gilbert (1773–1833), including manuscript histories of the early Methodist movement on the island. The Hart Sisters are among the earliest known published female writers of colour in the Caribbean.
  • Women’s Work Collection: Contains minutes, reports, and correspondence of the MMS women’s missionary organisation.
  • Missionary Ships’ Logs and Papers: Includes records of the ‘Triton’ (1838-1847) and the ‘John Wesley’ (1845-1864).
Recent Research Topics
  • The institutional history of the 'Federation of Native Welfare Societies' in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) during the 1930s and 1940s.
  • Examining the life and work of Rev. William Sherratt (1899-1933), a Wesleyan missionary and founding Secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Burma (Myanmar).
  • Peasant (cocoa farmers) and rural disturbances in the Gold Coast (Ghana) before 1966.
  • Investigating the life and work of Rev. Henry Bright Britten (1801-1887), a Wesleyan missionary in the Caribbean (Antigua and Jamaica Districts).
  • Transcultural deaf history and the history of deaf education in West Africa, with a specific focus on the founding of the School for the Deaf in Lagos, Nigeria in 1956 by the Methodist Missionary Society.
  • The life and contributions of Rev. Jonathan Gladwin (1803-1837), a Wesleyan missionary in the Upper Canada District.
  • A study on fashion and dress in Ghana, exploring the symbolism of dress, colour, and adinkra symbols from pre-colonial Ghana to the era of independence/decolonisation.
  • Investigating the life and work of Rev. Henry Padgham, a Wesleyan missionary in the St. Vincent and Demerara District.
  • The history of mixed media photography in India and South Asia, including the application of coloured dyes to black-and-white photographs.
  • An exploration of the musical lives of British missionaries in China, with a particular focus on their discussions of Chinese musical culture.
  • Examining the history of medicine and the environment in the Gold Coast (Ghana), with a focus on how colonial anxieties to control "unfamiliar" environmental conditions, including disease burdens, influenced settlements and wider colonial projects.
  • The history of the first permanent Methodist mission (1883) to the Haida Nation at Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Canada)
  • A visual history of traditional Sri Lankan mask culture.
  • British women in India between 1835 and 1915.
  • Investigating the relations between British Methodists and German Methodists during the period from 1930 to 1950.
  • A study of the life and work of the pioneering ethnographer Emma Hadfield during her time in the Loyalty Islands.
  • The urban history of Porto-Novo (Benin).
  • Tracing the history of Wesley Girls' High School in Cape Coast, Ghana.
  • Examining the interaction between colonial law and missionary education in the Southern African British colonies.
  • Investigating the life and governance of Prempeh I (1870-1931), the King of the Asante Kingdom (Ghana).
  • The role of Welsh missionaries and Welsh communities in East and Southeast Asia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • The financing of early Wesleyan Canadian missions and missionaries
  • A study of Rev. Edmund Lockyer, a Wesleyan missionary to Jamaica between 1839 and 1849, including his life and work.
  • The life of Rev James John Ellis (1883-1962), Wesleyan missionary to Madras (Chennai)
  • Exploring the social history of Igboland, Nigeria, from 1850 to 1979.
  • Investigating the history of teaching and the employment of teaching staff in rural Jamaica.
  • The history of the United Methodist Church Ribe mission station, Kenya
  • Deaf and blind education in China at the turn of the 20th century
  • Examining the life and work of Rev. Arthur Waymouth Turner, a missionary in South India from 1904 to 1919.
  • A study on medical pluralism in colonial-era Yorubaland, Nigeria.
  • Investigating the history of social relations between Danish settlers and dual heritage Euro-Africans on the Gold Coast during the period 1803-1850.
  • The history of the Methodist Missionary Society's medical work in Central and Southern China from the late 19th to the mid-20th century.
  • The life of Revd Thomas Morris, missionary to the Gold Coast (Ghana).
  • A study of Methodist anti-slavery campaigning in the Caribbean and the UK.
  • Exploring the historical archaeology of the Northern Cape province, South Africa.
  • Investigating the history of Methodist missionary work in Fernando Po (Bioko, Equatorial Guinea).