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The London Missionary Society was a non-denominational missionary society formed in Englandmarker in 1795 by evangelical Anglicans and Nonconformists, largely Congregationalist in outlook, with missions in the islands of the South Pacific and Africa. It now forms part of the Council for World Mission (CWM).


Proposals for the Missionary Society began in 1794 after a Baptist minister, John Ryland, received word from William Carey, the pioneer British Baptist missionary who had recently moved to Calcuttamarker, about the need to spread Christianity. Carey suggested that Ryland join forces with others along the non-denominational lines of the Anti-Slavery Society to design a society that could prevail against the difficulties that evangelists often faced when spreading the Word. This aimed to overcome the difficulties that establishment of overseas missions had faced. It had frequently proved hard to raise the finance because evangelists belonged to many different denominations and churches; all too often their missions would only reach a small group of people and be hard to sustain.

The society aimed to be more successful by creating a forum where evangelists could work together, giving overseas missions more lines of financial support and better co-ordination, including firm support against their fierce opponents who wanted unrestricted commercial and military relations with native peoples throughout the world. The aim was to enable longer-term, and more successful missions to be established.

After Ryland showed Carey’s letter to H.O. Wills, an active anti-slavery campaigner in Bristolmarker, he quickly gained support. Scottish ministers in the Londonmarker area, David Bogue and James Steven, as well as other Evangelicals such as John Hey joined forces to organize a new society. Bogue wrote an appeal in the Evangelical Magazine:

The Rev. John Eyre of Hackneymarker, editor of the Evangelical Magazine responded by inviting a leading evangelical, the Cornishman, Rev. Thomas Haweis, to write a response to Bogue's appeal. The Rev. Haweis, a man of great influence, sided firmly with Bogue, and immediately identified two donors, one of £500, and one of £100. From this start, a campaign developed to raise money for the proposed society, and its first meeting was organised at Baker’s Coffee House on Change Alley in the City of London. Eighteen supporters showed up and helped agree the aims of the proposed missionary society - to spread the knowledge of Christ among heathen and other unenlightened nations. By Christmas over thirty men were committed to forming the society.

In the following year, 1795, Spa Fields Chapel was approached for permission to preach a sermon to the various ministers and others by now keenly associated with the plan to send missionaries abroad. This was organised for Tuesday 22 September 1795, the host chapel insisting that no collection for the proposed society must be made during the founding event which would be more solemn, and formally mark the origin of the Missionary Society. Hundreds of Evangelicals attended, and the newly launched society quickly began receiving letters of financial support, and interest from prospective missionaries.

Early days

Joseph Hardcastle of Hatcham House, Deptfordmarker became the first Treasurer, and the Rev. John Eyre of Hackneymarker (editor of the Evangelical Magazine ) became the first Secretary to the Missionary Society -the latter appointment providing it with an effective 'newspaper' to promote its cause. The Missionary Society's board quickly began interviewing prospective candidates, and soon afterwards, a Captain Wilson offered to sail the missionaries to their destination unpaid. The society was able to afford a boat for the Captain to sail: The Duff. It could carry eighteen crew members and thirty missionaries.

Seven months after the crew left port from the Woolwichmarker docks they arrived in Tahitimarker, where seventeen missionaries departed. The missionaries were then instructed to become friendly with the natives, build a mission house for sleeping and worship, and learn the native language. The missionaries faced unforeseen problems. The natives had firearms and were anxious to gain possessions from the crew. The Tahitians also had faced difficulties with diseases spread from the crews of ships that had previously docked there. The natives saw this as retribution from the gods, and they were very suspicious of the crew. Of the seventeen missionaries that arrived in Tahiti, eight soon left on the first Britishmarker ship to arrive in Tahiti.

When The Duff returned to Britain it was immediately sent back to Tahitimarker with thirty more missionaries. Unfortunately this journey was disastrous. Captured by French privateers, the Duff was sold by its captors. The expense of the journey cost The Missionary Society ten thousand pounds, which was initially devastating to the society. Gradually it recovered, however, and in 1807 was able to establish a mission in Chinamarker under Robert Morrison.

The London Missionary Society

In 1818, the society was renamed The London Missionary Society.

In 1822, John Philip was appointed superintendent of the London Missionary Society stations in South Africa where he fought for the rights of the indigenous people.

1830 John Williams sighted the coast of Savai'imarker in Samoamarker and landed on August 24, 1830 at Sapapali'i in search of Malietoa Vai‘inupo, the paramount royal chief. John Williams was greeted by his brother Taimalelagi. Upon meeting Malietoa at a large gathering in Sapapali'i, the LMS mission was accepted and grew rapidly throughout the Samoan Islands. The kingdom of Manu'a also became a LMS island kingdom.

1832 John Williams landed at Leone Bay in what was later to become American Samoamarker. (Tala faasolopito o le Ekalesia Samoa) He was informed that men of their village have accepted the 'lotu' brought by a Ioane Viliamu in Savai'i; not knowing John Williams now stood before them. A monument stands before the large beautiful Siona Chapel - now CCCAS in Leone, American Samoa; in honor of John Williams, the Apostle of the Pacific.

In 1839, John Williams missionary work whilst visiting the New Hebrides came to an abrupt end, when he was killed and eaten by cannibals on the island of Erromango whilst he was attempting to convey to them the blessings he brought. He was traveling at the time in the Missionary ship Camden commanded by Captain Robert Clark Morgan . A memorial stone was erected on the island of Rarotongamarker in 1839 and is still there today. His widow is buried with their son, Samuel Tamatoa Williams, at the old Cedar Circle in London's Abney Park Cemeterymarker, the name of her husband and the sad record of his death described first on the modest stone. John Williams' remains were sought by a group from Samoa and his bones were brought back to Samoa, where throngs of the LMS mission attended a funeral service attended by Samoan royalty, high ranking chiefs and the LMS missionaries. His remains were interred at the native LMS church in Apia. A monument stands in his memory across the from the Congregational Christian Church of Apia chapel.

1844 London Missionary Society established Malua Theological College on Upolumarker to educate local men to become village clergy for the rapidly growing mission with over 250 villages and 25,000 membership.

1844 London Missionary Society sent Samoan missionaries to surrounding islands; Rotuma, Niuemarker, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Ellis, Papua, Vanuatu. Over 300 served in Papua alone.

Despite such difficulties, the society prevailed and would soon send missionaries all over the world, notably to India, China, Australia, Madagascar and Africa. Famous LMS missionaries included Robert Morrison (1782-1834) who went to China in 1807, the sinologist James Legge (1815-1897), and David Livingstone (1813–1873) who went to South Africa in 1840.

The society eventually disbanded, but not until the late 1970s. The LMS missionaries had a huge influence on the spread of their largely non-denominational approach to Christianity, throughout the world.


The London Missionary Society merged with the Commonwealth Missionary Society (formerly the Colonial Missionary Society) in 1966 to form the Congregational Council for World Mission (CCWM). At the formation of the United Reformed Church in 1972 it underwent another name change, becoming the Council for World Mission . The CWM (Congregational and Reformed) was again restructured in 1977 to create a more internationalist and global body, the Council for World Mission.

The records of the London Missionary Society are held at the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

See also

Examples of Publications Funded

  • Rev. C.W Abel, 'Savage Life in New Guine'
  • Rev. George Pratt, 'A Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language'


  • Ellis, William (1844), 'History of the London Missionary Society', London: John Snow
  • Lovett, Richard (1899), 'History of the London Missionary Society 1795-1895', London: Henry Frowde
  • Goodall, Norman (1954), 'History of the London Missionary Society 1895-1945', London: O.U.P.
  • Hiney, Thomas (2000), 'On the Missionary Trail', New York: Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Chamberlain, David (1924), 'Smith of Demerara', London: Simpkin, Marshall &co
  • Northcott, Cecil (1945), 'Glorious Company; 150 Years Life and Work of the London Missionary Society 1795-1945', London:Livingstone Press
  • The Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle
  • Spa Fields Chapel Minutes, British History Online:

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