On missionaries vs colonisers (II)

Robert Woodberry says the relationship between the two varied dramatically.



Robert Woodberry says the relationship between the two varied dramatically.


The relationship between missionaries and the colonial powers was very complex. It depends on which type of missionaries, which coloniser, and what time period and what place.

When missionaries were first going out into the field, there were lots of tension between what various colonisers and businesspeople, landowners, were doing. And there was lots of conflict: conflict over slavery; conflict over land tenure, protecting indigenous land rights; conflict over exporting of alcohol and guns and opium. Various things like that, that missionaries were very, very critical of.

And then they co-operated with other colonial officials that were friendly to them. So if you’re looking at the first part of the 19th century, there were a couple of people in the Colonial Office that were very pro-missionary. So one of them was James Stephen, another one was Lord Glenelg. So they were evangelicals who worked in the Colonial Office. So missionaries contacted them about abuses that were happening in the colonial system, and tried to get those abuses reformed. And they did it quite effectively.

Later on, they didn’t have as many supporters in the Colonial Office, they had less power. But they would mobilise political campaigns in England and other countries to sort of pressure the British government (or other governments) to change colonial policy.

So, for example, a Baptist missionary wrote a report about the abuses of former slaves in Jamaica and how it was hurting them. And that was sent to England, which … then that report was sent to the governor who got upset, and there was … some blacks protested, that protest became violent, a couple of white people were killed. In response, the governor killed tons of black people, just went and burnt up villages and killed people and hung people. And originally he was praised for being … putting down an uprising. Then missionaries reported on it, and he was put on trial for murder.

There’s this relationship which is hard to say was just chummy. Like it was at times, and other times it was extremely conflictual.