National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh)

National Library of Scotland

Church of Scotland Overseas Missions Archive

NLS has been the repository for the archive of the Church of Scotland Board of World Mission since 1953. The archive covers the whole of the 19th and 20th centuries, and includes the surviving records of all the churches united within the present Church of Scotland since 1929, as well as the records of the early Scottish missionary societies.

The main series of records are the outgoing letter books of the various mission committees, their minute books, incoming correspondence, files from mission fields, and papers of individual missionaries. Additional accessions of personal papers and of the records of missionary institutions have augmented the collection.

Research potential in the archive includes areas such as education, language study, medical work and women’s studies. Station journals such as those kept by Hope Masterton Waddell in Calabar, and by Robert Laws in Livingstonia, offer detailed accounts of efforts to establish those mission stations and of daily life within them. Dr Laws’ personal papers include correspondence with other missionaries and with Africans, including Albert Namalambe, the first African converted to Christianity at Livingstonia.

Education, a strength of Scottish missions to Africa, is well represented in the archive, and includes material relating to educational institutions such as Overtoun Institute, Malawi, and Lovedale Institute, South Africa. Medical work is similarly well documented. Highlights include the papers of Rev Dr Archibald Clive Irvine which, through his diaries, letters and photographs, detail the development of the small station of Chogoria into a thriving community with a 120-bed hospital, still considered one of the foremost in Kenya.

The archive includes an extensive photographic element which is particularly rich for Africa. A project is underway to digitise and catalogue a selection of around 5000 images, a significant portion of which relate to Africa, for addition to the Internet Mission Photography Archive:

Inventories for Missionary collections are available in our online Guide to Manuscript Collections: The archive is supplemented by contemporary missionary journals, most of which can be found in our main catalogue:

Exploration and travel

NLS has substantial manuscript collections relating to exploration and travel in Africa. Full details of these can be found using the catalogues and indexes in our Special Materials Reading Room, but of particular significance are:

· Sir John Kirk

Kirk was Chief assistant on David Livingstone’s second Zambesi expedition, 1858-1863, prior to his appointment as Medical Officer and Vice-Consul of Zanzibar. He subsequently held numerous consular roles, and Kirk’s period in Zanzibar coincided with the dramatic decline of the slave trade in East Africa, in which he played a prominent role. Upon his retirement to the UK he continued an active involvement in East Africa for some years. The collection includes correspondence, diaries, notebooks and photographs, and further information can be found here:

· David Livingstone

The NLS is a major repository for Livingstone studies, with a substantial collection of letters, journals, maps and other papers. Clendennen and Cunningham’s David Livingstone: a catalogue of documents, 1979, and supplement, 1985, are still the most comprehensive source for Livingstone manuscripts, and formed the basis for the Livingstone Online database: Our Livingstone holdings are still growing, most notably with the acquisition in 2006 of the John Murray Archive.

· John Murray, publisher of African Exploration

As official publisher to the Admiralty and unofficial publisher to the Royal Geographical Society, the London publisher John Murray was responsible for many of the most significant works on African exploration in the nineteenth century.

British readers discovered Africa through authors who were big game hunters and naturalists, colonial administrators and anti-slavery campaigners, missionaries and military men, through people who became national heroes.

Their enthralling stories of failure and success were enhanced with striking illustrations and detailed maps which created some of the most popular and influential books on Africa. In addition to Livingstone, the many notable John Murray writers on Africa include Frederick William Beechey, Sir Francis Galton, Sir William Cornwallis Harris and Mungo Park.

Further information on accessing the John Murray Archive may be found on our website:


The role played by Scots in the slave trade and in its abolition has only recently been recognised. NLS holds both printed and manuscript resources recording Scotland’s links with slavery. An overview of our collections and how to find them is available on our website, and includes a section on Africa:


Scottish trade links with Africa are represented in our manuscript collections in various estate, family and personal papers. These include:

· Brodie Cruikshank

Manuscripts and papers of and concerning Cruikshank, merchant and official on the Gold Coast from 1834-1854, and author of ‘Eighteen years on the Gold Coast of Africa’.

· Alexander Low Bruce

Described as a businessman ‘of great charm and ability’, Bruce had much wider political and philanthropic concerns. His marriage to Agnes, daughter of David Livingstone, may have stimulated his interest in Africa, and his significant involvement with commercial and missionary organisations on the continent. An inventory of his papers is available:

Printed books

Most of our printed collections may be found in our main catalogue:
A list of special and named collections is also available, and includes the Savage collection, consisting of 249 books and pamphlets on West Africa:

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