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Church Missionary Society photograph collection

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/CMS

Scope and Contents

The Church Missionary Society photograph collection consists of photographic prints, glass and film negatives, and lantern slides. The prints in CMS 1-17 were selected from the CMS’s Photo Bureau, the majority being mounted on sheets of paper annotated with captions. Many photographs would have been taken to illustrate articles in the society’s periodicals including ‘Church Missionary Gleaner’, ‘Church Missionary Intelligencer’ and their successors.

Little is known of the provenance of the glass and film negatives CMS 18-23 and glass lantern slides CMS 24-35. They may have been produced to illustrate talks given by the CMS upon its missionary work. CMS 24 appears to be a commercial set of slides relating to Africa generally and is not the work of the society. The glass negatives and slides were unsorted when presented to the RCS in 1988. Some of the negatives had titles written upon the slide, but most were uncaptioned. They were re-organised along rough geographical lines and those without captions were given brief descriptive titles. Very little is known about many of the peoples, subjects and places depicted in the slides. The RCS will be grateful for any assistance to more accurately identify them. This may be achieved by research in the CMS periodicals, and its archives, which are held by the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.

The captions, including the names of institutions, have been recorded as found and may include language which is offensive, inaccurate or inappropriate. They have been retained to reflect the context of the collection's creation.

The majority of the photographs and slides are post 1945 but there are earlier ones of historical interest. These include two slides of the 1895 Uganda Missionary Party (CMS 26/1-2) and a photograph of the 1896 Uganda Missionary Party (CMS 13/221). Some of the East African lantern slides date from the early 1900s. CMS 31 contains 32 slides of China, apparently taken from nineteenth-century artwork.


  • Creation: 1881 - 1973


Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

The Church Missionary Society was established in 1799 as a Christian evangelical missionary organisation and counted among its founders William Wilberforce, John Venn and Charles Simeon. The overseas mission work of CMS began in Sierra Leone in 1804 and expanded rapidly thereafter. In Africa the CMS’s involvement has been concentrated in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda and Sudan; in Asia, the society’s activity has largely been in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China and Japan; and in the Middle East, it was active in Palestine, Jordan, Iran and Egypt. Much of the photograph collection documents the CMS’s role in running schools, colleges, medical missions, hospitals and agricultural projects.


3509 item(s) : negative/paper/photograph

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids

The numbering of the collection divisions has been changed from Roman to Arabic numerals, making CMS/I-XXXV now CMS/1-35. Similarly, alphabetical subdivisions have been replaced by Arabic numerals, making CMS/II/A now CMS/2/1.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented to the Royal Commonwealth Society by Rosemary Keen, Archivist of the Church Missionary Society, in 1988.

Existence and Location of Copies

A large proportion of the glass negatives and lantern slides have been digitised. Images are available online via Cambridge Digital Library for the following series: RCS/CMS 18-22 and RCS/CMS 24-35. Click on the digital object links to view the collection on the digital library.

Related Materials

The archives of the Church Missionary Society are held by the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.


Jim Davis listed the majority of the material and Rosemary Keen supplied biographical and other information. This description was entered by MJC.

2006-07-20 09:31:21+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom