Finding Number (Click this to view full catalogue structure)CMS/B
TitleOverseas Division (initially 'Foreign Division') 1799-1959
DescriptionPapers compiled by the departments at CMS headquarters that were responsible at first for the administration of overseas work and later, as the churches developed and gained independence, dealt with the main bulk of the day-to-day correspondence with those churches and countries. Including papers of the Committee of Correspondence, the East Asia (Group 1) Committees, the West Asia (Group 2) Committees, the Africa (Group 3) Committees and the Africa and Asia Departments, up to 1959.

The majority of the records comprise separate sequences of incoming and outgoing papers kept for each mission area [held as the overseas mission series]. The incoming papers consist of extensive sequences of correspondence received from overseas by CMS headquarters; there are also office copies 1820-1880 and summaries 1880-1934 of the same. The outgoing papers are office copies of correspondence sent from CMS headquarters.The mission series include, for example, papers of the CMS ‘Yoruba Mission’ kept under the Committee of Correspondence, the Group 3 and Africa Committees, 1844-1959.

As well as the papers held as the mission series, there are records which cover more than an individual mission [held as the overseas general series]. For example, in the Africa general series for the years 1935-1959 there are papers relating to the ‘Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society’ 1939-1944. The general series include papers of the Group Secretaries 1880-1959; papers of the Group Secretaries cover each individual Group and include the Secretaries' personal and confidential papers.
ArrangementThe papers of the different departments of the Overseas Division which are currently available for consultation in the Cadbury Research Library are broadly arranged in three chronological divisions: 1799-1880 (the earliest papers are dated 1803), 1880-1934 and 1935-1959. Aswell as the papers of each department, there are also small compilations of papers relating to work of more than one department of the Overseas Division, for example, the General Groups archives.

/C: Committee of Correspondence archives 1803-1880: general and mission series

/G1-3: General Groups archives 1880-1949

/G1: East Asia (Group 1) archives 1880-1934: general and mission series

/G2: West Asia (Group 2) archives 1880-1934: general and mission series

/G3: Africa (Group 3) archives 1880-1934: general and mission series

/AF-AS: Africa/Asia Archives 1935-1959

/AF 35-59: Africa Archives 1935-1959: general and mission series

/AS 35-59: Asia Archives 1935-1959: East Asia general and mission series; West Asia general and mission series; Asia

Arrangement of papers within each [mission series]:
In its Annual Reports, CMS has always listed mission areas by continent or country in the chronological order in which the mission work was begun, thus missions to African countries are listed first as the first CMS mission overseas began in West Africa. Within the continent or country, separate missions are arranged in a similar way. For example, the specific mission reference for the Sierra Leone Mission (initially ‘West Africa’) Mission is A1 as this was the first Mission established in Africa.

Further details about the arrangement of the papers of the Overseas Division are given in the lower levels of the catalogue and in the typescript handlists.

The way in which the online catalogue is currently structured does not match the physical arrangement of the Archive. When the original typescript handlists were entered in to the online catalogue in 2001 the entries were arranged by series (mission series), thereunder by mission and thereunder by committee rather than by committee and thereunder by series. As work continues to enter the typescript catagues online, the online structure may change.
Finding AidsThe catalogue of the overseas mission series for papers dated 1803-1934 can be searched using the online archive catalogue; click on the Finding Number to display the summary contents list and repeat click to open up full catalogue entries. Alternatively, it is possible to view the catalogue by using the original typescript handlists; a full set of 20 handlists to the overseas mission series up to 1934 is held in the Cadbury Research Library Reading Room and at CMS Oxford.

The catalogue for the overseas mission series 1935-1959 and the overseas general series 1799-1959 has not yet been entered online, it is necessary to use two typescript handlists. Copies of the Catalogue of the Papers of the Foreign Division 1799-1949 and Catalogue of the Papers of the Overseas Division 1935-1959 are held in the Cadbury Research Library Reading Room and at CMS Oxford. The handlists can be supplied in alternative formats, please email

Information about how to use the various finding aids to the papers of the Overseas Division, and illustrations of the key types of record in the incoming and outgoing papers, can be found in the Research Guide attached to the Fonds level entry in the online catalogue to the CMS Archive.
Access StatusOpen
Administrative HistoryWhen the CMS was founded, one of the three committees set up to administer the work of the Society was the Committee of Correspondence. The Committee of Correspondence was established to ‘seek for proper missionaries, to superintend their instruction and to correspond with them when sent out’.

Over time, administration of the Society’s overseas work came to be shared amongst various group and regional committees, the Secretaries to the committees each being head of a department at CMS headquarters. The group committees reported to the Committee of Correspondence until that committee was wound up in 1916.

After a re-organization of the Society's committee structure was agreed in 1972, a new Missions Operations Committee (later 'Missions Overseas Committee') was charged with the overall direction of the Society's work overseas. The Missions Operation Committee was responsible for reviewing the needs and opportunities in countries overseas where CMS missionaries were serving; it was to consider new opportunities and prioritize use of resources. Further re-organization of the Society’s committees led to the disbanding of the Missions Overseas Committee in May 1981 and work was then handed over to Regional Groups each of which supported a Regional Secretary.

Source: Laws and Regulations printed in the ‘Proceedings of the Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East’, 1817-1818; CMS periodical: 'Yes', Autumn 1972.

Summary details of the committees and their Secretaries 1799-1983 are given below.

1. CMS Overseas (‘Foreign’) Division under the Committee of Correspondence 1799-1880

1799-1841: initially one Secretary served all of the Society’s committees, including the Committee of Correspondence; an additional Secretary was appointed to help Dandeson Coates who had succeeded Josiah Pratt in 1824 but it was not until the appointment of Henry Venn in 1841 that any more formal division of work was attempted.

1841-1844: in 1841, Henry Venn took over responsibility for CMS mission to Africa; in 1844, he also took over responsibility for work in Canada and took up correspondence with China from the beginning of that mission in 1844; Dandeson Coates remained in charge of nine mission areas.

1846: Dandeson Coates died.

1859: John Chapman took charge of the Canadian correspondence but he left in 1862.

1860-1870s: in the middle 1860s, a more determined effort was made to relieve Henry Venn of the vast amount of work he dealt with; in 1865, Jon Mee came in to deal with work relating to mission to Canada and in 1868 added the Mediterranean Mission. In 1867, Christopher Fenn was appointed charge of missions to China, adding Japan the following year and Ceylon in 1869. Edward Hutchinson was responsible for mission to India from 1867-1870, with East Africa 1868, Mauritius 1869 and in 1870 (following Mee’s departure) the Mediterranean. Edward Lake was in charge of missions to India 1871-1873, while Henry Wright, the Honorary Clerical Secretary [now ‘General Secretary’], was in charge of missions to Japan and East Africa; in 1874, William Gray was appointed to take charge of mission to India; by this time, the groupings which were to be formalized in the 1880s were already appearing.

2. CMS Overseas (Foreign) Division under the Group and Regional Committees, 1880-1980s

Overseas Division 1880-1957:

When Henry Wright died in 1880, he was to be the last Honorary Clerical Secretary [now General Secretary] to be responsible for the administration of overseas mission work. The extent of overseas responsibilities had become so complex that it was decided to divide the missions into three groups, each with its own sub-committee and Secretary. Missions geographically outside Africa and Asia were allocated to one or other of the Groups to equalize the work of the Secretaries serving the Group Committees.

Group 1 (later ‘East Asia’) comprised missions to Ceylon [now Sri Lanka], China, Japan and Canada and was put in the charge of Christopher Fenn.

Group 2 (later ‘West Asia’) comprised missions to India, Persia [now Iran] and Mauritius and was put in the charge of William Gray.

Group 3 (later ‘Africa’) comprised Africa, Palestine and New Zealand and was put in the charge of Edward Hutchinson.

Ceylon [now Sri Lanka] was transferred to the India (West Asia) Group in 1913; over time, the same Group took charge of work in Egypt and, from 1948, work in Palestine. Basically, however, the groups remained unaltered until 1957.

In 1951, work in mainland China was closed and in 1957 CMS amalgamated with the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society (which worked mainly in India and Sri Lanka [then 'Ceylon']). As a result, the workload of the East and West Asia Secretaries was so uneven that it was decided to merge the two committees. From September 1957, there was one Asia Committee served by a Secretary for Asia and Egypt.

Overseas Division 1957-1980:

The two committees, Africa and Asia, which were responsible for the administration of the overseas work of the Society from September 1957, continued to be so until 1973. In 1969, a working group to examine the committee structure of CMS was set up; its proposals for re-organization were approved by General Committee and brought into effect in September 1972. Under the re-organization a new ‘Mission Operations Committee’ was charged with the overall direction of the Society's work overseas.

Overseas Division 1980-1983:

From 1980, the Missions Operation Committee became the ‘Missions Overseas Committee’. Between 1981 and 1983, the Society re-organized the entire pattern of committees, changing from a hierarchical to a grid system. The Mission Overseas Committee met for the last time in May 1981 and its work was replaced by Regional Groups.

Secretaries with primary responsibility for the East Asia (Group 1) missions:

1881-1894: Christopher Cyprian Fenn
1894-1895: Edward Higgens
1895-1913: Baring Baring-Gould
June 1913 - October 1921: Frederick Baylis
October 1921 - February 1923: George Frederick Saywell
September 1923 - March 1926: Edward Hayward
March -September 1926: John Charles Mann (Acting Secretary)
October 1926 - November 1947: Joseph Gurney Barclay
November 1947- August 1957: Henry August Wittenbach

Secretaries with primary responsibility for the West Asia (Group 2) missions:

1881- May 1893: William Gray
1894-February 1897: Ireland Jones
1897-August 1913: George Backhouse Durrant
September 1913-September 1915: Edward Harry Mansfield Waller
September 1915-September 1929: Edmund Francis Edward Wigram
July 1921-April 1922: Elaine Thornton (Acting Secretary)
September 1929-January 1933: William Victor Kinkead Treanor
February-May 1933: Edith Margaret Emma Baring-Gould (Acting Secretary)
June 1933-July 1934: Henry Townsend Vodden
August 1934-January 1938: Sir Cusack Walton
September 1938-January 1944: Geoffrey Franceys Cranswick
June 1944-August 1957: Campbell Seymour Milford

Asia Secretary:

September 1957-October 1961: Henry (also ‘Harry’) August Wittenbach
November 1961-December 1969: Arthur Cecil Monserrat Hargreaves
1970-1975: John Brumfitt Carden

Secretaries with primary responsibility for the Africa (Group 3) missions:

1881: Edward Hutchinson
1881-October 1892: Robert Lang
October 1892-June 1912: Frederick Baylis
July 1912 -December 1925: George Thomas Manley
May 1926-April 1949: Handley Douglas Hooper
May 1949-August 1959: Thomas Francis Cecil Bewes
September 1959-August 1963: John Vernon Taylor
September 1963-August 1970: Brian John Hector de Saram
September 1970-1975: Jesse James Hillman

Overseas Secretary:

1975-1981: Jesse James Hillman
Custodial HistoryCatalogued by Rosemary Keen; deposited in the Library of the University of Birmingham, 1989.
CopiesMany of the records in the overseas mission series up to the 1950s have been microfilmed by Adam Matthew Publications and the films and accompanying printed guides are available for consultation in Cadbury Research Library and elsewhere. All of the records which were microfilmed have been digitized by Adam Matthew Digital Ltd under the title: 'Research Source - Church Missionary Society Archive'; the digitized records can be seen online by members of, and visitors to, subscribing institutions.

Records from the overseas mission series which have been microfilmed and digitally published:
Africa mission papers: all up to 1949 (A1; A2; A3; A4; A5; A6; A7; A8; A9; A10; A11; E; S; SN)
Canada mission papers: all (C1; C2)
China mission papers: all (CH; CH1; CH2; CH3; CH4; CH5)
India mission papers: part: India General 1811-1815 (I - part); North India 1815-1880 part only (I1 - part); South India 1815-1880 part only (I2 - part)
Japan Mission papers: all (J)
Mauritius, Madagascar and Seychelles Mission papers: all (MA)
Palestine Mission (renamed Jordan Mission from 1951) papers: all (P)
'West Indies Mission' [Caribbean] papers: all (W)

Where a microfilm or digital copy is available, further details are given in the Sub-Sub-Sub Fonds level entries of the online catalogue (see, for example, CMS/B/OMS/A1). The typescript handlists to the overseas mission series held in the Cadbury Research Library Reading Room are annotated in pencil to show which records have been microfilmed and in which drawer to find the microfilm in the Cadbury Research Library Reading Room.

Work is underway to add URL links for Adam Matthew Digital products to the online catalogue.
Related MaterialThere are relevant papers held in other parts of the CMS Archive. Researchers working on a particular CMS mission will normally need to consult more than the archives of the departments of the Overseas Division. All of the departments at CMS headquarters worked together dealing with the various aspects of mission work so records held in other parts of the CMS Archive will also be relevant. Only a few outstanding record series are mentioned here; further guidance on looking for records about the CMS missions is given in the Guide to the CMS Archive which is attached as a PDF document to the Fonds level entry in the online catalogue to the CMS Archive.

1. General Secretary's Department

The Secretary to the Society [also 'Honorary Secretary', Honorary Clerical Secretary', now 'General Secretary'] was from the first responsible for the administration of work overseas. Even when this responsibility was transferred to the Group Secretaries he remained responsible for overall policy, for he was Secretary to the General Committee which had ultimate responsibility for the Society's actions.

The records of the General Secretary's Department include a series of letters from within the British Isles beginning in 1799 and ending in the 1850s-1860s [Finding Number: CMS/G/AC3]. These include letters from missionaries while in Britain either before sailing for the first time or when home on leave. They cover letters written up to the time the ships left the English Channel and include letters from the German missionaries who went out under the CMS.

There is also a series of letter-books containing copies of outgoing letters to people within the British Isles 1824-1890 [Finding Number: CMS/G/AC1]. These are letters from Secretaries at headquarters dealing with all mission areas and include correspondence with the British government and Church officials.

A third major source of information is in the General Secretary's correspondence with the overseas missions [Finding Numbers: CMS/G/Y; CMS/G59/Y]. Most of this dates from the 1920s onwards. Each mission area, however, includes as first entry in the section of the catalogue, miscellaneous papers relating to that mission which date from about the 1840s onwards. Many of these papers are bundled by subject and relate to subjects for which the General Secretary was acting as Chief Foreign Secretary of the Society. This series is a major source for the appointments of bishops and the formation of dioceses.

2. Medical Department
The Medical Department's records include correspondence with individual mission hospitals and medical missions concerning property and medical supplies [Finding Numbers: CMS/M/Y; CMS/M59/Y]. Some items in the records of the Overseas Division are to be found in these papers. There are also some plans of buildings [Finding Number: CMS/M/FL1]. The medical magazine 'Mercy and Truth' includes articles by medical missionaries which augment the letters and reports which are found in the main mission series.

3. Finance Department
Two series of official correspondence which include letters from the British Foreign Office also include some items which are missing from the records of the Overseas Division [Finding Numbers: CMS/F/AC2, CMS/F/AC5]. There is also a mission journal 1847-1850 [Finding Number: CMS/F/Y1].


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