Finding Number (Click this to view full catalogue structure)CMS/G
TitleGeneral Secretary's Department
Extentc 832 boxes
DescriptionRecords of one of the UK based departments of the Church Missionary Society, under the charge of the General Secretary, the 'first amongst equals' of the Secretaries responsible for the administration of the Society. The records date from the foundation of the organisation in 1799 and, because of the central role played by the General Secretary's Department, touch on all aspects of the CMS work at home and overseas.

They are a potentially useful source of information and evidence whatever the research topic including information on candidates, missionaries, different branches of mission work and the evolution of the different departments of work in the UK. The records are the main source for CMS correspondence with the Archbishop of Canterbury and overseas bishops, the formation of overseas churches, dioceses and appointment of bishops; regulations and policy underlying the Society's work at home and in the missions ; records of the Society's correspondence with the British government, overseas administrations and other organisations with whom the CMS corresponded; records relating to spiritual matters such as individual staff welfare, doctrinal questions and the CMS chapel; more complex and controversial issues affecting the direction of the Society's work, individual missions and missionaries, for example, controversies in the press about the Society's stance on Anglo-Catholic practice, correspondence concerning missionaries whose actions have been called into question (reflecting the General Secretary's role as final arbiter and highest court of appeal), questions arising from applying Anglican practice in non-Western cultures (such as baptism in polygamous societies), and pre- and post-war planning.

Particular highlights include an unbroken sequence of the Society's principal minute books for 1799 to 1953 which are not only a tremendously rich source of information in themselves but can be helpful in identifying other records of interest in the CMS archive (see CMS/G/C1). For research into named individuals, in addition to the minutes, this Department includes the earliest records relating to recruitment and training of missionary candidates; records of the Church Missionaries' Children's Home; correspondence with missionaries on leave or who have retired in the UK (and, for some, letters of condolence after their death) and personal and confidential correspondence concerning welfare of missionaries and their families overseas (see CMS/G/C1; CMS/G/AT; CMS/G/AC; CMS/G/AM and CMS/G/Y). The minutes, tour reports and correspondence with overseas are particularly valuable source for research into the work of the overseas missions and overseas bishoprics (CMS/G/C; CMS/G/AD and CMS/G/Y). For researchers using the records to study national and international events or the history of Christianity and mission, the minutes, correspondence, policy papers and 'instructions to missionaries' can be searched for contemporary commentaries and perspective (CMS/G/C; CMS/G/AC; CMS/G/AM and CMS/G/AP; see also CMS/G/AZ, CMS/G/O, CMS/G/P, CMS/G/R and CMS/G/Z).
ArrangementThe records are arranged in two sub-fonds sequences; the main sequence of post-1950 material is catalogued separately (CMS/G59).

The classification system used for the records of the General Secretary's Department is that used for all CMS official archives other than the archives of the departments of the Overseas Division. Only sections of it used in the General Secretary's Department are listed below. Each Secretary to a full committee has a department at CMS Headquarters. These departments have been allocated a reference letter (eg C Candidates Department , F Finance Department , H Home Division) and the files of each department divided into groups according to the use which the department gave them, eg A Administration, C Committee work. Where this grouping is very large there are further subdivisions eg C Correspondence, T Training.

The General Secretary's Department records are arranged in 11 series:
G/A Administration (subdivided into publicity and advertising G/AA; correspondence G/AC; tours and deputation work G/AD; Home and general administration G/AH (further subdivided into Associations G/AHA, cooperation with overseas G/AHc and CM House G/AHH); Jubilee celebrations, anniversaries etc G/AJ; Keswick letter G/AK; missionaries G/AM (and children G/AMc); policy G/AP (further subdivided into G/APc commissions; G/APf federation and cooperation and G/APo overseas); staff G/AS; training G/AT (further subdivided into G/ATm men and G/ATw women); controversy G/AX and miscellaneous G/AZ
G/C Committee work;
G/E Education (further subdivided into recruiting G/ER, and writing and research G/EW);
G/F Finance;
G/G Conferences (subdivided into conferences relating to administration and policy G/GA and non-CMS conferences G/GZ);
G/M Medical;
G/O Outside organisations;
G/P Politics;
G/R Religious questions;
G/Y Correspondence with overseas;
G/Z Miscellaneous
Access ConditionsThe CMS archives are subject to a 40 year closure period and material is usually released at the end of each decade. The latest deposit of General Secretary's records received by the Cadbury Research Library are those for 1950-1959, apart from a few miscellaneous items of a later date held within the deposited papers, the bulk of records dating from 1960 onwards are held by CMS (Oxford).

In accordance with Data Protection regulations, records which include personal data are closed for the lifetime of the individual where known, or 105 years. This is indicated at file level.
Finding AidsThe catalogue of the records of this department that were deposited in the Cadbury Research Library in 1992 and 1999 is available online. Although including some items of a later date, these deposits largely comprise General Secretary’s records 1799-1949. Click on the Finding Number to display the summary contents list of the catalogue and to view the full catalogue. A paper copy is also available for consultation in Cadbury Research Library.

A third deposit, comprising records of the General Secretary's Department 1950-1959, is catalogued separately (finding number: CMS/G59) The catalogue for the 1950-1959 papers is not available online but can be seen in Cadbury Research Library or requested as a pdf copy.
DocumentCMS General Secretary's Department Committee papers.pdf
Access StatusPartially closed
Physical DescriptionWhen quoting the file reference it is essential to have the department letter as well as the rest as the sub-references occur in the papers of nearly all the various departments at CMS Headquarters. 'AC 1', for example, merely indicates the first entry for a correspondence series and must be further differentiated as to whether it is, for example, correspondence in the General Secretary's Department records (G/AC 1), the Candidates Department (C/AC 1) or the Medical Department's files (M/AC 1).
Administrative HistoryPlace in the administration of CMS:
The Society consists of a series of committees, each Secretary of the main committees being in charge of a department at headquarters. When the Society was founded three committees were set up. The General Committee dealt with overall policy, the Finance Committee (then known as the Committee of Accounts) was responsible for administering the funds and the Committee of Correspondence was to correspond with workers and agents and to seek out missionaries and helpers. The General Secretary (then known as the Secretary or Honorary Secretary) and Assistant Secretaries served all three committees and shared the work among themselves. Letters signed by two or more Secretaries conveyed the mind of the Committee though from the first a letter to a bishop was only signed by one Secretary (specifically the one considered the chief). Henry Venn's Secretaryship, 1841-1872, continued to develop the administrative organisation begun by Dandeson Coates, 1824-1846, and in the 1860s the first division of responsibilities took place with some of the overseas correspondence being allocated to specific Secretaries whilst Venn retained the main tasks of the General Secretary. In the 1870s additional Secretarial help (Editorial, Home, Central etc) took some of the burden of work from the General Secretary and by the 1890s separate departments at headquarters are listed in the volumes of CMS 'Proceedings' each year with the names of Assistant Secretaries and senior staff. The General Secretary's Department was never included in these divisions of headquarters, but remained separate and central, like the hub of a wheel, serving all and related to all. It has always been small in size and, although certain of its original tasks have developed into separate departments at headquarters, it has never itself been subdivided.

Tasks and responsibilities of the Department:
1. Candidates Secretary: the General Secretary has always been considered the chief Candidates' Secretary and, apart from a short time during Henry Venn's secretaryship, the work of seeking out and training missionary candidates was his responsibility. In 1891, an assistant was appointed to relieve the Secretary from the heavy pressure of work and in 1897 a Candidates Department was formed. The Candidates Department was considered part of the General Secretary's responsibility until 1914 when it became a branch of the Foreign Department but the General Secretary continued to consider himself the chief Candidates Secretary until the major reorganisation of the Society's headquarters administration in 1982.

2. Foreign Secretary: until 1880 the Secretary to the General Committee was also Secretary to the Committee of Correspondence and as such was considered the chief Foreign Secretary (a term not formally used until later). When the three Group Secretaries took over the routine administration of the work in the overseas missions, the General Secretary remained responsible for overall policy and continued to be the designated Secretary for correspondence with the Archbishop of Canterbury and with overseas bishops, a responsibility that has continued to the present day.

3. Spiritual matters: all the Secretaries have equal authority in the administration of the Society but, because the General Committee (now 'General Council') is the Society's ultimate authority, the General Secretary is considered 'first among equals'. He is the representative of the Society in dealing with bishops and archbishops; he is also the clergyman in whose name the chapel at headquarters is licensed and is responsible for all spiritual matters.

Title of General Secretary:
The first Secretaries signed themselves simply as 'Hon. Secretary' or 'Secretary'. In 1824 Dandeson Coates, a layman, was appointed as Assistant Secretary and when Bickersteth retired in 1830, Coates was given the title 'Lay Secretary'. He became, in effect, the chief Secretary of the Society until his sudden death in 1846. Henry Venn, who had been appointed as Coates' assistant in 1841 became chief Secretary in 1846 and began to use the title 'Hon. Clerical Secretary' to distinguish himself from his salaried clerical colleagues; the length and forcefulness of his tenure of the post led to the title being retained by his successors. It was finally changed to 'General Secretary' in 1922. The title 'Lay Secretary' was revived by Edward Hutchinson when he was appointed Secretary to the Finance Committee in 1867. He regarded the financial and administrative side of the work as only part of his responsibilities and took a great interest in the foreign side, in fact in every aspect (other than candidates) as had Coates. However, when Hutchinson left in 1881 the title of Lay Secretary reverted to being that of the Finance and Administrative Secretary only.

Governors 1799-1812: 1799 Vice-Admiral Gambier, Charles Grant, Sir Richard Hill Bt. MP, Henry Hoare, Edward Parry, Samuel Thornton MP; 1809 Thomas Babington MP, Lord Barham, Sir William Pepperell Bt.

President: 1810 Admiral Lord Gambier; 1834 The Earl of Chichester; 1886 Captain Honorable Francis Maude RN; 1887 Sir John Kennaway Bt MP; 1917 Sir Robert Williams Bt; 1943 Sir Kenneth Grubb CMG; 1969 Miss Diana Reader-Harris DBE; 1983 David Wylie Bleakley MP.

Treasurer: 1799 Henry Thornton MP; 1815 John Thornton; 1861 Captain the Honorable Francis Maude RN; 1886 Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton Bt; 1895 Colonel Robert Williams MP; 1917 Sir Thomas Fowell Victor Buxton; 1919 S. H. Gladstone; 1922 Robert Leatham Barclay; 1939 S. Kinglsey Tubbs; 1972 Sir Henry Mance; 1982 Peter A. S. Taylor.

Secretary to the General Committee: 1799-1803 Thomas Scott; 1803-1824 Josiah Pratt; 1824-1830 Edward Bickersteth; 1830-1846 Dandson Coates (clerical responsibilities taken by Thomas Woodrooffe, William Jowett, Thomas Vores and Henry Venn); 1841-1872 Henry Venn (Assistant to Coates 1841-1846; chief Secretary from 1846); 1872-1880 Henry Wright; 1880-1895 Frederick Edward Wigram; 1895-1910 Henry Elliott Fox; May 1910-1922 Cyril Charles Bowman Bardsley; June 1923-1926 Herbert E. Lankester; 1926-October 1941 William Wilson Cash; November 1941-June 1942 J. Gurney Barclay acting Secretary; July 1942-January 1963 Max Alexander Cunningham Warren; September 1963-November 1974 John Vernon Taylor; January 1975-December 1985 Simon Barrington-Ward; July 1986-November 1989 Henry Wylie Moore; December 1989- Michael Nazir-Ali.

Principal of Church Missionaries' Children's Home (under the title 'Director' 1850-autumn 1934): 1850-1853 Samuel Hope Unwin; 1853-1862 William Gibbs Barker; 1863-1867 John Rooker; 1867-1868 George Hall Esquire; 1869-1873 Isaac Durrant (d 1873); 1873-1880 John Rooker; 1880-1881 Trenham King Weatherhead (temporary appointment); 1881-1885 Alfred John Parkman Shepherd; 1886-1896 Frederick Vivian Knox; December 1896-1903 Albert Frederick Thornhill; 1904-1913 William Borrer Tracy; 1913-1928 Henry Summerhayes; 1928-1929 Bernard Conyngham Corfield (acting whilst on furlough); 1929-1940 Ernest Charles Hugh Moule Esquire; 1940-[1944?]; Frank A. Smalley; 1944-1956 Mrs J. Butler
AcquisitionThe first deposit of CMS General Secretary's records, comprising all of the records under finding number CMS/G other than minutes 1944-1953, was received in 1992. The minutes for 1944-1953 were deposited in 1999 (CMS/G/C1). Papers from 1950-1959 were deposited in 2007 listed and held separately under finding number CMS/G59.
Archival NoteCatalogued by Rosemary A. Keen; updated and extended by I. Frlan 2011.
CopiesMicrofilm copies:

Some of the records in this sequence have been microfilmed by Adam Matthew Publications and the microfilm is available for consultation in Cadbury Research and elsewhere. Reference copies of the microfilm held by Cadbury Research Library are located in microfilm drawers D2, D3, D4 and D5. For further information about microfilm copies see the sub-series entries of the online catalogue (eg CMS/G/AZ); the guides which were produced to accompany the microfilm are available online at and

Records which have been microfilmed: CMS/G/AZ 1-2; CMS/G/C 1/1-105; CMS/G/C 1A/7; CMS/G/Y/Ag; CMS/G/Y/AFE; CMS/G/Y/AFW; CMS/G/Y/A1-A11; CMS/G/Y/S; CMS/G/Y/SN; CMS/G/Y/E; CMS/G/Y/ASg; CMS/G/Y/J; CMS/G/Y/CHg; CMS/G/Y/CH1-CH5.

Looking at records online:

Digital copies of the materials which were micropublished by Adam Matthew Publications are also available online through the website of Adam Matthew Digital. Released as: 'Research Source - Church Missionary Society Archive: General Secretary's Papers' and 'Research Source - Church Missionary Society Archive: Central Records'. The digitised copies are available to visitors to, and members of, the University of Birmingham and other subscribing institutions. To find out more about how to access records through Adam Matthew Digital or to request a free trial, go to
Related MaterialPapers of the General Secretary's Department 1950-1959 (CMS/G59)


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