Christmas in the collections

By Special Collections, SOAS Library|15th December 2014|Collections & Research|0 comments

This week we have selected a small sample of images from a number of different collections of archives at SOAS, on a seasonal theme. 

The Ceylon Christmas Annual 1952, National Christian Council. From an article entitled, ‘The significance of Christmas, Christ’s coming ‘in the fullness of time’’, by The Venerable Archdeacon Kendall Baker. Ref: MMSL S146. Author of illustration unknown.

The Ceylon Christmas Annual produced by the National Christian Council of Ceylon in 1952, contains a series of articles on Christian subjects, photographs of British missionaries and indigenous teachers working in Ceylon [Sri Lanka] missions, prayers and advertisements for domestic products. The annual for this year begins with an article on the Nativity, from which the above image has been sourced.  Probably intended for the education of children, the annual includes large colour images in an Asian illustration style. The annual is just one of over 7,000 titles in the Methodist Missionary Society (MMS) Library held at SOAS, which is a key source for the history of the Society as well as the geographical regions and peoples with whom the missionaries came into contact. The majority of books in the collection were published by the MMS and its partner churches overseas, with many written by Methodist missionaries.  The collection also includes some non-Methodist publications from various different missionary societies and other Christian organisations, such as the National Christian Council.

Christmas Crib Scene, Malua Theological College, Samoa, c.1940-c.1970. Reference: CWM/LMS South Seas Photographs, Box 8. © Council for World Mission

A Christian mission to the Navigator Islands [Samoa] was started after a visit by London Missionary Society missionary John Williams in 1830. The mission became known for its educational work, including the Malua Theological College established in 1844. Specialised ministries were also developed to set up youth clubs and Sunday Schools for local children. The above image was taken by Dr John Bradshaw who worked as a missionary with the LMS in Samoa, 1954-1965.  Correspondence, reports and photographs taken by the missionaries were sent to the London Missionary Society headquarters in London, and can be seen in the archives at SOAS.  Rev Bradshaw wrote several articles for The Chronicle (of the London Missionary Society) including an article on the Malua Theological College entitled ‘To Keep Pace’ in 1958, while he was serving there as Principal.

Children with Christmas gifts from the American Red Cross, c.1962. Reference: CWM/LMS Papua New Guinea, Photographs, Box 12. © Council for World Mission

In 1962, The Chronicle (of the London Missionary Society) featured an article entitled, ‘Christmas at Gemo, extracts from letters from Miss Myra Kennedy, Gemo Island, Papua’. The above photograph, taken by LMS missionary Constance G. Fairhall, was amongst a set taken to commemorate the festivities at the Gemo Hospital Mission. Myra Kennedy was missionary nurse working in the Gemo Hospital Mission, who sent back letters to the LMS from 1964-69.  She notes that after Sunday School and service on Christmas Eve, a large “feast of rice, meat, bananas, Papuan vegetables, fruit, tea and lolly water” was served. She also remarked upon the early start to Christmas Day – at 4.45am – and a later visit by the American Red Cross, who brought home-made dolls, footballs and games for the children at Gemo, some of whom were suffering from leprosy.

LMS missionary work began in Papua in 1873 and the Gemo Hospital Mission was established in 1937. By 1962, the LMS annual report for that year stated that Myra Kennedy was struggling to keep the mission running as she was the sole member of LMS staff working there, assisted by Samoan and Papuan staff.  Other photographs in the set include local crafts such as hula mat and canoe making and children in traditional dress.

Girls of the Chaotung School singing carols, Yunnan, S W China, taken by Rev. Kenneth W May, c.1925-c.1934. Reference: MMS China Photographs Box 1197B. © Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes

Rev. Kenneth W. May was appointed by the United Methodist Missionary Society to the West China District from 1925, and then South West China from 1932 to 1948, later becoming Chairman of the district. His obituary in the Minutes of Methodist Conference 1963 records him as ‘a devoted pastor’.  He took many photographs visiting the missions in South West China, including local people involved with the Methodist missions, Miao [A Hmao] and Nosu [I-Chia] local preachers and teachers, and mission buildings such as chapels and schools of the Nosu District, Yunnan. Rev May also wrote articles for the Methodist magazines, including The Foreign Field (of the Wesleyan Methodist Church). The above photograph, captioned ‘Let every heart awake and sing’, was used in an article published in The Kingdom Overseas , 1934.

Share this Post:

About Special Collections, SOAS Library

Broadly speaking, our collections reflect the British interaction with Africa, Asia and the Middle East over the last 250 years, and include archives of missionary societies, NGOs and campaign groups, and business organisations, as well as papers of individuals, including diplomats, campaigners, and academics. If you have any questions, or comments, please get in touch! email: tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4180

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *