London Missionary Society in Singapore



The London Missionary Society (LMS) set up a mission in Singapore in 1819. Besides preaching and running schools, the LMS also started the Mission Press, the first printing press in the settlement. Although the LMS closed its Singapore mission in 1847, Benjamin Keasberry, a former LMS missionary, remained in Singapore as an independent missionary and continued printing, preaching and running his school for Malay boys until his death in 1875.

LMS in London and its missions
The LMS was a Protestant interdenominational society formed in 1795 in London to “spread the knowledge of Christ among heathen and other unenlightened nations”.1 It focused on translating the Bible and other Christian tracts into local languages.2

The establishment of the LMS came at a time of evangelical Protestant revival in late 18th-century Britain, fuelled in part by a rising middle class and the excitement of successful expeditions such as that of Captain James Cook to the Pacific. Many of its members belonged to Dissenting or Non-Conformist churches that believed in a simple style of worship and the centrality of the scriptures.3

While early missions were sent to Polynesia, Africa and the West Indies, the LMS regarded China as a particularly important destination for evangelising, given its huge population. Its first missionary to China, Robert Morrison, arrived in 1807, but at the time Europeans were restricted to living in Canton (now Guangzhou) and Macau. Morrison began translating the Bible into Chinese and preparing an English–Chinese dictionary. However, with the arrival of a fellow LMS missionary, William Milne, it became clear that a more practical strategy was to set up elsewhere in the region while waiting for a later opportunity to do more in China.4

Melaka was chosen as the best site as it had a Chinese population and was on a busy trade route. Together with Liang A-Fa, a printer from China, Milne established the Melaka mission in 1815.5 They were joined by Claudius Henry Thomsen, who focused on Malay translation, helped by his tutor, Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, also known as Munshi Abdullah. Abdullah had tutored Stamford Raffles and later went on to also tutor several LMS missionaries. He later wrote his memoir, Hikayat Abdullah, one of the first Malay literary texts published commercially.6

The LMS missions in China, Melaka, Singapore, Penang and Java were collectively known as the Ultra-Ganges Mission.7


Establishment of LMS in Singapore
The LMS mission in Singapore started in October 1819, after the arrival of the British East India Company in late January that year. Milne was granted land for the LMS to establish a mission at the corner of Bras Basah Road and North Bridge Road, where Raffles Hotel now stands. Samuel Milton, the first missionary sent to Singapore, concentrated on Chinese and Siamese translations. In 1822, Thomsen was transferred to Singapore from Melaka to work on Malay translation with Abdullah’s assistance.8

Mission Press
In January 1823, Raffles gave permission for the formal establishment of a printing press.9 Run by the LMS, the Mission Press, as it was later known, was the first and only press in the settlement at the time. Raffles saw the potential for its function in secular matters, stating: “I look with great confidence to the influence of a well-conducted press in this part of the East”.10 However, it is likely that printing had begun in late 1822, shortly before formal permission was granted, as Abdullah mentioned the rush to make enough types for the printing of the first proclamation.11 Some commercial printing was also undertaken, including that of Singapore’s first newspaper, Singapore Chronicle, which was printed by the Mission Press from 1824 to 1830.12

The priority, however, was the translation and printing of the Bible and other Christian tracts into local languages. This was a major undertaking, as the missionaries had to learn the languages, prepare dictionaries, translate texts and then print them on equipment that was often old and inadequate. These Christian tracts were then distributed at locations such as on vessels docked at the harbour, and it was hoped that some might reach China in this way. Some works were also used in the small mission schools set up by the LMS in Singapore – in 1827, there were two Malay schools for boys and one for girls, as well as a Chinese school with 12 students.13

Education
Initially it seemed that the LMS might play a much bigger role in the development of education in Singapore than it did ultimately. Raffles had been keen for the LMS’s Anglo-Chinese College in Melaka to move to Singapore as part of his planned Singapore Institution. He envisaged the institution to be responsible for educating the sons of local rulers and chiefs, instructing East India Company officials in local languages and customs, and developing a professional class of local teachers and officials.14 Despite laying the foundation stone in 1823,15 work on the school buildings languished until 1835 and the incorporation of Melaka’s Anglo-Chinese College did not materialise. The mission schools, too, were often short-lived. An exception was the Chinese Girls’ School, established in 1842 by Maria Dyer (wife of LMS missionary Samuel Dyer) and known today as St Margaret’s School.16

Closure and later developments
Printing work was disrupted for some years when Thomsen returned to England in 1834. He claimed that most of the printing equipment was his to sell, although this was disputed by the LMS headquarters. Nonetheless, he sold the press and some land to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which ran the press until it closed its mission in Singapore in 1843. Upon the latter’s departure, the press and land were returned to the LMS.17

In 1847, the LMS closed its mission in Singapore, as the treaties signed after the First Opium War (1839–42) meant that they could finally set up in China. Nonetheless, Keasberry, who had joined the LMS in Singapore in 1839, chose to remain in Singapore as an independent missionary and continue his work. He carried on preaching in his Malay Mission Chapel (now the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church), teaching, translating and printing.18

By 1848, Keasberry had relocated the printing press and his school for Malay boys to a site called Mount Zion on River Valley Road which he had purchased from the government. Pupils were taught English and Malay and instructed in the art of printing and book-binding, with the school effectively becoming the first vocational and technical school in Singapore.19 Some of its students were members of the Johor royal family.20 Keasberry mastered the lithographic printing of texts in Jawi (an Arabic language adapted for use in writing Malay) and, assisted by Abdullah, produced works that were intricately coloured and detailed, emulating handwritten manuscripts. In 1862, Keasberry played a key role in establishing a church in Bukit Timah for the Chinese community, now known as the Glory Presbyterian Church.21

Keasberry died in 1875, ending the last connection of the LMS in Singapore. The press was sold at auction. Despite operating under the Mission Press name for some years, it was a wholly commercial entity without an evangelical purpose.22

Legacy
The LMS was in Singapore for less than 30 years – longer if Keasberry’s extended time until 1875 as an independent missionary is also included, when he effectively continued to carry out the translation, printing and educational work that he had previously undertaken with the LMS.23 It is likely that the actual number of Christian converts was quite low, particularly in the early years,24 and that Keasberry’s Malay school was attractive to Malay parents because it provided practical opportunities for boys to learn English and to receive a Western education.25

It is perhaps in early printing that the LMS made its greatest contribution. The Mission Press published dictionaries that were in use for many years, and its printed texts were used in schools long after its closure.26 Being the first printing press in Singapore, the Mission Press is historically important for printing the proclamations issued by Raffles in Singapore, early government publications, and Singapore’s first newspaper. The printing of Christian scriptures and texts, while not successful in terms of conversions, advanced the availability of printed material in local languages and contributed to the development of a print culture in the region. Keasberry’s technique of lithographic printing in Jawi – which included the publication of Abdullah’s books – has been described as having had a “lasting influence both in the application of print technology and in the content and style of written Malay”.27 The National Library holds original copies of several LMS-printed works, including Thomsen’s Malay translation of The Sermon on the Mount and Keasberry’s magazine, Cermin Mata Bagi Segala Orang Yang Menuntut Pengetahuan.28

Physical reminders today of the LMS’s presence in Singapore are the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, which has been gazetted as a national monument,29 the Glory Presbyterian Church,30 St Margaret’s School and Zion Road.31



Author
Sandra Hudd




References
1. Horne, C. S. (1908). The story of the L.M.S., with an appendix bringing the story up to year 1904. Blackfriars: London Missionary Society, p. 10. Retrieved from Missiology website: https://missiology.org.uk/book_story-of-the-lms_horne.php

2. Daily, C. (2013). Robert Morrison and the Protestant plans for China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, p. 162. (Call no.: R 266.02341051 DAI)
3. Johnston, A. (2003). Missionary writing and empire, 1800–1860. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 14–15. (Not available in NLB holdings); Roxborogh, J. (1992). Early nineteenth-century foundations of Christianity in Malaya: Churches and missions in Penang, Melaka and Singapore from 1786–1842. Asian Journal of Theology, 6(1), 54–72, p. 3. Retrieved from Roxborogh.com website: http://roxborogh.com/sea/country/SSET1786%20update%2009.pdf
4. Milne, W. (1820). Retrospect of the first ten years of the Protestant mission to China (now in connection with the Malay, denominated, the Ultra-Ganges missions); Accompanied with miscellaneous remarks on the literature, history and mythology of China, & c [Microfilm no.: NL 6603]. Melaka: Anglo-Chinese Press, pp. 135—138; Daily, C. (2013). Robert Morrison and the Protestant plans for China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, p. 162. (Call no.: R 266.02341051 DAI)
5. Daily, C. (2013). Robert Morrison and the Protestant plans for China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, p. 162. (Call no.: R 266.02341051 DAI)
6. Abdullah bin Kadir & Hill, A. H. (Trans.). (1969). The Hikayat Abdullah: The autobiography of Abdullah bin Kadir (1797–1854)Singapore: Oxford University Press. (Call no.: RSING 959.51032 ABD)
7. Daily, C. (2013). Robert Morrison and the Protestant plans for China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, p. 162. (Call no.: R 266.02341051 DAI)
8. O’Sullivan, L. (1984). The London Missionary Society: A written record of missionaries and printing presses in the Straits Settlements, 1815–1847. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 57(2)(247), 61–104, pp. 73–74. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
9. Singapore local laws and institutions, 1823. (1824). London: Cox and Baylis, pp. 1–2. Retrieved from BookSG.
10. Raffles, S. (1991). Memoir of the life and public services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 536–537. (Call no.: RSING 959.57021092 RAF-[HIS])
11. Abdullah bin Kadir & Hill, A. H. (Trans.). (1969). The Hikayat Abdullah: The autobiography of Abdullah bin Kadir (1797–1854)Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 188. (Call no.: RSING 959.51032 ABD)
12. Gibson-Hill, C. A. (1953, July). The Singapore Chronicle (1824–37). Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 26(1)(161), 175–199. (Call no.: RSING 959.5 JMBRAS); Mazelan Anuar. (2016, January–March). The first newspaper. BiblioAsia, 11(4), 110–111. Retrieved from BiblioAsia website: http://www.nlb.gov.sg/biblioasia/2016/01/26/the-first-newspaper/
13. London Missionary Society. (1827). The report of the directors to the thirty-third general meeting of the Missionary Society, usually called the London Missionary Society, on Thursday, May 10, 1827. London: The Author, p. 35. Retrieved from eCommons website: https://ecommons.cornell.edu/handle/1813/29811
14. O’Sullivan, R. L. (1988). The Anglo-Chinese College and the early ‘Singapore Institution’. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society61(2)(255), 45–62, pp. 49–50. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
15. Wijeysingha, E. (1989). The eagle breeds a gryphon: The story of Raffles Institution 1823–1985Singapore: Pioneer Book Centre, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 373.5957 WIJ)
16. O’Sullivan, R. L. (1988). The Anglo-Chinese College and the early ‘Singapore Institution’. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society61(2)(255), 45–62, pp. 50, 56. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; St Margaret’s School. (2002). Great is thy faithfulness: The story of St Margaret’s School in Singapore. Singapore: St Margaret’s School, pp. 27—28. (Call no.: RSING 373.5957 SAI)
17. Teo, E. L. (2009). Malay encounter during Benjamin Peach Keasberry’s time in Singapore, 1835 to 1875. Singapore: Trinity Theological College, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 266.02342095957 TEO)
18. The Malay Mission Chapel. (1893, February 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884—1942), p. 2; An early Malay educator. (1926, May 12). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), p. 296. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Blackburn, K. (2017). Education, industrialization and the end of empire in Singapore. New York: Routledge, p. 38. (Call no.: RSING 370.95957 BLA)
20. Teo, E. L. (2009). Malay encounter during Benjamin Peach Keasberry’s time in Singapore, 1835 to 1875. Singapore: Trinity Theological College, pp. 272–273. (Call no.: RSING 266.02342095957 TEO); The Malay Mission Chapel. (1893, February 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884—1942), p. 2; An early Malay educator. (1926, May 12). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), p. 296. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Teo, E. L. (2009). Malay encounter during Benjamin Peach Keasberry’s time in Singapore, 1835 to 1875. Singapore: Trinity Theological College, pp. 294–298. (Call no.: RSING 266.02342095957 TEO)
22. The press was purchased by Charles Westlake in February 1876; see Wednesday 16th February. (1876, February 19). The Straits Times, p. 2. It was then sold to John Fraser in July 1877; see Untitled. (1877, July 21), The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Teo, E. L. (2009). Malay encounter during Benjamin Peach Keasberry’s time in Singapore, 1835 to 1875. Singapore: Trinity Theological College, pp. 40–41. (Call no.: RSING 266.02342095957 TEO)
24. Roxborogh, J. (1992). Early nineteenth-century foundations of Christianity in Malaya: Churches and missions in Penang, Melaka and Singapore from 1786–1842. Asian Journal of Theology, 6(1), 54–72, p. 5. Retrieved from Roxborough.com website: http://roxborogh.com/sea/country/SSET1786%20update%2009.pdf
25. Blackburn, K. (2017). Education, industrialization and the end of empire in Singapore. New York: Routledge, p. 39. (Call no.: RSING 370.95957 BLA)
26. Lim, P. H. (2009, January). Singapore, an emerging centre of 19th century Malay school book printing and publishing in the Straits Settlements, 1819–1899: Identifying the four phases of development. BiblioAsia, 4(4), 4–11, pp. 6–7. Retrieved from BiblioAsia website: https://www.nlb.gov.sg/Browse/BiblioAsia.aspx; Proudfoot, I. (1993). Early Malay printed books: A provisional account of material published in the Singapore-Malaysia area up to 1920, noting holdings in major public collections. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya, pp. 12, 15–16. (Call no.: RSING 015.5957 PRO-[LIB])
27. Proudfoot, I. (1993). Early Malay printed books: A provisional account of material published in the Singapore-Malaysia area up to 1920, noting holdings in major public collections. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 015.5957 PRO-[LIB])
28. The substance of our Saviour’s Sermon on the Mount contained in the 5th, 6th, &c. 7th chapters of the Gospel according to St. Matthew [Microfilm no.: NL 21277]. (1829). Singapore: S. C. Mission Press; Cermin mata bagi segala orang yang menuntut pengetahuan [Microfilm no.: NL 25723]. (1859). Singapore: Mission Press (Singapore).
29. Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (Singapore). (2013). Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (1843–2013): Celebrating 170 years of God’s faithfulness. Singapore: Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, p. 16. (Call no.: RSING 285.25957 PRI)
30. History of our church. (n.d.). Retrieved 2017, March 1 from Glory Presbyterian Church website: http://www.glorypresbyterian.net/new/?page_id=9
31. Savage, V. R., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study in toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 408. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])



Further resources
Byrd, C. K. (1970). Early printing in the Straits Settlements, 1806–1858Singapore: National Library.

(Call no.: RSING 686.2095957 BYR)

Harrison, B. (1979). Waiting for China: The Anglo-Chinese College at Malacca, 1818–1843, and early nineteenth-century missions. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. 
(Call no.: RSING 207.595141 HAR)

McNeur, G. H. (2013). Liang A-fa: China’s first preacher, 1789–1855. Eugene: Pickwick Publications. 
(Call no.: RSEA 275.1081 MAC)

O’Sullivan, L. (1990). A history of the London Missionary Society in the Straits Settlements (c. 1815–1847) [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. London: University of London.
(Call no.: RCLOS 266.0234105957 OSU)



The information in this article is valid as at 16 May 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Communications
Heritage and culture