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Fiona Doran and Karen Jacques write:

In April of this year we were given the opportunity to work on the archive of the Home Mission Papers; a valuable resource within our Methodist Collections. Our aim was to enhance the current catalogue descriptions in order to open up the collection to researchers and wider audiences and at the same time to rehouse the material into more manageable archival storage.

Thomas Coke

Portrait of Thomas Coke (Methodist Archives PLP/28/1/17)

The idea of establishing a Home Mission in the Scottish Islands was suggested by Dr Thomas Coke (1747-1814) in his paper of 1786 An Address to the Pious and Benevolent, Proposing an Annual Subscription for the Support of Missionaries in the Highlands and Adjacent Islands of Scotland, the Isles of Jersey, and Guernsey, and Newfoundland, the West Indies, and the Provinces of Novi Scotia and Quebec. 

Dr Coke, the Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, later became known as the ‘Father of Methodist Missions’.

An appeal to set up a mission in Shetland was made to him in 1808. However, it wasn’t until 1821, two years after John Nicolson (1790-1828) returned to Shetland (also referred to as Zetland in the archive) that a circuit was established there. Nicolson, who was originally from Shetland, had been converted to Methodism while serving in the army during the Napoleonic Wars.


HMR Lerwick 7

Image of Lerwick taken from the Wesleyan Home-Missionary Record, April 1869 (HM/2/2)

The archive provides a wealth of information about the Home Missions which were taking place in the Shetlands during the 19th century. The collection contains correspondence, financial records and printed documents which will enable researchers to learn how the missions were established, read about the appeals which were launched to fund the building of chapels and schools and uncover information about the many preachers who were based in the islands.  The image below shows a list of local preachers in Zetland.

List of preachers 1

List of local preachers in the Zetland Isles (1855, HM/2/3/16)

Even just sorting through and repackaging materials, it was all too easy to be drawn into the collections. Correspondence in particular proved to be very distracting, providing insights into the relationships between preachers and the network they established through their letters.

This collection will be of interest to anyone researching the history of Home Missions, particularly in Scotland and the Islands. An equally significant archive for researchers interested in evangelism is the archive of The Evangelization Society (TES) which was catalogued in 2012. See a previous blog post on this topic written by Dr Gareth Lloyd.

Historical information about the Home Mission was taken from the Dictionary of Methodism in Britain and Ireland.

Images are reproduced with the permission of the University of Manchester Library, and the Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes, The Methodist Church in Britain.