Guide to the Samuel Wilberforce Papers, 1790-1872

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Collection contains largely correspondence received by Samuel Wilberforce relating primarily to missionary activities of the Church of England in East Africa and various British colonies and describing also scenery, local politics, and efforts to thwart the slave trade. Correspondents include John William Colenso, bishop of Natal; Christopher Palmer Rigby, British Army officer in Zanzibar; Charles Frederick Mackenzie, bishop of Central Africa; David Livingstone; Lord John Russell, British foreign secretary; Henry Labouchere, colonial secretary; Walter Chambers, missionary in Sarawak; Thomas Clarkson; Sir James Brooke, rajah of Sarawak; and Sir Samuel White Baker. Also includes some of Wiberforce's routine correspondence regarding appointments, meetings, and casual matters.

Collection Details

Collection Number
Samuel Wilberforce papers
1832-1872 and undated
Wilberforce, Samuel, 1805-1873
0.5 Linear Feet
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Materials in English

Collection Overview

The majority of this collection consists of letters received by Samuel Wilberforce while he served as Bishop of Oxford, and tend to relate to missionary activities of the Church of England in East Africa and various British colonies in the mid-nineteenth century. Letters from the 1830s document Wilberforce’s role in coordinating the Society for Propagation of the Gospel with the Church Missionary Society. Additional correspondence from 1857 through 1864 describes other Anglican Church missions and clergy in Sarawak (Malaysia), Tasmania, New Zealand, and the West Indies. Notable correspondents include Sir James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak (whose memorandum dates from Apr. 2, 1860) and Sir Samuel White, whose letter from 1869 describes his expedition on the White Nile in Egypt and Sudan.

East Africa is the subject of several letters to Wilberforce between 1853 and 1863. Two letters from John William Colenso, Bishop of Natal, discuss the status of the Anglican Church in Natal, his attempts to acquire financial aid, the refusal of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to provide aid for white residents, difficulties between Natal’s governor and his council, and injustices to the Kaffirs. A letter (dated Aug. 23, 1860) from Christopher Palmer Rigby, British veteran officer, describes economic and social conditions of Zanzibar, including the extent of the slave trade there and French activities on the island. Rigby also writes about the depopulation of the African coast due to slave expeditions, British naval actions against slavers, and recent ventures into the African interior. A batch of ten letters from Charles Frederick Mackenzie, Bishop of Central Africa, date between 1859 and 1861. Mackenzie’s letters describe the preparations for his trip to the Shire River region, his consecration of the mission in Cape Town, South Africa, and his work and discussions with Daniel Livingstone, who assisted in founding the mission in Nyasaland (Malawi). He describes their journey to the mission site, including Livingstone’s freeing of slaves they encountered being transported to markets, and also writes about relations between the local Manganja and Ajawa tribes.

The collection also includes contemporary copies of letters describing David Livingstone’s activities in the Zambezi River area, including a letter from Mar. 15, 1862, which describes Mackenzie’s destruction of a hostile village and his death from fever and dysentery. A related letter (unsigned) from Apr. 27, 1862, describes Mackenzie’s activities in the Shire region, as well as the political landscape between various tribes and the role of slave traders in fermenting war between various groups. A letter from Feb. 2, 1863, from British Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell informs Wilberforce that Livingstone’s expedition has been withdrawn from the mission.

More Biographical / Historical Info


Arranged chronologically.

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More copyright and citation information

How to Cite

[Identification of item], Samuel Wilberforce Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Correspondence, 1832-1860
Box 1
View 32 items (Duke Digital Repository)
Correspondence, 1861-1872 and undated
Box 2
View 19 items (Duke Digital Repository)

Historical Note

Samuel Wilberforce (7 September 1805 – 19 July 1873) was a Bishop of Oxford Winchester in the Church of England. He was the third son of William Wilberforce. Known as "Soapy Sam", Wilberforce was one of the greatest public speakers of his day.

Related Material

Rubenstein Library also holds the William Wilberforce Papers; Samuel Wilberforce was William's third son.

Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.


The Samuel Wilberforce Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase in 1961-1963.

Processing Information

Processed by Meghan Lyon, March 2016