Missionary children stood at the heart of the Protestant evangelical missionary endeavour in the nineteenth century. While this voluntary movement (as opposed to its Catholic and Anglican counterparts) was built on a foundation of male artisanal activity, it soon became a family endeavour. 1 This was a pragmatic decision that had profound ideological ramifi cations, and it changed the shape of the missionary movement from one invested in cultural and even racial hybridity to one increasingly concerned with both material and moral reproduction. 2 The move away from itinerate and single male preachers towards settled and domiciled families coincided with, refl ected and constituted the rise of the so-called ‘civilising mission’. 3 The civilizing mission itself nudged evangelical missionaries increasingly closer to a project of ‘modernization’ that had Christianity fi rmly at its heart but that was also more and more interested in the outward signs of inward change, and thus preoccupied with the cultural accoutrements of Western civilization. 4 This manifested itself in the micro-managing of material practices (including dress, housing, cleanliness, etc.). 5 These exercises in the performance of civilization came with ideological baggage, of course. ‘Western modernity’ was not a neutral call to ‘progress’ but, rather, a discursive set of signifying practices, and, as such, missionaries were increasingly involved in the gender dynamics, domestic relations and communal organization of the communities they came into contact with. The missionary family was at the heart of this, modelling normative domestic behaviours from how one ate, dressed and prayed to how one raised one’s children. 6
As such, evangelical missionaries were intertwined with the fashioning of Christian subjects. Yet the ways in which they sought to mould their own children into Christian models and future missionaries is less well known, and infrequently examined, despite its obvious importance to the everyday practice of missionary lives. 7 Just as material practices came with ideological ramifi cations, so did choices about missionary parenting. Making missionary children had complex interactions with the evolving nature of missionary practice, as this chapter explores. At the same time, missionary children were at the heart of the missionary project throughout their lives; directly involved in mission as assistants, teachers and translators, and indirectly
involved through the normative example their presence sought to present. Their lives, experiences and beliefs thus offer a valuable opportunity for historians of mission, empire and childhood to explore the coalface of colonial encounter and the everyday realities of grassroots interaction and exchange. They formed the (sometimes troubling) point of interaction between cultures in contact, and brought the politics of encounter into the intimate domestic sphere. This posed something of a dilemma for missionary parents: how to socialize their children into a religious vocation that depended upon contact, conversation and social and spiritual intimacy while at the same time safeguarding the morals, religious convictions and physical development of their children, all of which were seen as threatened by the Indigenous social and physical environment? ‘[I] t grieves us much,’ wrote missionaries Charles Barff, George Platt and John Williams in 1833, ‘to see what our children are daily exposed to.’ 8 After all, Christian mission existed within what historians of empire have labelled the ‘contact zone’ – a place of intimacy, encounter and interaction. 9 Missionary children brought the contact zone into the domestic space in worryingly intimate ways, though. As missionary children seemed increasingly to embody their hybridity through practices deemed as deviant, missionary parents increasingly policed the internal frontiers of their homes and families – with profound ramifi cations for the ideology and practice of evangelical mission.