The Church Missionary Society was active overseas from the early 1800s and had a presence in many countries around the world. Objects acquired abroad were exhibited at their London headquarters. In the 1950s and 1960s, many objects were sold off to museums including to the Horniman.
The Society for Missions in Africa and the East was founded in Aldersgate Street, City of London, in 1799. William Wilberforce MP was one of the founding members, and the Society's three main aims were the abolition of the slave trade, British social reform and world evangelisation.
The overseas mission work of the Society began in Sierra Leone in 1804, and in 1812, the Society was renamed The Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East. The first English clergy to work as the Society's missionaries went overseas in 1815. The Society’s work spread rapidly to India, Canada, New Zealand and the area around the Mediterranean.
Its main areas of work in Africa were in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda and Sudan. In Asia, the Society's involvement was principally in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China and Japan. In the Middle East, it has worked in Palestine, Jordan, Iran and Egypt. The Society continues its work today and is known as the Church Mission Society.
In 1813, the Society rented premises in Salisbury Square in the City of London, and by the end of the 19th century, the Society’s headquarters, and its large staff, were based in a row of houses. In 1966, it moved to new premises in Waterloo Road, and in 2007, it moved again, this time to premises in Oxford.
The Horniman acquired a substantial number of artefacts from the Church Missionary Society during the 1950s and 1960s. The specimens had been exhibited at the headquarters, but the Society started to sell off some of their collections, to the British Museum and the Horniman. The process was accelerated in the 1960s, when the Society moved to their new headquarters at 157 Waterloo Road, London.
The collection reflects the broad geographical reach of the Society with specimens from various countries from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.