‘Property to seek lost souls’? The ‘social lives’ of contributions made in the South Pacific in the mid-nineteenth century and their representation in missionary publications
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The nineteenth-century London Missionary Society (LMS) missions to the South Pacific involved a remarkable form of material culture: the contribution. Contributions were produce, craft objects or money which South Pacific Christians gave to the LMS, like its metropolitan supporters, in order to fund its missions. Hitherto contributions have been neglected by historians. This thesis seeks to trace the ‘social lives’ of the contributions made by converts in the South Pacific to the LMS through missionary publications in order to understand how these reflect the relationship between missions and (in)formal empire in the mid-nineteenth century. It will largely do so using periodicals the LMS published between 1841 and 1871. The ‘social lives’ or ‘object-biographical’ approach used here draws on and adapts the concepts and theories of Arjun Appadurai and Igor Kopytoff on how to approach ‘things’, in particular commodities. The ‘social life’ of a contribution has been broken down into three main stages: its cultivation, creation or earning; when it became a contribution; and, finally, what happened to it afterwards, in particular where it ended up. The ‘social lives’ of contributions reveal that there was not one link between LMS missions and (in)formal empire, but several. In the first stage, the attitudes of the missionaries with regard to their roles in bringing Christianity and civilisation to those in the South Pacific, which would in turn enable them to produce contributions, formed the most important link. These attitudes were also an important link for the second stage. In addition, this second stage seems to reveal the missionaries’ authority and raises questions around how voluntary contributions were. Finally, the third stage connected empire and missions through the trading networks relied upon by the LMS to exchange contributions for money.