New Royal Commonwealth Society Glass Negatives and Lantern Slides

[Missionaries on yaks, Himalayas, northern India], circa 1930s, CMS 34/21

The Royal Commonwealth Society department has just published on Cambridge Digital Library its second release of approximately 1,000 photographic glass plates and lantern slides, made possible by a generous donation from Cliff Webb.  The great majority of slides are from the collection of the Church Missionary Society, which was founded in 1799 as a Christian evangelical missionary organisation.  Many of these items are uncaptioned, so we would be very grateful for assistance in identifying the people and places shown.

Maori carver at work, New Zealand, circa 1910s, CMS 22/9


The overseas mission work of the CMS was launched in 1804 and expanded quickly thereafter. In Africa, its work was concentrated in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda and Sudan; in Asia and Oceania, it was active in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Japan and New Zealand; and in the Middle East, it operated in Palestine, Jordan, Iran and Egypt. Virtually all of these areas are represented in collection, emphasising its truly global significance.


House at Kano, Nigeria, circa 1930s, CMS 22/17

The images were published in the society’s journals ‘The Gleaner’ (which reproduced its first photograph in 1887) and its successor from 1922 ‘Church Missionary Outlook’, or used to illustrate its work in public lectures.  They document the CMS’s role in running schools, colleges, medical missions, hospitals and agricultural and building projects.  The glass plates will offer much to those researching the fields of mission studies as well as the history, geography, anthropology and rural and urban development of the many countries where the CMS worked.  The majority of the collection dates from the early and mid-twentieth century, but there are a number of important early glass plates, including those featuring the pioneering male and female missionaries who travelled to Uganda in the 1890s.

Mr and Mrs RL Stevenson with party on the veranda of Vailima, Samoa, 1890, Y309993A(LS)/53

Two other important collections in this release relate to Samoa during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, featuring views of its landscape and people, including examples of their dress, daily life, arts and crafts.  Y309993A(LS) was compiled by Wilfred Powell (1853-1942) who in 1885 was appointed Britain’s Consul and Deputy Commissioner for the Western Pacific.  In addition to fascinating scenes from the great hurricane of 1889 and the Samoan Civil War of 1899, the collection holds images of the famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived on his plantation at Vailima from 1890 until his death in 1894.  There are also glass plates showing his tomb upon the summit of Mount Vaea.


We look forward to the digitisation of further lantern slides and glass negatives in 2018.





  • Dear Sir / Madam,

    I have attached some information I found tonight re John Davis – Photographer, who we thought had died in 1893, he actually died in 1903 (see page 9 of the attached .pdf), and Alfred Tattershall was one of his assistants – in this document it mentions his relations with Alfre Tattershall, RLS and also the fire at his Gallery & Post Office that destroyed all his photography images.

    Roger G Swearing mentioned this in an email to me, and said RLS’s step-daughter Isobel “Belle” Strong had mentioned it, but there was no other record, well here it is!!

    See website:

    So the info on your site regarding his death in 1893 (as we all thought this was when he passed), will likely need amending, and who knows what else in the wider world?!

    My interest in this is because I hold a glass plate negative dated 1895, Samoa – which is of RLS with Chief Tui and am trying to ascertain who took / copied it!

    I would be more than happy to send you images of this if of interest?



    • Dear Richard,

      We are very grateful for the further information regarding John Davis and his relationship with Alfred Tattersall, and will amend our records. We would be very interested to view a copy of your glass plate negative, which you may send to

      Many thanks, John

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