British and Foreign Bible Society

British and Foreign Bible Society

The British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) was founded in 1804 by Williams Wilberforce and others for the purpose of making the bible available in any language for which there was a readership.

The earliest beginnings of the BFBS in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) began when the Matabele King, Mizilikazi, heard of the new faith and sent an emissary to the London Missionary Society’s Kuruman Mission in South Africa in 1829. An emissary was sent accompanied by missionary Robert Moffat. After several visits to Matabeleland, Moffat, accompanied by the Rev. William Sykes and the Rev. T. Morgan Thomas, went to a proposed mission-field in Matebeleland. After many unpleasant experiences, they were eventually assigned the valley and fountain of Inyati, where they eventually settled.

Rev Thomas, for twenty years before his death in 1884 at Shiloh, had been working on the Matabele translation of the New Testament. Completed the day before his death, his wife promised that she would published his works. Spending the savings of many years, she arranged 500 copies of the publication. Unfortunately, only three were sold, fifteen given away, and the rest stored in a strong box at Shiloh.

Meanwhile in South Africa, the South African Auxiliary advanced the work of BFBS. In 1891, the Auxiliary made an attempt to head towards the Zambesi. The first shipment of Scriptures for the Chartered Company’s gold-fields was lost off Beira, but others followed. Bishop Knight-Bruce took out a supply to Mashonaland and in 1895, after the Matabele Kingdom was merged in Rhodesia, depots were opened at Bulawayo, Fort Victoria and Salisbury.

The London Missionary Society missionaries and the Dutch ministers readily took part in the work, and the concession on the carriage of the books on the Mafeking railway outweighed the advantage of the shorter line by the Beira route. Soon the South Africa Auxiliary was raised to the status of an agency of the Society and was placed under the charge of Mr Nuttall.

The new operations in Rhodesia were soon brought to a stand still by the rising of the Matabele and Mashona after the capture of the ‘Jameson raiders’ in 1895. Those stored by Rev Thomas’ wife in the strong box at Shiloh, were carried off and used for martial headgear by the Matabele braves in the revolt of 1896. The Rev. J. Laing of Durban heard of the matter, and sent what was perhaps the only surviving copy to the Bible House. The copyright was purchased by the agency, and the Gospel of Luke was printed and sent out to Bulawayo for revision, but the miscarriage of many of the proofs greatly delayed its publication.

In the meantime it appeared that Mr Sykes (who died at Inyati in 1887), had left translations of Matthew and Mark. The former had been printed during a visit to Cape Town in 1884. By 1897 the Committee took up the Mashona version. In 1898, St Mark was translated by the Rev. John White of the Wesleyan Mission and the whole 500 copies were sold out in two days.

The continuing work was interrupted by the outbreak of the Boer War on 11th October, 1899. In 1901 the Auxiliary published 1000 copies of the Mashona version of St Matthew. This was distributed among the Wesleyan, Anglican, and American Methodist Missions and the Salvation Army as “for every month an increasing number of Mashona were learning to read.”

By 1902 at the end of the war, nearly half of the Auxiliary’s depots across Southern Africa were closed. However, to the great satisfaction of all denominations, a new agency, with a strong consultative committee and the Rev. George Lowe, a well-known Wesleyan minister as secretary, was founded at Johannesburg for Central South Africa. The new division comprised the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal, the Bechuana Protectorate, Swaziland and Rhodesia. By 1903, 3030 copies of the Mashona versions of the Gospel of St John, Matthew, Mark were revised and published.

In 1939, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, Nyasaland and Portuguese East Africa were separated from the Central South Agency. The four regions, together with Madagascar, Belgian Congo and Tanganyika, formed to create an independent agency.

In 1946, the BFBS joined the newly created United Bible Societies organisation.