Treasures in the West Indies section of the BFSS Archives’ Foreign Correspondence

Front cover of an exercise book containing handwriting specimens by pupils at school in Montego Bay, Jamaica

Front cover of an exercise book containing handwriting specimens by pupils at school in Montego Bay, Jamaica

In December 2013 the BFSS signed an historic agreement with Brunel University gifting the BFSS Archive to the University.   Since then work on cataloguing the collection has proceeded apace.

The BFSS Archive includes the West Indies series of papers, which consists of correspondence to and from 18 different countries, including Jamaica, Bermuda, Barbados, Haiti, Tobago and Antigua, dating from 1816 to 1894.  The letters cover all the administration involved in running and supporting schools overseas, such as employing teachers trained at Borough Road College (a predecessor college of Brunel University London), requests for educational supplies.  They also touch on the political and religious situations in the various countries.  The largest file is the Jamaica file, with over 200 letters which include names of pupils who were “bought from slavery”.

Embroidered school book by 16-year old Jamaican slave

Embroidered school book by 16-year old Jamaican slave

The founding of the British and Foreign School Society was contemporary with the increase in British missionary activity and the growing anti-slavery movement in Britain, to which the BFSS had close links through its treasurer William Allen, and both of these areas of activity feature heavily in the West Indies section.

The BFSS Foreign Correspondence comprises the hundreds of 19th C letters sent to and from the BFSS in the administration of its foreign business.  Although filed under continents the letters had never been catalogued individually.  A project has been underway for over 3 years, led by Phaedra Casey, Archivist, with the help of several volunteers, to catalogue every single letter with a content description.

The Foreign Correspondence is being catalogued onto CALM with a view to being available online next year.  In the meantime if you wish to view the catalogue please contact the Archivist who can email you relevant sections of it.  The Archivist can be contacted at phaedra.casey@brunel.ac.uk or on 01895 267095.  You can also make an appointment to visit the Reading Room at the Old School House (1 Hillingdon Hill, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB10 0AA) close to Brunel University’s Uxbridge Campus.