Mission, Race and Colonialism in Malawi

Alexander Hetherwick of Blantyre

Kenneth R. Ross

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The first intellectual biography of Alexander Hetherwick, a key figure in Scotland-Malawi relations

  • Makes extensive use of rarely consulted primary sources, both in Malawi and in Scotland, with particular attention to Hetherwick’s prolific correspondence
  • Includes a fresh account of the dynamics at play in the creation of Malawi as a nation, with special attention to the role played by Scottish missionaries, Hetherwick in particular
  • Presents a critical examination of the way in which Blantyre Mission both absorbed and resisted the prevailing racism and colonialism of the early 20th century
  • Presents an appraisal of Blantyre Mission’s distinctive philosophy and policy; and of how, under Hetherwick’s leadership, it navigated the social, cultural and political challenges of the early 20th century

Mission, race and colonialism were three forces shaping Malawi’s history during the early years of the twentieth century. These three found a concentrated meeting point in the life of Scottish missionary Alexander Hetherwick, who led Blantyre Mission from 1898 to 1928. This book presents a fresh assessment of this towering figure in Malawi’s history, contesting the scholarly consensus that Hetherwick betrayed the early ideals of Blantyre Mission by compromising too much with the colonial system that was in force during his leadership. The book assesses the pervasive influence of colonialism, from which Hetherwick was not exempt, and traces the ways in which he resisted such influence through his relentless commitment to the interests of the African community and the inspiration he found in the emergence of the African church.


1 Introduction

2 The Pioneer Missionary: Domasi Days

3 The Right-Hand Man: Scott and Hetherwick

4 The Mission Leader: Father Figure

5 The Public Figure: Critic and Campaigner

6 Malawi Visionary: Standing Up for Cinderella

7 The Linguist and Bible Translator: Words Must Be

8 The Mission Thinker: Priorities and Policy

9 The Church Leader: Imagination and Reality

10 Missionary and Empire Builder? Tensions and Contradictions


This study of Alexander Hetherwick fills a gap in our understanding of Malawi’s history. Anyone seeking to understand the interplay of mission, race and colonialism must read this book.

Billy Gama, CCAP Blantyre Synod

A very solid and nuanced work of scholarship. The themes explored in depth are of foundational importance for Malawian history.

Dana L. Robert, Boston University
For the unprejudiced reader, there can be little doubt that Hetherwick's rehabilitation is done in a balanced and sympathetic way. Ross's arguments are compelling, based on extensive knowledge of the sources and of research in Hetherwick's correspondence and writings.
John M. MacKenzie, Studies in World Christianity
Kenneth R. Ross is Professor of Theology and Dean of Postgraduate Studies at Zomba Theological University, and Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria. Earlier he served as General Secretary of the Church of Scotland Board of World Mission and, since 2012, has been an adviser to the World Council of Churches. He has published extensively on many different aspects of World Christianity, including the highly successful EUP book, The Atlas of Global Christianity 1910-2010, co-edited with Todd M. Johnson. Since 2013, Ross and Johnson have collaborated as Series Editors of the EUP Edinburgh Companions to Global Christianity.

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