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The Nineteenth-Century Missionary-Translator: Reflecting on Translation Theory through the Work of François Coillard (1834–1904)

  • Esther Ruth Liu (a1)


In the discussion of the history of Christianity, the issue of translation is inevitably present, and yet the discipline of Translation Studies too often neglects the potential for insight that this rich history of translation can bring. This article seeks to reconcile these academic fields, allowing each to enlighten the other. In particular, by presenting the example of the nineteenth-century French Protestant missionary François Coillard (1834–1904) and his translation methods, the article posits colonial missionary narratives as useful not only for considering historical translation processes but also for reconsidering some of the assumptions of contemporary translation theory. By employing sources written by Coillard as well as those written about this ‘Livingstone français’, it challenges the assumptions prevalent in translation theory that the translator is invisible and that he works alone.


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*University of Cardiff


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1 Jerome, ‘Letter to Pammachius’, and Venuti, Lawrence, ‘Genealogies of Translation Theory: Jerome’, in Venuti, Lawrence, ed., The Translation Studies Reader, transl. Davis, Kathleen, 3rd edn (London, 2012), 2130, 483–502 respectively. See also Lawrence Venuti, ‘Foundational Statements’, ibid. 11–20, at 15–16.

2 E.g. Venuti, ‘Foundational Statements’, 16, 20; Brisset, Annie, ‘The Search for a Native Language: Translation and Cultural Identity’, in Venuti, ed., Translation Studies Reader, 281311, at 282–3, 295; Michael Cronin, ‘The Translation Age: Translation, Technology, and the New Instrumentalism’, ibid. 469–82, at 473.

3 Hastings, Adrian, The Church in Africa: 1450–1950 (Oxford, 1994), 281.

4 Peterson, Derek, Creative Writing: Translation, Bookkeeping, and the Work of Imagination in Colonial Kenya (Portsmouth, 2004), 8, 9; Samson, Jane, ‘Translation Teams: Missionaries, Islanders, and the Reduction of Language in the Pacific’, in Grimshaw, Patricia and May, Andrew, eds, Missionaries, Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Exchange (Eastbourne and Portland, OR, 2010), 96109, at 107.

5 Hastings, Church in Africa, 256.

6 Mackintosh, Catharine Winkworth, Coillard of the Zambesi: The Lives of François and Christina Coillard, of the Paris Missionary Society, in South and Central Africa (1858–1904) (London, 1907), 91.

7 For the remainder of the article I will be using colonial place names.

8 Coillard translated for Lewanika during the controversial Lochner concession, whereby the British South Africa Company gained trade and mineral rights in Lewanika's territory in exchange for income and help in development (which, consequently, did not materialize), and is documented as a translator for the Basuto leader, Molapo: Caplan, Gerald L., The Elites of Barotseland, 1878–1969: A Political History of Zambia's Western Province (Berkeley, CA, 1970), 52; Galbraith, John S., Crown and Charter: The Early Years of the British South Africa Company (Berkeley, CA, 1974), 217; Shillito, Edward, François Coillard: A Wayfaring Man (London, 1923), 86.

9 Favre, Edouard, François Coillard. Missionnaire au Lessouto (1861–1882) (Paris, 1912), 438; Addison, James Thayer, François Coillard (Hartford, CT, 1929), 1213. It is not clear whether Coillard customarily translated from Hebrew or French, although he had certainly studied Hebrew and Greek.

10 Shillito, Wayfaring Man, 67.

11 Addison, Coillard, 12; cf. Favre, Lessouto, 360, 183.

12 Rosenberg, Scott, Weisfelder, Richard F. and Frisbie-Fulton, Michelle, Historical Dictionary of Lesotho (Lanham, MD, 2004), 61. Elsewhere we read that it is ‘probably the most widely used of any hymnbook across the whole of southern Africa’: Morija Museum and Archives, ‘Lifela Tsa Sione’, 2 September 2012), online at: <>, accessed 20 August 2015.

13 Unpublished material is cited here with the permission of the Bibliothèque du DEFAP, 102 boulevard d'Arago, Paris.

14 Norman Shapiro, cited in Venuti, Lawrence, The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation (London and New York, 1995), 1.

15 Bassnett, Susan, Reflections on Translation (Bristol, 2011), 17.

16 This visibility is evident in this article as I am providing my translations and the French citations.

17 ‘Missionnaire-explorateur français bien connu’: Bertrand, Alfred, ‘Séance du jeudi matin 23 août’, Bulletin de la Société de géographie de Lille 35 (1901), 55.

18 ‘Qui n'a entendu le nom de François Coillard?’: Millioud, Maurice, ‘Chronique Suisse romande’, Bibliothèque universelle et revue suisse 72 (1913), 636–48, at 642.

19 ‘Lettre D'Allemagne’, La Justice. Journal politique du matin, 19 July 1905, 3; Ferrari, ‘Le Monde et la ville’, Le Figaro, 17 June 1904, 2; ‘Informations’, Le Figaro, 20 November 1898, 4; Frédéric Lemoine, ‘Société de géographie. Séance du 1er décembre, présidence de M. de Guerne’, Journal Officiel de la République Française, 7 December 1905, 7087–9, at 7088.

20 Pinto, Serpa, How I crossed Africa, transl. Elwes, Alfred, 2 vols (Hartford, CT, 1881). The second volume is subtitled ‘The Coillard Family’.

21 Ibid. iv. Pinto's book was published in Portuguese, French, English, German and Swedish in 1881, and in Spanish and Italian in 1890.

22 ‘[H]éroïques pionniers de l’Évangile’: ‘Chronique Suisse’, Bibliothèque universelle et revue suisse 61 (1911), 197–206, at 201; ‘ambassadeur du Christ’: Malan, Charles, La Mission française du sud de l'Afrique. Impressions d'un ancien soldat (Paris, 1878), 207.

23 E.g. ‘Coillard . . . induced Lewanika . . . to request British protection. . . . with Coillard's active assistance, he [Lochner] finally persuaded Lewanika’: Rotberg, Robert I., The Rise of Nationalism in Central Africa: The Making of Malawi and Zambia, 1873–1964 (Cambridge, 1965), 15.

24 E.g. ‘Shippard's message deceived both Lewanika and Coillard. . . . Coillard was almost as much an innocent as Lewanika in dealing with Rhodes and his agent. . . . the naiveté of Coillard’: Galbraith, John S., Crown and Charter: The Early Years of the British South Africa Company (Berkeley, CA, 1974), 213, 215, 218.

25 E.g. Bolink, Peter, Towards Church Union in Zambia: A Study of Missionary Co-operation and Church-Union Efforts in Central Africa (Franeker, 1967); Caplan, , Elites of Barotseland; Jean-François Zorn, Le Grand Siècle d'une mission protestante. La Mission de Paris de 1822 à 1914 (Paris, 2012).

26 Zorn, Jean-François, The Transforming Gospel: The Mission of François Coillard and Basuto Evangelists in Barotseland, ed. Visinand-Fernie, Elizabeth, transl. Atger, Dora (Geneva, 2004), 41.

27 It is said that he ‘parle leur langue comme l'un d'eux’ (‘speaks their language like one of them’), Glardon, Auguste, ‘Encore dans l'Afrique centrale’, Bibliothèque universelle et Revue suisse 15 (1899), 545–75, at 549.

28 For example, ‘une jaquette en serge blanche, que lui avait faite Mme Coillard’ (‘a white serge morning coat which Madame Coillard had made for him’): Favre, Edouard, François Coillard. Missionnaire au Zambèze (1882–1904) (Paris, 1913), 292.

29 ‘[A] little cottage of dried bricks’ as opposed to ‘the Basuto style of building . . . when they move they take their houses with them’: Mackintosh, Coillard of the Zambesi, 62, 83.

30 Mathews, Winifred, Dauntless Women: Stories of Pioneer Wives (London, 1947), 57.

31 See Maxwell, David, ‘The Missionary Home as a Site for Mission: Perspectives from Belgian Congo’, in Doran, John, Methuen, Charlotte and Walsham, Alexandra, eds, Religion and the Household, SCH 50 (Woodbridge, 2014), 428–55.

32 Zorn, Transforming, 12.

33 Bassnett, Reflections on Translation, 17.

34 ‘Monsieur Coillard . . . me dit qu'il ne désirait qu'un homme tout ordinaire; pas plus spécialement théologien que linguiste’: Paris, Bibliothèque du DEFAP, SMEvP archives, letter from Frédéric Christol to the ‘Membres de la Commission Executives’, 1883.

35 ‘Qu'il renonce à lui-même, qu'il se charge de sa croix’: Favre, Lessouto, 508; cf. Matt. 16: 24 and parallels.

36 ‘“Il faut qu'Il croisse et que je diminue.” Voilà ce que je me répète chaque jour à moi-même’: Favre, Zambèze, 483; cf. Favre, Lessouto, 210, 410, 453; Zorn, Transforming, 12. The allusion is to John 3: 30.

37 Venuti, Invisibility, 8.

38 ‘Le traducteur subit, soumis . . . subjugue . . . dépossédé de sa parole propre. Parole de l'autre, l'auteur’: Albert Bensoussan, cited in Simon, Sherry, Gender in Translation: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Transmission (London and New York, 1996), 8.

39 ‘Il ne faut pas que la mission . . . soit une question personnelle, la mission de M. Coillard: ce serait sa ruine’: Favre, Lessouto, 518.

40 ‘[C]’est bien cet Évangile et non le prédicateur qui est la puissance de Dieu’: ibid. 147.

41 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, Outside in the Teaching Machine, 2nd edn (Abingdon, 2009), 205.

42 See Balserak, Jon, John Calvin as Sixteenth-Century Prophet (Oxford, 2014), 96; cf. Parker, T. H. L., Calvin's Preaching (Louisville, KY, and Edinburgh, 1992).

43 Nord, Christiane, Translating as a Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches explained (Manchester, 1997), 123–8.

44 A translation practice whereby multiple fans contribute to one translation effort, such as the translation of a manga novel into Italian.

45 Peterson, Creative Writing, 8.

46 Chesterman, Andrew, ‘Ethics of Translation’, in Translation as Intercultural Communication: Selected Papers from the EST Congress, Prague 1995, ed. Snell-Hornby, Mary, Jettmarová, Zuzana and Kaindl, Klaus (Amsterdam, 1997), 147–57, at 148.

47 The translation of the Bible is historically undertaken in collaboration: from Jerome with his communities of women and men, through Luther and his colleagues in Wittenberg, to modern teams of Bible translators. However, in general Translation Theory focuses on the singular translator.

48 The exceptions being Mackintosh, Zambesi; Zorn, Transforming.

49 ‘M. Coillard est accompagné de . . . Mme Coillard, . . . Mlle Coillard, de M. le missionnaire Jeanmairet, de deux aides missionnaires indigènes et de leurs familles, de MM. Waddell et Middleton, . . . deux jeunes indigènes . . . C'est donc toute une petite colonie . . . M. Coillard et ses collaborateurs’ : Armond, Paul, ‘Nouvelles des voyageurs’, Bulletin de la Société de géographie de Marseille 8 (1884), 5488, at 66.

50 Addison, Coillard, 9.

51 Ibid. 9.

52 Mathews, Dauntless Women, 59.

53 Dawson, E. C., Heroines of Missionary Adventure; True Stories of the Intrepid Bravery and Patient Endurance of Missionaries in their Encounters with Uncivilized Man, Wild Beasts and the Forces of Nature in All Parts of the World (Philadelphia, PA, 1909), 208.

54 Mackintosh, Coillard of the Zambesi, 109–10; Mathews, Dauntless Women, 59, 73 (quotation); Rey, C., Une Femme missionnaire. Souvenirs de la vie et de la mort de Christina Coillard (Paris, 1892), 54, 62, 93; cf. Coillard, François, On the Threshold of Central Africa: A Record of Twenty Years’ Pioneering among the Barotsi of the Upper Zambesi, ed. and transl. Mackintosh, Catharine Winkworth (London, 1897), 428.

55 For example, ‘à Aaron revient l'honneur d'avoir fondé notre école avec ces matériaux bruts’ (‘Aaron had the honour of having founded our school with these raw materials’): Coillard, François, Sur le Haut-Zambèze. Voyages et travaux de missions (Paris, 1898), 396. Aaron was also an ‘instructor in reading’: Addison, Coillard, 43.

56 Blanquis, J., ‘Le Jubilé de 1908’, in Livre d'or de la Mission du Lessouto. Soixante-quinze ans de l'histoire d'une tribu sud-africaine 1833–1908 (Paris, 1912), 51399, at 575; Rosenberg, Weisfelder and Frisbie-Fulton, Historical Dictionary of Lesotho, 295.

57 Favre, Zambèze, 195; Mujere, Joseph, ‘African Intermediaries: African Evangelists, the Dutch Reformed Church, and the Evangelisation of the Southern Shona in the Late 19th Century’, Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae 39 (2013), 133–48 at 134.

58 Mackintosh, Catharine Winkworth, ‘Some Pioneer Missions of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland’, in Occasional Papers of the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum nos 1–16 (Leiden, 1974), 249–96, at 252–3.

59 Hastings, Church in Africa, 439.

60 Martha McCollough makes a similar statement in her conclusion to Three Nations, One Place (New York and London, 2004), 111.

61 Rotberg, Rise of Nationalism, 58.

62 Caplan, Elites of Barotseland, 80.

63 ‘Bien que ces Ethiopiens se soient mis . . . sur un pied d'hostilité, ce sont des chrétiens et des hommes capables. Ils prêcheront le christ dans un esprit de contradiction, mais ils le prêcheront’: Favre, Zambèze, 465.

64 ‘[I]l nous eût été facile d'en prendre notre parti’: ibid. 466.

65 ‘[J]e m'ne réjouissais de tout mon cœur, car, après tout, ce sont nos enfants et ils travaillent à la réalisation d'une grande idée’: ibid. 534.

66 ‘[I]ls viennent à la capitale même . . . pour nous supplanter’: ibid. 466.

67 ‘[L]a lutte avec un de nos enfants en la foi qui s'est tourné contre nous’: ibid. 535.

68 ‘[N]ous pourrions travailler en bonne harmonie et prier les uns pour les autres’: ibid. 536.

69 ‘Rien de plus intéressant et de plus instructif que de voir comment diverses nationalités et différentes dénominations comprennent l’œuvre des missions, et de comparer les résultats de leurs systèmes’: Favre, Lessouto, 140.

70 ‘The Paris Committee . . . gave its moral support to the undertaking’: Mackintosh, Zambesi, 293.

71 Zorn, Transforming, 41.

72 Peterson, Creative Writing, xi.

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The Nineteenth-Century Missionary-Translator: Reflecting on Translation Theory through the Work of François Coillard (1834–1904)

  • Esther Ruth Liu (a1)


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