This article, based on private papers as well as missionary and government records, examines the development of missionary contact with the Tswana peoples from the first settlement at Dithakong in 1816 to the establishment of a formal British Protectorate. The author seeks to analyse the nature of ‘missionary imperialism’ as a consequence not only of missionary motives and methods—still less as the accidental interest of individual missionaries—but also as the product of practical missionary experience and frustration in African circumstances.
The absence of European administration from Bechuanaland for much of the nineteenth century gives a rare opportunity to study the effects of missionary activity on African life and polity, less complicated than usual by secular pressures and influences. And the lack of economic attraction in Bechuanaland allows a close examination of the incentives to empire. But it is likely that the trend apparent in missionary attitudes and work in Bechuanaland will be repeated in other areas, as for example in Ndebeleland and Malawi.
The missionary role in Bechuanaland was largely determined by the organization and attitudes of Tswana society; missionary methods had to be adjusted accordingly, and eventually included an appeal to the British government to intervene and reduce resistant Tswana authority. This was in the logic of the missionaries' experience. In this light of missionary history, a new importance is found for the agitation on the British government from 1882 and the definition of the Convention of London in 1884.