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Papers of Thomas Colvin (1925-2000)

Identifier: CSWC 39

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of three main sections (1) personal items and early mission history; (2) Colvins in Malawi 1954-1958; and (3) Colvins in Malawi 1964-1974. Section (1) includes: personal items on Colvin such as his c.v.; and material on early mission and church history including publications and early accounts and photographs (1890s-1976). Section (2) includes: mission and church reports and papers (1950s); letters to the Colvins around the time that they were excluded from Malawi, including letters from Hastings Banda in Ghana (1957-1960); photographs (c 1952-1959); and publications on Nyasaland (1951-1956). Section (3) includes: material relating to Colvin's role as Blantyre Synod Development Adviser covering the training of ministers, church funding, Synod committees and early Christian Service schemes (1962-1966); some material relating to Presbyteries and schools (1964-1967); papers and photographs recording the development of the Christian Service Committee, the Utumiki Project and the MEND seminars (1966-1975); notes, publications and other material on liturgy and hymns (1958-1976); photographs (1960s-1970s); and general publications on Malawi and Africa.


  • Creation: [ca. 1890]-2001

Language of Materials

English Chichewa or Chewa or Nyanja

Conditions Governing Access

Contact the repository for details.

Conditions Governing Use

Contact the repository for details.

Biographical / Historical

Thomas Stevenson Colvin (Tom), Church of Scotland missionary in Malawi and Ghana, was born in Glasgow on 16 April 1925. He attended the Royal Technical College, Glasgow (now Strathclyde University) where he was chairman of the Student Christian Movement and from where he graduated B.Sc. in 1945. After a period with the Royal Engineers in Burma and Singapore, Colvin returned to Scotland in 1948 to become student assistant minister at Fallin Parish Church in Stirling. Later in the same year he began a three year course in divinity at Trinity College, Glasgow, was again an active member of student bodies, and held the post of president of the SCM. He spent a year after leaving Glasgow as the Travelling Secretary of the SCM, then between 1952 and 1954 was Youth Secretary of the Iona Community.

In 1954 Colvin was ordained as a minister and appointed a missionary to Malawi (Nyasaland) where he was headmaster of Henry Henderson Institute, associate minister of Blantyre church and education secretary of Blantyre Synod. On the integration of Blantyre mission into the Synod in 1958 Colvin was appointed General Secretary but was unable to take up the post as the Welensky government declared him a prohibited immigrant. Colvin and his wife Patricia (Patsy, née McGregor), whom he had married in 1955, were forced to leave Malawi. In 1959 they went to Ghana with the Church of Scotland where Colvin was district pastor at Tamale, Northern Ghana. In Ghana Colvin was noted for his pioneering ecumenical programme of community development which he saw as a complement to evangelistic outreach and he was Organising Secretary of the Christian Service Committee of Northern Ghana.

In 1964 the Colvins were recalled to Malawi and Tom Colvin became development adviser to the Synod, being responsible for programmes to develop lay and clerical leadership training and directing the formation and growth of the Christian Service Committee. The CSC in Malawi, which from 1968 included the Roman Catholic church, was an attempt to encourage community development by Christians and to involve them in all levels of society and social planning and aid, in co-operation with secular bodies. Colvin was also involved in MEND (the movement of ecumenical action in national development), held the post of Secretary of the Christian Council of Malawi (1965-1967), and undertook many pastoral duties such as the chaplaincy of the University of Malawi. In 1974 the Colvins retired from Malawi but during 1975 Colvin made several return trips to Africa on a survey for the All Africa Conference.

From 1976 to 1984 he was warden and leader of ministry at Sydenham United Free Church in south-east London and particularly involved in urban community development. His experience and skills meant that he was frequently called on to give advice about the church in Africa and in 1984 he was appointed by the World Council of Churches and seconded to the Zimbabwe Christian Council as development consultant. The Colvins returned to Malawi with the Church of Scotland for three years in 1987 and, despite retiring in 1990, Colvin continued to advise on development projects throughout Africa and spent short periods in various countries. He revisited Malawi several times in the 1990s to advise on policy making and provide training for church leaders involved in relief and development. Colvin's promotion of the role of the church in development was not restricted to writing reports or organising committees. He was involved in many practical projects, organising relief for victims of famine and refugees and initiating various building, agriculture and health projects in villages and urban communities. Colvin was also noted for his interest in African music and hymns. He was concerned with helping the African church to use their own musical heritage in worship and to write hymns arising from the African context.

His publications on Africa include several books of hymns as well as books on the mission and church in Africa. Colvin died in Edinburgh on 24 February 2000.


4 boxes (1 file)


The material was partly arranged and annotated by Patricia Colvin before she deposited it and the papers relating to Colvin's role as Blantyre Synod development adviser were in his original files. The items have been removed from their original folders and the photographs from their albums for reasons of preservation but the arrangements, captions and file titles have been kept.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The material was presented to the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World by Patricia Colvin in 2001. Mrs Colvin spent some time arranging and annotating the material before depositing it.


None expected.

Related Materials

The archives of the foreign missions of the Church of Scotland are held by the National Library of Scotland. Edinburgh University Special Collections has some collections relating to the early years of the Malawi missions. The Centre also holds the papers of Richard Baxter, Church of Scotland missionary in Malawi.


The biographical history was compiled using (1) the collection itself, and (2) information supplied by Patricia Colvin.

Language of description
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379