Underhill, Edward Bean (1813-1901)

British Baptist missionary statesman

Underhill became joint secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) in 1849. He assumed responsibility for the foreign affairs of the society at a time when support for the BMS in the churches was at a low ebb. His first five years were accordingly devoted to reestablishing the confidence of Baptists in the society and placing its finances on a firmer footing. In 1854 he left for India, where he spent two and a half years seeking to revitalize the first and most important field of the BMS and promote greater self-sufficiency in the churches. A second missionary tour, to the West Indies in 1859 and 1860, had even more far-reaching consequences. He published his conclusions in The West Indies: Their Social and Religious Condition (1862). In 1865 he wrote a public letter urging government action to remedy the economic distress of the former slave population in Jamaica which contributed to unrest that culminated in the Morant Bay uprising. Much controversy in Britain followed over the brutal suppression administered by Governor Eyre, who had unjustly blamed Underhill for the disturbances. Underhilll also visited the Cameroons in 1869-1870.

Underhill retired from his position in the BMS in 1876 but remained as honorary secretary until his death. His publications include biographies of the BMS missionaries James Phillippo and Alfred Saker.

Brian Stanley, “Underhill, Edward Bean,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 688-89.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.


Underhill’s papers are preserved in the BMS archives at Regent’s Park College, Oxford.

Digital Primary

Underhill, Edward Bean. Alfred Saker, Missionary to Africa: A Biography. London: Baptist Missionary Society, 1884.

_____. Confessions of Faith and Other Public Documents Illustrative of the History of the Baptist Churches of England in the 17th Century. London: Haddon Bros., and Co, 1854.

_____. Life of James Mursell Phillippo, Missionary in Jamaica. London: Yates & Alexander, 1881.

_____. The Life of the Rev. John Wenger, D.D., Missionary in India, and Translator of the Scriptures into Bengali and Sanscrit. London: Baptist Missionary Society, Alexander & Shepheard, 1886.

_____. The Records of a Church of Christ, Meeting in Broadmead, Bristol, 1640-1687. London: Printed for the Society by J. Haddon, 1847.

_____. Struggles and Triumphs of Religious Liberty: An Historical Survey of Controversies Pertaining to the Rights of Conscience, from the English Reformation to the Settlement of New England. New York: L. Colby, 1851.

_____. Tracts on Liberty of Conscience and Persecution, 1614-1661. London: Printed for the Society, by J. Haddon, 1846.

_____. The Tragedy of Morant Bay. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.

_____. The West Indies: Their Social and Religious Condition. London: Jackson, Walford and Hodder, 1862.


Underhill, Edward Bean. Christian Missions in the East and West In Connection with the Baptist Missionary Society, 1792-1872. London: Yates & Alexander, 1873.

Underhill, Edward Bean and J. T. Brown. Emancipation in the West Indies Two Addresses. London: British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, 1861.


Payne, Ernest A. The Great Succession: Leaders of the Baptist Missionary Society During the Nineteenth Century. London: Carey Press, 1938.

Stanley, Brian. The History of the Baptist Missionary Society, 1792-1992. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992.