Philip, John (1775-1851)

Scottish superintendent of the London Missionary Society (LMS) in Southern Africa

Philip was converted in the Haldene revival and in 1805 began a very successful ministry in Belmont Congregational Church, Aberdeen. There he married, in 1809, Jane Ross who bore four sons and three daughters.

In 1819 the LMS work in South Africa was threatened with closure by the British authorities. John Campbell and John Philip were sent down as directors of the LMS to investigate fully and suggest reforms, and Philip was appointed to stay on as superintendent. Three of his sons became Congregationalist ministers in South Africa, one daughter returned to Great Britain and another, Elizabeth, married John Fairbairn, the radical negrophile editor of the Cape Commercial Advertiser. Jane also became the de facto administrative secretary of the LMS in South Africa, sometimes, during many of her husband’s long treks, having to act on her own initiative.

In the Cape Colony, the indigenous Khoi people had become a landless laboring class. Together with the many people of mixed race, they constituted the so-called Cape Coloured people. In 1820 they had few civil rights. The LMS had gathered many of them into a number of lively congregations, and in 1823 Philip began a campaign to gain them their civil rights. In 1828 the effort was successful, though Philip had had to spend 18 months in Britain lobbying on their behalf, during which time he wrote Researches in South Africa.

Beyond the Cape Colony frontier the LMS had helped the Griqua people become an independent Christian ministate, and Philip hoped this would be the model for other South African indigenous peoples. While in Europe, he recruited the Paris Evangelical Mission Society and the Rhenish Missionary Society to begin work in South Africa; by correspondence he also persuaded the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to come. As with his own LMS, he advocated to these societies the necessity of “native agency,” that is, that only Africans could convert Africa.

After the Xhosa war of 1834-1836, Philip went to London with a group of Coloured and Xhosa Christians to give evidence to a parliamentary commission before which he insisted that a major share of responsibility for the war lay with the British authorities and the white colonists. For this he was never forgiven by a large section of the white population. He was bitterly condemned by the Afrikaner people, who had left the colony on their Great Trek and had created the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The Coloured people, together with the Griqua, Sotho, and Xhosa, had a very different attitude toward him, symbolized by his grave in a Coloured graveyard in a Coloured township.

Andrew C. Ross, “Philip, John,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 533-534.

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.


Digital Texts

Philip, John. Researches in South Africa, Vol. 1. 1828.

_____. Researches in South Africa, Vol. 2. 1828.


Philip, John. Researches in South Africa; Illustrating the Civil, Moral, and Religious Condition of the Native Tribes, including journals of the author’s travels in the interior, together with detailed accounts of the progress of the Christian missions, exhibiting the influence of Christianity in promoting civilization. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.

_____. Reminiscences of Gibraltar, Egypt, and the Egyptian War, 1882 (from the ranks). Aberdeen: D. Wyllie, 1893.

_____. Memoir of Mrs. Matilda Smith, late of Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope. London: F. Westley, 1824.

Macmillan, William M., and John Philip. Bantu, Boer, and Briton; the Making of the South African Native Problem. Rev. and enl. ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.

_____. The Cape Colour Question; a Historical Survey. London: Faber & Gwyer, 1927.

Moodie, Donald, and John Philip. Correspondence between Donald Moodie, Esq. and the Rev. John Philip, D.D., relative to the production for publication of alleged “official authority” for the statement that “in the year 1774 the whole race of bushmen or hottentots who had not submitted to servitude was ordered to be seized or extirpated.”. Cape Town; London: A.S. Robertson; J. Richardson, 1841.

Shaw, William, and John Philip. 1976. A Defence of the Wesleyan Missionaries in Southern Africa: Comprising copies of a correspondence with the Reverend John Philip: An introduction and appendix. Reprints – The State Library, Pretoria; no. 79; variation: Reprints (State Library [South Africa]); no. 79. Pretoria: State Library, 1976.

Wardlaw, Ralph, and John Philip. What is death? : A Sermon delivered in Poultry Chapel, London, on the Evening of Thursday, November 27th, 1851, on occasion of the recent death of the Rev. John Philip, D.D., for thirty years Superintendent of the Missions of the London Missionary Society in South Africa. London: A. Fullarton and Co. Woolman, John, John Philip, and Peckham, 1852.

The Negro’s Friend : A Christian Testimony Against Slavery; The Negro’s Friend, no. 12. London: Bagster and Thoms, printers, 1830.


Ross, Andrew. John Philip, 1775-1851: Missions, Race, and Politics in South Africa. [Aberdeen]: Aberdeen University Press, 1986.

_____. “John Philip,” in Mission Legacies, edited by Gerald H. Anderson, 125-31. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994.

Tait, Elspeth Claire. Dr. John Philip, 1775-1851: a selective bibliography. Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand, Dept. of Bibliography, Librarianship and Typography, 1972.

Three Portraits of John Philip, National Portrait Gallery.

John Philip,” in Dictionary of African Christian Biography