Sibree, James (1836-1929)

English missionary in Madagascar

Born in Hull, England, Sibree began missionary work in 1863 as an architect appointed by the London Missionary Society (LMS) to superintend erecting four large, stone churches in Antananarivo, each a memorial to a particular martyr of recent persecutions. He then returned to England, studied for the ministry at Spring Hill College, married Deborah Richardson, and went again to Madagascar in 1870. He led in extending mission work outside the capital and began teaching in the theological college. Difficulties with the government forced him to withdraw for a time (1877-1883), during part of which he worked for the LMS in South India. Back in Madagascar, he became principal of the theological college, in which position he continued till retirement in 1915. In the years leading up to the French conquest, he was an outspoken champion of Malagasy independence and urged the LMS in England to be so also. He exhibited amazing industry, continually turning out plans for new mission buildings and writing numerous works in Malagasy and sixteen books in English. His books, which were accurate and popular although not scholarly, dealt with Malagasy fauna and flora, general history, and mission history in his adopted land. He was elected fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.

Charles W. Forman, “Sibree, James,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 619-20.

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 Primary

Sibree, James. Fifty Years in Madagascar: Personal Experiences of Mission Life and Work. London: G. Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1924.

_____. The Great African Island: Chapters on Madagascar: A Popular Account of Recent Researches in the Physical Geography, Geology, and Exploration of the Country, and Its Natural History and Botany ; and in the Origin and Divisions, Customs and Language, Superstitions, Folk-Lore, and Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Different Tribes. London: Trübner & Co, 1880.

_____. Madagascar and Its People: Notes of a Four Years’ Residence. With a Sketch of the History, Position, and Prospects of Mission Work Amongst the Malagasy. [London]: Religious tract Society, 1870.

_____. Madagascar Before the Conquest: The Island, the Country, and the People, with Chapters on Travel and Topography, Folk-Lore, Strange Customs and Superstitions, the Animal Life of the Island, and Mission Work and Progress Among the Inhabitants. New York: Macmillan, 1896.

_____. A Naturalist in Madagascar: A Record of Observation, Experiences, and Impressions Made During a Period of Over Fifty Years’ Intimate Association with the Natives and Study of the Animal & Vegetable Life of the Island. London: Seeley, Service & Co, 1915.

_____. Our English Cathedrals: Their Architectural Beauties and Characteristics, and Their Historical Associations Popularly Described, Together with Chapters on the Cathedral in Mediaeval and in Modern Times, and in English Poetry and Prose ; Withmaps, Plans, and Numerous Illustrations from Photographs. London: F. Griffiths, 1911.

_____. Things Seen in Madagascar. London: Livingstone Press (L.M.S.), 1921.


London Missionary Society, and James Sibree. A Register of Missionaries, Deputations, Etc., from 1796 to 1923. London: The Society, 1923.

_____. A Madagascar Bibliography. In Two Parts: Part I.–Arranged Alphabetically According to Authors’ Names; Part II.–Arranged Chronologically According to Subjects Treated of. To Which Is Added a List of Publications in the Malagasy Language, and a List of Maps of Madagascar. Antananarivo: Printed at the Press of the London missionary Society by native printers, 1885.

_____. The Madagascar Mission; Its History and Present Position Briefly Sketched. [London]: London Missionary Society, 1907.


Goodall, Norman. A History of the London Missionary Society, 1895-1945. London: Oxford University Press, 1954.