World Collection: Reading Missionaries
In the 1800s and early 1900s Reading was heavily involved in foreign missionary work. Missionaries would travel across the globe with the aim of spreading Christianity to ‘heathens’ and thus focused on areas they believed had uncivilised people. Mostly this evangelical work was done alongside colonial expeditions, and often resulted in missionaries becoming the first European settlers in many areas of Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. In fact, Berkshire-born Reverend George William Lawes and his family become the first European settlers to Papua New Guinea in 1874. As some places had not previously been seen by Europeans, one aim of these expeditions became the collecting of objects to exhibit in Europe, as a means of educating those at home about the world.
The missionary objects in Reading’s collection include weapons, jewellery, tools and photographs which originate from what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo, Papua New Guinea and Nigeria; the collectors were all either born, educated or worked in Reading before embarking on these foreign missions.
The most important items to Reading are the objects within the Forfeitt Collection. John and William Forfeitt were local brothers who worked for Suttons Seeds up until the time they felt the call to missionary work. John Forfeitt was the secretary to the Baptist Missionary Society’s Congo Mission; he worked alongside the main figures in the Society including George Grenfell. His brother William was also involved in the Congo Mission and had gone with his wife, Anne Marie Forfeitt. Anne was the daughter of Samuel Jeremiah Collier, the brick manufacturer and a prominent figure in Reading Baptist history.
Both the Colliers and the Suttons were very influential families in Reading at the time and were significant names within the local churches. George Palmer, though a Quaker, was often called upon to lead various local Baptist Union assembly meetings held in the town. The Simonds family were the only family of the ‘three Bs’ of Reading who were not involved in missionary work - as they were the brewers, this is probably due to the churches’ severe condemnation of alcohol and drunkenness.