Saint Augustine's was originally founded as an abbey and endowed by King Ethelbert in A.D. 605. Suppressed in 1538, it was restored 310 years later as an Anglican Mission College, under Royal Charter, in 1848. The Missionary College of St. Augustine was established to relieve the shortage of ministers qualified to serve the British Empire.
The Occasional Papers, the first of which was published on May 31, 1853, had their origin in the letters received from various quarters and read at Sunday evening gatherings at the College. These letters from former students give a wide range of contemporary views and opinions on Christian mission fields. Some detail pioneering labors and successes; others reflect first impressions of the societies, terrain, and peoples they met; most supply a broad range of local, social, geographical, anthropological, and missiological information. The letters originate from around the world, some written aboard ship, and others from locations identified only by their navigational coordinates.
The major requirement for admission to the College was communion with the Church of England and "satisfactory certificates of baptism, and of religious and moral character." Because of this, the missionaries themselves came from diverse nationalities and backgrounds, including one Eskimo named Kallihirua. These letters reflect the attitudes of participants in an important period of expanding Church of England missionary activity. They record early contacts with indigenous peoples and reveal the painful efforts of colonial pioneers to adapt English social and religious practices to very un-English environments.
Included are subjects of anthropological interest such as the "Head Feast" of the Dayaks in Sarawak and the "Feather Cloak" from Hawaii; local cures such as "Native medicines in the Cape"; news from the mission field in China and Zululand; material on the Boer war and the siege of Standerton, Transvaal; along with many other interesting items.
These Occasional Papers provide an important source for missiologists and anthropologists, and more widely for their portrayal of British colonial and post-colonial history at a local level.