John Campbell

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John Campbell (1766-1840) was a Scottish missionary and traveller in South Africa.


JohnCampbell 1815

John Campbell on the banks of the Orange River, 1815

Campbell was born in Edinburgh at The Cowgate, and educated in the Royal High School alongside Sir Walter Scott. His parents died while in his early childhood and he brought up by his uncle on his mother’s side. The family being very pious influenced him greatly, and to express his religious sentiments he found work with the College Street Relief Church between 1785 and 1795.

Under the influence of the independent evangelists James and Robert Haldane Campbell in 1793 founded the Religious Tract Society of Scotland, six years earlier than that of London. He also influenced the forming of the Magdalene Societies in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. Campbell also worked with James Haldane to set up Sunday schools for religious instruction. His call to the ministry made him join Grenville Ewing’s seminary in Glasgow and was called to Kingsland Independent Chapel, London, where he was ordained in 1804.

Through Campbell’s interest in the abolition of slavery he had become friends with many of the leading evangelical abolitionists and through this he became a director of the London Missionary Society in 1805. At this time he also founded the British and Foreign Bible Society, and regularly took a preaching tour of Scotland until 1812 when he left for Africa. He wrote many children’s books and founded and edited an evangelical magazine for young people entitled the Youth’s Magazine.

South Africa

Campbell had been fascinated with Africa since his youth, and when in 1812 the London Missionary Society sent him there he embraced the opportunity. His task was to restore good relations between the missionaries and the governor, Sir John Cradock (in which he was successful), and to survey the work of the society.

griquatown coins set

Griqua Town coins set (from

The Griqua Town R5 coin

The Griqua Town R5 coin, 200th anniversary of the creation of this first coinage in South Africa.

While there he travelled extensively covering over 5000 kilometres by ox-wagon and reaching areas where few Europeans had gone before. North of the Orange River, he met the Griqua people and their leader Adam Kok, with their missionary John Anderson. Campbell was so impressed by extent of Christianity in the area, that when he returned to Britain he had a set of coins minted. The Griqua currency became the first South African currency in 1815, according to the South African Reserve Bank. It also became the country’s first decimal coinage and the world’s first Christian Missionary coinage. There is a debate, though, whether the coins were actually used as currency. On 12 January 2016, The South African Reserve Bank, celebrated the 200th anniversary of the creation of this first coinage in South Africa, by issuing The Griqua Town 200 R5 coin.

Griqua Town is considered an important missionary town, and was the home of Scottish minister Robert Moffat, who wrote the first Sesotho translation of the bible.


travelsinsouthafrica 1815

Travels in South Africa, 1815


Travels in South Africa, 1822

When Campbell returned to London in 1814 he wrote up his experiences in Travels in South Africa, which was published the next year and rapidly went through three editions. A few years later in 1819 he was again on his way to Africa, but this time accompanied by his fellow director of the London Missionary Society, John Philip. They were to reorganise the work of the Society in South Africa and Philips was to stay on as resident director after he and Campbell had completed their work.

africanlight title

African Light, 1842

Again, on his return to London, Campbell wrote about his travels, and in 1822, two new volumes also called Travels in Africa, containing one of the most accurate maps of southern Africa yet produced of the time. Beside his Travels, his one other substantial work was African Light Thrown on a Selection of Scripture (1835). He died unmarried on 4 April 1840 in London


Campbell’s written works:

Travels in South Africa, Undertaken at the Request of the Missionary Society. (London: Black & Parry, 1815).

Can be read here:

Travels in South Africa, Undertaken at the Request of the London Missionary Society; Being a Narrative of a Second Journey in the Interior of that country. 2 Volumes. (London: Printed for the Society, 1822).

Can be read here: Volume 1:

Can be read here: Volume 2:

African Lights Thrown on a Selection of Scripture Texts. (Edinburgh: John Johnstone, 1835). Second edition 1842.

Can be read here: