Reverend Simpson’s “Improper Liberties”: Moral Scrutiny and Missionary Children in the South Seas Mission

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This article explores a case of alleged sexual abuse, by a missionary, of a number of missionary daughters in the South Seas mission. The rich material connected with this case allows for a powerful insight into the fabric of life of missionaries and their children, and illuminates various levels of moral scrutiny and social supervision that were embedded in the mission context. Parental moral scrutiny was the most effective mechanism to neutralise the internal threat posed by the (psycho/sexual) deviance of missionary children. The levels of moral scrutiny in the mission were unevenly implemented, however, and the asymmetry of scrutiny that occurred (whereby missionary children were subjected to intense social/sexual supervision, while missionaries themselves were permitted a certain level of deviation from spiritual and cultural norms) reflected the hierarchies of power and social dynamics of the mission context. This case led to the systemisation and legitimisation of both these scrutinies and asymmetries, while further implementing new levels of social control, directed both at the behaviour of missionary children, and the efficiency of parental moral scrutiny enacted by their parents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-181
Number of pages22
JournalThe Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2012


  • MIssionary history
  • Colonialism
  • South Pacific
  • Moral scrutiny
  • missionry children
  • religious childhood

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