Order with this ReferenceMMS/Special Series/Biographical/South Seas/FBN 37 (fiche 1655-1664 & 1671)
Ref NoMMS/17/02/10/05
TitleRev Richard Burdsall Lyth
Date(s) of Creation1836-1967
Level of DescriptionSub-Sub-Series
Extent8 items
Name of CreatorLyth; Richard Bursdall (1810-1887); surgeon, ordained and medical missionary, educationalist, linguist
Lyth; Mary Ann (1811-1890); née Hardy, missionary wife
Administrative & Biographical HistoryRichard Burdsall Lyth was born in York in 1810 to John Lyth (1777-1853) and Mary Lyth (nee Burdsall, 1782-1860). His ancestry, on both sides, was strongly Methodist, with his brother John also ordained as a Methodist minister (he served as a missionary in Germany for six years) and later his nephew, David Hill, served as a WMMS missionary in China. However, Richard Lyth first trained in medicine, being articled to the York surgeon Mr Mateson, later studying for a diploma at the University of London and in 1836 qualifying as a surgeon. Also in 1836 Lyth married Mary Anne Hardy and his candidacy for missionary work was accepted on the understanding his medical work would come second to his evangelical work. The newlyweds departed for the Friendly Islands [Tonga] where they remained for nearly three years until they were relocated to the more difficult mission field of Fiji, arriving in the summer of 1839.

After briefly serving in Rewa Lyth, along with John Hunt, were invited to establish a mission at Somosomo, Taveuni, by chief Tui Kilakila. However, upon their arrival they found they were not as welcome as they had believed and restrictions were placed on their evangelical activities. Furthermore, their attempts to lessen some of the more violent elements of Fijian custom were resisted and only achieved limited success. However, both men used the opportunity to further their translation work on the New and Old Testament into Fijian dialects and Lyth's medical skills were often called upon.

After five years and with little spiritual success (although his medical skills had been much appreciated) Lyth relocated to Lakemba. As well as continuing his translation work Lyth promoted his interest in encouraging the development of the indigenous mission and the training of Fijians for pastoral and teaching work. Over the next few years the Lyths worked in either Viwa or Lakemba, as well as undertaking voyages around the coast of Viti Levu to evangelise, finally settling in Lakemba in 1850. From Hunt's death (1848) Lyth continued their translation work as well as his own interests, including work on a Fijian grammar and composing hymns. Lyth's interests in training lead to the foundation of a training institution for Fijian Methodists and he presented a report to the WMMS committee in 1853 recommending how training should be implemented. The committee accepted his recommendations and his work formed the foundation of theological training in Fiji for years after. However, Lyth's health was now failing him and he left Fiji (with his family) in October 1854 although he remained in the minds of the Fijians as the 'carpenter of sickness' and was commemorated with the mission house at Rewa being named Lythville.

Lyth did not return to England though but spent three years in New Zealand as Governor and Chaplain of the Wesleyan College in Auckland. Upon their return to England in 1858 Lyth worked in home districts as well as continuing his translation work, in particular for the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 1866 he became a supernumerary in York but was tempted out of retirement in 1869 to serve as chaplain to the military and minister to the residents of Gibraltar. He returned to England in 1874 as a supernumerary initially in Shorncliffe, Kent, and then for the remainder of his life in York, residing at the Fulford barracks. Lyth died in York on 17 February 1887 whilst his wife, Mary, died on 14 September 1890.

Further reading:
Findlay & Holdsworth, The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, (vol 3, 1921);
Lee, H, A memoir of the Lyth family of York in the nineteenth century (1987);
Wood, A. H, Overseas missions of the Australian Methodist Church (vol 2, 1978).
Held at:SOAS University of London
Custodial HistoryThe microfilm was created by the MMS on 29 June 1955 from original letters in the possession of a Mr Early
DescriptionLetter book containing copies of four letters sent by Richard Burdsall Lyth to his family, December 1836-July 1837. With index.
Letter book containing copies of letters sent by Richard & Mary Lyth to their family and friends, February 1840-December 1841. With index.
Letter book containing copies of letters sent by Richard & Mary Lyth to their family, September 1850-November 1853.
Letter book containing copies of letters sent by Richard & Mary Lyth to their family and friends, August 1852-September 1855. With newspaper cutting re sacredential address given by Rev Dr Lyth at a Sheffield District meeting at Doncaster [Yorkshire].
Volume containing extracts from Lyth's journal (1843 & 1851), copies of the 'Lakemba Note' (1846) reporting on the state of the mission, sermons, a copy of a quarterly letter from December 1847 and notes on building, health and weather in relation to the mission in Fiji. One section of the volume is in Fijian.
Letter, dated 12 December [19]52, from Margaret Early of Oxford to Miss Longstaff [Mission House, London] re marriage of Richard Burdsall Lyth and Mary Hardy and the birth of their first child.
Memo from the W[omen's] W[ork] finance department to the archives department [of the MMS] recounting the details of a recent letter received by them from Dr E C Hudson, regarding some artefacts relating to the Lyth family and Dr Hudson's intention to place these in museums in Australia and Fiji, 12 January 1967 (fiche 1671).
Microfilm containing copies of correspondence written by Richard Burdsall Lyth to his family (principally his parents) between 1829 and 1856. Letters written from York, Tonga and Fiji with occasional extract from his diary. Also includes an account drawn from the diary of William Cross regarding the wrecking of a canoe he was travelling in [between Nuku'alofa and Neiafu, Tonga] in 1832 when his wife and 20 colleagues drowned.
Access StatusTemporarily Closed
Conditions Governing AccessOnly to be viewed on microfiche.
Please ask an archivist if you wish to consult the microfilm of letters.
Language(s) of MaterialEnglish
Related MaterialOfficial correspondence by Richard Burdsall Lyth whilst a missionary in Australasia and Spain can be found within the (Wesleyan) Methodist Missionary Society archive. Letters (including extracts from his journal) are extant for Tonga (MMS/Australasia/Correspondence/Tonga/FBN 13), for Fiji (MMS/Australasia/Correspondence/Fiji/FBN 5-6), for New Zealand MMS/Australasia/Correspondence/New Zealand/FBN 10) and Gibraltar (MMS/Europe/Correspondence/Gibraltar/FBN 16). Furthermore, the synod minutes should detail his work, and that of his colleagues, in Tonga and Fiji (MMS/Australasia/Synod Minutes/Fiji & Tonga/FBN 2), New Zealand (MMS/Australasia/Synod Minutes/New Zealand/FBN 1) and Gibraltar (MMS/Europe/Synod Minutes/FBN 1).

A letter by Lyth can also be found within the Steele Collection (MMS/Special Series/Various Papers/FBN 46). An image of Lyth can be found within file 2 of MMS/Australasia/Photographs/Box 1196b. A few items by or relating to Lyth are amongst the papers of John Hunt (MMS/Special Series/Biographical/South Seas/FBN 36-37).

The Mitchell Library at the New South Wales State Library in Australia holds correspondence, journals, translation work and other papers by or relating to Richard Lyth, 1832-1889, as well as diaries and correspondence of his wife, Mary, 1838-1853.
The Alexander Turnbull Library at the National Library of New Zealand holds correspondence by both Richard and Mary Lyth, 1829-1856.
Access Points - Person, Corporate & Family Names
Name CodePerson, Corporate or Family NameType of Entity
GB/SOASNAF/P944Lyth; Richard Bursdall (1810-1887); surgeon, ordained and medical missionary, educationalist, linguistPerson
GB/SOASNAF/P946Lyth; Mary Ann (1811-1890); née Hardy, missionary wifePerson
Access Points - Places
Place CodePlace Name
2635167United Kingdom
4035893Taveuni Island
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