Thomas Arbousset was a French Protestant pioneer missionary in Lesotho and church leader in Tahiti. Born in Pignan, France, of Huguenot stock, Arbousset decided to become a missionary at the age of 15. Educated at Mazéres by the Rev. André Gachon, an admirer of Moravian missions, he entered the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society (PEMS) School of Missions in 1829. He was ordained to the ministry in 1832 and sailed for southern Africa with Eugène Casalis and Constant Gosselin. Looking for a mission field, the missionaries found King Moshoeshoe of Lesotho prepared to receive them. They hoped he would become a Christian and bring his people with him to the gospel and to civilization. Arbousset furthered the so-called native agency: he set up a home missionary society in Lesotho in 1848, consisting of companies of Christian men who were responsible for the itinerant evangelization of the districts, and who reported to the mission center at Morija. Arbousset preceded Livingstone in combining mission with exploration; his reports received an award from the Geographical Society of Paris. In 1837 he married Katherine Rogers, of Cape Town. They had nine children. The family returned to France in 1860, but Katherine Arbousset drowned during the journey. Arbousset was sent in 1863 to Tahiti, a new field assigned to the PEMS in the wake of the French occupation. The task was to save the national Protestant church in Tahiti from harassment by the French administration and aggressive proselytism by Catholic missionaries. Arbousset stayed at Papeete, Tahiti, as head of the main congregation, with Queen Pomare as his parishioner. He succeeded in restoring trust among Protestants in Tahiti and returned to France in 1865. He accepted the call of the Reformed congregation at Saint Sauvant, near Poitiers, where he served as pastor until his death. His evangelical ministry was a blessing for the parish but a thorn in the flesh of the liberal Reformed consistory at Lusignan.
Marc R. Spindler
Thomas Arbousset and François Daumas, Narrative of an Exploratory Tour to the North-East of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope (1846, 1852, 1968); Thomas Arbousset, Missionary Excursion into the Blue Mountains: Being an account of King Moshoeshoe’s Expedition from Thaba-Bosiu to the Sources of the Malibamatso River in the Year 1840, David Ambrose and Albert Brutsch, trs. and eds. (1991); Henri Clavier,* Thomas Arbousset: Recherche historique sur son milieu, sa personnalité, son œuvre, parallèle avec Livingstone* (1965; abridged version, Thomas Arbousset pionnier, 1963).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.