Pearse, Joseph

London Missionary Society

Joseph Pearse was an English missionary to Madagascar. Born in London and educated at New College, London, Pearse arrived in Madagascar in 1863 as one of a large contingent of missionaries sent by the London Missionary Society (LMS) to triple the LMS staff after Christianity ceased to be persecuted and was officially accepted. His wife, Mary Eyre (Burn), died within a year of their arrival, and he later married Margaret Irvine, the widow of a missionary. Pearse first worked in a time of great prosperity; he was made pastor of a large new church that the people erected, only to find by the time it was completed that it was too small. He then became one of the first missionaries to volunteer for pioneer work among new tribes, starting a mission among the Sihanaka people in 1875. Securing some medical training, he threw himself into medical work along with evangelism. In five years he began fifteen congregations with 2,000 adherents. He was then asked to go to another pioneer district, Betsileo, where his tact and judgment were needed in relating to an advancing Lutheran mission. In the 1890s, however, he endured disasters, empty churches, and the loss of workers forced into exile by anti-LMS policies of the conquering French government. Hoping to resume work with the Sihanaka in 1898, he found everything in ruin because of a rebellion that had swept through that area. He was then called back to his first church, where he enjoyed some stability until ill health forced his retirement in 1904.

Charles W. Forman


Norman Goodall, A History of the London Missionary Society, 1894-1945 (1954); Richard Lovett, The History of the London Missionary Society (1899); C. F. A. Moss, A Pioneer in Madagascar: Joseph Pearse of the L.M.S. (1913).

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.