Chapter XII. Church Life in Madras in the Eighteenth Century
Period.--England: Queen Anne; the Three Georges. India: Growth of the British and Mahratta power; Decline of the Mughal.
Books or Reference.--The Church in Madras, by the Rev. F. Penny; Hough's Christianity in India; Encyclopaedia Britannica.
TPHE first forty-five years of the eighteenth century J. were comparatively peaceful, as far as Madras was concerned. The French and the English lived amicably side by side in their coast settlements, and that, in spite of the fact that the two countries at that period were hardly ever at peace in Europe. Human ambitions, however, have an unpleasant way of asserting themselves, and in the year 1745 it occurred to the distinguished Labourdonnais, French Governor of Mauritius, who in his youth had been in the French Navy, that it would be for the honour and glory of France to turn the English Company out of its comfortable settlement in Madras. Collecting a strong fleet, he easily evaded the British Admiral and attacked Madras. In spite of its elaborate fortifications, it offered but a poor resistance. For nearly three years (1746-49) Madras remained in the hands of the French, and many of its most precious possessions found their way to the French settlement at Pondicherry. Then came the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, one of the terms of which was that Madras was to be restored to the English. On their return to it the Company found the settlement had been seriously damaged during the French occupation and that its fortifications had been reduced almost to ruins. So bitterly did the Directors of the East India Company resent the destruction of these fortifications, that later on, when fighting began afresh between the English and French, they laid it on their servants to lay waste the fortifications of the enemy whenever they had the opportunity--an injunction which was carried out only too faithfully, when Pondicherry fell into our hands. After the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle there was peace for a short time, but it was not destined to last. Blood had flowed on both sides and feelings of hatred and rivalry had arisen between the French and English in India, and though the two nations were at peace in Europe, they fought bitterly against one another in India for the next twelve years. It was a fight for supremacy, and it was a fight to the death.
Sometimes the rivals fought one another openly, and sometimes, espousing the cause of opposite Indian States, they fought one another in a roundabout fashion. Those were the days of Dupleix, a great political genius and empire-dreamer. Daring, unscrupulous, and intensely patriotic, for a time he carried everything before him, and, not unlike some others of his countrymen, finished his career in his native land--dishonoured and poor.
At this time India was full of French adventurers: French officers and soldiers were to be found in considerable numbers in the armies of the Nizam and of Hyder Ali, as well as amongst the armies of the Mahrattas. Fortunately for us, the same Providence which had given Dupleix to the French, had given to us Robert Clive, that indomitable genius to whom more than to any one else we owe our Empire in India. A young clerk in the Company, he was taken prisoner by the French when Madras fell into their hands, and was carried off to Pondicherry. From there he managed to escape with great difficulty, and from that time forward abandoned the pen for the sword. Speedily winning for himself reputation as a daring and resourceful soldier by the capture of Arcot, the capital of the Carnatic, he followed this up later on by the capture and destruction of Pondicherry. Called away to Bengal by Suraj-ud-Dowla's capture of Calcutta in 1756, he handed over the command in South India to his brilliant Lieutenant, Sir Eyre Coote, who carried on the struggle for three or four years longer, till he succeeded in practically annihilating the French Army under Count Lally at Wande-wash. Peace was still far away, for after the French peril had passed there was almost constant war of a desperate nature with Hyder Ali and his son Tippoo, until the capture of then-stronghold at Serangapatam by General Harris in 1793. Then and not till then was there peace in South India.
For fifty years ffom the year 1760, till early in the nineteenth century the Madras Presidency, as we now know it, was in the making. Previous to that the city of Madras, with Fort St. David at Cuddalore, was almost all that the British possessed in South India. Within this comparatively short period the huge territories we now hold passed into our hands as the result of stern fighting and diplomacy.
During this period too a great change, as might have been expected, came over life in Madras itself. Hitherto it had been a peaceful settlement of merchants, whose chief and almost absorbing interest had been in trade. From this time onward the settlement was turned into an armed camp. There were British troops of two kinds--the King's regiments lent to the Company, and the Company's own regiments. In addition to these British troops there were a not inconsiderable body of mercenary troops selected from Protestant countries--Hanoverians from Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland. The Swiss troops, it must be owned, did not turn out always satisfactory, as they had an inconvenient habit of deserting to the French when most wanted. This treachery eventually led the East India Company to abandon all recruitment in Switzerland.
It had taken a long time to convince the Directors in London that if they were to continue in India at all, they must be ready to fight for their rights with the sword. Hyder Ali and his son Tippoo were most bitterly hostile for racial as well as religious reasons, and more than once during that period their wild horsemen had ravaged the Carnatic right up to the gates of Madras.
It was in this stormy atmosphere that the work of the Church had to be carried on for nearly two generations. With the increase of British troops there was, of course, an increase in the number of English Chaplains; and with the enlargement of our territories there was a considerable increase in Church buildings. The Lutheran missionaries, who were excellent linguists, were able to render great help in ministering to the foreign mercenaries.
During this period there was also a large increase of the Anglo-Indian or Eurasian population. The Directors of the Company, realising that the number of British soldiers in their armies had increased greatly, induced a number of young Englishwomen to go out to India with the pleasant prospect of finding husbands and homes. The way in which the British soldiers had to live, however, was so bad that many of these women refused to share their lot, preferring anything rather than life under such conditions. It is true that some of these women were quite unsuited to be the wives of such men, and as no suitable arrangement was made for their being looked after on arrival, the experiment was on the whole a bad failure. When one remembers, however, that no barracks were built for English soldiers till the year 1805, and that they had to live either in miserable quarters under the Fort walls of Madras, with bad sanitation and great heat and discomfort, or else to find quarters in the native bazaars, we cannot altogether wonder that not a few of these Englishwomen declined the honour of being their wives! The result of this failure was that the majority of British soldiers at that time had to find their wives amongst the women of India. Many of them married Indian wives and brought their Indian wives and children to baptism. At the present time at least 40 per cent, of the Eurasians in India are to be found in Madras and South India, and it is to this period that can be mainly traced the large increase in numbers of this community in that part of India. It is an interesting fact that, while the sons of these marriages (between British soldiers and Indian women) were debarred from all higher social and professional privileges, when their daughters married Europeans, their children were allowed to hold commissions in the army and other positions of responsibility.
As in Calcutta, so in Madras, every care was taken to provide schools for the Anglo-Indian children. Special schools called Military Asylum Schools were started for boys and girls, and were placed under the care of the Chaplains.
In one of the most interesting chapters of his Church in Madras, entitled "Men and Manners," Penny discusses the question of the general tone of English society during that period. He combats strongly the idea that the English men and women of this time east of Suez had lost all those finer moral and spiritual qualities which have deservedly won respect and admiration for the English character in other parts of the world. He traces the tendency to regard them as godless and bad to more than one source. Some of the extreme Evangelicals in India of those days, men like Hough, Martyn, and Kerr, were in the habit of speaking with undue severity of the depravity of English society. They were equally inclined to speak in an extreme way of their own depravity, when it was quite apparent they were excellent persons.
Penny also traces a great deal of this exaggerated and untrue view of English society in India to the slanders of Alexander Hamilton, that well-known Interloper, who was never tired of saying unpleasant things of the East India Company and its servants. In his opinion the bulk of the merchants were honest, straightforward men, who worked hard for their living and who showed great kindliness to the people amongst whom they lived. Society in Madras at that time was, in his opinion, on a higher level than that of Calcutta, which he attributes to the fact that Madras was better supplied with Churches and Chaplains than Bengal. He believes, too, that the devotion of the Lutheran missionaries and their ministrations had a considerable effect for good on many. Even in those early days he thinks that Government House was beginning to exercise an uplifting influence on Madras society.
Certainly Penny has placed the Church in India under a lasting debt of gratitude for the information he has brought to light about the English Chaplains in India. There was a time not so long ago when people believed that the bulk of them were men who were hardly respectable, and who certainly were not wanted in their own country. Penny has taken immense pains to find out all that can be known of these Clergymen, and he gives us the results of his research in a simple and convincing manner. It is evident the East India Company did its best to select the best priests it could for its work abroad. Naturally there were many Clergymen, then as now, who shrank from the risks of climate and separation from home, but let us be thankful there were others quite ready to face these risks for the work of the Church overseas. Of the fifty-seven Chaplains of this period, nearly all were University men from Oxford, Cambridge, or Dublin. Six of them were Fellows of their Colleges, and many of them had graduated with honours. One of their number, Hough, was a historian; another of their number, Trevor, was a distinguished Christian Apologist. Dr. Andrew Bell was regarded, both in India and in England, as one of the greatest educationists of the day. His books, entitled An Experiment in Education and The Wrongs of Children, were widely read both in England and America, and the system of teaching which he evolved after carefully examining the village schools in South India, lies at the root of the pupil-teacher system of to-day. During his lifetime he established and endowed a Bell Lectureship at Edinburgh in connection with the Theological Institution of the Episcopal Church of Scotland. He also gave £120,000 to found a College at St. Andrews, where he was born and educated. He was finally appointed to a Canonry in Westminster Abbey, where after his death a tablet was placed in his honour. The inscription on the tablet is as follows:--
The devotion of another Chaplain, the Rev. R. Leslie, "their revered and beloved Pastor," was so deeply appreciated that on his death the congregation of St. Mary's, Madras erected a Flaxman monument to his memory.
Of the strange career of one of the Chaplains of this period a few concluding words may well be said. The Rev. Robert Palk came out to India for the first time as a Chaplain on Admiral Boscawen's fleet. He was then only in Deacon's Orders. His was not the only case of Clergymen in Deacon's Orders being sent abroad, where it was almost certain they would be called upon to undertake at times the functions of the priesthood, such as the celebration of the Holy Communion and Marriage. If Englishmen in India were ready to receive the ministrations of men in Lutheran Orders, they were apparently equally ready to receive the ministrations of Deacons of their own Church, even when these Deacons usurped functions beyond their direct commission. Some of us need to be reminded that we are dealing with the period long before the Oxford Movement, and are also speaking of religious work in a country where there were no Bishops to check such irregularities.
About the time of Palk's arrival the Chaplain in charge of Fort St. David was suspended for insulting Clive. Palk, who had often been on shore, had so charmed the Governor of Madras and his Council that they persuaded the Admiral to allow him to leave his ship and fill the vacant Chaplaincy. For nearly fifteen years Palk did his work as Chaplain to the satisfaction of every one. He was a man of great tact and with remarkable gifts of diplomacy. Frequently, when the Governor had some delicate bit of work to be done in connection with trading and political missions to the surrounding Native States, he was in the habit of asking Palk to take part in it. Over and over again Palk proved his value on these occasions, till at length after one successful bit of diplomacy he was presented by the Governor in Council with a magnificent diamond ring. When this matter was brought to the notice of the Directors in London, they commented severely on it. They failed to understand how a Chaplain could be employed in work like this, and were more than surprised that he should have been given such a large and handsome gift. They intimated that he must for the future confine himself to Church work. Palk's feelings were deeply hurt by their remarks, and he at once demanded that he be allowed to go home and appear before his detractors. The result of his interview with them was certainly remarkable. No longer censured, he was invited by the Directors to return to India as Chief Purchaser in their settlement at Madras.
Those were troublous days, as we have already seen, and on more than one occasion Palk was asked to accompany his friend Sir Stringer Lawrence, "Father of the Indian Army" and then Commander-in-Chief of the Madras army, on certain military expeditions, not only as a Chaplain but as Paymaster of the Army. The upshot of it all was that this remarkable Chaplain finished his career as Governor of Madras, a position which he held for a good many years. During his period as Governor the passage which divides India from Ceylon was carefully surveyed and named after him. He retired to England having amassed a large fortune, and sat in Parliament as member for a Devonshire constituency. He himself was made a Baronet, and his son, who married Sir Stringer Lawrence's daughter, was raised to the Peerage as Baron Haddan.
Of other Chaplains we could tell a good deal did space permit. We could tell of Austin Keating, a brilliant preacher, of John Kerr, Marmaduke Thomson, Millingchamp, all men of great power and devotion. Doubtless there were then, as now, some who failed to present the full beauty of a Christian life before the people committed to their charge, but these were certainly the exception, and it would be unfair to allow ourselves to think that this large body of 57 Chaplains, 22 of whom died in India, were not on the whole worthy citizens and good ministers of the Church of God.