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A History of the Church of England in India
Since the Early Days of the East India Company

By Eyre Chatterton
Bishop of Nagpur

London: SPCK, 1924.

Chapter XXIV. The Diocese of Nagpur, 1903. The Country of the Gond, Mahratta, and Rajput.

First Bishop

Eyre Chatterton, D.D., consecrated March 26, 1903.

Books of Reference.--The Story of Gondwana, by the Bishop of Nagpur; Forsyth's Highlands of Central India; Tod's Rajasthan; Land of Princes, by Miss G. Festing.

"ONE half of the romance of Indian history is to be found within the Nagpur Diocese," was a remark of a former Metropolitan to its first Bishop. For, although the diocese takes its title from Nagpur, the present capital of the British-administered area of the Central Provinces, it includes within its boundaries Rajputana, the land of Princes, and home of Rajput chivalry, as well as Central India, with its historic Mahratta states of Gwalior and Indore, Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand with their Rajput rulers, and Bhopal, a famous Mahomedan state. The extent of the Diocese of Nagpur is apparent to any one who studies a map of India, touching as it does the Bay of Bengal on its eastern side, the desert of Scindh on its western side, and coming in contact with no less than seven of the other Indian Dioceses at various points.

When our Anglican Dioceses in India were in the making, it was always hard to know how to deal with this great central block of the peninsula with its scattered communities of Christians, few very large and most of them quite small. Bishop Johnson, to whom the Indian Church owes so much for the organisation of our diocesan system, was growingly convinced that it was impossible for any Bishop of Calcutta effectively to supervise this central area; and so, after taking a leading part in the formation of five new dioceses, he took the preliminary steps to promote the scheme for a Bishopric in the Central Provinces. The Bishopric, however, was not created till after his resignation. The endowment of the new See was mainly Bishop Wilkinson, the Bishop of North and Central Europe. To this Government added the salary of a senior Chaplain.

On March 25, 1903, the first Bishop, who had been for some years Head of the Dublin University Mission to Chota-Nagpur, was consecrated in St. Paul's Cathedral, Calcutta.

We have already alluded to the peculiarly interesting nature of these great central regions of India. No picture of the Nagpur Diocese would be in the least true to fact if it did not make clear how peculiarly heterogeneous it is, and what marked contrast exists between its various peoples. When one has been living in the rather desert-like country of Rajputana with its treeless red hills, its fine cities and strong fortresses, and its fine-looking men and women with their picturesque dresses, one notices the sharp contrast between it and the magnificent jungles of the Central Provinces with their primitive snub-nosed and lightly clad Gond peoples who make up about two millions of its people. Not that all was entirely savage and primitive in Gondwana, which was once the proud possessor of four kingdoms, whose Gond princes lived their lives much on the model of the great chiefs of Northern India.

But while from a traveller's point of view the interest of the country is increased by its great variety and contrasts, from a diocesan point of view it becomes all the more difficult, and even if one was a master of the eight or nine different languages spoken within its bounds, one would still find it hard to weld into anything like an effective diocesan unit such a varied mass of humanity.

The work of the Nagpur Diocese, like that indeed of most other Indian Dioceses, is of two kinds--pastoral and evangelistic. We have to care for those who are already Christians, which involves the education of a number of Anglo-Indian children and not a few Indian Christians, and we are called on to attempt the evangelisation of a vast non-Christian population. Probably one is fairly near the truth when one says that 15,000 Christians are all that come under the pastoral care of the Bishop and his Clergy at present, though the population of the diocese must be at least 40 millions and the territories it includes about twice the size of England. The number of the Clergy before the Great War was approaching fifty, to-day it is just above forty. Of these hah* are Chaplains, Government and Additional Clergy Society, and the remainder Missionaries and Indian Clergy. The number of the latter is now a dozen, which is a matter for thankfulness, as it is in this direction the Church must go forward in the future.

Our Government Chaplains are working in military and civil stations, such as Jubbulpore, Mhow, Nagpur, Neemuch, Nasirabad, Kamptee, Saugor and Amraoti. In several of our military stations we have Soldiers' Institutes. The Institutes at Kamptee and Mhow are both extremely well equipped. Recently a small Institute at Nagpur has been opened for the soldiers in the Fort of Sitabaldi by the enterprise and energy of a well-known lady in the Central Provinces. Our four Additional Clergy Society Chaplains are engaged chiefly in work along the Indian Railways and have their headquarters at Ajmer, and Bandikui in Rajputana, at Indore in Central India, and at Bilaspur in the Central Provinces.

We have important schools for the Anglo-Indian community at Jubbulpore and Nagpur. At Jubbulpore the Christ Church Boys' School and Girls' School have won a deservedly high reputation. Started years ago by the Rev. T. D. Grey, Chaplain of Jubbulpore, in the Church Vestry, it was then attended by only seven or eight boys. Within a few years the school was removed to a house in Civil Lines, and Mr. Harcourt was appointed headmaster. Later on a Girls' Department was started. Its history has been one of steady growth, until at the present time it is educating between 250 and 300 children, with 100 boarders in the Boys' School and about 60 in the Girls' School.

The Bishop Cotton School, Nagpur, started in the year 1863, during the Episcopate of Bishop Cotton, was one of the many schools which owed their existence to the immense impetus given by him to Anglo-Indian education. It is a combined school for boys and girls and has now about 160 scholars. There is a boarding-houlse for boys, and quite recently a very handsome Home and Hostel has been built for girls attending the Bishop Cotton School.

While our Church has two small missions in Rajputana, one at Ajmer connected with the S.P.G. and another at Bharatpur connected with the Church Missionary Society, the centre of our missionary work is to be found in the Central Provinces at Jubbulpore, Katni, Nagpur, Chanda, and in the Mandla district. Not that we are the only Church engaged in missionary activities in these regions, for in Rajputana the United Free Church of Scotland, and in Central India the Canadian Presbyterian Church, are doing splendid work. In Nagpur itself and in some of the surrounding country the United Free Church of Scotland has been working for two generations. Their work was started by Stephen Hislop, one of the ablest missionaries who has ever worked in India. The College in Nagpur which bears bis name has turned out numbers of well-educated and able men who have distinguished themselves in civil life. Their Women's Hospital under Mrs. Henderson's care and their general women's work are above all praise. One of their ladies, Miss Small, has specialised in schools for Indian girls which are run on admirable and attractive lines.

At our mission centre in Jubbulpore, where sixty years ago the Church Missionary Society started work, we have to acknowledge somewhat sadly that other missionary bodies, like the American Methodist Episcopal Mission and the Disciples of Christ, with their much stronger staffs, are pressing into places once occupied by us, which we have had to abandon through lack of men and money.

The missionary problems in the Central Provinces are in some respects unlike those which obtain in most other parts of India. The Mahomedan population is, with the exception of Berar, neither large nor influential; the large Hindu population is in many parts still illiterate; and there are over two million aboriginal Gonds, not to speak of other tribes of aborigines, Kols, Kurkus, and. Merias.

Few, however doubtful or unsympathetic as to missionary work amongst the highly educated Hindus or Mahomedans, will ever raise any opposition to the Church's endeavour to evangelise the devil-worshipping aborigines. The late Sir Charles Elliott, when Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, speaking of missionary work in India, dwelt especially on the importance of work amongst the aborigines, and added that there was no sphere in which the great truths of Christianity, more especially the Fatherhood of God, seemed to find a more congenial soil than amongst those spiritually degraded devil-worshippers.

It is an interesting fact that the first Christian Mission to the Gonds, the largest aboriginal race in the Central Provinces, was started and largely supported by one who in after-years became a distinguished Indian Administrator, and who finished his career as Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab.

The following is taken from the present writer's book, The Story of Gondwana:--

"In the year 1831 Mr. Donald McLeod was appointed to the Department for the suppression of Thuggee under the superintendence of Colonel W. Sleeman, and was stationed at Saugor. Shortly afterwards he was transferred to Seoni as Deputy Commissioner, where he remained for several years. During this time he formed the deepest affection for this beautiful Satpura district and for the simple-minded Gonds. So strongly did this fancy grow, that at one time he even wished to spend the remainder of his career among the Gonds, and declined several better appointments in other parts of the country. He writes from Seoni in the following strain:--

"'I look upon my lot as fixed in this country, a land of wondrous interest, albeit at present in the darkness of night.'

"A few years later, in 1840, Mr. McLeod was appointed to Jubbulpore as Deputy Commissioner. It was then that he carried out his long-conceived plan of commencing a Christian Mission among the Gonds. 'He had long felt,' so his biographer tells us, 'that the simple habits of this primitive race afforded an admirable field for Christian effort, and he had for some time past endeavoured to enlist the sympathy and co-operation of Christian people at Calcutta and elsewhere in his cherished project. He had written a long and interesting article on this subject in the Calcutta Christian Observer, in which he endeavoured to show that the best plan was to start an agricultural mission settlement amongst them.

"As no English Missionary Society was willing to take up this idea, he acted upon it himself, and applied to Pastor Gossner, of Berlin, who sent out to him a little band of German artisans and husbandmen (a carpenter, a schoolmaster, and an apothecary were amongst the number) to work among the Gonds. They were placed under the superintendence of the Rev. Alois Loesch, a Lutheran Minister, who had previously worked in South India.

"The missionary band arrived at Jubbulpore in 1841, and shortly afterwards proceeded to the Satpura Highlands, making their central station at the village of Karanjia, in the Mandla District, about fourteen miles from the source of the Nerbudda and Amarkantak. There they lived in a simple fashion, building their bungalow with their own hands.

"Shortly after their arrival at Karanjia, Mr. McLeod was able to pay them a visit. He was delighted at what appeared to be the happy commencement of favourable mission work amongst the Gonds.

"We have a few interesting lines from the pen of the leader of this missionary enterprise, the Rev. A. Loesch, which were written at this period:--

"' Karanjia is one of the finest places I have seen in India. It is sixteen miles to the west of Amarkantak, and situated on the road to that place; it is often visited by hosts of fakirs and ghosains, who extort the last coin from the poor ignorant Gonds, whom we shall no longer suffer to be maltreated by that idle and wicked set of people. The climate is almost European, the soil very fertile, and the water delicious.'"

The first few months had passed, and the sky seemed unclouded, when there fell on this small missionary band a calamity as sudden as it was terrible. Early in the rains an epidemic of cholera swept over this neighbourhood, and within a few weeks four of the mission band were dead, and a fifth lay between life and death. The doctor was unfortunately the first to die, and this fact may have been partly responsible for the death of the others. One of the survivors lost his reason, and died not long afterwards, the others joined Stephen Hislop in Nagpur and died three years later. Within a few months of its starting the mission had ceased to exist.

In the winter of 1903 I paid my first visit to the Mandla District, to visit our Church Missionary Society's mission stations. On my way to Amarkantak I determined to visit Karanjia, the scene of this tragedy. On arriving at the village my companions and I found the grave of these four German missionaries in a deplorable state. The stone cross which had stood at the head had been maliciously broken by a Mahomedan fanatic. This mutilated grave alone remained to mark where these good men had lived and died.

The Rev. H. Molony, now Bishop of Chekiang in China, afterwards wrote a short pamphlet called A Forgotten Tragedy, describing the death of these devoted men. Later on we took steps to have the grave repaired, when we placed a solid Maltese cross horizontally on the slab which covers the grave. On each of the four arms of the Cross the name of one of the departed missionaries is inscribed, namely, the Rev. Alois Loesch, Julius Schleisner, Karl Gatzky, and Heinrich Gossner. Underneath are written in the Hindi language the beautiful words, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord."

Such was the hard fate which befell Mr. McLeod's endeavours to establish a mission amongst the Gonds. That it should have ended with such tragic suddenness is all the more mysterious when one reflects on the remarkable results achieved by Pastor Gossner's Mission in Chota-Nagpur, a mission which was established at much the same time.

Within a year or two of this tragedy Mr. McLeod was transferred to Benares, and later on to the Punjab, where in due course he became Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab.

After Mr. McLeod's departure nothing was done to evangelise the Gonds for some years. Ten years later another civilian, Mr. Mosley Smith, then Sessions Judge of Jubbulpore, in consultation with Mr. Dawson, the Chaplain of Jubbulpore, obtained from the Church Missionary Society the funds necessary to support a missionary sent out by Pastor Gossner. The name of this missionary was the Rev. J. W. Rebsch. A High School for Indian boys was started by him in the city. Later on the Rev. E. A. Stuart (afterwards Bishop of Waiapu in New Zealand) was for a time stationed by the Church Missionary Society in Jubbulpore, and did some work amongst the Gonds.

Not, however, until the arrival of the Rev. E. Champion, in 1860, was work pressed on with full vigour. During the twenty-one years of Mr. Champion's labours in this part of India he accomplished a great deal. Of the many boys trained in his orphanage near Mandla, one, the Rev. Failbus, was destined to be the first Indian Clergyman in the Gond Mission, and is still working at Mandla.

Towards the end of Mr. Champion's period the Rev. H. D. Williamson joined the Mission, and laid the main foundations of the existing work amongst the Gonds of the Mandla District. The Gondi language was, under his guidance, reduced to writing, and a Hindi grammar and vocabulary were prepared by him. Portions of the New Testament and numerous Bible stories were translated into Gondi. A valuable hymn-book was also translated by him into Hindi, a language understood by most of the Gonds in the Satpuras. The story of Mr. Williamson's first Gond convert is so typical of the earliest stage in conversion amongst some of the most spiritual of our aboriginal Christians, that I venture to tell it, very much as it is told in Mr. Fryer's book, The Story of the Gond Mission.

Bhoi Baba was the headman of a village, and "a devotee." His reputation for religious devotion was widespread. He had learnt to read, and was in the habit of spending long periods in meditation. On one occasion he spent weeks meditating on a huge rock in the middle of a river, and on another spent a similar period under a large pipal tree in his own village.

Hearing of his devotion, Mr. Williamson determined to visit him in his village. On the day of his arrival, however, at the Bhoi's village, he heard with deep regret that the Bhoi was absent and would not be back for days. Much to his surprise and delight, however, shortly before night fell, the Bhoi walked into his village. Nor was Mr. Williamson's delight lessened when the Bhoi told him, "that when he had travelled about ten miles from his village, something had said to him, 'Go back to your village at once.' "

Then began a course of instruction which led to his conversion and baptism a few months later.

Since Mr. Williamson's departure from the mission several missionaries of our Church have worked in this district for longer or shorter periods, amongst whom were the Rev. H. P. Parker and the Rev. H. Molony, both of whom were taken from this jungle mission to fill important missionary Bishoprics in other parts of the world.

The Rev. H. P. Parker, after a short period of service in the Mandla District, was appointed as successor to Bishop Hannington, the Martyr Bishop of Uganda. Unfortunately, on his way from the coast to his diocese in the heart of Africa, he contracted fever and died before reaching Uganda. The other missionary to the Gonds similarly honoured was the Rev. Herbert Molony, now Bishop of Chekiang in China. With deep devotion he laboured for many years amongst the Gonds of the Mandla District.

This mission is indeed full of promise, if only more workers of the right kind can be found for it. One of its greatest needs is a medical missionary, and another is a missionary with practical knowledge of farming. Whether one sees it at Patpara, with its schools, orphanage, and leper settlement, at present under the management of the Rev. J. L. Wakeling; or at its little agricultural settlement atDeori, where Mr. and Mrs. Charles are directing operations; or away in the heart of the jungle at Marpha, where the Rev. E. D. Price (beloved of the Gonds) lived for so many years, one can easily understand the feelings which Sir Donald McLeod felt in days gone by for these people and their beautiful jungle country.

It would be an easy and pleasant task to tell of the excellent missionary work which has been carried on by our Church in Jubbulpore and Katni for many years past. One could speak of missionaries like Gill, Warren, and Hensley, who did a great work in their time and were much beloved by the people. Just now, when our missionary staff is weaker than it ever has been in this area, and when recently we have had to close down our fine High School for Indian Boys for financial reasons, we are more in the position of people who have to thank God for great blessings in the past than of people who are looking forward to a great future.

We have, however, still some work being carried on in this area of which we may justly be proud. It has had a devoted body of lady workers of the Church of England Zenana Mission, amongst whom the names of Miss Branch and Miss Hall will not soon be forgotten. At Katni, near Jubbulpore, we have a High School for Christian Girls in Miss Bardsley's charge, which still holds a leading place among such institutions in the Central Provinces.

When we leave Jubbulpore and the northern part of the Central Provinces and come away south to our missions at Chanda and Nagpur, we find ourselves in a very different atmosphere and with a different type of people. Our Mission at Chanda is one of peculiar interest. Like more than one mission of our Church in India, it owes its commencement to an Indian Chaplain. In the year 1870, when Chaplain of Nagpur, the Rev. G. T. Carruthers first urged the claims of India on the Episcopal Church of Scotland. Hitherto that Church had directed its foreign missionary efforts almost exclusively to work in South Africa.

The earlier efforts of the Chanda Mission were carried on largely by Indian workers. Por a time the saintly Pather Nehemiah Goreh, commonly called "Nilkant Shastri," a converted Mahratta Brahman, worked in Chanda. As one who can recall his unique personality, one appreciates deeply Bishop Wood's description of Nehemiah Goreh's work and influence in Chanda. Of him he writes:--

"His memory is still green. I have heard from many lips the tale of his argument with Pilba, the Guru of the Kabir Panthis, of his casting down of the god of the Mahars, that stood on the wall by the Pathanpura gate, and thereby converting one family, and frightening another family so that they fled to the Nizam's Dominions to escape the wrath of that god, and have not returned to this place. . . . But the story that I like best of all is how he used to preach in the bazaar. They tell of him as a slim figure dressed in a white cassock. Round his neck was a rosary of wooden beads, and attached to it a wooden cross. In his hand he held a heavy wooden cross, that stood higher than his head, and on this he leaned. People passed and re-passed, going about their business, but he stood still, taking no notice of them whatever. But as he stood silent there, for an hour, perhaps, or more, the people noted, watched, stood around at a distance, waiting shyly, for whether he were a Christian or not, at least he was a Brahman. Then, at last, when a circle had gathered round him in the cool of the evening, he preached to them of Christ."

Under his saintly influence the mission grew, and when he left Chanda in 1874 he had already gathered out from heathenism a small body of Christians. Then for twenty years the mission was entrusted to the care of the Rev. Israel Jacob, until the arrival of the Rev. A. Wood (now Bishopof Chota-Nagpur),in December, 1898. With his arrival the mission took on a new lease of life. After a short and difficult period during which he was single-handed, Mr. Wood was joined by the Rev. G. D. Philip, who has been working in the mission with immense devotion ever since. Later on the mission received a new recruit in the person of the Rev. J. R. McKenzie, who since Canon Wood's election to the Episcopate as Bishop of Chota-Nagpur, has taken his place as Head of the Mission. The Mission has now five Indian Priests and four or five lady workers, one of whom is a lady doctor. Por the last two years they have been fortunate in having the services of the Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie, M.C., D.S.O., formerly an I.M.S. doctor, who, after distinguished service as a doctor in France during the Great War, volunteered for two years' work in India to help the mission. The mission staff was and is very weak, and as no young man would volunteer, Mr. Mackenzie has given two years to Chanda. The mission is shortly expecting a young Priest and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Bisset, to strengthen their staff. In addition to schools and a large Indian Orphanage, there is a very interesting Christian settlement at Durgapur, three miles from Chanda, which is already showing considerable signs of promise. Its people are on the whole prosperous and independent, and its headman is a keen evangelist.

The Rev. Canon G. D. Philip is carrying on the mission work of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Nagpur and neighbourhood, assisted by two Indian Clergy. He has opened several important schools and the Mission Church, dedicated to St. Thomas, which is well on its way to completion, will one day, we believe, be one of the finest Churches in this diocese. The work of this mission is full of promise, and we can only trust that many more sons and daughters of the Scottish Church will be drawn to India to assist in its labours.

There is a great charm in the work in the Central Provinces, though, as we have already said, it has its peculiar difficulties. Its various stations are widely scattered, and its two largest missions, primarily for the aborigines, are hopelessly understaffed. Up to the present we have nothing like a Mass Movement to record, but we live in hope that some day the many prayers which have been offered for the work and the devoted lives of our missionaries will bear good fruit.

In concluding this chapter one may state that it has been the aim of the first Bishop to strengthen work at the head-quarters of the diocese as much as possible. The old Station Church of Nagpur has been converted into a beautiful little Cathedral by the genius of the late Mr. G. F. Bodley, and a fine Cathedral Hall has been built, which is used both for parochial and diocesan purposes. The Bishop Cotton School has been improved in many ways. The Children's Home, near the Cathedral, built largely through the help of the European Schools Improvement Association, is a handsome building and admirably adapted for its special purpose. Two houses for Chaplains have been built, one of them called the Cathedral House, where the Archdeacon lives. The residence for the Bishop, beautifully situated on a hill, has been also built since the diocese was formed. In addition to this, during the first Bishop's Episcopate, Churches have been built in a good many places, such as Bilaspur, Badnera, Rutlam, Jubbulpore, and Marpha. Fortunately, nearly all these buildings were completed during the piping days of peace. Churches at Dongargarh and Bhopal are now in process of construction. In some cases these Churches have been built entirely by private subscriptions; in some cases they have received Railway or Government grants. One can only hope, when the second Bishop of Nagpur is appointed, that under his guidance and inspiration the Church will press forward with renewed missionary activity to win thousands of Gonds into the Kingdom of Christ.

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