Project Canterbury

Beginnings in India

By Eugene Stock, D.C.L.

London: Central Board of Missions and SPCK, 1917.

Chapter I. The First Anglican Mission

IT was in the spacious days of great Elizabeth that England first came in touch with India. On the last day of the sixteenth century, December 31, 1600, Queen Elizabeth granted a royal charter to "one Body Corporate and Politick, in Deed and in Name, by the name of The Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies." Thus was born the famous East India Company; and for 258 years it represented the British Power in the supremely wonderful land which became the choicest jewel in the British Crown.

India, therefore, was in one important respect unlike some other mission fields. In Nigeria, for instance, in East Africa and Uganda, on the Congo and the Zambesi, in Madagascar and New Zealand and the Southern Seas, the missionary preceded the trader and the consul and the commissioner. But in India trade led the way, so far at least as British Missions are concerned. Francis Xavier's work, indeed, was earlier than Elizabeth's reign, but not earlier than the mercantile settlements of Portugal.

Did the new Company take any steps to introduce Christianity into India? That is not the purpose of a commercial company, as such. But what of its individual members and agents? Had they been Mohammedans, they would have carried their religion with them as a matter of course, not merely as their personal profession, but with a view to its spread among the heathen peoples. The average Moslem trader is a Moslem missionary. But it rarely occurs to the British traveller or settler or merchant that the religion he professes is for all men, that it in fact conveys messages from the Creator of the universe to the whole body of mankind, that every individual of every nation has a right to hear such messages, and that for those who have heard them to tell those who have not is an obvious duty, dictated even by common sense. The plain fact is that so many professing Christians care very little about those Divine Messages, even for themselves; why, therefore, should they trouble about other people? When Lord Macartney went to China in 1793 on an embassy from the British Government, he made this humiliating declaration: "The English never attempt to dispute the worship or tenets of others; they have no priests or chaplains with them, as have other European nations."

No special blame, therefore, attaches to the East India Company if its members simply acted as most other men act; and the fact is that both the Company and its members did more for Missions than might have been expected.

Throughout the seventeenth century, however, no steps were taken by Great Britain in any way to make known to the Indian peoples the Divine Messages to mankind. But the close of that century marked an epoch in the history of Missions. In 1698 was founded the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and in 1701 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Now it was in the former year that Parliament, revising the East India Company's Charter, was induced by Dean Prideaux and Archbishop Tenison to add a new clause, directing that the chaplains whom the Company was sending out for its increasing number of mercantile agents "should apply themselves to learn the language of the country, the better to enable them to instruct the Gentoos (Gentiles or heathen) who should be the servants or slaves of the Company in the Protestant religion." But the Company could not be expected to do more than instruct its own "Gentoo" servants; and very many, probably the majority, of these were Portuguese or English half-castes, who came to be known as Eurasians. [They are now generally called Anglo-Indians, and that term can no longer be applied, as hitherto, to Englishmen in India.] So the fact remains that Great Britain, though calling itself a Christian country, had still no plan for the evangelization of India.

We must not forget, however, that there were already two large bodies of Indian Christians: (I) the ancient Syrian Church of Malabar, of which we shall hear more by-and-by; (2) the Roman Catholic descendants of the converts made by the labours of the heroic Jesuit, Francis Xavier, and his successors. The fisherman caste of South India, in particular, had been largely influenced by the Roman Missions, the centre of which was at Goa, on the west coast.

But that epoch was not without its influence on India. The foundation of the S.P.G. stirred up the zeal of Continental Protestants, and that in two directions, (I) The King of Prussia, hearing of King William III. of England having patronized the new S.P.G.--i.e., by granting it a charter--arranged to add to a Philosophical Society which had just been formed at Berlin an "Oriental College" "for the propagation of the Christian faith and worship and virtue"; and some leading members of it were elected to membership of the S.P.G. [Two Hundred Years, p. 468. The fuller particulars in the S.P.G. Reports are curiously interesting.] (2) The fact that the S.P.G. was to send missionaries to "the Western Indies" led to a Danish plan for sending a Mission to "the Eastern Indies," a Mission which in its turn brought the S.P.C.K. into the Indian missionary enterprise. This was the "Danish-Halle Mission," the first undertaken in India by any section of Reformed Christendom.

Denmark had two or three small trading settlements in India, and King Frederick IV., influenced partly by his chaplain, Dr. Lütkens, and partly by the news of the formation in England of a society for propagating the Gospel, was led in 1705 to reflect that "for ninety years there had been a Danish East India Company; for ninety years Danish ships had sailed to Tranquebar; Danish merchants had traded and grown rich in the settlement, Danish governors had ruled it, Danish soldiers had protected it; but no ship had ever carried a Danish missionary to preach the Gospel." [W. Fleming Stevenson: Dawn of the Modern Mission, p. 56.] "Find me missionaries," said the King to Lütkens; and Lütkens, who was in touch with the leaders of the Pietist movement in Germany, Spener at Berlin, and Francke at Halle, applied to the latter, who sent him a young Saxon, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg, and a fellow-student of his, H. Plutschau. These two young men the Danish King sent out at his own expense to the settlement at Tranquebar, a town on the Coromandel coast south of Madras, in the midst of a dense Tamil population. The story of the arrival and landing of these two pioneers, of the opposition of the Danish governor and their consequent trials, of their extraordinary industry and patience and devotion, is one of the most thrilling in the whole history of Missions, No truer missionary then Ziegenbalg ever went to heathendom. His greatest work was the translation of the New Testament and part of the Old into the Tamil language, the first Indian version of the Scriptures; an imperfect version, of course, as all first attempts must be, but which formed the basis of later revisions.

The first reports from Ziegenbalg were translated into English by A. W. Boehm, chaplain to Prince George of Denmark (the husband of our Queen Anne), and dedicated to the S.P.G., which purchased and distributed 500 copies. A box of books and a contribution of £20 were sent out to Tranquebar by the Society in behalf of some of its members, and the S.P.C.K. undertook to receive further funds for the Mission. In 1715 Ziegenbalg visited Europe, and, coming to England, was welcomed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and by King George I. Returning to India, he died in 1719, at the age of thirty-six, leaving behind him 355 Tamil converts, some schools, the Tamil Scriptures just mentioned, and a Tamil dictionary and grammar. Others went out, mostly Germans from Halle; hence the name "Danish-Halle Mission." One of them, Schulze, was a learned scholar and a capable organizer, and under him the Mission expanded to places far beyond the small Danish territory. Madras itself was occupied in 1726.

The S.P.C.K. helped the Danish Mission from time to time, and in 1728 it formally began its own Indian work by adopting the new Madras Mission under Schulze. Two years later, it sent out, for the first time, its own missionaries, Sartorius and Geisler. These, and their successors, Fabricius, Guericke, and others, were obtained from Germany, and were in Lutheran orders.

The two Missions helped each other, and in fact worked almost as one. The length of service of several men was notable. Three or four laboured half a century. Few ever came home; they went out to live and to die. Mission centres multiplied in the Tamil country, from Madras southward to Tinnevelly. There were many difficulties, and not a few dangers. England and France were at war more than once, and French Roman Catholic missionaries had to be expelled, like the Germans of our own day. Madras was twice bombarded by French ships, and once actually occupied for a time by French troops. The Sultans of Mysore, who were allies of France, Haidar Ali and Tippu Sahib, were among the most powerful foes that we have had to fight in India.

One of the missionaries bore a name that will ever stand high in missionary records. Christian Frederic Schwartz went out in 1749, and died in 1798, and all through that half-century he was a power in the country. His Life, by Dean Pearson of Salisbury, is a chief authority for the period of his career. He originally belonged to the Danish Mission, but for the last thirty years of his life he was an East India Company's chaplain, and also associated with the S.P.C.K. He was successively at Trichinopoly and Tanjore, both famous places, the one for its lofty rock and fort, the other for its great temple of Siva, the finest in India; and both familiar S.P.G. stations in the next century and to-day. His influence was remarkable, over both Europeans and Indians. No other missionary has wielded such political authority. What in anyone else might be dangerous and compromising to a Mission became in Schwartz a power for good. The commander of the British force in South India, Colonel Fullerton, wrote in 1783: "The knowledge and integrity of this irreproachable missionary have retrieved the character of Europeans from imputations of general depravity." The Government employed him on a special embassy to Haidar Ali, who had indeed asked for him. "Send me the Christian," he said; "him I can trust"; and he received the missionary with all honour. When the British authorities insisted on supervising the kingdom of Tanjore, which had been misgoverned, Schwartz was appointed one of the three commissioners for the purpose, and for several years he may almost be said to have governed that small state. The Rajah of it, when he died, committed his young adopted son and expected successor to the missionary's care. The governor of Madras put the late Rajah's brother over the kingdom instead; but Schwartz appealed to the Governor-General at Calcutta, Lord Cornwallis, and obtained a reversal of this appointment, and he himself became Regent. Another governor-general, Lord of their own independent of our support . . . and secure a regular succession of truly apostolical pastors, even if all communication with their parent Church should be annihilated." And so late as 1813, when, after many years without a single recruit, the Society had at last a German named Jacobi to send, Archdeacon Middleton delivered a charge to him--a very able and interesting address--expressing warm appreciation of the work of his predecessors and of the "country priests" ordained by Schwartz and others. And this was the Middleton who in the very next year was consecrated first Bishop of Calcutta.

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