Project Canterbury

Beginnings in India

By Eugene Stock, D.C.L.

London: Central Board of Missions and SPCK, 1917.

Chapter V. The First Educational Missions

As we walk through the streets of an Indian town, or from village to village in the "mofussil" or rural districts, we are struck, just as we are in England, with the multitudes of children. Do they go to school? Well, King George, when he visited India, announced fresh and enlarged measures to educate them; and with good reason, for notwithstanding all that has been done in the past, only 106 per thousand of the male population at the last census could read, and only ten per thousand of the females.

Still, we do find a great many schools at work, and we find that our Missionary Societies have been in the front in providing them. It is delightful to see the scholars: little ones with brown faces, black hair, bright eyes, as full of playful life as any we have seen at home, and elder boys and girls with eyes as bright, and with a keenness in their countenances that tells of their opening and receptive minds. Let us inquire how our Church Missions came to have these schools, and when and how they began.

From the first it was felt that while adult converts were to be looked for and prayed for, their number might not be large. In the south, it was true, whole families, and even whole villages, put themselves under Christian instruction, as we have seen. But in the north there were no such movements. The converts were, like the restored Israel in Isaiah's prophecy (xxvii. 12), "gathered one by one," and the hope of any large harvest rested on the winning of the young. To bring boys and girls into schools in which the Bible was read and the Gospel taught was felt to be the surest way of sowing the seed. And while no method of evangelization has failed to give good results, it is certain that education, in one form or another, has done the best.

It was with curious caution that some of the first Mission schools were opened in Bengal. There were of course no Christian teachers who could be employed; and at the present day we read with surprise that the appointment of non-Christians was thought to be not only unavoidable but actually wise. On the very first school opened by the C.M.S. Calcutta Committee, at Kidderpore, a suburb of the capital, the Report of 1817 says: "It is under the care of the missionaries, but is not likely to alarm prejudice, as the master is not a Christian." In two or three cases officers who cared for the people opened schools. The C.M.S. Mission at Burdwan, seventy miles from Calcutta, of which John Perowne (father of three distinguished Cambridge men) and J. J. Weitbrecht (father of Dr. Weitbrecht-Stanton) were afterwards heads, began in this way. Captain Stewart, who was stationed there, opened village schools round about. There was at first no Christian teaching, and the Calcutta Committee, who supplied the money, thought this "very wise." Presently a higher school was opened in the town itself, at which English and the Bible were taught, and to which the more promising boys from the village schools were drafted. Thus, to use language which in after times described similar arrangements everywhere, the Vernacular Schools fed the Anglo-Vernacular School. After the central school had been at work for a year, the British community in the town were invited to a public examination, at which, to their astonishment, they heard Brahman boys, in the presence of their parents, reading the Gospels and answering questions on them. Another year passed, and the Scriptures (vernacular, of course) were taught in all the schools; and the Report said: "Who could have expected a year ago to see a thousand Hindu and Mohammedan boys reading the Gospels?" This is just one specimen.

Other schools, opened by officers or chaplains, but financed by the C.M.S., came gradually into work at distant North Indian cities, including Delhi. The S.P.G. Missions were confined to Calcutta and Lower Bengal until Cawnpore was occupied in 1833. But in the South, when (1826) the S.P.G. took over the old S.P.C.K. Missions, it had many schools to carry on, and Bishop Heber, in that year, declared that those at Madras were the best he had seen in India. In Bombay, also, both Societies were opening schools; here, too, with much help from an officer in the army, Captain George Candy, who was afterwards ordained, and as a chaplain rendered important service to both Missions.

Naturally, boys' schools were more numerous and more prosperous than girls' schools. Indian parents did appreciate the former; but what did girls want with education? Mrs. Marshman, however, the wife of Carey's chief colleague, was successful with her schools, and in 1820 there arrived at Calcutta a lady who made an important beginning under the C.M.S. This was Miss M. A. Cooke, whose name was quaintly entered as "an European female." She was learning Bengali, and to improve her pronunciation she, on Jan. 25, 1822, visited a boys' school. The native master was just driving away a little girl who had been pestering him for three months to let her learn with the boys. Miss Cooke said, "Let me teach her," and next day she found fifteen girls eager to be taught, while their mothers stood outside and peered through the lattice. To these mothers a friend with Miss Cooke explained that she had left country and home for the sole purpose of educating Indian girls, and with one voice they cried out, beating their breasts, "Oh, what a pearl of a woman!" Before a year was out Miss Cooke had fifteen schools at work, with Eurasian teachers, and 400 girls in attendance. A Ladies' Association for their support was formed in Calcutta, the Marchioness of Hastings, wife of the Governor-General, contributing handsomely.

Another branch of educational and philanthropic work arose out of the great famine of 1837-1838. It threw orphans by hundreds on the care of the missionaries, and orphanages became a recognized branch of missionary labour. Both the Church Societies started them, the largest being at Sikandra, near Agra, where the Government gave for the purpose a building which had been the tomb of the traditionally Christian wife of the Mogul Emperor Akbar. This and similar institutions were long superintended by Germans, not from Berlin or Halle, like the S.P.C.K. men of old, but mostly from the Basle Missionary Seminary, and in English orders. Such work was exactly suited to the special talents of these plodding missionaries. They loved to have the entire care of their people, young or old: they were the mabap (mother and father) of all entrusted to them. Moreover, they were excellent for the industrial training commonly given. But it is probable that the large recruiting of the North Indian congregations from these orphanages has not tended to strengthen the self-reliance and vigorous life of the Church. Actual converts from Hinduism or Islam have usually more backbone than those who have been nursed from infancy. But until later years these converts were generally a small minority.

We must now turn our attention to another and much higher type of missionary education. In a tour round India we should visit many Christian High Schools and Colleges, to which the boys and youths of the upper classes are attracted by the excellence of the secular teaching. Sometimes objections to this system find utterance: "Why waste your time," it is asked, "in teaching mathematics and English literature? why not go into the streets and preach the Gospel?" Well, we do both, but in point of fact, it is from missionary High Schools and Colleges that most of the converts have come who have proved the leaders of the Indian Church. Not always are they won while pupils; more often afterwards, when some preacher or teacher may appeal to the Christian knowledge they have acquired, and so touch hearts and consciences.

This is a system which, though vigorously worked by the Anglican Missions, did not begin in them. Carey at Serampore had thought of it, as he thought of almost every good plan first, and had tried the experiment. But it owes its initiation and reputation mainly to the fine work of the Scottish Presbyterians, who have sent forth a succession of their best men to throw their strength into it. The very first missionary commissioned by the General Assembly went to India for the purpose in 1830, a brilliant young student of St. Andrews' University--Alexander Duff.

Duff's plans were not viewed favourably by the missionaries at Calcutta. "You will deluge the city," they said, "with rogues and villains." But the fact was that the dreaded deluge of "rogues and villains" revelling in Western philosophy and science had already begun. A Hindu College had been opened under the joint auspices of Englishmen and influential Hindus, strictly non-Christian, and virtually anti-Christian. The English textbooks were Hume's Essays and the licentious plays of the Stuart period. The result was a flood of immorality which alarmed respectable Hindu parents, and the whole cause of English study was discredited. Moreover, the street-preaching and vernacular schools already in vogue were effecting very little, and not touching the upper classes at all. Duff said to the objecting missionaries: "While you are separating precious atoms from the mass, we shall prepare a mine which shall one day explode and by God's blessing tear up the whole." Hinduism is not yet "torn up," though it is profoundly modified; but God gave Duff some "precious atoms," sooner than he or anyone else thought possible.

Duff had one distinguished supporter, the founder of the Brahmo Samaj, Ram Mohun Roy, who lent him a room in which to begin the school, and himself persuaded Brahman parents to send their boys. Its success as an educational institution was immediate. By the end of the first year, 300 lads were in regular attendance. Then Duff began a course of teaching on religion in his own house, and not only the more thoughtful of his own pupils, but some from the Hindu College also, eagerly drank in his words. Before the third year had run its course, four Brahman youths had been baptized. One was Krishna Mohun Banerjea, who joined the English Church, and afterwards became the leading Indian clergyman in Bengal. After five years Duff came home, and roused Scotland to send forth more of her ablest sons for similar service. [Duff's speeches on the subject have never been surpassed, if equalled. His address to the General Assembly occupies twenty-four columns of the Missionary Register of 1835.] Then he went back and laboured thirty years more. Forty-eight converts from the higher castes were the crown of his efforts and prayers, and of these the large majority became preachers or teachers of the Gospel. He was followed by Wilson at Bombay and Anderson at Madras, with their great colleges on the same system. His and their influence extended all over India, and not least to the Missions of the English Church.

The first school established on Duff's principles by an Anglican Mission was in a part of India which we have not yet visited. Northward from Madras for 500 miles stretches what in missionary publications is called the Telugu country; but Telugu is not a geographical but a linguistic word. The Telugu language stands third in India in respect of the numbers speaking it, being only surpassed by Hindi and Bengali. The two Church Societies began work among these people about the same time, 1842, the S.P.G. having a large field in the central districts, and the C.M.S. field lying further north. In 1840 an appeal for these people fell, simultaneously but independently, into the hands of an Oxford man, H. W. Fox, and a Cambridge man, Robert Noble, and they went out together in 1841. Their respective spheres of work illustrate the variety of missionary effort. Fox started itineration among the villages; Noble started a High School like Duff's. To-day the Mission has extended far and wide. The village preaching and teaching has produced a present Christian population of nearly 40,000 in the northern district alone. The teaching and influence of the school have given the Church there the majority of its leaders, clerical and lay.

Robert Noble continued in India twenty-four years without returning home, and died at his post. His school is now the Noble College, a "first-grade college" in government reckoning. It was at first a strictly caste school, admitting no pupils from the population that has supplied the bulk of the Telugu Church. To admit them would have been to exclude the Brahman and other high-caste students. But the gradual influence of the school was manifested at Noble's funeral in 1865, when his body was borne to the grave by six Christians, one a Brahman, one a Vellama, one a lower Sudra, one an out-caste Mala, one a Moslem--and an Englishman. Several of the students have been ordained, and some have filled important positions in the Church; others have been magistrates, head masters, etc. On the College staff itself there were, two or three years ago, four Brahman converts and five sons of Brahman converts. The Noble College is one of the four first-grade colleges now worked by the C.M.S. in India, the others being at Calcutta, Agra, and Peshawar. It has also four "second-grade," and forty High Schools. St. John's College at Agra was the first, founded in 1852 by T.V. French and E. C. Stuart (afterwards Bishops of Lahore and Waiapu, N.Z.), and it is now one of the finest in India, having been in recent years particularly successful in enlisting the personal services of Oxford and Cambridge men, who have gone out on the Short Service system. The S.P.G. has first-grade colleges at Delhi and Cawnpore (which we shall visit in a future chapter), and at Trichinopoly, and second-grade colleges at Nandyal and in Chota Nagpur.

All these colleges may be regarded as indirectly fruits of Duff's work and example. Indeed, the High Schools of lower rank, reckoned as "Middle Schools," which are very numerous, may also be almost so regarded. The first and second grade colleges are all affiliated to the Indian Universities, which were first established in 1857.

Most of the colleges are primarily evangelistic in purpose; that is, they are designed to bring young non-Christians under Christian teaching and influence. But it is usual to have hostels attached to them in which the Christian boys, who naturally are increasing in numbers, reside together. A new class of hostel has been established at Calcutta by the Oxford Mission and at Allahabad by the C.M.S. These are not attached to any Christian college, but receive non-Christians attending non-Christian colleges. This is an important development, which the Government highly appreciate and have liberally helped.

Project Canterbury