Indian and Sri Lankan records from colonial missionaries, 1770-1931

South Asian records of the USPG; an Introduction


1. General provenance »

2. The Danish Mission of the eighteenth century »

3. The SPG and the East India Company »

4. Transfer of the mission from the SPCK to the SPG »

5. Outline of contents of the collection »

6. List of SPG & SPCK secretaries and of bishops »

7. Further reading »

8. To cite this resource »


General provenance

The documents in this resource come from the archives of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG). Some are true archives, arising from the work of the Society in India; some are manuscripts which cover the period when the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), founded in 1698 was working with the Royal Danish (Lutheran) Mission, founded in 1705. The materials are now held at the Rhodes House Library, Oxford.

The Danish-Halle Mission of the eighteenth century

Behind the foundation of SPCK and SPG is the figure of the Rev. Thomas Bray, whose two main passions were the American Mission and the teaching of the Catechism. The SPCK was a voluntary association, interested in providing libraries, tracts and schools. The SPG was incorporated by Royal Charter (as a means of enabling it to receive and invest money and hold property on a substantial scale), and its main object has been the provision of men (clergymen and schoolmasters). By the terms of its Charter, its first charge was to minister to those members of the Church of England living in the Plantations, Colonies and Factories beyond the seas; but, by 1710, the Journal (i.e. the Proceedings) records the conviction of the Society that "the design of propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts does chiefly relate to the Conversion of the Heathen". The two societies worked together, for members of one society were often found also to be members of the sister society. And the demarcation of interest was not clear, for SPCK sometimes sent men, and SPG from time to time, prepared catechisms and translations.

Both societies helped in bringing to birth and supporting the Danish Mission. The foundation of SPG for work abroad in the "Western Indies" (America) inspired Frederick IV, King of Denmark, in his design of sending "Missionaries to the coasts of Coromandel in the East Indies". In the event he sent two Germans, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau, from the University of Halle. In 1714 the King founded the College of Missionaries at Copenhagen.

In 1709 the missionaries' first report from Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) in the southeast of India was published in an English translation by Boehme, Chaplain to Prince George of Denmark (consort of Queen Anne), and dedicated to the SPG. English help was appealed for and members of the SPG gave donations, but the Society, bound by its charter not to go beyond the English plantations and colonies, could not go further. SPCK as a voluntary society was free to experiment. It opened a fund which was administered by the Malabar Committee, practically identical in membership with the ordinary Committee of SPCK.

For many years the Danes continued to rely on Halle for men, and on SPCK and the Germans for funds, and the arrangement seemed to function harmoniously enough. In 1726 Schultz decided to break new ground and settled in Madras. As this was a British possession, SPCK had to consult with the East India Company, Schultz became a missionary of SPCK and the Society for the first time took responsibility for a mission. The work went forward for a hundred years, covering South India from Madras (Chennai) to Trichinopoly (Tiruchirappalli), Tanjore (Thanjavur) and Palamcotta (Palayamkottai). Always the missionaries were German Lutherans, since neither Danes nor Englishmen could be found who were free to go.

There were thus two parallel and closely-linked missions which worked in South India in the eighteenth century: the Danish Mission (a Lutheran Mission aided by SPCK), and the English Mission, which was a responsibility of SPCK and staffed by German Lutherans in the absence of English missionaries. The latter had adopted the Book of Common Prayer from the time of the great Swartz (in India 1749-98).

The annual reports of the early missionaries were reproduced at some length in the Histoire de la Mission danoise dans les Indes orientales [...] 1707-36 [...] traduite de l'Allemand de Mr. Jean Lucas Niecamp" (Geneva, 1745).

The SPG and the East India Company

By about 1810 the wars in Europe, as well as those of the eighteenth century in India, had produced changes in the South of India. With the growth of nationalism in Europe, men and money were in desperately short supply, especially in the Danish settlement.

In 1813, when the Charter of the East India Company was due for renewal, William Wilberforce and his friends agitated for the introduction of two provisions. The first clause, providing for a bishop and three archdeacons to be maintained out of the Company's revenues, passed with little difficulty. The second, for freedom for the introduction "of useful knowledge and of religious and moral improvement" among the Indians was violently resisted. Though originally friendly towards missionary activity, the Company had been changing its attitude. Its members feared that a Christian mission would make more difficult the task of ruling the non-Christians in its vast territories. Yet, only if the Government were bound by law to protect Christians could converts escape persecution. A great speech by Wilberforce for two hours after midnight finally clinched the matter, and Parliament passed the clause.

Episcopal Structure of the Anglican Church Established in India

In 1814 the diocese of Calcutta was created, with Thomas Fanshawe Middleton as its first bishop, and three archdeacons for Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. One of his plans was for the foundation of a Mission College near Calcutta, with four objects in view: to train Indians for the service of the Church, to offer secular teaching to other Indians, to translate Christian literature, and to prepare new missionaries for their tasks. The need for missions to India, and for a bishopric there, had been pleaded in annual sermons of the SPG for several years. The Society was glad to co-operate in the idea of a college, as they could now do so under the terms of their Charter, and placed £5,000 at the Bishop's disposal. A Royal Letter was granted to the SPG, which produced £45,747 in collections throughout the country. The Church Missionary Society (CMS), which had been founded in 1799 as the Society for Missions in Africa and the East, together with SPCK each contributed £5,000, and the East India Company gave a site at Howrah, by the Hooghly River in West Bengal. The SPG archives contain much material concerning the administration and life of Bishop's College, which has not been included in the present microfilm. All three Societies provided scholarships for students, and the Bible Society gave £5,000 for the translation of the Scriptures.

Bishop Middleton visited Madras, Tranquebar and other parts of South India in 1816, but his Letters Patent seemed to exclude missionary work among the Indians, and he contented himself with giving advice, for example, that SPCK take over the Danish mission in Tranquebar. Supervision was left to the local committees of the Societies, such as the Madras Committee.

Reginald Heber succeeded as Bishop of Calcutta on Middleton's death in 1822, and was freed from the limitations of predecessor's circumstances. He ordained Christian David, a Malabarese Tamil who had been working for SPCK and who, at the age of 40, became the first South Asian student of Bishop's College in Calcutta to receive Anglican orders, thereafter serving as a priest both in India and his native in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The third volume of Rev. David's letter book, covering the period 1818-1824, is in the possession of USPG; the two earlier volumes are with SPCK. Heber also ordained Abdul Masih, a former Muslim converted by Henry Martyn, as well as three Lutherans, who had been working for the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in Bengal, according to the Anglican Ordinal.

Transfer of the mission from the SPCK to the SPG

As early as 1791 SPCK had felt the need for giving the natives of South India a Church of their own, with bishops who might ordain deacons and priests. Bishop Middleton, though a strong supporter of SPCK whose enforced policy of employing Lutherans he had initially shared, became uneasy about it when he saw it in action in India. Likewise Heber, though he warmly admired the work of the Lutheran missionaries, strongly expressed to the SPCK his hope "that the Society will supply us with episcopally ordained clergymen". It was in this situation that SPCK offered to hand over management of its South India missions to the SPG. Its own funds were limited; its primary purpose was not the sending out of missionaries, as was that of its sister-Society, which had now entered India. On June 7, 1825, the SPCK resolved:

"that this Society do continue to maintain the Missionaries now employed by it in the South of India during the remainder of their lives and that the management and superintendence of the Missions be transferred to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel."

The SPG accepted the proposal. Heber, visiting the Missions, arranged for an SPG Committee in Madras to take over their administration, and intended to make strong representations to the Society of the need that its missionaries should have episcopal ordination. He died suddenly at Trichinopoly in 1826. The Society, however, made clear its mind on the matter in its Annual Report of 1829, which provides a long history of the transferred Missions: these were to be kept going and, although the Lutherans in charge of them were irreplaceable, in future Anglican orders were to be obligatory.

For more than a century an Anglican society had co-operated with Lutherans. The situation in which they had come together had been altered, by wars in Europe, by wars in India, and by the growing power of the East India Company, leading to a more settled government in the country. With peace came order, not only civil but ecclesiastical.

Outline of contents of the collection

The following materials relating to India in the possession of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, are reproduced in this collection, some scanned from the documents themselves while others from images when the originals were microfilmed in 1965:

C/IND/GEN series: 7 boxes, ca.1770-1844

The C/IND/GEN boxes begin in the SPCK period and continue for some years after SPG accepted responsibility for the Danish and English Missions, as well as its own work elsewhere in India. The first four boxes have been filmed in toto, boxes 5-7 in part, where the material chosen reflects the final years of the Lutheran missionaries and the growth of the new episcopal organization.

E/PRE series: 4 boxes or volumes, 1840-61

The E/PRE Series comprises SPG manuscripts. In 1850 overseas correspondence began to be bound in annual volumes, yet for some reason the material in E/PRE was left unbound, with some overlapping in 1850.

E series: Annual volumes from 1856-1900

The E series consists of Annual Reports from missionaries, and is paralleled by the D series containing other letters for the same year. The arrangement of the E series is based on continents, and within that by dioceses.

Calendars for the C and D series, 1815-1875

Along with the above, the following typescript calendars are also reproduced:

C Series: Calcutta, Boxes 1-12, 1815-1852
D Series: Vol.4, Madras 1850-1859: 14 letters of Frederick Gell, Bishop of Madras, 1869-1875
D Series: Vol.6, Bombay (1850 only calendared)

Of these calendars, it should be said that those covering the C Series in no way refer to the seven boxes of C/IND/GEN. The first four boxes are more general material; boxes 5-12 are concerned wholly with Bishop's College, which is also a topic of correspondence in boxes 1-4. All these calendars have been reproduced solely as a concise guide to SPG MSS which were not otherwise available at the time of microfilming, except in the original. Accompanying the calendars is vol. 3 (1818-1824) of Rev. Christian David's letter book, from the USPG archive. The two earlier volumes are with the SPCK.

List of SPG & SPCK secretaries and of bishops

To help identify correspondents, the following names of the secretaries of SPCK and SPG are given:

SPCK secretary
1743: T. Broughton
1777: M. Ballings
1783: Dr George Gasking
1823: W Parker
  (with W.H. Coleridge, 1823)
  (with A.M. Campbell, 1824-1830)

SPG secretary
1819: A. Hamilton
1833: A.M. Campbell
1843: Ernest Hawkins
1865: W.T. Bullock
1879: W.H. Tucker

and those of the first Anglican bishops in India and Sri Lanka:

Bishop of Calcutta
1814: T.F. Middleton
1823: R. Heber
1827: J.T. James
1829: J.M. Turner
1832: D. Wilson
1858: G.E.L. Cotton
1866: R. Milman
1876: E.R. Johnson

Bishop of Madras
1835: D. Corrie
1837: G.T. Spencer
1849: T. Dealtry
1861: F. Gell

Bishop of Bombay
1837: T. Carr
1851: J. Harding
1869: H.A. Douglas

Bishop of Colombo
1845: James Chapman
1862: P.C. Claughton
1872: H.W. Jermyn


Further reading:

C.F. Pascoe (1901) Two hundred years of the S.P.G. : an historical account of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701-1900. London

H.P. Thompson (1951) Into all lands : the history of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701-1950. London

W.K. Lowther Clarke (1959) A history of the S.P.C.K. London

H. Cnattingius (1952) Bishops and societies : a study of Anglican colonial and missionary expansion, 1698-1850. London


Acknowledgement of Copyrights:

Microform Academic Publishers thank United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel for permission to reproduce microfilm and digital images of documents in its archives.

To cite this resource:

Isobel Pridmore (2010) South Asian records of the USPG : an introduction to the British Online Archives edition, Last updated: 20 July 2010.

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