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Lord Moira, the Governor-General, visits Serampore

On 27th November, 1815, Lord Moira (later known as Lord Hastings), and Lady Loudon, accompanied by Bishop Middleton and his wife, visited the missionary establishment at Serampore. After examining the various departments they said that the undertaking greatly exceeded their expectations. In his private journal Lord Moira recorded the great satisfaction he gained from this visit, and the spirit of enterprise manifested by the missionaries. He was particularly interested in the assemblage of learned natives from various provinces in India employed in translating the sacred Scriptures.

This was the first visit paid by any Governor-General to the missionary institution at Serampore. Throughout Bengal the missionary enterprise was considered to be proscribed by the public authorities. The visit created no disaffection and it was beneficial in correcting the erroneous impression that missionary labours were regarded with feelings of aversion by the Christian Government of the land.

Serampore is restored to the Danes

Within 3 weeks of Lord Moira's visit, Serampore was restored to the Danish authorities as a result of arrangements made at the Congress of Vienna. The town was left to depend on its own resources, which were now dried up. The trade to India had been thrown open to British merchants and they ceased to require the facilities of a foreign settlement. The export of piece goods from India, on which Serampore had built its prosperity, was rapidly expiring under the influence of Manchester cottons, and the town speedily became a burden on the mother country.

Ward wrote to a young friend:

'While I am writing the guns are firing, the office is empty, and the Danish flag is again up. There go the guns of the Danish ship lying off Serampore. All is hushed, and nothing but smoke is left. How different from when Christ takes possession of an immortal mind, and sets up His kingdom there; a reign of blessedness commences, measured only by eternity, and every step of progress is advancement towards endless perfection and happiness.'

Immediately after the re-establishment of the Danish authority at Serampore, the missionaries sent an address of congratulation to the King of Denmark, accompanied with a narrative of the progress which had been made in the various departments in the previous 7 years, together with copies of all the works which had been published in that period.

The King directed that the following reply should be sent 'We do hereby charge our college of trade and commerce at Copenhagen, to notify to the Baptist society at our settlement at Fredriksnagore, through our chief at that place, that we have accepted with the highest satisfaction and pleasure the books and other publications transmitted to us by them, and have moreover been much gratified by the testimonies given of the industry and zeal with which they endeavour to benefit our settlement there. And we desire that the said Baptist society shall be forthwith informed of our royal favour and constant protection.'

Lord Moira discards the idea of withholding the blessings of knowledge from the people in order to perpetuate our power

After assuming the government, Lord Moira practically repudiated the policy which regarded the stability of our Indian empire as resting on the ignorance of our subjects. He was the first Governor-General who endeavoured to promote the moral and intellectual improvement of India.

The impulse given to the cause of education by the enlightened measures of Lord Moira produced the most gratifying effect among the native gentry in Calcutta. Early in 1816, some of the most opulent and influential natives expressed a strong desire to establish a college in Calcutta for the education of their children in the English language, and in European science. Contributions totalling £11,318 was immediately raised and the Hindoo College came into being.

The Serampore missionaries decided to take advantage of this impulse for improvement. They gradually augmented the number of their schools and endeavoured to improve their character, and determined to appeal to the public for the means of enlarging their efforts. In 1816 Marshman drew up a pamphlet called 'Hints relative to native schools, together with an outline for their extension and management'. It produced a powerful impression on the public mind in India.

The period of unhappy differences

We have now reached the period when the Serampore missionaries suffered an interruption in the harmony of relations with the Baptist Missionary Society that so embittered their lives and cramped their energies.

The death of Andrew Fuller was an irreparable loss. It broke the bond of confidence and cordiality which had so long subsisted between the two bodies. The management of affairs at home brought forward new feelings and tendencies towards missions in England. Missionaries no longer went to India with the understanding that they must depend on their own exertions for their means of subsistence, which would be eked out by slight or occasional aid from England. The societies had attained the maturity and organisation of National enterprises, and were endowed with ample resources. They were able to give adequate salaries to their missionaries, and this circumstance brought in its train a new principle of subordination, to which the Serampore missionaries were strangers.This appears to have been the real origin of those differences which subsequently became irreconcilable.

At Serampore, within a month after they heard of Fuller's death, the senior missionaries resigned control over the European missionaries into the hands of the Society, and retained only the supervision of those who were supported from their own funds.

There was no member left of the Society with whom they had been on cordial and affectionate intercourse from the beginning, except Dr. Ryland. It was, therefore, to his letters that they looked for information of the progress of feelings and events in England to guide their own conduct. Those letters only served to increase their anxiety. Ryland wrote 'It has been said the premises belong to the society: that is, you have said so. Will you specify how they are secured. It may be expedient to answer this question.' and again 'I am afraid to commit the reins to any of those who are so eager to seize them. The confidence of young men in their own competence makes me distrust them the more.'

From these, and other communications, the Serampore missionaries were apprised that at the first meeting of the Committee after Fuller's funeral, suspicions were raised about the Serampore missionaries conduct, which they had never done anything to provoke. Fuller's anxiety for the Mission was now replaced by anxiety regarding property. They were informed that investigations were about to be instituted regarding their past proceedings. They felt indignant that instead of being regarded as affectionate coadjutors in an enterprise which was indebted chiefly to their own exertions for its present position, they were rather regarded as as criminals who were required to vindicate their integrity.

The deeds of the premises

At Serampore, the deeds of the premises in which they resided, were taken from the sealed envelope in which they had lain since they were signed. Two of the deeds had been drawn up in the loose form of conveyance which were deemed sufficient in a place like Serampore, and they had been signed without any close examination. They now found that, although their main object had been attained in securing the premises to the Society, the trusteeship had been made hereditary.

They deliberated long and anxiously on the subject. Ward drew up a plan of what he termed a 'comfortable settlement' of the station which he submitted to his colleagues; but before they had come to any conclusion on the subject, he sent a copy of it in confidence to a friend in the Committee at home, stating at the same time that the matured plan would be sent to the Society as soon as they were agreed upon it. At the Annual Meeting of the Society, held in October 1816, this private letter was brought forward and treated as a public communication from the 3 missionaries. It is to the proceedings of that meeting, that all the discord and contention of the next 20 years is to be attributed.

The questions

At the meeting they came to the question of the property at Serampore. Young men came forward who did not know so much of the Senior Brethren as they knew of the Junior Brethren. They asked:

1) When were the premises at first purchased?

2) In whose names, and with what money?

3) Or if they were bought at several times, and in several parcels, let the particulars be fully specified?

4) How do the missionaries plan to proceed?

5) If the premises stand in their names already, can they make them over to themselves in trust?

6) If they are theirs in trust, are not trustees in possession as good as freeholders?

7) May not their heirs take possession after them and should the society not find it difficult to turn them out?

8) Are there any trustworthy professors in India who could be nominated as trustees, or should there not be a deed drawn up in England, and trustees chosen here?

A special committee was convened on 31st December 1816, before the corrected plans had arrived, and they proceeded at once to action. On the advice of a Calcutta attorney, they resolved that the property at Serampore should be vested in 8 trustees in India.

The Senior Brethren's response

It took 20 months for these proposals to reach India. It was with the arrival Mr. William Pearce that they were to hear of them at first hand. Under Andrew Fuller, the missionaries alluded to their own funds as totally distinct from those of the Society. The propriety of the distinction was never questioned for a moment. What they gave was regarded as the gift of independent men. But now those funds were to be expended on the missionary stations 'on behalf of the Society'; which was taken to imply that they were at the disposal of the Committee.

On the question of the premises, they felt that to place them in the hands of a majority of trustees in England, chosen by the Committee, would deprive them of all control over them, and to expose all their missionary operations to interruption.

The opposition of the British Government appeared light in comparison to that which now menaced them.

The Junior Brethren in Calcutta

At the time these resolutions reached India, the society's missionaries resident in Calcutta, were the personal friends of those now in power at home. (1) The Junior Brethren had condemned the proceedings of the Senior Brethren and manifested a spirit of estrangement which rapidly ripened into hostility.

The arrival of Mr. William Pearce and a new alarm

Mrs. Ward had been sent to England by her medical advisor, and she returned to Serampore on 25th August, 1817, in renovated health.

In the same vessel came out Mr. William H. Pearce, the son of Rev. Samuel Pearce, late minister of Cannon Street Baptist Church, Birmingham. Rev. Samuel Pearce had been one of the earliest and most devoted supporters of the mission and bosom friend of William Ward.

The Sheldonian Theatre and the Clarendon Building today. The Clarendon Building is still used by Oxford University Press (also known as the Clarendon Press) to house the senior management of the Press. In Pearce's time it housed the whole Press. The printing presses were in the basement. (2)

Mr. William Pearce had been trained as a printer by Mr. William Collingwood, the superintendent of the Clarendon Press in Oxford. (3) (4) Pearce was not only an elegant typographer, but a man of great enterprise and perserverance, and possessed a strong hereditary attachment to the cause of missions. He left behind, in England, a printing press bearing his name at High Street, Birmingham which, in 1817, printed the English edition of William Ward's 'History, Literature and Religion of the Hindoos'. The edition was 'printed by order of the Committee of the Baptist Missionary Society'. (5)

A son of Rev Samuel Pearce would have been welcomed with delight at any time by his father's former associates Carey and Ward, but this feeling was qualified in no small degree by the peculiar circumstances connected with his appearance.

Fuller had been careful to inform outgoing missionaries that they were not to settle at Serampore but on the express invitation of the senior missionaries. The new Committee proceeded at once to nominate Pearce in the office of Mr. Ward's assistant, and he was planted at Serampore without any reference to the wishes of Carey and his colleagues. He arrived when the demands of the Society were under consideration at Serampore, and though he was received with much kindness, and took a share in the management of the Printing Office, this proceeding, combined with the portentous resolution, seemed to increase the necessity of resisting the invasion of their freedom The determination they adopted at this time of crisis is reflected in a letter from Ward to his colleagues:

'I put the following thoughts on paper that they may be well considered, and because the subject involves the question whether we shall give up to ruin or strengthen the edifice we have raised.

Nothing that has yet been proposed appears to be ground on which we can anchor at Serampore, as it respects the property here. Nothing appears more inevitable than this, that we must explicitly acknowledge that the houses were bought in the name of the society (subject we may say to the regulations of the trustees, who shall also decide the question who shall occupy them). This fact, however, unless prudently met, that we did give the houses to them, if acknowledged and confirmed, will forever deprive the occupiers of all happiness. We have misery enough, though a kind of fence surrounds us; but as soon as we are gone the wolves will be let loose, and Serampore will be torn to atoms. These wolves now hover around us, and we can but just keep them off; but woe to those who have the whole weight to bear of these expensive establishments which we shall leave upon them, with all these wolves around them. In pondering over these circumstances during the last two days, my mind has been driven to this settled conviction, that it is my duty to see these premises fixed on a better footing than on any plan I have yet seen, or to retire from the mission altogether. I cannot serve the cause much longer in the course of nature; all I have left to do seems to be to see it settled on a footing that may promise permanence; and if I cannot see this, I need not sink under cares and labours the fruit of which must die with me. I repeat it, the property here must not be left in the hands of people at such a distance, whose servants, full of envy and ill will, are placed all around, and who will never cease to make the lives of our successors a hell upon earth if those successors live on premises belonging to the society in an unqualified sense, or in other words, premises which are common property.

To meet this case, two ways have occurred to me; the first is to give a deed of trust, transferring the property to the society in the following manner: making ourselves and a minority of other staunch friends here trustees, and expressing in the deed of trust that this property is to be forever held by the occupants at Serampore, and by successors chosen by themselves for promoting the cause in India.

My other plan is to declare frankly to the society, that though we bought the houses for the society and did intend that they should be theirs, that imperious necessity had now constrained us to revoke our gifts, as no peace, no union, could be expected after they had required a deed of trust with a majority of trustees in England, and had actually sent out a person (6) to take possession of a part of the premises, and to live, whether we liked it or not, in the bosom of our family, interfering with our private regulations, and assuring him that he should have a gig, &c., if he wished it, and adding that it was only permitted to us as a favour to dispose of our own funds as we thought best, a favour to be resumed at the pleasure of the bestowers. That these things had nearly dissolved the union at Serampore, and that it had been found impossible to cement it again in any other way than by annulling the writings and forming new ones, in which we cast off all vexatious claims and future quarrels, by giving them to the Serampore station exclusively, though debarring forever our natural posterity from it, and securing to those who should actually carry on the labours on the spot. That thus we had secured peace and perpetuity to the establishments we had ourselves formed, and had cut off all grounds of heartburning, envy and dissension, and that having done this, we hoped to die in peace.

These, my brethren, are plans on which we can act honourably, and effectually meet the case. I think nothing short of something like this will do, and as I have already said, if something effectually securing the peace and permanance of the station at Serampore be not done, I consider my work here as done. Yours in eternal bonds.

The task of replying to the demands of the Committee was given to Marshman. The demands were unequivocally rejected, and the spirit of domination to which they were traced was rebuked with no little acerbity. Carey insisted on taking his full share of the responsibilty, declaring that he had weighed every sentence, and that many expressions had been altered to meet his wishes. The letter staggered the Society.

This was the first breach with the Society under its new organisation. Instead of being at once closed with candid and friendly explanations, it was widened by the increase of suspicions, and after 10 years of acrimonious discussion ended in entire separation.



(1) They included Mr. Lawson and Eustace Carey at Bow Bazaar.

(2) 'History of the Oxford University Press', volume 1, 1975, by Harry Carter.

(3) The Clarendon Press is synonymous with the Oxford University Press.

(4) According to Harry Carter in his 'History of the Oxford University Press', volume 1, 1975, Page 5, Mr. Samuel Collingwood was 'Printer to the University' from 1802 to 1838. It is possible that J. C. Marshman is mistaken with Collingwood's first name. The dates tally, and 'Printer to the University' is the OUP's title for the Superintendent of the Press.

(5) A copy of this edition is in the collection of the Derby Local Studies Library. The title page of volume one reads: 'A view of the History, Literature, and Religion of the Hindoos'. In Two Volumes, Vol. 1. By the Rev. William Ward. The Third Edition. Printed by order of the Committee of the Baptist Missionary Society, for Black, Parbury, and Allen, Booksellers to the Hon. East India Company, Leadenhall Street, Birmingham. By W. H. Pearce, High Street, Birmingham. 1817.

(6) This must surely refer to Mr. William H. Pearce who founded Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta, in 1818. He became associated with the Junior Brethren in Calcutta, later to be called the Calcutta Union.

It is worth examining some of the major differences in printing experience between William Ward and William Pearce.

William Ward learnt his trade at a small provincial printers using wooden presses. Although his employer produced some books to a high standard, the Press's main effort went into printing a weekly newspaper. Not too demanding in printing terms. In India Ward was using native craftsmen and printers, who he had trained himself to a level that was good by Indian standards. He still used wooden presses that could be build on the spot. There is no mention in J. C. Marshman of any presses being imported.

William Pearce had been trained by the Superintendent of the Clarendon Press in Oxford. One of the oldest and most respected printers in the country. The University has been involved with printing since 1478. The Clarendon building, built by Hawksmoor in 1715 to house the printers, lies at the heart of Oxford University and next to the Sheldonian Theatre. Before the new building, the printers were housed in the basement of the Sheldonian Theatre. Printed sheets were taken to dry in the attic.

a) In 1800 the first metal printing press was invented. The 'Stanhope Press', as it was called, after its inventor, was a considerable leap forward from the wooden press. It was more stable, needed less exertion, and printed more copies per hour than the wooden press, though the principles on which it worked were little different. Pearce had been running his own press in the centre of Birmingham, sometimes referred to as England's second city, and almost certainly would have metal presses installed by the time he left. To view the set-up at Serampore where he had been placed by the Committee as Ward's assistant, must have felt as if he had stepped back 20 years. This difference is well illustrated by comparing copies (in the collection of the Derby Local Studies Library) of 'A view of the History, Literature, and Religion of the Hindoos', printed in Birmingham in 1817, and Serampore in 1818.

b) The Oxford University Press was split into two sections, the Learned Press and the Bible Press. The difference in importance between the two can be seen from the bills for paper in 1814: the Learned Press paid £1,003, the Bible Press £19,073. Over the years, through royal prerogative, Oxford University Press had acquired exclusive patents to print Bibles and Prayer Books. In 1805 a major advance was made with the introduction of stereotyping. This was a form of mould which was placed over a complete form of set type. A metal cast could be taken from the mould and was used to print further editions without the need to re-set the complete form. This eliminated the typesetting errors for which early English Bibles are remembered, and was a major economy in that it did away with many composition costs. ('The Oxford University Press, An Informal History', Peter Sutcliffe, The Clarendon Press, 1978, Page 4.) This technology would have been unknown in Serampore.

c) I am indebted to the present Archivist at the Oxford University Press, Dr. Martin Maw, for providing the following information: 'I have no record of W. H. Pearce, but his move to Serampore does not surprise me. In his day, we were printing thousands of Bibles and Prayer Books for missionary society usage.  Also, we were beginning our extensive work in Indian languages, which would lead to Friedrich Max Muller's edition of the  "Rig Veda"  and the other  "Sacred Books of the East"  in later years of the Victorian era - so Pearce would have found much of his new work (though not his surroundings) familiar.'

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