John Clark Marshman. Reproduced by kind permission of BMS World Mission (formerly the Baptist Missionary Society).
John Clark Marshman, the first child of Dr. Joshua Marshman D.D. and Hannah Marshman, (1) was born in August 1794 at Bristol where his father was a schoolmaster.
At the age of 5, J. C. Marshman travelled with his parents and William Ward on the American ship the 'Criterion' to Bengal, arriving at Serampore on Sunday morning, 13th October 1799.
On 1st May, 1800, Joshua and Hannah Marshman opened two boarding schools at Serampore. The two schools became the most popular in the Presidency and J. C. Marshman received his education from his parents. He was part of the growing Mission family, eating at the communal table and joining with other children in Mission life. As with all other Mission family members he was encouraged to become a fluent Bengali speaker.
He started a paper mill (2) alongside the Mission to manufacture a new formulation of paper that had been devised by the missionaries over a period of 15 years to resist the ravages of white ants. This became known as 'Serampore Paper' and was used throughout the province, and brought the paper mill much prosperity.
At the age of 23, on 31st May, 1818, John Clark and Joshua Marshman founded the first newspaper in Bengali, the 'Sumachar Durpun'. They also founded the first English weekly, the 'Friend of India' in 1821, which so successfully established itself as to acquire its own substantial buildings by the river just north of the Mission Chapel. Serampore was associated with the 'Friend of India' in European minds for much of the 19th century. In 1875 the 'Friend of India' was amalgamated with 'The Statesman' which is now one of India's most respected English language daily newspapers.
In 1820 a steam engine was imported from Messrs. Thwaites and Rothwell, of Bolton, Lancashire for the paper mill. The first ever seen in India. John Clark's father Joshua was fascinated by it and watched closely as the engineer prepared it. In a letter to Ward dated 27th March, 1820, he records the first day of operation.
J. C. Marshman joined the staff of Serampore College in 1821.
In 1827 he published an abridged version of Carey's 'Dictionary of the Bengali Language'; in 1832, a 'Guide Book for Moonsiffs, Sudder Ameens, and Principal Sudder Ameens, containing all the Rules necessary for the conducts of Suits in their Courts'; in 1835, a 'Guide to Revenue Regulations of the Presidencies of Bengal and Agra'; and in 1842, 'The History of India from remote Antiquity to the Accession of the Mogul Dynasty'.
He also published 'Marshman's Guide to the Civil Law of the Presidency of Fort William' which was probably the most profitable law book ever published.
In 1837 the last of the 'Serampore Trio', Joshua Marshman died. (3) John Mack and J. C. Marshman struggled to carry on the work of the College, spending all their earnings on the College. J. C. Marshman spent his income from his private concerns, including those from the paper mill. He published the 'The Friend of India' and he stipulated that the proceeds should go to the College. It was reckoned that he contributed more than £30,000.
The struggle to maintain the College was getting more and more difficult each year, and Mack and Marshman decided to turn the College over to the Baptist Missionary Society. The Society was unwilling to take over the burden fully and offered to support a theological professor on the staff.
Marshman unwillingly accepted the position of Official Bengali Translator to the Government, and henceforth was abused daily in the native newspapers as 'the hireling of the Government'. His salary of £1,000 he passed to the College.
In 1855 Marshman planned to leave India for good and he and Mack proposed, again, to pass complete control of the College to the Home Committee of the Baptist Missionary Society. The proposal was this time gladly accepted. He resigned his post as Official Bengali Translator to the Government and returned to England.
In 1859 he published 'The Life and Times of Carey Marshman and Ward, embracing the History of the Serampore Mission'. His new home was quite different to the one on the banks of the Hooghly where he had spent an eventful 55 years. His address was Kensington Palace Gardens, London.
J. C. Marshman was an earnest student of Indian history. From his pen came the first, and for many years, the only, history of Bengal. He was long engaged on the writing of the history of India and his final book was the 'History of India from the Earliest Period to the Close of Lord Dalhousie's Administration' which he finished and published in three volumes between 1863 and 1867. His reading was very wide and he was a distinguished Oriental scholar. He studied Chinese (like his father) and knew all the great Sanskrit poems. He also gave much attention to Persian.
In England, however, he was not recognised. He was refused a seat on the Indian Council, and through his services to education, he was tardily recognised by the granting of the Star of India in 1868. He had to seek occupation as chairman of the Committee of Audit of the East Indian Railway.
He made three unsuccessful attempts to obtain a seat in Parliament, for Ipswich in 1857, Harwich in 1859, and Marylebone in 1861.
He died at Radcliffe Square, North Kensington on the 8th July 1877.
Sources: 'The Dictionary of National Biography', 1893; 'The Story of Serampore and its College', Serampore College, 1961; 'The Life and Times of Carey Marshman and Ward, embracing the History of the Serampore Mission', John Clark Marshman, 1859; 'The Carey Connection', Regent's Park College.
(1) Hannah Shepherd was the grand-daughter of Rev. John Clark, for sixty years the pastor of Crockerton Baptist Church, Wiltshire.
(2) Throughout the 19th century, the only one in India.
(3) Joshua and Hannah Marshman had twelve children, of whom only five survived their father. One child, who died in 1812 (at the time, Joshua Marshman's youngest), was named W Ward Marshman, after William Ward. John Clark Marshman's middle name came from his mother's grandfather Rev. John Clark. The tradition was handed down and S. Pearce Carey's middle name came from Anna Pearce, the sister of W. H. Pearce, the founder of Baptist Mission Press, who married William Carey's youngest son William Carey Jr.
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