If Serampore had not existed, or if it had not been Danish territory, Ward and Marshman would have been forced to return to England. And, if Carey had remained at Mudnabatty he would not have been permitted to establish a press, or receive additional missionaries, and his Mission would have ended on his death.
On 11th January, 1800, the day after his arrival, Carey waited on the Governor of Serampore and was welcomed with great cordiality. The next day being a Sabbath he preached in English to a large and attentive congregation, and in the afternoon preached in Bengali to the natives.
The week was occupied in forming rules for the large family and laying down the plan for future operations. It was determined to form a common stock, to dine at a common table, and to give each family a trifling allowance for personal expenses. All the missionaries were to be considered on a footing of equality, and to preach and conduct social devotions in turn. The superintendence of domestic arrangements and expenditure was to be entrusted to each missionary in rotation for a month. Carey had charge of the public chest as treasurer, and also of the medicine chest. Mr Fountain, who had accompanied Carey to India in 1793, was appointed librarian. One evening of the week was to be devoted to the adjustment of differences and the renewal of their pledge of mutual love. It was resolved that no one should engage in private trade, and whatever might be earned should be credited to the common stock.
Carey rented a house some way away from his brethren. None of the properties were ideal for the start of a mission as there was no place for a press, the first of their wants, and no accommodation for a school.
Serampore was a trading station and there were 6 or 7 merchantmen at anchor. It was also the only haven for debtors in Bengal and this fact had raised property rents to extravagant levels. Within a week, with great difficulty, a house and premises were found for the Mission, and purchased for 6000 rupees, although they had only half that at their disposal. The rest was made up from money they had brought from England for subsistence, by bills on England, and by a loan. The house provided moderate accommodation for all the missionary families, and contained a large hall, which was devoted to public worship and became the Mission Chapel. A side building was fitted up as a printing office and large plot of ground at the rear became Carey's botanical garden.
Old Mission Chapel, Serampore, reproduced by kind permission of BMS World Mission (previously known as the Baptist Missionary Society)
The first attention was given to the printing office. The press brought from Mudnabatty was set up and the types arranged. With the exception of 2 books of the Old Testament the translation of the whole Bible into Bengali had been completed. A decision was made to start with printing the Bengali New Testament. William Ward set the type with his own hands, and presented the first proof sheets on 18th March, 1800. The feeling of exultation in which it was contemplated, and the bright visions of future success which the sight of it kindled, may be more easily imagined than described.
A drawing of the kind of wooden printing press familiar to William Ward.
The Serampore Mission in 1883, based on a map of Serampore courtesy 'The Centre for the Study of the Life and Work of William Carey D.D., 1761 - 1834.' The Printing Office shown is the one that replaced the original building after it was burnt down, and is in a different location. The Paper Mill belonged to John Clark Marshman.
Every morning and afternoon since they arrived at Serampore, Ward joined Carey, Marshman and Fountain in evangelising in the town and neighbourhood. Ward and Marshman applied themselves to the study of Bengali with great diligence.
On 24th April it was decided to have a day of thanksgiving, and after the service the missionaries formed themselves into a Church, with Carey the pastor, and Marshman and Fountain the deacons. They also voted an address of thanks to the Governor for the support they had received. It was presented to him the next day. They also presented an address to King Frederik the 6th, of Denmark, in which they expressed their warmest gratitude for the generous protection and entreated his permission to continue in the settlement and prosecute their labours. The King replied the next year, signalling the gratification he felt at the establishment of the mission under the Danish Flag and informed the missionaries that he had taken their institution under his special protection, and instructed the local authorities to afford them, at all times, all the assistance in their power.
On the 1st of May, Joshua and Hannah Marshman opened 2 boarding schools. Under their able management the schools rose in repute and gradually became the most popular and remunerative establishments of their kind in the Presidency They became the mainstay of the Mission.
The newly arrived missionaries were passing through the scorching month of May. Ward writes:
'We have felt the greatest heat we have ever experienced, and though we perspire profusely, it neither impedes business or injures health. Our brethren preached four times on Sunday as usual.'
Ram-bosoo joined them from Calcutta. He had been with Mr. Thomas, and later with William Carey, and was one of the most accomplished Bengali scholars of the day, but was not yet a convert. At the request of Carey he wrote the first religious tract called 'The Gospel Manager'. He also produced a pamphlet questioning Hinduism. These were produced in large quantities.
The Press was absorbing a large part of their resources and by June production had to cease until further resources were found. In these straightened circumstances they adopted the bold and hazardous plan to appeal to the British public in Calcutta for support. They announced in the Calcutta journals that they had commenced printing the Scriptures in Bengali and invited their fellow-countrymen to assist them in a subscription of £4 for a copy of the Bible. This caught the attention of Lord Wellesley, whose first impulse was to approach the Danish authorities with a view to suppressing the Serampore press.
Richard, Marquis of Wellesley, Governor-General, British India, 1798-1805. Courtesy 'The Centre for the Study of the Life and Work of William Carey D.D., 1761 - 1834.'
A press in a neighbouring foreign settlement, over whom he had no control, was challenging the severe restrictions he had on the press in Calcutta. But before doing so he approached Mr. Brown, the Senior Chaplain in Calcutta, who assured him that the Serampore Press had not been established with any sinister intentions, and that the Press had recently refused to publish a political pamphlet critical of the government. He recommended that the Bengali Bible would be of great benefit to the College of Fort William, which Lord Wellesley was about to establish for the education of Company civil servants (or 'writers' as they were known). The appeal to the public brought in 1500 rupees which was a great relief to the missionaries. This was the last time Lord Wellesley concerned himself with the missionaries, although it was known that nearly all of the influential members of his government opposed any attempt to convert the natives.
Ward writes: 'Such are the jealousies which our press excites in the mind of the British Government, though we are under the jurisdiction of a foreign power. How long could it have been allowed to exist at Mudnabatty.'
William Carey had been accompanied by fellow missionary Mr. Fountain, on his journey to India in 1793. Fountain had worked with Carey for four years at Mudnabatty where he had mastered colloquial Bengali and pursued his missionary activities with zeal. He travelled with Ward and Carey to Serampore and married Miss. Tidd, who had travelled from England with Ward and Marshman on the 'Criterion'. The service was solemnised by Mr. Buchanan, one of the Calcutta chaplains, according to the rites of the Church of England.
Fountain was not physically suited to the climate of southern Bengal, and was in the process of arranging a return to Dinagepore for a change of air, intending to resume his missionary activities there, when he was struck down with dysentery. On 20th August, 1800, he succumbed to the disease and died. Mrs. Fountain was left a pregnant widow and would give birth to a son, John.