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The Old Mission Chapel, Serampore where the families lived and where Ward was married. Reproduced by kind permission of BMS World Mission (formerly the Baptist Missionary Society).

The first female is baptised

Early in 1801 the first female Hindoo, Joyminee (Krishna's sister-in-law), was baptised. A month later, Krishna's wife, and Unnu, another female, were also baptised.

On 7th February, the last sheets of the Bengali New Testament came off the press. Ward, together with Felix Carey, had set the type with Mr. Brunsdon's assistance, when his health allowed. Through sheer hard work, the New Testament had been completed in 9 months. As soon as the first copy was bound, it was placed on the communion table in the Chapel and all the brethren, together with the newly baptised converts, gathered and gave thanks to God for the completion of this important work. It had cost £612 for a print run of 2,000 copies.

Fort William College

The educational standards required for judges, magistrates, collectors and ambassadors had not changed since the early days of the Company, when legible hand-writing and book-keeping skills were all that was required of candidates. Some of the clerks, known as 'writers', had left public school in England at fourteen or fifteen. There were no facilities in India to prepare them for for their duties. Lord Wellesley fixed January 1801 as the date after which no appointments could be made without candidates having passed examinations in the native languages. He founded Fort William College (1) to teach Modern European Languages, Latin, Greek, English Classics, Geography, Mathematics, History, Natural History, Botany, Chemistry, Astronomy, Ethics and Jurisprudence. As regards Indian studies, it was to teach Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Mahratti and Tamil. No promotion was to be given in the whole Presidency except through the College. It was to be considered one of the most important departments of state and senior members of the government were expected to take a share in its management. Men of learning from all over India were advised to proceed to Calcutta and become teachers. More than 50 did so.

This was the first time that the native language, Bengali, was imposed on the civil service. Persian had been the language of commerce and was the only Asian language with which the civil servants had been familiar.

There was but one person, William Carey, qualified to teach Bengali. He was a missionary, and the government was opposed to missionary activity. The two chaplains in Calcutta, Brown and Buchanan, were determined that Carey should take up this appointment. They approached him, but he was reluctant, expecting that his missionary activities would be curtailed. Brown and Buchanan assured him that this would not be so. They put the proposal before Lord Wellesley who accepted it, and Carey was appointed on the 12th May, at a salary of 500 rupees a month.

The British sequester Serampore

During 1800 the British were at war with Denmark and Copenhagen had been besieged by Admiral Nelson. The British Government decided to sequester the Danish settlements in India and on 8th May, 1801. A detachment of troops crossed the river from Barrackpore to take possession of Serampore. At 10 in the morning, along with the other Europeans living there, the missionaries were summoned to attend the English Commissioner at the King's House. The Commissioner expressed his regret at the trouble he had caused them and assured them they were free to continue their respective activities as usual.

The missionaries were understandably uneasy as the protection of the Danish crown was now denied them, and they were completely within the power of those who would have expelled them 18 months ago, but Lord Wellesley no longer regarded them with alarm and they were safe. During the succeeding 18 months of British occupation they remained unmolested.

The death of Mr. Brunsdon

Mr. Brunsdon, who had been suffering from a lingering disease for 9 months, took a turn for the worse. Carey wrote to Fuller requesting more missionaries.

On 24th March, 1801, Ward writes from Calcutta:

'I am this moment sitting with brother Brunsdon at this place, whither he has been removed for medical assistance. I think he is not likely to survive many days. I fear these repeated strokes of Providence may discourage some: yet we are not in despair - not one of us - not even our widowed sisters.

Sister Brunsdon enjoys a happy degree of tranquillity, though very near her lying in, and her husband apparently dying - God is all sufficient! I do not think the climate of Bengal is pernicious. Brother Carey and others, think it more healthful than that of England; and perhaps it be so, after a person has been inured to it. The loss of brother Brunsdon will be severely felt. Upon the life of brother Marshman depends, in some measure, half our support by the school. Upon the life of brother Carey depends the translation, and more than I can describe. I am happy thinking, that if I die, Felix Carey will be able to print. But I asure you, it cannot be conceived how necessary we seem to each other. Our love to one another grows exceedingly, and every new death makes us cling the closer.'

Brother Brunsdon died in Calcutta, on 3rd July, at the early age of 24.

Expansion of the premises, itinerating into the interior, and the death of Mr. Thomas.

In August, Goluk, the brother of Krishna, who had postponed baptism due to the intimidated crowds at the end of 1800, was baptised.

The school had expanded and enlarged premises were required. In October, they purchased the adjoining house and grounds for 10,340 rupees. Ward describes it as one of the finest in Serampore. This provided space, not only for the school, but also for the printing and binding works, and for additional missionary accommodation.

While they were prepared to purchase premises their domestic arrangements remained frugal. They all dined together on 4 long tables; missionaries, wives, children and scholars. Ward writes:

'We live moderately, and drink only rum and water. We have always a little cheap fruit; goats' flesh - the same as mutton - broth, fowls, with a little beef sometimes, and curry, but we have good wheaten bread.'

After two years in India the missionaries began to itinerate some distance from the town. Krishna-Pal, though only a carpenter, seemed to possess considerable fluency of speech. Ward writes:

'It appears to us all that we ought to make the most of the gifts of our Hindu friends, and we are thinking how to occupy Krishna so as to make him useful in the vineyard.'

Ward took Krishna-Pal with him on a missionary tour. They were away a fortnight and visited Chandernagore, Chinsurah and Hooghly. They then proceeded eastwards to Debhata, in the Sunderbans, where Carey had stayed, soon after his arrival in India. They preached in villages on the way and caused great excitement by the distribution of books and pamphlets which had never been seen before in the country. The wealthy opposed their views on Hunduism and Mohammedanism, but the poor received their message with pleasure. The demand for books exceeded their highest expectations, and if they had 5 times more they would not have fulfilled the demand.

On Ward's return he heard of the demise of Mr. Thomas from the fever. He died at Dinagepore on 13th October. Within 2 years, to the day, of their landing at Serampore, 4 out of the first 7 missionaries had died. Thomas had been the first missionary to preach to Bengalis in their own language and had been active for 15 years.

1802, and the first conversion from a tract produced by the Printing Office.

On the first Sunday of 1802, Petumber Singh, the first convert from the Kayust, or writer caste, was baptised. He was 60 years old and had read all the Hindu religious works in manuscript form, and visited all the shrines, but was not satisfied with what he had found. He had gradually relinquished Hinduism. In this state of mind, one of the tracts distributed by Ward in his recent missionary tour fell into his hands. It told of a group of missionaries at Serampore who had come from a distant land to promote the eternal happiness of the Hindus and that salvation was to be obtained through Jesus Christ. He proceeded at once to Serampore, a distance of 30 miles, in order to hear more. After receiving instruction for 2 or 3 days, he returned to his family, promising to return in a fortnight. Before a week had elapsed he was back, broke caste by eating with the missionaries, and was baptised. Later, a Brahmin and 2 further Kayusts came forward and renounced their caste. Carey writes to Andrew Fuller 'We have neither the time or occasion to go out and preach as much as formerly. Our printing press now sends out missionaries - New Testaments, pamphlets and tracts; and the people who come to us for instruction are frequently as many as we can attend to'.

Stennett includes a letter from Ward, dated January 16th, 1802, outlining this story.

'I have hitherto enjoyed uninterrupted health and good spirits. With my dear brethren Carey and Marshman I live in the closest friendship; we are altogether a happy family, considering our bereavements. All our real wants are abundantly supplied.

I have acquainted you with the baptism of five natives, I think; the sixth I baptized a few months ago. Respecting the seventh, a man of the Writer caste, I believe you will be pleased with hearing his history. Two or three months since, I accompanied Mr. Short, a gentleman who married Mrs. Carey's sister, in a journey for his health on the river; we were out about a fortnight. In that time a native brother and I delivered the gospel message in many places, where the people sat in death's cold shade; we also distributed more than a thousand small pamphlets. One of these happened to fall into the hands of a man we did not perceive. He read it with attention, and was convinced that it unfolded to him the true way of salvation; he had sought the true way of life many years in vain. The universal wickedness of the Hindoo teachers convinced him, that they had not found the way of life. As soon, therefore, as he saw this paper and the word of Serampore upon it, he resolved to find our house. He came from a distance of about thirty miles. His mind was confirmed in the truth. He returned for a few days to his house to acquaint his friends. After he came back he gave a very satisfactory account before the church, and on the first Lord's day in the new year, he was baptized by brother Carey in the river opposite our house, in the presence of a number of Europeans, Portuguese Christians, Hindoos, Musselmans, and one Armenian. We have made him our native schoolmaster, and we hope to find in him, what we have long wished for, a christian schoolmaster from among the natives. Another man and his son give us hopes of being baptized shortly. Many enquire, some from corrupt motives, and some, we hope, with a view to eternity. Scarcely a day passes, but one or other comes to get a New Testament, or some pamphlets.

A few young gentlemen amongst the Europeans in Calcutta, appear truly with their faces towards heaven. Upon the whole, the state of religion in Bengal is such, as to give hope, that God is on his way to send the idols of the Hindoos to the moles and to the bats.'

Indignation in Calcutta

The circulation of these tracts was noticed by a Hindu of great consideration in Calcutta, in whom it aroused great indignation. He brought it to the attention of one of the judges in the Sudder, or Chief Court of Appeal, who was known to be unfriendly to missions. The judge appeared shocked at such proceedings and resolved to bring the matter, officially, to the attention of the Vice President, in a private audience of the Council - Lord Wellesley being away in the north-west frontier. Mr. Buchanan, one of the chaplains in Calcutta, and friendly towards the Mission, overheard the conversation and suggested the judge procure a translation of the tract into English. All the tracts were sent to Carey for translation. The judge's intention was dropped to the relief of the missionaries at Serampore.

The position of government officials towards the Hindu religion can be judged by an extract from Ward's journal.

'Last week, a deputation from the Government went in procession to Kalee Ghat, and made a thank offering to this goddess of the Hindoos, in the name of the Company, for the success which the English have lately obtained in this country. Five thousand ruppees were offered. Several thousand natives witnessed the English presenting their offerings to this idol. We have been much grieved by this act, in which the natives exult over us.'

Kali Ghat, in the south of Calcutta, was the most opulent and popular shrine in Calcutta.

Printing native Bengali literature for the first time

With Carey's appointment to Fort William College it was found that no prose works existed in the Bengali language.

The first book using Bengali type had been Halheed's 'Bengalee Grammar', printed at Hooghly, on Mr. Andrew's press in 1778. (2) The next was a the legal code of the British Government compiled by Sir Elijah Impey, and printed at the Company's press in 1781.

These books were unsuitable for the purposes of studying the Bengali culture, and Carey employed Ram-bosoo to compile a history of King Pritapadityn. It was published by the Serampore Press in July, 1801. This could be regarded as the first prose work to be printed in the Bengali language. Carey also compiled a grammar of the language which was published a few months later, as well as a series of Colloquies designed to familiarise students with the modes of conversation in the different classes of Bengali society. This was followed by a Bengali translation of the Sanskrit 'Hetopudes' and arrangements were made for the publication of the 'Mahabharat', the great epic poem, which was popular throughout the country.

William Ward marries Mrs. Fountain

William Ward and Miss. Tidd were both single when they arrived in India on the 'Criterion' in 1799. She had gone out with the intention of marrying Mr. Fountain, to whom she had been attached before he became a missionary. The two had been married in a Church of England ceremony conducted by Mr. Buchanan. The union had not been consumated many months when Mr. Fountain died on 20th August, 1800. Mrs. Fountain was left a grieving widow, and not long after, his son, John Fountain, was born 'a fatherless child in a strange land.'

William Ward and Mrs. Fountain decided to marry. Before arrangements could be made it was necessary to establish the position in law regarding Dissenting marriage. Mr. Brown, the Senior Chaplain in Calcutta, was asked to clarify the position. His advice was that, since the Marriage Act, then in force in England, had not been extended to India, marriages were constantly performed by civil and military officers at various stations throughout the country with the full approval of Government, therefore, marriages solemnised by Dissenting ministers would not be deemed invalid.

The marriage ceremony, which took place at the Mission house on Monday, 10th May, 1802, was conducted with primitive simplicity and striking solemnity. Ward writes in his journal:

'May 10th. This evening sister Fountain and I were married, in the presence of our Bengalee friends and others. This connection had been intended for some time, but circumstances prevented. Brother Carey introduced the business by a few words, and read the marriage agreement. I then took sister Fountain by the hand, and walked up to the table, saying, 'We sign this our solemn covenant to each other.' We then signed it, and about a dozen friends, European and Bengalee, added their signatures. Brother Carey then delivered a very appropriate address to the parties on the duties of husband and wife, and made a pleasing allusion to our family situation, in which all personal interests are swallowed up in the interest of the whole. A short prayer concluded the service. I gave some fruit and a few things of native manufacture amongst the native friends, and thus the marriage was celebrated.'

William Ward became an affectionate protector and tender parent. At the prospect of receiving an increase to his family he writes:

'I hope to have a little one soon. I know not, whether I feel as others on this subject, but I scarcely ever think of having a child of my own, without immediately fixing my mind on its eternal destiny.'

Mr. and Mrs. Ward had 4 children, in addition to John Fountain from Mrs Ward's previous marriage. Two of them died young. The others gave much pleasure to their parents by their obedient and towardly dispositions, and the eldest daughter exhibited considerable evidence of her knowledge of the truth, and her conversion to God. She became a member of the Church at Serampore and was a great support to her mother on her father's decease, resembling him in her disposition.


(1) According to Geoffrey Moorhouse, on page 54 of his book 'Calcutta', published in 1971, the Campus of Fort William College was housed, not in the fort, but in the Writer's Building, in Tank Square, next to the spot where the original Fort William had been demolished and replaced with a tank of water. To see some old engravings of the original Writer's Building, and other 19th century Calcutta scenes, click on the link.

(2) See the Digital Library Page.

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