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The Scottish Churches' Work Abroad
Scotland in India

ALL the branches of the Scottish Church have had their part in the evangelisation of India, drawn thither by the irresistible attraction of the country, and impelled also by a sense of our responsibility for the moral and spiritual well-being of Britain’s great Eastern dependency. Scotland’s most distinctive contribution has probably been along the line of educational missions, of which some account has already been given. Before the Disruption of 1843, work had been begun in the three great cities. Bombay was the first to be occupied in 1823, though the College was not founded till 1835. Duff began his great educational work in Calcutta in 1830, and Anderson in Madras in 1837. After the Disruption, the three Colleges continued their work under the auspices of the Free Church. Later, the Church of Scotland reoccupied Duff’s old college and soon made it a flourishing educational centre. In due time the two Calcutta colleges were happily amalgamated under the name of the Scottish Churches’ College. The colleges at Madras and Bombay have had an equally prosperous career, and it is not too much to say that they have been one of Scotland’s finest gifts to India.

Besides the colleges, other missionary agencies are at work in and around the three great cities. Street preaching, medical missions, schools, and rescue work are carried on as opportunity offers. Up the Hugli, from Calcutta, a successful mission has been, established in the district between Chinsurah and Kalna. South-west of Madras, Conjeeveram, the holy city of South India, has been occupied, and, in addition to other mission work, a leper colony has recently been taken over. At Chingleput, in the same district, a very notable work has been carried on among the low caste people who, here as elsewhere, are crowding into the Christian Church.

Throughout the rest of India the Scottish Churches are at work in five different fields. These are the Maratha country, the Panjab, Rajputana, Santalia, and the Eastern Himalayas.


The Maratha country is a somewhat vague expression, and covers a very extensive region, running eastward from Bombay through the Central Provinces. Before the Pax Britannica was established over India, the Marathas were a powerful and warlike people whose name was a name of dread. As the great Mogul Empire at Delhi decayed, the Marathas grasped the falling sceptre. Far and wide their devastating cavalry spread till they could make the proud boast that they had watered their horses at every stream in India. The East India Company’s traders trembled behind their desks in Calcutta, and dug the Maratha trench in front of the town. The inevitable collision came in 1803 when General Wellesley, afterwards the Duke of Wellington, broke the Maratha power at Assaye. The battlefield lies a hundred miles to the east of Poona in the neighbourhood of Jalna, both familiar names in the Scottish missionary history. It was the most fiercely contested battle our soldiers had up till then fought in India, and by it the Empire of India passed from the Marathas to the British. Such things are not forgotten in a century, and patriotic and religious pride have combined to present a formidable barrier to the Gospel among the Marathas.

Poona was occupied by missionaries from Bombay in 1831. It was a bold venture, for up till then Poona had been regarded as a forbidden spot. Ten years before, the Government, in the hope of conciliating the Brahmans, had set up a Sanskrit College, "in which well-paid pundits taught well-paid scholars the Vedas and Shastras in purest Hindu fashion." It turned out hosts of men who traded on the worst superstitions of the people, and many of the bitterest opponents of every reform were students educated at this college. The Government had not yet learnt the truth of the great principle laid down by Lord Lawrence that "Christian things done in a Christian way will never alienate the heathen." It is amazing to read to-day of the lengths to which the Government of India went in countenancing the idolatries and immoral practices of Hinduism. British soldiers served as guards of honour in idolatrous processions, while the native sepoys were carefully secluded from Christian influences, and were drummed out of the army if any made a Christian profession.

Such things were done in the name of wise policy and with a view to conciliating native religious feeling. It needed the terrible explosion of the Mutiny to teach the lesson that to cultivate superstition is to foster fanaticism. Then at length Lord Palmerston, that most opportunist of English statesmen, declared that all were agreed that it was not only a duty but a political interest "to promote the diffusion of Christianity throughout the length and breadth of India."

Poona has been spoken of as "the intellectual capital of India." It is certainly a stronghold of Hinduism, and the Brahmins of Poona have the reputation of being the cleverest, proudest, and bitterest of their race. On a low hill to the south of the city stands a famous temple of Parvati, the baneful influence of which pervades the whole community. For it must ever be borne in mind that religion in India has little in common with what we understand as morality. However lofty may be the aspirations that breathe in some of the ancient books of the East, popular Hinduism is a gross polytheism. The temples have their walls often covered with lewd and abominable carvings, and are the haunt of religious prostitutes. So at the famous shrine of Parvati, fair young girls are bought by the priests or dedicated by their parents to a life of shame, till, as a native Christian said, the whole region round has "the smell of Satan."

These influences have made the work in Poona particularly difficult, but it has been steadily carried on, not without many tokens of blessing. As Christian education progressed, a High School for boys was opened, and continued to render useful service for about half a century, having at one time between four and five hundred pupils in attendance. Unfortunately, in 1888, the school had to be closed for lack of funds. However necessary at the time, this has proved a calamity to the Mission, for it has not only meant a loss of prestige, but has closed the most hopeful avenue of approach to the educated classes. In spite of this discouragement, the Gospel has continued to manifest its power in the bazaars and villages, in the vernacular schools and the zenanas. One of the earliest converts of note was Wazir Beg, a Mohammedan, whose friends threatened to murder him if he became a Christian. He had a somewhat unusual career, for, after completing his education in Scotland, he became the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Australia. A more recent convert may be mentioned, Mr. D. S. Sawarkar, L.C.E., who gave an impressive address to the United Free Church General Assembly of 1925 on the leavening influence of the Gospel on Indian thought and life.

Eastward of Poona the mission has stretched a long arm as far as Nagpur, the capital of the Central Provinces, which was occupied in 1845 by Stephen Hislop, a great name in Indian missions, worthily commemorated in the Hislop College. The Church in Nagpur will long cherish the memory of his remarkable career and work, how he preached and taught and studied, how he discovered the coal-fields of Central India, how his first convert lay four months in prison till Hislop made all India ring about it, how he saved the English residents from massacre at the time of the Mutiny, and how, at last, his brave and noble life came to a tragic end, on the dark night when he rode over the bank of a swollen stream, and horse and rider were swept away.

Another interesting centre of work among the Marathas is at Jalna, a hundred miles east of Poona, where a mission was established in 1862. The first converts were won from among the Mangs, a degraded and almost servile caste, and this created a prejudice against Christianity in the minds of those of higher caste. Brahmins sneer and say that the Gospel is only fit for sweepers. But this spirit was nobly rebuked by the remarkable career of Narayan Sheshadri, whose name was once a household word in Scotland. A Brahmin of Poona, he was converted while studying at the Wilson College, Bombay. After teaching in the College for some years he devoted his life to the Mission in Jalna and became the friend and champion of the low-caste people. He founded the Christian village of Bethel for converts who were ostracised for their faith. It cannot be counted less than a miracle of grace that this noble Brahmin, renouncing the exclusive privilege of his priestly caste, should have made himself the servant of the meanest of his people for Jesus’ sake—people whose very shadow in passing is pollution to a Brahmin. Such a life surely foretells the day when, in Christ, there shall be neither caste nor outcasts, but one great brotherhood, embracing India’s millions.


The Panjab, as its name signifies, is the Land of the Five Rivers. It lies in the extreme north-west, where the encircling Himalayas have grudgingly opened the gateway of the Khyber Pass. The five rivers, gathering their strength among the snow-clad mountains, converge in the plain and unite to form the Indus. On the midmost of the five rivers, the Chinab, a mission of the Church of Scotland has been carried on with marked success since 1856.

The geographical position of the Panjab has made it the ancient battlefield of India. Every conquering race that has entered the country, except the British, has poured in through the passes of the north-west and struggled for empire in the Panjab. Two of these invasions have left an indelible mark upon India. First came our own kinsfolk, the Aryans, who entered India perhaps fifteen centuries before Christ, drove the aboriginal inhabitants into the south country or up into the hills, and established a Hindu empire which was strong enough to set bounds to the ambitions of Alexander the Great. Later, by the same route, came the Mohammedans, who founded the Mogul Empire, and from their capital of Delhi reigned as the overlords of India. These titanic struggles and the proximity of the wild mountains have bred in the Panjab a people of magnificent physique—strong, proud, and fearless.

Specially worthy of mention are the Sikhs, who in more recent times ruled the Land of the Five Rivers. They originated in the fifteenth century as a Puritan sect of Hindus who rejected idolatry and the institution of caste, preached the existence of one spiritual God, and inculcated a higher moral life. These pure religious aims became in course of time mingled with political ambitions, and the Sikhs from being a religious sect grew to be a military power. As the Mogul Empire decayed, they established their dominion over the Panjab. Growing jealous of Britain’s power, and believing themselves invincible, they crossed the Sutlej, the eastmost of the five rivers, and invaded British territory, only to be broken in a series of campaigns which ended in the annexation of the Panjab.

These events drew the attention of the home public to the Sikhs, and led the Church of Scotland to adopt the Panjab as a field for missionary enterprise. The first missionary was Mr. Thomas Hunter, who settled at Sialkot in 1856. Sialkot is the largest town of a fertile and populous zone skirting the base of the Himalayan range. It is a frontier military station, standing at the head of a vast plain stretching southwards beyond Amritsar and Lahore, and also commanding the entrance to the world of mountains on the north. In this strategic centre the pioneer set to work hopefully. But next year the Indian Mutiny broke out. It might have been expected that the Sikhs, a warlike race so recently subdued, would have been ringleaders in the revolt, but to their honour they kept their plighted word, and so successfully had they been conciliated by the wise and Christian statesmanship of Lord Dalhousie and the two Lawrences that they gave material assistance in the conquest of Delhi. At Sialkot, however, there was a momentary outbreak of trouble among Bengal troops stationed in the province. Mr. Hunter remained at his post till the last moment, and then in attempting to escape he had the misfortune to fall into the hands of a body of mutineers who brutally murdered him, together with his wife and baby.

This tragic beginning only stirred in Scotland the feeling that Sialkot was hallowed ground. The missionary forces of the Christian Church have often had to advance over the graves of the fallen, and even so was it in the Panjab. The fallen standard was soon upreared and the work went forward. In due course stations were opened at Daska and Wazirabad, across the river in Gujrat, and northwards at Jammu and Chamba in the heart of the mountains.

The success of Christian missions in the Panjab is well known, and the Church of Scotland Mission has shared to the full in this rich harvest. When Dr. Norman Macleod lay dying, in 1872, he described a dream which filled him with happiness. "I have had such a glorious dream!" he said. "I thought that the whole Panjab was suddenly Christianised and such noble fellows, with their native churches and clergy." It is a dream which bids fair to become a reality at no very distant date, for the rate of increase of native Christians among the martial races of the Panjab has been about 300 per cent. every decade. There is also a considerable movement towards Christianity among the aborigines in the mountains. As one of them said, referring especially to medical mission work, "We have not only heard the Gospel, but we have seen it and felt it." Hindu and Mohammedan strongholds have been severely shaken, and there is a note of alarm and even of despair in the appeals of their religious leaders. Take one out of many that might be quoted. "Missionaries have cast the net over our children by teaching them in their schools, and they have already made thousands of Christians. They have penetrated the most out-of-the-way villages, and built churches there. If we continue to sleep as we have done in the past, not one will be found worshipping in the temples in a very short time; nay, the temples themselves will be converted into Christian churches." This doleful lament seems to take us back to the first Christian century, for it reads like one of Pliny’s famous letters to Trajan telling how, because of the spread of the obscure sect of the Christians, the grass is growing green in the temples of Pontus.


The United Presbyterian Church had a good claim to be reckoned the most missionary church in Scotland. Not content with missions in Jamaica and in South and West Africa, it sought a new field in India after the storm of the Mutiny was past. The field chosen was Rajputana.

Eastward from the Indus a great desert stretches almost half-way across North India, separating the fertile Panjab on the north from the Central Provinces. Where this desert approaches the highlands of Hindostan lies the country of the Rajputs. The western half consists of barren veldt which fades away into the desert and is only saved from its encroachment by incessant irrigation. The Aravally Mountains give more distinction of feature to the eastern half, and here there are cities famous in Indian history. For in the days of the Great Mogul the Rajputs maintained an heroic struggle for independence, and in their mountain fastnesses were often able to defy the forces sent against them. It is on record that more than once in the last extremities of a siege the warriors have sallied out to fight to the last man while their women within the fort made a great funeral pyre and cast themselves upon it.

The British Government has respected the strong national spirit of the Rajputs, and most of the country is ruled by its own native princes. This liberal policy has been rewarded by the loyalty of these princes, who are proud of their place in the Empire and willingly muster their forces to its aid. The measure of independence, however, which they enjoy has at times presented a serious difficulty to the progress of the Gospel. So the Scots missionaries found it at the beginning of their work in Rajputana. It was easy to occupy Ajmer, which is under direct British rule, but to gain a footing in the native States was another matter. Against the veto of the native prince there was no appeal, for the Government maintains an attitude of neutrality in regard to such matters.

The Mission was begun in Ajmer in 1860, the first missionary being Dr. Shoolbred, who did much by his graphic pen to make the Mission so popular as it speedily became. For six years he laboured in Ajmer, seeing around him the proud and ancient cities of Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaipur with their gates shut against the Gospel. At length the key was found, and that key was the medical missionary. It is well known to every student of missions that the healing of the body has opened highways in all lands for the Gospel; but Rajputana may be cited as a specially notable example of this. Jaipur was the first to surrender in 1866. Dr. Valentine was passing through the city when the wife of the Maharaja was taken ill, and he was called in to attend her. Under his treatment she recovered, and in the meantime the missionary doctor had so won the prince’s confidence that he offered to make him his private physician. To induce him to accept the post, he appointed him Director of Public Instruction, and gave him full liberty to preach in the city.

Eleven years later, Dr. Shepherd unlocked the gates of Udaipur. Cholera having broken out in that lovely city among the hills, the people gladly welcomed him. The only opposition came from the Maharana’s favourite counsellor. When, however, this courtier’s own little daughter fell sick, he forgot his prejudice in anxiety about his child, and the missionary doctor was called in. By the time the little patient was well again her father was singing his praises, and, soon after, the site for a mission hospital was granted by the prince.

Not less romantic is the story of how the door was opened in Jodhpur. When Dr. Sommerville sought to enter in 1885, he was met by the prince’s veto. It happened at that time, however, that an English engineer, a friend of the Maharaja, died, and his widow, being asked what she would like for a memorial of her husband, replied, "A Mission bungalow." So the prince, not to go back on his word, built it. No doubt the gift was given with a grudge, but in a short time the heart of the prince and of his people was completely won. To-day there stands in the city a fully equipped hospital, built for Dr. Sommerville entirely by his friends in Jodhpur, the Maharaja himself contributing two-thirds of the cost.

Rajputana, lying as it does on the border of the Great Desert, is peculiarly liable to suffer from famine. Life for many of its people is at all seasons a struggle for bare existence, and if the monsoon fails, they are immediately faced with starvation. Disastrous famines occurred in 1869, and again in 1900. The total loss of life will never be known, but in each case the numbers who perished in Rajputana alone ran into millions. The scenes witnessed were heartrending. The land was filled with starving men and women and children. They stripped every leaf from the trees and gnawed the bark. They tracked the ants to their nests and plundered their winter store of seeds. They sifted the very dust of the roads to see if, perchance, some passing waggon had dropped a few grains. The Government did everything possible, as also did some of the native princes, but others simply sat still and let their people die.

These years of dire necessity were years of great opportunity for the Mission. Round the doors of every Mission bungalow pitiable creatures flocked for help, some so weak they could only crawl. Everything had to be laid aside for the work of famine relief. With help sent out from home, relief works were started, doles of food were distributed, the sick nursed, and hundreds of destitute orphans taken in charge. Many of these last were picked up from the roadside where they had been abandoned by their parents, many others were brought at night and laid down at the missionaries’ doors. No other Christian course seemed possible than to adopt them and bring them up under the care of the Mission. Such work brought in due season its own reward. Not only was there left behind, when the famine passed, a legacy of gratitude and goodwill on the part of those whose lives had been preserved, but many of the rescued orphans grew up to be among the most intelligent and reliable of the church members.

Of the eighteen Rajput States, seven are now occupied by the Mission. Two States are occupied by other Missions, but half of Rajputana is still without any Christian agency. Yet the diffusive influence of the Mission is increasingly felt throughout the whole province. There has recently been manifest a very deep and widespread change in the attitude of the non-Christian community. Christianity is the standard by which everything is measured, even the gods themselves. Every advocate of any custom or faith, new or old, spends himself to prove that it is " as good as Christianity." Thus in every way Christ is preached, and there seems to be opening up a prospect of men moving, not as units but in masses, towards the Christian faith.


The Santal Mission was begun by the Free Church in 1870. The Santals belong to the aboriginal peoples of India, a physically powerful race, nomadic in their habit of life till about a century ago, when the Government induced them to settle in the hill country west of Calcutta, bordering on the plain of the Ganges. Here they formed a bulwark, defending the peaceful dwellers on the plain from the wild raiders in the hills. Unhappily, however, they in their simplicity fell into the clutches of the Bengal money-lender, and about the middle of last century. the burden of his extortions became intolerable. The Santals set out, twenty thousand strong, to march to Calcutta and lay their grievances before the Governor. Not a single Government official could speak their language, and they were met and summarily dispersed by British troops. Subsequent inquiry brought their grievances to light, and when these were redressed the Santals settled down a loyal and contented people.

Among the first missionaries to the Santals was one who gained a unique influence over them. They are a simple primitive people with none of the subtlety of the typical Hindu, but with the greatest admiration for physical strength and courage. Dr. Campbell was a man after their own hearts, of splendid physique, able in his younger days to keep up with the foremost in their hunting expeditions, slow in speech, but wise in council, a veritable rock of a man. Deep in the forest on the site of a deserted village he founded the mission station of Pokhuria, and soon changed the haunted spot into a beehive of Christian activities. The Government recognised the value of his work by giving him the status of an independent magistrate, and in his later years he reigned like a prince among his people.

In the glare and dust of the East various eye troubles are prevalent, and the Santals appear to suffer from them in an especial degree. Dr. MacPhail, at Chakai, has earned the honourable name of "The Eyemaker," from the extraordinary number and success of his operations. It may be confidently affirmed that no living surgeon has performed more operations for cataract. The number runs into tens of thousands. In 1924 there were two thousand three hundred and eighty eye operations at Chakai, of which one thousand five hundred and nineteen were for cataract. Thus in Santalia, even as in Galilee of old, the blind receive their sight and to the poor the Gospel is preached.


One more field of Scottish missionary endeavour in India remains to be mentioned, namely, the Eastern Himalayas. In 1870 the Church of Scotland began a mission at Darjeeling. The first missionary was Mr. William Macfarlane, who laboured for years without visible success and then began to reap the harvest of his faith. After ten years he left Darjeeling to the colleagues who had joined him and opened a new station twenty-five miles east at Kalimpong. Three years later he organised the Scottish Universities Mission in Independent Sikkim, the territory immediately to the north.

The situation of the Eastern Himalayan Mission is in some respects unique. It is perched among the mountains within sight of the loftiest peaks in the world; below are the sweltering plains of India, above towers the grandeur of the snowy range. It also lies at a point where Western civilization, rolling proudly over many lands, comes up against a dead wall. Darjeeling is in more senses than one the ne plus ultra of health resorts. Down below in the hot and steamy tea gardens of the Dooars and far across the plain of the Ganges to Calcutta, sunbaked planters and engineers and Government officials sigh for a sight of Darjeeling, and a breath of its mountain air; over the mountains behind, in Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan, a jealous watch is kept against the intrusion of the foreigner. The district occupied by the Mission may roughly be compared to a wedge driven northward into the heart of these three great closed lands.

Corresponding to its unique situation, the work of the Mission is very varied in character. It ministers to the spiritual needs of the British residents in the district, especially to the Scots tea-planters in the Dooars, from whom it receives substantial help. Dr. Graham of Kalimpong is a name to conjure with in all that part of India. Besides preaching and medical work among Europeans and natives, he founded the St. Andrew’s Colonial Homes for AngloIndian children. He also organised the Kalimpong Mission Industries Association for the development of native industries. The number and diversity of languages among the hill tribes presents a formidable difficulty, but as converts are steadily gathered in, with here a Tibetan and there a Nepalese, and as rumours of the Mission penetrate far away into the hills, the day draws nearer when a great and effectual door will be opened for the Gospel into the inmost heart of Asia.

These Scottish Missions, widespread and varied in their operations, commanding the devoted services of over three hundred missionaries, are yet but tiny spots of light in the immensity of India’s millions. Other Missions are at work in the same great field, and the number of Christians is about five millions. Among the various Protestant agencies there is the happiest spirit of cooperation and unity. No one wishes to repeat in India the ecclesiastical divisions of the West, and already there has been constituted the United Church of India, with only the necessary geographical division of North and South. But the regenerating influence of the Gospel is felt in India far beyond the limits of the Indian Church. Christian moral and social ideals are steadily gaining the ascendant, and are subtly permeating the minds of Hindus and Mohammedans. Every careful observer is convinced that Christ is coming to His own in India, and none can tell how soon he may be openly acclaimed as the fulfilment of the religious aspirations of the ancient East.

This is the gift of Christian Missions to India, and it may be found in the end to be a greater gift than all that the Government has done. Both agencies are working for the same high end, and their relations have never been better expressed than by Sir Charles Elliott, Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, in a speech delivered at Darjeeling. "As head of the Government, I feel that the missionaries are, so to speak, an unrecognised and unofficial branch of the great movement in which we are all engaged, and which alone justifies our presence in the country. They occupy a field which the officers of Government are unable to take up. We are doing a great work in spreading the blessings of civilisation, making life and property secure, teaching the rule of law, and encouraging the growth of education, but we cannot directly touch on religious subjects. . . . Yet we know right well that the only hope for the realisation of our dream, and for the true elevation and development of the people, lies in the evangelisation of India, and we know that the people who are carrying on this work are the missionaries. It is they who are filling up what is deficient in the efforts of Government, by devoting their lives and their labours to bringing the people of India to the knowledge of Christ."

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