* Adam Matthew Publications. Imaginative publishers of research collections.
News  |  Orders  |  About Us
*   A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z  


Section I: East Asia Missions

Parts 4 to 9: Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, 1880-1957

Introduction to the Church Missionary Society Archive by Rosemary Keen

The Church Missionary Society (CMS) came into being on 12 April 1799 at a public meeting at the Castle and Falcon Inn, Aldersgate, London. Why was it begun then, and into what kind of world was it born?

Its roots go back to the middle of the eighteenth century when there was a great revival in the Church of England inspired by the preaching of John Wesley and others. Although Wesley’s followers left the Church (and founded Methodism), other Anglican clergy aimed to revive and reform it by bringing personal conviction into religion at a time when clergy were often negligent and worldly. Their emphasis on individual conversion and justification by faith led them to be called Evangelicals.

As this movement grew there was an increasing desire to spread the Gospel where it had not been heard. At the same time there was a gradual realisation of the essential value of the individual and therefore the infamy of slavery. By the 1780s two groups in London were particularly concerned with these ideas, the Eclectic Society, and the Clapham Sect (members of John Venn’s church at Clapham).

The Eclectic Society had at various times discussed missionary needs and methods, partly inspired by the general interest in such matters which had led to the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792 and the London Missionary Society in 1795. At a meeting in March 1799 John Venn raised the specific question of how they themselves should spread the Gospel overseas and his call for action led to the April meeting at the Castle and Falcon. There a resolution was passed, “It is the duty highly incumbent upon every Christian to endeavour to propagate the knowledge of the Gospel among the Heathen;” and the Society for Missions to Africa and the East was formed (in 1812 renamed The Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East).

At the March Eclectic Meeting Venn had propounded certain fundamental missionary principles and these served and still serve as the Society’s guide. They were these:

  • to follow God in the same way as the missionaries of the early Church
  • to begin humbly and on a small scale
  • to put money after prayer and study
  • to depend on the Holy Spirit

The Society was ready to start work: but at first there were difficulties and delays. As the Society was seeking clergy as missionaries it could not begin work officially until the Archbishop of Canterbury had expressed his opinion of its proposals. He took sixteen months to consider their aims and then returned a neutral answer that “he would look on the proceedings with candour and that it would give him pleasure to find them such as he could approve”. He and other leaders in the Church of England did not see the need for another missionary society. Indeed no bishop gave formal approval to the Society until 1815.

There was a further difficulty in choice of mission field. West Africa was the natural first choice, for at Freetown there had been a colony for freed slaves established in 1786, under the charge of the Sierra Leone Company (of which some CMS founders were directors). Elsewhere, however, few places were open. The East India Company did not approve of missionaries to the Indians, although it accepted chaplains for the British communities; in China no foreigners other than traders were admitted; Japan was closed to outsiders.

The final delay was caused by inability to find missionaries. No suitable Englishmen could be found, although many candidates were interviewed and financial support was received from the first. It was not until 1804 that two German Lutheran clergy, Melchior Renner and Peter Hartwig, trained in the seminary at Berlin, sailed for Freetown where they were sent to work amongst the Susu tribe in Sierra Leone.



When CMS began work in India the British East India Company would not allow missionaries in the areas which it administered and restricted the official ministrations of its chaplains to the European communities. When Henry Martyn offered to CMS in 1802 and the Society was unable to send him out as a missionary, he was appointed a Company chaplain. His six years in Calcutta justified the Society’s hope of his “influence among the heathen”, not least in the life of one of the earliest converts, Abdul Masih, who had heard Martyn preach. Abdul was later to work as the Society’s first lay agent and be ordained as one of the first Indian clergymen of the Anglican church.

In England William Wilberforce was leading a movement for the revision of the East India Company charter to enable missionaries to preach the Gospel to the Indians. In Calcutta a group of Christians and Christian officials of the company had formed a committee to consult CMS about methods of preparing for and exploiting any consequent openings. So when in 1813 the Charter Bill was passed CMS already had missionaries training for work in India. The Bill also provided for the establishment of bishoprics in India and in 1814, the year that the first two CMS missionaries arrived in Madras, the first bishop of Calcutta was consecrated. Bishop Middleton’s relationship with CMS was difficult, though he founded a mission college in Calcutta to which the Society contributed. His successor, Reginald Heber, was an ardent CMS supporter and, unlike Middleton, in his brief episcopate licensed the missionaries and ordained their lay agents.

NORTH INDIA 1799-1857

CMS work in north India developed rapidly, because, unlike any other of the Society's missions it was controlled from the first by the committee in Calcutta. London provided men and money, but other helpers and funds were found locally. The committee decided the location of all the missionaries, catechists and lay agents and was therefore swiftly able to take advantage of any openings. And there were many of these, for Company officials and army officers often started missionary work or raised money for it and then asked the Calcutta committee for missionaries.

The Society was thus enabled to progress by its usual three-fold means of education, printing and the establishment of mission stations with ordained missionaries at their head.

The first CMS school to be opened was Jai Narayan's Boys' School at Benares (the modern Varanasi). The building was a gift from a Hindu, who offered his house as a place where the new western learning might be taught. That was in 1818 and in 1822 the first classes for girls were begun in Calcutta by Miss Mary Ann Cooke, the first woman CMS missionary in India.

In 1837/8 there was a terrible famine and the Calcutta committee supported relief work and opened orphanages at Sikandra and Agra. Because the Christians naturally did not observe caste it was difficult to find trades for the orphans and so a new trade, printing, was introduced. The press prospered so well that it not only paid for the orphanages, but was able to finance other mission institutions in Agra.

One such institution was St John's College. The committee of the local Church Missionary Association in Agra had proposed founding a college where higher English education on Christian lines might be given to upper class Hindu boys. Money was collected and the college opened in 1852. Within five years it had 320 pupils and several branch schools established as feeders.

Also in 1852 came the opening of the mission in the Punjab, where Christian officers administering the newly conquered province and American Presbyterian missionaries approached CMS for help. The mission was centred on Amritsar and from there spread to Peshawar in the strongly Muslim North West Frontier province.

Then in 1857 came the Indian Mutiny. The Mutiny was confined almost entirely to the present Uttar Pradesh and Delhi and, although it originated in a mass of misunderstandings and grievances, it was an unplanned attack aimed by the soldiers at their British officers. In every place where the Mutiny broke out the Christian converts, who were considered followers of the British, were scattered; mission property was looted and destroyed and though CMS missionaries escaped, many others were killed.

SOUTH INDIA 1799-1857

The first two CMS missionaries to India were German Lutheran clergymen, J C Schnarre and C J Rhenius and they were sent to Madras. Rhenius was a brilliant linguist, self-confident and independent in spirit. This, combined with the difficulties of Lutherans working under an Anglican Society led to strain between him and the Madras Corresponding Committee, and in 1820 Rhenius was transferred to Palamcottah (Palayamkottai) in Tinnevelly.

From the first the mission was astonishingly successful. Rhenius enforced discipline amongst his catechumens but, although he collected the converts into Christian villages, they never became dependent on the mission as others in Tanjore and Vepery did. Trouble came in the 1830s, however, when Rhenius was strongly influenced by one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren and attacked Anglican church order so violently that CMS was forced to disconnect him. Schism in the church followed, but was healed after Rhenius' death in 1838. Then, despite some difficulties, the church spread rapidly throughout Tinnevelly.

Madras had for long been the centre of missionary work by many Christian societies of all denominations. CMS matters were administered by a Corresponding Committee, a remarkable group of laymen, with the bishop of Madras as chairman and a CMS missionary as secretary. The work did not grow as swiftly as in Tinnevelly, though an important influence was the Divinity class, carried on from 1837 to 1847, when separate institutions were then opened in Tinnevelly and Travancore. The mission in Telegu was centred on schools, of which the outstanding one was the Noble College, Masulipatam; while in Travancore, where the work was originally begun in order to help the reformation of the ancient Syrian church, the mission proper continued with schools, printing presses and translation work.


The mission centred on Bombay was always one of the smallest in India. The first CMS missionary arrived in 1820, to work in Bombay itself, but the scope was always confined. The main area of work was in the Nasik district, where in 1854 the Rev W S Price founded the Christian village of Sharanpur.

This had not only schools, an orphanage and teacher-training classes, but also gave training in agriculture to some of the children. During the 1860s it was also to include the African asylum where slaves freed from East African raiders were trained, many to return to Frere Town as "Nasik" boys.

INDIA 1858-1899

The Indian Mutiny had raised the whole question of the relationship between religion and government and led to the abolition of the East India Company and the re-establishment of direct British rule under the Crown, with its promise of strict religious neutrality. At the same time the development of a country-wide educational system, and the introduction of postal services and railway communications, broke down regional differences and even moderated caste prejudice; and this was reflected in the church and mission work.

In education the Church was not always able to take advantage of government support and theological education suffered particularly badly from division of effort and lack of continuity. Higher education for girls, however, advanced rapidly, helped by the zenana missionary societies which were staffed by women whose educational and medical skills reflected the change in their social position and education in England. CMS shared work and missionary training with the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, and it was CEZMS who ran the Sarah Tucker Institution at Palamcottah which in 1896 became the first college for women in south India.

It was at the Sarah Tucker Institution also in the 1890s that the first educational mission work began amongst the blind and deaf. This was another facet of the Christian caring shown by the quality of nursing in the medical missions. There were many mission hospitals augmenting the government medical service. CMS opened four on the North West Frontier of which one, Quetta (where work began in 1885), was to become world-famous for eye-surgery.

The growing ease of communication aided the development of the Church. In the north there were new openings in the Punjab and Sind, the North West Frontier and even Kashmir (where Dr Elmslie began medical work in Srinagar in 1865). In the 1860s CMS also took over work amongst the Santals and the mission in Chota Nagpur, begun by Pastor Gossner, a Lutheran, in 1845. At the same period in the south there were mass movements in Travancore and Telegu with thousands of people converted. Throughout India the Church formed new dioceses, while many Indian clergy were ordained and church councils were developed. By the end of the century the Indian church was preparing for the independence it was at length to gain in 1930.

INDIA 1900-1949

Earlier hopes that the CMS home constituency would be able and willing to support the tremendous increase of staff and opportunities that had opened up in the 1890s were already fading by 1910. The 1920s were a decade of retrenchment. CMS was faced with a growing financial crisis which, together with a transformed political climate following the First World War, led to a re-consideration of its basic methods of work. Henry Venn's idea of the self-governing, self-supporting and self-extending church which, once set up, could free the missionary to go to "the regions beyond" had in practice become static. A paternalistic mission with its own governing authority was in many places stronger than the church, while in evangelism, education and medical work there was emphasis on work in cities and the massive rural population was comparatively neglected. In 1921-22 CMS sent a delegation of headquarters' Secretaries to India. They reported the urgent need to transfer control from the mission to the Church. At the same time they recognised the needs of the villages, noting particularly the Mass Movements throughout India which were an entirely rural development. These twin needs of diocesanisation and rural outreach were the theme throughout the 1920s and 1930s though the change in role for CMS as in other countries was not completed until the 1950s after the independence of India and Pakistan.

The Mass Movements which started during the First World War were not a new phenomenon in India. There had been such a mass conversion amongst the Shanars in Tinnevelly in the 1850s, but these were remarkable enough to produce special appeals for funds among the CMS supporters in Britain. In 1918 a Mass Movement campaign was launched in London, with Canon D S Johnson of Manchester a leading figure in raising support particularly from northwest England. The 1920 CMS Annual Sermon by Bishop Azariah of Dornakal reinforced the appeal. The Telegu movement in the south was the largest (helped by special funds raised by Canon Johnson) and in 1928 there were 45,000 people in the area under instruction for baptism. In the north the villages were more scattered and the Christians were fewer. Bishop Whitehead of Madras had urged in 1917 the tremendous need for more trained village workers and Indian clergy, for the CMS districts were too large and unwieldy for effective supervision. Among the women, help from women missionaries was indispensable and CMS was helped by staff from CEZMS and the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission.

The CMS Medical Committee at headquarters encouraged rural development and in the 1930s the larger hospitals such as those at Bannu and Multan became the base from which teams of trained medical assistants were sent round the villages, teaching basic health rules and holding clinics. Vidyanagar had a mobile unit which visited the more remote villages with staff who had been instructed in hygiene and preventive medicine. In 1939 the Travancore and Cochin mission had a floating dispensary (a 'wallam') at Kottayam. [A model of a 'wallam' was used as a collecting box by MMA supporters in England].

The spread of education to the villages had begun in 1919 when the National Missionary Council set up a commission on village education (with Alec Fraser, CMS principal of Trinity College Kandy as chairman). The commission's report in 1920 proposed the setting up of vocational middle schools for each district, that would provide village boys with industrial and technical skills. CMS missionaries worked on such schemes at Vidyanagar and Sikandra. Ten years later a conference at Poona on rural missionary work proposed rural reconstruction units for which the village pastor and teacher would be key figures. Groups of villages were to have some kind of community council to deal with such matters as education, health and economic and social progress. None of these schemes was successful in the long term because the communities did not need the types of agriculture and industry that the boys were taught.

The encouragement of rural outreach and the redeployment of staff led to the reduction of work in the city schools, an aspect of urban evangelism which CMS felt should be undertaken by the Church. These day schools for non-Christian girls provided them with basic educational skills and were to prove valuable as more importance was given to the need for educated wives and mothers.

Other urban education was not so badly affected. The CMS boarding schools for girls, of which the Alexandra School at Amritsar was a notable example, educated girls who later qualified as doctors, teachers and nurses. There was also one women's college, the Sarah Tucker College, Palamcottah, which was raised to a degree college in 1939.

The high schools for boys were harder hit. They all prepared boys for college and retrenchment meant nearly all of them were given up. There were a few exceptions, such as the famous Tyndale-Biscoe School at Srinagar, renowned for its English public-school regime and the Jai Narayan School at Benares which had special endowments. Colleges were comparatively little affected because most of their income came from fees and government grants. The Society paid the allowances of the missionaries on the staff, but in practice found more difficulty in finding suitably qualified staff than in paying their allowances. It was this kind of difficulty that led to the incorporation of Noble College Masulipatam with the American Lutheran college at Guntur in 1938 when it changed its name to Andhra Christian College. CMS also shared in Madras Women's Christian College and Kinnaird College for women in Lahore. This last was founded by ZBMM. It also continued to contribute to Bishop's College, the theological college in Calcutta.

It was in the training of the clergy that the paternalistic attitude of the missionaries most showed itself. In addition to Bishop's College which was equally supported by CMS and SPG there were two other divinity schools in north India, St John's Divinity School Lahore and Shikarpur vernacular Divinity Training School which had opened in 1930 under P J Heaton. But there was a continuing shortage of well-educated candidates because Indians did not want to be mere missionaries' assistants. They wanted parity of stipend and opportunity for advancement. Joint theological training was suggested in 1929 at Saharanpore where CMS joined with Baptists and Presbyterians, but this closed in 1934 because there were not enough European staff. The following year the CMS Secretaries visited India and proposed a North India Clergy Training School at Khatauli. SPG sent students but did not support it financially. It worked well until 1947 when with partition it lost almost half the area from which its students came and in 1950 it was forced to close.

Outreach work had been developed, but diocesanisation was slow to achieve. The 1921-22 Delegation had recognised that in India the bishop and the CMS mission secretary had developed into two parallel authorities. The simple expedient of the CMS committees solving the problem by replacing Europeans with Indians would only perpetuate the fault. Bearing in mind the new political climate after the First World War and the aspirations for self determination of the Indian Christians the CMS General Committee in 1923 approved the transfer of CMS work to the diocese as a matter of urgency. In south India the administrative change was rapid with the Madras, Telegu and Tinnevelly missions completing handover by 1924 and Travancore and Cochin in 1927. The missions in north and west India were all basically reluctant, mainly preferring to adopt a form of local councils based on the original CMS committees, which were related to the diocese. Indeed in the Punjab complete diocesanisation was only achieved in 1947 when the English chaplains had to leave the country.

Even in dioceses where the administrative transfer was achieved and working well there still remained the transfer of financial control without which the Indian Church could not truly be self-governing. For this to be achieved CMS had to transfer the properties it owned in India. In 1926 a special meeting of the General Committee authorised CMS to deal with and dispose of all its properties either by transfer to the diocese or by sale where more appropriate, and a sub-committee was set up to deal with this. Its report in 1931 was sent to the mission secretaries and included lists of properties which might be sold. This was not accepted by either the missionaries or the local church as they did not agree to the money from the sale being returned to England and did not appreciate that any loss of properties, even by transfer, meant loss of capital to CMS on which the Society could raise the bank overdrafts it needed to continue its work in India and elsewhere. Matters were made worse because since the First World War CMS had carried the cost of the adverse rate of exchange between the pound and rupee, which had forced it into these large overdrafts. So the Society felt that it was only just that it should have back the money that it needed.

In 1934 the General Secretary (Wilson Cash), India Secretary (Sir Cusack Walton) and the CMS accountant L H Hardman (who had compiled the property registers and reported on them in detail) went to India and met the Christian leaders, including Mr Rallia Ram. There was determination and goodwill on both sides, but discussions were still going on when the Second World War began and while CMS continued to urge the Church to accept control of the properties, some people in India considered that foreign owned properties were then more secure than those owned by a small Christian community.

India was one of the oldest and largest of the CMS mission fields. The Anglican Church, which hundreds of CMS missionaries had served, had achieved its independence as an autonomous province in the Anglican Communion in 1930. The movement towards church union had begun as far back as 1872, when at the Allahabad inter-mission conference, John Barton, CMS mission secretary, read a paper on "The Indian Church of the Future". In it he discussed and expounded the underlying unity which crossed denominational boundaries. From the 1890s there had been inter-church and inter-mission activity; three Presbyterian churches in south India had joined to form the South India United Church. The Edinburgh Conference of 1910 gave great impetus to this movement. In that year Anglicans held a meeting with the SIUC. V S Azariah was present and he arranged another conference at Tranquebar in 1919, the first of many. Gradually more churches joined in the discussions, difficulties were overcome and the Church of South India was inaugurated in September 1947. CMS strongly supported the scheme throughout.

In north India the movement began later, the Presbyterian and Congregational churches uniting in 1924. Relationships between the Methodists and Anglicans were complicated and the wider range of ecclesiastical traditions slowed progress, so that it was not until 1970 that the two United Churches of North India and Pakistan came into being.




* * *
* * *

* *© 2024 Adam Matthew Digital Ltd. All Rights Reserved.