Frank Penny.

The church in Madras : being the history of the ecclesiastical and missionary action of the East India Company in the Presidency of Madras in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Volume 2) online

. (page 10 of 39)
Online LibraryFrank PennyThe church in Madras : being the history of the ecclesiastical and missionary action of the East India Company in the Presidency of Madras in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

not include a notice of the tastes, habits, customs, and occupa-
tions of the period under review. According to what has been
written during the nineteenth century it may be thought that
the less that is said about the men in the Hon. Company's
service and their manners at the beginning of the century the
better. Esteemed historians, such as Hough, Marshman, and
Kaye, have written with trenchant severity of the morals of the
European officials in India at that time, and it would seem at
first sight better to draw no further attention to what would
appear to be a shameful page in the history of British India.
But as each writer in succession is found to follow the leadership
of former writers, the student of history wishes to know if the
acceptance of the lead was justilied by the accuracy of the


early recorders. The fountain and origin of all the slanders
^Yhich have been hurled against the East India Company and
theii' servants is the book of Alexander Hamilton. i It was he
who originated the story of Job Charnoch's apostasy, which has
crept into the pages of some modern serious histories and
handbooks,'- as well as many other malicious stories. It will
never be understood how untrustworthy a guide he is when
dealing with the Company and their servants until the reason
of liis malice is disclosed.

The Company was accustomed to purchase from the British
Government for fixed periods the sole right to trade in the East
Indies. It was a profitable trade, and a large sum used to be
paid every time the Charter was renewed for the monopoly.
Duiing the first two centuries of East Indian trade there were
risks and dangers which do not now exist. There was the
armed competition of the Dutch for trade and of the French for
empire ; there was the necessity of erecting factory houses and
forts capable of defence against the inland powers ; and of
enlisting soldiers for defensive purposes. Every trading
vessel was also a fighting vessel, armed with guns and manned
by officers and men who knew that they might at any time
be called upon to fight an enemy. These circumstances made
the expenditure of the Company very great, so that unless
they were allowed a monopoly of the trade they could not see
their way to carry it on at all. Hamilton was one of those
who refused to recognise the necessity of a monopoly. He
wanted to share in the trade without sharing in any of the
expenditure which made the trade possible. He commanded
a small trading ship, and traded on his own account from one
port to another. He was what the Company called an ' inter-
loper.' If ho took up a cargo of any kind in India, he deprived
the Company of a cargo, and thereby he lessened their profits
without sharing their expenses. The question with us is not
whether a monopoly was right or wrong, wise or unwise ; it
existed, and that by the law of England. It was intended
to protect the Company agamst loss. Hamilton and other

' New Account of the East Indies, 2 vols. 1744.

2 E. Stock's History of the C.M.S. i. 51, 1899 ; Notes on India, by E. S.,
p. 40, 1905.


free traders thought that it was merely a law to exclude them
from participating in legitimate commercial profits which ought
to have been open to all. It was not possible that Hamilton
and the Company's servants, having such different opinions,
should have agreed together. At some factories they threat-
ened him with the confiscation of his ship. On the ground that
his ship carried guns and arms for the crew, the Governor of
Fort St. George, Thomas Pitt, threatened to deal with him as a
pirate. But Hamilton outlived all the threats, and eventually
returned to England to publish his private opinions of his
official enemies, and to tell stories about them which require
to be discounted before repetition.

During the eighteenth century, and more especially the
second half of it, a considerable number of the Company's
servants returned home with fortunes. In the pages of the
GentlemaTis Magazine of the period they are referred to as
nabobs. The tone adopted towards them is not only tinged
with envy, there is also a suspicion of malice in it. There must
have been some reason for the expression of so much enmity
towards men who had made fortunes by trade in the East, when
there was no similar exhibition of envy, hatred, and malice
towards other rich men who had made their fortunes by trade
in other parts of the world. The reason is to be found in
Hamilton's charges of apostasy, unfair dealing, iniquitous
extortion, and so forth. British people have no jealousy of
successful merchants ; they are quite generous in their apprecia-
tion of honest success ; but where there is a suspicion of unfair-
ness they are equally liberal in their attribution of blame. They
believed Hamilton ; his malicious inventions obtained a long
start, and the truth has not yet caught them up.

To shake the pagoda tree was and is a familiar Anglo-Indian
expression of perfect innocence. A man plants, waters, digs
about and manures a tree, and in due time shakes it to enjoy
the fruit of his labour. Nothing more was meant by the
expression in India. A merchant plans and schemes and works
for years ; at last there arrives the time when the fruit of his
labour is ripe, and a metaphorical shake of the tree brings the
fruit into his lap. And what is the fruit that the merchant
looks for ? Pagodas, gold coins, money. Several generations



of Englishmen since the pubhcation of Hamilton's book have
imagined that to shake the pagoda tree is to get money in some
dishonest way ; perhaps even by robbing temples, which they
recollect are called pagodas somewhere. And they have used
the expression with a meaning smile as if to assure others of
their knowledge of the illegal and disreputable means employed.
As a matter of fact there is no more meaning in such insinua-
tions than there would be if used of the merchants of the City of
London. All merchants alike shake in due time the trees they
have planted and tended, and enjoy the fruit of them. Happy
are they whose trees through good management or good
fortune are loaded. They enjoy the fruits of their labours,
and the hearty congratulations of their generous friends.

The conquest of Bengal after the battle of Plassey in 1757
was the means of enriching many of the Company's servants,
both military and civil. But there is no reason to suppose
that any one of them came by his wealth otherwise than
honestly. No one who has served and lived in India can bring
himself to believe that the country was ever ruled and exploited
by dishonest traders or self-seeking administrators. Even
if there were no records to show the great regard in which
British government and British rulers have always been held,
the existing high regard for both among the great mass of the
people makes it impossible to believe that matters were ever
otherwise. As a matter of fact, public confidence in the justice
of both was established at a very early period, and this
confidence has never been forfeited.

In the Presidency of Madras in the last quarter of the
eighteenth century there were two cases of money-lending
which were denominated scandals, but which when examined
do not appear to be in any way scandalous apart from their
politics. The Rajah of Tanjore required money ; the servants
of the Company lent him what he required on the security of
his territories at the same high interest as the Madras Govern-
ment was then paying for temporary loans. The Rajah was
a bad ruler, so that the lenders were in danger of losing the
benefit of the interest agreed upon. They therefore foreclosed
the mortgage and took possession of the estate. From a
political standpoint this course was indefensible, and they


were ordered by the Company to restore the kingdom of Tanjore
to its rightful ruler. But there was nothing dishonest in what
they did. The error they made was in treating the dominion
of a reigning chief as if it were the private estate of a bankrupt

A little later the Nawab himself was borrowing at the same
high interest on the security of his revenues. The local Houses
of Agency, the Company's servants, the St. Mary's Vestry, and
other bodies and persons were glad to lend money on such
apparently good security. But the Nawab was a spendthrift.
He went on borrowing, and the more he borrowed the weaker
the security became, and the interest demanded became higher
and higher. In 1803 a Commission was appointed by the
Government of India to settle with the Nawab 's creditors.
They were repaid what they had advanced with fair interest
and received about one-tenth of what they claimed. But there
was nothing dishonest in their claim ; they were money-lenders
lending on risky security, and they did what money-lenders
always do in those circumstances. When the Government
of India stepped in between them and their debtor they were
quite satisfied to accept the award, and to waive the claim
for the higher sum, which would never have been made if the
security had been satisfactory.

From the political point of view the methods of procedure
were quite wrong. The merchant Governors and members
of Council were not politicians by training. They were before
all things merchants, and their dealings with the country
powers were coloured by their calling. If a man borrowed
he must repay, and if he could not repay his goods must be
distrained upon. That was good English merchant law. Still
the incidents afforded an opportunity to the Company's enemies
to condemn the greed of their servants abroad, and to give a
forced interpretation to the metaphor of shaking the pagoda
tree. Business men saw nothing more in the lending incidents
than the taking of a ten-to-one chance.

The ' Memoir of Lord Teignmouth ' by his son is primarily
responsible for the ungenerous estimate of the Company's
Chaplains in India at the close of the eighteenth century. It
is true that his remarks were only concerning those in Bengal ;

H 2


but they have been made by later writers to apply to all alike.
Writmg to his wife in 1789 ^ he said : ' One of the two Chaplains
at the Presidency is a man of great learning, and very general
knowledge ; you find it in his preaching. The other has neither.
They are both men of respectable moral character, and
usually with me on this day ' (i.e. Sunday). The two referred
to were John Owen, afterwards Chaplam-General to the Forces
and Founder of the ' Clericus ' trust for the provision of religious
and other books for soldiers ; and Thomas Blanshard. Writing
to Wilberforce- m 1794 he said : ' We want a good preacher in
Calcutta. A man must have respect for religion before he

can attend to the sermons of a or a .' The three

Chaplains m Calcutta at the time were Thomas Blanshard,
David Brown, and Paul Limrick.3 in other letters he spoke
highly of Brown ; * his reference therefore must have been to
the other two. The remark was not very good-natured ; but
it was made in a private letter to a friend, and was never in-
tended for publication. Lord Teignmouth was a kind-hearted
and just man, and he knew what everyone knows, that a man
may be a faithful and good clergyman, such as Blanshard and
Limrick were, without being either a learned or a popular

Writing to Wilberforce ^ again in 1795 he said :

' I am sorry also to add that our clergy in Bengal, with
some exceptions, are not very respectable characters. Their
situation indeed is arduous, considering the general relaxa-
tion of morals ; and from which a black coat is no security.
Mr. Brown, whose name you must often have heard from
Mr. Grant, is an exception. His piety is sound ; his conduct
exemplary and assiduous ; and his ministry and example have
done important good to the society here.'

This also is a statement in a private letter to a friend not
intended for publication. The three Presidency Chaplains
were those already mentioned. The others in Bengal at the
time were A. A. Barbor, John Loftie, Robartes Carr, and

1 Memoir of Lord Teignmouth, 1843, i. 194. - Ihid. 1843, i. 294.

=« Hyde's Parochial Annals of Bengal, Appendix E.

* Memoir of Lord Teignmouth. 1843, i. 342, 347. ^ Ibid. 1843, i. 347.


Thomas Clark, who were the Company's military Chaplains
at Dinapore, Chunar, Berhampore, and Cawnpore respectively.
The Company had appointed them in the ordinary way after
examination of their Diocesan characters and testimonials,
and after they had been approved by the Archbishop of Canter-
bury. The Venerable H. B. Hyde has made further investiga-
tion 1 into their antecedents and their work in Bengal. There
is nothing to show that they were not respectable, nor indeed
very respectable. The Government of Bengal were bound by
the Company's rules to send home any servant of the Company
who brought any kind of discredit on the British character.
Lord Teignmouth was himself Governor and Governor-General
when he wrote ; there could not have been anything very
wrong, unless it was the lack of preaching power, of which he
had already complained, otherwise he would have exercised
the power he possessed, Tlie opinion of a man high in place and
authority has necessarily great weight, even though expressed
privately. That of Lord Teignmouth has been made the
most of by all subsequent writers, especially those who have
had some object in making things out to be worse than they
really were.

When Lord William Bentmck was Governor of Fort St.
George in 1806, he called upon the Senior Presidency Chaplain,
Dr. Kerr, to report upon the ecclesiastical needs of the Presi-
dency. The Governor in Council received the report in due
time, discussed it, accepted some of the proposals and modified
others, and sent home certain recommendations to the Directors.
Dr. Kerr criticised adversely in his report the Europeans in the
Presidency, and pleaded for a proper establishment of good
clergymen. The Governor went further than Kerr, and said
in his letter to the Directors that there was a want of respecta-
bility on the part of the Chaplains. The Directors refused
to admit this and justified theii- appointments with some
warmth.- There were only four Chaplains in the Presidency
at the time : Charles Ball, James Atwood, Edward Vaughan,
and E. H. Kerr himself. It is quite certain that the Governor's
remark could not have been applied with justice to any

' Parochial Annals of Bengal, 1901.

- The Church in Madras, vol. i. pp. •147-o0.


of these. One cannot help noticing the similarity of the
criticism to that of Lord Teignmouth eleven years before,
and wondering if Wilberforce had abused the confidence of
his friend.

James Hough, the historian of Christianity in India, is
largely responsible for the prevailing ill opinion of men and
manners in Madras at the same period. His estimate, upon
which Kaye relies without independent inquiry, was not the
result of personal experience, for he did not arrive on the coast
till 1816. The opinion^ he expressed was certainly the opinion
of R. H. Kerr and of Marmaduke Thompson. Similar opinions
with regard to Calcutta society were held by David Brown,
Claudius Buchanan, and Henry Martyn. All these men belonged
to the new evangelical school ; they were very much in earnest,
and they held views of human depravity not only with regard
to others, but more or less with regard to themselves. Martyn
was possessed of the spirit of self-depreciation more than the
others ; but they all held the doctrine, and constantly confessed
it before men. The language Martyn used of himself seems
to have been exceptionally strong,- — ' utterly unclean,' —
'not discerning one hundredth part of the depth of the depravity'
of his own nature, — and so on, over and over again. When
Henry Martyn spoke of himself in these terms nobody believed
him, for he was to all appearances a most humble and in
many ways a most saintly servant of God. The question
arises as to whether he and his school at that period meant
more when they criticised others than they meant when they
criticised themselves ;— whether their statements regarding
others are to be taken as true when those regarding themselves
cannot be so regarded. If all the statements they made are
to ho taken as equally true, then by his own showing Henry
Martyn was a very bad man. This conclusion, however
logical it may be, is known to be false, and so it must be
assumed that the whole series of statements bear the marks of

Hough's account of the low state of religion and morals
in Madras is from beginning to end an exaggeration. It may

' Hough's Christianity in India, iv. 130-55.
- Life of Mrs. Sherwood (chapter on ' Uinaix)re.'


have been founded on the statements in a letter from the
Directors to the Governor of Madras in 1798,i which has already
been referred to ; ^ the letter was sent to the Presidency-
Chaplains for their remarks ; and as the Government subse-
quently repudiated the charges, it must be presumed that the
Chaplains, of whom Kerr was one, were unable to endorse
what was said. Hough spoke from hearsay, and hearsay had
a great deal to do with the defamation of the servants of the
Company all through its long history. He was a great admirer
of Dr. Kerr, and was anxious to do justice to the really good
work he did in Madras. But Hough was neither the first nor
the last man who has made the mistake of thinking that the
right way to magnify a man is to belittle his contemporaries,
or that the right way to belaud a worker is to pour contempt
upon all previous workers. Any reader of the ecclesiastical
history of the Presidency of Madras in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries is shocked by such sentences taken from
Hough as these : ' In the present incipient state of Christianity
at Madras,' 'marks the rise of religious feeling at this
Presidency ; ' they were written on the assumption that there
was no Christian feeling, nor expression of Christian feeling,
no Christian faith and no Christian charity before Dr. Kerr
came upon the scene.

Hough seems to have relied also to some extent upon a
letter 3 which Dr. Kerr wrote to David Brown, the Bengal
Chaplain :

' I have lived many years here, and I may be ashamed of
my unprofitableness ; but it is no more than truth to say that
if ten sincere Christians would save the whole country from
fire and brimstone, I do not know where they could be found
in the Company's civil or military service on this establishment.'

No one would object to the first sentence ; it breathes a proper

humility ; but there is every Christian objection to the second.

An incident connected with the mutiny which took place

at Vellore in 1806 has had greater weight in determining public

1 Despatch, May 25, 1798, Public.

^ The Church in Madras, vol. i. p. 419.

^ Hough's Chridianity in India, iv. 154.


opinion of the religious indifference of the Company's military
officers than was probably intended at the time. It was
stated both iii speeches and in pamphlets by the opponents
of Christian missions in Lidia that the mutiny was due to
attempts which had been made to convert the native troops to
Christianity. Lord Teignmouth and others rephed^ to this
charge, but the Court of Directors thought fit to inquire of the
Madras Government into the value of the statement.

When the letter of inquiiy reached Madras, the Government
sent it to the Commander-in-Chief, General Hay MacDowall,
for his opinion. He replied emphatically that the mutiny was
not due to any fear of conversion to Christianity; and added
that the sepoys were too well aware of the indifference of their
officers to then- own religion to fear any pressure from them.
The plainness of this allegation of indifference is only equalled
by the plainness of the original statement that the mutiny was
due to a fear of missionary enterprise. The Christian public
in England could not and would not beheve the latter state-
ment, and their- disbelief was justified. But the same Christian
public had no similar disinclmation to beheve the former
statement. They would have been justified if they had
refused to accept it without some kind of proof.

As far as the Madras army was concerned it is necessary to
remember that there were three Church buildmgs at the period
at the Presidency town, and one each at Trichinopoly, Tanjore,
Cuddalore, Vellore, Palamcottah, Ramnad, Madura, and
Dindigul ; that all of these had been built with the assistance
of the mihtary officers of the Company and of the King, who
happened to be ui the stations at the time ; and that they were
frequented for public worship by a considerable number of
officers and men at the very time General Hay MacDowall
wrote his report. It is not to be denied that there was a great
deal of indifference and worse among both officers and men.
But it was not universal, as the report leaves one to suppose.
No one can read through such a book as the ' Good Old Days of
Hon. John Company ' 3 without plainly seeing that there was
a great deal of thoughtless and outrageous behaviour, quarrel-

' Tract on The Practicability, &c., 1808, p. 7.
- By W. H. Carey, Simla. 1882.


ling, intemperance, duelling, among the younger military
officers, and that there were many court-martials, imprison-
ments, and dismissals. At the same time the Army Lists of the
period still exist to show how other officers, less unruly, rose
from rank to rank, and helped to make the old Coast Army
the efficient fighting force it was. It is a mistake to generalise
from the spicy extracts of the ' Good Old Days ' and similar
books. If all the officers and men of the period had been
debauched and drunken they could never have advanced the
reputation of British endurance and fighting power as they did.
Williamson! had the sense to make all his debauched villains
die young, and die of their excesses. This was probably true.
The others survived to shed lustre on the British character.

There is reliable evidence that indifference to religion was
not universal among Madras officers. At Madras, Tanjore, and
Trichinopoly parochial matters (which included the care of
the Church, the school, and the poor) were managed by a
Vestry,^ which consisted of both civil and military officers.
There was no legal obligation to serve on these vestries ; that
they did so is sufficient evidence that they were not wholly
indifferent to Church affairs. At these and other places there
were register books, which show how both officers and men
sought the Church's blessing on their marriages, and brought
their children to holy baptism. And at all these and many
other places there are Churches and burial-grounds where
friends and relatives raised memorials of the departed. It is
not necessary to say more than that the epitaphs are Christian,
and that it is impossible to believe that they who erected the
memorials were insincere when they wrote the words.

On the whole, the statement of General Hay MacDowall
must be regarded as an exaggeration. He himself appears to
have made it with a purpose, for he added :

' On making the remark on the indifference which is mani-
fested in the adoration of the Supreme Being, I must add in
justice to the military character that it chiefly proceeds from a.
want of places (and at several stations of clergymen) exclusively
appropriated for Divine Service ; and I trust I shall be excused if

' Oriental Field t:! ports, 1819. ^ See Appendix II.


I suggest the propriety of having convenient chapels of moderate
price constructed in all situations within the Company's terri-
tories where European troops are likely to be quartered, what-
ever may be urged to the contrary. I am convinced that such
an improvement, independent of the obvious advantages,
would render the British character more respected by the

General Hay MacDowall probably knew of the Churches at
the older military stations, and what a boon they were to all
ahke. He wanted similar buildings at the new military stations
which had been occupied since the defeat of Tippoo Sultan, such
as Poonamallee, Wallajahbad, Arcot, Bangalore, and Seringa-
patam. It is not improbable that he shaped his reply to the
Government in such a manner as not only to answer their
question, but at the same time to push his own scheme, even
at the expense of the character of his brother officers. In the

Online LibraryFrank PennyThe church in Madras : being the history of the ecclesiastical and missionary action of the East India Company in the Presidency of Madras in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 39)