British Connection with Travancore

history-iconThe origin of Travancore’s connection with British goes back to 1685, when the English East India Company established a factory at Anjengo in Travancore by obtaining land from the Attingal Rani (the Queen of Attingal). The English established the factory mainly with a view to breaking up the Dutch monopoly in those parts. Thus a cordial relationship between the East India Company and Travancore was developed. In the second half of the 18th century. the fear of invasion from Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan, compelled Travancore to depend for her safety on the English East India Company. In November 1795, a treaty of perpetual friendship and alliance was signed between the Rajah of Travancore and the East India Company. The treaty was again modified in 1805, which established British paramountcy over Travancore. As a result of these treaties, the British Residents were henceforth to represent Great Britain at the Court of Travancore. The first two residents were Col Colin Macaulay (1800-1810) and Col John Munro (1810-1819), who were protestant Christians of strong convictions; interested in the affairs of Jacobite Syrians.

The C.M.S. in Travancore

claudius_buchananThe origin of the work of the C.M.S. in Travancore can be traced to the Rev R H Kerr and the Rev Claudius Buchanan, who paid visits to the Malabar Syrians in 1806, during the episcopate of Mar Dionysius. It was Lord William Bentinck, who sent Dr Kerr to Travancore for the purpose of investigating the state of the native church. E M Philip tells us that, “he (Kerr) expressed to the Metropolitan of the Syrian Church a hope that one day a union might take place between the Syrian and the Anglican Church and that he seemed pleased at the suggestion.”

The next friendly Anglican visitor was Dr Buchanan, who evinced a keen desire that the Syrian Church and the Church of England should be brought closer together. His speech at the C M S Anniversary in 1809 and his famous book, “Christian Researches in Asia”, drew the attention of the English people to the Syrian Christians of Travancore.

According to W J Richards, a C M S Missionary in Travancore, in the beginning of 19th century the religious and social conditions of the Syrian Christians were pathetic. The people were steeped in ignorance and superstitions. The Jacobite Syrian Church was also at this time at a very low spiritual level. This is clear in the words of the Syrian Metropolitan, when he had an interview with Dr Buchanan in which he says, “you have come to visit a declining church.”

Mission of Help to The Syrians

rev-thomasnortonThe C M S Mission of Help to the Jacobite Syrians of Kerala was started in the year 1816, of which the initiative came from Col Munro, the then British Resident of Travancore. There were two main purposes behind the Mission of Help to the Syrians. First of all, through the work of the C M S Missionaries among the Syrians, to effect the renovation of their Church and to raise them from their degradation. Secondly, the British Resident as well as the missionaries hoped that, “a strong and friendly Christian Community will be a support for the British power in Malabar”. Rev Thomas Norton was the first missionary who came to Travancore in this connection. He was soon followed by Benjamin Bailey (1816), Joseph Fenn (1818) and Henry Baker (Sr) (1819) who are popularly known as the “Kottayam Trio”. These three concentrated their work among the Syrians, where as the pioneer missionary, Norton focused his work among the outcastes in Alleppey.

rev-benjaminbaileyThe work of the missionaries among the Jacobite Syrians was mainly on the education field. Fenn took charge of the college for training the younger clergy; Bailey devoted himself chiefly to literary and translation work and the press, while Baker took charge of the parish schools up and down the land. Though the relationship between the missionaries and the Jacobite Syrians went on well without many problems in the beginning, it did not last long. The change of leadership in the Jacobite Syrian Community as well as the change of missionaries caused much problem in the relationship. During the second half of the Mission of Help, the pioneer missionaries went on furlough. While they were away new men came on the scene, Joseph Peet (1833-1865) and W J Wood Cock (1834-1837). The young missionaries were rather impatient about the slow progress being made and were sometimes rash in their actions. The visits of the Rev J Tucker, Secretary of the C M S Corresponding Committee at Madras, and Bishop Wilson, the Anglican Bishop of Calcutta did not heal the wound, these two being uncompromising evangelists. This was followed by a Synod of the Syrian Christians at Mavelikkara on 16th January 1836, in which the Jacobite Syrian Community under Mar Dionysios IV, the then Malankara Metropolitan decided to break all their relationships with the Church of England. With this we see an early death of the twenty-year-old C M S Mission of Help to the Syrian Church of Travancore.

rev-josephpeetWas the Mission of Help a failure? An eminent Hindu, Diwan Bahadur Nagamiah says in the Travancore State Manual that, “Although the Syrians headed by their Bishop had thus forrnally parted company with the Church Missionary Society, the teaching of the missionaries for more than twenty years had not been without result, and there was among the Syrians a party who was influenced by that teaching.”

Missionaries Turn to The Masses

The dissolution of the contract between the C M S and the Syrian Metropolitan after 20 years of beneficial work was no doubt says, C M Agur “a great disappointment” With the snapping of ties, the missionaries directed their attention to the despised and the downtrodden Ezhavas, Malayarayans (Hill Arrians), and the outcastes of Central Travancore.

Due to the impact of the work of the C M S among the Syrian Christians, soon after the separation with them, several Syrian Christians who were attracted towards the reformation joined the Anglican Church. In certain cases, the whole Syrian parishes joined with the missionaries. Therefore, the missionaries began to serve them as parish priests too.

scrollIn 1840, Bishop Spencer of Madras, who succeeded Bishop Daniel Corrie after his death in 1837, made his first episcopal visit to Malabar soon after the Archbishop of Canterbury had put the congregations of Travancore under the Episcopal oversight of the Bishop of Madras. Thus the Anglican Church was fully established in Travancore in 1840. By 1840’s missionaries started systematic evangelism among the non-Christians, especially those of the lower classes. In 1848 Baker reported that he baptized thirty five individuals. He again speaks: “They have been Chogans. Two I had rescued from slavery very accidentally.” In 1850, Rev J Hawksworth wrote, “The visible success of this mission during the past half-year has been almost exclusively among the ‘heathen’”.