Missionary Talks

The podcast where missionaries share their lives and work.

Missionary Talks 42: William Carey (part 2)

Filed under: Podcast,Show Notes — David Peach at 12:50 am on Saturday, December 29, 2007

This is the second episode of the life of William Carey. You really should listen to the first part to understand where this part picks up.

I appreciate Magnatune for allowing me to play the beautiful harp music of Cheryl Ann Fulton. Also I would like to thank Janet and Geoff Benge for their book about William Carey. Much of my research started with the contents of their book.

William began to see the need to learn Sanskrit and translate the Bible into it. The ancient Indian writings were in this language and the educated upper caste used Sanskrit. It was the key to fully understanding the Bengali language.

He could easily attract a crowd of 200 to 300 people to preach to, but he did not have a single convert.

The birth of their 7th child Jonathan in 1796 brought joy and some relief to Dolly’s depression since Jonathan was a healthy baby. This was a joyful time for the Careys.

More good news arrived late in 1796 when an Indian man sought out William to tell him that there was an Englishman looking for him. John Fountain arrived as a new recruit from the missionary society. By March 1797 with the help of Fountain taking over some of the factory responsibilities, William finished his initial Bengali translation of the Bible. William’s boss purchased a used press for him to print the Bible in India. With all the excitement surrounding the arrival of the press, the Indians became convinced that the press was William’s idol.

He took a trip to Calcutta to purchase the lead type he needed. He witnessed Sati on that trip for the first time. It is the Hindu practice where a widow would be burned alive with the body of her dead husband. This was a ritual that William spent a great number of years trying to abolish.

Two years later in October 1799 another group of missionaries were scheduled to arrive. But they were turned back at their entry to Calcutta. They fled to a Danish settlement, Serampore. Land and houses had already been purchased for them to set up a settlement in a new indigo factory which William had purchased. Eventually all of this was sold and William and his team moved to Serampore to do their printing of the Bengali Bible. One of the missionaries who was with the new recruits was William Ward. He was a printer who was originally going to pay for and print the Bengali Bible back in England. But due to not being able to rely on the manuscripts actually making it home, William thought it best to print within the country of India. Now they had a press and a printer to do the necessary work.

The missionaries gathered in Serampore and bought a huge house that was sufficiently large for all of them to live. Dr. Thomas eventually left the mission society and moved further inland to make rum. But he would occasionally visit the missionaries in Serampore. It was during one such visit that an Indian man, Krishna Pal, was injured and came to the mission house for help. Dr. Thomas was able to help the man from his injuries. Krishna Pal and a friend Gokul began visiting the house daily to learn from them. They both were saved a few days before Christmas 1800. William Carey had his first converts after being on the field for 7 years.

A trial of fire came quickly when these first two converts sat to eat dinner with the missionaries. Because they were breaking caste (a Hindu eating with a non-Hindu) the townsmen hurled stones at them when they tried to return home. Krishna Pal’s family was imprisoned. But before the ordeal was over, his wife and 4 daughters were saved. Gokul’s wife and mother moved out. They held a baptismal service for the 7 converts, but only Krishna Pal and one of the Carey boys were baptized the others backed out for fear of the angry mob.

March 5, 1801 was a momentous day, the day in which the first Bengali New Testament came off the press in Serampore, though it had previously been printed in parts, it was now complete. A copy was sent to the King of Denmark for his help in protecting the missionaries and keeping them in the country.

Because of William’s language skills, he was asked to be a teacher at a new university, Ft. William College in Calcutta. William had never been to college himself and now he was being asked to teach at one. His own education ended at the age of 12, but his knowledge of languages was the most advanced of any Englishman in India. He also knew the culture far better than men who had spent many more years in the country. He was asked to be the head of the language department.

William maintained the mission station in Serampore but traveled each week to his job in Calcutta. He would be in Calcutta Monday through Friday, while another missionary, Hannah Marshman, helped care for Dolly and the younger children. Dolly was completely mentally deranged by this time.

Just four days after William accepted the position at the college the British went to war against Denmark and invaded Serampore, a Danish colony. It was a peaceful takeover but it meant that all the missionaries were now illegally in British territory. They did not have permits to be in India, but because of William’s standing at the college the missionaries were allowed to stay and carry on their missionary work. Within 6 months the war was over and Serampore was released.

By the end of that same year the missionaries were on good terms with both the British and Danish governments. Bibles were being printed and souls were being saved. William had a good job at the school and he had become good friends with Lord Wellesley the Governor General. After years of struggle things had turned to the favor of the missionaries.

William began to lobby the British government for the abolishment of Sati, the Hindu practice of burning the widow alive with the body of her deceased husband. Lord Wellesley asked William to study the Hindu writings to see if the practice was demanded in their religion. He found that though it was suggested, it was never required. As a result of his studies and recommendations, Wellesley outlawed infanticide (the practice of sacrificing babies to Hindu gods), but not Sati. There was not enough overwhelming evidence for Lord Wellesley to outlaw it.

In 1806 William had been granted the title of Professor. This had not been bestowed upon him in the past because he was not a member of the Church of England. With this title his salary was doubled. William continued to pour any extra income he had into the ministry of translation and printing.

William, Jr. was ordained a Baptist minister in 1807 and moved to another area to work as a missionary.

At the close of the same year Dolly died. Though Dolly had been a physical and spiritual burden for William for so long, he still grieved at her death. He later remarried to Countess Charlotte Rumohr of Denmark. She lived next to the mission station in Serampore and had taken an active interest in their ministry for several years.

March 1812 saw the destruction of the print shop by a devastating fire. Many manuscripts of various language translations were lost, as well as a multilingual dictionary between Sanskrit and every Asian language. By the end of the year news had reach England and more than enough money had been raised to replace everything that had been destroyed. Everything that was replaceable anyway. It took much longer to recreate the manuscripts.

One of the few pictures we have of William Carey today comes from this time. He had become so well known in the churches back in England that they wanted to know what he looked like. The mission society finally convinced the reluctant 52 year old to pose for a painting.

Led by William Wilberforce, the man who successfully campaigned for the abolishment of slavery on British soil, the East India Company’s ban on missionaries was finally lifted. Carey received the good news when his own nephew Eustace Carey appeared at his door presenting himself as a missionary ready for service.

The new Governor General, Lord Moira began requesting that William distribute new missionaries to particularly needy areas. The Governor General took personal interest in the work of the missionaries and even had recommended places for them. William’s own boys were growing up and going out as missionaries to other parts of India. Felix, the oldest, shared his fathers’ gift for languages. He translated parts of the Bible to Burmese.

Felix shared some of the tragedy that his father endured as well. When a boating accident claimed the lives of his family, he took a long time to recover. In the accident he also lost Bibles, a printing press and the only copy of his Burmese dictionary.

With the new freedom to have missionaries in the country came growing pains. Not all the new missionaries arrived with an appreciation for how difficult life would be. Some bitterness and discontent settled among many of the younger workers. Changes were happening back at the missionary society in England as well. With the death of a couple of the mainstays back in England the focus of leadership changed. Carey had set down as a basic premise in his book, 24 years earlier, that the missionary work should be run from the field, not from the home office where the missionary committee could neither see nor experience the work being done. But this was exactly what the missionary society wanted. They had lost confidence in the ability of Carey and the older missionaries to make administrative decisions from the field. By 1815 the committee was requiring that all leadership decisions be transferred back to the authority of the sending agency.

This cut to the heart of William Carey. He began to see a duplication of all his efforts just 14 miles down the road in Calcutta. He felt that the duplicated expense and effort would have served the work of God better had they been in a new area reaching new people. The missionaries became the topic of gossip among the nationals. But through all this, the government officials still highly valued William Carey and his opinions and work. Again another new Governor General Lord Hastings asked for Carey’s help in opening up new areas to education and Christianity.

Charlotte Carey died in May of 1821. Within a short time Krishna Pal, Felix Carey and William Ward (the printer) also died. This was a hard time for the 60 year old Carey.

He was able to establish a Christian college in these later years of his life in 1818. This was the first school recognized by the Danish government to confer degrees in Asia. Another great victory that Carey was able to see accomplished during this time was that the Governor General Lord Bentinck reexamined Carey’s report to abolish the practice of Sati and declared it illegal in all of India in 1829. He had lobbied every Governor General for 27 years to seriously consider banning the practice. As soon as he received the news he sat down and began translating the decree into Bengali.

In a short span the mission compound and college had been washed away by flood twice. They had to completely rebuild. The financial institutions in India failed too and the missionaries lost all their money. Not even the powerful East India Company was able to keep Ft. William College up and running. With the closing of the college the missionaries lost William Carey’s income which had been so important to sustain them.

In July of 1833 William Carey suffered his first of several strokes. He died quietly in his sleep in June of 1834 at the age of 72.

Carey was not a perfect father nor husband. We probably would not agree with all his doctrinal teaching today. But his life and ministry opened many doors to the great missionary movement which has touched the lives of millions of people with the Gospel. As missionaries we owe a debt of gratitude to a man who was willing to take a stand and step out to serve the Lord, even though few immediately supported and followed him.

William Carey, 1761-1834.


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