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William Carey: Planting the Acorn

from The Story of Baptist Missions... Chapt. 2 by G. Winfred Hervey
Dr. Thomas as Preparing the Way for the Mission—His Early Attempts to do Mission Work in India—The Difficulties to be Overcome by Carey and Thomas—Carey's Father and Wife Oppose his Undertaking—The London Pastors that Favor his Enterprise—The Contribution of "Dust and Ashes."—The Opposition of the East India Company—Dr. Thomas Pecuniary Trouble—Mrs. Carey Persuaded to go out to India—Who will Bear the Expense?—John Newton's Reply to Carey—Embarkation and Voyage—A Cyclone—Arrival at Calcutta—Settle Temporarily at Malada—Manufacturing Indigo and Translating the Bible into Bengali—Settle Permanently at Serampore—Purchase a House for Chapel, School and Printing Business—Small Hope and Large Success.

William CareyWhile the tireless Carey was firing the hearts of his brethren in England with zeal for Foreign Missions, the Lord of the harvest was already preparing the way for his going to the East. In 1783, the same year that Carey was baptized, Dr. Thomas, of London, went out to India as surgeon. In 1785 he returned to London, and the next year was baptized by Dr. Stennett, and licensed to preach. In 1786 he again proceeded to Hindustan, and was persuaded by some friends at home and in Calcutta to remain and labor for the conversion of the natives. After spending two or three years in preaching, in the practice of medicine, and in attempting to translate the New Testament into Bengali, he returned a second time to England; and while employed in London in trying to raise a fund for a mission to India, and to obtain a man to assist him in his work, he was induced to accept the patronage of the Baptist Missionary Society, and return to India as their missionary.

Mr. Carey was asked by the committee, at its meeting held in Mr. Fuller's study, January 10th, 1793, to accompany Dr. Thomas. He readily promised to go. Late in the evening, the committee, being still in session, were greatly surprised by the unexpected arrival of Dr. Thomas. He had heard of Mr. Carey as a possible colleague, and, impatient to see him, entered the room in haste; and, Mr. Carey rising from his chair, they fell on each other's necks and wept.

Many and great were the difficulties to be overcome before these two devoted missionaries found themselves fairly under way to Hindustan. When Carey first mentioned to his father his purpose of becoming a missionary to the heathen, the good man exclaimed: "William, are you mad!" He expected his wife to accompany him; but for a long time she refused to think of it, and said: "Come what will, I and my children shall remain in England." Mr. Carey and the friends of missions feared that if Mrs. Carey continued unwilling to go, the enemies of the cause would raise a lamentation over the depravity of missionaries in leaving their wives and families at home to take care of themselves. At one time Mr. Carey feared he would have to leave her behind, and taking his eldest son, Felix, with him, leave the rest of his family under the care of the Society.

Nor was this all; it was not easy to persuade the Baptists of that day to give money to meet the first expenses of the enterprise. Mr. Fuller called upon many of his wealthy brethren in London, and tried to obviate their objections to the giving of sums sufficient to meet the immediate demand. Some said: "Think of the heathen at our own doors;" others said: "Consider our unemployed starving poor." Mr. Fuller was at times forced to retire from the more public streets into the back lanes to weep in secret for his small success. But still, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Stennett, and the venerable Abraham Booth, and the hymn-writer Mr. Rippon, and their well-to-do friends, made liberal contributions, while Dr. Thomas, who visited several inland towns, met with warm responses to some of his appeals—more especially from plain working people. Thus, after a collection at Worcester, one poor woman, who had put five shillings into the plate in the evening, came next morning with tears in her eyes and gave sixteen shillings and sixpence more. "I asked her name," says Dr. Thomas, "but she would not have it repeated. 'Set me down,' said she, 'as worthless dust and ashes." The Doctor noted her subscription accordingly. But the needed amount was slow in coming; and Carey still had his days of dejection.

Another difficulty rose before Fuller and Carey. At that time the East India Company, to which had been given the virtual supremacy of Hindustan, was unwilling that the religion of Christ should be preached to the natives of India. Some of its directors had, by the corrupt use of money, been placed in the House of Commons, partly for the purpose of preventing any such interference with the idolatry and superstition of the natives as threatened to diminish the revenues of the Company. It seemed doubtful whether Carey would be permitted to go out to India in one of the ships of the Company. Dr. Thomas, for his part, having been in the employ of the Company as surgeon, did not doubt that he would obtain passage for himself, and took Carey on board without giving the India House any information about the special purpose of their voyage.

After their baggage had been carried on board, a letter was received by the captain, admonishing him not to set out with any passengers unlicensed by the Company. They were, therefore, compelled to disembark. The fact was, Dr. Thomas, who was incapable of doing business, had long before been involved in bankruptcy in London, and was now pursued by some of his old creditors. Carey was discouraged, and Fuller abandoned all hope. But Dr. Thomas rose a very Phoenix out of the ashes of the aromatic herbs which had consumed him. Clearly, he had not become bankrupt as a London physician for the lack of determination and great hopefulness. While Carey was writing a letter to his wife, Dr. Thomas went out in search of some Swedish or Danish vessel about to sail to Bengal or any part of the East Indies. To the great joy of his bruised heart, he ascertained that a Danish East Indiaman was hourly expected at Dover Roads. The Doctor ran back to tell Carey the good news; when both "fled" to the office of the London agent and found out the terms for passengers. "No more tears that night." They rejoiced in the prospect of reaching India in a ship which was not the property of the mission-hating Company. They set off that night for Piddington, and breakfasted with Mrs. Carey the next morning. She still refused to go to the East. Mr. Carey wept, and Dr. Thomas reasoned with her a long time, to no purpose. They now started to go and see Dr. Ryland, of Northampton, to ask for money. On their way, Dr. Thomas turned back to try once more to persuade Mrs. Carey to accompany them to India. Mr. Carey said further reasoning was of no use; all his hopes of her going were extinguished. The Doctor returned, and again begged her to consent to go. Among other things he said to her: "If you do not go, you will repent it as long as you live." The Doctor repeated these words. She finally determined to go. She afterwards told the Doctor that this last saying, frequently repeated, had such an effect upon her mind that she was afraid to stay at home. "We now set off for Northampton," says the Doctor, "like two different men; our steps so much quicker, our hearts so much lighter."

Other mountains of difficulty, however, were still before them. "How can we obtain the sum of seven hundred pounds, needed to pay the passage of eight persons? "However, new friends of missions appeared; terms marvellously low were accepted for the passage, so that they had no further anxiety on this point. But Carey, never weary of taking counsel of his fears, had one more dark thought. "What," said he to the venerable John Newton; "What if the Company should send us home on our arrival at Bengal?" Events proved that this was no chained lion by the wayside. And yet the answer of Newton is worth remembering: "Then conclude that your Lord has nothing there for you to accomplish. But if he has, no power on earth can hinder you."

This band of missionaries put to sea June 13th, 1793, and saw the coasts of their native island sink beneath the western waves. The timid Mrs. Carey was very homesick; she was like Lot's wife until the Kron Princess Maria had passed the Cape of Good Hope; then she turned all her hopes to a safe arrival in Bengal. She had good health all the passage, and her little babe, born three weeks before leaving home, grew to be a stout little fellow. The voyage was without great events until the ship began to double the Cape of Agulhas the most southern part of Africa. At that point a bank extends about eighty leagues into the sea, upon which runs a very strong current, which, whenever it meets a cyclone, raises the waves to a height almost beyond belief. Little after midnight on the 26th of August, in south latitude 38°, the sea rose like mountains and flung the ship violently and afar in all directions. "The ship," says Carey, "mounted on the top of a sea which could not be less than fifty or sixty yards in height, from which she descended, head-foremost, as from the roof of a house. The plunge was dreadful. All on board declared they never saw anything like it, and concluded the ship was going to the bottom." Were Mr. Carey at all apt to exaggerate, we might suspect that in this case his imagination got the better of his judgment.

After a voyage of nearly five months, they arrived at Calcutta on the 11th of November. Carey, who had committed money matters entirely to the improvident Dr. Thomas, soon found himself and family without any means of support. Uncertain of receiving aid from home, he resolved to engage temporarily in the cultivation of the soil. Hence he and his colleague each took charge of an indigo factory, sixteen miles apart, at Malada, about three hundred miles from Calcutta. Here, for six years, Carey occupied himself in the manufacture of indigo, studying languages, translating the Bible into Bengali, preaching to the English and to the natives.

In 1798 he had translated the Pentateuch, eighty-five psalms and the New Testament, when he was brought to a stand by two events which threatened to put an end to the mission. The owner of the indigo works failed, and the directors of the East India Company were unwilling that the missionaries should settle in Bengal. Four Baptist missionaries, Marshman, Ward, Brundsen and Grant, having arrived at Calcutta in an American vessel, were ordered by the Government to leave the country. They were treated with the more severity because the Calcutta Gazette, in noticing their arrival, had, through mistake perhaps, spoken of them as "Papist missionaries," thus leading the officials to suspect that they were Jesuit priests.

These newly-arrived missionaries found a refuge at Serampore, a Danish settlement on the banks of the Hoogly, fifteen miles from Calcutta. The village contained about fifty houses, and was inhabited by refugees of various nations, and natives of a low class. The Governor, who had enjoyed the instructions of the celebrated Schwartz, welcomed them cordially and gave them full protection. In January, 1800, they were joined by Carey, who resolved to establish the mission in that place. On the next day after his arrival he was presented to the Governor and was kindly received. A large house in the middle of the village was purchased for about $4,000. It consisted of a spacious verandah and hall. On one side was a store-house, which was afterwards used as a printing office. The front looked out on the waters of the Hoogly; the verandah, which was in the rear, faced a large lawn, beyond which was a garden with a tank, or pool, of water in it.

At first their hope was to make this the centre of a little missionary settlement, but in no long time it became the great printing and publishing house for all British India.


Copied by Stephen Ross for WholesomeWords.org from The Story of Baptist Missions in Foreign Lands... by G. Winfred Hervey. St. Louis: Chancy R. Barns, 1885.

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