When Collector H.V. Conolly persuaded the Government to grant Rs. 500 towards building one of the first Basel Mission churches in Calicut

(A weekly column on the region’s past culled from historical documents.)

A church had to be built. The congregation was growing both among the natives and the Europeans. The case for establishing one of the first churches of the Basel Mission in Calicut was taken up by H.V. Conolly, the then Collector of Malabar. In letters written in 1853-54 he takes up the cause of the church, even cajoling the authorities in Madras to pitch in to build one here. Conolly is persistent. When his first letter does not yield the desired results, he shoots off another and makes sure there is good news in store.

The matter of the church

He brings up the subject of the church for the first time in a letter writer to H.C. Montgomery Bart, chief secretary to the government and belonging to the quaintly called ‘Ecclesiastical Department.’ He forwards the application of the German Missionaries of the Basel Mission stationed at Calicut who desires an aid from Madras to build a church here. The church was to be built for the protestant congregation, both European and native.

Conolly speaks for the missionaries. “I shall be very glad if the Government see fit to respond to this application favourably,” he writes. According to him, the German missionaries have played a significant role in society, particularly for the European community. Conolly writes, “The German missionaries have for the space of 12 years past, given their gratuitous services for the spirited benefit of all Europeans at Calicut, who chose to avail themselves of them.”

But it was also the time of change in society. The number of native believers was also on a steady rise. Conolly says that the missionaries have taken considerable steps to tackle this growing congregation. The beginnings were small, but they were on the path of growth. What was earlier a prayer room attached to the house was on its way to becoming an establishment. Conolly narrates, “For the last five years they have fitted up a large room in their own house for the celebration of divine service.” This room progressively proved too stifling. “This is now found to be too small for their native converts and there are other and evident considerations which induce them to beg, if possible, to obtain a building solely available for sacred purposes,” he writes.

Though Conolly does not give out the exact location of the church, he writes, “They propose to have the church on their own ground.” As if on an afterthought, to underline the work of the good missionaries, he adds along the margins, “For two years there was a European detachment here to whom they were most kind and attentive.”

Despite Conolly’s persuasion, the Government in Madras does not budge. We realise this from Conolly second letter, written two months later on December 15, 1853, this time to T. Pycroft, the new Secretary to the Government in the Ecclesiastical Department. He is not disheartened and goes about his job meticulously. He writes, “It is evident that under the circumstances represented the Government cannot give the full aid they felt inclined to, but I would still hope that under a consideration of what I mentioned in my letter …the gratuitous and unwearied services which the missionaries have afforded to the Protestants of this place and especially to the English soldiers during the years they were stationed at Calicut.”

He sticks to his belief that the Government should do something in terms of an “unconditional subscription to the proposed church.”

This letter appears to have made an impact. In a cryptic letter from Conolly to Reverend Huber, the Missionary of the German Basle (sic) Missionary Society, the Collector mentions aid. The Madras Government has apparently granted “a donation of 500 Rupees towards the erection of a Church at Calicut and which will be paid as soon as required.”

Source: Regional Archives Kozhikode

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