John Holliday writes from Australia to tell me of his visit to Madras to trace a link an ancestor of his had with the city. Having made the connection he gifted what was the Loveless Church in George Town, which is now the William Charles Church, a copy of a portrait of its founder, William Charles Loveless which he had found in the National Portrait Gallery, U.K. That picture, mine today, fills a vital gap in the records of the Church.
Loveless, however, was not Holliday’s ancestor. Dr. Walter Henry Medhurst was. And Medhurst was to make a name as a missionary in the Straits Settlements, the Dutch East Indies and in China, perhaps his most lasting contribution being his involvement with the translation of The Bible into Chinese, a language that he began learning from a grammar he acquired during his short stay in Madras.
It was during that three-month enforced stay in Madras to find a ship that would take him to Malacca that he met the Loveless couple who immediately offered him the hospitality of their home. And there, in 1817, Medhurst met Elizabeth Braune who, at the age of 21 in 1815, had become in that year orphan, widow and a mother who had lost her five-year-old son! It was this multiple tragedy that led her to the doors of the Lovelesses. And they not only had taken her in but encouraged her to teach in the school the Church ran. That Church, then known as the Missionary Chapel, was established in 1806, the first Protestant Church to be built outside Fort St. George. Loveless and his wife were the first Protestant missionaries to arrive in India from a British mission, the London Missionary Society.
Elizabeth’s father, George Martin, was an officer in the Madras Army. As a Lieutenant Colonel he was one of three officers who had led a demand for better allowances for senior officers in the Army and was on the verge of being court-martialled when things were sorted out. It was in that uncertain period when Martin’s career was under threat that his wife died and he got his 14-year-old daughter married to a junior officer of his; marriage of girls of that age was not uncommon at the time. It was Elizabeth Martin who became Elizabeth Braune and then the Widow Braune who had sought the protection of the Lovelesses.
When she became a Medhurst she was to help her husband establish churches, schools, orphanages and hospitals, many still in existence, in Southeast Asia and China. It was in search of the Madras connection of the Medhursts that Holliday came to Madras, was welcomed by what had become the William Charles Church — its founder’s surname now excised because of the sound of it — and was “gratified to see that the Church is as vibrant today as it must have been in 1817 when the Medhursts were married there.”
When the postman knocked…
*How could you have missed the fact that Madhaviah’s other son was M. Krishnan, perhaps the best writer in the family, K.V. Ramanathan chides me. Mea culpa, it entirely slipped my mind while writing from alien climes. Krishnan, of course, was well known for his writings on Nature and several other fields and found a place in this column in June 21, 2010. Several readers have also pointed out that I had let my typewriter run away with me when naming one of Madhaviah’s novels. It should have been Thillai Govindan, and not Jhilliah Govindan.
*Martin Landauer of the Australian Consulate-General, Madras, writes, commenting on my item on the Holey Dollar, “How ironic it is that while Australia is a leading import source of precious metals to India, at our nation’s inception we were dependent on India as a supply source for our coinage, and other essential items.”
*One of the exhibitors at a Madras Week exhibition sends this picture and writes: “How different was the original construction from the one later transformed and which survives today!” I also offer you today’s view of Banqueting Hall that is now Rajaji Hall. How many differences can you spot?