Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Anderson, John (1805-1855)

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ANDERSON, JOHN (1805–1855), the founder of the mission of the Free Church of Scotland at Madras, was the son of a Scotch farmer. Born in Galloway, in the parish of Kilpatrick-Durham, he received the rudiments of his education in the parish schools, and in his twenty-second year entered the university of Edinburgh, where he obtained prizes in Latin and in moral philosophy, distinguishing himself by his facility in Latin composition, and studying theology and church history under Chalmers and Welch. In 1836 he was ordained a minister of the church of Scotland, and in the same year was sent out to Madras as a missionary. The branch of missionary work to which Anderson devoted himself, was education. At that time the standard of education among the natives of the Madras presidency was very low. Anderson's object, as stated in the prospectus of the first mission school opened by him at Madras, was ‘to convey through the channel of a good education as great an amount of truth as possible to the native mind, and especially of Bible truth,’ the ultimate aim being ‘that each of these institutions shall be a normal seminary in which teachers and preachers may be trained up to convey to their benighted countrymen the benefit of a sound education and the blessings of the gospel of Christ.’ Anderson laid great stress upon education and native preachers in all missionary effort. The first school established by Anderson, which formed the nucleus of the institution now known as the Madras Christian College, speedily acquired a high reputation. The number of pupils rapidly increased, although the school was on several occasions almost broken up on the conversion to christianity of some of the pupils, and also by the admission of pupils of low caste. Notwithstanding these difficulties and the establishment of a very efficient government school, in which the instruction given was purely secular, the mission school prospered, and in the course of a few years branch mission schools were established in the town of Madras and in some of the principal towns in the neighbouring districts. One of the leading features in Anderson's method of instruction was the practice of making the pupils question each other on the subject of the lesson, a practice which, at that time, was new, at all events, in India. In 1841 the first native converts, two in number, were baptised, and in 1846 these two converts and one other were licensed as preachers, and were ordained in 1851. Anderson never looked forward to numerous conversions as the immediate result of mission work.

In 1839 Anderson was joined by a second missionary, Rev. Robert Johnston, who proved a most valuable coadjutor. In the course of a few years the number of Scotch missionaries was increased to four. In 1843, on the disruption of the church of Scotland, Anderson and his colleagues joined the Free Church, and thenceforward the mission was carried on in connection with that church. The subject of female education soon attracted Anderson's attention. There was no difficulty in securing the attendance of girls of the lower castes; but in the case of native caste girls the difficulty was, and still is, very great. Indian girls marry early, and native parents see none of the material benefits to be derived from their education, which induce them to send their sons to mission schools, even at the risk of their being led to change their religion. But these obstacles were gradually overcome in some measure, and before Anderson's death seven hundred Hindu and Mohammedan girls, the majority of the former belonging to families of good caste, were under instruction in the schools of the mission. In this branch of his work Anderson was greatly helped by Mrs. Anderson. Anderson died at Madras in March 1855, after a short illness. He had laboured indefatigably for eighteen years at the work for which he had been set apart; only once during that period revisiting his native land, whither he was accompanied by the Rev. P. Rajahgopál, one of his first converts. His constitution, naturally strong, had become enfeebled by his incessant toils and anxieties in a debilitating climate.

[Braidwood's True Yokefellows in the Mission Field, Nisbet, 1862; Madras Native Herald.]

A. J. A.