Sunday, 9 December 2007

St John's Church Cannanore & Jacob Joseph

Much of the credit for founding the Anglian church in Cannanore should rightly go to Jacob Joseph, an Indian Christian. Originally from Trichinopoly, both his Grandfather and Father had been Christians. On a visit to his brother in Cannanore at some point in time before 1817, Jacob Joseph decided to stay on in Cannanore to set up a school and to start teaching local Indians Christianity. He founded a small school in his house, in which he taught seven children for between three and four rupees a month, which was sufficient for him to live on. Eventually he came to the notice of the local East India Company officials, who introduced him to the Revd. Spring, a chaplain who was serving at Tellicherry.

The European Regiments stationed in the garrison at Cannanore brought their own chaplains, who ran services, but as these regiments came and went fairly frequently, and had little to do with the local Indian's, these fluctuations gave difficulties with continuation of the Indian congregation.

"The Committee are happy to begin their report of the state of the Society's concerns under the Rev Mr Spring at this Station by mentioning that the Catechist Jacob Joseph of whom an account was given from a Letter Mr Spring's in their First Report has returned to Cannanore."

"He had been detained from his Station by a long illness but had resumed his labours there among the Native Christians and his Heathen Neighbours in the month of March last when Mr. Spring again heard of him. His further acquaintance with this pious and humble man having confirmed the favourable impression formerly produced in Mr Spring's mind he has been taken by his recommendation into the service of the Society as their Catechist at Cannanore and continues steadily pursuing Society as their Catechist at Cannanore and continues steadily his successful endeavours, to build a few obscure Members of flock in their holy faith and conduct and in gathering from time to time fresh converts into the same fold pleasing testimony has been borne, different European Gentlemen at Cannanore to the good conduct of such of Jacob's Congregation as are in their service or come under their observation."

“Last week, I went to visit the little flock at Cannanore, under Jacob Joseph and enjoyed a pleasure which was very reviving in this dry and barren land -- dry and barren from want labourers and culture. Pray, therefore, the Lord of the Harvest that He will lend forth more labourers In the month of August Mr Spring made a visit to Cannanore and reported as follows of Jacob's Church The day on which I went over was Wednesday -- the day on which the little flock meet at the Church in the afternoon for the purpose of devotion."

"I attended in company with Lieut. В., and another young Officer. When they were performing the Service, which is selected from our Liturgy alternately reading praying and singing, in the most devout manner, both they and their wives and little ones, I cannot describe to you the sensation which I felt. So much real devotion so much warmth of heart seemed to reign among them --I had not seen the like in India before. After the Service was over, I spoke to them and encouraged them and exhorted them to be faithful to the Lord; and could scarcely restrain the tear from falling, at beholding the excellent spirit which seemed to pervade the whole body.
“The chief man among them is by all report a most excellent man; conscientious, exemplary, and modest: he is looked up to by them all. Mr B informed me that his butler who is a chief man in the flock considers Jacob Joseph as a very able man. He certainly performed the Service a most admirable manner. I gave him his allowance; viz. five rupees for the month of July being the first payment on behalf of the Church Missionary Society.”

I believe that the "Mr B" mentioned above, is Mr. Baber, a Judge from nearby Tellicherry. Thomas Baber had bought the two children in 1803 who had been offered to him for use as slaves by a man who he had encountered by the side of the road.

Shocked and appalled Thomas had bought them to rescue them.[2]

He recorded in 1832 that they were both given their freedom and were brought up in his house in Tellicherry. The boy became his butler, and the girl an ayah.

I believe that it is this butler who is referred to as "his butler who is a chief man in the flock considers Jacob Joseph as a very able man."

At a later date Mr. Spring continued to make the optimistic reports of the progress of Jacob and his congregation.

On the 9th of September of he wrote: -

“Last week I went over again to Cannanore I found all things well. Jacob Joseph is proceeding in his labours ,just as I would wish. I have every reason to believe that he is instant in season and out of season. I went to his house, and saw his Mother, Sister, and little School. Every thing was so clean and so orderly, that I was quite delighted; and what is matter of much rejoicing industry is not wanting The Mother and Sister earn a small pittance by knitting stockings. The Children were all reading their Tamul Books. What a ground of praise to God, and of thanks to you it will be when I send over your supply of Tamul Books! Their hearts will leap for joy.
“Before you wrote any thing to me concerning an addition to his monthly allowance, I had determined to solicit an increase I trust therefore that you will approve of my having given him, for the month of August seven rupees and of my still continuing to give him the same."

“At the present moment, however we are going to incur some extraordinary expense, for which a little money is already provided. The house, where Jacob Joseph at present lives and keeps his School, is very small indeed. There is no room at all for his present Congregation, to meet together for prayer and reading, of an evening, which they do: and he is besides, obliged to pay half-a-rupee a month for it. Being close to other houses it is also inconvenient for the purposes of devotion, in consequence of occasional noise. Hence be solicited me to get him allowed to build a small house on a waste piece of ground which he pointed out. I waited upon the Colonel, who immediately promised to let him have either the piece which he wanted ,or some other, if that were found to interfere with a road to a hospital at no great distance. He spoke well of Jacob Joseph, as a quiet and inoffensive man: and very highly of the chief man of his congregation, who has been his lascar for many years; and who, the Colonel says first sent for Jacob Joseph. Jacob Joseph continues to instruct the new Converts; and I am daily labouring at the Baptismal Service to be ready at the call of duty. Let us pray that the Lord may add daily to the Church such as shall be saved."
“The Committee have since learnt that a suitable piece of ground has been finally appropriated for the erection of a Church and School for the Congregation, and a House for Jacob Joseph, and that the requisite funds would be raised by a few Gentlemen on the spot, -- an instance of liberality to be noticed, with the many others of the same kind which the Committee have had the gratification to record at other Stations."
"A Tamul School, which contained at the end of the year twenty Children of the Congregation and of neighbouring Heathens, is attached to the Church at Cannanore; and another School there, under the care of a Protestant Schoolmaster of European descent and a Native Teacher, has been taken by Mr Spring's advice under the charge of the Society, in which English and Teloogoo are taught conjointly; the instruction being, like that of all the Society's Schools, of a decidedly Christian Character In this School which is frequently visited by Mr Spring, there were in the month of December,
41 Hindoo Children
5 Mussulmans
15 Roman Catholics
Total 61
Much of Mr Spring's time has been occupied in perfecting his knowledge of the Malayalim Language, and in preparing translations of the Church Catechism, and parts of the Scriptures and the Liturgy of the Church."

Eventually, however with the wars moving inland and north into the Mahratta territory, and the coastal strip becoming a relative backwater, the garrisons were drawn down at Cannanore. The congregations dwindled away with the Christian soldiers departed for other cantonments.

It was decided that Jacob Joseph would be more benefically used under the care of John Sullivan at Coimbatoor, so he moved there. Unfortunately within a year he caught a disease and died there.

It was not until the 1850's that the church became busy once more.

Side entrance; it would appear that these older Classical Greek style column bases mark the original church entrance. At a later date, an new larger entrace was built to provide the current front entrance to the building. The new front has much more unitilitarian columns, possibly the product of the garrison engineer.

[1] "Proceedings of the Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East...” published 1819 page 177 & 178. by the Church Missionary Society

[2] Thomas Hervey Baber “An Account of the Slaves Population in the Western Peninsula of India”, page 36.

Copyright Nick Balmer December 2007

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