A slice of history that binds a Baptist missionary pioneer, India and one of the world’s leading botanical gardens has been rediscovered.
Although William Carey is probably best known for founding the Baptist Missionary Society (now BMS World Mission), it is well documented he had a wide range of interests.
One of these was botany, and during his time in the mission field he published the first Indian books on science and natural history.
He brought the English daisy to India, and an Indian variety of eucalyptus even bears his name (Careya herbacea).
He was instrumental in founding the Agri-Horticultural Society in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), with the aim of developing and promoting agriculture in India.
Indeed, the society has gone on to play a pioneering role in the introduction of a wide array of cash crops, fruits, vegetables, flowering trees and ornamental plants. It is affiliated with KewGardens in London.
The society was formed in 1821. Carey logged lots of detail about it in a minute book.
However, little was known of the existence of this book until this year, when, by chance, a British Baptist pastor was able to examine and photograph it.
Rev. Paul Hill, formerly minister of East Sheen Baptist Church in London, was taken to the society while visiting Kolkata with BMS.
The assistant secretary of the society, who is not a Christian, but also lectures on Carey from the horticultural perspective, happened to mention the book which he used to inaugurate the society. Would he like to see it?
“I was taken into the library and the book was presented to me,” Hill said. “I was allowed to examine it and photograph what I wanted to.”
“The pastor with me (Pastor Asis of Colinga Baptist Church, the oldest Bengali Baptist church, and also the assistant manager of the BMS Guest House) was as excited as me,” Hill said. “As I held the book he said to me, ‘Do you realize that you are probably the first Baptist minister to hold that book since Carey? We didn’t even know it existed!'”
Paul photographed the opening page and the page showing the invitation to the then governor general to become its patron.
“What a privilege and what a sense of history,” he said.
Hill said that discovering the book has helped deepen his understanding of the practicalities of Carey’s ministry and his “amazing capacity.”
He believes there is much to learn today from what Carey did, particularly in terms of getting involved in areas that are not directly Gospel-related.
“Carey translated the Hindu scriptures into two of the local more accessible languages before he translated the Bible,” Hill said. “Some criticized him for that, but it turned out to be a stroke of genius, giving him massive respect and support in other ways and making the preaching of the gospel more acceptable to the locals.
“Taking the Gospel where it had never been before also taught me a lot and made me appreciate all the more what groundbreaking mission he was involved in,” he said.
“We think of our population as being ‘unchurched’ so often, but Carey worked with those who had never heard the Gospel, never heard of Jesus and didn’t even know what a church was. Our society is becoming more like that, so we have more to learn in that area, too.”
Hill added, “It was amazing to see what has come from Carey’s work. His legacy lives on in the many Christians now worshiping and serving in Kolkata and beyond.”
Archivists were interested in the find.
“It’s an extremely significant item and reminds us that alongside his mission work, Carey had many other passions including horticulture,” said Rev. Emma Walsh of the Angus Library at Regent’s Park College