On his tours through the hills, Thomas Jones encountered many villages where the inhabitants had not set eyes on a European since the British had taken possession of the region in the 1820s. John Roberts in Liverpool brokered the supply of gifts and supplies; the paper correspondence between the mission secretary and his field agents was itself a material and symbolic transaction of personal and professional power and authority. In accepting the missionary's gifts, the headmen were actively manipulating the introduction of new material goods as part of their own tactics of control and modernisation. In the space between how gifts were given and how they were received by the Khasis, however, lies a transvaluation of the meaning of the objects. Letters were important lifelines in maintaining professional and personal relationships. The exchange of letters between Jones and Roberts reinforced the physical separation between the two men.
The first sighting of the Khasi Hills from the plains of Sylhet in June 1841 was a long anticipated moment for the missionary. Thomas Jones travelled up to Cherrapunji on the back of a mule, and his possessions were carried up the mountainside by a hundred 'coolies'. From the 1770s to the early 1840s, a succession of imperial agents confronted the mountains of the north-east from the plain at Pandua. Over sixty years before Thomas and Ann Jones ascended to Cherrapunji, Robert Lindsay stood in the foothills at Pandua. By the mid-1820s there were new reasons for a British foothold in the frontier. The desirability of establishing a medical station for invalids in the hills had first been suggested to the government by David Scott, Political Agent to the Governor-General on the north-east frontier of Bengal.
After the earthquake, the missionaries near Shillong noticed that a much longer stretch of road was visible on the route leading from Mawphlang to Mairang as it rounded distant spurs. The tombs of the missionaries and British officials that sat on the grassy knolls at Cherrapunji were driven into the loose sand and now leaned over at various angles. The great earthquake was also known as the Jubilee Earthquake; just over a week later, on 22 June 1897, Queen Victoria, Empress of India, celebrated her diamond jubilee. By 19 June the Viceroy Lord Elgin had received a sympathetic telegram from the Queen, and on Jubilee Day presided over the State ceremonial at Simla. For subsequent generations, the catastrophe of 1897 marked a zero point in the region's history, but it is also an irresistible final metaphor of the collision of cultures and the aftershocks of empire.
The repercussions of scandal in the Welsh mission had personal ramifications for Thomas Jones and political ones for British authority in the Khasi hills. Jeffrey Cox has suggested that while both European and Indian women are often absent from missionary histories, in reality 'missionary' usually meant a married couple. Ann Jones and Mary Lewis played similar yet at times contradictory roles as missionary wives and as missionaries themselves. The public role of Ann Jones and Mary Lewis as missionary wives was seen as properly restricted to efforts in female education. The Welsh missionaries had initiated a programme of native education for the Khasis, but Cherrapunji also offered its salubrious location as the setting for an educational institution for the children of Europeans. The propriety of marriage was tightly circumscribed among the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, as with other Nonconformist denominations in Britain.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book describes the history of one particular mission station in the under-studied north-east region of India with alternative readings of the interactions between missionary, indigenous peoples and other British imperial agents. It explores the arrival of Welsh missionaries in India in 1841. The book also explores the origins of their Calvinistic Methodist denomination in the eighteenth century, their split from the London Missionary Society (LMS) as an assertion of Welsh identity. It focuses on the voyage to India and their arrival in the Khasi hills at a time when earlier missionaries from Serampore had already wielded some influence. The book provides the work of the first generation of missionaries in relation to language translation, education, proselytism and negotiation with native polity. It examines the scandals of mission.
The original intent of the East India Company (EIC) to prevent missionary work throughout India was clearly eroded by the amendment to the Charter in 1813. The Serampore missionaries were the benchmark of all Indian missions. In 1804 Carey wrote to John Ryland, one of the founding members of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS), detailing the modus operandi of the Baptist mission. In early 1813, Krishna Chandra Pal and Gorachund, another native Christian, set off for the eastern region of British Bengal. In December 1813, after Pal's return to Serampore, Carey secured the services of a pundit to undertake the Khasi translation of the gospels, believing him to be 'the only one in that nation who could read and write'. Direct missionary intervention in the Khasi Hills, sustained primarily by the Serampore Baptists.
In mid-January 1848, Thomas Jones opened the letter from John Roberts informing him of his dismissal as a representative of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Foreign Missionary Society (WFMS). At Cherrapunji, George Inglis presented the extraordinary gift of a thousand oranges to Daniel Wilson. The late eighteenth-century British collectors in the Sylhet district, Lindsay and Thackeray, had made their fortunes out of the lime trade. The Company's commercial ascendancy in the region had been assured after the British victory over the Nawab of Bengal at Plassey in 1757. Thomas Jones sent a petition to the government of Bengal, against the nepotism of the Cherrapunji Court and incompatibility of the lime and orange interests of Harry and George Inglis with the dispensation of justice across the hills. In November 1848 the government ordered Scottish-born John Dunbar, the Commissioner of Dacca, to proceed to Cherrapunji to investigate the charges against Harry Inglis.
In the decade or so prior to the arrival of the Welsh missionaries, elements of Khasi religion had been superficially described by European visitors to the hills. They barely advanced on late eighteenth century characterisations of the tribes of north-east India as heathen savages who practised human sacrifice. The first generation of Welsh missionaries rarely chronicled Khasi religious beliefs. The baptism in 1848 of Ka Nabon was a moment of particular celebration for the Welsh mission, and the subject the following year of a published account of her conversion and persecution. Intervention into the ritual and spatial worlds of the village was a more clear-cut method of domination and control. Visual and textual representations of tribal women in the north-east, and across India more generally, reveal much about what Europeans imagined of the savagery of Indian sexualities.
The north-east was an important node in shaping ideologies of colonial science. Scientific explorations between Sylhet, the Khasi Hills and Assam constructed knowledge of the economic potential of natural resources, which in their turn helped to build power and feed the British Empire in India and beyond. The surveys of the Khasi Hills that informed road engineering or military movements also elicited a range of narratives in which ideals of science, race and empire. The Indian north-east that was constructed through this period was a novel place; part of what Matthew Edney has called the 'geographical rhetoric of British India'. According to Nathaniel Wallich, John Gibson would have been glad to send his harvest of orchids 'forests and all if he could'. The vast majority of the plants in the Linnean Society's East India Herbarium catalogued as having come from Sylhet, Pandua, Cachar and Khasi Hills were sourced in Cherrapunji.
The desire of the Welsh to send their own missionaries to India was representative of far more than just generalised evangelical religious ideologies. On 20 June 1811, the first eight preachers from north Wales were ordained at Bala, a flannel manufacturing town in Merionethshire at the foot of the Berwyn mountains. At mid-century, the Irish-born population was around four times that of the 20,262 Welsh-born, but Liverpool would be characterised by the 1880s as 'a kind of auxiliary capital for north Wales'. The persuasiveness of the public preacher and the warmth of the communal experience meeting nurtured the spiritual experiences of the Calvinistic Methodists, but it was conversionism that underscored evangelical religiosity. The Welsh Missionary Society reported the progress of their research to the Dolgellau Quarterly Association finally decided to send Thomas Jones to the Khasi Hills on account of its favourable climate and relatively cheaper cost of living.