In the geo-politics of empire from the 1770s to the 1830s, the northeast was undergoing a period of transition, in which a zone of indeterminacy became an edge, and a barrier became incorporated into a known region. Cherrapunji thus became a distinctive landmark, a node in the imperial network. At an intimate and personal level, the Khasi Hills were becoming a domesticated destination and end point as much as a staging post and site of transience. The regional subtleties of climate in India may not have been fully understood either by the London Missionary Society (LMS) or the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Foreign Missionary Society (WFMS). The Khasi Hills were something altogether different and unexpected. 'The tranquillity of the borders', asserted Francis Jenkins, 'can only be effectually and economically provided for, by maintaining our ascendancy in the Hills'.
After losing sight of the Welsh mountains and Ireland, Thomas and Ann Jones headed for the Cape of Good Hope and on across the Indian Ocean to the Bay of Bengal. As days became weeks, John Roberts plotted the Jamaica in its imaginary course to Calcutta. Lieutenant-General Hay Macdowall, who had gone down with the Lady Jane Dundas, had been returning to England in the aftermath of rebellion and disaffection in the Madras Presidency. The burial registers at St John's Church in Calcutta had numerous entries for passengers and crew who had sickened and died by the end of their voyage. In a sense, the India they had constructed was unspecific, not anchored to the detail of this particular time or that particular place. At another level, however, the Thomas Jones's voyage of discovery became an expedition that confirmed and validated the real India.
In 1841, the Welsh sent their first missionary, Thomas Jones, to evangelise the tribal peoples of the Khasi Hills of north-east India. This book follows Jones from rural Wales to Cherrapunji, the wettest place on earth and now one of the most Christianised parts of India. It is about the piety and practices, the perceptions and prejudices of people in early nineteenth century Wales. The book is also about the ways in which the religious ambitions of those same people operated upon the lives and ideas of indigenous societies of the distant Khasi Hills of north-eastern India. It foregrounds broader political, scientific, racial and military ideologies that mobilised the Khasi Hills into an interconnected network of imperial control. Its themes are universal: crises of authority, the loneliness of geographical isolation, sexual scandal, greed and exploitation, personal and institutional dogma, individual and group morality. In analysing the individual lives that flash in and out of this history, the book is a performance within the effort to break down the many dimensions of distance that the imperial scene prescribes. It pays attention to a 'networked conception of imperial interconnection'. The book discusses Jones's evangelising among the Khasis as well as his conflicts with church and state authority. It also discusses some aspects of the micro-politics of mission and state in the two decades immediately following Thomas Jones's death. While the Welsh missionary impact was significant, its 'success' or indeed its novelty, needs to be measured against the pre-existing activities of British imperialists.