The conclusion argues that the story of settler religion in the first half of the nineteenth century is in many ways the story of the tension between an evangelical lay voluntarism and a Church hierarchy that was trying to mould a series of self-governing and self-financing Churches into a coherent, disciplined and uniform Anglican Church. The conclusion also assesses where we should place the Church of England in existing narratives of colonial expansion. From some angles the colonial Church does look like a conservative institution that was aligned with the forces of loyalism and reaction; but from another perspective the Anglican Church appears as an institution that sat well with the forces of reform and voluntarism that was transforming the colonies of European settlement in the decades after 1830.
In her history of the Bhil mission, Battling and Building amongst the Bhils, Rose Carter recounted an inspiring narrative of conversion. After the famine, she writes, many of the Bhagats became convinced that the sinless deity was the God of Christians, and they decided to convert en masse to Christianity. Like most other Bhils, the Bhagats went hungry in 1899-1900, and a number abandoned their vows and survived, as did others, by robbery, looting and killing cattle and other animals for food. The Bhagats held a meeting soon after, and reached a consensus that the missionaries were most probably those that Surmaldas had prophesied would come to save them after the famine. The opposition to the work of Christian missionaries by caste Hindus was becoming more focused and strident during the first decade of the twentieth century.
Rhodri Hayward has noted how the imperial encounter during the nineteenth century produced a popular stereotype of the 'possessed and demon-haunted natives'. During the eighteenth century, under the influence of Spinoza, Anglican theologians generally held that as God had created nature in its entirety, it made no sense for Him to have created demons also. The Christian deployment of supernatural power was not confined only to the sphere of healing. For the missionaries, the continuing hold of 'the powers of darkness' over the imagination of their flock posed perhaps the greatest obstacle to their evangelical and medical work. Indeed, Arthur Birkett stated in December 1915 that his difficulty in this respect was weighing on him more and more, even to the extent of keeping him awake at night. Birkett had died burdened by doubt as to his abilities to overcome the demons that haunted the minds of the Bhils.
A great famine that began in 1899 brought radical changes in the mission to the Bhils. C. S. Thompson returned in November 1899 from a stay in Britain to find the Bhil region in the grip of a severe famine. A small number of Bhils migrated to urban centres, where rich merchants were at that time paying for food to be cooked and distributed to the starving in the streets. The missionaries themselves suffered badly during the monsoon period; many had to abandon their relief activities because of sickness. By October the acute stage of famine had passed, and hardly any adults were coming for food to the mission centres. Writing in November 1900, Charles Gill set out his plans to establish the Bhil mission on a much firmer footing. In the initial years, Thompson had carried out almost all of the evangelistic and itinerating work.
This chapter considers the varied networks that connected the overseas branches of the Church both with one another and with the Church back in Britain and Ireland. Most scholars of colonial Anglicanism have seen the 1850s as the dawn of a new era of Anglican communication and networking. Generally, however, scholars have been drawn to the connections that emerged between colonial, American and British bishops; less has been said about the multifarious connections that linked the clergy and laity who were lower down the ecclesiastical ladder. By attending to the array of personal, non-official and day-to-day exchanges that flowed between colonial Anglicans, this chapter helps us to see the colonial Church in a new light: not only was this a Church where ecclesiastical authority pressed lightly on clergy and laity; it was also—at points—a relatively open and fluid structure that allowed different kinds of Anglican to recruit clergy and raise money for church-building projects. Participative networks of this sought could, however, be flimsy, and they could be threatened by the arrival of authority figures such as bishops.
In November 1880 the Reverend Charles Thompson arrived at Kherwara, a small town in the hilly tracts of Mewar State in Rajasthan. He had come there to establish the first Anglican mission to the Bhils, a 'primitive tribe' that inhabited this region of India. There is a certain teleology that suggests that the modernity of the Christian missionary was a retrogressive and relatively transient form of this historical process, for modernity was associated above all with the 'transition from a religious to a secular culture'. From Max Weber onwards, sociologists have declared that secularism is the inevitable outcome of the process set in motion by the Enlightenment and its accompanying revolutions. The 'rule of colonial difference' was imposed in its most blatant form in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, coinciding with both the consolidation of Social Darwinist theory and missionary activity.
The Church of England, migration and the British world
The introduction surveys the existing literature on colonial settler religion; it also explains that the book seeks to move the study of the Church of England’s place in empire beyond the rather narrow framework provided by traditional ecclesiastical and religious history. Existing studies of the expansion of the Anglican Church have tended to focus on the activities of missionaries who sought the conversion of non-Christians. Those works which have looked at the established Church’s relationship with settler communities have not provided a sustained discussion of the institutional structures and networks that sustained the Church and contributed to its imperial expansion. The introduction points out that the Church in the three chosen case studies – Upper Canada, the Cape Colony and New South Wales – performed a variety of roles: churches were spaces in which colonists developed ideas about representative government; they were also institutions that allowed colonists to cultivate attachments to a variety of national and ethnic identities. For these reasons a place can be found for the Church in fields as varied as colonial political history, the history of diaspora and the history of expatriate culture.
The 'little empires' were particularly pronounced in the more remote regions of the world where the colonial presence was not otherwise obvious on a day-to-day basis. The 'little empires' that the missionaries presided over began to appear more and more anomalous as the Indian nationalist movement gathered momentum in the years after the First World War. Christian missionaries were seen as an arm of British rule, and they were able to garner support on that basis. Mahatma Gandhi had considerable sympathy for Christianity as a religion, but opposed the missionary agenda of converting people to Christianity. The main reason for the failure of the church to expand was that few Bhils were prepared to stand up to strong community pressure against conversion. The white missionaries continued to believe that amongst a tribal people the church could function only with European leadership.
This chapter charts the emergence of a colonial laity and compares this with the contemporaneous development of the colonial political public. The colonial Church was transformed by the growing visibility and significance of a colonial laity that was increasingly being asked to stump up the cash that would facilitate the maintenance and further expansion of the Anglican Communion. The chapter shows that the identity and make-up of the colonial laity was a contested and problematic issue throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. In theory all the inhabitants of the British colonies were defined as members of the empire’s established Anglican Church; in practice, churchmen wanted to limit the right to sit in church vestries and administer Church property to a narrower community of regular communicants. Clergy also found that the growing strength of the laity posed a number of difficult questions: how could clergy articulate their clerical authority when they were dependent on the voluntary subscriptions of their churchgoers? How could a Church maintain centres of authority when much of the responsibility for finding and funding clergy was delegated to networks composed of evangelical lay persons?
In a study of Chinese medical missions, John R. Stanley has argued that from the early years of the twentieth century, medical missionaries refused increasingly to act as jack-of-all-trades. Missionaries were, in future, to be the bearers of medical modernity to the 'underdeveloped'. The missionaries could project themselves as being in tune with the nation-building and developmental priorities of the new India. Although the missionary project in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had been driven by a desire to save souls for Christ, it had been justified also for its 'civilising' effect. In 1946, the mission lost its only Bhil doctor when Daniel Christian established a private practice in Lusadiya. Margaret Johnson looked after the dispensary at Biladiya for a few months after that, before taking charge of the hospital at Lusadiya from Daniel Christian in June 1942.