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The Empire of Clouds in north-east India
Author: Andrew J. May

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.

Andrew J. May

India, was an indefatigable cog in the wheel of imperial science. In 1810 he had first drawn Roxburgh’s attention to rubber growing in the Khasi Hills and elsewhere in the region, in the form of a sample of two gallons of Khasi honey in a cane container called a turong , which had been lined with caoutchouc as a sealant. 7 The north-east was an important node in shaping

in Welsh missionaries and British imperialism
Andrew J. May

its indeterminate outlines. 2 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

in Welsh missionaries and British imperialism
Andrew J. May

committee found it unnecessary to hand him any formal instructions as to how he might proceed with his work in the Khasi Hills, trusting their missionary to take ‘the most prudent, & at the same time the most active measures towards accomplishing the important object for which you are sent out’. With little information on the country to which they were sending him, they could only advise that his ‘first

in Welsh missionaries and British imperialism
Andrew J. May

The first sighting of the Khasi Hills from the plains of Sylhet in June 1841 was a long anticipated moment for the missionary. At last the mountains that had risen before his imagination now towered ahead in meridian splendour, rising over 6000 feet above the plain like a great island out of an ocean. 1 He had set out with Ann from Calcutta

in Welsh missionaries and British imperialism
Abstract only
Andrew J. May

High up in the Khasi Hills of north-east India, a surreal flotilla of coloured balloons suspended with letters of the alphabet hung briefly on the dry April air. Had the prevailing breezes caught them, they might have floated up past the nearby eminence of Lum Sohpetbneng (the navel of heaven), out beyond the northern extremities of the east-west running Shillong Plateau and over

in Welsh missionaries and British imperialism
Andrew J. May

connection with the LMS was terminated in 1834. In Malacca, he had befriended the Welsh missionary Josiah Hughes. Tomlin ran a school in Malacca for a short time before deciding to return to England, but after finding himself in Calcutta after his ship caught fire, he ended up spending nine months in the Khasi Hills in 1837. On his return to England in May 1838, Tomlin lived for a

in Welsh missionaries and British imperialism
Abstract only
Andrew J. May

institutional authority and obedience. The missionary Thomas Jones II, the local magistrate Harry Inglis, the civil servant’s wife Emma Shadwell, and the soldier F.T. Pollok, projected their constructions of Britishness, Welshness, gender or indigeneity onto the canvas of the Khasi Hills. The continued crises of authority in the Welsh mission in the 1860s and 1870s came at great personal

in Welsh missionaries and British imperialism
Andrew J. May

mustered support from a range of quarters in the Khasi Hills, and he reproduced testimonials from some of the mission’s key friends and supporters. Political Agent Frederick Lister upheld Richards to be a zealous missionary and doctor. It was largely due to Richards’s medical work that he had removed ‘the Cassya prejudice of not taking medicine, of which, before he came among them

in Welsh missionaries and British imperialism
Andrew J. May

Christians of Britain are supposed to teach them in the way of life and in that religion which is the basis of all true happiness and comfort in this world and in the world to come. 6 That the Khasi Hills were a byway off the missionary highway was brought home to Jones in a letter from Roberts the

in Welsh missionaries and British imperialism