November 13, 2008


Official Name:
William Carey
Date of Birth:
Aug 17, 1761
Date of Demise:
June 9, 1834
Place of Birth: Paulerspury, Northamptonshire, England

Is 54:2-3 “Enlarge the place of thy tent…and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.”

Carey was born to English parents - weavers by profession, as the eldest of their five children. He was a bright student and had a natural gift for language. The science of Botany also interested him. At the age of 12, he became the apprentice of a shoemaker. Meanwhile, his passion for language was kindled and he taught himself, Latin and Greek.

He married Dorothy Plackett in 1781, and he took over the shoemaking business from his brother-in-law, following his demise. His passion for language kept burning and he learned Hebrew, Italian, Dutch and French, during work, often reading while his hands were busy with the shoes.

Meanwhile, he became associated with the Baptist mission and was soon baptized into their congregation. During this time, he happened to read through literature that gave him a deep concern for spreading the Gospel around the world. It was a belief then that all were not responsible for spreading Christianity and when Carey questioned this at a minister’s meeting, he was given an elusive answer. During one of his sermons, he said, “Expect great things from God, and Attempt great things for God”. He bent his mind on practicing this and almost seven years later, he published his most profound missionary manifesto “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens”, as an answer to his own question. The book was a complete guide to the theological, historical, sociological and practical aspects of a missionary effort.

Following this, in 1972, he, along with his friends Andrew Fuller, John Ryland and John Sutcliffe instituted the Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen, as a move to overcome the resistance to Christian missionary effort. One of their initial actions was to support Dr. John Thomas, missionary in Calcutta, India. Soon, Carey decided to accompany him to India.

Carey, and his eldest son Felix sailed from London in April 1793, along with Thomas and his family. His wife, Dorothy, refused to support him in his decision to leave England, being pregnant with their fourth son. En route they were confronted with a number of delays, allowing Dorothy to join them mid-way. They landed at Calcutta in November.

Carey soon sought to learn Bengali, the native language. Six year later, he completed the first revision of his Bengali New Testament. His son, Peter died of dysentery at the age of 5, bringing Dorothy to a nervous breakdown which shook her mental stability.

The number of fellow missionaries to India grew. All of them settled in the Danish colony at Serampore. John Fountain, William Ward, a printer, Joshua Marshman, a schoolteacher; David Brunsdon; and William Grant, who died three weeks after his arrival, were the pioneers. In 1800, Carey joined them.

At Serampore, the mission set up a school and bought a house to accommodate their families. Ward set up a print shop and began printing the Bible in Bengali. By the end of that year, the mission had their first convert, a Hindu named Krishna Pal.
In 1801, the Governor-General founded Fort William, a college and offered Carey the position of professor of Bengali. He contributed to the Bengali and Sanskrit languages, by writing grammars for them. He began work on the Sanskrit translation of the Bible and the Bible was soon translated into Bengali, Sanskrit, and other major languages and dialects. Many of these languages had never been printed before. Ward took great pains in this effort as every punch for the type had to be done by hand.

Carey was also involved in social reforms such as eradicating rituals such as human sacrifices and sati, although it was not abolished by law, until later.
Carey’s family life suffered. Yet he stood by his insane wife, while working on his books. She died in 1807 and Carey re-married Charlotte Rhumohr, who unlike Dorothy was his intellectual equal.

Carey then began translating sacred Sanskrit writings to English to make them available to the native English speakers. It drained his intellectual and physical energy, yet he kept on it. On March 11, 1812, the print shop caught fire and Carey lost many irreplaceable manuscripts, including translations of Sanskrit literature and a polyglot dictionary of related languages. Had it been completed it would have been a profound and scholarly philological masterpiece. Fortunately, the press itself and the punches were saved. Carey was instrumental in having the Bible printed and distributed in whole or part in 44 languages and dialects.

The need for training native ministers arose, as they now had a growing church. In 1818, the Serampore College was established. Apart from training native ministers, it also helped provide arts and sciences education, regardless of caste or country. It became the first degree-granting institution in Asia after The King of Denmark granted it a royal charter in 1827.

His childhood interest for botany did not die. In 1820, he founded The Agri Horticultural Society of India at Alipore, Calcutta.

Carey's second wife, Charlotte, died in 1821, followed by his eldest son Felix. After few years, Carey severed ties with the missionary society he had founded, because of internal dissent with new missionaries who failed to envisage his mission and dream. He moved onto the college grounds and led a life, revising his Bengali Bible, preaching, and teaching, until he was called home, by the Master, for whom he had toiled so much.

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