Joshua Marshman bigraphy, stories - Christian missionary

Joshua Marshman : biography

1768 - 1837

Joshua Marshman (1768–1837) was a Christian missionary in Bengal, India. His mission involved social reform and intellectual debate with educated Hindus such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

Bible translation

Like the pioneer missionary William Carey with whom he had come to work, Marshman was a talented and gifted scholar. Marshman and Carey together translated the Bible into many Indian Languages as well as translating much classical Indian literature into English.

Marshman at this time also translated the Bible into Chinese - and had an important role in the development of Indian newspapers. He was a keen proponent of the new developments in educational practice and was keen to encourage school teaching in local languages, even though the colonial authorities preferred that lessons be given in English.


Founding of Serampore College

On 5 July 1818, William Carey, Joshua Marshman and William Ward (another member of their missionary team) issued a prospectus (written by Marshman) for a proposed new "College for the instruction of Asiatic, Christian, and other youth in Eastern literature and European science". Thus was born Serampore College - which still continues to this day.

At times funds were tight, and after a brief and false rumour alleging misapplication of funds caused the flow of funds being raised by Ward in America dried up, Carey wrote, "Dr. Marshman is as poor as I am, and I can scarcely lay by a sum monthly to relieve three or four indigent relatives in Europe. I might have had large possessions, but I have given my all, except what I ate, drank, and wore, to the cause of missions, and Dr. Marshman has done the same, and so did Mr. Ward."


Joshua Marshman was born in 1768 in Britain at Westbury Leigh, Wiltshire, England, and died in India at Serampore, Bengal. Of his family little is known, except that they traced their descent from an officer in the Army of Cromwell: one of a band who, at the Restoration, relinquished, for conscience-sake all views of worldly aggrandisement, and retired into the country to support himself by his own industry.

His father John passed the early part of his life at sea and was engaged in the Hind Sloop of War, commanded by Captain Bond at the Capture of Quebec. Shortly after this he returned to England and in 1764 married Mary Couzener. She was a descendant of a French family who had sought refuge in England following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes; after his marriage he lived in Westbury Leigh and took up the trade of a weaver.

This occupation didn't pay well and he was unable to afford his son any education beyond that supplied in the village.


Joshua's son, John Clark Marshman (1794–1877), was also to become an important part of the missionary work at the College; he was also an official Bengali translator and published a Guide to the Civil Law which, before the work of Macaulay, was the civil code of India; he also wrote a "History of India" (1842).

In his book "Carey, Marshman and Ward" John Marshman states that by his death his father had spent over £400,000 of his own money on his missionary related works in India.

Early days

In 1791, Joshua married Hannah Marshman (née Shepherd) and in 1794 they moved from Westbury Leigh in Wiltshire to Bristol. In Bristol they joined the Broadmead Baptist Church and Marshman taught in a local Charity School supported by the church. At this time he also studied at Bristol Baptist College.

On 29 May 1799, Joshua, Hannah and their then two children set out from Portsmouth for India aboard the ship "Criterion". Although there was a threat of a French naval attack the family landed safely at the Danish settlement of Serampore (a few miles north of Calcutta) on 13 October 1799.

The couple had 12 children; of these only five lived longer than their father. Their youngest daughter Hannah married Henry Havelock, who became a British General in India, and whose statue is in Trafalgar Square, London.

Carey's children

Marshman was appalled by the neglect with the way in which Carey looked after his four boys when he first met them in 1800. Aged 4, 7, 12 and 15, they were unmannered, undisciplined, and even uneducated. Marshman, his wife Hannah, and their friend the printer William Ward, took the boys in tow. Together they shaped the boys as Carey pampered his botanical specimens, performed his many missionary tasks and journeyed into Calcutta to teach at Fort William College. They offered the boys structure, instruction and companionship. To their credit - and little to Carey's - all four boys went on to useful careers.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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