Tranquebar Mission

Tranquebar Mission

In this blog’s post, we will discuss Missionaries’ works and the history of the Tranquebar Mission. In the 18th century, Protestant missionaries started coming to India.  They first came to Tamilnadu. The first one to venture this was by the Lutherans.

During the 17th century, European countries other than Portugal established their colonies in India.  The newcomers were Protestants. Dutch established their centers at Pulicat in 1609, Sadras in 1647, Nagapatam in 1660.

British established themselves at Musalipatam in 1622, Madras in 1639, Cudallore in 1683, Calcutta in 1689. Denmark established their center at Tranquebar in 1620 and Serampore in 1676. 

The man who conceived the idea of sending the Protestant Mission was King Frederick IV of Denmark. He authorized his court chaplain to find suitable persons to sent to India as missionaries.

The court chaplain approached his friends in Germany to find some suitable people. Two theological students undergoing training at Halle University in Germany identified.

They were Heinrich Plutschau (1677-1746) and Bartholomew Ziegenbalg (1683-1719). They studied under Prof. August Hermann Francke. They were the products of the revival movement; called Pietism which began in Germany during the last part of the 17th century.

Royal Missionaries

They brought to Denmark and ordained. Further, they sent to Tranquebar as “Royal Missionaries” funded by the Emperor. They reached Tranquebar on 9th July 1706. Tranquebar lies 200 miles South of Madras and about 20 miles North of Nagapatnam. They had to wait for a long time.

The authorities did not advise about the coming of the missionaries. The report given by the Captain of the ship was also not favorable.

He personally disliked the missionaries.  Missionaries showed the authorities the letter of the Danish King.  The authorities proposed them to teach in the Danish School.

But the missionaries refused to take up the job instead of mission work. Finally the commandant gave them a reluctant permission.

The missionaries followed the officials to the market place but they left there alone. After a long time, a junior officer took pity on the missionaries and he found them a house in the Portuguese quarter of the town (where the Eurasians lived). 

You can read about Serampore mission

Tranquebar Mission

The missionaries started learning Portuguese and Tamil. They learned Portuguese for the reason that this was the common language of the Eurasians and the trading stations. Tamil was the language of the native people.

They also found some German soldiers working in the Danish East India Company troops. The missionaries started services in the German language. They also started to work among the domestic servants of the Eurasians.

They requested the commandant to give leave for two hours to the servants. So, that they could attend Christian teaching. This effort was only partly possible. The first converts were from this group.

The missionaries founded an orphanage. They adopted orphan children. These children baptized and brought up as Christians.

Along with that Portuguese and Tamil Schools also started. From the beginning onwards the missionaries concentrated on education. Ziegenbalg was a gifted learner of languages.

He learned Tamil very fast. So, he concentrated on Tamil while Plutschaw concentrated on Portuguese. Ziegenbalg entered into religious dialogue with Hindus in Tamil. This drew the attention of the people.

He also started writing in Tamil. He produced the translation of Luther’ Short Catechism for catechizing small children.

Then he translated the Sermons, tracts, and school books. Within two years of arrival, he started translating the New Testament. He published it in 1715. This was a novel attempt. No one before had tried such a venture.

The publication was made easier by the gift that he got from SPCK in the form of a printing press in 1712. Further, he translated the Old Testament up to Ruth.

The first Tamil hymn book was published in 1728. He also coined the Tamil German dictionary. He also wrote in German the results of his inquiries into Hinduism as found in South India. 

Problems of Tranquebar Mission

Problems of Tranquebar Mission

The missionaries encountered a number of problems.  Most of them were with the Danish authorities. There were frequent collisions. Commander wanted the mission as a subdivision of the Danish East India Company.

But missionaries said no. They did not want to be subjected to the official chaplain. They also pointed out that local people hesitated to come to the Danish Church.

So, they asked for a local Church. Now the commander refused their request. Missionaries threatened to write to the King. They also wrote to the Chancellor of the Danish Church regarding the whole episode.

The commander viewed this action of the missionaries as a rebellion. In 1708 Ziegenbalg demanded justice in a letter written to the commander for a certain widow.

The enraged commander got Ziegenbalg arrested and kept him in solitary confinement. Plutschaw and other members of the missions harassed in other ways. Public opinion turned against Commander Hassius.

As a result, the Commander and his wife visited Ziegenbalg at the prison and they entered into a compromise. Ziegenbalg was released from prison. 

Methodology of Tranquebar Missionaries

The methodology of the Tranquebar missionaries included the translation of the Bible into the vernacular language. They also preached the Gospel in the language of the people.

Charity schools established in order to educate the people. Education oriented to make the people able to read and write by themselves so that they would be able to get to know the Gospel truths through their own reading.

They also engaged in training the next generation and they prepared workers for Church and Schools. They printed Christian literature and used the house to house distribution of them.

Weekly conferences of the missionaries and the Indian workers arranged to discuss the problems and outcomes of the mission works.


Reports presented in the meetings regarding the work and fresh instructions issued to the workers for further working. 

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Outreach of Tranquebar Mission

After the reinforcement in 1709, Ziegenbalg started working outside the Danish territories. He was hospitably received by the English Chaplains.

This was possible for the reason that Ziegenbalg was regularly in contact with the SPCK and as a result; his activities were known well to the Chaplains. Because of the hostility with the commander Ziegenbalg was not able to go to Denmark.

Plutschaw was able to visit in the year 1711. But nothing much was able to be achieved out of that visit. In 1714 after the compromise with Commander Hassius, Ziegenbalg could visit Denmark.

He was able to convince the King about the condition of the mission. Finally, the directors of the Danish East India Company withdrew all orders hampering the activities of the missionaries. Ziegenbalg was made the Provost of the Mission.

Commander Hassius removed from the post. Ziegenbalg went to Germany and he married and returned back to India in 1716. New Church built at Tranquebar with the name New Jerusalem Church. The mission also started a training school for teachers and catechists.

Problem from within the Tranquebar Mission

In the early stages of the Mission, caste distinctions recognized within the Jerusalem Church. Sudras were given communion first and then the scheduled caste believers were administered communion.

Sudras sat on one side of the naïve and the scheduled caste sat on the other side. This was the pattern employed; not only in the Church but also in the schools. But one of the newcomer missionaries, Schultz attacked this practice.

He tried to stop this distinction by an order. This action resulted in opposition. A discontent Schultz left Tranquebar Mission. Other missionaries Walter and Pressier restored the Status quo.

Further History of Tranquebar Mission

Further History of Tranquebar Mission

Of all the missionaries associated with Tranquebar, the best know is C. F. Schwartz. He arrived in the year 1750 and here until 1798.

He turned into respected by means of considering his man or woman. For the first 12 years of his work he was at Tranquebar with habitual work of coaching, preaching, catechizing, supervising, and tasty in occasional evangelistic and pastoral trips.

One of the areas where he went on the pastoral adventure was trichinapoly. He determined that Trichinapoly as a potential mission field. There he started an orphanage in the year 1766 following an explosion in the powder magazine. He got converts from Hindus and British troops of the garrison.

SPCK agreed to support a mission there and they asked Schwartz to take charge of that. His friends at Tranquebar consented to this. In 1767 another English mission also started. The English governor-appointed Schwartz as the chaplain of the troops.

He used his first year’s salary for building mission houses. Half of the second years salary was utilized for the mission. He learned Arabic and Persian in order to converse with the Nawab of Arcot who sometimes resided in Trichinapoly. 


Meanwhile, Tranquebar influenced the neighboring Kingdom of Tanjore. Growing activities in Tanjore led to the ordination of the first Indian Pastor. Aron ordained as Pastor in 1733. From time to time Schwartz visited Tanjore and made acquaintance with Raja Tuljaji who was a Marata. They became good friends.

The King requested Schwartz to move to Tanjore. The internal administration of Tanjore was in shambles. Misgoverning by the officials of Raja created this problem. People were in a miserable condition. British stepped in to sort the things.

Schwartz was called in for help.  His wise advice brought the state back into shape. Raja shortly before his death entrusted his son to Schwartz. It shows the confidence the non-Christian Raja had in Schwartz.

But he advised to make Rajah’s brother as the guardian and he would be a reagent on behalf of the child till he grew up. But again the administration failed and Schwartz was called in for help.

In the midst of the official duty also he continued his ministry. He unmarried and lived a frugal life. He died at Tanjore on February 13, 1798. Though the Danish settlement was small; the Lutheran mission had spread to all the European stations of Tamilnadu. The same methodical pattern of German Pietism appeared everywhere.

Orphanages, Charity, Schools, preaching and teaching, catechizing house to house visits, meeting regularly of the missionaries; and worker to report and to get instructed became the pattern of functioning. Thus the missionary enterprise saw a great march forward during the nineteenth century.