The Journal of Bishop Daniel Wilson of Calcutta, 1845-1857
Reviewed by Richard J. Mammana
Daniel Wilson (1778-1858) is a major — now mostly forgotten — figure in the history of 19th-century Anglicanism. As the fifth Bishop of Calcutta and first Metropolitan of India and Ceylon, he worked tirelessly as a missionary bishop, administrator, educator, and prolific author for more than 25 years from his consecration in 1832 to his death in Calcutta in 1858. His work in laying foundations for the life of what are now independent provinces or extra-provincial dioceses of the Anglican Communion in India, Bangladesh, Burma, and Sri Lanka is significant, as are his pioneering efforts to address inequalities in human rights fostered by the Indian caste system and its designation of “untouchables.”
This important new book, the annual volume for 2016 of the Church of England Record Society, is called Wilson’s “private memoranda,” which he wrote “for the eye of my children and of my successor only.” Just one manuscript volume of Wilson’s journals survives, covering the period from 1845 to 1857. We know that earlier volumes from 1797 to 1807, and from 1830 to 1845, are almost certainly lost, making this publication all the more important.
Wilson was a firm evangelical Anglican who considered it “the duty of duties” (his capitalization) for English Christians to convert non-Christian residents of the Indian subcontinent from Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism to Anglicanism. Following the experience of an evangelical awakening at the age of 17, Wilson associated himself closely with the Clapham Sect, a group of lay and ordained Church of England evangelicals who included such figures as Charles Simeon, Henry Venn, William Wilberforce, and Hannah More. Before his consecration, he was a founder in 1831 of the Lord’s Day Observance Society to promote the keeping of the Sabbath, and the vicar of St. Mary’s Church, Islington, a center of Anglican evangelical piety and organization.
Several consistent trends emerge in the 13 years of Wilson’s journal: an almost visceral abhorrence for Tractarianism — he called John Keble’s writings “Noodleism” — coordinated closely through regular communication with evangelicals in the British Isles; the steering of a careful middle and neutral way between the missionary activities of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (traditionally High Church) and the Church Missionary Society (traditionally evangelical) in India; and the repetitive application of Wilson’s high spiritual standards to himself as he examines his own adherence to his calling.
Along the way, Wilson records travel throughout Southeast Asia and furlough in England, his attention to opium-addicted colonial chaplains, problems arising in marriages between European-descended Anglicans and Indian converts, the separate worship of Anglo-Indians and indigenous Indians, discrepancies in pay between Indian clergy and Anglo missionaries, and regular reflections about current reading matter, weather, and financial expenditures.
Wilson’s work today survives primarily in the life of institutions he founded directly: St. Paul’s Cathedral, in modern Kolkata; Bangladesh’s Dhaka College; and former English churches he consecrated in cities as disparate as Rangoon, Uttarakhand in northern India, and Colombo. Thanks to the good work of Andrew Atherstone at Oxford’s Wycliffe Hall, we have in print now for the first time the personal writings of a leader who served as the public face of the Church of England at a critical period in the globalization of Anglicanism.
Richard J. Mammana is the archivist of the Living Church Foundation and a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a parishioner and vestry member at Trinity Church, New Haven, Connecticut.