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 Former Bishops in SKD


The first Protestant missionary to South Travancore was William Tobias Ringeltaube of the LMS in 1806. Ringeltaube, born in 1770, Pass on an invitation of Vedamanickam Maharasan of Mylaudy who had been converted in Tanjore by Rev. Kohlhoff, an SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) missionary. Ringeltaube was moved at the plight of the social out-castes of South Travancore. He worked among them and in May 1809 laid the foundation for a church in Mylaudy, the first Protestant Church of South Travancore. He visited ‘Trivandrum’ in 1811. He left Travancore in 1816.

Charles Mead

Rev.Charles Mead was the Father of the South Travancore Mission, born on 1st October 1792 at Bristol, Gloucester, England. He was brought up by his uncle Rev.John Hunt at Wakefield, Yorkshire, attended Gosport Missionary School and ordained at Chichester on 6th March 1816. According to the London Mission Society’s report, Rev.Charles Mead was nominated for Travancore as Rev. Ringeltaube’s successor. After one year back, he arrived at Colachel on 17 January 1818. During his journey, the ship was stabled at Prince of Wales Island where his wife was died by leaving her baby due to her prolonged ill-health.

Rev.Charles Mead, was heartily welcomed at Colachel by Vedamanickam who was holding charge of the mission work when Ringeltaube absence. Rev.Mead was quite pleased at seeing them than he had expected. The extreme pleasure which this first meeting gave him and the solicitude the people showed him had made such a lasting impression on his mind that he often referred to it during his life. On reaching Mylaudy to which peace, he was escorted by the Christians and found that though the mission had been left vacant for foreign missionary about two years, Vedamanickam had carried on the work with diligence and success, and that the people had remained faithful to their vacation.

Rev.Mead, was the Master Builder who developed the infant mission and shaped it to an extensive organisation. He was the father of the South Travancore Mission and principal agent in the formation of all stations from Kanyakumari in the South to Quilon, in the North. He had a keen and alert mind, was as full of physical energy as he was of courage. He very early saw the need of Mylady and when Colonel Munro offered him for his occupation his own circuit bungalow at Nagercoil, Rev.Mead gratefully accepted, made his headquarters there and received as a grant also from the Range of that time the pieces of land around the mission bungalow on which the Church, the Press and the Scott Christian College. As early April 1818, Mead has been appointed to the office of Christian judge at that town by Travancore Rani (Queen). In this year, the Range of Travancore gave a donation of Rs.5000 to the mission, which he added to the lands and put aside a portion towards the erection of the Nagercoil Church. It was during the first year of Rev.Mead's service that great numbers of people (Nadars) were added to the church, as many as three thousand in one year.

Rev.Charles Mead shifted the Mission Centre from Mylaudy to Nagercoil in 1818. For the further development of the mission, the entire mission area was divided into six mission stations of Nagercoil, Neyyoor, Parassala, Trivandrum, Attingal and Quilon.

In October 1819 Rev. Mead commenced the mission seminary at Nagercoil. His plans for this seminary were of the same ambitious order as characterised his church building ideas. English and Sanskrit as well as the two vernaculars were taught, and several European youths, sons of factors in the neighbourhood, were among the first students. Of this, the first English educational institution in Travancore, Rev.Mead spoke these prophetic words "This will give rise, we hope, in time to a mission college for the south of India, on the liberal principles of the London Missionary Society.”

He opened an English Medium School at Nagercoil (1820) and also first Girls school with Boarding facility of Travancore at Nagercoil was established in 1819 by Mrs.Johanna, wife of Rev.Charles Mead. In the following year, 1820, Rev.Mead, on a visit to Tanjore, obtained a printing press, which he set up in his own house at Nagercoil. This was the first printing press ever introduced into Travancore, preceding the Kottayam press by about a year. It is interesting to notice that the paper sent from England for this press, being presented by charitable persons, was admitted to the country by the Travancore Government free of duty.

Rev.Charles Mead also continued his effort the school at Mylaudy shifted to Nagercoil as he believed the English Medium School at Nagercoil could one day become a college, which materialised in 1893. In 1820 the first public school for Hindus was opened for the Hindus, especially Nadars at Nagercoil. The Neyyoor Girls Boarding school was established in 1828 under the Neyyoor Mission. Rev.Mead started the first School of Industry (technical) in 1820 at Nagercoil this school provided technical education and trades such as printing, bookbinding, tanning, curing of leather etc. In 1820, the mission has planned to start a branch of the mission at Quilon under John Smith. During his tenure numerous schools and Churches were established and by 1827 there were forty four schools in Travancore.

In 1855, in recognition of his contributions to the cause of education, the Travancore Government appointed him Superintendent of Schools, and while in this office he encouraged women's education in Nagercoil and in the state of Travancore. He fought to abolish forms of indentured labour rampant at that time. He also served for the betterment of the down - trodden for more than half a century. During his period, people under his fold multiplied in thousands year after year and the mission centres expanded from Quilon to Cape Comorin. He brought more missionaries during this period from homeland and expanded the humanitarian outreach through educational, medical and technical services. Mead established mission centres in most of the important places. In those centres he also built churches and schools. He died on 19 January 1873 at the age of 80 years at Thiruvananthapuram.

Dr. Theodore Howard Somervell

Dr T H Somervell, (1890–1975), a Surgeon, Mountaineer, Painter and Medical Missionary who was a member of two expeditions to Mount Everest in 1922 and 1924, was born on April 16, 1890 in Kendal, Westmorland, England. He spent nearly 40 years working as a missionary doctor in India. He was awarded an Olympic Gold Medal by Pierre de Coubertin for his achievements in mountaineering (Alpinism) in 1924. He played a vital role in introducing modern medicine to South India as the leading light of Neyyoor Hospital, South Travancore Medical Mission, set up by London Missionary Society (LMS) in a remote village near Nagarcoil in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu. Somervell born on April 16, 1890 in Kendal, Westmorland, England, as the elder son of William Henry Somervell and Florence Howard. At the age of eighteen, he joined the Fell and Rock Climbing Club, beginning an interest in climbing art and mountaineering which would last a lifetime. After completing his schooling, he studied at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge where he developed his strong Christian faith and gained First Class Honours in the Natural Sciences Tripos. He then began training as a surgeon at University College Hospital; eventually graduating in 1911. After his training, he had been interrupted by the First World War.In 1925, Somervell married Margaret, daughter of Sir James Hope Simpson, Director of the Bank of Liverpool.

Between 1915 and 1918, Somervell served in France with the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant with the West Lancashire Casualty Clearing Station on May 17, 1915, having previously been a member of the University of London Officer Training Corps. He was mentioned in Dispatches, but the horrors of the war had a profound effect on him. During the Battle of the Somme in 1916, he was one of four surgeons working in a tent, while hundreds of wounded men lay dying on stretchers outside. On short breaks from surgery, he spoke with some of the dying men and noted that not one asked to be treated ahead of the others. The experience turned Somervell into a pacifist, a belief he continued to hold for the rest of his life. He resigned his commission in 1921, by which time he held the rank of captain.

By 1922, Somervell had shown himself a capable climber in the Lake District and the Alps, where he climbed in particular with Bentley Beetham, a climber, photographer and ornithologist from Darlington. Somervell was invited to join the 1922 British Everest expedition. During the expedition, on June 07 1922, Somervell was part of a party of four British climbers leading fifteen Sherpas through waist-deep fresh snow on the slopes below the North Col and an avalanche occurred, killing seven Sherpas. Somervell was shocked, and felt great guilt that it was the Sherpas who had paid the price for the poor judgement of the British climbers.

After the expedition, Somervell set out to see India, travelling from the far North to Cape Comorin. He was shocked by the poverty and he saw poor medical facilities. At the main hospital of the South Travancore Medical Mission in Neyyoor he found a single surgeon struggling to cope with a long queue of waiting patients and immediately offered to assist. During his tour, he stayed for a fortnight with Dr.S.H.Pugh in the year 1922 at Neyyoor, in Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu, India, where Dr.S.H.Pugh performed many surgeries. Dr.Somervell was very much impressed by the work done by Dr.S.H.Pugh alone. Seeing the great need at Neyyoor, Dr. Somervell decided to come to Neyyoor as a Medical Missionary. This was revealed later by Dr.Somervell himself when he wrote as "In fact, it was due to a ten days sojourn at Neyyoor in 1922 that I had decided to spend the best part of my life at that very place where the need seemed to be great and the supply seemed hopelessly inadequate”. On his return to Britain, he abandoned his promising medical career and announced his intention to work in India permanently after his next attempt on Everest. Most of his famous paintings sold today are from his travels in various part of India.

In 1924, he returned to Everest for second expedition. Throughout the expedition he was dogged by a painful throat, hacking cough and occasional difficulty breathing, but remained one of the strongest members of the team. The team had reached an altitude of 8570 m; a record which would not be broken until 1952. He was awarded an Olympic Gold Medal in Paris by Pierre de Coubertin for his achievements in mountaineering (Alpinism) in 1924.

Dr.T.H.Somervell joined as a staff of the Medical Mission, Neyyoor in the year 1923. With his arrival, the input of patients had tremendously increased and the need for additional place for accommodation was felt by the two doctors. Dr.T.H.Somervell also brought one x-ray unit for Neyyoor Hospital and new wards were constructed. Both the x-ray and accommodation facilities attracted a large number of people from all over Travancore and also from the neighbouring provinces. His dedicated and untiring long hours in the Operation Theatre with great skill, he made this hospital known far and wide in the country. He saw the high incidence of oral cancers and the need of Radium Treatment and started Radium Wards. The Operation Theatre of that time had gallery to help other surgeons.

After Somervell's joining in South Travancore Medical Mission, he played a vital role in introducing modern medicine to South India as the leading light of South Travancore Medical Mission set up by London Missionary Society (LMS) in Neyyoor, a remote village of Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu, India. This became one of the largest missionary hospitals in the world. He was also an early pioneer of the treatment of leprosy, which until that time had been considered incurable.

Somervell also performed hundreds of surgeries every month during a period when operations were rare and the survival rate thin. After long and fruitful years at Neyyoor, he retired in 1945. Then he came back to Neyyoor in 1948 and took over Superintendent of Medical Mission and Chairman of the Medical Board.

In 1949, he went to Christian Medical College, Vellore in Tamil Nadu to share his experiences with doctors and students where he became an associate professor of surgery at Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India and he hold post until his retirement in 1961. In 1953, New Year Honours, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). On his retirement in 1961, he returned to England and was President of the Alpine Club for three years.

Somervell painted many hundreds if not thousands of paintings and has been described as a compulsive sketcher and painter. The Himalyan Club identified some 600 titles, 200 plus of which were representations of the Himalaya or Tibet. One hundred and twenty six of these relate to the 1922 and 1924 expeditions, many of which were exhibited at The Royal Geographical Society in April 1925 and at the Redfern Gallery, London in 1926. He exhibited almost annually at the Lake Artists Society (LAS) exhibitions in the English Lake District after his return to England. His paintings of the Himalaya and of Westmoreland were exhibited at the Abbot Hall Gallery in April 1979.

Dr.T.H.Somervell died on January 23, 1975 at the age of 85 in Ambleside, England due to a heart attack. In honour of his selfless services, the CSI Hospital at Karakonam has been named "Dr.Somervell Memorial Hospital and now Dr.Somervell Memorial CSI Medical College Hospital.

Rev. Samuel Mateer

Rev. Samuel Mateer was born in Belfast on August 24, 1835. He belonged to the Methodist Church. He studied in Bedford Theological College and was sent to Travancore as a Missionary by the Board of Directors of the LMS in 1859. He was given charge of the Parassala Mission. When Cox resigned, Mateer became the Trivandrum missionary. Rev. Mateer concentrated his work among the downtrodden people, suppressed by the upper castes and so was mockingly called ‘Pulaya Padiri’. He was a friend of nature and he kept a good collection of plants and trees of rare varieties in the mission compound. He wrote books and translated some parts of the Epistles for our Malayalam Bible. Rev. Samuel Mateer is the founder president of the Trivandrum YMCA. He was famous for his extraordinary charm and varied talents. The City Mission grew steadily and progressed under his care. In 1866, when Dr. Mullens, Foreign Secretary of the LMS visited Trivandrum, he made arrangements to buy a compound of 16 acres known as ‘Captain Davidson’s Compound’ for Rs. 9000 at Cantonment (Palayam). This is the present LMS Compound (Head Station of South Kerala Diocese). It was his fervent desire to build a magnificent church in the newly purchased ‘Captain Davidson’s Compound’. But his dream could not be materialised since he had to return to England in 1891 as he fell ill. In 1893, he passed away on Christmas eve. Rev. Mateer served the Trivandrum Mission for 33 years. At the end of his service in Trivandrum the number of Churches (congregations) increased from 25 to 56 and the number of believers from 3000 to 10,060.

Rev. John Abbs

Rev. John Abbs (1810–1888) was an English missionary. Sent out by the London Missionary Society, he spent twenty-two years in Travancore, Southern India, a period rarely exceeded by European missionaries at that time. Abbs was born in Norwich on 20 December 1810. From 1834 to 1837, Abbs studied at the nonconformist theological college of Cheshunt. He was ordained at the conclusion of the Norfolk Auxiliary Meeting on 23 August 1837, and on the same day appointed to Neyyoor, South Travancore.

In 1845 Abbs was transferred to Parassala, South Travancore, where a bungalow had been erected for Abbs to found his own mission. Here he continued to labour and educate local inhabitants in various subjects, including literacy, health and religion. His mission became the headquarters for the mission district. The village and district prospered, and the mission became one of the largest in the world, with over 10,000 native Christians under the charge of one European missionary.

His wife taught the local girls at the boarding school subjects included religion, history, geography and some elements of natural philosophy. She continued the work she had done in Neyyoor and began an embroidery industry in the district. The workers were paid a reasonable wage and the surplus used mostly for building up institutions intended for women. The success of Abbs’s mission can be seen today: the Parassala mission district contains some 100 congregations and the famous Abbs Memorial Church in Parassala built in his honour.

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How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!