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Marshman, Joshua


Marshman, Joshua (1768-1837) a scholar, orientalist, theologian, and one of the founders of Serampore Missionary Institution. He was born on 20 April 1768 at Westbury Leigh in Wiltshire in England. His father John was a weaving trader who in early part of his life was engaged in 'Hind' sloop of war at the capture of Quebec. His mother was Mary Couzener. In childhood, poverty hampered his formal education but his deep thirst for knowledge imbued him in desultory reading and he is said to have read than five hundred volumes before he was eighteen. He moved to Bristol Academy and learnt in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Syriac.

In June 1794, he was Baptised and was soon appointed master of the charity school attached to the Baptist Chapel in Broadmead, Bristol. Here he exhibited his deep interest in Biblical learning. He translated from the Latin and transcribed the substance of Arabic grammar. Through the periodical accounts of the Baptist Missionary Society he came to know about william carey’s work in India and volunteered to join him. He along with his wife Hannah and some of his fellows set out from Portsmouth for India and reached serampore on 13 October 1799 to join William Carey.

Joshua Marshman

Within a very short time Marshman and Hannah opened a boarding school at which the children of most of the Europeans were taught. By one year he made astonishing progress in learning Bengali and Sanskrit Language. Then he engaged himself in translating Indian classical literature into English and Bible into Indian language. Marshman along with William Carey published the English version of the Ramayana of Valmeeki from Serampore press in 1806, and its second volume in 1808. Here he studied the Chinese language and later translated the scriptural extracts into Chinese and compiled a Chinese grammar. He published A Dissertation on the Character and Sounds of the Chinese Language (1809), a translation of teachings of Confucious (1809) and Clavis Sinica (1814).

In a prospectus written by Joshua Marshman and issued by William Carey, Joshua Marshman and William Ward proposed a college for the instruction of Asiatic, Christian and other youth of Eastern Literature and European Science. To meet the demand serampore college was established on 5 July 1818. But the shortage of fund hampered its academic programmme. To solve the problem Marshman went back to England in 1826 and then visited Denmark. He succeeded to manage a Charter of Incorporation from the Danish king Frederick VI to the Serampore College. In May 1829 he returned to India and with the help of the Royal grant he along with his associate William Carey made the mission in operation.

Joshua Marshman protested the views of raja rammohun roy about the deity of Jesus, the Christian doctrines of the atonement and the Trinity. He engaged in a polemical debate with Rammohun Roy concerning the issues in the early 1820s. He strongly opposed Rammohun's new theme of Unitarianism. He published a monograph from Kingsbury, London entitled A Defense of the Deity and Atonement of Jesus Christ, In Reply to Ram-Mohun Roy of Calcutta in 1822.

Joshua Marshman was one of the pioneering newspaper entrepreneurs in India. He patronized the first Bangla weekly Sumachar Durpan (mirror of news) in 1818. He also published a monthly journal titled Friends of India. Marshman also published in 1821 a juvenile book for the religious instruction of children named School Dialogues; or Lessons on the Commandments and the Way of Salvation. Marshman's translation of the Bible into Chinese was published from Serampore press in 1821. He also wrote some Christian Hymn.

Joshua Marshman was awarded the honourary degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1811 by the Brown University, Rhode Island. He died at Serampore on 5 December 1837. [ATM Zayed Hossain]