Serampore Mission Press

Serampore Mission Press (1800-1855) Serampore ushered in a glorious era for the printing industry in the Orient through circumstantial pressure rather than having any special advantage. In 1778 the first type foundry in Bengal was established in chinsura. Twenty-two years later Serampore saw the beginning of printing. Although in the meantime a printing press was started in calcutta, it had produced little. Behind the establishment of this industry at Serampore two events of cardinal importance, namely the arrival of william carey as a representative of the Baptist Missionary Society of England and the foundation of the Serampore Mission Press (1800) may be mentioned.

Carey came to Bengal to preach Christianity and to translate the Bible into Bangla. The first few months following his arrival in 1793 were a period of struggle. Afterwards he settled down at Madanabati in North Bengal. In order to print the Bangla Bible he arranged for a press, and procured paper, ink and type fonts (manufactured by Panchanan). But he could not start the printing work due to lack of a printer. In 1799 some more missionaries came to join Carey, among them a printing specialist named William Ward. The missionaries had to take asylum in the Danish Colony at Serampore to avoid expulsion by the English who were antagonistic towards them. When Carey joined them on 10 January 1800 the serampore mission was established. The Printing Press of Serampore started to function in March under Ward's leadership.

At the initial stage Ward himself did the typesetting. The printing of 'Matthew' of the New Testament was finished by August. It was published as 'Mangal Samachar'. This is the first book ever printed in Bengali type. Soon the workload of the Mission Press increased and skilled native craftsmen were recruited. Besides the three missionaries-Ward, Felix and William Carey - one compositor, five printing workers, one worker for folding papers and one binder were taken on. In no time there was an unexpected progress of printing in Serampore. This inspired Carey and Ward to turn their attention towards the expansion of this industry. The expert type-cutter Panchanan Karmakar joined the Serampore Press and established a type-foundry. Panchanan, in collaboration with his son-in-law, Manohar, and grandson Krishnachandra, set up a huge type-cutting industry at Serampore from where books in 45 different languages were printed in 18 different type-fonts within thirty years. They were one of the greatest type-makers of the age. Panchanan also established a type-making training centre at Serampore. In the orient this is the first training centre in mechanical discipline.

The Serampore printing industry became famous all over the world in no time due to its honest dealings, the indefatigable exertions of its workers, low cost, quality printing etc. But the English company did not like the existence of such an improved printing industry outside their control. They made persistent attempts to close it down. But they could not succeed due to the protection offered by the Danish government.

Paper being the principal material of printing, the Missionaries took a leading role in its manufacture. Attempts were made to manufacture paper by indigenous methods. But the production was too low to meet the increasing demand. Hence a treadmill was founded in 1809. The missionaries used a steam engine to operate the mill. This inaugurated a new era in the process of industrialisation in the Orient.

The Serampore Mission became separate from the Baptist Mission due to internal conflicts, and it became nearly penniless when the Calcutta Bank became bankrupt (1830). The Serampore Mission Press had published 212,000 books in 45 languages between 1800 and 1832. There were very few presses in the world at that time which could boast of such an achievement. [Sila Bandyopadhyay]