Thomas Smith (missionary)

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Very Rev Dr Thomas Smith DD LLD (8 July 181726 May 1906) was a 19th-century Scottish missionary and mathematician who was instrumental in establishing India's zenana missions in 1854. He served as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland 1891/92.

Scotland Country in Northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It covers the northern third of the island of Great Britain, with a border with England to the southeast, and is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast, the Irish Sea to the south, and more than 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

Missionary member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism

A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to promote their faith or perform ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care, and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin missionem, meaning "act of sending" or mittere, meaning "to send". The word was used in light of its biblical usage; in the Latin translation of the Bible, Christ uses the word when sending the disciples to preach The gospel in his name. The term is most commonly used for Christian missions, but can be used for any creed or ideology.

Moderator of the General Assembly Religious leader

The moderator of the General Assembly is the chairperson of a General Assembly, the highest court of a presbyterian or reformed church. Kirk sessions and presbyteries may also style the chairperson as moderator.


Early life

Smith was born in the manse at Symington, Lanarkshire, on 8 July 1817, the eighth of ten children on Jean Stodard and Rev John Smith. [1] He was educated at the local parish school in Symington and then studied mathematics and physics at the University of Edinburgh, matriculating in 1830 aged 13 (this was normal at that time). In 1834 he studied theology at Divinity Hall in Edinburgh under Rev Dr Thomas Chalmers. [2]

Symington is a small village in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, 3 miles (5 km) southwest of Biggar, 10 miles (16 km) east of Douglas and 13 miles (21 km) southeast of Carluke. Geographical features near Symington include Tinto Hill, the Coulter Hills and the River Clyde. A map by Pont in 1596 showed two St John's Kirks in a small settlement, and another map by Roy in 1754 showed a mill to the east.

Lanarkshire Historic county in Scotland

Lanarkshire, also called the County of Lanark is a historic county in the central Lowlands of Scotland.

University of Edinburgh public research university in Edinburgh, Scotland

The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1582, is the sixth oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's ancient universities. The university has five main campuses in the city of Edinburgh, with many of the buildings in the historic Old Town belonging to the university. The university played an important role in leading Edinburgh to its reputation as a chief intellectual centre during the Age of Enlightenment, and helped give the city the nickname of the Athens of the North.

Calling as a missionary

Cowgatehead Mission Church (in foreground) as seen from Candlemaker Row Cowgatehead from Candlemaker Row - - 1352172.jpg
Cowgatehead Mission Church (in foreground) as seen from Candlemaker Row

In 1839, under the influence of Rev Alexander Duff, Smith was ordained by the Church of Scotland and travelled to Calcutta in India, as a missionary, teaching mathematics and physics in the schools. From 1840 he suggested the use of female missionaries as male missionaries were not permitted to speak to the Indian females. [3]

Alexander Duff (missionary) Christian missionary and educator in India

Very Rev Dr Alexander Duff, was a Christian missionary in India; where he played a large part in the development of higher education. He was a Moderator and Convenor of the Church of Scotland and an unashamed scientific liberal reformer of anglicized evangelism across the Empire. He was the first overseas missionary of the Church of Scotland to India. On 13 July 1830 he founded the General Assembly's Institution in Calcutta, now known as the Scottish Church College. He also played a part in establishing the University of Calcutta. He was twice Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland in 1851 and 1873, the only person to serve the role twice.

Church of Scotland national church of Scotland

The Church of Scotland, also known by its Scots language name, the Kirk, is the national church of Scotland. It is Presbyterian and adheres to the Bible and Westminster Confession; the Church of Scotland celebrates two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, as well as five other rites, such as confirmation and matrimony. It is a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

India Country in South Asia

India is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by area, the second-most populous country, and the most populous democracy in the world. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal on the southeast, it shares land borders with Pakistan to the west; China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north; and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. In the Indian Ocean, India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka and the Maldives; its Andaman and Nicobar Islands share a maritime border with Thailand and Indonesia.

At the Disruption of 1843 Smith left the established church and joined the Free Church of Scotland. The Free Church set up its own mission in Calcutta and Smith transferred to this new building. [4]

Disruption of 1843 divergence of the Free Church of Scotland from the Church of Scotland

The Disruption of 1843 was a schism or division within the established Church of Scotland, in which 450 evangelical ministers of the Church broke away, over the issue of the Church's relationship with the State, to form the Free Church of Scotland. It came at the end of a bitter conflict within the established Church, and had major effects not just within the Church, but also upon Scottish civic life.

From 1851 to 1857 he was editor of the Calcutta Review and Calcutta Christian Observer. In 1840 he proposed the establishment of what would become known as the zenana missions, and his scheme was later implemented in the 1850s by John Fordyce.

Zenana missions

The zenana missions were outreach programmes established in British India with the aim of converting women to Christianity. From the mid 19th century, they sent female missionaries into the homes of Indian women, including the private areas of houses - known as zenana - that male visitors were not allowed to see. Gradually these missions expanded from purely evangelical work to providing medical and education services. Hospitals and schools established by these missions are still active, making the zenana missions an important part of the history of Christianity in India.

John Fordyce (1819–1902) was a Christian missionary, evangelical minister and administrator who launched the female education initiative in India known as the Zenana Missions. He has been credited with introducing the rickshaw to India.

When the Indian Mutiny broke out in 1857, Smith acted as the chaplain of the 42nd Highlanders (Black Watch) at Calcutta, accompanying the regiment when it was on active service. [2]

42nd Regiment of Foot

The 42nd Regiment of Foot was a Scottish infantry regiment in the British Army also known as the Black Watch. Originally titled Crawford's Highlanders or the Highland Regiment and numbered 43rd in the line, in 1748, on the disbanding of Oglethorpe's Regiment of Foot, they were renumbered 42nd and in 1751 formally titled the 42nd (Highland) Regiment of Foot. The 42nd Regiment was one of the first three Highland Regiments to fight in North America. In 1881 the regiment was named The Royal Highland Regiment , being officially redesignated The Black Watch in 1931. In 2006 the Black Watch became part of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Smith resigned his post in Calcutta in 1858 due to ill-health (claims of cholera are perhaps exaggerated). He returned to Scotland in 1859 when he was recovered enough to travel and settled in Edinburgh to do mission work in the poorest parishes. The following year he became minister of the Free Cowgatehead Mission Church. [5] He then lived in a modest flat at 4 Keir Street, south of the Grassmarket. [6]

In 1880 he was appointed Professor of Evangelistic Theology at New College, Edinburgh, a role in which he continued until 1893. [7] His new-found wealth allowed him to purchase a large villa in the Grange district at 10 Mansionhouse Road. [8]

In 1891 he succeeded Rev Thomas Brown as Moderator of the General Assembly, the highest position in the Free Church. [9]

He received two honorary doctorates from the University of Edinburgh, a Doctor of Divinity (DD) in 1867 and a Doctor of Laws (LLD) in 1900.

He died at home 28 Hatton Place in Edinburgh on 26 May 1906. [10] He is buried in the Grange Cemetery.


Smith wrote on both mathematical and religious subjects:


In 1839, before his departure to India, he married Grace Whyte (d.1886), the daughter of D. K. Whyte, a Royal Navy paymaster and sometime bookseller of 10 Scotland Street in Edinburgh. [15] Their five children included Rev William Whyte Smith, minister of Newington, Edinburgh and David Whyte Ewart Smith, Sheriff Substitute for Haddingtonshire.

Artistic recognition

His portrait by John Henry Lorimer RSA hangs in New College, Edinburgh. [16]

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  1. Gray, W. F. (23 September 2004). Ritchie, Lionel Alexander (ed.). Smith, Thomas (1817–1906), missionary and mathematician. 1. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/36160.
  2. 1 2 Lee, Sidney, ed. (1912). "Smith, Thomas (1817-1906)"  . Dictionary of National Biography (2nd supplement). 3. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  3. ODNB: Thomas Smith
  4. Ewings Annals of the Free Church
  5. Index of Congregations, Presbytery of Edinburgh.
  6. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1862
  7. Hugh Watt, New College, Edinburgh: A Centenary History (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1946), p. 251.
  8. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1882
  9. Free Church Monthly July 1891
  10. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1906
  11. Text of An Elementary Treatise on Plane Geometry.
  12. Thomas Smith's biography of Alexander Duff.
  13. Text of Memoirs of James Begg.
  14. Text of Euclid: His Life and System.
  15. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1939