[A Resumé of the Previous Events of this Danish Mission in Tranquebar, October 5th, 1780].
A rare small broadside in German language gives a report on the Danish mission in Tranquebar, India for 1780. The last sentences with a psalm are written in German, Tamil script and a phonetic transcription of it.
The first version of this broadside was published in Tranquebar and was reprinted in our version here, in Halle.
We could not find any examples of the broadside in institutions worldwide.
A reprint of the text was also published as an article in Neuere Geschichte der evangelischen Missionsanstalten zu Bekehrung der Heiden in Ost-Indien (http://digital.bibliothek.uni-halle.de/hd/periodical/pageview/678101).
The Tranquebar Story
Tranquebar was, for over two centuries, the epicentre of the Danish presence in India. Envious of the astounding profits made by the Dutch and English East India companies, in 1616, King Christian IV chartered the Danish East India Company (Ostindisk Kompagni). While a small nation, Denmark was a wealthy and highly enterprising maritime power that maintained an outsized role in global trade. Admiral Ove Gedde led a mission, from 1618 to 1622, in order to found a permanent Danish base in the South Asia. After failing to establish a foothold in Sri Lanka, he sailed to the Coromandel Coast. There he encountered Tranquebar, then home to a small Jesuit mission, famous for being where St. Francis Xavier preached the gospel in 1542.
Gedde struck a deal with the Raja of Tanjore, Raghunatha Nayak, to lease an enclave of “five miles by three in extent”. The original manuscript treaty, written on parchment and heightened in gold, survives to this day in the Danish Royal Archives in Copenhagen.
The Danes promptly built the castle of Dansborg, a fascinating synergy of Danish and Indian architectural styles, followed by the walled town of Tranquebar.
The colony thrived and at various times was the largest single transshipment point for tea in all of India. While the Ostindisk Kompagni went through a number of reincorporation over the years, it expanded to include factories in Bengal and the Nicobar Islands.
The Company was, until the beginning of the 18th Century, an exclusively mercantile enterprise, with
no particular interest in the cultural and religious
life of India. , King Frederick IV (reigned 1699 - 1730) was a follower of Pietism, a brand of Lutheranism that placed an emphasis on personal piety, intellectual inquiry and evangelicalism. The primary contemporary mover of Pietism was August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), a professor of theology and oriental languages at the University of Halle, who in 1698 founded the Franckesche Stiftungen (Francke Foundations).
At the request of Fredrick IV, in 1706, two Pietist missionaries, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1682 -
1719) und Heinrich Plütschau (1677 - 1746), were dispatched from Halle to Tranquebar. Upon their arrival, they founded the Danish-Halle Mission, the first Protestant mission in India. While their primary objective was to convert the local Tamil population
to Christianity, they set a trend for academic excellence and innovation that transcended their
core mandate and which was continued by their successors for generations. Ziegenbalg soon mastered the Tamil language and by 1713 imported the first printing press to the East Coast of India (a press had previously operated in Goa from 1556 to 1674). He was responsible for writing and publishing the first Tamil grammar and the earliest Tamil translation of the New Testament. The Danish-Halle press at Tranquebar would produce 300 books over the next century.
The missionaries maintained a great interest in geography and the physical improvements to the landscape around of Tranquebar. Intellectually curious and skilled in relevant disciplines such as mathematics and draftsmanship, they made several maps of the Danish outpost and its surrounding region.
Beginning with Ziegenbalg, for almost 150 years, the Tranquebar missionaries reliably sent vast amounts of correspondence back to their superiors in Germany. This included diaries, religious, social and scientific observations, as well as manuscript maps. Early on, the Franckeschen Stiftungen in Halle decided to issue a periodical, Der Konigl. Danischen Missionarien aus Ost-Indien (The Royal Danish Mission in the East Indies), which would serially publish the missionaries’ writings. The publication was also seen as a way of legitimizing and promoting the Pietist movement in Lutheran society and gaining political and financial support for Francke’s foundation.
The first edition of the Danischen Missionarien series was published in Halle in 1710 and was followed
by 109 installments (called ‘Continuations’), issued regularly until 1772. Far from being an obscure academic work, the series maintained a considerable following. Indeed, even after its formal conclusion, it was revived in 1776 and printed under different titles until 1880.