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Benjamin Bailey

The Rev. Benjamin Bailey was a remarkable man in the cultural history of Kerala, India. Of Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England. Born in 1791 November. Father: Joseph Bailey. Mother: Martha. 1812- Two years under Rev. T. Scott for missionary training. 1814-One year under J. Buckworth, Vicar of Dewsbury. 1815, August 6, Deacon and December 17, Priest, by the Archbishop of York (to the Curacy of Harewood, Yorkshire). 1816, married Elizabeth Ella. 1816, May 4, to Kottayam, Kerala, India. (Kottayam was then in the Princely state of Travancore and it was under the rule of Travancore king. The place- name ‘Kottayam’ was then spelt as ‘Cotym’ and ‘Cottayam’.)

The first assignment given to Benjamin Bailey on his arrival in Kottayam was that Superintendent (Principal) of the ‘Kottayam College’ which was established and run by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) for the education of the Syrian Christians and the general public of Travancore under the package of the ‘Mission of Help’. During his tenure as Principal from 1817 to 1819 Bailey laid the foundation for modern education modeled on western education. For this purpose he formulated curricula and syllabi. He started to teach English language also in the College. Thus B. Bailey became the founder of English education in Kerala.

Benjamin Bailey was the progenitor of printing and book publishing in Malayalam, the native language (mother-tongue) of Kerala. It was he who established the first printing press (the Kottayam CMS press) and started printing Malayalam in Kerala. He was the first lexicographer in the language. Besides this, he was a well versed author and translator.

1831, May 14, Benjamin Bailey went to England on furlough and 1834, July 15, returned to India. 1850, March 13, to England and retired owing to failure of health. Absence, 3 years. Service, 34 years. 1856-71, Rector of Sheinton, Salop; 1857, Hon. Life Governor of CMS; 1862-71, Rural Dean of Condover, Salop. 1871, April 3, died suddenly at Sheinton, aged 80.

Benjamin Bailey founded CMS Kottayam station, which has continued to be the centre of the society’s work in Travancore (Kerala); established the printing press, from which have issued complete editions of the Malayalam Bible, Prayer-book, Dictionaries, &c., translated and compiled by him, and printed under his superintendence with press and type of his own construction (the first type cut in the language). He cut the types and constructed a wooden printing press with the help of local silversmiths from descriptions given in an encyclopaedia. B. Bailey, who moulded the round and sleek Malayalam types making use of indigenous know-how, is rightly considered the first Malayalam typographer. The types moulded by Bailey are characterized by legibility and economy. The fact that Malayalam still low the shape of Bailey’s types attests to their beauty and usefulness.   He also supervised the making of two beautiful founts of Malayalam types in England, while he was on furlough, printed the Malayalam Gospels there with those type, he and his eldest son being improvised compositors of the same and bought them back to Kottayam. The moulds cut in England were used for a long time in the CMS press at Kottayam.

Benjamin Bailey translated the whole of the Bible and the Common Prayer into Malayalam and printed them. The ‘Bailey Bible’ helped in formulating the modern Malayalam prose just as the King James Version helped in the development of the English language. Bailey’s Bible translation provided the base for a new Malayalam prose style that developed and flourished. The ‘high Malayalam’ and the ‘colloquial Malayalam’ were combined by Bailey to produce a new ‘middle-path Malayalam prose’. B. Bailey did in Malayalam prose (formation of the prose language based on ‘Manipravaalm’) was nothing except that, Ezhuthachan did in Malayalam poetry (formation of the poetic language based on ‘Manipravaalm’). We can find and observe the development and evolution of the middle path Malayalam prose style in ‘Cheru Paithangalkku Upakarartham Paribhashappeduthiya Kathakal’, ‘Bailey Bible’ and ‘Sathya Vedathilulla Kathakal’ (all these three books were translated, printed and published by B. Bailey). The linguistic basis of this new prose style was defined and declared by Bailey in his dictionary, ‘A Dictionary of High and Colloquial Malayalim and English’. (In those days, Malayalam spelt as ‘Malayalim’).

Benjamin Bailey was not only an ‘architect of ‘letters’ but also an original architect in Gothic style. 1839-42, he built the beautiful Anglican church in Kottayam-the Christ church- which Bishop Wilson called “the glory of Travancore”. The church is now the Cathedral church of the CSI Madhya Kerala Diocese.

As noted already, Benjamin Bailey was the first lexicographer in Malayalam. He compiled, printed and published two dictionaries: ‘A Dictionary of High and Colloquial Malayalim and English (1846, Malayalam-English Dictionary), and, ‘A Dictionary, English and Malayalim’ (1849, English-Malayalam). It is notable that the Maharajas (Kings) of Travancore assisted the publication of these two dictionaries and they appreciated Bailey very much for compiling the dictionaries. Bailey’s dictionaries were long in use as reference works.

B. Bailey was the founder of both Malayalam printing and book publishing. The CMS press he established in 1821 at Kottayam was not only the first printing office but also the first book publishing house. CMS Press undertook printing works in the languages of Malayalam, English, Tamil, Sanskrit, Latin and Syriac-simply, CMS Press was the first polyglot printing office in Kerala. Printing led to the publishing of books and periodicals. It also popularized reading and writing. Printing introduced by B. Bailey led Kerala to universalisation of public instruction, development of means of communication and dissemination of knowledge. This in turn culminated in social reforms, enlightenment and development of culture. Publication of books, journals and periodicals along with universal education paved the way for the development of Malayalam prose and its standardization. The first Malayalam book printed in Kerala was translated and published by Bailey- ‘Cheru Paithangalkku Upakarartham Paribhashappeduthiya Kathakal’. This book consists of eight stories

Kottayam, the City in the ‘God’s own country’ Kerala, is well known for ‘Letters, Lakes and Latex’. The town is really indebted to Benjamin Bailey for its development. Kottayam is the first town in India which acquired cent per cent literacy. In the beginning of 19th century while Bailey came to Kottayam, it was a very small village comprising only about 300 inhabitants. At the same time, the very nearest place Alleppey was a cosmopolitan city having a population of above 13,000. But within a few decades Kottayam developed into a large town and it became the cultural as well as the print media capital of Kerala. As a matter of fact, it was the contributions of Benjamin Bailey that worked as a  strong stimulant behind the social changes which in turn helped the development of the town-especially the College, Printing Office and the Holy Trinity church. The town started to grow around this nucleus. Public of Kottayam at last decided to recognize the master builder of the town and his contributions. As a result, a life-size bronze statue of B. Bailey has been installed at the Municipal Park at Nagampadam on September 30, 1996. The Indian Express daily news paper reported on December 22, 1996: “As a land of letters, Kottayam is definitely indebted to Benjamin Bailey, the English missionary who came to Kerala, in Kottayam in 1816. In all sense Rev. Bailey is the architect of modern Kottayam. Recently, a statue was erected near the municipal park in Kottayam in his memory.”

Surely Benjamin Bailey was a remarkable man having a unique record of work done by a single person. His contributions are substantive and incomparable.

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