A maverick preacher Alexander Duff - Colonial India

The Duff Church was established in 1848 and named as Duff Church in 1910 in memory of Alexander Duff . cnicalcutta.org
Alexander Duff 1806 - 1878. www.bu.edu
The Duff Church,  established in 1848 and named as Duff Church in 1910 in memory of Alexander Duff, is an historical church.   It was only one church in Calcutta in those days, the other being  St. Andrews Church or Kirk for the Scottish Presbyterians (1815).

When the Church of Scotland became divided in 1848, a Free Church of Scotland was established. After this division,   Alexander Duff and some of his workers joined the Free Church and this led their ousting from St. Andrews Church.  In the wake of this unexpected happenings, one section of worshipers wanted a new church built. Accordingly a new church, was established at 76, Wellesley Square. In 1942, the Wellesley Church was clubbed with St, Andrews Church for administrative reasons.  Later the administration of the church was handed over to the Catholics. Presently known as ‘Prabhu Jishu’ Girja of the Catholics, English speaking  crowd attend the services in  English. 

Alexander Duff, the first  overseas Missionary of Scotland sent to India in 1830 by the Scotland’s General Assembly,  founded 
S.G.A's  institution in Kolkata and supported the founding of Calcutta university. He arrived in India along with his bride Anne when he was just 18. Purpose: To convert Indians from Hinduism to Christianity.

Alexander Duff was a hard working missionary and  a maverick.  After visiting many schools he found out that the students were not taught a wide range of subjects and the knowledge of English was  a must for them. Further, there were few converts from the low class family. The converts were more interested in  the  largesse offered by the church  than in the Gospel of Christ. The missionaries left out the upper caste Hindus and Muslims.

He openly admitted  that he used western education for conversion work  and  for  converting the upper class Hindus and other faiths to Christianity. The colonial government and the church strongly opposed his approach as his aim was to replace Hinduism with Christianity with western thoughts. Many sections thought his approach was a trespass on the religious freedom of a country where the major religion  was Hinduism  that had been there for centuries.. Though the Hindu religion supports idolatry, it is highly spiritual and philosophical and teaches the essence of moral values in life. However, set aside his religious conversion idea as his sole purpose, Duff's suggestion that English could be used in the place of native languages to teach other subjects had some impact.

His approach,  initially, saw  a little success but not on the expected line as the traditional subjects had a hold on them. Though the Indian languages were well-advanced and the traditional approach to other subjects were good, they needed a modern orientation based on western system. Consequently Missionary Duff worked with the powerful and intellectuals in the Indian community and impressed on them with his christian thoughts of western educational system  and its benefits  This culminated in the emergence of English  education boom and  the Renascence Bengal. This had far reaching benefits in the subsequent years. The west was also exposed to the treasure-house of India's ancient knowledge  in many fields. Duff opened a Medical college and published English Hindustani dictionary. He supported education for woman, higher education with christian teaching, private educational institutions, etc. In this regard  he gave wholehearted support to a bill  in 1854 moved by the government. 

Alexander Duff  who lived in North Calcutta - Cornwallis Square   established  ‘Bengali Church’ also commonly known as Free Church of Cornwallis Street, presumably in  November1848 to cater to the needs of Christians living in that area. Alexander Duff, in charge of the church  handed over the administration to  his co-worker and close associate Sir. David Ewart (1805-1860), full time pastor of Duff Church. He was the first preacher who could preach  his sermons in fluent Bengali. 

Duff Street, a famous thoroughfare. the popular girls higher secondary school in North Calcutta –‘Duff School’ and the Duff  church  close to the famous swimming pool Hedua ‘bearing the name of Alexander Duff remind us of his valuable contribution in Western English education in India in its early stages.