Fr. Benjamin Bailey, first lexicographer and Malayalam printing press

First  printer in Malayalam.Benjamin Bailey, Missionaries Biography
Statue of Benjamin Bailey.Nagampadam, Kerala

 During the East India company rule in 1700s and 1800s, many English missionaries moved over to the Indian subcontinent with a view to spreading Christianity among the natives, not withstanding the hardship faced by them in a strange land. Their sustained efforts, perseverance and dedication did not yield satisfactory results. However, impressive was their contribution towards English / western education in India and founding of many Christian schools and colleges. Besides education, they were the ones who introduced the first printing press in India. Among the dedicated  christian missionaries  Rev. Benjamin Bailey is worthy of mention. He is credited with the introduction of lithography and first printing press in the southern state of Kerala, which  today has the highest literacy rate among the Indian states.

Benjamin Bailey (November 1791 - 3 April 1871), born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England to Joseph Bailey and Martha, had his missionary training under the Archbishop of Dewbury an others of Church of England. In 1815 he became a missionary and in the same year  married Elizabeth Ella. In 1816  the British Church of England  sent him as a missionary  to Kottayam in Kerala. Remarkably he had spent the next 34 years there in the shadows of Western Ghat and the rigors of Monsoon rains  and was instrumental in founding  a mission station in Kottayam town.

There he took up the position  of the Principal of  the Koattayam College run by the CMC (Church Missionar Charity). The purpose was to educate the Syrian Christians  and the general public of Travancore. During his stint between 1817 to 1819 at the college, he introduced  fundamentals  of modern education  based on western system - a new approach in this backward state. He took the honor of introducing the English language for the first time  in Kerala. His carefully chosen curricula included subjects  that were useful to the daily social life of the people.

In those days in India, there were no printing press facilities and most of the written literary works were done on dried palm leaves, using special preservation methods. By introducing printing press in 1821, Bailey became progenitor and publisher of the local language - Malayalam  and established a printing press. He gained considerable knowledge of Malayalam, a Dravidian language that has roots in Tamil and Sanskrit languages. He was the first lexicographer in Malayalam  and he himself translated the Bible into Malayalam and 1846 published the first English-Malayalam dictionary.  The Hindu news paper article of May 29, 2016 stated: Graham Shaw says:" Exactly 300 years ago, on May 12, 1716, a small edition of an English schoolbook rolled off the press at Tharangambadi (once a  Dutch settlement ), now in Nagapatnam district, Tamil Nadu. Thomas Dyche’s A guide to the English tongue was printed for use in the charity school for poor Protestant children, established in Chennai in 1715 by East India Company’s chaplain, William Stevenson. Apparently, this was the first book to be printed in English in India, or in the whole of Asia."
CMS college, Kottayam, Kerala. Deccan Chronicle
As for Bailey, he dedicated much of his own time to printing bible, etc in the local language and had a separate building built for this purpose. Besides, using the talented local silversmiths, he had the first types cut  in Malayalam according to his specification. Indeed it was a pioneering work in the Malayalam printing industry in the1840s. With the fully functional  wooden press, designed by him assisted by the natives he printed out several works. His types' hallmarks are legibility, economy and better life. Benjamin Bailey went on furlough in 1831 returned from England in1834. During his stay in England, along with his son, he worked on the types, font, etc suitable to Malayalam.

CMC college, Kottayam. Onmanorama - Manoramaonline
In Malayalam translation, he used his own style, a combination of high Malayalam and colloquial Malayalam. The CMC press founded by him later printed bible in other languages  such as Tamil, Sanskrit, Latin, etc. He also printed  dictionaries and Christian prayer books. Thus through the printing press, he popularized the reading habits among the locals  and later magazines, periodicals in Malayalam  were introduced. In 1849 when he published the Malayalam dictionary, the ruler of Travancore himself helped him and appreciated his remarkable contribution to Malayalam, which he learned only after his arrival in Kottayam.   Bailey was indirectly responsible for the dissemination of knowledge and during his tenure the literacy rate of Kottayam had gone up. The town owes a lot to this dedicated, hard-working educationist who earlier made this place the printing capital of Kerala. On September 1996, a life - size bronze statue was installed in the municipal park at Nagampadam in memory of Benjamin  Bailey, the father of printing press in Malayalam. It is a sort of public commemoration to an English Missionary who tireless worked hard till his stay in Kottayam and helped the town develop  into a city.

In 1939-1942 he had a beautiful church built in Gothic style called Christ Church, one of the earliest Anglican churches He finally left Travancore in 1850.

According to The Indian Express daily newspaper  article dated 22 December 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."

In 1850, Bailey left Travancore  for England  where he took up the job of  a rural dean and the rector of a quiet village in Shropshire.
He left an indelible mark in the printing history of Kerala. he died on April 3 1981 at the age of 79.