Letters from the Oxford Mission in India, 1946 - 1993
Edited by Gill Wilson

Read a Review by Rachel Hodgson

We are grateful to Margaret Hodgson, Editor, The Brown Book, Lady Margaret Hall for permission to reproduce this review

The Oxford Mission to Calcutta (now the Oxford Mission to India and Bangladesh) was founded in 1880, following a request by the then Bishop of Calcutta to the University of Oxford for young men to come out and talk with educated Bengalis about the Christian religion. An Anglican Brotherhood was formed: the Brotherhood of the Epiphany, whose Rule was drawn up by Bishop Charles Gore. The Brethren took life vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and their work has always been among the poorest of the poor. A Sisterhood soon joined them to work among the women, and two other centres were started in what is now Bangladesh.

In December 1946, at a very sensitive time in Indian history - just before Independence - a young priest came to join the Mission in Calcutta: Father Theodore Mathieson. He ran the Hindu Students Hostel, and worked among the lepers of the city. In 1955 he was transferred to the Mission's centre at Behala, south of Calcutta, where he ran the Compound and looked after the health, education and welfare of the 100 orphan or part-orphan boys. He started the Industrial School to train boys for industry, and pioneered non-formal education for less academic boys. He was brilliant at finding jobs for them: and when jobs in industry became difficult or impossible to find, he helped start the Calcutta Youth Self-Employment Centre (CYSEC) to train young unemployed men to start their own small businesses. He was continually applied to for money by people in need, and thanks to his family backing was able to respond generously.

Above all, as a talented musician himself, Father Theodore took on the music in the Compound (started by Father Douglass in 1924, and already of a high standard). He saw to it that every boy had the opportunity to learn an instrument. Bengali boys, he found, had a natural aptitude: many went on to a career in music, both Western and Indian - in orchestras, teaching, the Navy Band or the film industry - and all had their cultural horizons widened. One, his prize pupil Anup Biswas, became a cellist and composer of international stature.

Father Theodore came from a large and devoted family, and over nearly fifty years with the Mission he wrote home regularly. The letters, lively, affectionate and humorous, tell the story of his life and work in India. They are of interest not only to the many who knew and loved him, but in the details of the daily life of a celibate Anglican Brotherhood overseas, and in the observations of an Englishman in India, keenly interested in the Hindu religion, during Independence, Partition and beyond.

The Mission's work carries on, and is flourishing: but with Theodore's death in 1994, followed closely by that of the last of the English Fathers, the Brotherhood in India came to an end. This book is a chronicle of a unique chapter in Indian history.

436 pages.

12 pages colour illustrations. 12 pages B&W illustrations

Price in Sterling £5.00 plus
£3.00 P & P

ISBN No. 0 9532288 0 0

Available from
Tel: 01962 865824

Cheques should be made payable to Oxford Mission/Theodore

Contact Thamesweb