The British Empire Library

The Missionary and the Maharajas: Cecil Tyndale-Biscoe and the making of Modern Kashmir

by Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe

Book Review by kind permission of Chowkidar, the journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
This book is a very full account of an extraordinary missionary teacher, and the school which he developed in Srinagar, Kashmir. The missionary was the Revd Canon Cecil Tyndale-Biscoe (1863-1949), an Anglican priest who was sent, on account of his poor health, to Kashmir by the Church Missionary Society in 1890; he remained there until 1947. The situation he found there was dire. The streets were filthy and infested with pi-dogs. The schoolboys were the sons of the ruling Brahmin families (Dogras), all bearded and many married; they wore pherans (long shirts) which were not washed during the winter months and stank. Underneath was a kangri (clay pot with hot coals). They were anxious to learn. Tyndale-Biscoe was determined to produce good citizens, not converts, and so he stressed personal cleanliness, physical fitness, games, rowing and sailing, and climbing, combined with social service. It was a version of a Victorian public school ethos, reinforced by frequent beatings for misdemeanours. These objectives involved overturning entrenched customs. The Brahmins did not want to touch leather footballs, and considered that rowing was the duty of Muslim boatmen. Competition and coercion won the day for football and cricket and the example of Hindu teachers ensured the acceptance of rowing. Social service followed. There were frequent house fires in Srinagar but no one tried to put them out, as that was the job of coolies. Tyndale-Biscoe organised a line of boys with water to extinguish the blaze. Care for sick and wounded animals followed, together with help during frequent floods. These efforts produced a new attitude in the school, as Staff supported these reforms. Numbers increased, from 200 in 1892 to 1,100 at six schools in 1899; clearly both Hindu and Muslim parents approved of the schools’ results.

There were, however, many critics who disliked the schools. Foremost among them were the officers, local and national, of the Church Missionary Society. Their grants met only a fraction of the schools’ expenses, and were cut from time to time. They deplored the lack of converts, despite the record of daily services and compulsory Bible lessons. Expenses were met only through constant fund-raising and private donations. There were also attacks from the Hindu Dharam Sabha, who supported an attempt by Annie Besant to open a rival school, which was met with limited success. Tyndale-Biscoe did not help matters by his hearty support of British rule, his dislike of educated Indians (some were poor teachers) and opposition to Indian nationalism. His son Eric helped to modify these prejudices when he joined the staff in 1927, and this enabled the schools to weather later political developments, communal riots, and the second world war. The direction of the schools passed to other hands, and so Eric left in 1946 for a post in New Zealand, and his father in 1947, only to die two years later in Salisbury, Southern RJiodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe). Eric’s son. Dr Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe, the author of this book, is an Australian scientist who has maintained the family’s links with the Tyndale- Biscoe schools, and has seen them flourish (4,000 pupils) under Kashmiri leadership, and with the support of many old boys in high places. He has constructed an enthralling narrative from a wide range of sources, despite some awkward gaps and the occasional errors of fact and spelling. Well worth reading!

British Empire Book
Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe
First Published
IB Tauris
Review Originally Published
Autumn 2019 in Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia


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