The origin of the Trivandrum
Church dates back to the arrival of the Rev. John Cox, the
first LMS missionary in Trivandrum, in 1838. He stayed
initially at Pettah, at the house of Mr. John Roberts,
former headmaster of the LMS school at Nagercoil (estd.
1819). Roberts had, at the invitation of Maharaja Swati
Tirunal, started the Raja's Free School in Trivandrum in
1834 (which grew into the present University College). He
taught Scripture at the school, and in 1838 organised a
Tamil worship for LMS Christians at his home. The same year,
the Government Press at Trivandrum was started with the help
of material and workers from the LMS Press at Nagercoil. In
1838 itself, John Cox obtained land at Kannammoola for
establishing the mission station of the LMS. Prior to this,
Trivandrum city, being the abode of Ananthapadmanabha, was
out of bounds for missionaries and no church was permitted
to be built within the city.
Meanwhile, the British officers in the Nair Brigade,
residing at Cantonment (a vast area including today's
Palayam and all the University lands) built a small church
next to the Free School (behind today's University Library).
Permission for the church was secured by the Resident, Lt.
Col. James Stuart Fraser and it was opened for worship on
August 5, 1838. Soon Rev. John Cox was put in charge of the
church and he prepared a Trust Deed (as in the
Congregational churches), by which it was secured for the
use of all Protestant Christians. The initial trustees
included Col. Fraser, John Caldecott (astronomer), Capt.
William Henry Horsley (Engineer), John Roberts and other
British officers in Trivandrum. In his Memoir of Travancore,
perhaps the first attempt at a written history of Travancore
(printed from the Govt. Press in 1839 and probably written
in 1838 itself), Capt. Horsley writes:
The Barracks for the 2 battalions of Nair Sepoys, in the
service of this Government, are situated, half-way between
the Fort and Cantonment, at which latter the Officers and
other European gentlemen reside. A Protestant Church has
lately been erected in the Cantonment by subcription among
that class of the European community, at which Divine
Service will in future be performed by a Minister connected
with the London Missionary Society.
The Tamil worship of the LMS was shifted to this chapel from
Pettah. Soon Malayalam worship was also started. This
church, known variously as the Protestant Church, the
Trivandrum Church and the Cantonment chapel, was the first
Christian church inside the city proper. In 1843, Cox built
the second Christian church in Trivandrum - Highfield Chapel
In 1859, the Anglicans who worshipped at the Cantonment
chapel built a separate church (Christ Church) and moved
out. From that time on, it was used exclusively by the LMS.
After Rev. John Cox resigned in 1861, he was succeeded by
Rev. Samuel Mateer, who bought Capt. Davidson's Compound in
1866 and made it the new mission compound. After Mateer left
in 1891, the church was in the temporary charge of Rev. I.
H. Hacker (Neyyoor missionary) along with Mr. H. T. Wills
(city missionary), until Rev. T. W. Bach took charge in
1894. By this time the need was keenly felt for a new and
bigger church building to accommodate the Trivandrum Church.
These missionaries initiated a church building project in
memory of Samuel Mateer, who died in 1893. The foundation
stone was laid in 1897, during the tenure of Rev. Bach.
The article by Mr. H. T. Wills in the LMS publication, The
Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle, September
1896 (pp 207, 208), gives a clear picture of the Cantonment
church and the need for a
new building. The full text
is reproduced below:
THE OLD CHAPEL AT TREVANDRUM
I HEREWITH send you a photo of our chapel at Trevandrum. It
was originally built for themselves by the European
population of this important station, and was placed under
trustees, the British resident being a prime mover. The
trust deed secured its use by all Evangelical Christians,
and there being at that time no chaplain, the services of
the local missionaries or of ministerial visitors were
largely made use of. At the same time the use of the
building was granted for the native congregation connected
with our Society, In course of time a chaplain was appointed
and a fine Episcopal church built for the Churchmen, who, in
this case at least, are true "Nonconformists" and
"Dissenters." This led, of course, to the vacating of the
old church by the Europeans and Eurasians, who, though many
of them Free Churchmen, yet preferred to follow the fashion
as, unfortunately, is so often the case. The old church was
thus left practically to the sole use of the L. M. Society,
and we have enjoyed it for the last thirty-five years.
The building has long been in a most unsafe condition. A few
years ago it was closed by order, and not allowed to be
opened until Rs.1,000 had been spent upon it. The tiles were
removed from the roof and thatch put in their place, and a
heavy-roofed verandah, running round the building, was
dismantled. The pillars shown are only about half their
original height. But, in spite of the alterations, things
have been gradually getting worse, and to-day the place is
in a very dilapidated and dangerous condition. It is very
small, far too small for our use. Our congregation-roll
numbers 600, whilst we can only seat, at a crush, about 300,
perhaps not so many. We are in a perpetual state of cram. A
number of Christians of the Syrian and C.M. Churches like to
attend our services in addition to our own people, so it can
well be imagined what room there is for accommodating
strangers. On Sunday, July 5th, the girls of Mrs. Bach's
newly opened boarding school were present for the first
time. Where to put these thirty children was the question.
They had at last to be accommodated on the floor of the
aisle, platform, etc.
This condition of things cannot be put up with for long. Our
work is increasing. A boys' boarding school must soon be
started. Indeed, we are needing most urgently a building to
hold at least 600 persons. To meet this need it has been
proposed to erect a larger church in memory of our late
veteran missionary, Rev. Samuel Mateer. Many of our country
chapels are three or four times the size of our present
house, and are filled each Sunday with worshippers. The
estimated cost of a building suitable for as progressive a
city as Trivandrum is only the modest sum of £800 to £1,000.
For this a good substantial building, but not a highly
ornate one, can be erected - that is, provided we can utilise
a site we hare already. If land has to be bought, we should
need £200 or £300 more. The people are responding well to
the appeal for funds; but at best they can do very little.
At present only some £100 has been given or promised. We
therefore confidently make this need public-and solicit the
generous help of all who care for the Lord's work among
these sadly neglected people. Trevandrum City has had but
little attention given to it in the past, but as the centre
of this State it is a most important place. We are glad to
be able to report evidences of life in the work on every
side. Already since I came here, now nearly four years ago,
more than 500 persons have placed themselves under Christian
instruction in the villages which form the suburbs of this
city, and we could gather many hundreds more at once if only
we had the means to put teachers to work. There is a great
door of access now open to these poor and outcast
populations, whose only hope is in the Gospel of Christ.
This work must necessarily extend enormously in the near
future. All this means the need for increased accommodation.
We have no place where we can gather our people together at
the present time. It is therefore exceedingly imperative
that we build a larger place.
My colleague, and Mr. Mateer's successor, Rev. T. W. Bach,
is co-operating with me in making this appeal, being
associated in the management of the city pastorate. Either
of us will be glad to receive help from any friends for the
building of this chapel, or gifts may be sent to the
headquarters of the Society in London.
HAROLD T. WILLS
Trevandrum, South India, July 20th, 1896.
In 1900, the Rev. Arthur Parker took charge as missionary
and the construction of the
new church building in the
LMS Compound was undertaken in four years (1902-1906). It
was dedicated on December 1, 1906 by Rev. R. W. Thompson,
the Foreign Secretary of the LMS who was heading a
deputation as part of the centenary of the Travancore
Mission (estd. in 1806 by Ringeltaube at Mylaudy). For more
details see the account by a member of the deputation,
published in February 1907 (read pdf).
This was not a new church but a
new building for the
Trivandrum church which was founded in 1838. The
congregation met for the last time at the Cantonment chapel
and went in a procession to the new church at LMS Compound.
The pastor (Rev. John M. Kesari), the church committee (the
third committee since 1900 when Indian deacons were first
appointed in this church), the congregation, all remained
the same. Because of this, the shift of location was not
much mentioned in the Church Committee minutes. The new
church building was named Mateer Memorial Church in honour
of the second missionary. Only the building was new. The
church established in 1838, the first Christian church in
the city, found a new house, where it has continued to be a
beacon of light. For more of our later history, read the