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 at Kannammoola.
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 Chronicle (pdfs).
Mr.Manoj Kumar Ebenezer