Details of RICHARD HALL KERR

Born: 1769

Died: 1808

Source: Chaplains in the Jurisdiction of the Presidency of Fort St George from 1647 to 1805 (Rev Frank Perry, The Church In Madras 1904)

Biography: RICHARD HALL KERR was born in 1769 if the age given on his monument is correct. It is uncertain where he was born and educated; Hough speaks of him as a young Irishman. A Richard Kerr matriculated at Trinity College Dublin in 1783 aged 16, who was therefore born in 1767; but there is no evidence to show that this Richard Kerr, who was the son of Lewis Kerr a clergyman, and who graduated B.A. in 1788, and Richard Hall Kerr the Madras Chaplain, were one and the same person. None of the records show that Eichard Hall Kerr was a graduate. He was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Sodor and Man in October 1789; he went to Bombay in 1790 to superintend a Portuguese Eurasian school. After holding this appoint ment two years he determined to return home. To do this he obtained the Chaplaincy of the Perseverance frigate, which was under orders for England. The Perseverance went to Madras first, and arrived there in June 1792. When the time of departure came Kerr was left behind ill. He was befriended by Mr. Basil Cochrane, a young civilian, who had himself been in trouble and knew what it was to want a friend. Cochrane assisted him to start a school in the Black Town for those who could afford to pay fees. Whilst thus engaged he occasionally assisted the Chaplains at St. Mary's, and thus attracted the attention of Sir Charles Oakeley the Governor. In April 1793 he was appointed a military Chaplain, and was despatched to Ellore where the 4th bat talion of the Company's Europeans was quartered. He succeeded Dr. Bell at the Fort and at the Male Asylum in 1796. He returned to England in 1802; was ordained Priest by the Bishop of Sodor and Man in October of that year; and informed the Madras Government that he had taken the degree of D.D. No record of his having taken this degree exists in any British or Irish University, or at Lambeth Palace. It may have been conferred by some foreign Univer sity. He received the license of the Archbishop of Canterbury to officiate in India, and was allowed to return thither by the Directors after entering into the usual bond. In the Bond he is described as of London; and his sureties were John Macdonald and Robert Forbes of St. Mary Axe, merchants. Whilst at Fort St. George Dr. Kerr was instrumental in building the Black Town Chapel (St Mark's Church) in 1802; setting up the Government Press at the Male Asylum; and establishing the Charitable Committee for the relief of the poor (the origin of the Friend in Need Society). At the request of the Governor he reported In 1806 his health began to give way, and he went on sick leave to the Mysore country. The following year it gave way still more, and he had thoughts of a journey to England. Claudius Buchanan made the mistake of urging him not to retire; he told him l that he was the representative and sole public supporter of the Christian religion in the peninsula/ Kerr stayed; and died of an exhaustion of mind and body in April 1808. His death took place in the Egmore school house. A laudatory notice of his life and character appeared in the Madras Courier; Col. Mark Wilks, the historian of Mysore, praised him; Edward Vaughan, the Chaplain of St. Mary's, preached the funeral sermon before the Governor and the principal people of the settlement; the Church was hung with black, and there was grief. He had discharged the various duties of his sacred office with fidelity, zeal, and dignity; he had amiable qualities of heart; he was benevo lent, philanthropic, gentle and conciliating; but his zeal and energy and feverish activity were new things, and were by some misunderstood or unappreciated. His very activity challenged opposition; his far-reaching schemes invited it. Dr. Kerr married at Fort St. George in 1794 Elizabeth daughter of Alexander Falconar of the Company's service. Six children were baptised at St. Mary's; three died, and three survived him.