Tuckers Church

Also Known As: Church Mission Chapel

Built: 1820

Location: Broadway Black Town Madras


Denomination: Protestant

List of Priests and Chaplains:
1820 - 1829 JAMES RIDSDALE
1830 - 1846 JOHN TUCKER

Notes: In the year 1818 the Government of Fort St. George commenced the building of this chapel at the public expense, and it was opened for use on October 11, 1820.

In giving assistance of this kind to a missionary society of the Church they were pursuing an old policy which has already been traced from their first co-operation with the S.P.C.K. to the year 1805. The Churches at Vepery and Cuddalore were their gifts to the missionaries of that Society, and the building of the Churches at Tanjore and Trichinopoly was largely assisted by them. This policy was not the ruling motive in the case of the Black Town mission chapel. The ancient goodwill remained, or the expense would not have been incurred; but there were also other causes at work which contributed to the formation of their determination in 1818.

Between the years 1813 and 1818 there was an increase of missionaries in Madras carrying on their work in the name of the Church. the S.P.C.K. had two men at Vepery, Paezold and Rottler, and the work was assisted by the formation of a local committee in 1815. The C.M.S. sent out their first men in 1814, (The first arrivals were Rhenius and Schnarre), who went to Tranquebar in July 1814. In July 1815 they returned to Madras. and a corresponding committee was formed in Madras soon after their arrival.

In January 1817 the secretary of this committee (Mr. G. J. Casamajor of the Companys Civil Service) wrote to the Rev. J. Pratt, secretary of the Society in London, and informed him that the committee had purchased a plot of land in the centre of Black Town, on which they intended to build a mission chapel. In the following May he wrote again, reporting the progress of the building. When he wrote in October of that same year he had to report the existence of a strong opposition to the project on the part of the Hindus in the neighbourhood, and that they had petitioned the Governor in Council to prevent the completion of the scheme. The Superintendent of Police was deputed to make inquiry, and in December 1817 all work on the building was stopped.

The Government did not require a reminder that they had allowed Mr. Loveless of the L.M.S. to reside in Madras in 1806, and to build a chapel in Davidson Street, Black Town, in 1810. Nor did they forget that another agent of the same Society was receiving from them encouragement and a fixed allowance for conducting services in English at Vizagapatam. The recollection of these things made it impossible for them to treat the missionaries of the C.M.S. with less liberality than they had shown to others not connected with Church societies. After consultation the Government wrote on April 19, 1818, as follows to the Secretary of the C.M.S. Madras Committee:

The Rt. Hon. the Governor in Council, as expressed in the letter of December 23, 1817, considered it equitable that the Society should be indemnified for the expense incurred by them on account of the Church the building of which was stopped by the Government; and is also of opinion that in every point of view it will be preferable that the Government should undertake the care and expense of building a Church for the Native Protestants of Madras, either on the new site or on some other well adapted for the purpose. With these intentions a reference will be made to the Military Board to ascertain the value of the ground first chosen as a site with the materials upon it, and the uses to which they may be applicable, and to obtain a plan and estimate of a Church on the new site,

The offer of compensation, together with an offer to build a Church, would seem to ordinary people a most kind and considerate action. But the Madras Secretary of the C.M.S. suspected the Government and their offer of gifts. He wrote to the C.M.S. Secretary in London :

You will instantly feel how unsatisfactory this is. ...

We must request a distinct explanation whether the Church to be built at the expense of Government is to be annexed to our Mission, as the one in building was intended, under the patron age of the C.M.S. My doubts as to the purposes of Government I must acknowledge are considerable.

His doubts were soon set at rest; and probably his sense of gratitude increased when he understood that the Church was a gift to the Society in addition to full compensation for all that had been expended at the forbidden site.

A year later he wrote again to the Secretary of the C.M.S. in London and said:

Our Mission Church is now likely to go on without delay. On digging for the foundation the Engineer discovered that the soil was loose, &c. He was obliged to get the sanction of Government to build at additional expense on wells. The political and religious difficulty brought to the notice of the Government by the action of the C.M.S. Committee in Madras, in attempting to erect a chapel in a neighbourhood against the wish of people of other religions residing in it, was met by a proclamation of the Government in 1818 forbidding the erection of places of Christian worship anywhere without their permission.

When the mission Church was finished the Government sent to the Directors a full account of what had taken place. They mentioned that in order to evince their favourable disposition towards the Missionary Society and the Native Protestants living under the Companys protection they had defrayed the building expenses already incurred by the C.M.S., and built a chapel on an unobjectionable site.

All the contemporary documents mention the native Protestants of the neighbourhood. Most likely the C.M.S. intended to build for all their different purposes, that is for the benefit of European and Eurasian natives of India as well as for Christian native Indians.

In 1827 the Madras secretary wrote to the C.M.S. secretary in London: It will be gratifying to you to learn that the Mission Church in Black Town is well attended by the European and half-caste inhabitants of this place, particularly in the evening when the Rev. J. Ridsdale officiates. Mr. Ridsdale had a difficulty in acquiring a practical knowledge of foreign languages. He was therefore left in charge of the European and Eurasian work, and this work of his was much appreciated at the mission chapel. Ten years later the incumbent of the chapel was the Rev. John Tucker, a clergyman of more than usual ability and preaching power. A lady published this record of the state of affairs in 1838:

In the evening we went to a chapel in Black Town, some miles from the place where we live, and so crowded that we were obliged to be there three quarters of an hour before the time in order to secure seats; but we were well repaid for our labour and trouble; we heard a most delightful preacher; his sermon was clear, true and striking. . . . His chapel was originally intended for half-castes, but he is so popular that the Europeans will go there too. People complain that those for whom the chapel was built 2 are kept out in consequence. Mr. Tucker was incumbent for fifteen years; so great was his influence that the chapel became known as his, and has retained the name of Tucker s chapel down to the present day.

There is a trust fund connected with it for the benefit of Eurasians. All this seems to show that the recent contention that the chapel was intended for native Indians only cannot be maintained. In the year 1826-27 the Church was enlarged, the ventilation improved, and an organ gallery erected for the school children.

This was done at the expense of the Government. The Directors were not pleased. They said:

These expenses (for ventilation) argue great un-skilfulness in those who planned and constructed the building. The chapel was licensed for all ecclesiastical purposes in 1828 by Bishop James of Calcutta. After the retirement of Mr. Tucker the incumbency was held by successive headmasters of the Bishop Corrie Grammar School until the end of the century, when a native clergyman was appointed, and the old congregation was dispersed. This did not matter much, as the Holy Emmanuel Church is close by; and if there were any funds connected with work among Eurasians or domiciled Europeans attached to the chapel, they have doubtless been transferred, so as to be used still for their benefit.

The chapel underwent extensive repairs and improvements in 1872 at a cost of about Rs 2700. The chapel measures 100 x 50 feet, and there is sitting accommodation for about 350 persons.

References: The Church In Madras, Rev Frank Perry, (1904)