DUFF, ALEXANDER (1806–1878), Scottish missionary in India, was born on the 26th of April 1806, at Auchnahyle in the parish of Moulin, Perthshire. At St Andrews University he came under the influence of Dr Chalmers. He then accepted an offer made by the foreign mission committee of the general assembly to become their first missionary to India. He was ordained in August 1829, and started at once for India, but was twice shipwrecked before he reached Calcutta in May 1830, and lost all his books and other property. Making Calcutta the base of his operations, he at once identified himself with a policy which had far-reaching results. Up to this time Protestant missions in India had been successful only in reaching low-caste and outcaste peoples, particularly in Tinevelly and south Travancore. The Hindu and Mahommedan communities had been practically untouched. Duff saw that, to reach these communities, educational must take the place of evangelizing methods, and he devised the policy of an educational mission. The success of his work had the effect (1) of altering the policy of the government of India in matters of education, (2) of securing the recognition of education as a missionary agency by Christian churches at home, and (3) of securing entrance for Christian ideas into the minds of high-caste Hindus. He first opened an English school in which the Bible was the centre of the school work, and along with it all kinds of secular knowledge were taught from the rudiments upwards to a university standard. The English language was used on the ground that it was destined to be the great instrument of higher education in India, and also as giving the Hindu the key of Western knowledge. The school soon began to expand into a missionary college, and a government minute was adopted on the 7th of March 1835, to the effect that in higher education the object of the British government should be the promotion of European science and literature among the natives of India, and that all funds appropriated for purposes of education would be best employed on English education alone. Duff wrote a pamphlet on the question, entitled “A New Era of the English Language and Literature in India.” He returned home in 1834 broken in health, but succeeded in securing the approval of his church for his educational plans, and also in arousing much interest in the work of foreign missions.
In 1840 he returned to India. In the previous year the earl of Auckland, governor-general, had yielded to the “Orientalists” who opposed Duff, and adopted a policy which was a compromise between the two. At the Disruption of 1843 Duff sided with the Free Church, gave up the college buildings, with all their effects, and with unabated courage set to work to provide a new institution. He had the support of Sir James Outram and Sir Henry Lawrence, and the encouragement of seeing a new band of converts, including several young men of high caste. In 1844 Viscount Hardinge opened government appointments to all who had studied in institutions similar to Duff’s foundation. In the same year Duff took part in founding the Calcutta Review, of which from 1845 to 1849 he was editor. In 1849 he returned home. He was moderator of the Free Church assembly in 1851. He gave evidence before various Indian committees of parliament on matters of education. This led to an important despatch by Viscount Halifax, president of the board of control, to the marquess of Dalhousie, the governor-general, authorizing an educational advance in primary and secondary schools, the provision of technical and scientific teaching, and the establishment of schools for girls.
In 1854 Duff visited the United States, where what is now New York University gave him the degree of LL.D.; he was already D.D. of Aberdeen. In 1856 he returned to India, where the mutiny soon broke out; his descriptive letters were collected in a volume entitled The Indian Mutiny, its Causes and Results (1858). Duff gave much thought and time to the university of Calcutta, which owes its examination system and the prominence given to physical sciences to his influence. In 1863 Sir Charles Trevelyan offered him the post of vice-chancellor of the University, but his health compelled him to leave India. As a memorial of his work the Duff Hall was erected in the centre of the educational buildings of Calcutta; and a fund of £11,000 was raised for his disposal, the capital of which was afterwards to be used for invalided missionaries of his own church. In 1864 Duff visited South Africa, and on his return became convener of the foreign missions committee of the Free Church. He raised £10,000 to endow a missionary chair at New College, Edinburgh, and himself became first professor. Among other missionary labours of his later years, he helped the Free Church mission on Lake Nyassa, travelled to Syria to inspect a mission at Lebanon, and assisted Lady Aberdeen and Lord Polwarth to establish the Gordon Memorial Mission in Natal. In 1873 the Free Church was threatened with a schism owing to negotiations for union with the United Presbyterian Church. Duff was called to the chair, and guided the church happily through this crisis. He also took part in forming the alliance of Reformed Churches holding the Presbyterian system. He died on the 12th of February 1878. By his will he devoted his personal property to found a lectureship on foreign missions on the model of the Bampton Lectures.
See his Life, by George Smith (2 vols.).