Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Buchanan, Claudius

BUCHANAN, CLAUDIUS D.D. (1766–1815), Bengal chaplain and vice-provost of the college of Fort William, was born on 12 March 1766 at Cambuslang, a village near Glasgow. His father, Alexander Buchanan, was a schoolmaster at Inverary, and here Claudius commenced his education. At the age of fourteen he became tutor in a gentleman’s family, and two years later entered the university of Glasgow, where he spent the two following years, leaving the university again to engage in private tuition. He had been intended for the ministry in the Scotch church, but at the age of twenty-one he abandoned the idea of taking holy orders, and left Scotland with the intention of travelling through Europe on foot, supporting himself by playing on the violin. Informing this wild scheme, which he carefully withheld from the knowledge of his parents, telling them that he had been engaged by a gentleman to travel on the continent with his son, he appears to have been fired by the example of Goldsmith; but Buchanan did not get beyond London, where, after undergoing great privations for some months, he eventually obtained employment, on a very small salary, in a solicitor's office. After a residence of nearly four years in London, he made the acquaintance of a young man whose conversation revived the religious feelings which he had imbibed earlier in life, and shortly afterwards he introduced himself to the Rev. John Newton, then rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, in the city, under whose influence a complete change in his character speedily took place. The intimacy with Mr. Neelon led to his becoming acquainted with Mr. Henry Thornton, by whose liberality he was provided with funds, repaid a few years afterwards, which enabled him to go to Cambridge and to qualify for ordination. Entering Queens' College in 1791, Buchanan speedily formed an intimacy with Charles Simeon. Buchanan’s studies at Cambridge were chiefly theological. He did not compete for university honours, but won college prizes both in mathematics and in classics. He took his degree in 1795, and in the same your was ordained a deacon of the church of England, commencing his clerical life as a curate of Mr. Newton. In the following year he was appointed to a chaplaincy in Bengal, and, having taken priest’s orders, sailed for Calcutta shortly afterwards.

On his arrival at Calcutta early in 1797 Buchanan was hospitably received by the Rev. David Brown [see Brown, David, 1763-1812] then presidency chaplain, and afterwards Buchanan’s chief and colleague in the college of Fort William. The provision existing at that time in India for ministering to the religious wants of the British community was extremely scanty. There was no episcopate, few chaplains, and fewer churches. Buchanan was sent to Barrackpur, where there was no church, and, there being no British regiment quartered there, very little occupation for a chaplain. He remained at Barrackpur for two years, passing much of his time in studying the scriptures in the original tongues, and also the Persian and Hindustani languages. He seems to have felt a good deal the want of congenial friends and the effects of the depressing climate. In 1799 he was transferred to a presidency chaplaincy, and shortly afterwards was appointed vice provost of the college established by Lord Wellesley at Fort Willian. One of the earliest duties which Buchanan was called upon to discharge as presidency chaplain was that of preaching a sermon before the governor-general and the principal officers of the government on the occasion of a general thanksgiving for the successes achieved in the late war in Mysore. For this sermon Buchanan received the thanks of the governor-general in council, and it was directed to be printed and circulated throughout India.

During the next few years Buchanan was much occupied with his duties as vice-provost of the college, and with the question of promoting the formation of a more adequate ecclesiastical establishment for India. Regarding the college he appears to have entertained views assigning to it a wider scope than was generally ascribed to it, although not more comprehensive than that indicated in the minute of Lord Wellesley on the establishment of the college. His opinion was that it had been founded to ‘enlighten the oriental world, to give science, religion, and pure morals to Asia, and to confirm in it the British power and dominion;’ and this was the aim he continually set before him, The college continued in existence for many years, but in 1807 the appointment of vice-provost was discontinued, and the staff of teachers, and also the work, were reduced within narrower limits than Lord Wellesley had contemplated. Although, as a chaplain of the company, Buchanan was in a great measure debarred from engaging directly in missionary operations, he laboured zealously and in various ways for the promotion of christianity and education among the natives of India.

Out of his own means, which his emoluments as vice-provost of the college for a time rendered comparatively easy, he offered liberal money prizes to the universities and to some of the public schools of the United Kingdom for essays and poetical compositions in Greek, Latin, and English, on ‘the restoration of leaming in the East,' on ‘the best means of civilising the subjects of the British empire in India, and of diffusing the light of the christian religion throughout the Eastern world,’ and on other similar topics. The college had originally comprised a department for translating the scriptures into the languages of India, and the first version of the gospels into the Persian and Hindustani languages, which was printed in India, had issued from the college press. When this department was abolished, Buchanan, from his private purse, paid the salary of an Armenian christian, a native of China, who was employed for three years at the missionary establishment at Serampore in translating the scriptures into Chinese. But perhaps the most important services in connection with the propagation of christianity in India in which Buchanan was engaged were his tours through the south and west of India, undertaken for the purpose of investigating the state of superstition at the most celebrated temples of the Hindus, examining the churches and libraries of the Romish, Syrian, and protestant christians, ascertaining the present state and recent history of the Eastern Jews, and discovering what persons might be fit instruments for the promotion of learning in their respective countries, and for maintaining a future correspondence on the subject of disseminating the scriptures in India. (Christian Researches in Asia, by the Rev. Claudius Buchanan, D.D., ed. 1840, p. 4). The first of these tours received the sanction of the Marquis of Wellesley just before his departure from India, and an account of it and also of the second tour was embodied in the above-mentioned work, which Buchanan published shortly after his return to England in 1811. In the first tour he visited the celebrated temple of Jagannath, some of the temples in the northern districts of Madras, Madras itself, and the missions in Tanjore, Trichinopoly, Madara, Ceylon, Travanoore, and Cochin, from which latter place he returned to Calcutta in March 1807. At the end of that year he started on a second tour, in the course of which he revisited Ceylon and Cochin, and touched at Goa and several other places between Cochin and Bombay, whence he embarked for England in March 1808, after a residence in India of eleven years.

His account of these tours is extremely interesting, especially those parts of it which relate to his intercourse with the Syrian christians in Travancore and Cochin, and the narrative of his visit to the inquisition at Goa. The result of his visit to this part of India, in addition to the information which it enabled him to supply, was a translation of the New Testament into Malayalam, the language of the British district. of Malabar and of the native states of Travancore and Cochin.

The remaining years of Buchanan's life, after his return to England in 1808, were spent in active efforts to promote the objects upon which he had been chiefly engaged while in India. He took a prominent part in the struggle in 15413 which resulted in the establishment of the Indian episcopacy. Among other writing's which he published on this subject was a volume entitled 'Colonial Ecclesiastical Establishment, being a brief view of the state of the Colonies of 'Great Britain and of her Asiatic Empire in respect to Religious Instruction, prefaced by some considerations on the national duty of affording it.' While the contest was proceeding he was vehemently attacked in parliament as a calumniator of the Hindus, and his having given to the world an exaggerated statement of the cruelty and immorality of their superstitions; but he was defended with vigour by Mr. Wilberforce and other promoters of the new legislation. Another work which he published about this time was 'An Apology' for promoting Christianity in India, containing two letters addressed to the Honorable East India Company concerning the idol Jagannath, and a memorial presented to the Bengal Government in 1807 in defence of the Christian Missions in India. To which are now added, Remarks on the Letter addressed by the Bengal Government to the Court of Directors in reply to the Memorial — with an appendix containing various official papers, chiefly extracted from the Parliamentary Records relating to the promulgation of Christianity in India.'

Buchanan received the degree of D.D. from the university of Glasgow, and also from that of Cambridge, He died in 1815 at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, where he was engaged in revising a Syriac translation of the New Testament. He was twice married, and left two daughters by his first wife.

[Pearson's Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Rev. Claudius Buchanan, D.D., 3rd ed., London, 1819; Christian Researches in Asia, with notices of the Translation of the Scriptures into the Oriental Languages, by the Rev. Claudius Buchanan, D.D., new edition, Loudon, 1840; Memorandum on the Syrian Church in Malabar, 19 Feb. 1875, India Office Records.]

A. J. A.