Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Griffiths, David

GRIFFITHS, DAVID (1792–1863), missionary, was born at Glanmeilwch, Llangadoc, Carmarthenshire, 20 Dec. 1792. He became member of the neighbouring congregational church at Gwynfe in 1810, and soon after began to preach. He conducted a school of his own at Cwmaman in 1811-12; entered the college at Neuaddlwyd 1812, that at Wrexham 1814, and in 1817 or early in 1818 left Llanfyllin, whence the Wrexham College had been meanwhile removed, for the missionary college at Gosport. He married in May 1820, and in June received the appointment of missionary to Madagascar, as colleague of the Rev. D. Jones, who had gone out two years before. On 27 July he was ordained at Gwynfe, and on 25 Oct. sailed with his wife from London, reaching the Mauritius on 23 Jan. 1821, and soon afterwards proceeded to Madagascar. With the help of his colleague he soon formed a flourishing church, preached twice every Sunday, established day and night schools, his wife teaching the girls. In 1824 the schools in the capital numbered three hundred scholars, and there were thirty-two other schools over the country, all of which he visited weekly. In 1825 many of the natives were able to help the work in all its branches. In 1827 a printing-press was obtained, and the following year a catechism, a hymn-book, and some schoolbooks were published in the native tongue, and the printing of the gospel of St. Luke begun. In 1828 King Radama, who had been a great friend of the missionaries, died at the age of thirty-six. A period of confusion followed, and the work of the mission was for a time interrupted. In 1830 night-schools, however, were opened for the lowest classes, and the work of the mission generally was continued with success. In 1831 the New Testament was published in the vernacular, and a large part of the Old.

In the same year the mission experienced many new difficulties. Although the queen of Madagascar was favourable to the work, her ministers were opposed to it, and the missionaries were ordered to leave. But this order was cancelled, and from 1832 to 1835 the mission was continued successfully. In 1835, however, a fierce persecution arose, and the queen was forced by her ministers to expel the missionaries. Griffiths preached his last sermon in the chapel on 22 Feb., and left the island in September 1835, reaching England in February 1836. At the end of two years he received an intimation from the queen of Madagascar that he might return as a merchant, not as a missionary. He did so in May 1838. Persecution still raged throughout the island, but he could not abandon his mission-work. He was charged with having helped some of the native Christians to leave the country, and on this charge was condemned to death, a sentence afterwards commuted to payment of a fine. He returned home in 1842, and settled as pastor of the congregational church at Hay, Brecknockshire. While here he formed a new congregation at Kington, Herefordshire. In 1852, some hopes being raised of renewing the mission in Madagascar, the London society asked Griffiths and Freeman, the only missionaries then surviving, to revise the scriptures. Freeman soon died, and the whole work devolved upon Griffiths, who spent five years upon it. In 1858 he removed to Machynlleth, where he busied himself in preparing for the press a grammar and other works in the language of Madagascar. He died on 21 March 1863 at Machynlleth, where he was buried. He wrote the 'History of Madagascar' in Welsh, the 'Persecuted Christians of Madagascar' (London, 1841) in English, a Malagese grammar (Woodbridge, 1854), some catechisms, a hymn-book, nine or ten original treatises, besides translating the 'Anxious Inquirer,' &c. He also revised many works already translated, e.g. the 'Pilgrim's Progress,' the 'Whole Bible,' the dictionaries, &c., all in the language of Madagascar. He had eight children by his wife, who died at Swansea on 15 July 1883, aged 93.

[Foulkes's Geirlyfr Bywgraffiadol; Rees and Thomas's Eglwysi Annybynol Cymru, iv. 359-361.]

R. J. J.