Pirltawardli Research Blog

John Adam Shurman, missionary in India

John Adam Shurman, missionary in India

Apart from the set of articles included in the main section of this website, I have commenced developing it by collecting material about, and by, the German missionary John Adam Shurman ([JAS], Johann Adam Schürmann, 1809-1852).  This at least warrants an answer to the question, Why?

There are a number of simple reasons: 

One, JAS was the older brother of the "Dresden" missionary Clamor Wilhelm Schürmann [CWS] who followed him to  mission training in Berlin and expected to be sent to China or India (where he always wanted to be, rather than in South Australia).  While very few letters of their private correspondence have survived, we know that both of them had stayed in touch with each other.  Most likely, JAS was a role model for CWS, both as a young man and later as a missionary in Australia.  How much they heard from each other, we don't know at this point of time.  Yet, searching contemporary mission periodicals and reports through Google Books, Archive.org and other such online-repositories, indicates that they would have been able to follow each others' movements.

The second reason is that I needed to begin, and trial, this website with a limited project.  The JAS story, and that of his descendants, is not as voluminous as that of the Dresden missionaries in SA.  Therefore it is easier to develop and test the website structure. 

However, there is a third, more intrinsic reason for including John Adam Shurman into this website.  As a Western Christian missionary, he experienced the typical life style of many Europeans in a major British colony:  Highly educated, supported by a strong sending agency, the London Missionary Society (LMS), and in India being a member of the local colonial elite. In the same time he represented a tiny political (and church) minority trying to govern the "wide seas" of (literally) millions of "native" people of different religious traditions and social strata in Northern India.

Shurman had the means to travel, both in India and back to Europe and North America, to visit relatives and the LMS.  He died early in the age of 41, possibly due to the physical stress of living in an environment and climate too harsh for Western Europeans. 

CWS, on the other hand, and his three fellow missionaries sent out by the newly-established Dresden Missionary Society, found themselves in a totally different world.  First, sociologically, almost immediately upon arrival, they struggled with their position as members of the social majority of the white, British and German, settler society which drove away, if not murdered, the First Australians, now called Aborigines. As in India, the missionaries' political role within the colonial system in Australia was to appease the indigenous communities, whose existence was feared to potentially threatening the development of the colonial project South Australia.  However, the British colonial administrations in Australia soon realised that the local  Aboriginal peoples did not pose any significant danger to the colony, its settler communities and their advancement -- and after a few years lost interest in supporting the missionaries and their attempt to secure the survival of the indigenous peoples.

Last, but not least, the Dresden Missionary Society rescinded its (anyway only half hearted) commitment in South Australia in favour of -- South India.  For the contemporary Christian mission community in Europe, India certainly carried much more fascination both in culture and religion, and the challenges due to its sheer size and numbers.  In the wake of Charles Darwin's idea of the survival of the fittest, and thus, conveniently, the Aboriginal peoples as the lowest of the low races on the earth, any commitment here in Australia did not really promise much reward (both financially and in politics). 

In short, unlike John Adam Shurman in Benares, Northern India, the four Dresden missionaries never had a chance in sociological terms.  Local church and international mission histories have not acknowledged these facts.  Even the four young Germans themselves were pleading with the Dresden Mission board to send them to India or China.

However, many of the LMS (and other) missionaries in India and the Lutheran Dresden missionaries in South Australia had something in common:  Many became renowned missionary-linguists, JAS with his significant involvement in the translation of the Bible into the Urdu language, using the "Roman" (i.e. Latin) alphabet and thus being one of the trail blazers in the public use of this language.  CWS and his colleagues established what linguists call today a "School of Aboriginal Language recording" and were amongst the first in Australia to record indigenous languages systematically.

For reference:

Administrator. Pirltawardli Research Blog :: John Adam Shurman, missionary in India, in: Pirltawardli Research Website. Adelaide 2019.
(Created: 10.02.2015. Last updated: 27.09.2016.)
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