Anna Satthianadhan: her schools and her legacy

Both Anna Satthianadhan and her husband, the Rev W T Satthianadhan,  were honoured when they were presented to Queen Victoria in 1878  – Anna for her work in female education and her husband for pioneering self supporting and self governing churches in South India. By then Anna had proved that her old mentor, Caroline Cuffley Giberne, had been wrong to believe that Indian female teachers would require European supervision to be successful.

At the CMS anniversary meetings in 1878 it was reported  that Anna’s husband was in charge of an important pastorate in Madras (Chennai). This was at Chintadripet which he renamed the Zion Church1. He went on to take charge of the Southern Pastorate in Madras as well as becoming the chairman of the Madras Native Church Council2.

Anna in 1878 was superintending six schools in four different suburbs of Madras with a total of 430 students. Four of these schools were for higher caste Hindu girls and the other two for those from “poorer classes”. In addition she was supervising the classes for 106 young women from upper class Hindu families (including Brahmins) in 56 zenanas. She was supported in this by the  Church Missionary Society (CMS),  the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (SPFEE) and the Hindu Female Instruction Society. Lord Shaftesbury signed the Bible which he presented to her on behalf of the SPFEE as a memorial to her first visit to England3.

From Miss Giberne Anna had learnt not only how to write well in English but also how to run a good school. And Miss Giberne was one of her role models in how to live a deeply committed Christian life sustained by a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Her other role models were her parents, the Rev John Devasagayam and Muthammal, and her  husband. Unlike her he had been forced to decide between his family or Jesus. Below:Miss Giberne’s sketch of Anna when she was 11-years-old.


At the CMS anniversary meetings3 he described how, when he was 14-years-old, his high-caste father had sent him to the mission school at Palayamkottai  to learn English.

But the main study book was the Bible. This made him angry and one day he instigated a rebellion, and told the teacher that if this did not stop they would leave. The teacher, a blind man called William Cruikshank4, called their bluff by stating: “You may all leave the school but give up the Bible I never will.”

So Satthianadhan continued studying there for another three years and recounted: “In the meantime the teacher paid particular attention to the inculcation of Scripture truths and applied them to the hearts and consciences of his students in such a way that they were much impressed by them.” He said that under this admirable teacher the “folly of heathenism” and the “truth of Christianity” dawned upon him.

He knew that to convert to Christianity would mean social alienation from his home and his community but finally he made that decision. The conversion of a higher-caste youth created a sensation in the district and emptied the mission school. He became an object of persecution and was dragged before two magistrates, European and Indian. But he was determined to continue as a Christian and was baptised with the names of William Thomas in 1847.

He began training for the Anglican ministry and worked with the Rev Devasagayam. He married Anna in 1849 and by 1855, when  he went to Doveton College in Madras  to complete his studies, they had two daughters, Joanna and Catherine (Kate).  After two years of study he gained a gold medal for his examination results. The CMS then sent him to join an evangelistic itinerancy team in North Tirunelveli where the couple became very involved with a Pentecostal revival among schoolgirls in mission schools5.

In June 1859 he wrote to Miss Giberne at Kadatchapuram to share the special news that not only had his first son (John) been born but that his youngest brother had become a Christian3.

After Miss Giberne had retired to England  Anna wrote to her (in May 1863): “You will be surprized to hear that we are now in Madras. Although we did not like to leave our dear people at North Tinnevelly (Tirunelveli) yet we could not but submit to the leadings of Providence.” Her husband, who had been ordained as an Anglican priest in December 1862, had been assigned to care for two churches – one at John Pereira’s (Trinity Chapel), and that at Chintadripet. Once in Chennai his wife began a small school for higher caste girls3.

This was something she could do as she came from a higher caste family herself unlike the majority of Indian Christians. Even foreign women did not have easy access to higher caste women. Irene Barnes wrote in 1897:  “If a missionary should come in, she would take a look round at the door of the courtyard, and should the ladies be engaged in any occupation connected with the meals of the household she would go to another house, knowing her presence would be unwelcome, as the touch or shadow of a Christian would make the Hindu woman ceremonially unclean, and would necessitate a bath and washing of her sari before she could take her food.”6

Satthianadhan fervently supported  his wife and obviously encouraged her to follow the same pattern of education as his mentor, William Cruikshank. For the curriculum included reciting texts from the Bible from memory as well as Scripture history, reading, Indian geography, and studying the works of an Indian minor poet, Attihicudi.

In a printed leaflet to advertise her school it was stated: “All these girls began their alphabet here, and the little knowledge of these elementary subjects, they owe entirely to this school. They all belong to the middle classes, chiefly dealers and merchants, who form the bulk of the population in this part of Black Town.”

The girls were especially keen to learn needlework which they did each afternoon. Anna told Miss Giberne: “My object in opening this school is two -fold not merely that I may have a few caste girls under instruction but more especially that I may eventually attempt what is called zenana visitation. I hope that by God’s blessing on our labour I may have access to the homes of these little girls. Some of their female relatives already visit me and I am endeavouring by every means to gain their confidence. … It is my earnest prayer that the school will prosper and become fruitful. This is perhaps the first school for caste girls in connexion with our Society in South India and I heartily wish that it would not prove a failure.”

And her husband wrote: “I hope you will try to interest some of your good friends (in) my wife’s work here. It is a very important one. She is willing to devote her time and talents to God’s work and what she needs is pecuniary aid.”

Years later he reported: “There were no zenana missionaries, and her work was exceedingly difficult. ‘What caste are you?” – the Christians being always considered pariahs, and of the lowest caste. Mrs Satthianadhan being of good caste was welcomed, and by degrees was able to introduce first a little book written by herself called The Good Mother, on the management of children, and then other books, thus leading on to the Bible. In the first year only three families were visited.”

In The Good Mother Anna wrote: “The greatest blessing is that children sit at the feet of Jesus Christ, gain education and lead a life worthy of everyone. Instead of making them wealthy it is better to make them wise. Because the power of wisdom is the greatest thing to achieve.”  She argued for a good loving balance between discipline and allowing too much liberty and warned parents that children learnt more by observation than by listening.7

The Satthianadhan’s were very aware how much they depended upon the support of foreigners to keep the school going in those early days. Besides the funding they received from the CMS and via the Rev John Tucker, there were also donations sent by Miss Giberne and her friends which paid for presents for the pupils. Anna commented in 1886: “When (my) private school.. was first started, the pupils had to be induced to attend school regularly by means of small presents. Later, on when the system of school fees was introduced, and in some measure enforced, disastrous results followed, in the withdrawal of many children and few fresh admissions.”8

She also stated: “About thirty years ago the subject of Female Education was one which evoked little or no sympathy on the part of the native community at large. Indeed it could hardly have been introduced even into advanced circles without hostile criticism or incisive sarcasm.” The income from fees at her six schools had risen from Rs 10 in 1870 when they were first levied to Rs 721. In addition there was a total of Rs 1,653 in grants from the government as 173 pupils had passed the government examinations. This compared to Rs 680 received in 1876, the first year in which her schools were placed under government inspection.8

From 1876 they had to follow the government curriculum which included reading, writing, arithmetic, poetry, grammar, geography and needlework8. But to her and her husband one of the main subjects had to be the Christian Scriptures. She stated:

“Few will deny that education without the wholesome restraints of revealed religion, especially at a period when atheism and infidelity, the product of the so-called modern philosophy and free thought , are so rampant, must be fraught with danger. ‘Knowledge is power’, but if imparted without a religious basis, or the recognition of the Supreme Being and human responsibility, it is likely to do more harm than good. The development of intellect, the formation of character, the training of the mind for the duties of life, and the attainment of the high end for which humanity has been destined, all seem to hinge upon the combination of education with religion. Our aim is therefore to place the historical facts and elementary truths of Scripture before the minds of the young, so that they may have opportunities of comparing them with their own religion, and when they attain to years of maturity to follow whatever their conscience and reason may dictate as right.”9

The missionaries and Mrs Satthianadhan were so successful in altering attitudes towards female education in India that by the 1880s they were facing strong  competition from Westerners and Indians who were starting girls schools and zenana classes with secular curriculums.

Anna trained Biblewomen so that they could visit zenanas to teach in Tamil, Telugu and English and explained: “With the elementary instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic and needlework the study of God’s Word is invariably combined,”10 By the 1880s all of the female teachers in her schools had been trained in the Normal (teacher training) Class at one of them.  But earlier she had employed both Christians and non-Christians, including a Muslim woman.  She was also assisted by her daughters especially Kate (Mrs Hensman) and Annie (who married the Rev W.D.Clarke).

Some Hindus were converted but certainly not as many as the Satthianadhans would have wished. But many Indian women, including those hidden inside zenanas, benefitted significantly by this access to education – none more so than widows. Many were left virtually destitute and as social outcasts after their husbands died because it was believed (as even now11) that they were responsible for those deaths.  In 1890 a Hindu woman visited Anna and told her: “Years ago, you may remember seeing me as a little girl…and asking my mother to send me to some Mission School close by. My mother took up the idea at once, and sent me to the London Mission School.” She later became the headmistress of a Hindu girls’ school.  This meant that when her husband died leaving her with two young children she could continue to earn a living. But she wanted to escape the social death of Hindu widowhood by becoming a Christian12.

It is probably from two of Anna’s daughters-in-law that a clearer picture can be gained of Anna’s legacy and that of Miss Giberne.

When the Satthianadhan’s second son, Samuel, returned from England in 1881, with an honours degree from Cambridge University13,  he was fascinated by a young woman who was boarding with his parents. She was Krupabai, the brilliant daughter of Haripunt Khisty (a Brahmin convert) and was the first woman to study medicine at Madras Medical College.  She had written: “I had chafed under the restraints and the ties which formed the common lot of women… How hard it seemed to my mind that marriage should be the goal of woman’s ambition, and that she should spend her days in the light trifles of a home life; live to dress, to look pretty, and never know the joy of independence and intellectual work. The thought had been galling. It made me avoid men.”14

But in Anna’s son she found a man who would encourage her to achieve intellectual fulfilment. Ill health having stopped  her completing her studies she married Samuel and went with him to Ootacamund where he was the headmaster of a school. She became involved in female education and set up a small school for Muslim girls.15 Despite often being ill she wrote poems, travelogues, prose and two novels. Saguna (serialised 1887 and 1888 in the Madras Christian College Magazine) was the first autobiographical novel in  English to be written by an Indian woman. She completed her second novel Kamala after being diagnosed with incurable tuberculosis.

Krupabai grew up in a family where her father and eldest brother were committed Christians but her mother, although a convert, remained very much a Hindu. And so in Kamala Krupabai was able to describe graphically from the viewpoint of a Hindu how a child-bride suffered in a home dominated by her mother-in-law.  She wrote: “What man with any self-respect would make much of his wife, give her learning, and raise her up to his own level?  The wife, as the saying went, was the ‘cat under the plate’, the slave of the family and of her lord.” And added later: “She was his wife, his property, and he felt that there was no need for him to exert himself to draw her nearer to himself.” 16 In Krupabai’s story Kamala chose after her husband died to remain a Hindu and became involved in charitable work.

Eleanor Jackson has noted that  it is possible to see Kamala as a Dickens type exposure of social conditions, an indictment of Brahmanical culture and caste and a lament for unfulfilled lives17. Others may find Krupabai’s book too close to Christian missionary narratives in the 19th century which had helped to motivate people like Miss Giberne. The SPFEE for instance stated in the 1830s and 1840s that the condition of women in India, China and Africa was that of extreme degradation and wretchedness and added that a wife in such places “is cut off from all the sweet endearments of family intercourse, put down from her proper position as the friend, the counsellor, and the comforter of man, to a situation the most abject and humiliating: her treatment is the most cruel and revolting, and her mind, excluded from all intellectual enjoyment and all that is consoling and elevating, is left to sink into the utmost depths of sin and misery.” 18

It was not surprising that Queen Victoria and many missionary agencies in Britain were so encouraged and inspired by the Satthiandhans for they would have epitomised the empowerment that the Christian gospel and education could bring. Queen Victoria, after receiving a copy of Saguna, asked to be sent any other books that Krupabai had written19.

Krupabai died, aged 32, in 189420, four years after her beloved mother-in-law, and two years after the death of her father-in-law. A few years later Samuel fell in love with and married another well-educated young woman –  the first woman in South India to complete her graduation  (from Presidency College in Madras, 1898). According to Subbiah Muthiah she was Hannah Ratnam Krishnamma but Samuel called her Kamala.  She too was a writer and in July 1901 founded India’s first women’s monthly periodical called The Indian Ladies Magazine.21

In her first editorial  she wrote: “The main object of the magazine will be to help advance the cause of the women of India… The main influences that are at work in this land, have not appreciably affected the women, the men having benefitted more largely than the women in the matter of education and social development. If the people of India are to advance, they should realise that: ‘the woman’s cause is man’s; they rise or sink together.’”22

A fitting epitaph to the work of not only Anna Satthianadhan but also Caroline Giberne’s!

©P Land November 2013

Below: A photo from Miss Giberne’s album which is undated. Miss Giberne simply stated that it was of the Rev Satthianadhan, his wife and son. She added that his wife, Anna, was the daughter of the Rev John Devasagayam commonly called “Mr John”.


WAS YOUR FAMILY IN CONTACT WITH BRITISH CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES IN THE 19TH CENTURY? If so why would you like any research done concerning those missionaries: when and how they reached your family’s home town, what they did there and maybe even if they had contact with your ancestors? If so post a comment on this website.

Sources and notes:

1. The Rev W T Satthianadhan (1830-1892) pastored the Zion church for 30 years, followed by his son-in-law the Rev W D Clarke, and then his grandson, the Rev Samuel Thomas Satthianadhan Clarke. This led to three generations of the family serving that church for 81 years up to 1944. The Rev S T S Clarke’s son ministered there in the early 1970s and then from 1974 to 1989 was the Rt Rev Dr Sundar Clarke, Bishop of Madras. Samuel Satthianadhan (1860-1906) became Chair of Logic and Moral Philosophy at Presidency College, Madras. Through Anna Satthianadhan (1832-1890) the family is descended from the first protestant Indian pastor, the Rev S Aaron, who was ordained in December 1733 by the Lutheran missionary Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg.  Most of this information is from S Mutthiah’s Madras Miscellany  2002.

2. CMS Register of Missionaries and Native Clergy 1804-1904.  In 1884 Satthianadhan was elected Fellow of University of Madras and in 1885 received a Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

3. Throughout this post there are references to and information from newspaper cuttings and letters kept by Caroline C Giberne in her Album, which is in the Special Collection at the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham. The sketch of Anna at 11-years-old and the photograph of her with her husband and a son are from that album, and the rights belong to the Cadbury Research Library Special Collection.

4. For more about William Cruickshank see

5. Eleanor Jackson, Caste, Culture and Conversion from the Perspective of an Indian Christian Family based in Madras 1863 – 1906,,CultureandConversion.htm 1999

6. Irene H Barnes, Behind the Pardah: the story of C.E.Z.M.S in India,  Thomas Y Crowell & Co, 1897, p 46. See

7. Eunice de Souza The Satthianadhan Family Album, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2005, p85.

8. India’s Women, CMS 1886, pp 241-4, at the Cadbury Research Library Special Collection, University of Birmingham.

9. India’s Women, 1881, p 235

10. India’s Women,  1889,n p 257

11. See


12. India’s Women,  1890, pp 334-335

13. Mrs H B Griggs memoir (p xviii) in the 1894 edition of Kamala by Krupabai Satthianadhan, published by Srinivasa, Varadachari & Co, Madras.

14. Article in The Hindu by Anusha Parthasarathy, September 21, 2013

15. Mrs Griggs, pp xix-xx

16. Kamala,  pp80 and 119.

17. E Jackson

18. History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, Edward Suter, London, 1847, p3

19. Mrs Griggs, p i

20. In her memory the Krupabai Satthianadhan Medical Scholarship was set up at Madras Medical College, plus a memorial medal at the University of Madras for the best female Matriculation candidate in English.   Krupabai Satthianadhan was born in 1862, the 13th child of Haripunt and Radhabai Khisty.

21. S Muthiah – articles for The Hindu including “When the Postman knocked”, updated October 2012

22. S Muthiah, Madras Miscellany February 2002

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