John Mack (1797–1845) (in India from 1821–45) was the first Scottish missionary recruited specifically to serve at Serampore, India, with William Carey, and the first overseas missionary to be supported by Charlotte Chapel. He was never in membership at the Chapel (his membership was with the Baptist Church in Shortwood, Gloucestershire) but he was supported financially by the Chapel in the following circumstances. His father was a solicitor who worked at the Sheriff’s Office, and John was born in Edinburgh on 12 March 1797. He was educated at the High School, where his interests lay in the natural sciences, particularly chemistry. He showed considerable ability.
Although trained in science, Mack wished to enter the Church of Scotland ministry. It seems that he needed to have his Edinburgh accent polished up before he could be considered for pastoral office in the national church, so he was sent to a school in Gloucestershire, to improve his social graces. While there, he met William Winterbottom, a Baptist minister at Shortwood, and he came to a personal faith in Christ. [Fisher’s book says at p. 37 that he visited the Baptist church in the village of Nailsworth in Gloucestershire, and that he was baptized there.] He changed his views on baptism and proceeded to Bristol Baptist Academy in 1818, to train for the Baptist ministry. His mother and his friends in Edinburgh were horrified at this turn of events, but Mack was clear that the Lord had laid his hand on his life.
Mack’s conversion and enrolment in Bristol Baptist Academy therefore owed nothing to Christopher Anderson or to Charlotte Chapel. His call to India similarly owed nothing to Scotland, but came through contact with William Ward, one of the Serampore missionaries on furlough in Britain in 1821. Looking for someone to work with him at the Serampore College, which had been established three years previously, Ward addressed the students at the Bristol Baptist Academy. John Mack was drawn to the work and, with the commendation of the Principal of the Academy, was accepted for Serampore. At the request of William Ward, and at the expense of the Serampore missionaries, John Mack came back to Edinburgh for further study in the University here, in Natural Philosophy, before sailing for India. (Life and Letters, p. 257)
While back in Edinburgh, John Mack formed a link with both Charlotte Chapel in general and with Christopher Anderson in particular. Although he was commissioned from the Church in Shortwood, Gloucestershire, where he had been baptised, and where his membership remained, he ‘was commended to the grace of God for the work by Mr. Anderson, before he sailed to India.’ His presence on the Chapel roll means that he was financially supported by the Chapel.
He sailed for India in May 1821. In a letter from London, William Ward commended John Mack to Christopher Anderson, and expressed his pleasure at the progress that John Mack was making in his studies. Donald Meek at page 39 dates the letter 20th May 1821; there may be two letters, but the one in Life and Letters at page 257 is dated 31 May 1821, and is written on board ship, 30 miles below Gravesend, as Ward was sailing for India. ‘I am pleased with Mack; his progress in science pleases me’. The letter goes on, ‘Mack in prayer this morning refreshed us all. We have family worship in Miss C.’s cabin morning and evening, and have our song of praise too.’
As soon as he arrived in India, Mack he threw himself into the work of the College. Although his appointment was as Professor of Chemistry at the Serampore College, he wrote textbooks in Bengali and compiled the first Bengali map. He had considerable gifts as a writer, and when a paper, Friends of Bengal, was launched at Serampore in 1835, Mack contributed to its editorial management.
Mack arrived in India at a time of tension and difficulty in the Serampore mission. The unhappiness which later caused the breach with the Baptist Missionary Society in 1827 was already evident. He wrote to Christopher Anderson in 1821, hoping that ‘the Society’s last resolution, to cease all strife with Serampore, will heal these wounds, so long kept open.’ The tension continued, but the Serampore brethren found Mack a great source of strength, and that his arrival had been timely. When William Ward died of cholera in 1823, Mack was able to fill something of the gap, and to give pastoral help.
In June 1832 he was ordained (along with Doctors William Carey and Joshua Marshman) to be co-pastor of the Baptist Church at Serampore and in 1834, on William Carey’s death, he succeeded Carey as the Principal of the College. His qualities of ‘understanding, loyalty and patience’ helped the mission to survive.
John Mack had a furlough in England in 1837, to recover from a fever, and he was able to sign the Act of Reunion of the Serampore Mission with the Baptist Missionary Society. He returned to India in the following year. He took charge of Dr. Marshman’s seminary and ‘raised its reputation to the highest degree and made it the first private educational establishment in India’. He continued his pastoral charge at the Serampore church, and preached to both Europeans and Indians.
Whether he ever again visited Charlotte Chapel after 1821 is not recorded, but since Christopher Anderson was in regular contact with the leaders of the Serampore College, the Chapel would have been kept fully informed of his contribution.
John Mack died during an epidemic of cholera in 1845. John Marshman wrote to Christopher Anderson:
Serampore, 2nd May 1845. My dear Anderson, I write you under feelings of the deepest anguish, to announce the irreparable loss we have sustained in the removal of Mr. Mack to his eternal rest, and I must trust to your kindness to break the intelligence judiciously to his aged mother. He was in perfect health and the highest spirits on Tuesday evening, 29th April; next morning he found himself unwell, called in medical aid by eight o’clock: at ten the symptoms of cholera became unequivocal, and in spite of the most assiduous attention and of every remedy which medical skill could devise, he was a corpse in twelve hours. He was interred yesterday afternoon. Every European in the town paid the last tribute of respect to one who had secured their love and esteem, and his own Baptist brethren in Calcutta, the Independent missionaries, and Messrs. Ewart and Smith of the Free Church Mission, were so kind as to come up from Calcutta and attend his funeral. The loss to the congregation, to the Church, to the Mission, and to the little circle of friends who clung closer to each other as the circle became narrower, appears irreparable. Now we are indeed bereaved. I have lost the friend of twenty-two years’ standing, endeared to me by a thousand associations, and with whom, during this long period, there has never been the slightest discord, but a long uninterrupted enjoyment of the happiest and most endearing intercourse. I cannot command my feelings sufficiently to write more on this deeply painful subject at present. Will you kindly assure his mother that I will not allow her to feel his death in the interruption of the allowance he was in the habit of sending her. Believe me, yours most affectionately, John Marshman.
The Baptist Reporter and Missionary Intelligence, New Series, Vol II, August 1845, at p. 299 [copy in the vestry in the Chapel – no other obvious reason for this isolated volume to be there unless it is because of this letter] recorded:
Death of Mr. Mack, of Serampore. Extract of a letter
I had the pleasure of receiving your letter of the lst March, on the 18th April; rather a quick passage – 41 days from London. Since I last wrote you we have enjoyed very good health indeed, notwithstanding the prevalence of cholera, in Calcutta and the neighbourhood, to an alarming extent. For many years there has not been such a mortality among the European portion of the community as this year’s bills exhibit; and many of them distinguished members of the community. Till yesterday, its ravages in Serampore were confined to the natives; but most unfortunately our dear pastor, Mr. Mack, a native of Edinburgh, and a labourer in the mission-field for twenty-three years, was attacked at ten o’clock in the morning, and entered into his rest at a quarter past ten in the evening, having suffered for only twelve hours. It was one of the worst cases of spasmodic cholera. He has left a widow, but no children; but every one was so much interwoven with him, that both European and native feel that they have lost a father, in every sense of the word. In him is broken the last connecting-link of the male portion of the Serampore mission commenced by the late Dr. Carey. Helen drank tea with him on the 24th, when their whole conversation was of home. She was a particular favourite of his, and she was equally attached to him. We have lost a kind friend. He arrived in this country in October, 1822, and officiated as Professor of Chemistry in the Serampore college while it lasted; being also co-pastor with Carey and Marshman in the church here. Since their death the whole duty has devolved on him, both of the native and European churches here; and it is not too little to say that he faithfully fulfilled the trust committed to his charge. Since the funeral of Dr. Carey, in 1834, a larger assemblage has not been seen in Serampore. It was pleasing to see the respect the heathen paid to his memory. Not only was the road covered with them, but every house-top was crowded with men, women, and children. He was a man who had enjoyed almost uninterrupted good health, and a most abstemious man in everything but fruit, of which he was excessively fond. The cholera was supposed to have been brought on by the fruit he had the night before. He was in the prime of life, (48) stout and robust. His mother still lives in Edinburgh. Who is to be his successor has not yet been decided on. This being a very healthy place, the pastor of the church always supports himself by keeping a school; and a most excellent one Mr. Mack has left.
OBITUARY IN THE ORIENTAL CHRISTIAN BIOGRAPHY, Vol. 1, pages 282 – 286 (obtained through Regent’s Park College, Oxford.)
John Mack was a native of Edinburgh in Scotland. He was born on the 12th March, 1797. Of his early life, but little is known; his father was writer to the signet in Edinburgh, but died while he was quite a child; and his mother, a lady of sterling piety, determined to bring up her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; – her instructions were blessed; and Mr. Mack, whilst yet but a boy, was not only deeply concerned about his own salvation, but strangely thoughtful about the perishing state of the heathen.
Being designed from his very earliest days, by his friends, for the ministry of the gospel in the Church of Scotland, he was, after the usual routine of education, sent to the University of Edinburgh. Here he gave many indications that he possessed original and strong independent powers of mind. Having passed through a number classes in the University, but being as yet too young to enter into the ministry, it was deemed advisable by his relations, that he should, with a view chiefly to his acquiring a thoroughly English style in speaking, spend some time in the southern parts of the kingdom. Accordingly an ushership was procured for him in a classical and respectable school in the west of England, the principal of which was a leading member of the Society of Friends. In the neighbourhood of this gentleman lived a very intelligent Baptist Minister, Mr. Winterbotham, who in the course of years, had drawn around him a very pious and enlightened circle. Having never, whilst in Scotland, attended to what is called the baptismal controversy, he found, when in England, the question thrust upon him, by his quaker friend who on the one hand denied water-baptism altogether, and by his Baptist friends who denied every thing like baptism to infants on the other. For a time, he was sorely perplexed; but resolving to study the controversy thoroughly for himself, the result was his adoption of Baptist sentiments, and his being immersed in the face of a congregation of a thousand people. This change in his views was a sad blow to his relations in Scotland, and particularly to his mother, who regarded him as the flower of her family, and whose heart was set on his being a minister of the Church of Scotland.
Having shortly after this received a call from the church at Shortwood, Gloucestershire, of which he was a member – to preach the gospel to his perishing fellow-sinners, he entered the Baptist College at Bristol. Here in a short time he occupied the very first place in point of attainments, his only competitor being (the Rev. J. Acworth, A.M.) the present learned president of the Baptist College at Bradford; the two constituting but one class, and that the highest in the institution. His disposition was then, what it ever after continued to be, one of the most frank, open, kind, attached and sympathising that ever possessed a human breast. He was a favourite with all his fellow-students in the very highest degree, sincerely loving all, and being sincerely loved by all in return. Concealment was no part of his nature; nothing being more abhorrent to his mind than hypocrisy on the one hand, and feigned humility on the other.
In 1821, the late Rev. Mr. Ward visited England for the purpose of obtaining an individual, who might with advantage be appointed to the post of professor in Serampore College. After some conversation with the students for the ministry at Bristol, his choice fell upon Mr. Mack, who almost immediately yielded himself up to the call, and was encouraged by all his fellow-students to proceed on his way. Having after this spent some time elsewhere in the study of Chemistry and other branches of Natural Science, he returned to the neighbourhood of Bristol; where in the chapel in which he had been baptised, he was set apart as a missionary to the heathen. The ordination prayer was offered by Mr. Waters of Pershore, and the charge delivered by Mr. Winterbotham, from Acts xxvi. 17-19. The high estimation in which Mr. Mack was held by the church at Shortwood, together with the close and endeared friendship subsisting between him and his pastor, called forth feelings which rendered the service more than ordinarily interesting and impressive. After the congregation had retired, the church having been detained, Mr. Mack took an affectionate farewell, and commended the pastor and flock, with which he had been so happily united, to the Father of mercies, in a solemn and fervent prayer, while they mourned that they should see his face no more.
Mr. Mack arrived in India, on the 15th of November, 1821, and immediately entered upon his duties as professor in Serampore College; and for fourteen years he was actively and successfully engaged in directing the studies of the youth connected with it, and more especially in training up young men for missionary labor in India.
From a congeniality of disposition, he soon contracted a strong attachment to Dr. Carey and his colleagues, and, in addition to his engagements in the College, rendered them every assistance while they lived, and endeavoured to carry forward their labors, as they were successively removed to their eternal reward. In all their trials and difficulties he adhered to them with unshaken fidelity and affection, As to the interesting sphere of his own labors he thus expressed himself in a letter dated January, 1824:- “Through our native brethren the gospel is now preached around Serampore, to an extent and with a regularity unprecedented here; and we endeavor, in the best way we can, to prepare them for the work of preachers. Every Thursday evening we have a conference upon a text of importance, by which means we are enabled to correct and enlarge their ideas, and at the same time become acquainted with their abilities, and the knowledge which they possess, and so understand how far we can confide in them as preachers. Several of them are men of superior abilities and ready utterance. On Saturday evening they meet at my house, again for instruction. Something like a theological lecture is delivered, and then we enter into a free and full conversation on the subject. * * * We have established seventeen schools, in which there are nearly three hundred girls. Five of the schools are in Serampore, and the rest in the adjoining villages. The children generally get on very well, and we have received much encouragement.”
On the 27th June 1832, he was ordained co-pastor with Drs. Carey and Marshman of the church at Serampore. The prayer was offered by Dr. Carey and the charge delivered by the Rev. W. Robinson, from Acts, xi. 24.
On his return from a tour through the eastern provinces of Bengal, the Cossya Hills, and Assam in 1836, he was attacked with a fever, from which he recovered with great difficulty, and which rendered a voyage to England indispensable. Mr. Mack returned to India at the beginning of 1839, with a determination to devote his energies to the maintenance of the labors of his deceased colleagues. From his own love of independence, as well as from a hope of usefulness, he took charge of the seminary which the death of Dr. Marshman had left vacant. He soon raised its reputation to the highest degree, and rendered it the first private establishment of education in India. While engaged in the laborious duties of a teacher, he sustained the pastoral charge of the Church at Serampore, both European and Native, directed the missionary efforts of the station and its neighbourhood with the warmest zeal, and gave his cheerful and invaluable aid to the general cause of Missions in India.
Few men have ever come out to this country who appeared to be so eminently fitted for public usefulness, by extraordinary endowments of nature and personal acquirements, as the subject of this notice. He was a well read classic, and an able mathematician, and there were few branches of natural science in which he was not at home, and in which he did not succeed in keeping himself up to the level of modern discoveries. He was especially attached to the science of chemistry, which he had cultivated with success under the most eminent professors in London. Soon after his arrival in India, he gave a series of chemical lectures in Calcutta, the first ever delivered in the city; and at a later period, prepared an elementary treatise on this science, and translated it into the Bengalee language for the use of native. pupils. It was, however, the originality of his mind, and the solidity of his judgment, by which he was so remarkably distinguished. The depth of his observations on all subjects to which his attention was turned, whether religion or science, or the political, social, and moral condition and movements of society, gave them a peculiar value. He seemed to seize instinctively upon the exact bearings of the most complicated question, and to unravel all its difficulties by the simplest process, and to place it at once in the clearest point of view.
But the energies of his mind, and the strength of his affections, were above all things consecrated to the study of the Sacred Scriptures, and of the system of divine truth revealed in them; and it was in the clear exposition and the forcible inculcation of those truths that he rendered himself so eminently useful. On all subjects, he was a ready and persuasive speaker, and left a strong impression on the mind; but it was in his pulpit ministrations that he attracted the largest share of public attention. There was a uniform elevation of thought in his discourses, which, combined with a lofty train of reasoning and the fervor of pious zeal, not only convinced the judgment but captivated the heart; so that his hearers seemed to be carried irresistibly along with him as he unfolded the doctrines of the gospel, and enforced them on the conscience with all the power of language.
His attachment to the missionary cause was the leading principle of action throughout his Indian career. There was no exertion and sacrifice, which he was not prepared to make for its advancement. To have been associated with the founders of the Protestant Mission in Bengal, with Carey, Marshman, and Ward; to have assisted in their labors and participated in their joys and sorrows, he considered the glory of his life. He had relinquished all idea of returning to his native land, and had resolved to devote himself to the end of his days to the promotion of this cause. In the more immediate sphere of his labors, he gave all the leisure which he could obtain to the superintendence of the native church, and of the missionary efforts connected with it; and his intimate knowledge of the native language and character, and that rare union of firmness, discretion, and kindness, which he possessed, rendered his services invaluable. At the same time, he watched over the general cause of Indian Missions in all parts of the country with parental solicitude, and omitted no opportunity of promoting its interests; and he had just laid down a scheme of more extended usefulness in which he had hoped to take an active share, when he was suddenly removed from his labors.
As a public writer, Mr. Mack had few equals in India. His compositions bore the exact impress of his mind, and were remarkable for their purity, clearness and vigor. He cultivated his style with no little assiduity, and was remarkably happy in clothing his thoughts in the strongest and most appropriate expressions. When the Friend of India,” a weekly journal published at Serampore, was commenced in 1835, he took an active share in its editorial management, and as long as he could command leisure enriched it with his contributions. He had the most perfect contempt for money, except as it could be made subservient to the benefit of others. What he gave, he gave cheerfully and unostentatiously; his liberality was scarcely limited by his means; and it was probable that if he had possessed the most ample fortune, his generosity would still have risen above the level of it. But he had the far more rare and difficult virtue of generosity of feeling.
It only remains for us now to speak of Mr. Mack’s end. On the day previous to his death, he had not been quite well; but nothing serious was anticipated. On the morning of the day on which he died, he was out as usual on horseback, and returned in the hope of being able to conduct the duties of his school. A little after 10 A.M. it became very apparent that he had fallen a victim to that dreadful scourge the spasmodic cholera, from which he suffered extremely till about 7 o’clock P M. and at about half an hour after 10 P.M. he fell asleep. During his illness he spoke but little. Indeed those who were about him were too intimately connected with him to admit of their conversing with him in his last moments, without giving way to their feelings, and this would have distressed him, but they needed no evidence of the sincerity of his faith and repentance.
‘The gospel was his joy and song,
E’en to his latest breath;
The truth he had proclaimed so long,
Was his support in death.’
He died on the 30th April, 1845.
Donald Meek published three articles in the Chapel Record in the first five months of 1992, entitled ‘Charlotte Chapel and the Indian Connection’. Excerpts from the second article, ‘The first Chapel missionaries’ are reproduced here for ease of reference. Much of the material has already been given, above, but there are some new items.
The missionary roll of Charlotte Chapel begins with the following missionaries, all of whom served in India: John Mack (1821-45), Thomas Swan (1825-27), Helen Mack (1828-30) and John Leechman (1832-37). Their presence on the roll means that they were supported financially by the Chapel for the periods of service shown in brackets.
John Mack, the very first foreign missionary to be supported by Charlotte Chapel, was born in Edinburgh on 12th March 1797. His father was a solicitor who worked at the Sheriff’s Office. Educated at the High School and later at Edinburgh University, Mack showed signs of considerable ability. His interests lay in the natural sciences, and he had a particular enthusiasm for chemistry.
Mack originally intended to enter the ministry of the Church of Scotland. However, it seems that he needed to have his Edinburgh accent polished up before be could be accepted into the pastoral office of the national church! In fact, it looks as if he was being groomed to be a well mannered ‘Moderate’, with all the ‘right’ airs and graces, but no personal knowledge of God’s grace. He was therefore sent to a school in Gloucestershire, where he served as an usher. We do not know what happened to Mack’s accent, but soon a ‘new song’ was put in his mouth. While in the south, he came into contact with William Winterbotham, a Baptist minister at Shortwood. As a result, he came to a personal faith in Jesus Christ and changed his views on baptism. His mother and his friends in Edinburgh were horrified at these events, but Mack was clear that the Lord had laid His hand on his life, and he proceeded to Bristol Baptist College in 1818 to train for the Baptist ministry.
Mack’s conversion and later enrolment in Bristol Baptist College thus owed nothing to Christopher Anderson or Charlotte Chapel. His call to India similarly owed nothing to Scotland, but came through the direct intervention of William Ward, one of the original Serampore Trio, who was in Britain in 1821. Ward was seeking someone who would go back with him to work at Serampore College, which had been established three years previously. Ward therefore visited Bristol Baptist College, and addressed the students. His appeal found a place in Mack’s heart, and, with the commendation of Dr John Ryland, Principal of the College, he was chosen to return with Ward to Serampore.
At Ward’s request, and at the expense of the Serampore missionaries, Mack undertook further study in Edinburgh. In a letter to his great friend, Christopher Anderson, William Ward (writing from London on May 20th 1821) was able to say, ‘I am pleased with Mack: his progress in science pleases me’. It is quite likely that it was during this period of further study that Mack formed his link with Charlotte Chapel and Christopher Anderson. He was, however, set apart for missionary service at the church in Shortwood where he had been baptised.
In May 1821 Mack embarked for India, and as soon as he arrived he threw himself into the work of the College, where he was a Professor in Chemistry. He wrote textbooks in Bengali, and compiled the first Bengali map. His gifts as a writer were widely acknowledged, and were further used when the paper, ‘Friend of India’, was launched at Serampore in 1835. Mack contributed to its editorial management.
Mack arrived in India at a time of tension and difficulty in the mission. The unhappiness that caused the breach with the BMS in 1827 was already in evidence. When he wrote to Anderson in 1821, Ward was hoping that ‘the Society’s last resolution, to cease all strife with Serampore, will heal these wounds, so long kept open.’ Although the tension continued, the Serampore brethren found that Mack was a great source of strength, and that his arrival was indeed timely. In 1823 William Ward died of cholera, and Mack was able to fill something of the gap caused by his mentor’s sudden departure. He was also able to give pastoral help. In June 1832 he was ordained co-pastor of the Baptist church at Serampore, alongside Drs Carey and Marshman, and he succeeded Carey as Principal of Serampore College. It is indeed gratifying to record that, when Mack arrived in England in 1837 to recover from a fever, he was able to sign the Act of Reunion of the Serampore Mission with the BMS. His great qualities of ‘understanding, loyalty and patience’ (thus described by Dr Ernest A. Payne) had helped the mission to survive.
Returning to India in 1838, Mack took charge of Dr Marshman’s seminary, and, according to one biographer, ‘raised its reputation to the highest degree and made it the first private educational establishment in India’. He continued his pastoral charge at Serampore church, and preached to both Europeans and Indians.
Mack’s death came with tragic suddenness during an epidemic of cholera, and is chronicled as follows in the Baptist Reporter for 1845: ‘…Our dear pastor, Mr Mack, a native of Edinburgh …was attacked at ten o’ clock in the morning, and entered into his rest at quarter past ten in the evening, having suffered for only twelve hours. It was one of the worst cases of spasmodic cholera. He has left a widow but no children. … In him is broken the last connecting link of the male portion of the Serampore mission commenced by the late Dr Carey. Helen drank tea with him on the 24th, when their whole conversation was of home. She was a particular favourite of his, and she was equally attached to him. Since the funeral of Dr Carey, in 1834.a larger assemblage has not been seen in Serampore.’
BMS archives contain two documents (1) a communication dated 18th September 1833, to a BMS missionary regarding ‘Slavery in the British Colonies’ and (2) a legal document regarding his estate.