Valpy French

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Thomas Valpy French
File:Thomas Valpy French.jpg
Missionary to India, Pakistan and Persia
Diocese Lahore
Installed 1877
Term ended 1887
Predecessor First
Personal details
Born (1825-01-25)25 January 1825
Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England
Died 14 May 1891(1891-05-14) (aged 66)
Muscat, Oman
Buried Muscat, Oman
Denomination Anglican Communion
Parents Rev. Peter French
Alma mater University College, Oxford

Thomas Valpy French (1 January 1825 – 14 May 1891) was an English Christian Missionary in India and Persia, who became the first Bishop of Lahore, in 1877, and also founded the St. John's College, Agra, in 1853.[1][2]

After Henry Martyn, he is considered the second most important Christian missionary to the Middle East.[3]

Early life and education

Thomas Valpy French was born on New Year's Day in 1825, in Abbey, Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England. His father, the Rev. Peter French, was vicar of Holy Trinity Church for forty-seven years, and he grew up in the house, which was once part of the Benedictine Abbey, on the banks of the River Trent.[4]

He started his schooling at Reading Grammar School, and at age fourteen, he joined the Rugby School. In 1843, he won a scholarship to Oxford and started studying at the University College, Oxford, where he was made a fellow in 1848.[1] It was at Oxford that he first felt called to mission in India.[5]

Missionary career

On 16 April 1850 he joined the missionary service of Church Missionary Society, and was sent to Agra, India. He set sail to India on East Indian Queen on 11 September 1850 and reached Calcutta on 2 January 1851.

Soon he headed off to Agra, where he was appointed for educational work. He founded the St. John's College at Agra, which formally opened in 1853, though he had started taking classes in small room with ten boys, while the college building was being built. The college was named as St. John's, after the college of another noted missionary, Henry Martyn (1781–1812) at Cambridge.[6] He also learnt seven languages,[5] including Hindustani, Punjabi, Urdu, Persian, Pashto and Arabic to properly administrate the school, as he also became school's first principal, and a post he held till the end of his seven-year stay at Agra.[5]

Later he married, Miss M. A. Janson, whom he had met at Oxford, and one of his eight children, Ellen Penelope French (1854–1892), went on to marry, Edmund Arbuthnott Knox, fourth Bishop of Manchester, (1903–1921).[7]

1861 saw him, moving to Derajat in central Pakistan, where he started a new Mission, and a first in the area, though bad health forced him to leave for England, by end of 1862, where he reached, on 7 February 1863.[8]

In 1877, on St. Thomas' Day at Westminster Abbey, London, he was appointed the first Anglican Bishop of a large new diocese of Lahore, which included, all of the Punjab and northwestern India, and remained so until 1887,[9][10] during the time he founded the Lahore Divinity College, which opened on 21 November 1870 and also remained its Principal for many years,[11][12] he supervised the translation of the Bible and Prayer Book into Hindustani and Pashto,[13] and also made visits to Kashmir and Iran (1883), where he was the first Episcopal bishop to visit the country,[14] before returning to England, due to bad health in 1887.[5]

He reached Muscat, on his final missionary work, on 8 February 1891 and became the first missionary to visit the region;[5] he had just started setting up his work there, when his health started failing, and having been cared for by Portuguese Catholics he died on 14 May 1891 in Muscat, Oman and was buried in a Christian cemetery.[12]


In 2007, Rowan Douglas Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, hailed French, a CMS missionary as a personal hero.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Thomas Valpy French
  2. "History". Retrieved 24 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Legacy of Henry Martyn Avril A. Powell, University of Lincoln (SOAS)."Thomas Valpy French, just mentioned as the first bishop of Lahore, was certainly one of these, whom Martyn's late nineteenth century biographer, George Smith, considered 'the missionary bishop who most resembled Martyn in character and service'. "
  4. "Chapter I. The Man". Retrieved 24 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 "CMS hero". 4 May 2007. Retrieved 24 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. St John's College, Cambridge
  7. Chapter II His First Pioneer Work: The Agra College.
  8. Chapter III His Second Pioneer Work: The Frontier Mission.
  9. Churches and Ministers: Home and Foreign EventsNew York Times, 13 January 1878.
  10. An Heroic Bishop Chapter VI. His Fourth Pioneer Work: The Lahore Bishopric.
  11. Chapter V His Third Pioneer Work: The Divinity College.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Chapter XI. The First Divinity Colleges Beginnings in India By Eugene Stock, D.C.L. 1912. French himself illustrated throughout his career the importance of Beginnings. He was five times a pioneer. He founded the College at Agra; he started a new Mission on the Afghan Frontier; he established the Divinity College; he was the first Bishop of Lahore; he laid down his life in the attempt to penetrate the closed doors of Arabia. His remains lie under the cliffs of that hitherto almost inaccessible Mohammedan preserve.
  13. "Church History". Retrieved 24 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. History Anglican Diocese of Iran.

Further reading

External links