Between individual freedom and external necessities: Misbehaviour of Protestant missionaries in 18th and early 19th century India
Lambert Christian Früchtenicht (1772-1806?) came to India in 1799 as a missionary of the Danish-English-Halle Mission. He went to the Danish establishments Serampore near Calcutta and Tranquebar near Madras. In 1801, he was already forced to leave because of his misbehaviour: during this short period he was described in around 80 letters of complaint by his missionary colleagues for example as a “rowdy”, an “alcoholic” or a “gambler”. These letters resulted in calls for Früchtenicht to be suspended from working; in reaction to this Früchtenicht threatened to commit suicide. Eventually he was sent back to Europe, and suspended by the Danish mission board in Copenhagen – after this he travelled to Philadelphia, where he unsuccessfully carried out his threat to kill himself. By putting the extreme case of Früchtenicht in the broader context of the behaviour of other missionaries and Europeans in general, the paper explores (a) the difficulties the Protestant missionaries were confronted with in the environment of the Indian subcontinent and (b) how they reacted while facing challenges and conflicts. What intentions, personal values and and institutional norms can be seen in their actions? What kind of networks did they use in settling such disputes like that regarding Früchtenicht? How could their room for manoeuvre be extended by the use of communication and networks? In terms of institutional control (c) this also raises the question of “distance” and “nearness” in the “topography” of the networks as the missionary societies were located in Europe and communication took a long time. Moreover, the centres had their own perceptions and solutions. The same was true for the colonial administration and its European centre, which sometimes also was affected by the conflicts arising out of missionary misbehaviour. Inversely, the missionaries in India often were dependent on flexibility because of their special problems. Therefore, “space” can be seen as an ambivalent category that on the one hand could restrict agency, but on the other hand could also be used and by this offered more choices to act for the missionary. These three aspects will provide the main focus of the presentation.