Skip to main content Accessibility help




This article traces the history of the commemoration in Britain, India, and America of leading Bengali religious and social reformer, Rammohun Roy, from his death in Britain in 1833 through to the publication of the first substantial account of his life and work in 1900. It reveals the vital part that commemorative processes played in creating a sense of imagined community among liberal religious groups who were in the vanguard of social reform movements in India, Britain, and the United States. The groups under consideration are the Brahmo Samaj, an organization founded by Roy to reform Hinduism, and Unitarians, Protestant dissenters who rejected the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the evangelical approach to missionary work. Bridging the study of transatlantic and imperial networks, the article explores a culture of commemoration that emphasized affinity rather than difference between groups whose members were unequally positioned in colonial discourse as on opposite sides of the colonizer–colonized, Hindu–Christian, and East–West divides. It exposes the commemoration of Roy as a complex and contested process, creating both ‘localized’ and ‘globalized’ collective memories. These reveal the possibilities for, and limitations on, cross-cultural interchange in an age of global Christian mission and British imperial power.


Corresponding author

Humanities Department, Sheffield Hallam University, Owen Building, Howard Street, Sheffield S1


Hide All

My thanks to the anonymous reviewers of this article for their valuable suggestions, and my gratitude to Carla Contractor in Bristol and current members of the Brahmo Samaj in London and Kolkata for their hospitality and assistance.



Hide All

1 Carpenter, Mary, ed., The last days in England of the Rajah Rammohun Roy (London and Calcutta, 1866), p. 153; Oldfield, John, ‘Chords of freedom’: commemoration, ritual and British transatlantic slavery (Manchester, 2007), pp. 5961, 6570, 141.

2 Howse, Ernest Marshall, Saints in politics: the ‘Clapham Sect’ and the growth of freedom (London, 1953), pp. 8294; R. K. Webb, ‘The Unitarian background’, in Barbara Smith, ed., Truth, liberty, religion: essays celebrating two hundred years of Manchester College (Oxford, 1986), pp. 3–30.

3 Kopf, David, The Brahmo Samaj and the shaping of the modern Indian mind (New Delhi, 1996), pp. 341.

4 Lavan, Spencer, Unitarians and India: a study in encounter and response (Boston, MA, 1977), quote p. 2.

5 Zastoupil, Lynn, Rammohun Roy and the making of Victorian Britain (New York, NY, 2010), quote p. 1.

6 See, for example, Stange, Douglas, British Unitarians against American slavery (Cranbury, NJ, 1984); Kathryn Kish Sklar and James Brewer Stewart, eds., Women's rights and transatlantic antislavery in the era of emancipation (New Haven, CT, 2007).

7 Lambert, David and Lester, Alan, eds., Colonial lives across the British Empire: imperial careering in the long nineteenth century (Cambridge, 2006).

8 For the debate on Protestant missionaries and empire see Hall, Catherine, Civilising subjects: metropole and colony in the English imagination, 1830–1867 (Cambridge, 2002); Porter, Andrew, Religion versus empire? British Protestant missionaries and overseas expansion, 1700–1914 (Manchester, 2004); Cox, Jeffrey, The British missionary enterprise since 1700 (New York, NY, 2008).

9 Halbwachs, Maurice, On collective memory, trans. Coser, Lewis A. (Chicago, IL, 1992); Anderson, Benedict, Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (rev. edn, London, 2006).

10 Hatcher, Brian A., ‘Remembering Rammohan: an essay on the (re-)emergence of modern Hinduism’, History of Religions, 46 (2006), pp. 5080.

11 Cubitt, Geoffrey and Warren, Allen, eds., Heroic reputations and exemplary lives (Manchester, 2000).

12 Sinha, Mrinalini, Colonial masculinity: the ‘manly Englishman’ and the ‘effeminate Bengali’ in the late nineteenth century (Manchester, 1995).

13 Gillis, John R., ed., Commemorations: the politics of national identity (Princeton, NJ, 1994), p. 3; see also Pickering, Paul and Tyrrell, Alex, eds., Contested sites: commemoration, memorial and popular politics in nineteenth-century Britain (Aldershot, 2004).

14 There is an enormous body of literature on Roy's life and work. Useful starting points are Robertson, Bruce Carlisle, Raja Rammohun Ray: the father of modern India (New Delhi, 1995) and Killingley, Dermot, Rammohun Roy in Hindu and Christian tradition (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1993).

15 Joshi, V. C., ed., Rammohun Roy and the process of modernization in India (Delhi, 1997); Bayly, C. A., ‘Rammohun Roy and the advent of constitutional liberalism in India, 1800–1830’, Modern Intellectual History, 4 (2007), pp. 2541; Andrew Sartori, ‘Bengali liberalism and British empire’, in Bengal in global concept history: culturalism in the age of capital (Chicago, IL, 2008), pp. 68–108.

16 Dermot Killingly notes that Roy was one of the first Indians to use the term ‘Hinduism’ to denote a distinctive religious tradition (Killingley, Rammohun Roy, pp. 61–3).

17 Robertson, Bruce Carlisle, ed., The essential writings of Raja Rammohun Ray (Delhi, 1999).

18 Second memoir respecting the Unitarian mission in Bengal (Calcutta, 1828); Tuckerman, Joseph, A letter on the principles of the missionary enterprise (Boston, MA, 1826); Kopf, David, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance: the dynamics of Indian modernization 1773–1835 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, 1969), pp. 196204.

19 Robertson, ed., The essential writings; Kalidas Nag and Debajyoti Burman, eds., The English works of Rajah Rammohun Roy (Calcutta, 1995).

20 Dilip Kumar Biswas, ed., The correspondence of Raja Rammohun Roy, i:1809–1831 (Calcutta, 1992); Lavan, Unitarians and India, pp. 35–72; Moore, Adrienne, Rammohun Roy in America (Calcutta, 1942).

21 Carpenter, ed., The last days; Fisher, Michael H., Counterflows to colonialism: Indian travellers and settlers in Britain 1600–1857 (Delhi, 2004), pp. 243–98; Zastoupil, Lynn, ‘Defining Christians, making Britons: Rammohun Roy and the Unitarians’, Victorian Studies, 44 (2002), pp. 215–43.

22 Burns, R. Arthur and Innes, Joanna, eds., Rethinking the age of reform (Cambridge, 2003); Pickering and Tyrrell, eds., Contested sites; Oldfield, ‘Chords of freedom’; van der Veer, Peter, Imperial encounters: religion and modernity in India and Britain (Princeton, NJ, and Oxford, 2001), p. 85.

23 Carpenter, Lant, A review of the labours, opinions, and character of Rajah Rammohun Roy (Bristol, 1833); review in Christian Register, 13 (19 Apr. 1834), p. 62.

24 ‘On the interment of the Rajah Rammohun Roy’, in Carpenter, A review, pp. 138–40; Bristol Gazette, 2 Oct. 1833.

25 Fox, W. J., A discourse on the occasion of the death of Rajah Rammohun Roy (London, 1833); Christian Register, 13 (22 Mar. 1834), p. 45.

26 Christian Register, 13 (29 Mar. 1834), p. 52.

27 Christian Reformer and Unitarian Magazine, 1 (1834), pp. 30–1, 290; ibid., 5 (1838), pp. 30–1.

28 Roy, Rammohun, The precepts of Jesus … To which are added, the first, second, and final appeal to the Christian public (London, 1834).

29 Killingley, Rammohun Roy, pp. 58–9.

30 Drummond, William Hamilton, A learned Indian in search of religion: a discourse, occasioned by the death of the Rajah Ram Mohun Roy (London, Dublin, Cork, and Belfast, 1833); Porter, J. Scott, The growth of the gospel: a sermon, occasioned by the lamented death of the Rajah Rammohun Roy (Belfast, 1833).

31 Carpenter, A review, p. 5–6.

32 Aspland, Robert, The future accession of good men of all climes to Christianity, and their final congregation in heaven: a sermon, on occasion of the lamented death of the Rajah Rammohun Roy (2nd edn, London, 1833), pp. 12, 14.

33 Carpenter, A review, pp. 13, 21.

34 Fox, A discourse, p. 24.

35 Carpenter, A review, p. 7; Aspland, The future accession, p. 18; Martineau, ‘Hymn’, in Fox, A discourse, p. 52.

36 Fox, A discourse, pp. 20, 17.

37 Carpenter, A review, pp. 29–31.

38 The Bristol Mercury, 10 June 1843, article on ‘The late Rajah Rammmohun Roy’. The picture is now in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

39 Carpenter, A review, p. 135.

40 Mandler, Peter, The English national character: the history of the idea from Edmund Burke to Tony Blair (New Haven, CT, 2006).

41 Colley, Linda, Britons: forging the nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven, CT, 1992).

42 Sinha, Colonial masculinity.

43 Gayatri Spivak, ‘Can the subaltern speak?’, in C. Nelson and L. Grossberg, eds., Marxism and the interpretation of culture (Basingstoke, 1988); Midgley, Clare, ‘Female emancipation in an imperial frame: English women and the campaign against sati (widow-burning) in India, 1813–1830’, Women's History Review, 9 (2000), pp. 95121.

44 Miss Aikin to Dr Channing, letter dated Hampstead, 23 Oct. 1833, reproduced in Carpenter, ed., The last days, p. 167.

45 Carpenter, A review, pp. 138–40.

46 Fox, A discourse, pp. 6–7, 10, 11, 3, 12.

47 Aspland, The future accession, p. 26.

48 Carpenter, A review, p. 140.

49 Fox, A discourse, pp. 28, 29.

50 Aspland, The future accession, p. 26.

51 Carpenter, Lant, A biographical memoir of the late Rajah Rammohun Roy (Calcutta, 1835).

52 India Gazette (Calcutta), 18 Feb. 1834.

53 Report from the Indian Gazette (Calcutta), 8 Apr. 1834, as reprinted in Christian Register (Boston), 13 (1 Nov. 1834), p. 48; ‘Rammohun Roy’, Christian Register (Boston), 13 (1 Nov. 1834), p. 46.

54 Asiatic Journal and Monthly Review (London), n.s. 16 (Jan.–Apr. 1835), part 2, p. 14.

55 Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register (London), n.s. 20 (May–Aug. 1836), part 2, p. 170, reprinting article on ‘Rammohun Roy’ from Englishman (Calcutta), 1 Feb. 1836.

56 Hatcher, ‘Remembering Rammohun’, p. 65; see also David Kopf, ‘Rammohun Roy’, in Joshi, ed., Rammohun Roy, pp. 30–2.

57 Mittra, Kissory Chand, Memoir of Dwarkanath Tagore (Calcutta, 1870), appendix B, pp. xlii–xlvi.

58 Hatcher, ‘Remembering Rammohan’, pp. 71–2; see also Kopf, British Orientalism, p. 289; Sastri, Sivanath, History of the Brahmo Samaj (Calcutta, 1912), pp. 5268.

59 Carpenter, ed., The last days, p. 182; Mittra, Memoir, p. 101; ‘The late Rajah Rammohun Roy’, Bristol Mercury, 10 June 1843; Arnos Vale Bristol: a Victorian cemetery (Bristol, 2008).

60 Pickering and Tyrell, eds., Contested sites, p. 10.

61 ‘The late Rajah Rammohun Roy’, Bristol Mercury, 10 June 1843.

62 Carpenter, ed., The last days, p. 182. Raymond Head, in The Indian style (London, 1986), states the monument was designed by William Prinsep, member of a prominent Anglo-Indian family (pp. 68–9, 182–3 n. 12).

63 Barbara Groseclose, ‘Imag(in)ing Indians’, Art History, 13 (Dec. 1990), pp. 488–515.

64 See Nora, Pierre, Realms of memory: rethinking the French past, i (New York, NY, 1966).

65 Sartori, Bengal in global concept history, pp. 95–7.

66 Lavan, Unitarians and India, pp. 73–4.

67 Ibid., p. 51.

68 Letter from J. B. Estlin to Samuel May, Bristol, 29 Oct. 1844; letter from Samuel May to J. B. Estlin, Leicester, MA, 30 Dec. 1844 (MS B.1.6. 2, nos. 3 and 5, May papers, Anti-Slavery Collection, Boston Public Library, MA) as quoted in Taylor, Clare, British and American abolitionists (Edinburgh, 1974), pp. 230–2. See also Zastoupil, Rammohun Roy, pp. 94–5.

69 The mission to India, instituted by the American Unitarian Association, February 1855 (Boston, MA, 1857).

70 Lavan, Unitarians and India, pp. 81–103; Kopf, ‘Rammohun Roy’, p. 37; Roy, Rammohun, The precepts of Jesus (Calcutta, 1858).

71 Carpenter, Lant, Rammohun Roy: funeral sermon on the death of the Rajah Rammohun Roy (Calcutta, 1857).

72 ‘Hindu visitors to the grave of Rajah Ram Mohun Roy in Arno's Vale Cemetery, Bristol’, original visitors' book in the private collection of Carla Contractor, Bristol; Manton, Jo, Mary Carpenter and the children of the streets (London, 1976).

73 Lavan, Unitarians and India, pp. 97–8.

74 Carpenter, J. Estlin, The life and work of Mary Carpenter (2nd edn, London, 1881), p. 217, quoting letter of Mary Carpenter to Rev. A. A. Livermore, Bristol, Sept. 1860.

75 das Haldar, Rakhal, The English diary of an Indian student: 1861–1862 (Dacca, 1903), Introduction by Harinath De, pp. 1–xxvii; Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj, p. 30; Lavan, Unitarians and India, pp. 89–90, 99, 101–2, 106.

76 Carpenter, A review, p. 120; Carpenter, ed., The last days, p. 145. A copy of the cast was sent to Edinburgh for analysis by phrenologists – see On the life, character, opinions, and cerebral development of Rajah Rammohun Roy’, Phrenological Journal, 13 (May 1834), pp. 577602; Kapila, Shruti, ‘Race matters: orientalism and religion, India and beyond, c. 1770–1880’, Modern Asian Studies, 41 (2007), pp. 471513.

77 Haldar, The English diary, pp. 29–32. The poem, Stapleton Grove, The Rajah's Tomb’ by Miss Acland, had been published in the Christian Inquirer, 5 (1838), pp. 3031 and reprinted in Carpenter, ed., The last days, p. 176.

78 ‘The Reverend C. H. A. Dall and Rakhal Das Haldar’, Unitarian Herald, 10 Aug. 1861, p. 172 as quoted in Lavan, Unitarians and India, p. 102.

79 Haldar, The English diary, pp. 76–7, xxvi, 89; William Adam, A lecture on the life and labours of Rammohun Roy, ed. Rakhal-Das Haldar (rev. edn, Calcutta, 1977).

80 Carpenter, ed., The last days, preface p. viii; appendix C, p. 252.

81 Ibid., pp. ix, xi.

82 Ibid., p. 162.

83 See extract from her journal for 12 Jan. 1864 reproduced in Estlin Carpenter, The life and work, p. 236. The original of this journal does not appear to survive.

84 Ibid., p 237.

85 Ibid., p. 245.

86 Carpenter, Mary, Six months in India (2 vols., London, 1868).

87 Lavan, Unitarians and India, pp. 104–30; Sastri, History, pp. 129–94.

88 Collet, Sophia Dobson, ed., Keshub Chunder Sen's English visit (London, 1871), p. 332. See also Keshub Chunder Sen in England (4th edn, Calcutta, 1980).

89 Collet, ed., English visit, pp. 570–2.

90 ‘The Rev. A. N. Blatchford on Ram Mohun Roy’, Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, 1 Oct. 1883.

91 Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj, p. 242.

92 Sastri, History, p. 290; Nagendar Nath Chatterji, Mahatma Raja Rammohun Rayer Jibancharit (Calcutta, 1881).

93 Sastri, History, pp. 285, 290, 227–9.

94 The Indian Messenger, 11 Apr. 1886, pp. 243–4. The cast is now among the exhibits in the Rajah Rammohun Roy Memorial Museum, Kolkata.

95 See Biswas, ed., The correspondence, ii, pp. 1150–2, 1159–64, for her correspondence with Rakhal das Haldar and Rajnarayan Bose.

96 Kathryn Gleadle, ‘Sophia Dobson Collet’, Oxford dictionary of national biography; ‘Sophia Dobson Collet, a biographical sketch’, in Collet, Sophia Dobson, Life and letters of Raja Rammohun Roy (rev. edn, Calcutta, 1913), pp. ixxxxii; Collet, S. D., ed., The Brahmo Samaj: lectures and tracts by Keshub Chunder Sen (1st and 2nd ser., London, 1870); Collet, ed., English visit; The Brahmo Year-Book for 1876 (–1882), nos. 1–7 (London, 1876–83).

97 Ghose, Jogendra Chunder, ed., The English works of Raja Ram Mohun Roy (2 vols., Calcutta, 1885–7), i, p. iii, ii, p. ix.

98 Collet, Sophia Dobson, The life and letters (rev. edn, Calcutta, 1913).

* My thanks to the anonymous reviewers of this article for their valuable suggestions, and my gratitude to Carla Contractor in Bristol and current members of the Brahmo Samaj in London and Kolkata for their hospitality and assistance.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO




Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.