Bailey, Benjamin

1791 - 1871

Benjamin Bailey was a British missionary sent by the Church Missionary Society (CMS), whose contribution to South India’s Kottayam town in Kerala state has etched for him a permanent place as a “city father”.

Benjamin Bailey was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England, in November 1791 to Joseph and Martha Bailey. Bailey had a brother named Joseph Bailey (who would later go to Ceylon as a missionary) and a sister Sarah Bailey, who married Thomas Dawson, another missionary to Kerala. The Bailey family may have been influenced by the missionary zeal of their Parish minister, Rev. John Buckworth.[1]

In his early twenties, Bailey as well as Thomas Dawson and one John Collier underwent missionary training for two years under Rev. Thomas Scott. Following Thomas Scott’s ill health, Bailey and Dawson and Collier were taken in by Rev. Buckworth, the then Vicar of Dewsbury, to continue their missionary training,[2] under whom Bailey spent a year. In 1815 Bailey was ordained as a deacon on August 6th and then as a minister on December 17th by the Archbishop of York.

In 1816 Bailey married Elizabeth Ella. In the same year he was sent as a missionary to Kottayam in Kerala, India, by the Church of England. Together with Sarah Bailey and Thomas Dawson, who had also got married recently, the Baileys sailed for India on the Hero on May 4th, 1816 and arrived in Allepey on November 19th. Bailey had been assigned to "Mission of Help", a venture of the CMS set up to help the Syrian Church in Travancore.[3][4]

Bailey was entrusted with the task of reforming the Syrian Orthodox Church and appointed head of theological training, which he committed to for 18 months.[5] Among his first responsibilities upon arriving in Kerala was to serve as Principal or Superintendent of Kottayam College. Kottayam College was run by the Church Missionary Society and aimed to educate the local populace of Travancore.[6] As Principal he brought in reforms that would introduce a shift in the way people were educated in the then backward state of Kerala. Bailey initiated a western system-based approach to lay the basic principles of a modern education and introduced the English language.

The printing press was one of the main highlights of Bailey’s contribution to the social development of the State. Launched in 1821, the press came to be known as the Kottayam CMS press, and became a progenitor for printing and publishing of books in Malayalam, the regional language of Kerala. Bailey translated and published  Cheru Paithangalkku Upakarartham Paribhashappeduthiya Kathakal,[7] (eight stories for children translated from English to Malayalam) the first printed book in Kerala, at this press in 1824. In addition to Malayalam, the press also printed and published in few other languages including English, Latin, Syriac, Tamil, and Sanskrit.

He had become well acquainted with Malayalam, the native language, becoming its first lexicographer, as well as an author and translator. Bailey went on to translate the Bible into Malayalam, today known as the "Bailey Bible".[8] His contributions to the Malayalam language include putting together two dictionaries: A Dictionary of High and Colloquial Malayalim and English (1846, Malayalam-English Dictionary) and A Dictionary, English and Malayalim (1849, English-Malayalam).[9] These works of Bailey in Malayalam were recognized and supported by the rulers of the Kingdom of Travancore.

Bailey’s lexicography was so impactful that his dictionaries are still in use. Kottayam town, which today houses the headquarters of the second largest circulated daily newspaper in India is indebted to the contributions of Bailey for its development as a centre of literature, learning, and publishing.

A significant feather in Bailey’s contributions, in addition to the language and societal development, is his extensive work for the faith. Discerning the spiritual state of Syrian Christians, Bailey desired a transformation in the way Syrian Christians perceived their faith and knowledge of scripture. Departing from traditional Syriac church liturgy, Bailey was interested in having the Bible read and understood by all classes of people. Additionally, Bailey’s desire to spread the good news of the gospel would find root in his pushing for translation of other Christian literary works. The emphasis on scripture as the basis for teaching and practices in the Church was facilitated indirectly by Bailey's translation of the Bible.[10] Along with the Bible, Bailey also helped translate and print the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and the gospels in Malayalam.

After a brief stint in England beginning in 1830, Bailey returned to Kerala in 1834. In 1839, Bailey was instrumental in conceiving a Gothic cathedral for the Anglo-Syrians in Kottayam. An architectural marvel, this edifice named the Christ Church, completed in 1842, today houses an active parish of the Church of South India (CSI). 

While Bailey’s accomplishments were significant, his personal life suffered from tragedies. Of the nine children born to Bailey and Elizabeth, four died in their childhood, while in Kerala. The Baileys also underwent periods of health issues during their time in Kerala.

After serving in Kerala for 34 years, Bailey made his final return from Travancore back to England at the age of 60, in 1850, where he worked as Dean of a college in Shropshire for twenty years.[11] Benjamin Bailey died on April 3, 1871 at the age of 79.

Bailey is noted for his contribution to the cultural transformation of Kerala, especially through his works in the Malayalam language. It is to be emphasised that this influence of Bailey was not his primary motive and was rather a secondary outcome of his mission to enable access to the Bible in the language of the common man of the region he served in.

Renowned for his preaching and the study of the Bible, Bailey’s efforts in Christian mission work would see fruit years after his death, with the birth of the Anglican denomination in Kerala, the CSI, and the Marthoma Church. [12] A statue in honour of Benjamin Bailey in Kottayam town’s municipal park bears the inscription, “the man who translated the Scriptures into Malayalam”.

A Malayalam pamphlet, dating to around 1900, states the following about Benjamin Bailey: “His people loved him greatly…he was an example for all pastors in the zeal with which his duties down to the minutest were performed”.[13] Bailey’s service did not come without disappointments and trials. However, his trust in God can be seen in this articulation from 1822: “I would now with humble and cheerful submission to His holy will…welcome affliction, pain or any trial, with which it may please the Lord to visit me. He does all things in wisdom; and mercy is inscribed on all His works”. [14]


  1. ^ Gary McKee, “Benjamin Bailey, a Brief Biographical Sketch,” Ust, April 11, 2017,
  2. ^ McKee, “Benjamin Bailey, a Brief Biographical Sketch.”
  3. ^ McKee, “Benjamin Bailey, a Brief Biographical Sketch.”
  4. ^ The Kingdom of Travancore , also known as the Kingdom of Thiruvithamkoor, (Malayalam: ) was an Indian kingdom from c. 1729 until 1949. It was ruled by the Travancore Royal Family from Padmanabhapuram, and later Thiruvananthapuram.
  5. ^ Benjamin George, “The Life of Benjamin Bailey - Equip Indian Churches,” Equip Indian Churches (blog), September 15, 2023,
  6. ^ “ Benjamin Bailey,” Benjamin Bailey Foundation Malayalam Research Journal, accessed February 2, 2024,
  7. ^ “Benjamin Bailey Foundation.”
  8. ^ “Benjamin Bailey Foundation.”
  9. ^ “Benjamin Bailey Foundation.”
  10. ^ McKee, “Benjamin Bailey, a Brief Biographical Sketch.”
  11. ^ George, “The Life of Benjamin Bailey - Equip Indian Churches,” September 15, 2023.
  12. ^ George, “The Life of Benjamin Bailey - Equip Indian Churches,” September 15, 2023.
  13. ^ McKee, “Benjamin Bailey, a Brief Biographical Sketch.”
  14. ^ McKee, “Benjamin Bailey, a Brief Biographical Sketch.”

Dr.Jerrin Mathew

Jerrin finished with a PhD degree in Biological Sciences from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Presently, Jerrin lives in Bangalore with his wife Lina. Apart from his academic pursuits Jerrin is interested in apologetics.


Benjamin Bailey Foundation Malayalam Research Journal. “Benjamin Bailey.” Accessed February 16, 2024.

Bailey, Benjamin. Dictionary of High and Colloquial Malayalim and English. Cottayam: Church Mission Press, 1846.…

Bailey, Benjamin. Dictionary English and Malayalim. Cottayam: Church Mission Press, 1849.…

Cherupaithangalkk Upakarartham Enkleeshil Ninnu Paribhashappeduthiya Kadhakal. Translated by Benjamin Bailey. Cottayam: Church Mission Press, 1824.

George, Benjamin. “The Life of Benjamin Bailey - Equip Indian Churches.” Equip Indian Churches (blog), September 15, 2023.

McKee, Gary. “Benjamin Bailey, a Brief Biographical Sketch.” Ust, April 11, 2017.….

The New Testament. Translated by Benjamin Bailey. Cottayam: Church Mission Press, 1843.…