Manickam, N.G.

1897 - 1981

Rev N.G. Manickam was the youngest child of Mr and Mrs Gnana Manickam Nganamuthu Pillay. He lost his parents at a very young age and was brought up by his brother, Jacob, who educated him. After his schooling, he joined the World War I British Army. As an army veteran he was stationed in the Middle East and surrounding countries. He left the army and went back to India and got into medical college in Madras. 

During his second or third year, his duty was to travel to interior villages to visit patients. He had to travel on bicycle on lonely paths and often in the dark. On one of his trips to a village while cycling in the night, he was stricken by some evil force and was thrown off his bicycle. He got up trembling with fear and ran back to the college. The image he saw caused him great fear. This incident made him change his mind about doing medical studies and he decided to leave the college. The missionaries then advised him to study theology and he was admitted to theological college.

After his graduation, the missionaries introduced him to Mr Gideon and his family, and he married their eldest daughter, Helen Julia, in 1924. Helen Julia and her two sisters were brought up in a boarding school. After her studies she worked as a teacher in India and later, after marriage, in Penang when Rev Manickam pastored the Methodist Church in Penang. 

Having been a veteran of World War I, Rev Manickam was a great disciplinarian and so was Mrs Manickam. They brought up the children with great discipline and the Manickam home was run like a boarding school. Mrs Manickam dedicated herself to bringing up a large family of five boys and seven girls and also the children of the poorer community residing with them who needed financial help for education as well as accommodation to stay in town to attend school.

Rev Manickam joined the Malaya Methodist Conference in 1931, reputedly the first qualified Asian pastor to be admitted on trial, and became an elder in 1933. He was also a teacher in the mission schools in the towns he pastored and headed the Anglo-Chinese School in Taiping until 1941. He served in Penang, Ipoh, Sentul, Taiping and Malacca where he retired in 1948. 

His ministry in Taiping in two stints from 1936-1945 and after retirement from 1948-1981 was outstanding and he is still fondly remembered by many people, some of whom became Christians or church workers through his ministry. He was dedicated to the Tamil work in Taiping where he pioneered work in Selamat Estate, Pondok Tanjung Estate, Matang Estate, Kati Estate and Chenderoh.

Pastor Denison Jayasooria (as he was then), writing in 1982, said:

“In the early '70s at various Church Conferences I met this old pastor with his old car. It was in 1974 when I stayed in his home with three other youths for a few days that I was really impressed with him and his service for God. Little did I realize then, that in the years to come I would also toil in the same soil as he did.

“In the last days of his life on earth (September 1981), I slept in the same room with him. I counted it a privilege to serve him. As I laid on bed by his side, my thoughts lingered on my 1977 ministry in Taiping (Perak, Malaysia) [1] as a ministerial student. Although I differed on a number of issues with him, yet I had a great sense of respect for his commitment and dedication. Never had I seen such a man, at his age, full of fire for our Lord Jesus.”

On the role of ACS in the Tamil Church, Rev Manickam wrote that “the enrolment of 27 in seven classes, with two teachers, rose to 458 students with 14 teachers (six Chinese and eight Tamil, all Methodists), and a peon.” He said this “was a miracle to Bishop Lee”. “His (Bishop Lee’s) personal interest in the school and influence over Mr O'Sullivan, the Chief Education Officer, Perak kindled my enthusiasm towards indefatigable labour for the school that bore tremendous fruit for the churches, so that in 1937 the Christmas and Watch Night services were held in the Taiping Town Hall for want of space in the new Church. This school was a mighty channel to permeate [the] Christian atmosphere [that] all the three churches enjoyed. I counted myself blessed as its benefit to the Tamil Church was great and memorable. This state of glowing progress continued until the Japanese entry.”

However, the shifting of the state capital from Taiping to Ipoh had a devastating effect on the Tamil Church, he noted.

“As the British Government Officials with their staff were forced into Ipoh, the cream of the Church supporters had also left, leaving the Church in the hands of the Japanese Military, thereby the situation warranted closing down of the Tamil Church like the Wesley. But in the name of the Good Shepherd, to take care of the neglected poor and the underprivileged remnants, I ventured to undergo rough treatment at the hands of the Japanese, beating, kicking, losing two of my teeth, bleeding… in such a critical hour I managed to reach the Commandant, a Christian, perceiving my faith and firm stand for Christ and His church, found it his pleasure to restore the Church for the regular worship with military passes for every individual above 10 years until the return of the British Administration."

Rev Manickam also engaged with the non-Christians, especially the Indians, at the social and political level. He was president of the Taiping branch of the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) and the Indian Association Taiping and an active member of the Rotary Club and a committee member of the Red Cross Society.[2] Datuk Denison Jayasooria describes Rev Manickam as the man "I love and cannot forget… I admired his toil for our Lord, his self-supporting nature of ministry. Like the Apostle Paul, the Rev Manickam worked to support the Tamil work in Taiping. I admired his broad view of the Pastoral Ministry… service and ministry to the Christian community [and] service to the wider non-Christian community."

Rev Manickam's daughter, Mrs Saroja Thiruchelvam, says her father was dedicated, a workaholic and served God Almighty till the ripe old age of 84 when he suffered a stroke while saying the benediction after a communion service. He went to sleep in the arms of Jesus a week later on September 10, 1981. When asked to take it easy and rest, his favourite saying was "To rest is to rust".


  1. ^ On the Methodist ministry in Taiping, Rev Manickam had recorded:  “... with the knowledge of Bishop J.M. Thoburn, Rev Samuel Abraham [Ed: see story elsewhere in this Website] evidently had meetings and services in individuals' homes, whenever he visited Taiping. Rev W.E. Horley's influence with the British rule secured in 1905 some land, where a wooden building with an attap roof was erected and used as the church for services by the Tamils at 8a.m., by the Chinese at 11a.m. and periodically at 5.30 in the evening, by the Wesley Church.“As time went on the services of Mr Nitchingam were used in this area. Rev Edward Isaac travelled from Ipoh to conduct services and later on he was resident in Taiping itself. Rev Job Gnanasihamony served prior to Rev Joseph Kingham from 1930. He was succeeded by Rev Retnasamy Sr. up to 1935. In 1936 1 was transferred to Taiping more for strengthening our Anglo Chinese School (ACS). The Tamil and the Wesley congregations moved into the new Church building in June 1936, leaving the old one to the use of the Chinese by themselves. The entire Tamil congregation was waiting after the communion service for the ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone by Bishop Edwin F. Lee. Dr Dodsworth, the District Superintendent, with a few missionary ladies also waited. As the pastor, Mr Peterson from Ipoh ACS joined us to start the service. I was shocked to discover the inscription on the stone as "Wesley Church". It was providential. Instantaneously 1 made a sad note saying, "THE LARGE MAJORITY STANDING HERE ARE THE TAMILS. THEY HAVE NO PLACE IN THIS CHURCH." The grieved Bishop sharply asked Mr Peterson to change the inscription to read as "THE METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH" so the ceremony was postponed to another day. 
  2. ^ Datuk Denison recalls the story of Rev Manickam's return to Taiping in 1948 after retirement: "It is said that in 1948, the Tamil work in Taiping was to be closed down due to the poor state of affairs. The Rev N.G. Manickam who served there from 1936 was transferred after the War in 1945 to Malacca. As this possibility of closing down the Tamil work in Taiping was being discussed, Rev Manickam described the unrest he went through: ‘I was definitely against the closing down of the church. For a fortnight I had to wrestle with the conflicting ideals, either to advise them to accept closing down or to take it as a call from God to rededicate myself to the service of the survival of the church. The great barrier was my position with a handsome salary in Malacca and my future prospects besides my large family. I knew that I could never find peace with God if I avoided facing the issue. So it dawned on me to take it as a call definitely from God to rededicate myself to the sacred duty of the survival of this church meaning to offer my services and myself ... to have peace with God…’” 

Saroja Thiruchelvam and Gopal Sundaram

© CCM-2011. This article from A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Historical Record of Key Pastors in the Indian Churches in Malaysia and Singapore is reproduced with permission of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, with editing for clarity and brevity. Portions of this story have been converted into Notes for ease of reading.