John Anderson Graham

Very Reverend John Anderson Graham CIE (8 September 1861 – 1942) was a Scottish minister and the first missionary from Young Men's Guild sent to North Eastern Himalayan region Kalimpong—then in British Sikkim (Colonial British name), currently in West Bengal.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

He was the founder of the Dr. Graham's Homes, Orphanage-cum-School for destitute Anglo-Indian children at Kalimpong—in the Eastern Himalayas on the borders of Tibet, Sikkim, Bhutan, and India. He was the recipient of several British and Bhutanese honorary degrees.[4][5][6][7][8][9]

He served as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1931.[10]


Graham was born in a religious family on 8 September 1861 at De Beauvoir, West Hackney district, London, to the Scottish father from Dunbartonshire David Graham, a customs officer, and the Irish mother Bridget Nolan, a homemaker. He attended local Parish school, and was withdrawn from the school at the age of thirteen to work in order to support the family as his father had died in 1867.[1][9][11]

With minimum and interrupted schooling, he started working as a clerk in a role of licking stamps and delivering messages. With an appetite to continue further studies, he attended evening classes at The Andersonian where he studied stenography and astronomy. In 1875, he enrolled himself in a school at Glasgow.[1][9][11]

At the age of sixteen, he worked as a minor civil servant(clerk) to the General Board of Lunacy, Edinburgh. During this period, he became engaged in Church affairs as a member of St. Bernard's Parish Church, and also became the secretary of the Young Mens's Fellowship Association. From University of Edinburgh, he studied ministry in 1885. While studying at the university, he became the secretary to the committee producing Life and Work, a Church periodical, and also learnt here the importance and power of propaganda and dissemination of information. In 1886, he initiated the Church of Scotland Yearbook, and went to Dresden, Germany, for a brief period of study.[1][9][11]

With British empire colonialism expanding globally and reaping financial benefits, many missionary committees and ministers, including doctors and nurses received the call to serve in faraway places—that also included, a duty to free the natives from the superstitions and fears of the religions that they had feared for centuries. Accordingly, he became the national secretary for the "Young Men's Guild," and was ordained as the first missionary supported by the same guild on 13 January 1889. After two days of ordination, he married Katherine McConachie, who later bore him two sons and four daughters, and was sent as a missionary to Kalimpong, part of then-British Sikkim—till 18th century, it was part of Sikkim, then became part of Bhutan, and at present part of West Bengal from 19th century.[2][3][6][9][11]

Graham and his wife arrived Calcutta on 21 March 1889 travelling via Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. From Calcutta, they moved to Darjeeling, and than to Kalimpong—then populated with three main tribes Lepchas, Nepalese, and Bhutias - Graham was more attracted later to work with original inhabitants of the area, Lepcha people.[1][6][11]

Missionary work

"Kalimpong mission" was founded by prior visits of missionaries like "McLeod" and "Watson", where mission compound had sixteen acres of land, close to the Kalimpong bazaar. It also housed "Guild mission" and a training school for catechists; later, with growing diseases, a hospital with 25 beds was opened in 1893.[11]

In 1890, he became the convenor of the Silk Committee, and encouraged local farmers to improve farming techniques. In 1891, he established the Kalimpong Mela, an agriculture fair, to instill competition and encourage competition among farmers. He also took part in establishing a Cooperative Credit Society in Kalimpong to safeguard the locals from threats of moneylenders.[1][11]

In 1889, Katherine Graham started a girls' school, later renamed as Kalimpong Academy, to educate girls. She also played a considerable role in social and economic upliftment of Nepalese and Lepcha women; she engaged the local women in crafts and cottage industries, having sensed the demand for those in East India Company army and Tea planters. Katherine started Lace school, Weaving school, and encouraged them to take up poultry rearing and turkey breeding. Katherine was also awarded with Kaisar-i-Hind Medal in 1916, for her contributions in developing Cottage industries. She died on 15 May 1919.[1][6][11]

In 1895, he went back to Scotland with his wife for three years. During that period, he visited Young Men's Guild network and published mission books On the Threshold of Three Closed Lands and The Missionary Expansion of the Reformed Churches describing the mission, the tribes, and the country side.[1][11]

As a missionary, he was responsible for the growth of Christian churches, hospitals, and economic development activities by raising funds from Scotland. In 1931, he worked as a moderator of General Assembly for the Church of Scotland. He was also awarded a house in Kalimpong for his contributions on his fiftieth anniversary of missionary service in 1939, where he lived his retired life till his death in 1942 at Kalimpong.[1]

Kalimpong homes

Upon returning to India in 1898, he diverted his attention to offspring of unofficial unions with locals and children of the planters -- Anglo-Indian community, also known as Eurasians - the children not born out of marriage - usually, had no identification with their country of birth.. For this, he initiated St. Andrew's Colonial and Industrial Settlement project to provide these illicit and abandoned children with Christian homes, education, and the opportunity to immigrate to rewarding work. He turned to British Raj government of India and Scottish public for the funds as neither guild network nor missionary committee came forward to fund the project.

In 1900, he founded St Andrew's Colonial Home, later renamed to Dr. Graham's Homes, at Kalimpong, on behalf of the needy, orphaned, deprived, neglected, and abandoned Anglo-Indian children—the unwanted byproducts of mixed and illicit, through Indian and British relationships. Having sensed the calamity suffered by the early Anglo-Indian families, where the Anglo-Indian was ostracised and considered as an "outsider" to the local Indians, he founded this institute in the Tea Gardens of Darjeeling district with its own farm, bakery, dairy, poultry, hospital, and clothing department. Graham started the Home with one rented cottage and six children in the care of a housemother and a teacher, initially. John and Katherine Graham started this to relieve the plight of underprivileged children of Anglo-Indian descent and numerous destitutes from the streets of Calcutta(present Kolkata) and the tea plantations of Darjeeling, Dooars, and Terai. After Indian independence from Colonial British Raj, it also started accepting students from neighbouring countries as well.

In 1908, Graham was assisted in his work at Kalimpong by James Purdie, a welfare worker in Glasgow prison, later happened to be an important player in managing the finances efficiently and building up the necessary reserves ensuring constant flow of funds for homes. They together were responsible in constructing Birkmyre hostel at Calcutta for the Kalimpong boys who arrived Calcutta in search of jobs. The hostel was gifted by Archibald Birkmyre for the boys of Kalimpong homes.

In 1910, the Church of Scotland missionary Aeneas Francon Williams arrived in Kalimpong to assist Graham at St Andrew's Colonial Home, firstly as the assistant schoolmaster and teacher of Geography and Science, and later as the Bursar. [12] In 1914, Aeneas married Clara Anne Rendall, who was also a Church of Scotland missionary and a teacher at St Andrew's Colonial Home.[13] Aeneas Francon Williams wrote the biography of John Anderson Graham that is included in the Dictionary of National Biography 1941-1950 published in 1959 by Oxford University Press.[14]

Graham's mission work later spread to Madras(present Chennai). In 1911, he visited Madras and spoke about his work in the Kalimpong home influencing many, including Arthur Lawley, then-Governor of Madras. St. George's Homes in Kodaikanal constructed later had the same purpose as that of Kalimpong home, much influenced and modeled by Graham's work in Kalimpong.

At present, this educational institute has grown immensely providing education to more than 1200 boys and girls, located at 500-acre estate, on the slopes of Deolo Hills. At present, it is providing education to Eurasian, Anglo-Indian, ethnic Negalese people, students from neighbouring lands of Tibet, Bhutan, and locals from different creed and clan too. This school compound also houses the Graham's grave.



The rapid expansion of Kalimpong homes had become a matter of concern for the Foreign Missionary committees due to budget constraints. He had to face resentment from Nepali Christians and Lepcha Christians for shifting his focus and attention from them to the Anglo-Indian communities.

Graham and his other missionaries were also criticised by Lepcha Christian communities, who felt that they had been educated for only vocational pursuits and not for business, trade or commerce.[11]


He was largely responsible for promoting Kalimpong throughout Scotland, particularly through his prior guild network and through his book on mission On the Threshold of Three Closed Lands, published in 1897. He also persuaded the Scottish people to take care of the tea planters of the area and to begin missionary work among their laborers using another mission book The Missionary Expansion of the Reformed Churches, published in 1898.[1]

Having influenced by philosophical thoughts of Hinduism, notably, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, he wrote Stray Thoughts on the Possibility of a Universal Religion and the Feasibility of Teaching It in Our Schools, published in 1887, for Bengal teachers conference and in response to a Hindu friend devoted to Christ.[1]


  • Kaisar-i-Hind Medal, public award, awarded to him by government in 1903.
  • Moderator's chair of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1931.
  • Silver jubilee medal.[9][11]

See also


  1. Anderson, Gerald H. (1999). Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 254. ISBN 978-0-8028-4680-8. ISBN 0-8028-4680-7.
  2. "Kalimpong Hill Station". Archived from the original on 14 April 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2012. Until the 18th century ad, Kalimpong was a part of the Kingdom of Sikkim and was ruled by Sikkimese rulers. It was then taken over by the Bhutanese. In the 19th century, the British took over Kalimpong and merged into the present Indian state of West Bengal.
  3. "Kalimpong, West Bengal, East India — History of Kalimponrg". Retrieved 29 April 2012. Till 18th Century Kalimpong was under the rule of Sikkimese rulers. Then it came under the command of the Bhutanese. Finally, in the 19th Century, the British took over.Kalimpong and merged it with West Bengal.
  4. Starks, Richard; Miriam Murcutt (2005). Lost In Tibet:The Untold Story Of Five American Airmen, A Doomed Plane, And The Will To Survive. Globe Pequot. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-59228-785-7. ISBN 1-59228-785-9.
  5. Lyons, Esther Mary (2005). Unwanted!:Memoirs of an Anglo-Indian Daughter of Rev Michael Delisle Lyons of Detroit, Michigan. Calcutta Tiljallah Relief Inc. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-9754639-9-4. ISBN 0-9754639-9-3.
  6. "Kalimpong (West Bengal) - Kalimpong Arts and Craft Centre". Retrieved 30 April 2012. Kalimpong is known for its educational institutions many of which were established during the British colonial period. It used to be a gateway in the trade between Tibet and India prior to China's annexation of Tibet and the Sino-Indian War - Work is done on Bhutanese, Lepchas and Sikkimese designed cloth which is manufactured at this centre. This institution was founded by Mrs. Katherine Graham in the year 1897. It is stated that more than 500 people used to work when it was managed by the Scottish Missionaries - Education through the medium of English was introduced into Kalimpong and this was the work of another Scotsman, the Rev, Dr. J.A. Graham. Since his first 11 years in Kalimpong he spent in routine evangelism, but later he started concerntrating more of his time on establishing an orphanage-cum-school; St. Andrew's Colonial and Industrial Settlement, now simply known as 'Dr. Graham's Home'.
  7. "Dr Graham's Homes". Retrieved 30 April 2012. Dr Graham's Homes were started in 1900 by Dr John Anderson Graham as a complex for orphans and deprived children and .initially had only 6 orphans.
  8. "Dr . Grahams Homes". Archived from the original on 23 October 2012. Retrieved 30 April 2012. Situated on Delo hill, the highest in kalimpong, the Homes were started in 1900 A.D. by a scottish Missionary Dr. john Anderson Graham. as an arphange — The Dr Graham's Homes were founded in 1900 by Dr. John Anderson Graham (1861-1942), a Church of Scotland missionary at Kalimpong in the Eastern Himalayas on the borders of Tibet, Sikkim, Bhutan and India. The Homes, which started with six children in a rented cottage, grew until by 1920s there were more than six hundred children. - John and Katherine Graham were moved to relieve the plight of the numerous destitute and underprivileged children of Anglo Indian descent from the streets of Calcutta and the tea plantations of Darjeeling — Since Indian Independence the Homes has admitted needy children from neighbouring countries as well
  9. "Kalimpong papers - National Library of Scotland - GRAHAM, Very Rev. John Anderson (1861-1942)". Archived from the original on 22 December 2012. Retrieved 30 April 2012. personal archive of the Very Rev. Jon Anderson Graham D. D., founder of the Kalimpong homes, and much of the general archive of the Homes themselves from the beginning of Graham's ministry there in 1889 until 1972.
  10. "Moderators of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland genealogy project". Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  11. "Reverend John Anderson Graham Founder of the "Homes"". Retrieved 29 April 2012. John Anderson Graham of Kalimpong was a unique human being who chose early in his life, the road less traveled. Born on 8th September 1861 in a small town, De Beauvoir in West Hackney District, John was the second son of David Graham, a Customs Officer by occupation and Bridget Nolan, a homemaker of Irish descent. The Graham family was a closely-knit family and deeply religious.
  12. Correspondence from Aeneas Francon Williams addressed from Wolseley House, Kalimpong, is stored in the Dr. Graham Kalimpong Archive held at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
  13. Marriage Certificate for Aeneas Francon Williams and Clara Anne Rendall, 2 December 1914: – Williams' profession is registered as ‘Assistant School Master,’ Kalimpong, India.
  14. Dictionary of National Biography 1941-1950, edited by L. G. Wickham Legg and E. T. Williams, publ. Oxford University Press, 1959, page 311–312 - Graham, John Anderson (1861- 1942) by Aeneas Francon Williams.:
  15. "Dr. Graham's school". Retrieved 29 April 2012. Founded by The Rev John Anderson Graham, a Church of Scotland. Missionary in 1900 for the often neglected Anglo Indian children of the Tea Gardens in the Darjeeling District. This school currently houses ~1200 students.
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