Who was Henry Martyn?
Born in Truro, Cornwall, on 18th February 1781, Henry Martyn was educated at Truro Grammar School and then entered St John’s college, Cambridge in the Autumn of 1797 where he later went on to become a fellow.
As Henry Martyn was preparing to leave Cambridge in 1802 to go to the bar, he happened to hear Charles Simeon preaching on the opportunities of Christian mission in India. A passion grew within him and he resolved that he would go to India as a missionary. He was ordained as a priest and served as Simeon’s curate at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge.
On 5 July 1805, Martyn left for India as an ordained chaplain with the British East India Company and arrived in Aldeen, near Serampur, India, in April 1806. For the subsequent years Martyn travelled around India learning the language and dialects, conducting worship services, establishing schools,teaching and preaching.
Henry Martyn’s great passion was in linguistic study and he is perhaps most notably remembered for translating the entire New Testament into Urdu, Persian and Judaeo-Persic. In addition he translated the Psalms in Persian, and the Book of Common Prayer into Urdu.
Setting sail again, on 18th February 1811 Martyn arrived in Bombay. From here he undertook the journey across land to Shiraz where he was confronted with discussions from "Sufi, Muslim, Jew, and Jewish Muslim, even Armenian, all anxious to test their powers of argument with the first English priest who had visited them." (This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.)
Martyn then travelled to Tabriz where he had hoped to present the Shah with a copy of his translated New Testament. He was, however, unable to meet the Shah but succeeded in having the manuscript delivered to him. The shah later wrote:
“...through the learned and unremitted exertions of the Reverend Henry Martyn it has been translated in a style most befitting sacred books, that is in an easy and simple diction...The whole of the New Testament is completed in a most excellent manner, a source of pleasure to our enlightened and august mind”
Taking to the road once again, in the Autumn of 1812 Henry Martyn became ill and on 16 October 1812 tragically died in Armenia, aged only 31. His dying words were heard to be said: “Let me burn out for God.”
Henry Martyn’s legacy is remembered most notably by two organisations: The Henry Martyn Institute, which is an Interfaith Centre for Reconciliation and Research which is based in Hyderabad, India, and The Henry Martyn Trust, which is based in Cambridge, England.
The Henry Martyn Trust has developed a Missionary Library, which is based at Cambridge University, in Henry Martyn’s name, and regularly holds lectures in Missiology.