Joshua Marshman, Extraordinary Translator

Dan Graves, MSL
Joshua Marshman, Extraordinary Translator

If you imagine a boy so enthusiastic for learning that he devoured any writing he could lay his hands on, you have a picture of young Joshua Marshman. Joshua was born on this day, April 20, 1768, at Westbury Leigh in Wiltshire, England.

Until the age of twenty-six he worked as a weaver, but all the while he was learning. Finally he was offered a job as a teacher at a Baptist church in Bristol. His reputation for learning was so great that the Baptists were afraid to take him in, fearing that he might have more head knowledge than heart knowledge of the gospel. But Joshua set that fear to rest, was baptized and joined the church. For five years he studied theology and Biblical languages at the Broadmead seminary in Bristol, learning Hebrew and Syriac.

William Carey had already sailed to India as a missionary. His reports thrilled Joshua and his wife so much that they offered to go to India to work with him. They were accepted and sailed in 1799. In India, difficulties developed. Authorities threatened to send the "illegal" missionaries back to England, but Governor General Lord Wellesley decided in their favor.

Joshua Marshman was to contribute an astonishing effort to the mission. He put his gift of languages to work and translated all or part of the Bible into several languages of India as well as into Chinese. He worked the other way, too, translating eastern works into English.

Meanwhile, he and his wife ran boarding schools. These attracted so many paying students that they helped keep the mission afloat. Eventually, Joshua founded the Serampore College.

Joshua also issued the first newspaper printed in an Eastern language. The government of India paid £1,000 to cover the expense of his Key to the Chinese Language.

William Ward, William Carey and Joshua Marshman were a trio of great Baptist missionaries at Serampore. Joshua was the last of the three to die. As the 69 year old man was dying, he exclaimed that he had experienced sweet communion with God, despite light-headedness and other unpleasant symptoms. Almost to his last conscious moment, he expressed interest in the progress of mission work. He prayed in the Bengali language and spoke of his "precious savior."

Few men can claim to have achieved as much good as Joshua Marshman.


  1. Baptist Magazine for 1838, Volume XXX.
  2. "Marshman, Joshua." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encylopedia Britannica, Inc, 1911.

Last updated June, 2007

Originally published April 28, 2010.