11:00 PM, August 16, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, August 16, 2009

Remembering William Carey as an environmentalist

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Martin Adhikary

WILLIAM Carey (1761-1834), who arrived in Bengal on November 11, 1793 from England as a missionary, was born on August 17. Side by side with his missionary work he did great work in social reformation and renaissance, literature, translation and the print media, and many other fields. His great contribution to the preservation of environment is one such area.
Ecology is a great concern all over the world today, and it will be fitting to remember Carey's contribution in this field. This short writing is a modest way to remember the many areas in the life and work of the versatile genius of William Carey, who lived and tirelessly worked in the then Bengal for transforming the lives of the people.
Carey had a deep love for nature. He had internalised right from his youth the truth that though the purpose of nature was to serve man, man also had the responsibility to be the faithful steward of God's creation. Due to poverty his parents could not afford to give him formal education. He had to work in agricultural fields with his uncle from his boyhood days.
His resolute character and love for God, nature and mankind helped him to learn from everything around him. He learnt from nature, its beauty, intricacy and sanctity. The trees, plants, flowers, fruits, butterflies, birds and all other creations appealed to his whole being. In the 41 years he spent in the then Bengal, Carey served man with a deep regard for God's creations backed by a deep devotion to God.
He wrote in "On the Study of Nature:" "The great Author of nature has filled the world with so great a variety of objects that something presents itself, at every step, to the view of the most incurious observer, either from its utility or its beauty. Its singularity or some other obvious property brings itself to his notice. Where, however, a superficial observer sees only the most prominent beauties or singularities of an object, or only recognises it from the virtues popularly attributed to it. The philosopher examines it with greater minuteness, reduces it to its proper class, and assigns it a place in the general arrangement of organised bodies."
He had books on plants, birds, beasts, fish, reptiles and various other creatures. Carey taught Natural Science and Agronomy to his classes with great earnestness at the Serampore College, of which he was the founder. He and his colleagues used to publish new findings in the newspapers of that time so that the public could also learn about developments in agriculture. Carey's contribution to agriculture can be understood from his essay "State of agriculture in the district of Dinajpur," published in the Asiatic Researches in 1811.
Carey's contribution to the development of agronomy and botany can hardly be overemphasised. It was primarily because of his insistence that the government formed the Plantation Committee with the mandate of protecting the receding forests in India. Carey was its first secretary. He put great emphasis on the promotion of agriculture and horticulture.
He founded the Agri-horticultural Society of India in 1820, 30 years before the foundation of the Royal Agricultural Society in his homeland England! This was a great step towards the development of agriculture in all of India. He received cooperation from Governor General Hastings and Lady Hastings. The Society had great seminal effect, manifested in the formation of local societies in different parts of India -- including one in Dhaka. He reminded people that man was a part of nature and without love and protection of nature man could not live.
From nature we get food, drink, medicine, shelter, oxygen, and what not. He founded the Botanical Garden in Serampore on 15 bighas of land. It had as many as 427 species, many of which were of rare varieties. Carey worked for a considerable amount of time in Madnabati in western Dinajpur, where he did a lot of work in agricultural farming. He used to cultivate various vegetables, bringing their seeds from England, and also used to send seeds of different kinds of vegetables and fruits from Madnabati to England. He did what he could do in his time. Let us remember him for his great work and be encouraged by his love for nature and all its blessings for our good.

Reverend Martin Adhikary is a social worker and a contributor to The Daily Star.

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