Her mother died when she was eight. In 1791 Hannah Shepherd married Joshua Marshman. In 1794, the married young couple moved from Westbury Leigh in Wiltshire to Bristol, where they joined the Broadmead Baptist Church. The couple were to eventually have 12 children; of these only five lived longer than their mother.
Hannah is considered to be the first woman missionary in India.
Leaving for India
On 29 May 1799, Hannah and Joshua, and their two children set out from Portsmouth for India aboard the ship Criterion. Although there was a threat of a French naval attack the family landed safely at the Danish settlement of Serampore (a few miles north of Calcutta) on 13 October 1799. They had chosen to land here because the East India Company was still hostile to missionaries, they settled in the Danish colony at Serampore and were joined there by William Carey on 10 January 1800.
The missionary settlement
On 1 May 1800, Joshua and Hannah Marshman opened two boarding schools at Serampore. The two schools became the most popular in the Presidency and their son John Clark Marshman received his education from his parents. He was part of the growing mission family, eating at the communal table and joining with other children in mission life. As with all other mission family members he was encouraged to become a fluent Bengali speaker.
Meanwhile, the Missionary Society had begun sending more missionaries to India. The first to arrive was John Fountain, who arrived in Mudnabatty and began a teaching school. He was followed by William Ward, a printer; David Brunsdon, one of Marshman's students; and William Grant, who died three weeks after his arrival.
The spirit of the early community's unity was somewhat broken when some new missionaries arrived and who were not willing to live in the communal fashion that had developed. One missionary even went as far as to demand "...a separate house, stable and servants." There were also other differences, as the new missionaries found their seniors - particularly Joshua Marshman, to be somewhat dictatorial, assigning them duties which were not to their liking.
In 1800, when she first met them, Marshman was appalled by the neglect with the way in which William Carey looked after his four boys; aged 4, 7, 12 and 15, they were unmannered, undisciplined, and even uneducated. Carey had not spoiled, but rather simply ignored them. Marshman, her husband and their friend the printer William Ward, took the boys in tow. Together they shaped the boys as Carey pampered his botanical specimens, performed his many missionary tasks and journeyed into Calcutta to teach at Fort William College. They offered the boys structure, instruction and companionship. To their credit - and little to Carey's - all four boys went on to useful careers.
At one point, Hannah wrote about Carey, "The good man saw and lamented the evil but was too mild to apply an effectual remedy."
Serampore College and the Serampore Girls' School
On 5 July 1818, William Carey, Joshua Marshman and William Ward issued a prospectus (written by Marshman) for a proposed new "College for the instruction of Asiatic, Christian, and other youth in Eastern literature and European science". Thus was born Serampore College - which still continues to this day.
Hannah herself went on to found the local girls' school.
Death and memorial
Hannah Marshman died in 1847.
The following Inscription to her memory is placed in the Mission Chapel at Serampore: "In Memory of Hannah Marshman, widow of Joshua Marshman, D. D. the last surviving Member of the Mission Family at Serampore, she arrived in this settlement in October 1799, and opened a seminary to aid in the support of the Mission in May 1800, after having consecrated her life and property to the promotion of this sacred cause and exhibited an example of humble piety and energetic benevolence for forty-seven years. She died at the age of eighty, March 5, 1847."
The full text of her obituary in the Bengal Obituary can be found here.
- Thomas Hamilton, "Marshman, Joshua (1768–1837)", rev. Michael Laird, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 16 August 2007
- 'Hannah Marshman', http://www.missionariesoftheworld.org/2011_07_01_archive.html
- Bengal Obituary (1848)