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John Abbs

Rev. John Abbs (1810–1888) was an English missionary. Sent out by the London Missionary Society, he spent twenty-two years in Travancore, Southern India, a period rarely exceeded by European missionaries at that time. He was the husband of Louisa Sewell Abbs and the author of Twenty-two years' Missionary Experience in Travancore.


Abbs was born in Norwich on 20 December 1810. His father Zachariah Abbs was a boot and shoemaker born in 1775 in Sustead, Norfolk and his mother Mary Holl, born in 1776 in Norwich. His father was a respected member of the congregation of St Michael's, Coslany in Norwich and a witness to various wills and testaments during his lifetime.

Missionary work

From 1834 to 1837, Abbs studied at the nonconformist theological college of Cheshunt.[1] He was ordained at the conclusion of the Norfolk Auxiliary Meeting on 23 August 1837, and on the same day appointed to Neyyoor, South Travancore.[2] He married Louisa Sewell Skipper on 15 September 1837 at Princes Street Chapel, Norwich. The couple departed from England in October 1837,[3] arrived in Quilton, South India in March 1838, and reached the mission station in Neyyoor on 20 April 1838.

Abbs worked in Neyyoor under Rev. Charles Mead; the western portion of the district was put under his charge. His wife and Mrs Mault, also the wife of a missionary, began to teach lace making and embroidery to the local girls. While in Neyyoor, the Abbs's had three children: John Henry (born 1838), Amelia (born 1841) and Louisa (born 1842).

In 1845 Abbs was transferred to Pareychaley, South Travancore, where a bungalow had been erected for Abbs to found his own mission. Here he continued to labour and educate local inhabitants in various subjects, including literacy, health and religion. His mission became the headquarters for the mission district. The village and district prospered, and the mission became one of the largest in the world, with over 10,000 native Christians under the charge of one European missionary.[4]

Abbs Memorial Church

His wife taught the local girls at the boarding school subjects included religion, history, geography and some elements of natural philosophy. She continued the work she had done in Neyyoor and began an embroidery industry in the district. The workers were paid a reasonable wage and the surplus used mostly for building up institutions intended for women.

While in Pareychaley they had two more children, Selina (born 1847) and Charles (born 1849). In 1850 Louisa briefly went to England with her children, leaving them there at missionary schools and with family members. She remained with her husband in Travancore until 1859, when they returned to Norwich.

The success of Abbs's mission can be seen today: the district contains some 100 congregations and the famous Abbs Memorial Church in Parassala built in his honour.

Return to England

Abbs's correspondence during his time in Southern India is preserved at the University of London in the library archives of the School of Oriental and African Studies, along with an 1861 history of Travancore that remained in manuscript.[5]

After returning to England in 1861, Abbs was appointed minister of the Bethel Chapel in Kirkbymoorside, Yorkshire[6] where he moved with his wife and three daughters, all by then governesses. In 1870 he published his book Twenty-two years' Missionary Experience in Travancore, which was published by his son C. J. Abbs in Dewsbury and by John Snow & Co. in London.[7] His wife died in 1872. He retired as minister in 1877 but remained in Kirkbymoorside until his death on 19 March 1888.


  1. ^ Surman Index
  2. ^ Evangelical Magazine, Vol. 15 (1837) Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  3. ^ Missionary Register, Vol. 23 (1837) Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  4. ^ Charles Sylvester: The Story of the L. M. S., 1795-1895, 1895, p. 298. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  5. ^ Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  6. ^ Surman Index> [1]
  7. ^ British Library catalogue entry: Retrieved 7 November 2011.