The foundations for Protestant missions to the Indian sub-continent were laid in the early 18th century, with the establishment of the Danish mission at Tranquebar. The East India Company initially objected to missionary enterprise, with a clause in its charter prohibiting sending out to India 'missionaries and gentlemen'. This effectively banned missionary activities in the regions under its influence. Danish patronage enabled the Baptist Missionary William Carey to establish a mission at Serampore in 1799. It was not until 1813 that the ban on missionaries was effectively lifted and missionaries were free to carry out activities in India, with the renewal of the East India Company Charter.
The London Missionary Society began work in India in 1798, when Nathaniel Forsyth landed at Calcutta. Unable to establish a mission there, he moved to the Dutch controlled area of Chinsurah, working as the only LMS missionary in India for several years. He was followed in 1804 by William Ringeltaube, who initially worked at Tranquebar, but in 1806 established the Travancore [Kerala] mission at Mayiladi. Ringeltaube's colleague George Cran also reached India in 1804, and after a brief visit to Madras, moved to Vizagapatam, establishing the Telugu mission in 1805. He was joined in the work by Augustus Des Granges.
Tranqebar was also used as the starting point for the mission to Ceylon [now Sri Lanka], with the LMS missionaries Michael Vos, Johann Ehrhardt and John Palm establishing missions in 1805. Unfortunately, original material relating to this mission does not survive, but references to mission work in Ceylon appear in reports up to 1818, when the mission appears to have been abandoned.
The change to the East India Company Charter in 1813 had the effect of opening up India to British Missionary Societies. On the eve of the Charter in 1812, the LMS was working in the Dutch area of Chinsurah and at Vizagapatam [Vishakhapatnam]. In the Canarese [Kanarese] speaking areas they had established a solitary station at Bellary, which was founded in 1812. Ringeltaube's mission in Southern Travancore was attracting converts and achieving success.
After 1813, the LMS expanded their mission stations in both North and South India, and this is reflected in the arrangement of the archive. The South Indian mission field was divided into linguistic areas, as the mission stations were in areas where they encountered the seven major linguistic groups. South India has been described separately, and the records are arranged into the sub-sections of General, Canarese, Telugu, Tamil and Travancore. North India has also been given a separate description, and the materials are arranged into the sub-groups General, Bengal, Gujerat [Gujarat] and United Provinces [Uttar Pradesh].
The LMS missions in India developed as two distinct mission fields. Much work was carried out with Hindu women and Zenana work was often carried out by the wives of missionaries and then by female missionaries. Often converts were of the lower castes and outcasts. The strength of Hinduism was recognised by missionaries as a barrier to increased conversion, and the LMS realised that it should concentrate more on medical and educational mission work. Towards the end of the 19th century, the emphasis was on the development of the Church in India, as distinct from mission. Increasingly there were indigenous congregations of considerable numbers and growing numbers of Indian ministers. In 1914 the National Christian Council in India was formed. The Nationalist political movement in India affected the work of missionaries in the first half of the 20th century, with the LMS becoming increasingly sympathetic. After Independence in 1947, Churches in both North and South India which were associated with the LMS joined Unions of Churches, setting the scene for self-government of Churches.