Christian Mathematicians – Martyn

By Steve Bishop

(Disclaimer: The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Guest articles are sought after for the purpose of bringing more diverse viewpoints to the topics of mathematics and theology. The point is to foster discussion. To this end respectful and constructive comments are highly encouraged.)

Henry Martyn 1781-1812

 Henry Martyn was first wrangler in mathematics at Cambridge (top scholar of the the year). He was elected as a fellow of St John’s College.

After hearing the Anglican preacher Charles Simeon on William Carey and his sacrifice, Martyn he gave up an academic career and chose to go overseas as a missionary to India and Persia.

Martyn was born in Truro, Cornwall to a mine agent. He was educated first at Truro Grammar school and then at St John’s Cambridge.  After hearing about Carey and reading of David Brainard. He was ordained in 1832 and went on to become Simeon’s curate at Holy Trinity, Cambridge.

He had intended to work as an overseas missionary for the CMS, but for financial reasons he had to take a paid role as chaplain to the British East Indies company. He arrived in India in 1806. One of the first things he did on arriving was to visit William Carey at Serampore. Carey was impressed by Martyn and is alleged to have said that “where Martyn went no other missionary would be needed” (Pouncy 1920). Martyn made his way on to Dinapur and then in 1809 to Cawnpore.

All the while he was in India he utilized his mathematics skills as a linguist and translated the New Testament into Urdu and Persian.

He set sail for Bombay in 1811. He then sailed to Shiraz in Iran. In Iran he became unwell and intended to travel to Constantinople for a more agreeable climate. Sadly, at the age of 31 he died in 1812 at Topkat in Armenia on his way to Constantinople.

Martyn’s life has been an inspiration for many Christians and his name lives on with the work of the Henry Martyn Centre in Cambridge.


Pouncy, A. G. 1920 Henry Martyn 1781-1812: The first modern apostle to the Mohammedan Great Churchmen vol 9. Church Book Room Press

Further resources

There have been a number of biographies including:

Bentley-Taylor, David. 1975. My Love Must Wait: the Story of Henry Martyn, Leicester: IVP.

Henry, B. V. 2003. Forsaking All for Christ: A Biography of Henry Martyn London: Chapter Two Padwick, Constance. 1953. Henry Martyn: Confessor of the Faith, Inter-Varsity Fellowship: London

Page, Jesse 2003. Henry Martyn: Pioneer Missionary to India and Islam Ambassador publications

Pouncy, A. G. 1920 Henry Martyn 1781-1812: The first modern apostle to the Mohammedan Great Churchmen vol 9. Church Book Room Press

Sargent, John 2010 (original 1819) Memoir of the Rev. Henry Martyn, B.D: Late Fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge, and Chaplain to the Honourable East India Company (Cambridge Library Collection – Religion)

Steve Bishop is the compiler of A Bibliography for a Christian Approach to Mathematics and the author of several articles on the relationship between faith and math. Look for future posts from him in this series on Christian Mathematicians.

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