Dr John Anderson Graham

A brief biography of the great man, as told by Bernard Brookes, a former headmaster.

Early beginnings in Kalimpong

Dr Graham was ordained as a minister of the Church of Scotland on 13 January 1889, and from that moment onwards seems to have been a man in a hurry!

Two months later John and his new wife Katherine arrived as missionaries in Kalimpong. In just six years, Graham transformed the landscape of the entire mission station. He was instrumental in raising funds for the building of the first Church in Kalimpong – the magnificent Macfarlane Church which resembles a cathedral and accommodates more than a thousand souls. The Charteris Hospital – the first and only hospital in Kalimpong for the next eighty years – the leprosarium, and the school for over 150 boys, and he started the ‘Industries’, a workshop which engaged only women. Handmade materials manufactured there were made into various articles which were sold locally. From this income, the womenfolk received money – the first time women were ever paid a wage for working.

Recognising the Need

In 1895, the Grahams returned to Scotland on furlough. Dr Graham spoke at 214 towns and villages throughout Scotland energised by the great need he saw in Kalimpong, the “Tea Garden children.”

These were children unacceptable to the father’s community and not always accepted by the mother’s because of the stigma of mixed blood and illegitimacy. Graham tried desperately to get his Mission in Scotland to fund a home for these children, but they refused – not because the project was without merit, but because they believed he had enough on his plate.

In 1898, Dr Graham was the Headmaster of the School, Superintendent of the Charteris Hospital and Leprosarium, Supervisor, with his wife, of the “Industries”, full time Pastor of the Church and Administrator of the Mission – a post he was to hold faithfully for the next 35 years.

Bitterly disappointed with his home Mission, he was later to say it was a blessing in disguise as this enabled him to tap any and every available source. He personally raised all of the necessary funding.

Dr Graham’s Homes is created

Dr Graham founded the Homes on 24 September 1900 by taking into care six children in a rented house. In the next six weeks he had a request to take in another 26 children and so having leased from the government 100 acres of land (he was to lease another 300 acres soon after), he gave orders on 8 November 1900 for the first cottage to be built. Dr Graham always worked fast!

It took exactly a year to build the first cottage and during that time he opened the farm, appointed a farm Manager from Scotland, established a Board of Management and had the President of the Board lay the foundation stone of a new school. In November 1901 the first cottage was ready.

The Rapid development of a children’s village

In the first twenty years, Graham constructed 44 buildings averaging a shade over two buildings a year. In the day to day running of the Homes, he was greatly helped by two long serving members of staff: Headmaster, James Simpson and Administrator, James Purdie. Graham’s wife Katherine died in 1919, and it was after this he revived his dream of building a Chapel on the compound. This was completed in 1925 and dedicated as the Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel on 24 September, the Homes Silver Jubilee birthday.

Awards and Recognition

Graham received numerous ‘awards’ throughout his lifetime including university doctorates from both Edinburgh and high honours including Companion of the Indian Empire. However it was in 1931 he was to receive the highest honour his church could confer on him: Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland – the only missionary ever to be honoured in this way.

On completing his tenure as Moderator, Graham retired from the Mission in 1933 and only then moved up to the Homes to stay in the children’s village he created. Graham had been totally faithful to the Mission he had come out to serve in 1889, and even after founding the Homes in 1900, had remained till this point in the Administrator’s bungalow on the Mission Compound in town.

The Vision is completed

The depression years of the 1930s were a difficult period but Graham constructed his last building, the kindergarten, in 1938.

The following year was his personal Jubilee year (1889-1939) and well-wishers worldwide contributed to the building of a new Principal’s house on the compound. Jubilee House still commemorates the great man.

Dr. Graham passed away on 15 May 1942 and is buried on the Homes compound in the Garden of Remembrance alongside his beloved Katherine.

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