17th January 1888

Death of missionary Robert Reid Kalley

Robert Reid Kalley took Protestantism to Portugal at a time when the only religion permitted in the country was Roman Catholicism.

Born in Glasgow in 1809, Kalley initially studied Art at the University of Glasgow, then enrolled to study medicine. He worked as a ship’s doctor – an experience that allowed him to see Bombay and the Far East – then he married and, later, moved to the Portuguese-speaking island of Madeira in the hope that the more clement weather would help ease his wife’s tuberculosis.

Smuggling Bibles

He practised medicine on the island and did much to improve the lives of the locals. He financed the building and running of 17 schools and a hospital, and provided free medical care while at the same time importing Bibles. The Bibles’ distribution was forbidden in the early 1840s for fear they would turn their recipients away from Catholicism and towards Protestantism. 

Undeterred, Kalley went further, and founded the Presbyterian Church in Funchal in May 1845. He can have had little doubt that this move would upset the Madeiran authorities.

In a retrospective following Kalley’s death, the Aberdeen Free Press of 20 January 1888 explained that “the persons all over the island who had been known as Calvanistas [following their conversion after contact with Kalley] were prosecuted for blasphemy, and many of them imprisoned. One married woman, Maria Joaquina, who from her position and character was particularly influential, was tried and condemned to death.”

Forced to leave

His schools were shut down and Kalley and his followers were forced to leave the island. He once again travelled widely, but eventually came to Brazil which, like Portugal, had adopted Roman Catholicism as its official religion. Nonetheless Kalley and his second wife (his first wife had died during their travels following their flight from Madeira) founded a church and built up a congregation.

Retirement brought him back to Scotland. He lived out his last years in Edinburgh where he died on 17 January 1888.



Other events that occured in January

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