Exactly a hundred years ago on 22 November 1909 Vedappan Solomon died at Rangoon, while on the way to India for treatment. His sojourn in the Andaman Nicobar Islands yielded great rewards for the Nicobari people, changing their lives forever. He succeeded where the Jesuits, the Moravians, the Danes and the Dutch had failed. What they could not achieve in 3 centuries he did, mainly through his earnestness, simplicity, humility and dedication to the service of God and humanity. 

The need for a missionary to cater to the needs of the aboriginal people was felt ever since the beginning of the settlement. With the establishment of the Andamanese Homes an officer was given the charge of taking care of the needs of the natives, both spiritual and temporal. Rev Corbyn and Rev Chard, the Chaplains at Port Blair, tried their best to work towards their spiritual upliftment. To the predominantly Andamanese orphanage some Nicobaris were also added. This was to educate them and bring them out of superstitions that plagued them due to the influence of the witch doctors. 

When the attempts of Rev. Corbyn, Rev. Chard, Mr. Homfray and Mr. MV Portman did not make much headway the then Chief Commissioner Col. Cadell felt that the Andamans needed a missionary “who is practical and will go to the jungle with them when required”. It was then the charge of the orphanage was placed in the hands of Mr. Vedappan Solomon, the Catechist. MV Portman describes him as an “earnest and intelligent man.” The orphanage was shifted to Haddo from Ross Island. By that time the Andamanese inmates have all died or gone away. Only the Nicobari boys were left. Among them was one named Ha Chev Ka. He was to become later the “Father of Modern Nicobar” and assume the name of John Richardson. As the boys felt homesick and longed to be back with their loved ones Mr. Solomon volunteered to go to Nicobar. Together with his wife, who ably assisted him in everything he shifted to Car Nicobar.

His landing on Car Nicobar on 15th March “Temple Villa”, the house where Vedappan Solomon stayed in Mus became the center for the evangelization of Nicobar as never before. 

In the early days on Car Nicobar Solomon was given many additional responsibilities like Government Agent, Port Officer, Meteorological Observer, school master, unofficial Magistrate and amateur doctor. In his official capacity he would board the vessels that called at the port and beg the captains and crews not to trade goods in exchange for ‘intoxicants’. Slowly and steadily the tireless efforts of the Solomons started changing the Nicobari society. Their faith became stronger and, along with it their society, which was at the mercy of unscrupulous traders for centuries. The use of cows for milk, cultivating fruits and vegetables and learning sewing and carpentry have been started by the Solomons. They introduced domestic pigeons. Mrs. Solomon taught the children in school and also ministered to their health needs.  

Suddenly tragedy struck when Mrs. Solomon died in January 1901 due to an apoplectic fit. Solomon was shattered but he did not leave his mission. He continued to work among the Nicobari brethren. His second wife Anboo Betsy proved to be an equally dedicated missionary wife. Solomon gave up his government jobs and started working as a full time missionary. Together they brought about a dramatic change in the society. All the superstitions and ignorance have disappeared. The transformation was so striking that a British visitor to Car Nicobar after the Second World War remarked, “In all my life I have never been so profoundly aware of the Divine power of goodness as I was during my visit to Car Nicobar…”. The same was the feeling of many who visited Car Nicobar after the deadly tsunami of 26 December 2004. The fortitude with which the Nicobaris bore the devastation of the calamity was the result of the strong Christian foundations laid more than a hundred years ago and nurtured by Bishop John Richardson. 

The deadly climate that terminated the efforts of the earlier missionaries took its toll on Vedappan also. While going to Madras on leave he died at Rangoon on 22 November 1909. His death was deeply mourned in Car Nicobar. But he had already prepared a disciple to take on his mantle. Ha Chev Ka whom Vedappan baptized and christened as John Richardson became the greatest leader of the people of Nicobar. Solomon’s wife Betsy continued as school mistress at Car Nicobar for another six years after Vedappan’s death, teachingthe Nicobari girls to sewing, embroidery, cooking, housekeeping and many such things. She died at Port Blair on 23rd June 1921.  

This remarkable life of dedication made Bishop N.C. Sargant to say that Vedappan “became a true apostle to the Nicobar Islands,…”.

On the 100th anniversary of his death it is befitting to remember him and his wife for their life of great sacrifice.