About GU Pope

Rev. G. U. Pope a Student of Tamil

Statue of Rev. G. U. Pope in Chennai

Rev. Pope was the first Tamil scholar of Canadian soil! Born an Englishman he was a scholar in Latin, Hebrew, Tamil, Telegu, and Sanskrit. During the later stages of his career, while being a Chaplin at Oxford College England, he was also a Professor in Tamil and Telegu at that institution. George Uglow Pope was born on 24th April 1820 in Bedeque, Prince Edward Island to John Pope of Padstow, originally from Cornwell England and Catherine Uglow originally of Plymouth England who were recent immigrants to Prince Edwards Island. From there the family moved to St. Vincent Nova Scotia before returning to Plymouth England in 1826, when George Pope was only six years.  At the time of his birth Canada was under the British rule. It was only in 1867, Canada became a unified nation under the name of Dominion of Canada.  He had authored many Tamil books, and at the same time translated three great Tamil classics – the Thirukkural, Naladiar and Thiruvasagam into English. He was affectionately known as ‘Pope Ayar’ in Tamil Nadu, where he spent about forty years of his life.

One should give thanks to great laurates like Rev. G. U. Pope of the English world who was able to read, understand, and rightly praise Tamil classics and cultural values. He recognized the ethical life they had lived for thousands of years while the rest of the world was still in its formative stages.  His translations are what enabled the rest of the world to truly appreciate and benefit from the wisdom of the Tamil bard Thiruvalluvar who lived two thousand years ago.

After his family migrated to England, when he was only six, in 1839, at the young age of 19, he joined the missionary service and moved from England to South India. With a keen interest in languages, Pope started studying Tamil in England in preparation for life in his future homeland of Tamil Nadu of India, as an evangelical Christian priest. He even continued his studies during his sea voyage to South India. That was a time when there was no Suez Canal, and Wright brothers were yet to invent aeroplane. As a result, one had to do a sea voyage on a long route around the continent of Africa to reach India. While living in Tamil Nadu he setup several schools in which he taught Latin, English, Hebrew, Mathematics and Philosophy. As he explored regional languages, he became a scholar in the South Indian languages of Tamil and Telegu, and in the North Indian language of Sanskrit.

When he landed in India by ship as a Wesleyan missionary, he was fairy proficient in Tamil. On reaching Madras, it is told, one of those who came to receive him was a freshman, who, when questioned by Pope, he had answered eloquently in beautiful Tamil, and unfortunately Pope could not understand it. This contact with pure Tamil, from a young freshman gave the incentive and determination for him to learn Tamil well. It is said that he used to say that to seek for and find a noble language and to dedicate one’s life to the study of it is the best life-work a man could wish for. With this attitude, he sought the best Tamil scholars of the time, and gathered proficiency in Tamil, which not only helped him in his carrier, but also in his retirement, when he continued his literary work.

He started his carrier in 1939, at Sawyer-Puram near Tuticorin with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. In 1841 Rev. Pope was ordained by the Church of England, and he married Miss Mary Carver who was the daughter of another Anglican priest. Together they served in the South Indian Tirunelveli region. Unfortunately, due to the early demise of his wife in 1945, Rev. Pope moved to Madras, where he later married Henrietta Page, daughter of G. Van Someren. Shortly thereafter the couple returned to England in 1849. During this period, he worked with many laurates in Oxford Catholic movement including such as Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, Archbishop Trench, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop John Londale, E. B. Pusey and John Kable.

In 1851 Rev. Pope returned to India again, and lived in Tanjore while teaching at St. Peters School. He frequently found himself in conflict with other missionaries at the school.  Bishop Caldwell who served in South-India for half a century noted that “The chief drawback to his success was the severity of his discipline which led, after a succession of petty rebellions, to his withdrawal”. In 1985, a Tamil priest Vedanayagam Shastri who was a disciple of Schwartz and a poet in the court of Maharajah Serfoli was flogged publicly resulting in a separation of Tamil church free of the Anglican church leading to the resignation of Pope. He founded a seminary at Sawyer-Puram for training Anglican Tamil clergy but this too ran into trouble and he decided to move to Ootacamund in 1989. Here he founded a grammar school for European children which was in operation until 1870. Today it is Government arts school and Stonehouse. The grammar school at Stonehouse cottage was opened by Bishop of Madras on 2nd of July 1858 with G.U. Pope as principal. The school was moved to a new premises in 1869. Rev. G.U.Pope also founded Holy Trinty Church in Ooty. Local people called him lovingly as Pope Ayar. Pope was a strict disciplinarian, and in 1870 was made principal of Bishop Cotton Boys’ school in Bangalore. He was also the first pastor at All Saints Church at Bangalore. Finally, after serving in South India thirty odd years in 1881 Rev. G. U. Pope returned to England and settled in Oxford where he made a mark as lecturer in Tamil and Telugu in 1884. He was appointed Chaplain and Fellow of Balliol College in 1888.

At the time of the 1891 census, George Uglow Pope (70) was boarding at 28 New Inn Hall Street, while his wife Henrietta then 60 was paying an overnight visit at the home of the Revd. Ralph Brockman and his wife Anna at Dale Villas, Cowley Road.  Three of Pope’s unmarried children were living together at 4 Inglis Road, Ealing, Namely Annie (39) and Ethil (24), who were living on their own means, and Sydny (19), who was a barrister’s clerk. Also living with them were three nephews: Hugh Crighton Pope and Edwar and Gerald Brockman.

On September 1st 1886, at the age of sixty-six, he translated and published the Thirukkural which he re-titled as ‘The Sacred Kurral’. This publication contains introduction, grammar, translation, notes, lexicon, and concordance. This publication also includes the English translation of the Thirukkural by F. W. Ellis and the Latin Translation by Fr. Beschi. Incidentally, Fr. Beschi who was a saffron clad Christian missionary, was popularly called Veeramaamunivar in Tamil which loosely translates as ‘brave great monk’. In his ‘The Sacred Kurral’s introduction Rev. Pope states: “Their English friends in teaching them all that the west has to impart, will find little to unteach in the moral lessons of Kurral rightly understood”. Pope truly understood the high moral values of the Tamilian race which was moulded by books such as the Thirukkural.

The translations of Thirukkural had a marked impact on the whole world. World-famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy read the German translation and was greatly drawn towards it. In Tolstoy’s book titled ‘A letter to a Hindu’ he mentions about the incidence of introducing Thirukkural to his pen-pal Mahatma Gandhi, advising and advocating the latter about the non-violence movement which in turn influenced Gandhi to adopt the path of non-violence. Tolstoy profusely quoted from chapter 34 titled (இன்னா செய்யாமை) Non-violence. Especially he referred to Kurral #314 which states

இன்னாசெய் தாரை ஒறுத்தல் அவர்நாண
நன்னயஞ் செய்து விடல்

Doing good-turns, put them to shame
Thus chide the evil who do harm.

This in turn motivated Mahatma Gandhi to read Rev. G. U. Pope’s Thirukkural translation and he was greatly influenced by its teachings that at a later instance he noted that ‘the maxims of Valluvar have touched my soul’. Young Gandhi’s change of heart would not have happened if not for the translation of Thirukkural by Rev. G. U. Pope into English, and there would have been more blood shed in Indian freedom struggle against the colonial masters. In the same year he got an honorary Master of Arts (MA).

The success of “The Sacred Kurral” was followed by the translation of Naaladiyaar in 1893. In the introduction for this book, he foresaw that one-day Tamils may neglect their own wonderful language and urges against this by writing “I am not without a hope and belief that such editions of their great classics may find favour with some at least of the great multitude of young Tamil men who pursue with enthusiasm and fair success their English studies, but are, I apprehend, in some danger, alas! of neglecting their own wonderful language”.

The Naaladiyaar translation was followed by his magnum opus, the translation of the Thiruvasagam in 1900. He loved the Tamil language; in his preface of the translation of Thiruvasagam he writes: ‘The speech of a dying people may, perhaps, be allowed to die. But this cannot be said of the Tamil race. Heaven forbids! Let the Tamilians cease to be ashamed of their vernacular.’ Such was Reverend’s respect for Tamil.

He was anxious about the pecuniary aspect of his publication and making money, and he wrote, “I shall not derive any pecuniary profit whatsoever from the book, though scholars like Max Muller have abundantly enriched as a reward for their Sanskrit studies. Tamil should not bring misfortune to those who study it”.

Of his translation of the Thiruvasagam Rev. Pope had the following to say: “I date this on my eightieth birthday. I find, by reference, that my first Tamil lesson was in 1837. (That is when he was seventeen) This end as I suppose a long life of devotion to Tamil studies. It is not without deep emotion that I thus bring to a close my life’s literary work”.  In 1906, he was awarded the much-coveted gold medal from Royal Asiatic society for his lifelong work.  This Gold Medal was given once in three years for meritorious service and marked the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1906

As his last work was his Scholarly translation of Thiruvasagam which he published on his eightieth birthday, it contains, a full introduction and exhaustive notes. He writes in his introduction because he took a difficult task of translating at such an advanced age-

” Some years ago, when this publication was hardly projected, the writer was walking with the late Master of Balliol College (Dr. Jowett) in the Quadrangle. The conversation turned upon Tamil legends, poetry and philosophy. At length, during a pause in conversation, the Master said in a quick way peculiar to him, ” you must print it.” To it the natural answer was ‘Master, I have no patent of immortality, and the work will take very long.’ I can see him now, as he turned round-while the moonlight fell upon his white hair and kind face, -and laid his hand upon my shoulder, saying, “To have a great work in progress is the way to live long. You will live till you finish it.” I certainly did not think so then, though the words have often come to my mind as a prophesy, encouraging me when weary; and they have been fulfilled while he has passed away.’

When Rev. Pope began his serious study of Tamil, someone advised him that poverty was the lot of every Tamil poet and scholar. Though Dr. Pope did not suffer from poverty, neither did he enjoy affluence due to his fixation on Tamil – he willingly sacrificed his genius for Tamil.

Sadly, he delivered his last sermon at Oxford on May 26th 1907, and after a ‘long and useful’ life of 88 years he passed away on Feb. 12th, 1908. One of his last requests was to have his tomb decorated with the words ‘a student of Tamil.’

The services of this great Christian evangelist to Tamil and Saivism defy reckoning by weights and measures. In his last days he was a mature Saiva Siddhant, with his faith ever rooted in Lord Jesus and Christianity. He delivered his last sermon on May 26th, 1907.

It may be of interest that he forwarded a copy of his last sermon preached at the Balliol College Chapel on May 26th 1907, and wrote the following foreword in his own handwriting:

26 Walton Bell Road,
Oxford, Dec.25, 1907.
My dear friend,

In the heart of this my last sermon, lie truths that harmonize with all that is best in Tiruvachagam and Siva-nyanam(Siva-gnana bodham).

I am very old. May the Father bless you and yours.

Ever truly your friend,

He wrote to the editor J. M. Nalla Samy Pillai of “Siddhantha Deepika” on October 20, 1900, requesting that after his death, the inscription on his head stone should be “A Tamil Student” and at least a portion of the cost to erect such a headstone should come with donations from wealthy and influential Tamils. However, it might interest you to know when he died on 26th May 1907, he was buried at St. Sepulchre’s Cemetery, located in Jerico, central Oxford, England.

His second wife Henrietta, died on 11th September 1911, and is buried next to him. They had thirteen children of whom four died before 1911.


BORN 24 APRIL 1820, DIED 11 FEB. 1908.

[Other side]

  • John van Someren Pope (born in the Plymouth district on 3 January 1850)
  • Annie Wilberforce Pope (born in Tanjore on 8 November 1851 and baptised at Madras on 7 December)
  • Thomas Henry Pope (born on 16 June 1853 and baptised at Secunderabad on 21 July)
  • Isabella Forbes Pope (born at Madras on 8 March 1855 and baptised at Sutabuldee, Madras on 28 March)
  • Arthur William Uglow Pope (born in Ootacamund, Madras on 2 August 1858 and baptised there on 22 August)
  • Frederick Spencer Pope (born on 30 April 1863 and baptised at Ootacamund, Madras on 14 June;
    died aged one on 10 July 1864 and buried at Ootacamund, Madras the next day)
  • George Stephens Pope, with second forename sometimes spelt Stevens (born at Ootacamund, Madras on 29 November 1864 and baptised there on 29 January 1865)
  • Ethel Pope (born on 8 December 1866 and baptised at Ootacamund, Madras on 17 March 1867)
  • Sydney Broughton Pope (born on 24 September 1871 and baptised at Bangalore on 5 November)

His eldest child Mr. John V. Pope became Director of Public institution in Burma. Another son, Lt. Col T. H. Pope was the head of Govt. Ophthalmic Hospital at Madras. A. W. U Pope ended as General Manager of the Imperial Railways of China, a post he held during Great War.

It is sad his last wish that an inscription on his grave stone be made as ‘A Student of Tamil’, was not fulfilled. May the good souls mark an inscription with his wish made true.

He authored twelve books, some in Tamil and others in English. His most famous three books are Thirukkural under the title ‘The sacred Kurral of Thiruvalluva Nayanar’ in 1886 during his sixty-sixth year. Following this in 1893, he translated ‘Naladiyar’, a Tamil book with four hundred quatrains. And finally, in 1890, he translated the ‘Thiruvasagam’ with texts note etc. during his seventy-seventh year. It is frequently quoted saying; What God said to man is Geeta, what man said to God is Thiruvasagam, finally what man said to man is Thirukkural’.

Reverend Pope was a man without barriers. No language, land, race, or even religion. Being a devout Christian priest to the last breath did not prevent him learning other religions and admiring their truth. He was a true ambassador and advocate for peace among all religions as mentioned in the Thirukkural couplet # 50

வையத்துள் வாழ்வாங்கு வாழ்பவன் வான்உறையும்
தெய்வத்துள் வைக்கப் படும்

He is a man of divine worth
Who lives in ideal home on earth.

He felt it is more important to live a righteous life, for truth is the same in all religions. The great first Canadian Tamil scholar Rev. G. U. Pope will be forever be remembered by Tamils around the world.


Before I conclude let me share with you what Rev. G. U. Pope wrote in his Translation of Thirukkural, I quote: “Tamil is a sophisticated unique language, with a rich vocabulary. It is the mother of all South Indian Languages. Tamil literature was designed to create high moral standards, ethical codes and Thirukkural is a great example of that. It is in a land of people with very high ethical codes and who nurture human discipline that such moral books are created and could be created. Thirukkural is as clear as an unpolluted spring.  Yes! Thirukkural, the unique book, has come to remove the impurities of the world. Yes, Thirukkural is an unpolluted spring, and may UNESCO use the water from the spring of Thirikkural fountain to remove the dirt of the world.   
Let us do our part to carry it to the world and thereby allow it to purify the world as this great Canadian Tamil laurate suggested. Finally, let me follow Tiruvallur’s suggestions in the last couplet on the chapter on gratitude the Kurral # 110

எந்நன்றி கொன்றார்க்கும் உய்வுண்டாம் உய்வில்லை
செய்ந்நன்றி கொன்ற மகற்கு

The virtue-killer may be saved          
Not benefit-killer who in damned.

Canadian Tamils successfully lobbied for and issued a stamp in honor of Rev. U. G. Pope’s two hundredth’s birth anniversary last year, but its release had to be postponed due to the pandemic. The Tamils living in Canada has now made it materialized on his 202nd Birth day.

List of books written by Rev. G. U. Pope

  1. கிறுஸ்துவத் தத்துவத் தீபிகை
  2. A first catechism of Tamil Grammar. இலக்கண வினாவிடை – முதற் புத்தகம் (1888)
  3. A second catechism of Tamil Grammar.
  4. A larger Grammar of the Tamil language in both its dialects Ed. 2. (1859)
  5. A Tamil Poetical Anthology with Grammatical notes Pond vocabulary Ed 2 (1859)
  6. A Handbook of the ordinary dialect of the Tamil language. Ed 1. (1885)
  7. Do. Part 11. Key to the Exercises with notes on Analysis.
  8. Do. Part 111. Compendious Tamil- English Dictionary.
  9. Do. Part IV. An English – Tamil Dictionary.
  10. Do. Part V. A Tamil Prose Reader adapted to the Handbook.
  11. A History of India. (இந்து தேச சரித்திரம்)
  12. ‘The Sacred Kural’ of Thiruvalluva Nayanar with introduction, grammar, Translation and notes, Lexcicon and concordance (1886).
  13. The Naladiyar or Four Hundred Quatrains in Tamil with introduction, Translation and Notes, Critical, Philosophical and Explanatory, to which is added a concordance and Lexicon with authorities from the oldest Tamil writers (1893)
  14. ‘The Thiruvasagam or Sacred Utterances’ of the Tamil Poet Saint and Sage Manickka Vasagar. Text notes translation etc. complete (1900)
  15. இங்லிலாண்டு தேச சரித்திரம் History of England.
  16. First Lessons in Tamil or An Introduction to the common Dialect of that language. Ed %. (1891).



  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Uglow_Pope
  • https://tamilnation.org/literature/pope.htm
  • http://www.stsepulchres.org.uk/burials/pope_george.htm
  • The Sacred Kurral of Thiruvalluva Nayanar By: G. U. Pope by Asian Educational Services New Delhi- Madras !995.
  • Naladiyar with Translations in English by Dr. U. G. Pope and Mr. F. W. Ellis. (The South India Saiva Siddhantha Works Publishing Society, Thiruneveli 1963
  • The Thiruvasagam or Sacred Utterances of the Tamil Poet and Sage Manickka-vasagar Rev. G. U. Pope by Asian Educational services New Delhi 1995.
  • A Letter to a Hindu & The awakening the Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy ISBN 978-93-90026-34-0

By: Kumar Punithavel.