Born 16 February 1842 at Gwyngyll, Upper Corris, Meironnydd, son of Richard Roberts, stonemason (member of a family called Ffowc, farmers of Plas Meifod, Henllan, Denbighshire) and his wife Jane, of Egryn, Dyffryn Ardudwy. On the death of his father John went, at the age of 11, to work in the quarry, but he had already secretly resolved to be a missionary : he saved up to buy books, hiding them in the stone stool on which he sat to split slates. The Revival of 1859 influenced him deeply and, at the age of 21, he began to preach, having been a pupil, since 1860, of the British school at Garnedd Wen under Humphrey Owen. He entered Bala Calvinistic Methodist College in 1866 and four years later was accepted as a candidate for the mission field in Assam. He then pursued a short course of study, mainly medical, in Edinburgh, and on 6 January 1871 was ordained at Salem, Dolgelley. On 31 May of that year he married Sidney Margaret, daughter of Thomas Jones (Glan Alun), a true fellow-worker. They sailed for India on 27 September 1871, settling first in Shella, but moving to Cherrapoongee five years later. As a pioneer Roberts undertook long and dangerous journeys to preach the gospel, gave medical relief to thousands, established and conducted schools, and founded the Cherra Theological College, of which he became principal. An excellent linguist, he took a major part, with his wife's help, in revising the existing translation of the New Testament, in translating the Old, and in seeing the whole new Khassi Bible through the press (1897). He also translated the Pilgrim's Progress and over seventy-three Welsh hymns, taking especial delight, with his fine tenor voice, in teaching Welsh hymn-tunes in harmony to the Khassis, who had no music of their own. During his furlough, he was elected moderator of the Calvinistic Methodist General Assembly (1897), but before he occupied the chair a devastating earthquake in Khassia hastened his return to help his people. He was, however, moderator at the Assembly held in 1907. The torrential rainy season of 1908 coincided with a serious cholera epidemic in Cherra. Though far from well, John Roberts fought it relentlessly and without mercy on himself. This and the absence of surgical aid brought about his untimely death on 23 July 1908 after a few days’ illness. Mrs. Roberts survived him (she died at Bangor, Caernarfonshire, 9 February 1931).
Published date: 1959
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