Thomas Valpy French (1 January 1825 – 14 May 1891) was an English Christian Missionary in India and Persia, who became the first Bishop of Lahore, in 1877, and also founded St. John’s College, Agra, in 1853. After Henry Martyn, he is considered the second most important Christian missionary to the Middle East.
Thomas Valpy French was born on New Year’s Day in 1825, in Abbey, Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England. His father, the Rev. Peter French, was vicar of Holy Trinity Church for forty-seven years, and he grew up in the house, which was once part of the Benedictine Abbey, on the banks of the River Trent.
He started his schooling at Reading Grammar School, and at age fourteen, he joined the Rugby School. In 1843, he won a scholarship to Oxford and started studying at the University College, Oxford, where he was made a fellow in 1848. It was at Oxford that he first felt called to mission in India. On 16 April 1850 he joined the missionary service of Church Missionary Society, and was sent to Agra, India. He set sail to India on East Indian Queen on 11 September 1850 and reached Calcutta on 2 January 1851.
Where he was appointed for educational work. He founded the St. John’s College at Agra, which formally opened in 1853, though he had started taking classes in small room with ten boys, while the college building was being built.The college was named as St. John’s, after the college of another noted missionary, Henry Martyn (1781–1812) at Cambridge. He also learnt seven languages, including Hindustani, Punjabi, Urdu, Persian, Pashto and Arabic to properly administrate the school, as he also became schoo’s first principal, and a post he held till the end of his seven-year stay at Agra.
Later he married, Miss M. A. Janson, whom he had met at Oxford, and one of his eight children, Ellen Penelope French (1854–1892), went on to marry, Edmund Arbuthnott Knox, fourth Bishop of Manchester, (1903–1921). In 1877, on St. Thomas’ Day at Westminster Abbey, London, he was appointed the first Anglican Bishop of a large new diocese of Lahore, which included, all of the Punjab and northwestern India, and remained so until 1887, during the time he founded the Lahore Divinity College, which opened on 21 November 1870 and also remained its Principal for many years, he supervised the translation of the Bible and Prayer Book into Hindustani and Pashto, and also made visits to Kashmir and Iran (1883), where he was the first Episcopal bishop to visit the country, before returning to England, due to bad health in 1887. He reached Muscat, on his final missionary work, on 8 February 1891 and became the first missionary to visit the region;he had just started setting up his work there, when his health started failing, and having been cared for by Portuguese Catholics he died on 14 May 1891 in Muscat, Oman and was buried in a Christian cemetery.