It was the young Irishman Wellesley Bailey’s spirit of adventure which led him to India in 1869. He originally intended to join the police force but, after lodging with a German Lutheran missionary and learning the local language, he felt that God was calling him to missionary work. He applied to work with the American Presbyterian Mission and was sent to teach in one of their schools in Ambala, in the Punjab area of North India. It was during his training that he saw, for the first time, the devastating effects of leprosy.
In 1873, Wellesley and his wife Alice (his childhood girlfriend he married in Bombay Cathedral in 1870) returned to Ireland. They were both burdened with the suffering of the leprosy-affected people they saw in India who were severely disabled, rejected and living without any support.
Help for people affected by leprosy was unheard of at the time and Wellesley and Alice took it upon themselves to raise awareness of the disease and its devastating consequences. They began a speaking ministry, telling people about the needs of the leprosy patients they had met.
The ‘Mission to Lepers’ was born in 1874 and, in response to the talks given by the Baileys, people began giving money and praying for the work. By the late 1870s the Mission was raising £900 a year and caring for 100 leprosy-affected people in North India.
During the next two decades the Baileys travelled extensively to see the needs of leprosy-affected people to encourage support of the work. Three support offices were formed in England and Mary Reed, was sent to India as the Mission’s first missionary. The Mission’s first hospital, Purulia Leprosy Hospital in West Bengal, opened in 1888.
Money raised by the Mission helped to build a home for leprosy-affected people in Neyyoor in South India, followed by the building of the first ‘Mission to Lepers’ home outside of India. In 1906 Wellesley toured the East extending the Mission’s work through China, then on to New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, back to China and then on to Malaysia, Singapore and India. During this tour Wellesley gave more than 150 talks, met with many government officials and visited leprosy homes.
By the time Wellesley retired in 1917, the Mission was running 87 programmes in 12 countries funded by support offices in eight countries.
His granddaughter later wrote about Wellesley: “He was not a saint, nor even a clever man. But I do not ever remember hearing from him an ungenerous remark, or seeing him angry apart from minor irritations. His great gift was single-mindedness, and a simplicity that perhaps could not see the difficulties which a more sophisticated mind might see.”