Project Canterbury

Forty Years in Burma

By John Ebenezer Marks

London: Hutchinson and Co., 1917.

Chapter VII. First Furlough in England

THE work of our new school was progressing very happily, but its very success brought us trouble. The pupils admitted and seeking admission were too many, the house was unsuitable, the work too much, and I could not get my promised colleague. We were cheered by a visit from the genial and learned Archdeacon Pratt, who met the Provisional Committee which I had formed to manage the large sums of money entrusted to me, and he gave us excellent advice as to our future work, especially as to building new and suitable premises. But a few days after he had gone up-country on Visitation, when all things in the Mission seemed to be so promising, I was suddenly struck down with a dangerous illness. A shivering fit came over me at midday, my limbs refused their office, and I was carried out by my boys to a kind friend's house in the Cantonment, the part of the town where the military live. The doctors who were summoned said that I was suffering from internal abscess and that I must be sent to England immediately.

It was a sad blow, but there was no appeal. The Principal Medical Officer of the British troops and the Civil Surgeon concurred with the other doctors' verdict, only doubting if I could reach England alive. So, leaving the school in the care of the Chaplain and my youthful brother, I was put on board the British India steamer for Calcutta, thence to proceed by the P. and O. vessel. My heart was very sad, for I was very ill and troubled. Four officers put me on board, and I distinctly heard Colonel Phayre say to the others: "Poor fellow! I'm afraid that that is the last we shall see of him, and I did hope that he was good for many years' work." (It is sad to think that all the four kind officers are dead: Colonel (afterwards General) Sir Arthur P. Phayre, Captain (afterwards Colonel) Sir Edward B. Sladen, Captain Craig, R.A., and Lieutenant Bagge, R.E.)

I must not omit to relate that the sad news of the death of the Rev. H. B. Nichols, who had succeeded me in Maulmein, reached us a day or two before I left Burma. He had dined with us and Archdeacon Pratt only a week or two previously on his return to Calcutta, when he seemed in perfect health. He was married in Calcutta, but on his way back he was seized with brain fever, of which he died just as he was landed in Maulmein.

In Calcutta I was treated with the greatest kindness by the Rev. F. R. Vallings and by Dr. Francis, the Presidency Surgeon, who warned me of my danger and of the uncertainty of my reaching England. But by God's good hand upon me, the crisis was passed soon after we left the Hoogly, and on our arrival at the Point de Galle I was enabled to go ashore and with much help to visit the S.P.G. Mission at Buona Vista. The result of that visit was that my elder brother, the Rev. Philip Marks, and his devoted wife took charge of that Mission the following year, working at it with zeal and ability till their health gave way twenty-three years afterwards, when they accepted a less arduous post at Trincomali.

The officers and passengers were all very kind to me, and amongst the latter I made many friends.

Amongst others, I had the great pleasure of making the acquaintance of Dr. Druitt, the learned author of the "Surgeon's Vade Mecum," which has gone through many editions, and is still a text-book with the profession. He had been in attendance upon the late Lord Hobart, Governor of Madras, until his death. From Dr. Druitt I received valuable hints which have been of great service to me in regulating my life in the East.

Another of my fellow-passengers was Lieutenant George Hope Lloyd Verney, of the Rifle Brigade, who was exceedingly kind and useful to me, invalid as I was, and laid the foundation of a lasting friendship which has continued unbroken till the present day.

Another distinguished acquaintance that I made was that of M. de Lesseps, the celebrated engineer of the Suez Canal, then in course of completion. The kindness and assistance of these and other fellow-passengers made my voyage through the Mediterranean easy and comfortable, and my reception at home seemed to inspire me with such vigour and life that in the first few days of my return I wished immediately to go back to Burma.

But I was soon undeceived. A few minutes' walk told me of my weakness and of troubles which required careful medical treatment, so that I was compelled, sorely against my will, to rest awhile. Invitations came to me from friends whom I had known or who had known of my work in India and Burma, but I found that, go where I would, their cry was: "You must rest as much as possible, but do give us one or two sermons!" And this, not alone in village and town churches, but in St. Mary's, Oxford, and several cathedrals. Frequently, with every desire to please my kind hosts, I had scarcely strength to mount the pulpits or carry out other arrangements, and yet I felt that I was doing good service, not only for Missions in general, but for Burma in particular.

I visited for the first time St. Augustine's College, Canterbury, and deeply thankful have I been ever since for that visit and its results. I was very weak from my illness and in agony with sciatica, and I must have presented a sorry figure as I lamely walked up the hall leaning on the arm of the Rev. Dr. Bailey, the Warden, past the ranks of the students, who regarded me with pity and curiosity.

In spite of my pain, I could not help laughing at the idea that I was like a wounded soldier trying to induce men to go to the seat of war. Nothing could exceed the kindness of the good Warden and his colleagues. In the evening I gave an address to the students in Hall. I stood by the big fire and felt much better. I am free to confess that I pleaded the cause of our Burma Mission with an earnestness that I had never experienced before.

I had prayed for help and guidance in this effort, and felt that my prayer was answered. The students were enthusiastic, and the Warden assured me that I should obtain recruits. The next day I had much private conversation with the students about Burma and India. As I was sitting in the Warden's room, a student came in to transact some business with him. When he left the Warden said: "That is Fairclough, and if you can get him you will get our best man."

He asked Mr. Fairclough to show me St. Martin's Church, and while there I begged him to come out with me. He confessed that he would greatly like to do so but for one objection, which I was able to remove. As we were going through the workshops the next day, the Warden pointed out a student who was stooping down to a piece of carpentering, and whispered: "That is Warren, a capital second year man." So I put my hand on his shoulder and said: "Warren, will you come to Burma?" He answered at once with a smile: "Yes, certainly, when my time comes." The joy and thankfulness of that visit have never left me. The Church in Burma owes a deep debt of gratitude to St. Augustine's College, Canterbury. Many of its clergy and one of its bishops (the Right Rev. Bishop Strachan) have received their training there.

My friend the Rev. Dr. Kay had left India and returned to Oxford, where he most kindly received me and most earnestly desired me to husband my health and to accumulate power for future work in the Mission field. Again and again I forgot the sage aphorism, "A man can't do more than he can," and I did so to my cost. The Society's physician was Dr. George Budd, one of a noble band of brothers, kind, considerate and sympathetic. But he took a very gloomy view of my condition, which did not improve after repeated visits to him. His patience at last seemed on the point of exhaustion when he said to me: "I willingly give my services free to your Society, and if I thought that there was any hope for your recovery, I would continue to receive your visits; but, as you perceive, my time is valuable, and it is useless for me to hold out any encouragement to you. Candidly, I consider that you will never be fit to return to Burma again."

It was a heavy blow, but I would not give up hope. I asked him to afford me a final interview at the end of a month. During that interval I ascertained that he had what we call in India a shake, a bias, for filtration of drinking water, and that he was especially interested in a well-known filter.

I thought that I could work upon that and I was not mistaken. At the appointed time I paid my visit, and said that I attributed much of my trouble to the bad unfiltered water that I had been drinking in Burma. "I notice that you have a peculiar filter, such as I should like to take with me on my return. I am sure that it would be of great benefit to me in Burma, and its introduction would be a boon to the other Europeans in the country."

He caught the bait and proceeded to give me a long description of the patent filter, telling me where I could procure it. He concluded by saying: "I see that you are determined to go back, and though I cannot give you a certificate to show that you are fit, I will not oppose your going on your own responsibility." That was all I wanted, and after thanking him heartily for his patient endurance of my persistence, with a glad and thankful heart, I went off to the S.P.G. office to convey the good news to my friends the secretaries.

I met the assistant secretary, who, rejoicing with me, said: "Did you notice a young man leaving as you entered?" On my replying in the affirmative, he said: "That was the Hon. Charles Wood, who has been to offer his services to the Society's home work. I told him that at present we had no opening, but would gratefully remember his kind offer." He was afterwards Viscount Halifax, the well-known President of the E.C.U.

The Society was at that time deeply tied up in red tape, but let me say that though I have felt and regretted this defect during my fifty-five years' connection with it, I have never experienced anything but extreme kindness, courtesy and affection from its officials. Not one unpleasant word has been addressed to me during the whole of that time.

One other incident of my sojourn at home must be related. With all his kindness to the Mission and to myself, Colonel Phayre persistently refused to grant us a piece of land whereon to erect schools and Mission premises in Rangoon. The Baptists and Roman Catholics as well as the Buddhists had obtained large grants either freely or at nominal prices, but we could not get any. A similar difficulty had occurred in Maulmein. The local government refused, and the Government of India supported the objection, but the Secretary of State for India in London reversed their decision, and granted us twenty-five acres of freehold land.

With this precedent I appealed against Colonel Phayre's refusal to Sir John Lawrence, the Governor-General. But with all his well-known desire to help missionary work, His Excellency felt compelled also to refuse. Being in London, I resolved, with the Society's sanction, to appeal to the Hon. Charles Wood to do for us in Rangoon as he had done before in Maulmein. With Mr. Wigram, Q.C., one of the Standing Committee, I had a long and pleasant interview with the Secretary of State for India. Mr. Wood was very courteous and kind, but firm in his refusal. He said that we might have one acre free whereon to build a church, and as much more as the local government pleased at the upset price. This was a great concession, as the event has proved, and with this we had to be content.

The education of girls is all but neglected by the Burmese. But they had shown themselves willing to entrust their girls to our care if we had the teachers to instruct them. My efforts to obtain such teachers in Rangoon had not been successful, and it appeared as if I must fail also in England. But shortly before I left, the Rev. Sir James E. Philipps, of Warminster, introduced to me a young lady who was well qualified and willing to go out to Burma and superintend an S.P.G. Girls' School in Rangoon. The Society gladly accepted her services. I also secured an assistant trained and certificated schoolmaster, Mr. R. Rawlings, to help me in Burma.

This, then, was the party: Miss Cooke for Rangoon, another lady for Singapore, Mr. John Fairclough, Mr. R. Rawlings, and myself, who met for a dismissal service in January, 1866, in the Society's House in Pall Mall, the farewell address being given by the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Rev. S. Wilberforce. The others went before me by a sailing vessel, and I returned by the P. and O., no longer an invalid, though not very strong. I enjoyed the voyage greatly. We had daily service on board, attended at first by few, but as the voyage proceeded by almost all the passengers. At Galle I was able to tell the Cingalese Christians and other members of the Mission that my brother and sister were on their way to take over charge of the Mission and Church work in that station. Although I had kind letters of introduction to the Bishop and the Governor of Madras from their respective brothers, I was unable to land there, nor have I ever been able to visit that city, though I have passed it several times.

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