Project Canterbury

Forty Years in Burma

By John Ebenezer Marks

London: Hutchinson and Co., 1917.

Chapter VIII. Return to Rangoon

ON my arrival in Calcutta I found that Bishop Cotton was still up country on Visitation, so I went on to Rangoon for a few weeks, returning to meet him on his arrival at Calcutta.

On my return to Rangoon I found that the work had almost to be begun over again. My locum tenens, the Rev. C. A. Berry, had not lived in the Mission House, and the teachers and pupils were disheartened, and much of the Mission property had been lost. Mr. Fair-clough and Miss Cooke and Mr. Rawlings arrived, and though at first we all had to rough it, we soon got things in order. We soon had our school full of boarders and day scholars, as many as we could receive. We used the veranda as a sort of chapel. For the girls' school we rented a house in the vicinity, and we soon saw how suitable a person we had obtained in Miss Cooke. She evidently loved her work and her pupils, and they loved her, and she led them gently and steadily to love their Saviour, and to be fit for Holy Baptism.

The work, however, needed more vigour than I possessed. Dr. Kay had constantly advised me to lay up a large store of health and strength. I had not been able to do so, and more than once I doubted whether, after all, I ought to have returned. I had very serious attacks of depression, which is not particularly pleasant for a schoolmaster. But again the promise continually recurred: "Lo! I am with you always," and it upheld me even in the darkest hours.

Financial difficulties pressed heavily upon me. Finance was ever my weak spot, and, knowing this, I had very early accepted the assistance of the agent of the only bank then in Rangoon. I had previously followed the almost universal practice of depending upon one of the largest firms for pecuniary accommodation. But my bank friend most kindly undertook the business and so greatly relieved me.

During my days of illness, however, before I went to England matters fell into much confusion. I could not remember what I had done with considerable sums of money. I knew that I had received them, but how I had disposed of them caused me the greatest anxiety and many wakeful nights. Meanwhile people were pressing for payment, and though the amount was not large, it was more than I could meet from my personal salary, which was very small. I was at my wit's end, and at last called the principal creditor, who most kindly undertook to accept one-half of my salary every month in payment of the debt.

The arrangement left me miserably poor and actually in want, and I felt that a few months of this trouble would inevitably bring me to the point of collapse. I am free to confess that I made this matter, not for the first and only time in my missionary life, the subject of earnest prayer, and I arose from my knees encouraged and heartened, to put the best face I could upon my worries before school assembled.

As I was dressing, in a moment the whole situation flashed upon my memory. I recollected that as each sum had come in, I had handed it over to the kind treasurer whom I had not met since my return. I at once called my gharri, and went off to see him. The bank of which he had been manager had assured me that there were no funds standing in my name or in that of the Mission. But he had become manager of another bank, which he had started during my furlough, and to this new bank he had transferred all my moneys. It was a marvellous relief. I did not tell him how much I had suffered in consequence. He continued for several years our kind and efficient treasurer and I had no such worry again.

The absolute necessity of finding better premises for the Mission school and my own and colleagues' residence was forced upon me. I felt that we were in the right quarter of Rangoon on high and open ground; but house accommodation was very scarce.

Fortunately Woodlands, a large house, which had been the residence of several heads of departments, who, I need not say, were our local aristocracy, became vacant, and I was
advised by several friends to secure it But no measure of the kind could be expected to be executed without criticism, and that where it might be least expected, amongst friends of the Mission, who were alarmed at my ambitious schemes.

I was told that I had swollen head and that my success had made me proud. But after full consideration with the Chief Commissioner, Major-General Albert Fytche, I determined to secure Woodlands, with its ample grounds, large rooms and ugly exterior. Instantly the success of the school was assured. Pupils from all parts of Burma crowded into the new premises, proud to find themselves in such excellent quarters. It was from this transaction that I may date the success of our Rangoon school.

Several of my old Burmese assistants came to my help, and I had, moreover, the valued co-operation of colleagues from St. Augustine's College, Canterbury, the Revs. Fairclough, Warren and Chard, all ordained at Calcutta for work in the Mission as my colleagues.

But with this staff I had a large accession of duties, congenial, but outside my missionary work. First of all, I must mention that at Bishop Cotton's order, I assumed the chaplaincy pro tem., until his lordship's approaching visit to Burma, of the beautiful little Town Church of Holy Trinity on the river bank. It had been built under the auspices of the Rev. H. W. Crofton, after the designs of Pugin, and was a gem in its way, and the people of Rangoon were very proud of it.

It could not be but that with the considerable duties which fell to the single Government Chaplain's lot in connection with the civil and military population, the missionary staff should give assistance at the Town Church and in the district.

But the employment of missionaries as Assistant Chaplains had been vetoed, both by the Indian and the Home Government, in the time of Bishop Wilson, and, therefore, additional clergy were appointed, who received a small monthly allowance in addition to the salary which they received from the missionary society which employed them. This scheme was at work in India, but had not as yet been introduced into Burma. But, in the great dearth of chaplains, Bishop Cotton directed me to undertake the charge, and gave me directions as to what to do and what to avoid, carefully safeguarding the prerogatives of the Government Chaplain.

But when this was known in Rangoon, our Chaplain felt it his duty to raise a storm of objections, and got up a petition signed by several leading townsmen complaining that whereas they had been promised a whole chaplain for the town, they were being put off with half a missionary! I intimated to the Bishop, that if his plan were not carried out, he must release me from further English services in Rangoon, as the extra stipend that I was to receive went to the maintenance of one of my colleagues.

His lordship wrote back a very conciliatory letter, saying that his plan was only temporary, until another Chaplain or A.C.S. man could be appointed, which he hoped would be shortly, after his next Visitation of Burma during the approaching cold weather. This letter changed the whole aspect of things. The Chaplain recognized that without the co-operation of the missionary staff he could not carry on the double duties of cantonment and town work in Rangoon, and he gladly fell in with the Bishop's plan and the petition was withdrawn.

I look upon my services at the Town Church as one of the happiest parts of my life. The services were of a type hitherto unknown in Burma. We had a surpliced choir of boys under excellent training, and of gentlemen of good musical ability who gave their services gratuitously, and of a very talented lady organist.

The proposal to put the choir into surplices was supposed to be our first Romeward tendency, and excited a letter of protest, which was to be presented to Bishop Cotton on his arrival. My friend Mr. Connell remarked, with regard to this protest, "that we need not wait till Cotton came down, as it was cheap enough in Rangoon already! ''

Alas! Bishop Cotton's visit was never paid. He had always been deeply interested in Burma, and in his primary Charge he expressed his strong opinion that this Province ought to be separated from Calcutta, and that a Bishop with the gift of tongues should be appointed. He was to come to us for the consecration of the Town Church, when suddenly, on Saturday, October 18th, 1866, I received a telegram from Mr. Barton, of the C.M.S. in Calcutta: "Bishop Cotton drowned at Kooshtea. Body not found." He had been on Visitation in Assam, and on October 6th had been consecrating a cemetery, when, returning in the dark, accompanied only by a servant carrying a lantern and his robe bag, he was crossing to the river steamer by a single plank from a barge, when the servant heard a splash, looked round, and the Bishop had gone!

Though his two chaplains, Messrs. Hardy and Vallings, dived into the water immediately and searched about in the swift current, no trace of his body was ever found. Mrs. Cotton and their daughter were awaiting the Bishop's return for dinner on board the steamer. The news was telegraphed all over India, and the Government, in an appreciative note on his life, declared that it was the greatest blow which the Church in India had received.

I shall not easily forget the expression of deep sorrow and regret that prevailed in church next morning when I announced to our large congregation that the Bishop had met an untimely end. I preached on Hebrews xiii., 7 and 8. Bishop Cotton had improved during his residence in India. His coldness and schoolmaster attitude seemed to have given way to affectionate earnestness and kindness. Those who knew him best loved him most.

Dr. Robert Milman, a cousin of Lord Salisbury, was the new Bishop. He had been well known previously as a Vicar of Lambourne and Wantage, where he had done a great deal to promote the welfare of the boys and young men employed in the stables. He was, moreover, a learned scholar, especially in languages. In manner he was a complete contrast to his predecessors, Wilson and Cotton, as he was most genial and witty.

He lost no time in visiting Burma, and in May, 1867, accompanied by his sister, he came to us in the height of the monsoon. They encountered very bad weather, and were four days instead of two from Akyab to Rangoon; but their welcome to Burma was very real and hearty, and the time spent at the Mission was very profitable to us all. Holy Trinity Church was consecrated, Lieutenant H. R. Spearman acting as registrar.

I accompanied the Bishop in his special steamer up the Irrawaddy to Thayetmyo, our then frontier station, where he preached to the English garrison and performed a marriage. At every stopping-place--and the vessel only goes by daylight--he saw crowds of children, who appeared to be amphibious. He was greatly interested, and desired me to do my very utmost to establish branch Mission-schools at all the principal towns on that noble river. Miss Milman in her biography says: "From that time he began to feel a deep interest in the Burmese, 'the kindly and honest people who like the English and are liked by them.'" As soon as the Bishop had left us I began to think of carrying out his wishes. I could safely leave St. John's to the care of the Revs. J. Fairclough and C. Warren. Mr. Rawlings had been sent to strengthen the S.P.G. work at Maulmein under the Rev. R. Evans, and afterwards the Rev. J. Fairclough.

Henzada was the first place of importance on the Irrawaddy. It was the headquarters of a district containing seventy-five thousand Burmans. The Government steam vessels and flats had just been sold to the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, which, from small beginnings, has prospered wonderfully. To our Mission and to me personally the managers have always been the kindest and most liberal of friends. I can hardly speak too gratefully of their unvarying and unwearied generosity and goodness.

General Albert Fytche kindly gave me an order to visit Henzada as Chaplain, and to stay there ten days at Government cost. The Flotilla allowed me to take a lot of my tame pupils, and desks, forms, maps, books, etc., to begin a school. We arrived off the town on a stormy rainy night, and got wet through before reaching the Government Circuit House, where we had to stay. The next day was Sunday, and we had two services for the English-speaking Christians, and collections for our new school. All gave very liberally. The Burman magistrate offered every assistance, but I feared to accept it lest I might appear to be compelling the people to help.

On the Monday morning we went in search of a house, and with great difficulty found one, not a good or clean place, but the only one available. My boys and I worked at it in the pouring rain, washing it thoroughly, and bridging the deep ditch that separated it from the road, and which was full of water. We were very wet, tired, and hungry when at night-fall we returned to the Circuit House, and I felt feverish and low-spirited. But early next morning we got up and went to begin school. We found many intending pupils and their mothers in the road, but the heavy rain in the night had swollen the little river, our bridge was washed away, and the water was up to our proposed schoolroom floor. Whilst waiting anxiously, and thinking what we should do, my friend Moung Kyaw Doon, the Extra Assistant Commissioner, came along, and at once solved the problem by putting a very suitable house (his own property) at our disposal, free of rent, for half a year. In less than an hour we had got our furniture arranged, and the Christian boys joined us in a prayer in Burmese for God's blessing on the new undertaking.

We began school and worked very happily during the ten days of my stay. Subscriptions and donations came in liberally, a local treasurer was appointed, and the school prospered for many years. It was shortly afterwards removed to a new building, erected by local subscriptions and Government grants, and was then called St. Peter's S.P.G. School. Very many happy days have I spent in Henzada school. The best masters were Samuel Moung Ee, from Maulmein, James Simon, afterwards head-master of the Government Normal School, Maulmein, and James Charles. The Director of Public Instruction spoke of it as "the best second-class school in Burma."

Having been appointed Government Chaplain of the Irrawaddy Stations, on being relieved by the Rev. W. West of the care of the Rangoon Town Church, I was enabled to visit Henzada and other places on the river regularly and without cost to the Mission. Our best boys from St. Peter's were sent to complete their education at St. John's College, Rangoon, the Flotilla managers most kindly allowing all our pupils to travel at half fares. Sir Rivers Thompson, Sir Charles Aitchison and Sir Charles Bernard, successive Chief Commissioners, visited the school and reported most favourably concerning it. Bishop Tit-comb, the first Bishop of Rangoon, spent much time at St. Peter's, and testified that it was "a first-rate S.P.G. Mission School." After his resignation I ceased to be Chaplain of the Irrawaddy Stations, and became Chaplain of Tavoy and Mergui, and my official connection with St. Peter's was ended, and after twenty-three years of useful work the school was closed, and the buildings were sold in 1890. I next went on to Myan-aung, then the headquarters of the district of that name. It is a long, scattered town, the Europeans' houses being built on the bank of the Irrawaddy, which is here broad and deep, and in flood time is continually encroaching on the town, in spite of the embankments which the Government at enormous cost erect and keep in repair. The people here gladly welcomed me. In a few days we had raised over a thousand rupees, enough to start our school in a wooden house which was lent to us in the Burmese quarter. A Burmese Christian master from St. John's was appointed, and he began well. In a short time the Education Department gave us another Rs. 1,000, and with the Rs. 2,000 we bought a large and excellent house for our school.

The people here were not so zealous for education as were those of Henzada, and I alwaj-s had difficulties with the Myan-aung school, especially after the place ceased to be the headquarters of the district and many of the European officials removed elsewhere. After eleven years' existence the school was burned down through the carelessness of the master in charge. The .Society's property there has recently been sold, and no effort has since been made to revive S.P.G. work in that station, though we have had many pupils at St. John's from the town and district.

I must tell about our school at Zalun, a township of 4,600 inhabitants, on the right bank of the Irrawaddy. The people were very anxious to have an S.P.G. school there, and the elders came to me to Henzada begging me to come to their township and promising every assistance. I went in a Burmese boat, for Zalun is down-stream. The Burmans welcomed me gladly and hospitably, and for a fortnight I lived among them as their guest, eating only Burmese food in native fashion. Honestly I cannot say that I liked it or enjoyed it. It takes a long apprenticeship to discard with pleasure knife and fork and spoon and other accessories of European habits. But my hosts were all kindness, and did their very best to make me comfortable.

They turned the Buddhist Hpôngyis and their following out of a large monastery, or kyoung, on the Lamaing road, had it thoroughly cleaned and altered to my plans, and then gave it to me for an S.P.G. school. I had my master Moung Henry ready and we began work. For a time the school did well, but after I went to Mandalay and Mr. Warren went to Toungoo and our Mission work extended, the European labourers were so few that the school suffered from lack of adequate supervision. The town also suffered severely from flood and fire, and so the school languished and died.

The last and hardest of the river schools was Thayetmyo. This was a frontier military station having half a European regiment, a battery of artillery, besides Madras sepoys. The natives lived in the southern half of the town and consisted of a very large admixture of people from Bengal and Madras, as well as the Burmese. (In Burma, when we speak of "natives" we always mean not Burmans but natives of India.) But our missionary efforts know of no distinction of race or nation. The command is to "make disciples of every creature." So the station Chaplain allowed me to plead for our Mission in the garrison church, and then the Burmese and others came forward to help me to raise the thousand rupees required to earn the Government grant of an equal amount.

We began school in a temporary house, the roof of which was made of thin tiles and there was no ceiling. It was terrible work sitting in that room in April, our hottest month--and Thayetmyo is one of our hottest stations-- teaching about thirty pupils, mostly at first Madrassis or Mussulmans. The school, St. Andrew's S.P.G. Mission School, began under difficulty, struggled on, and held its own. The Rev. C. H. Chard, who became missionary and chaplain of Thayetmyo, wisely and zealously fostered it, and under his able management it became a flourishing institution, as did also St. Helena's School for Girls, under the care of Mrs. Chard. The Rev. J. Kristna was afterwards in charge of Thayetmyo for a time. I must leave it to others to tell the more recent history of St. Andrew's Mission School.

That is the story of the beginnings of our river schools and of their subsequent development. It will be gathered from what I have said, and even more from what I have not said, that to maintain district Mission schools as evangelizing agencies, regular and constant supervision by the European missionary is absolutely essential. When that is not available the schools invariably fail to maintain either their Christian and missionary character, or their secular efficiency. But though the institutions themselves may cease to exist by the name by which they have been known and described, yet it must be remembered that no work for God undertaken in faith and obedience is ever allowed completely to fail. The results may not be at once apparent, but in His own good time, God will give the increase.

In Henzada our work seemed to fail and utterly to collapse when the school was sold. But on a subsequent visit to the station I was called upon by several of the elder ex-pupils of the school now in Government employ, who although only catechumens, yet held Christian meetings amongst themselves, and went out into the neighbouring villages to read the Bible to the Buddhists, and to tell the glad tidings of the Gospel of Christ. If we had but more missionaries to follow them up, many an ex-pupil would be found glad to hear again the lessons which he was taught in the Christian school.

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