Project Canterbury

Forty Years in Burma

By John Ebenezer Marks

London: Hutchinson and Co., 1917.

Chapter XV. Work in Mandalay

I RETURNED in better health and spirits to Rangoon, and heard that the King was faithfully fulfilling his promises, and that the schools and my residence would be ready by the time that I could begin work. So with several tame boys and pupil-teachers I set out again for Mandalay.

I left Rangoon on April 6th, 1869. My voyage up the Irrawaddy, accompanied by ten of my best boys from St. John's College, was necessarily slow, as I wished to visit, perhaps for the last time, all my riverine schools.

I inspected the school at Zalun, but by a misunderstanding with the captain, the river steamer failed to call for me, and I had to walk seventeen miles to Henzada. We set out at four o'clock in the morning dressed in our lightest. It was nearing the end of the dry season and about the hottest part of the year. Our path lay along the bank of the river, which was then at its lowest. The ground was hard and seamed with deep fissures through the heat.

We stopped on our way at a large village called Doungyi, where the Burmese magistrate begged me to stay and do what I could for his son, one of my pupils, who was suffering from fever. I gave him some quinine, and I heard with great pleasure afterwards that he had recovered; but we bitterly regretted the delay, for it prolonged our journey into the heat of the day.

We trudged on and on, and there was absolutely no shelter. I never was a good walker and became more and more distressed, but at length we entered the long straggling town of Henzada, where, although the road was now sheltered in parts, I seemed to experience more distress than ever, and at last, more dead than alive, I arrived at the Government Circuit House.

I had barely reached the central room, where my kind friend Colonel Plant was awaiting me with breakfast, when I fell down on the floor, utterly unable to stand. He very wisely and kindly threw a lot of cold water over me and took other measures which restored me to consciousness and some degree of vitality. But my cruel walk inflicted injury upon me from which to this day I have not recovered.

I found that the school was doing well and was full of promise. It required more supervision than I could give it with my multifarious duties, but it was full of promise.

I next went on to Myan-aung, where our school had been established under the patronage of Major Hildebrand. It was well cared for by the Christian residents and was doing well. I then went on to Prome, where I conducted service. At Thayetmyo I called several meetings of the Burmese, and went with two or three of them, and collected in two days over Rs. 600 for the new school. But the exposure to the fierce heat of the sun which I encountered during my canvass in the bazaar, brought on a serious indisposition and I was obliged to return to Prome.

My instructions from the Bishop were that I was not to proceed to Mandalay until I heard from Major Sladen that the buildings were sufficiently advanced. I therefore remained at Prome and acted as chaplain of that place until June 2nd, when, hearing satisfactory news from Major Sladen, I proceeded on my journey to Mandalay where I arrived on June 7th, 1869.

After a few days' stay at the Residency, I removed into the grand Clergy House (or Hpôngyi Kyoung) which the King had built for me, and as soon as possible we opened the S.P.G. Royal School for boarders and day-scholars of several nationalities. I had several very interesting interviews in public and private with the King, whose kindness was very great. At one of these he again asked me to receive his sons as pupils at our school. I replied that I should be delighted. They came, very grandly dressed, and kneeled down before their father, who said to me, "I deliver them over to you."

They appeared to be very bright and intelligent lads, and I willingly accepted the trust. But knowing the punctilious etiquette of Burmese royalty, I ventured to suggest that nine princes would be too great an honour to begin with, and that I should prefer to commence with four. The King consented, and on the following Monday morning the Shwe Koo, Mine Done, Thibaw and Thagara Princes came to school. One of my Rangoon pupils rushed into my room and said: "Teacher, the princes are coming." I looked out, and there were the four princes, mounted on four royal elephants, two gold umbrellas held over each, and forty followers in "undress uniform" behind each elephant. The long procession came up to my door; the elephants knelt down, and the princes descended and came up into my room. I had prepared a lot of mechanical toys, telescopes, etc., for the entertainment of the princes. But their followers rushed up, pulled off the table cover, and threw it and all my pretty things into the corner, and put the princes' spittoons and waterpots on the table.

I suggested that we had better cross over to the school hall. On our arrival we found twenty-five boys seated at their desks. But as soon as the princes entered every boy, according to Burmese custom, went down flat on the floor--none dare stand or sit in the presence of royalty. I said: "Boys, get up to your desks. The princes have come here not as King's sons (min thas) but as scholars" (kyoung thas, literally "sons of the school"). But though I repeated this three or four times no boy moved. At length I went forward and pulled up one boy, who looked very miserable and frightened. As soon as I released him to raise up number two, he went down flat upon his face again--worse than at first. It was, of course, impossible for me to teach pupils in that position, and I was greatly perplexed. But turning round to the princes, I saw that they were shaking with laughter. So I said: "Please tell those boys to get up and go on with their work." The eldest, the Shwe Koo Prince, said: "Oh, you fellows, you are not to be frightened at us. We are your schoolfellows; get up, and go on as if we were not here." One by one the boys crept up to their seats. But school worked very stiffly for a day or two, until the boys and teachers got familiar with the royal pupils.

Very soon all came right. I have never had more gentle, docile, and intelligent pupils than were these princes, and I was glad when all the nine came--though it was more like a procession of Sanger's Circus through the streets than that of pupils coming to school. It was the King's express wish that his sons were to be educated in exactly the same subjects and in the same way as the other pupils were being taught. Especially he desired that they should be instructed in our Holy Religion, that they should consider and decide when they came to a proper age which was the better-- Buddhism or Christianity. In accordance with our invariable custom in all our S.P.G. Mission schools, every day's work was begun with prayer for God's blessing, and to every pupil every day, instruction in the Christian religion was given as he was able to bear it. The King was particularly interested in this subject, and liked to see day by day his sons' Scripture lessons, which were very often the subject of conversation when I went to the Palace, which, at the King's request, I did very frequently. To facilitate my visits he bought for me a beautiful carriage (technically called a Madras Nibs), drawn by two trotting bullocks. But I had many a weary waiting in the Palace, where there were no chairs, and the only seats were folds of carpet on the floor. After hours of this posture my limbs ached, and I was fit for very little on my return to the Clergy House.

Major Sladen, just before proceeding on leave on account of his health, took a photograph of our school, which showed the four Ko daws (princes).

We played cricket on Thursdays and Saturdays, and the young princes entered very heartily into the game.

I must here tell one characteristic anecdote of His Majesty. Shortly after the princes came to school, the King asked me whether I would allow them to be absent on the days of Buddhist worship--i.e., the New Moon, the 8th waxing, the Full Moon, and the 8th waning day. I replied that it was not the custom of our Mission schools to recognize these days, and that as a Christian Hpôngyi I could not sanction any of my pupils' absence on those days; but that still it was competent for His Majesty, as a father, to keep his sons from school whenever he chose. The King replied: "Quite right. I know that you wish to teach my sons what is good. I wanted you to recognize my right to keep them away when I desire, but you will have no cause to complain of their irregularity."

The other pupils from the Palace were called Lapet ye daw thas--i.e., sons of tea--because they hand tea to the King. They were entitled to a yellow silk umbrella, and each had a dozen or so of followers. Most of them were over twenty, and married! The King ordered them to school, and they came when they could find no plausible excuse for staying away. They naturally found their family arrangements incompatible with their scholastic duties. Still, some of them made good progress, and in school they were, like all Burmese boys, excellent pupils.

Both in Mandalay and in Rangoon I often had married men as schoolboys. I remember once seeing a big schoolbo) bullying a small boy in the school playground. I called them both up into my house, and, without waiting for any explanation, immediately administered a sound thrashing to the big boy. After I had finished, I said: "Do you know why I have beaten you?"

He replied: "No."

I said: "It is time that you understood that I do not allow big boys to bully small ones in my school."

The big boy gave a sickly smile and replied: "Please, sir, he is my son!"

It was a pretty sight to see the boys come to school. Some came on richly-dressed ponies, some in beautifully carved little carts drawn by trotting bullocks, some on elephants, and some on men's shoulders. We had a large bell, weighing 360 lbs., cast in the Palace. In the compound there was a special building called the Ane daw, or royal house, where the princes spent the recess from twelve to one daily.

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