Project Canterbury

Forty Years in Burma

By John Ebenezer Marks

London: Hutchinson and Co., 1917.

Chapter XVI. Consecration of Mandalay Church

THE King was in haste to redeem his promise to build the church. I could not get plans. But I had old numbers of the Illustrated London News, containing a picture of the new chapel of St. John's College, Cambridge, and with the help of this I pieced together a picture of a church that I thought would be suitable, and a friend in the Public Works Department in Rangoon drew working plans. We got the posts into the ground--grand teak pillars--when Bishop Milman and his chaplain, the Rev. A. O. Hardy, came up.

The church was not ready for consecration, but the Bishop approved of our plans, and solemnly dedicated all our buildings, and examined our scholars, the princes included, and awarded prizes. His lordship held a Confirmation in the pretty little Oratory of the Clergy House, and consecrated our cemetery. The latter was a work of some difficulty, for the waters of the Irrawaddy were out, and the road to the place, and the land itself, were submerged. We had to wade to the spot, and we had to walk round on the low wall of the cemetery, there being a couple of feet of water on each side! We were much cheered by the Bishop's visit, and went on heartily with the church building.

I should have mentioned that on September ist, at the request of the Lord Bishop, conveyed through me, and in the presence of three of the King's sons, the Armenian priest, and of all the principal European residents and many Burmese officials, Major E. B. Sladen, the British Political Agent, with Captain G. Strover, Assistant Political Agent, publicly laid the foundation-stone of the church. The Kalawun, specially deputed by the King, said: "I beg to assure you that the spot on which we are now assembled is part of the land which is publicly given by His Majesty the King of Burma for the purposes of religion and education in connection with the Church of England, and also that His Majesty has promised to defray all the expenses of the erection of this church, as he has already paid for the building of the English Christian School and Clergy House."

The Bishop came up again next year (1873) with his chaplain, the Rev. Edgar Jacob (afterwards Lord Bishop of St. Albans), for the consecration of the church.

They arrived on July 25th, and the King sent for me at once to inquire whether the Bishop was well, and if he was satisfied with the church and schools. Having reassured him on this point, it was arranged that the Bishop should visit the Palace on the following Monday. On that day the Bishop, Mr. Jacob, the Bishop's doctor, and some of my elder boys, went to the Palace, and were met at the bottom of the stairs by the Mine Done prince, who, having met the Bishop on his previous visit, and speaking a little English, was deputed to conduct his lordship to the audience hall.

We had scarcely arranged ourselves comfortably, when the doors were thrown open and the King, beautifully dressed and attended by three or four little children, walked in and threw himself on a couch at the raised part of the room. He took up his binoculars and had a good look at the Bishop. The usual questions were asked as to the Bishop's age, and the King laughed to find that he was younger than himself.

The Bishop then earnestly thanked His Majesty for the beautiful church, school and clergy house which he had built.

His Majesty replied that he could not help doing what I asked him, that he loved me as if I were his own son, and that the Bishop must not change me for any other Hpôngyi. But yet, that I was too haughty and impatient!

His Majesty then spoke of his earnest wish for the continuance and increase of friendliness between his country and the English Government, and many compliments passed between the King and the Bishop on this head, who promised to tell Lord Northbrook all that the King said, assuring His Majesty that his pacific and friendly sentiments would be cordially reciprocated by the Governor-General. The conversation was in danger of becoming political, but the Bishop, with excellent tact, turned it off into other channels.

The King gave his lordship a beautiful ruby ring, which the Bishop would have fain declined, but I begged him to accept it, and by His Majesty's order, I put it on his finger. The King wished to defray all the Bishop's charges till he should reach Calcutta, but this his lordship kindly but firmly declined. Further conversation ensued, when the King, bidding me come privately to him on Wednesday, rose and left us, though not so abruptly as he usually departs on such occasions.

The next day the Bishop and his chaplain held an examination of the school. The boys were quite taken aback when the Bishop commenced. One fainted away, but recovered, and came out second in the school. His lordship sent the following report to the King:--

"I carefully examined the Royal S.P.G. school, which is a very good school. Its tone and character are high. I have examined most of the schools all over India, and can therefore speak with confidence. The school has improved considerably under its present teacher, Mr. Mackertoom. The number of pupils, ninety-two, is much increased, and those who have grown up and left are likely to be useful members of society. The school is a real benefit to His Majesty's subjects."

The church was consecrated on the 3ist of July. Nearly all the European residents in Mandalay, including, besides Englishmen, French, Italians, Armenians and East Indians, were present at the service. The Shwe Koo prince came alone, as his brother, the Mine Done, had an attack of fever, which prevented his coming. The Kinwun Mingyi, the head of the embassy which visited England and Europe, came attended by the Yaw atwin wun, Minister of the Interior, the Myo wun, city magistrate, and the Kala wun, representing His Majesty.

The collection at the service amounted to forty pounds, of which I am glad to say the prince gave ten pounds.

Before the prince and the ministers left to report the proceedings to the King, I asked the former how he liked the service. He replied: "It was very good and the singing very pleasant, but it was a long time to be without a cheroot!" He was a great smoker, and when he was at school got leave every hour for a pull at his cigar. During the service he and the ministers and all heathen Burmans sat in the aisles, according to our rule.

After luncheon, when more than forty people sat down, the Bishop chaffed me on the "missionary hardship" of having to live in my beautiful clergy house. I meant to have made a good speech, but I utterly broke down, as my heart was too full at the realization of the fulfilment of a project which had been so frequently and persistently hindered. With regard to my beautiful house, however, I could not help recalling what my friend Dr. Mason, the veteran American Baptist missionary, had said to me--that I was, as it were, occupying a pretty villa on the slope of a volcano!

Soon after this I was joined by an English schoolmaster, who, however, did not stay long, as I preferred to work with my own trained and very efficient assistants, natives of the country, all of whom have done well since in various capacities.

Matters went on very smoothly for a couple of years, and then there gradually came a coolness on the part of the King. Little difficulties had often arisen from the first, too trivial perhaps for record, but as time went on they gradually increased. The King sent more boys, boarders and day pupils, to the school, but the monthly payments became more and more irregular. Once, when arrears amounted to Rs. 500, the King sent only Rs. 200. I sent this back, that I might bring to his personal notice that the work was not being conducted for my private benefit, and that I had none but his funds to maintain the school.

For a few days the King was angry and did not call me. Then he sent for me and was as pleasant as usual. But he said: "You did wrong to send back royal money. If my highest minister had done so, he would have been dragged out of the Palace by the hair of his head." I assured His Majesty that I had no wish to offend him, and that as to the penalty, my baldness would render its infliction in my case an impossibility! The King laughed heartily and called the queens to enjoy the joke, and at once paid up the arrears. But he hated to pay regularly, and I was compelled to ask him to do so. Then he persistently asked me to get him some guns and rifled cannon, which, of course, I neither could nor would.

At last one day, in a private room, he unfolded a plan by which I could, as he thought, be of great service to him. I was to go to England in his sea-going steamer, the Tsitkai-yin-byan, taking with me two or three of the princes, and when I got to London I was to tell Queen Victoria how good he had been, and ask her to give back to his Government Bassein or Rangoon, that he might have a seaport of his own. Of course I pointed out the impossibility of my undertaking anything of the kind. He got very angry, and said hastily: "Then you are of no use to me." But he soon recovered his good temper and talked pleasantly as others came into the room. But I never saw him again. We were heavily in arrears. I went to the Palace, but, on various excuses, could not obtain an audience or any money, and at last the King said that he did not want me any more, and that I had better leave his capital, adding that my life might be in danger if I stayed.

I sent back word that, having come by his invitation, I certainly should not leave except at my appointed time, some eight months later, and I stayed on, and went on with my work. The princes ceased their attendance, though they took every opportunity of sending me kind loving messages and presents. But the school filled with paying pupils, and was really more efficient than when under royal patronage.

I was joined by Mr. James Alfred Colbeck, of St. Augustine's, Canterbury, and he was of wonderful assistance in those days of trouble. Full of zeal, energy, and piety, he worked nobly as a layman, and then as an ordained missionary afterwards in Rangoon, Maulmein and Mandalay, where, after the war in 1883, he was the first priest in charge of our church, and where he died in 1888, leaving a record which must always live in the story of the Church's work in Burma. His noble self-devotion, his unflinching courage and earnest labours, demand a separate history. It is written in the hearts of the people of Burma and of all who knew him. "He rests from his labours and his works do follow him."

I kept on with the work of the school and church, and of visiting pastorally Bhamo and Myingyan. The new Chief Commissioner of Burma, the Hon. Ashley Eden, was by no means favourable to our Mission work. He tried by threats to induce the Calcutta Committee to sell St. John's College for a Government secular High School. I protested indignantly against such a proposal, and the Bishop supported me, and it and the threats had to be withdrawn. His lordship wrote to me, "The Viceroy, Lord Northbrook, has just been in my room with a letter from the Chief Commissioner of Burma, asking me to order you to leave Mandalay, as your life is not safe there. I replied that it is not our custom to recall missionaries from their posts on the first appearance of danger, and that you had my permission to leave whenever you chose to do so."

There was really no danger, and I continued to have no door to my house or guard to my gate, and none made me afraid. At last, at the appointed time, January 25th, 1875, I was relieved by the Rev. John Fairclough, and with many of my pupils I departed in state from the royal city. I could not help saying, as the steamer was leaving and I took a stern view of the place, that I would not return to Mandalay until the British flag floated over it! My prophecy was fulfilled when I revisited it ten years afterwards, and preached to the garrison of British regiments in the hall of the royal palace--itself the temporary chapel of the troops.

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