Personal Recollections of British Burma and Its Church Mission Work in 1878-79.
by the Right Rev. J. H. Titcomb, D.D.
First Bishop of Rangoon
The Eurasians of India--Rangoon Diocesan Schools--Bursting of the N.W. monsoon--Insect life--Crows--Bengali Inquirers--Renewed visit to Maulmain--Establishment of a Diocesan Registry--Confirmation in Rangoon--Ordination of Samuel Abishekanathan the first Tamil Deacon.
CONSIDERING the great mass of the Eurasian population throughout British India, and of the peculiar relationship in which it stands to society as an intermediate link between opposite races; considering, moreover, that it is a link bound far more closely to ourselves than to any of the native stocks; and that in every part of the empire this sub-variety of our own creation is rapidly becoming an element either of weakness or of strength to the Government: no one will deny the importance of providing every facility possible for the education of its rising generation. I do not mean education conveyed in mixed schools, where, by continual contact with Oriental children, they can have little or no opportunity of being morally and intellectually impressed with English ideas and feelings; I refer most distinctly to a definite system of class education, entirely interpenetrated by English influences; to schools in which the whole tone of teaching and discipline is, through master and book and general management, of a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon character. A great problem has to be solved at the present moment in India, viz., how we shall raise up for the service of our empire a generation of Eurasians which shall prove for the future a stronger, more self-reliant, and more capable class than that which has hitherto existed. That up till now they have not exhibited more of these characteristics is their misfortune rather than their fault, for they have not had the advantages they require. Liberal as the Government has been with "Grants in Aid" for schools, the whole weight of its sympathy has been thrown practically upon the side of education for the native races; forgetful that the important stock of which I am speaking has all the while needed special and exceptional treatment. There is now a growing conviction in society that this has been a mistake, and that the time has come when it must be remedied. What we want is some re-adjustment of State grants, by means of which Eurasian children shall be taken under distinctive tutelage, and be developed into a class of citizens more worthy of the language they speak, and of the fathers who begat them. To create these purely English schools on a large scale must, of course, be the work of social philanthropy; to encourage and support them, both by building and by annual grants in aid, must be the work of Government. Until this is done, I feel satisfied that our empire in India will have within it a growing element of weakness, and will lose in its future resources a reserve of strength and greatness which would otherwise much add to its stability.
These observations have been suggested by way of introducing my readers to the "Diocesan Schools" of Rangoon, established for Eurasian and English children. They are obviously of the utmost importance, and, if thoroughly efficient, would prove an untold blessing to the city. I am sorry to say, however, that I found them very limited in numbers, while the boys' department was without even a head master. Indeed, had it not been for the indefatigable and praiseworthy energies of the Rev. J. H. Taylor, the pro-cathedral chaplain, who daily superintended this school, it must have been closed altogether. It is true that, since then, an admirable head master has arrived from England, who has raised the school up to its normal level; and both departments of this institution are doing a good work, so far as it extends. But, financially, they are continually struggling for existence, and the measure of influence they exert upon the city is quite inadequate, both to the money expended upon them, and to the purposes for which they were established.
I must here break off from higher topics in order to make a few remarks upon one of the events in May, which is of annual occurrence, viz., the bursting of the S.W. monsoon. This commences the rainy season of Western Burma. It would be impossible for words to describe the grateful sensations accompanying it, when the thermometer suddenly fell from above 100° in the shade to 78°. How we all rushed out into the verandah, and watched the tropical deluge! As for myself, not content with looking at it, I could not resist the impulse of going out to enjoy a walk, rejoicing in the goodness of an all-wise Father who had given us so gracious a provision of nature! Yet there is no happiness without its alloy: for the natural consequence of so rapid a moisture over the dried-up earth is the genesis of a vast variety of insects, whose larva? have long been awaiting vitalization. We had been forewarned of this, and therefore knew what we were to expect. The crisis came, if I remember rightly, when I had some friends to dine with me, about the second evening after the monsoon. Then a truly wonderful picture presented itself. Flies, beetles, moths, grasshoppers, flying ants, grass bugs, and other hopping, jumping, buzzing creatures, of all colours, shapes, and forms, suddenly asserted their pre-eminence. Slaughter became useless; the floor was covered; the table was a camping-ground; soup plates and dishes were evidently regarded by some of these insect sportsmen as fine preserves. Others, more inquisitive, fixed upon our eyes, ears, and noses, as places for inspection. Incidents of various kinds naturally ensued. Handkerchiefs round the back of the neck, hands constantly flapping the top of the head, pleasant little shriekings on the part of ladies, chaffing and laughter among older residents, mutterings and growlings among newcomers into the country, a flight, at the earliest moment possible, into a more darkened drawing-room, and finally into bed within mosquito curtains--such were the chief points of interest in that otherwise pleasant dinner party of mine on the first great insect night of 1878, at Rangoon! It is, however, only right to say that such exaggerated experiences as these are, at most, only for a few nights after the moonsoon; subsequently to which, we are no more troubled with any exuberance of insect life than are other inhabitants of tropical lands.
While on the subject of these insect visitors, it may help my readers to form a better idea of the country if I also describe our crows. Crows are an institution throughout India; in Rangoon they are especially so. Almost illimitable in number, these birds are provoking, useful, or amusing, just according to one's individual temperament. Useful, undoubtedly they are, for they are the best scavengers we possess. And provoking they must often be felt: for their noise is incessant, and their intrusions are interminable. They think nothing of flying, in the most impertinent manner, upon your tables and chairs, nor of perching on the top of your punkah poles, nor of chevying one another straight through your house, from outside to outside--a flight which is rendered perfectly easy from the construction of our residences. But whether they are amusing or not is quite another question, for they will often pick and steal the very food from off your plate; and if, by chance, you should be inattentive to your duties, when attempting to pounce upon some delicate morsel, they will break one of your favourite china cups, and fly away with a twinkle of the eye which seems to mock you with its very merriment. To many people these freaks are not amusing. As for myself, I can only say that I constantly enjoyed their playful, though somewhat unconscientious trickery, and made many a laugh over it at the expense of my Rangoon companions; often moralising and holding up the watchfulness of these crows as an example good for all of us.
About this time I received more important visitors than crows, or moths and beetles. One day a Bengali of high caste came to me and said that he wished to inquire into the truth of Christianity; when I endeavoured, by inquiring into the state of his mind, to ascertain how far he was sincere, or had come to me with any ulterior motive. I found that he had studied in the Calcutta University, and could both write and speak English with considerable fluency, and that, like most of his class, he possessed both clear and subtle powers of mind. The next day he brought three other Bengali inquirers. I therefore commenced an inquiry class for them, which was held twice a week. I began by showing them the historical character of the Christian religion through the revelations of the Old Testament, arid that at a time when the Hindu mythologies had no existence. I also pressed upon them the fact that their own Shastras and Puranas, confessedly corrupt and immoral, were in these respects very inferior to their more ancient Vedas, and especially to the Rig Veda, in which, no idol worship could be found. By degrees, however, I found that these last three inquirers, while uniformly polite and attentive, gradually dropped off in their attendances, until I was left only with my original visitor. This man, who told me that he had long cast off the folly of idolatry, continued faithful, and, though he did not at first appear to be in anyway convinced, yet would not be satisfied till I had given him an English bible, which he promised to study in private. Some time after this a Hpoonghyee or Buddhist monk, appeared on my verandah, at a moment, very fortunately, when Dr. Marks was with me, who was able to act as an interpreter. His object was to learn English; but we soon discovered that he was animated by curiosity more than earnestness. I gave him, however, a copy of St. Luke's Gospel on the occasion of his third visit to my house, as I thought it might very likely be his last; nor was I wrong, for I saw him no more. May that good seed of the kingdom not be lost for ever!
The time had now come when it was my duty once more to take the Sunday services in Maulmain, by way of relief to the other chaplains. I went, and enjoyed my visit greatly; though I confess to having had a sad heart at the thought of so large and important a place being left so long without any resident clergyman. No answer had as yet arrived from Government; and I could still give the good people of that place no satisfaction.
On returning home I took steps for the establishment of a Diocesan Registry; the work of that ecclesiastical department having hitherto been conducted through the Diocesan Registry of Calcutta. This office was accepted by J. C. Gilbanks, Esq., barrister. The commencement of this work was somewhat difficult, owing to our mutual want of experience, and to our ignorance of the best method of producing material for the necessary episcopal seal to our diocesan documents. A great deal of preliminary printing had also to be done; but every difficulty seemed to me worthy of both meeting and overcoming, inasmuch as I had been sent out especially to organise a new diocese, and no diocese can be considered properly organised without having a Diocesan Registry of its own.
The next thing which occupied my attention was a matter of more spiritual importance, viz., my first English Confirmation in Rangoon--an occasion rendered more than ordinarily interesting from the fact that my youngest daughter was to be one of the candidates. The service was held in the Pro-Cathedral. I must confess to having been somewhat disappointed in the small number of candidates which were presented (only thirty-one), although fully aware that, under the peculiar circumstances of Anglo-Burman life, the ratio of the young to their elders must necessarily be small. What was lacking, however, in numbers, was made up in solemnity; for no service of the kind could have been more solemnly rendered by all who took a part in it.
Nevertheless, interesting and impressive as the ceremony had been, that which followed on the subsequent Sunday was even more so. On that day it was my privilege to ordain Samuel Abishekanathan as deacon and pastor of our Rangoon Tamil Mission, being the first ordination of the kind which had ever taken place in Burma. In the absence of an archdeacon, he was presented to me by the Rev. J. A. Colbeck. The sermon was preached by the Rev. J. E. Marks. It would be impossible to express the delight of the Tamil Christians in thus receiving a clergyman of their own race to minister among them. Nor was my own pleasure much less. For I am persuaded that it is only through the development of a native pastorate we shall ever be able to extend Mission work upon any sound and proper basis, or to raise up native Christians into habits of self-reliance and strength.