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
A Tamil and a Burman introduced as future candidates for ordination--Changes of clergy--Third visit to Maulmain--Cholera--Troubles and pleasures in the Kemmendine Mission--Prome once more--Beauty of the Irrawaddy--Its boats--Thayetmyo--Mission Schools of S.P.G.--Allanmyo--Other Episcopal work.
IN the month of July two young men were introduced to me as candidates for the ministry. One of these (Mr. Bazely) came from Madras, with a letter of introduction from Bishop Sargent of the C.M.S., being intended to labour ultimately in the Tamil Mission. The other was a Burman, who had been educated in Bishop's College, Calcutta. The former found a post as teacher in St. John's College. What to have done with the latter would have been a difficulty had not an opening for suitable employment been providentially afforded. It was on this wise. The Rev. C. H. Chard, Missionary in Mandalay, had just received notice from the India office that he was appointed to a Government chaplaincy. The Rev. J. A. Colbeck, of Kemmendine, being invalided, required a change of climate. While, as if to make all things suit, the Rev. A. Robinson, chaplain of Thayetmyo, was anxious to leave that station for Bengal. I consequently made a triple change. Mr. Chard was stationed at Thayetmyo; Mr. Colbeck was transferred to Mandalay; Mr. Bernard was placed as schoolmaster and catechist at Kemmendine. Changes like these are perpetually occurring, often to the detriment of our good work; but owing to the smallness of our staff they are unavoidable.
It was now time to pay a third visit to Maulmain--a duty which I was beginning to discharge with feelings of mingled pleasure and pain. Pleasure there could not but be, with so many kind friends to welcome me, and with so much ground for doing good amongst them. Yet the pain predominated when I remembered its ecclesiastical difficulties, and the manner in which everybody was looking to the Bishop to supply a want which he had no present power of meeting. Indeed, the spiritual wants of my diocese would have dragged me to the dust if I had not been enabled to put my trust in God, and quietly rest everything in His hands.
On arriving in Rangoon once more I found a heavy trouble in store for me. The cholera, which had lately been unusually severe in the city, had not only carried off several among the Europeans, but, amongst the number, the Hon. Captain Browne, commander of the gun-yacht with whom I had spent a happy fortnight on the Irrawaddy. He lived only nine hours after his first attack, and was buried early the next morning. Such is life in the tropics! Oh, to "number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom!"
Yes, such, too, is life! For in the midst of our deepest tragedies how often is comedy intermingled! An elephant died of cholera at the same time in Palla, and was on the point of being buried in a deep pit, when a number of Burmese of low type came running up with hatchets and dahs, requesting permission to cut it into pieces and carry it away for food. Poor fellows! They are simply omnivorous: they will eat anything, from elephants and snakes even to rats. This is very probably one reason for the far greater prevalency of leprosy in Burma than in India--a fact which the vital statistics of the two countries abundantly evidences. Another fact also could not but amuse me on my return from Maulmain. Mr. Warneford, the chaplain at Port Blair, had fulfilled his kind promise of sending me over from the Andamans a good supply of coral to decorate my verandah; and good indeed the supply was, for it required eleven coolies to bring it up to my house from the steamer!
I must now chronicle a misfortune at our Mission in Kemmendine. Mr. Colbeck, before going to Mandalay, had secured a piece of ground from Government for the purpose of building a schoolroom, which was also to be used as a Mission church on Sundays. This building, in his zeal, he had already commenced, but, from motives of economy, without employing an architect. One of the first things, however, which young Mr. Bernard reported to me was, that the building showed signs of giving way, the roof being too heavy for its supports. Under these circumstances Dr. Marks and I went out on an expedition to inspect it. The report was too true: and we both concurred, as well as a competent builder, that the whole erection must come down. Nevertheless we received encouragement, even in the midst of our disappointment. For, after this consultation, we were conducted to the house of our Chinese catechist living in Kemmendine, where we found a number of little presents in the shape of biscuit-boxes, packets of tea, &c. More than this: they were all carefully wrapped up in paper for us, with inscriptions of the following kind: "The Lord Bishop of Rangoon; from his affectionate son and pupil, Moung shway," or "Hpo kin," &c. Such is the frank, simple-hearted manner in which the Burmese regard their religious teachers, who are never allowed to enter their houses without receiving some token of their respect.
The next Sunday I preached at separate services to the Tamils, Burmese, and Chinese, and then in the evening also to the English, thus ministering to four different races in one day. I could only feel lost in "wonder, love, and praise," praying to become more and more consecrated to the Master who had called me.
August the 3rd found me on the railway once more to Prome, in order that I might pay my first visitation to Thayetmyo. In Prome I made personal acquaintance with Mr. Chard, and preached for him twice at our services on the following Sunday. It gave me sincere thankfulness to find every one in this place earnest in promoting the advancement of our proposed English church. The presence of a resident Bishop in Burma seemed to have given them all a sudden and new turn of Church life. On visiting the Ladies' Association school, it appeared to me that by the Eurasians and Burmese being taught here in one room, the latter element was bidding fair to be crowded out. I therefore resolved to take steps for erecting a second one if possible, and toward which, I am thankful to say, funds are now being gradually subscribed.
The river route from Prome to Thayetmyo is far more beautiful than in the opposite direction. Though the weather was intensely hot, and unrelieved by a single puff of wind, nothing could take off the delight with which I viewed this scenery. Four hundred miles away from the sea, this river is yet fully one mile broad, swift as the Rhine, and lined on its right bank by hills of fantastic shapes, which are belted and crowned with the most lovely verdure. The Irrawaddy sailing-boats, unlike anything one sees in Europe, add also to the picturesqueness of the scene. Having but one mast, and one yardarm for a sail, out of all ordinary proportion to the size of the boat, with ropes and rigging of the most intricate appearance, they float along the stream, or against it with the wind, like river fairies. Some of these vessels are really large, and contain fine specimens of wood-carving, for which the Burmese are justly celebrated. The helmsman's seat is generally a kind of chair, elevated considerably above the deck, and it is in the decoration of this that the carving is often most elaborate.
On reaching Thayetmyo there was a hearty welcome. The chaplain, the Rev. A. Robinson, who had not yet left the station, met me, full of kindness. A horse and dogcart had been placed at his disposal for me by one gentleman; a bullock-cart for my luggage by a second; while invitations of different kinds were sent by others. Thus, although I nominally went to the circuit house, not a single meal was eaten in it.
Owing to the beauty of the wooded hills around Thayetmyo, this place far exceeded the expectations which I had formed of it. The growth of the timber greatly impressed me. The tamarind-trees were exceptionally fine, certainly far above anything of the kind which we have in Rangoon. The society was also most cheerful and hospitable--as it is indeed wherever I go in British Burma. I have no wish to magnify my office yet I cannot but record that all seemed delighted to have a Bishop among them whom they could call their own.
With respect to the Missionary work going on, I could not but have feelings of a mingled character. The S.P. G. school was badly mastered, and appeared to be inefficient in several particulars. My examination of it gave me little satisfaction. The Tamil S. P. G. boys' school was even worse, for the master was a man without a voice. It is of no use to make everything rose-coloured, and therefore I paint the picture as I saw it. At the same time I am thankful to add that, when I left Burma for England, these evils had been remedied. On the other hand, the state of the Ladies' Association Burmese girls' school (then taught by Miss Barr) was highly satisfactory. Although small, it seemed, under the able superintendence of Mrs. Lloyd, Mrs. Strover, and Mrs. Wynyard, to be doing an extremely good work. It boarded-twelve children, all Burmese, and was training them in Christian truth, in a manner which could scarcely fail to produce some ultimate fruit. I left it under a conviction that it only needed enlargement in order to become a most valuable and blessed institution.
By the kindness of Colonel Davies, advantage was afforded while here of a visit to Allanmyo, on the opposite bank of the river, where I examined the site of the British cantonment before it was removed to Thayetmyo. It is, in some respects, more suited for military purposes than the present one, being a little nearer to the frontier, and certainly far more healthy.
My episcopal visitation of the Anglican or chaplaincy work was most pleasant and gratifying, and was concluded, after a variety of other services, by the consecration of a new cemetery for the station. So that I returned to Rangoon strengthened for fresh duties, under a deep sense of thankfulness to my Heavenly Father.