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 approaching end--Remittances from the Diocese of Winchester--New work in Alatchyoung--Burmese Book of Common Prayer--Compilation of a Church Hymn Book for the Burmese--Opening of a Church book depot in Rangoon--Appointment of a catechist for Prome--Formation of a medical mission in Toungoo--Building of the Tamil church in Rangoon--Postponement of projected labours--Domestic afflictions--Conclusion,
IN commencing this,1 the last chapter of my "Personal Recollections of British Burma," I feel like a traveller who, after having wandered over open plains and sunny meadows, and enjoyed the light and freshness of free mountain air, is about to enter within some dark and gloomy cave which will have the effect of chilling his veins and reminding him of approaching death. Yet I cannot but go on. If the preceding narrative should have awakened the slightest interest, and if my endeavours to lay the foundation-lines of diocesan work in Ban-goon should have commended themselves, however imperfectly, to any of my readers, it is only due to such that my story should be told to the end, and that the circumstances which led to the sudden interruption of my work should be properly explained.
Postponing this melancholy duty, however, to the last moment possible, let me now detail a few developments of fresh organisation which I was enabled to accomplish in the spring of last year, through the financial resources which had been so generously placed at my disposal by the Bishop of Winchester.
The sum remitted had amounted to 627l., which, on being exchanged, yielded 7,550 rupees. Budgeting this amount for an expenditure of three years, I divided it into a capital and income account. The results were cheering, and inspired me with hopes of much practical usefulness.
In the first place, we defrayed the cost of building a new schoolroom, as well as of supporting a schoolmaster in Alatchyoung; a place which will henceforth be memorable to myself as the first in which I ever pronounced the Absolution in Burmese. In the second place, we purchased a Mission boat for the purpose of securing an independent passage across the river from Kemmendine, which boat we made a memento of our gratitude by naming it "THE WINCHESTER," and by engraving and painting that name in the most conspicuous spot we could select.
I should say that, at this period, I had the advantage of cooperation in my work with the Rev. J. Fairclough, who had returned to his Missionary work in Rangoon after furlough; and who, in connection both with St. Michael's and St. Gabriel's, now gave me invaluable assistance. From the time of his arrival, for example, the Mission schoolroom at Kemmendine became practically a church every Sunday, while services were held in Alatchyoung once every week. From that time, also, the Tamil Mission was more fully and effectively superintended; and I think I may safely say that my own Missionary spirit became more than ever braced Tip into vigorous activity.
We now had three S.P.G. Missionaries among us who were good Burmese scholars (Messrs. Marks, Fairclough, and Colbeck), and two works of translation were lying before them of the utmost consequence--namely, the completion of our Book of Common Prayer, and the compilation of a Church Hymn Book. For the former we needed no funds, owing to a liberal grant from the S.P.C.K. of London. I therefore requested these gentlemen to form themselves into a Translation Committee, and proceed with the work as quickly as possible. Up to the present we had only published the Morning and Evening Prayer, with Litany and Baptismal Service. The Office of Holy Communion, the Athanasian Creed, Calendar of Lessons, and Occasional Services, were required to complete our full Liturgy. I am happy to say that these are now in progress. With our Church Hymn Book the case was entirely different. Hitherto nothing of the kind existed. We had been always obliged to use the American Missionary Hymn Book. Naturally feeling, therefore, that along with the foundation of a Church diocese, the gift of a Burmese Church Hymn Book to it was indispensable; and having, through my Winchester fund, means now available for the publication of one, I set apart, in the third place, a portion of my budgeted capital fund to defray the necessary expenses. Mr. Colbeck, at Mandalay, had already forwarded me a fair number of specimen hymns. Selections also were made, by due permission of the copyright holders, from "Hymns Ancient and Modern," as well as from the American "Mission Hymn Book." The result is that the proof-sheets are now passing through the press; and that before many months are over this great desideratum for the native Burmese Church will have been obtained.
The next thing to which I turned my energies was the formation of a Church book depot. This was a great want; for, as a matter of fact, there was not, either in Rangoon or in any other town of British Burma, a single shop where English or vernacular Church publications could be purchased as articles of regular stock. I therefore set apart, in the fourth place, another sum of money from the Winchester fund, in order to meet the expenses of this most desirable object. Engaging a stall in the municipal bazaar, close to our Pro-Cathedral, and furnishing it with books and book-cases, and engaging the services of a Christian Burmese as bookseller, I opened it for the general public good. This will be practically an S.P.C.K. depot; for, since my return to England, I have forwarded from that depository two boxes of Bibles, Prayer Books, and other publications, some of which, with the usual liberality of the Committee, have been freely granted.
Another forward step in our Missionary organisation was also made out of the Winchester fund, in connection with Prome. In the opinion of Dr. Marks, as of myself, the time had come when the appointment of an able native catechist in that town would be useful; more especially as the new church was rapidly approaching completion. I therefore, in the fifth place, set aside a sum which would be sufficient to guarantee his income for three years, and transferred our Kemmendine sub-deacon to the work, filling up his place with another catechist.
Beside these arrangements, I had in view also, as soon as we could find suitable agents, the planting of Burmese catechists in Henzadah and Maulmain. Nothing had been done in the matter, however, up to the time of my leaving the country. The only other work actually accomplished was a grant made, in the sixth place, toward a valuable catechist and schoolmaster in Thayet-myo, left there by Mr. Chard, and who was carrying on Sunday services for our native converts in the S.P.G. schoolroom, under the superintendence of the Rev. S. Sandys, then acting as Government chaplain in the place of Mr. Chard.
Two other works were also set on foot. One was a medical mission in Toungoo, proposed by Sir Walter Farquhar of Surrey, and liberally supported both by himself and other friends in the Winchester diocese. For this object I had secured a duly qualified native of Madras, who had a diploma from the Medical College of that city. He was now in Rangoon, waiting the arrival of medical stores and surgical instruments in order to proceed to his duty; and on reaching Toungoo was commissioned to open a dispensary immediately.
The other work was the building of the Tamil church of St-Gabriel. A reply having come from Government, generously granting me a free plot of ground for this purpose, I hastened to form a committee, and to publish a statement of funds already in hand, with an appeal for the balance required. About 2,000 rupees were still needed, of which 800 have since been collected.
My first pastoral, addressed to the clergy and laity of the diocese, was also now commenced; but alas, to be continued through family affliction, and eventually to be consigned for publication to the care of my dear friend, J. Crossthwaite, Esq., the Judicial Commissioner. It was the same with other matters; in fact, at this stage of the narrative every portion of my work became unhinged. Confirmations had been arranged for Rangoon and Maulmain; the church at Prome was on the point of being ready for consecration; committee meetings were being held for promoting the objects of our late Diocesan Conference, when, in the mysterious providence of God, a tempest-cloud of sorrow burst, which forced me against my will to return to England.
My eldest daughter, who had been more or less an invalid from occasional attacks of asthma, but whose brave spirit had enabled her to hold up daily without any symptoms of disease likely to prove immediately dangerous, was on July the 1st attacked with delirium resulting from atrophy of the brain. The shock fell upon us like a thunderbolt. Let a dark veil be drawn over the untold misery of that month, during which we nursed, watched, and prayed for our precious sufferer. Suffice it to say that, while dearer to myself than my own life-blood, I was yet enabled, through grace, to yield her without a murmur to the will of my Heavenly Father. She fell asleep in Jesus on July the 28th; after which my cup of bitterness was filled by having to follow her to the grave on my own birthday, the 29th.
It would be an act of ingratitude, however, if I were not to acknowledge the wide-spread sympathy of a very large circle of friends, whose names it would be out of place to particularise. All which Christian fellowship with suffering could possibly do to alleviate sorrow was freely conferred; the recollection of which will ever continue, not only for its own sake, but as a tribute to the saintly character of my departed child, who, by her lovely life had embalmed her memory in so many faithful hearts.
Did I say that the cup of bitterness had been filled? It was not so. I had another daughter, whose life had seemed far more precarious than that of the former one, whose state had often been the subject of anxious doubts and fears during our residence in Rangoon. Was it any wonder, then, that during the excitement and distress of her sister's illness, the symptoms of this second invalid should have alarmed us? Totally unable to bear the excitement, she was removed to our kind friends at Government House, being nursed by Mrs. Aitcheson with a mother's tenderness; in which hospitable home all our party were subsequently lodged, until we finally took our departure from Burma.
The necessity of this departure, arising from the medical opinion that nothing short of instant removal from the climate could save or prolong my child's life, was like a third stroke of death to me. Yet how could it be otherwise? It was impossible that I could forsake her in her anguish by sending her home without a father's care. In her deep sorrow, indeed, she made me faithfully promise that I would never leave her till she died. Could such a request, and under such circumstances, have been refused? I solemnly made that promise; the impression of my own mind, as well as that of Dr. Johnstone, our Rangoon medical adviser, being that she would probably never reach her native land. Nevertheless, as I am now writing these pages on January 1st, 1880, after having been apparently on her death-bed for more than three months, she still lives, and, with the closing days of the past year, has even rallied a little in strength.
The position in which I thus find myself placed is peculiarly distracting; and filling me, as it does, with grave fears about the future, makes me take this opportunity of saying a few words to my readers upon the subject. Clearly, while my daughter's life continues, it will be impossible for me to return to Rangoon. My heart is there, notwithstanding. Indeed, I can most conscientiously say that, to be forced into an abandonment of my diocese through this afflictive dispensation would prove the last drop of bitterness. Nevertheless, should my child's life be still permitted by our All-wise Father to linger out for mouths, against every human calculation (as in some consumptive cases happens), what must be done? Is the diocese to remain unoccupied by a Bishop when so much important work is waiting to be accomplished in it, merely for the purpose of gratifying my own personal wishes? Or, on the other hand, am I to pray for my child's death, that I may gratify this wish to return--just as if God's work in the Episcopate depended entirely upon my own resources? I am thankful that the issue lies with Him; and that, for the present, I have nothing left me but to sit at His feet, saying, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" Awaiting that issue, therefore--which cannot but be now decided within a few months--let me conclude by expressing a hope that my brief labours in Burma may not have been without some fruit to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. My life there has been intensely real. May its results prove equally useful!