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Padre Rowlands of Ceylon

By R. P. Butterfield, M.A., B.D.

London and Edinburgh: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, Ltd., no date.

Chapter III. Early Days in Ceylon, 1861-1862

THE old-world port of Galle, known for centuries to Phoenician and Arab traders, had in the 'sixties reached the most flourishing period of its existence. Colombo was still an open roadstead, and, on account of this, the P. & O. and other important shipping companies preferred the harbour of Galle to the uncertain anchorage of Colombo. Galle was thus a miniature of what Colombo is to-day. Steamers arrived regularly with passengers and mails, and the picturesque streets of the town were thronged with passengers, only too eager to stretch thek legs on dry land after the monotonous ship life of the Indian Ocean, and to gaze on the wonders of the Orient.

The crowds of sightseers found their interest divided between the architectural character of the buildings, exhibiting, as they did, solid evidences of the Dutch occupation of the previous century, and the oriental panorama of its busy streets. The extensive fort, with its ancient gateway bearing the date 1679, was then, as now, almost intact, and provided a picturesque setting to the busy Eastern life which it enclosed. This ancient fort had witnessed various vicissitudes in its long history. Portuguese gallants and priests had introduced into the East the mediaeval life and religion of Europe. These had in time given place to stolid Dutch merchants and soldiers bringing with them the trading instincts and sturdy Protestantism of Northern Europe. To the latter race were due its substantial buildings and many of the surnames of its inhabitants. At the time when William Rowlands landed, an English church stood within the fort, and also a Dutch church, the latter providing an antiquarian interest, with its mural monuments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to Dutch officials of days gone by.

Such was the first picture of the land to which the young missionary was to give the best years of bos life, and which greeted him on that morning at the end of 1861.

A journal begun at the time enables us to gain some idea of the impressions made upon his mind; and when we are careful to remember that the writer was one of the most modest and diffident of men, and that the journal was intended for no eyes but his own, we learn, incidentally, something of the fragrant character of one of God's noblest witnesses to Ceylon.

He writes:

"December 7th, 1861 (Saturday).--Landed at Galle from S.S. Colombo at 9.30 a.m., where, through the kindness of the Rev. C. C. Fenn, I was met by the Rev. J. Scott, Wesleyan missionary, who most hospitably entertained me until Monday. Made acquaintance of the Rev. J. Bamforth, missionary of S.P.G., a very pleasant, friendly man--and paid him a visit at his residence, 'Buona Vista,' with Scott. Preached at Dutch Church, Galle, on Sunday morning, for Mr. B., on Acts 1.11. Was graciously helped by God. Lunched with Mr. and Mrs. B. and a Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. I spent afternoon at Scott's with a Mr. Dunlop of Colombo--a true Christian, I think, and a decidedly intellectual man. Went with Scott, his sister, and Dunlop, to service at Wesleyan Chapel in evening."

Passengers in those days, on arrival at Galle, proceeded to Colombo, the capital, by horse-coach, and by this means of conveyance, William Rowlands finally reached his destination. The Secretary of the C.M.S., the Rev. William Oakley, who had arrived in the island two years before Rowlands was born, and was therefore already a veteran of twenty-six years' standing, and who, moreover, lived and worked in Ceylon for fifty-one years, without once going home, was then residing in Kandy. Rowlands was therefore met and welcomed on arrival in Colombo by the Rev. C. C. Fenn, the missionary to whom he had been allocated as assistant. Fenn was then living at the Galle Face Mission House, and, in addition to his work as Incumbent of Christ Church, was Principal also of the Cotta schools. With Fenn, Rowlands took up his residence.

The journal continues:

"Monday, December 9.--Left Galle by coach at 5 a.m. and had a most delightful drive to Colombo. Breakfasted at Bentotte, and there met Rev. J. Parsons,1 who received me very kindly. Reached Colombo about 3.30 p.m. and was soon warmly welcomed by Mr. and Mrs. Fenn at the Parsonage, Galle Face. By dear Perm's request had sweet little season of prayer with himself and Mrs. F. about four. Soon after met, with Fenn, Tamil catechists in vestry, and was much pleased with the cheerful smile with which they seemed to welcome their future teacher. God grant me grace to be faithful with, and useful to, them! I prayed with them in English, and one of themselves in Tamil. Walked by moonlight with dear Fenn upon terrace by sea. Took family prayers."

Rowlands had been instructed by the C.M.S. not only to assist the over-burdened Incumbent of Christ Church in English work, but to continue the work among the Tamil people of Colombo, already begun by the Rev. G. Pettitt, ten years before. To this end he therefore at once applied himself to master the intricacies of the Tamil tongue with that same consecrated purpose which characterised his whole life. The Pauline motto, "One thing I do," was also the note of William Rowlands' life.

"Tuesday, December 10.--Rose at 5.30 and had short season of prayer--then dressed and walked out until seven, by sea, enjoying cool breeze. Munshi came at eleven, and with him I began studying Tamil. At twelve, dear Clowes came to see me--the rest of the day, therefore, was spent with him. We had much pleasant conversation, and prayed together. I do humbly trust that God may make us always a mutual help and comfort to each other. Read Tamil for an hour in evening, and afterwards 'Instructions of Committee.'

"Wednesday, December 11.--Rose at 5.45. Went out at 6.30 and walked till seven in Slave Island. Took early coffee, and had nice talk with dear Mrs. Fenn, of whom I am forming a very high opinion. Read Isaiah ii., and had a very happy season of prayer. Bathed and was ready for breakfast at 9.15. At that time the Joneses arrived from Cotta, and stayed with us until after 6 p.m. Mr. J. I like very much. He seems a humble Christian, and a man of considerable ability, as well as sound sense. Read with Munshi from eleven to twelve, and, I trust, made real advance. Began a letter to dear father. Walked with dear Fenn by the sea between 6.15 and 7 p.m. About noon, paid a visit with Fenn and Jones to Tamil Boys' School. Was much pleased with their answers, but still more delighted to hear that it is hoped two of them will soon be baptized. Oh, for a great work of the Holy Spirit amongst them! May I never cease to pray for it!"

The city of Colombo at this period was vastly different from the bustling modern port of the present day. In 1861 it possessed no harbour. An open roadstead provided a precarious anchorage, for its present commodious harbour, by means of which the port has attained the proud position of the fifth port of the Empire, was not begun till 1875. Not a foot of railway had been opened in the Colony in 1861, although a railway from Colombo to Kandy had been projected, and construction was begun shortly after. It was not until 1865 that the first section of the railway was opened as far as Ambepusse.

The Dutch fortifications of the city were still largely intact, much as they were left when the Dutch surrendered the city in 1796, with a deep moat surrounding the whole. Although Colombo had long begun to extend along Union Place, Colpetty, and in other directions, the gates of the fort on both sides were closed nightly at gunfire and were not opened until 5 a.m. next morning, to allow of the departure of the daily coaches to Kandy and Galle--a twelve hours' run. The Cinnamon Gardens were, as the name implies, fragrant gardens of cinnamon, with a few bungalows. The higher ground at Mutwal, to the north of the city, was the residential quarter.

The island of Ceylon was at this time administered by Sir Charles Justin Macarthy, and was entering upon a period of unexampled prosperity, for the coffee enterprise, in the 'sixties, was at the very height of its vigour. Planting activity was being feverishly pushed forward, and estates were being carved out of the virgin forests of the interior, in outlying districts that were indifferently provided with first-class roads. The planting enterprise was peopling the hillsides of the interior as well as the merchants' coffee stores of Colombo, with sturdy labourers from the plains of South India, and it was among such Indian immigrants that William Rowlands was now beginning his life's work.

The Church of England in Ceylon, in the 'sixties, enjoyed the privilege of being an Established Church. Colonial chaplains, both Anglican and Presbyterian, paid out of the revenues of the Colony, were stationed at all the important towns. For some years after the British occupation, Dutch Presbyterianism, the religion of its former conquerors, was recognised as the Established Church of the Colony. In 1817, Ceylon was added to the See of Calcutta, and the Church of England became the Established Church. In 1835, Ceylon was added to the See of Madras, and finally became a separate Bishopric in 1845, under its first Bishop, Dr. James Chapman. After sixteen years of devoted service, Bishop Chapman resigned in 1861, shortly before William Rowlands arrived in Ceylon.

On Friday, April 12, 1799, three years after the surrender of Colombo by the Dutch, in the Castle and Falcon Hotel, in Aldersgate Street, sixteen clergymen and nine laymen met and founded "The Church Missionary Society." "Ceylon," we are told, "was one of the first fields to which the fathers of the C.M.S. turned their eyes." Two missionaries were despatched to Ceylon three weeks before the battle of Waterloo, but their destination was afterwards changed to India. It was in the autumn of 1817 that the first missionaries of the C.M.S., four in number, arrived in Ceylon, and proceeded to establish themselves at Jaffna, Kandy, and Baddegama. The Cotta Mission was established shortly after, in 1822, and, many years after, in 1850, Colombo was definitely occupied. Work was begun in the Kandian country in 1853 among the Sinhalese, and, in 1855, among the Tamil coolies in the planting districts.

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