Project Canterbury

Padre Rowlands of Ceylon

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

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

Chapter VI. Kandy: The Tamil Coolie Mission--Work on the Coffee Estates, 1862-1863

THE next scene in the life of Padre Rowlands opens for us in the town of Kandy, the sacred capital of the Sinhalese Buddhists, containing, as it does, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. Kandy was then a squalid town, set amid mountains of surpassing beauty, a dull gem hardly worthy of its gorgeous setting. For Rowlands, the comparatively cooler climate of the hills was a distinct gain after the stifling lanes of Slave Island.

Kandy was also the centre of the planting enterprise, and here forgathered from time to time coffee-planters from the surrounding hills for business and pleasure. Hither, too, trudged with weary footsteps down the North Road an unceasing stream of half-famished coolies from the sun-baked plains of Southern India for work on the coffee estates.

In the Hill Capital there was stationed a strong detachment of the Ceylon Rifles, and the garrisons of the redoubts on the surrounding hills were furnished from this detachment. Among its officers were such men as Captain Byrde and a subaltern named Tranchell, poth of whom were warm friends of the young missionary, and, moreover, were in sympathy with the work of the Tamil Coolie Mission.

The journal, kept somewhat intermittently, draws the curtain aside on Christmas morning, 1862. It is 5 a.m., and the two catechists, with their wives and families, together with the servants, are assembled in the dining-room for family prayers. This was the custom in missionary households, but, with Rowlands, it was a solemn and sacred duty to gather together, before the family altar, all dependents of his household.

Later, we read that he preached to a large and attentive Tamil congregation by interpretation in the little church in the Bazaar. The Christmas dinner was spent with the Oakleys, then resident in Kandy, after which Rowlands attended a Tamil evening service.

The following day begins a description of one of those journeys among the estates, typical of many such itineraries. Rowlands writes on December 26: "At 2 p.m. left home for Kurunegala [he spells it Kornegalle, in the old-time way]. Drove first eight miles to the bungalow of W. F. Lindesay, Esq., a friend of the Coolie Mission, on an estate in Matale District. Reached the house after a tedious, and, in some respects, dangerous journey, at 8 p.m. Spent Friday night with him. On Saturday morning, the 27th, started about 7 a.m. Called at the house of another planter on my way, and breakfasted there. Finding from him that many of his Kanganies and coolies were very eager indeed to obtain any little books to read, I gladly left with him for distribution all the Tamil tracts that I had remaining."

The labours of the next day represent one of those strenuous Sundays so characteristic of Rowlands at all times in his career.

"Went to the Sunday School a little before 8 a.m., and on my way was requested by a young Burgher man to come and see his father, who was ill. I did so, and read and prayed with him. Opened the school, and taught the first class, composed of Burgher boys.

"At eleven, attended Sinhalese service and preached by interpretation.

"A small congregation, only nineteen, chiefly in consequence of the unsettled state of things among the Sinhalese. Immediately after morning service drove to Titawella, a small Sinhalese village, just three miles from Kurunegala, where there is a nice little school built by the richest men among the Christians. In that school, after a short notice, twenty-five people assembled, and after a few prayers, and the second lesson, read by a Mr. Goonesekara, who accompanied me from Kurunegala, I preached by his interpretation. Upon coming away left Sinhalese tracts with those who could read. At 4.30 p.m. held English service in Kurunegala, and preached on 'The time is short,' to a full congregation. After the service, had a baptism. Upon the whole, spent a very happy day, the more so from its being one of constant labour in God's service." Rowlands loved his Sundays, and over and over again in the little journal is the record of a full Sunday closed with the happy refrain," A very active and a very happy Sunday." The return journey was made by way of the Galegedara Pass, visiting planters en route, the names of whom are long forgotten, but many of whom doubtless, in the Presence of their common Lord, will recall the "pleasant and profitable conversation" they had together.

Tamil Christians have a pleasant custom on New Year's Day of visiting their friends and superiors, and of making them presents of fruit and sweetmeats, with a prayer for prosperity during the New Year. Rowlands describes such a visit on January 1, 1863: "In the afternoon all the catechists, with their families and some others, came to pay me a visit, and brought me a very handsome present of a cake, various kinds of fruit, and sweetmeats. They also presented a very kind congratulatory address in Tamil, which was interpreted in any parts which I did not understand."

From time to time tedious journeys to Colombo had to be made by coach to attend committees connected with the general organisation of the C.M.S. Ceylon Mission. Rowlands, in his own strenuous way, contrived to make them occasions for work outside his own legitimate sphere. "Was busily employed in collecting for the Coolie Mission. In doing that, I was graciously prospered through the love of our Heavenly Father."

On the occasion of another visit to Colombo, he writes: "After tiffin, had some doubt in my mind whether I should go to the school and speak to the Tamil people, or whether I should stay at home and write my journal, and read.

"Felt that this was a temptation of Satan to persuade me to choose the more easy and self-indulgent course, and prayed for more of the love of Christ to banish all such coldness and deadness of heart. Thought for a little time over John xv. 26, 'But when the Comforter is come.' Went to the school at three o'clock, and, after singing and prayer, addressed the people, who numbered twenty, upon the above. To my great pleasure and thankfulness was able to do without an interpreter for the first time. Spoke to a few people in the street and gave a few tracts."

Those early Kandy days continued to be occupied with constant journeys to the coffee estates around the Hill Capital. One such journey was made to the picturesque Rangala Hills to the north, passing on the way, as the traveller did, the scanty ruins of one of the great palaces of the last of the Kandyan kings.

"Saturday, February 1, 1862.--Left Kandy about seven, and drove to J. Blacklaw's (Medamahanewara) where I breakfasted. Drove about three miles farther, and then sent my carriage back, and rode the rest of the way.

"Sunday, 22nd.--Went out with Gnanamuttu, catechist, to a 'line' on Woodside estate, and spoke to the coolies. Returned for breakfast, and on our way to the bungalow we stopped in a retired place to pray for God's blessing on what had been said. It is sad to see how little the coolies upon Woodside seem to be impressed with the glad tidings of salvation.

"About eleven o'clock started out again, and went to the next estate, where we preached to about thirty or forty people, who assembled at one of the 'lines.'" For the uninitiated it may be explained that a "line "is a row of coolie dwellings.

Nor were the isolated pioneer planters forgotten in the ministrations of the indefatigable young missionary. Few churches had yet been built, and thus the journal gives such entries as the following: "Held English service in Court house at Teldeniya. Very few present." Another such service is held in the Resthouse at Kadugannawa. Many services were held in the hospitable bungalows of the planters, as, for instance, in the Moir's bungalow on Hunasgeria, where, among the congregation on one occasion, was the famous "Jack" Tyndall, a famous sporting planter of those early days, with whom Rowlands relates, "I had some conversation."

Maturata was an important centre in those days, situated on the long winding mountain road to Badulla, the capital of the Uva Province. In connection with a journey to this district, we read of an English service held in the "Fort," which doubtless refers to one of the ring of abandoned forts, by means of which British troops had formerly held the Kandyan country after the rebellion of 1818. The names of those forts--Fort Macdonald, Fort William--still remain, with, in some cases, their ramparts and ditches--sole relics of the romantic and stormy days of the past.

One journey to the hills north of Kandy may be given in the words of the journal, without the risk of becoming tedious.

"April 11, 1862.--Left home about one o'clock and drove some miles on the Pangwelle road, then mounted my other pony and rode to Mr. Moir's of Hunasgeria.

"Sunday, 12th.--Walked with Mr. Moir after coffee to a bungalow on the next estate, in the hope of seeing the conductor, who, I heard, was rather favourably disposed towards Christianity, but found that he had gone out. At 11.30 held service at Dotela.

"Very soon after service started for Relugas (ten miles away), but was an hour late in reaching there. No one was at the store (coffee factory), but, on going up to the bungalow, I found five gentlemen, and, by their permission, held a service in the house, preaching on the words, 'What think ye of Christ?' Almost immediately afterwards I went on to Galheria Store, where I had appointed the Tamil Christians to assemble. Before I reached the place rain poured in torrents, and I was very wet, but was cheered on entering the store to find a considerable number of people expecting my arrival. They had almost given me up, and had commenced the service and finished the prayers. Without any delay I preached to them, and afterwards conversed with several persons. Baptized the little girl of Joseph, conductor of Nillaomally, and examined a man who is a candidate for baptism, feeling very glad and thankful to God for so happy a conclusion to my day's duties." How Rowlands loved those strenuous Sundays!

Amidst a record of dull routine and constant travel, fascinating to those who knew "Padre" Rowlands, and the country in which he travelled, but doubtless tedious to the uninitiated, the curtain is occasionally lifted, and we are given a hallowed glimpse of a life lived in happy and intimate fellowship with his Master. Such a glimpse is given in the following entry:

"April 3rd,_ Good Friday.--Awoke with a sense of happiness and joy at the thought of another commemoration of my Saviour's death. Felt that dear friends were praying for me, and thanked God for it. Had a delightful time of private prayer, and also much enjoyed thinking of Gal. iii. i, 'Before whose eyes/ etc. Upon that I preached to the Tamil congregation, and felt my heart stirred up more than ever before to exalt Christ so manifestly before the people, that many precious souls might be drawn to Him.

"Read little book which dear May (his fiancée) sent me, Christ is Ever With You, and enjoyed it very much."

Meanwhile the vital and necessary examination in Tamil is drawing near, and Rowlands is gladly conscious of increased facility in preaching.

On a Sunday in February 1862, he writes: "Two catechists were with me, but as neither of them knows English, I was obliged to speak to the audience as well as I could, without an interpreter, and succeeded pretty well."

On another occasion, on Ramboda estate, he writes: "Addressed the coolies without an interpreter. By God's help was able to speak pretty well, but have no doubt that I made many mistakes."

"Sunday, August 30, 1863.--Rose at a few minutes past five. Felt, while dressing, a happy, calm, Sabbath spirit. Started from home at about 6.30 for Kadugannawa, but before I reached the bottom of this hill my pony fell and broke both his knees. This obliged me to borrow Clowes' horse to drive as far as Peradeniya, where my other pony was waiting. Reached Kadugannawa Resthouse at about 8.30. At a little after ten the catechist brought five Christians to me. After talking to them for a little while, I sent them on to Mr. Cooper's Store and, after a hasty breakfast, went there myself. I read the prayers and preached, without any assistance whatever, and with considerable ease. Immediately afterwards I returned to the Resthouse for the English service. After tiffin, went to a rice store, not far from the Rest-house, where many people were collected. Spoke to them for some time, trying to point out clearly the one and only way to salvation. Several seemed to understand very well and to be much interested. Feel very thankful to God for the blessed opportunity He has given me this day for proclaiming His love to sinners, and also for the gracious help He has vouchsafed to me in speaking Tamil. ,

"September 11, 1863.--Came down to Colombo by night coach in order to be ready for examination in Tamil on Monday.

"Reached Galle Face about 6.30 and was kindly welcomed by Fenn. Drove to Mutwall to make arrangements with Mr. Oneaatje about the exam, and fixed 2.30 p.m. as the time. After dinner, went with Fenn to the Pettah to preach to the heathen."

Project Canterbury