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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 VII. Colombo: Marriage--Street Preaching--Ordination to the Priesthood, 1863-1864

THE closing months of the year 1863 were eventful ones in the life of William Rowlands. The regulations of the Church Missionary Society required a young missionary to pass the language examination before he was allowed to marry. This examination was passed with credit in September, and, in the following November, Miss Evans came out to Ceylon, escorted by her brother, and the marriage of the devoted couple, who had been separated for two years, took place in Christ Church, Galle Face.

One who knew them well in those early days describes Miss Evans as "a fine tall, healthy-looking girl." Part of the honeymoon was spent at Kurunegala, a somewhat unusual place for such an event, after which the young missionary and his bride returned to Kandy.

The journal now becomes fragmentary, and only one entry exists for the closing month of that year, but it is truly characteristic.

"Sunday, December 20, 1863, Bellwood, Deltotte.--After prayer and meditation upon God's Word, went out as usual to the lines to speak to the coolies. By the way, found a man sitting on a stone near the path, and, upon inquiry, found that he could read. I asked whether he was a Christian, to which he replied, 'No, I am a heathen, but I believe that there is but one God, the Creator of all things, and that He created alike the white man and the black, and that all must worship Him and forsake the worship of any other god.' I remarked,' What you say is very right." (The journal here breaks off abruptly, and one is left wondering what the full answer was.)

Meanwhile, Rowlands' friend, C. C. Fenn, had broken down, and returned to England at the close of 1863. In January 1864, the Rev. J. Pickford arrived to fill the vacancy in the Tamil Coolie Mission, which Rowlands, still only in deacons' orders, and, as yet, imperfectly acquainted with the language, had been endeavouring to fill. Rowlands, with his young bride, now returned to his former work in Colombo, residing for the first year or two in a little house near Braybrooke Lodge, Slave Island.

The young missionary found his hands fully occupied with ministrations to both English and Tamil. In this he was assisted by the Rev. J. H. Clowes, who also was responsible for the work among the Sinhalese.

William Rowlands was first and foremost a missionary, and his love for the Tamil people, and his passionate desire to bring them into the kingdom of God, were fully shared by his young wife, coming as she did, from such a missionary home as that of the Rectory of St. Clement's, Worcester. In her he found a true comrade--one who entered heart and soul into every phase of his work.

The practice of street preaching was established and was carried on at some of the vantage spots in Slave Island and the Pettah. The slight, spare figure of the young man, standing in the midst of a crowd of Tamils, assisted by two or three catechists, soon became a familiar sight in the crowded quarters of Colombo. In addition, the coffee stores were regularly visited, the European managers, in most cases, giving cordial sanction to such work. Whatever may have been their private opinion, no man could long resist the young missionary's earnest zeal or the charm of his personality. The Tamil and Moor women, found in large numbers in the stores, were spoken to whilst cleaning coffee in the verandahs, while the men were generally assembled, for twenty minutes or half an hour, just before the evening roll-call, and the perfect quiet of the store at that time was a most favourable occasion for both speakers and hearers.

The journal, now recommenced, describes a visit to Darley's Stores, to speak to some of the women in the verandahs, and also visits to Messrs. Robertson & Co.'s Stores, Dickson, Tatham & Co.'s, Engineers, to make arrangements for preaching in their stores. On this occasion the season's work had not yet begun, but it was agreed to send a catechist to their three stores to preach to the regular coolies.

We also read of regular preaching in such parts of Colombo as Colpetty, Kayman's Gate, the "Cheroot Bazaar" (wherever that was), Wekande, and the crowded streets of the Pettah. On such occasions, tracts in English, Tamil, and Sinhalese were used with discretion. Rowlands left no means unused to commend his message, and both he and his wife visited the poorer houses with medicine for such simple cases as they were able to prescribe for.

In addition to constant reading to perfect his knowledge of Tamil, the examination for Priest's orders still loomed ahead, and for his study for that examination such books as Horae Paulinae, Davison on Prophecy, and, of course, the very necessary Greek Testament, had to be studied. A loving touch is given to the journal by the entry, oft occurring, "Read Horae Paulinae with May" (his wife).

There were English sermons to prepare, and that this task was not always easy is frankly indicated in such a journal note as the following:

"Sunday, August 7th.--Got up at 4.15 a.m. to finish English sermon, but could not do so, so chose and altered an old one."

On another occasion he writes sermon. Preached same at evening Felt that it was not what I wished it to have been, but trust I was thereby led the more earnestly to pray for God's blessing."

William Rowlands and his wife quickly made a large circle of friends among the British residents of Colombo. In addition to missionary friends, there were many, such as the Birds, the Lawrences, the Guys, A. M. Ferguson, the editor of the Observer, and others who became lifelong friends. Very intimate were the relations between the little house near Slave Island and such keen Christian families as the Skinners. Major Skinner was the famous "Roadmaker "of Ceylon, and a regular attendant at Christ Church. One entry runs briefly: "Note to Marion Skinner, with M.'s and my wedding present." Another entry records a pleasant evening at Colonel Hamilton's, one of the senior officers of the Garrison. "Dined at Colonel Hamilton's. At family prayers he read part of Rom. v., and while he was remarking upon these verses afterwards, I was particularly struck with the exceeding force of the expression, 'Rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.' May such henceforth be more and more my state!"

In spite of the strenuous life of the young missionary, he found time to obtain recreation in his favourite hobby--gardening. The soil of Colombo is anything but a congenial one for gardening, but with the love of the garden in his heart, the little garden soon became gay with flowers. In the cool, brief evening light of Colombo, as they paced their garden walks together, the gay borders of flowers would speak to Rowlands and his wife of another garden on the banks of Severn and of the friends left behind.

In July 1864 there came the sad news of the death of his mother. He writes on July 22: "Great part of day spent in writing letters to communicate to friends the sad tidings of the death of my beloved mother." There is no other mention as far as the journal is concerned of an event which must have left a sad blank in the life of William Rowlands.

Later, in the same year, Rowlands was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Piers Claughton.

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