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 VIII. Colombo: The Borella Schools, 1865

WHILE the work among the Tamil people W in the city of Colombo continued to be carried on with zeal and energy, a great joy had come to the little home in Slave Island, occasioned by the birth of a son, who was named Charles Edward.

The journal (now fragmentary) gives only brief glimpses of the young missionary's tireless activity.

"June 1, 1865.--Met Augustine and John, catechists, by appointment, near Supreme Court, and went with them to explore neighbourhood of New Bazaar that we might ascertain whether there was any advantageous opening for a new Tamil service. Found that the Christians whom the catechists had known in that part had removed. A. and J. had not met with any Christians at all during the afternoon, but while we were afterwards talking to some people in the street, we came across one Christian boy, and, when asked, he soon pointed out a man--his brother--also a Christian. They said no others lived near. After going through the oil-mill gardens, and speaking to a boy there, we came out into one of the main streets.

"June 13, 1865.--Went to Borella Civil Hospital to see Asirvatham, formerly the Mohandiram's horsekeeper in Colpetty, and baptized by me. Had a good deal of difficulty in finding him, as he was known there by his former name, 'Muttu.' After I had looked and inquired for him in vain in all the wards, he came up to me while I was speaking to another Christian, a cartman of Darley Butler's, named Vethamuthu. From what Asirvatham told me, it did not appear that he had made any spiritual advance since I saw him last, more than two and a half years ago.

"While I was talking to him a Burgher young man whom I had known very well in Slave Island came and told me of another man in the hospital, to whom he had frequently spoken about Christianity, and who was very desirous of becoming a Christian. He asked if he should bring him to me, and presently brought him. He began at once to reproach me for not having listened to him when he called out as I was passing through his ward. I remembered -hearing him say something, but explained that I thought he was speaking to the doctor who was with me. He talked in English, though a Tamil, and said in answer to a question of mine that he saw the time had come for his escaping from the hands of the Devil and obtaining the salvation of his soul. I assured him that that time had indeed come, for that God's declaration was, 'Behold, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.' "

In this way Rowlands spent strenuous days and, in large measure, contributed to the establishment of Christian Tamil congregations in Colombo.

But something further was needed. There were only four day schools in Colombo for Tamil children, and no provision was as yet made for the higher education of Tamil boys, for whom there had arisen an increasing demand on the coffee estates, and in the offices and stores of Colombo. A still greater need was felt for some provision for the higher education of Tamil girls, who would become in time the wives of such men. South India sent over young men in large numbers suitable for such posts, but it was not in the nature of things for girls to migrate to Ceylon. A Girls' Boarding School, therefore, seemed of the utmost importance, and to the solution of this problem Rowlands set himself with his accustomed energy and resolution.

Although the want of such a School had long been felt, the expenditure that would necessarily be involved in the erection of buildings for such a scheme presented a very serious obstacle. The Mission Compound at Galle Face did not afford sufficient space for building, even had that locality been, in other respects, desirable. Rowlands, accordingly, turned his attention elsewhere for a suitable site.

Two or three miles distant from the Fort of Colombo stretched vast fields of cinnamon, planted during the time of the Dutch occupation. Sir Samuel Baker, visiting Ceylon a few years before the time of which we write, in his contemptuous account of Colombo, describes the Cinnamon Gardens in a characteristic manner. "A vast area of scrubby low jungle, composed of cinnamon bushes, is seen to the right and the left, before and behind. Above is a cloudless sky and a broiling sun; below is snow-white sand of quartz, curious only in the possibility of supporting vegetation. Such is the soil in which the cinnamon delights--such are the Cinnamon Gardens, in which I delight not." The gardens of cinnamon have vanished, giving place to charming residences, set amid gardens of luxuriant beauty, and the name remains as sole evidence of a once prosperous industry.

Rowlands turned his attention to this locality where, as yet, the cinnamon still flourished. He was fortunate in finding a sympathetic friend in Mr. C. P. Layard, the Government Agent of the Western Province. Layard used his influence--for who could resist the earnest young missionary--in obtaining from Government a grant of land in the Cinnamon Gardens sufficiently large for the erection both of a School and a Mission House. This was in February 1865, and Rowlands set himself to the task of raising the money necessary for the launching of the new and important venture.

The building of the School, together with the Mission House close at hand, necessitated an outlay of £1800, including furniture for the School. Of this amount the Parent Committee contributed £600, the Local Fund allocated for the purpose £183, and the balance was contributed by gifts from friends in England and Ceylon, amongst whom Rowlands' father was a generous donor.

In June 1867 the foundations were laid, and one still living in Ceylon, who was present, gives a brief description of the event. She writes: "Mrs. David Fenn of Tinnevelly, South India, laid the foundation stone of the Girls' Boarding School, and we walked over white sand and among cinnamon bushes to reach the spot."

Meanwhile, the Rev. J. H. Clowes, who shared with Rowlands the ministrations to the English congregation at Christ Church, Galle Face, had broken down, and, in 1866, left for England. The young missionary, with his wife and child, now removed from the little house in Slave Island to the Mission House at Galle Face, and, from there, carried on the rapidly developing work among the Tamil people, together with the superintendence of the building operations at Ward Place.

An isolated journal note indicates the writer's impatience to begin the great work of the Boarding School.

"August 10,1868.--Was pained to learn from Michael, catechist, that Gnanamuttu (another catechist) is trying to draw away people from their congregation to his own in Maradana. Oh, for more real unity and love amongst us! Went to Boarding School morning and evening--in the evening with May.

"August 11, 1868.--Went to Boarding School. Contractor promised better things. Michael (catechist) came in evening to tell of his visit to Borella Hospital. God's work seems still going on there. Besides speaking of others, he told of a Moorman of Kayakpatanam, who is anxious for baptism. M. says that he has now addressed him in particular, and that the man never showed any disposition to converse with him before to-day, but that to-day he said, 'I have heard what you have said to others who have been lying here, and have seen what comfort those who believed your message have had in their death. I, too, want to believe in Christ and to have my death like theirs.' M. reminded him of what he would have to suffer if he renounced Mohammedanism and embraced Christianity, but he said that that was no consideration. What he wanted was comfort in death."

The new Mission House at Ward Place was completed in September 1868, the Boarding School at the end of October, and on December 1, in the same year, the first pupils were admitted, when a few Christian friends met together to offer thanks to God for the completion of the enterprise, and to pray for His further blessing on the work thus begun.

Two years before this event, in 1866, a new joy had been vouchsafed to the young parents in the Galle Face Mission House by the gift of a daughter, who was named Ellen Frances. She is described by one of the family afterwards as having been "a lovely child with most fascinating ways," and was, naturally, "the pet of the household."

While the Borella Schools and Mission House were in course of construction, Rowlands had made a temporary home for his wife and little family in the cool and healthy climate of Newara Eliya, the hill station of Ceylon, and it was here that there came to them the first great grief in their happy life--the first breach in the family circle. When about a year and a half old, little "Nellie" became very ill in Newara Eliya, and her death took place in December 1867, under most distressing circumstances. Mrs. Rowlands was alone at the time, and the devoted father, although he made every effort to do so, could not arrive in time to see his little daughter alive. She was buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Newara Eliya, and, to his last days, Rowlands could never speak of her without considerable emotion.

Another daughter was born in Newara Eliya in January 1868, and, at the close of the same year, Rowlands removed, with his wife and family, to the New Mission House at Ward Place, as it was afterwards called. From this centre he continued his devoted work among the Tamil people, and in order to do this more effectively discontinued his ministrations to the English congregation at Galle Face. Mrs. Rowlands devoted herself to the Girls' Boarding School with all the manifold details of administration and management which such work involves. The work of the schools had to be carried on single-handed and in addition to the cares of a rapidly growing family. During the next three years two sons were added to the busy mother's cares, Harry Fenn, born in 1870, and Frederick William, born in 1871, both of whom became in after years C.M.S. missionaries.

Project Canterbury