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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 XI. Kandy: The Tamil Coolie Mission--Work among the Tea Estate Coolies, 1878-1884

ROWLANDS continued to carry on his work in Colombo until November 1878 when, in answer to urgent representations to the Parent Committee of the C.M.S., the Rev. J. I. Pickford was sent out to relieve him of the work which he had organised with such conspicuous success. Rowlands in that month took charge of the Mission with which his name was to be so affectionately connected, making his headquarters at "The Priory," Newara Eliya. The Tamil Coolie Mission had fallen on troubled days through no fault of its own. In the first place, the coffee disease had made such ravages in what was once a prosperous industry that it was almost wiped out. Estates were being abandoned, coolies turned adrift, and the planters themselves reduced in many cases to beggary. In its blackest hour relief came to the planting industry. The tea shrub had been introduced some years before, and at the time when "Padre" Rowlands began his permanent connection with the Tamil Coolie Mission, the old coffee estates were being planted up with the new product which was destined to restore the shattered fortunes of the Ceylon planting industry.

There were further troubles of an entirely different nature. The Tamil Coolie Mission chanced to be the "storm-centre "of what is now known as "The Ceylon Controversy" between the Bishop and the C.M.S. In 1875, Bishop Jermyn, who had retired the previous year on account of ill-health, was succeeded by Dr. R. S. Copleston, a first-class scholar, and, withal, a keen missionary at heart. The Bishop was keenly desirous that the planting chaplains should be acquainted with the vernacular, and should be the spiritual authority in their own area for both races, whether English or Tamil. This was, no doubt, the ideal. Unfortunately, the ideal is not always capable of realisation. Tamil congregations were already in existence, administered by C.M.S. missionaries in connection with the Tamil Coolie Mission. Moreover, the type of churchmanship was not that to which the Tamil congregations had been accustomed. Accordingly, when the Rev. W. Clark, the Superintendent of the Mission, withdrew his Tamil congregation from the Pussellawa church and conducted services for them in another building, this was considered by the Bishop to partake of the nature of schism. Clark's licence was withdrawn, and also the licences of the rest of the C.M.S. missionaries who upheld Clark's action. Bitter controversy followed which divided the island from one end to the other. The Bishop, who resented the interdenominational character of the Tamil Coolie Mission, circularised the subscribers to the Mission, declaring that he was taking over the operations of the Mission and placing them under the Chaplain of Kandy. The planters replied by providing the Mission with an income which has only once been equalled. At length the C.M.S. missionaries, among whom was Rowlands, drew up a Memorial to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, associating with himself the Archbishop of York and the Bishops of London, Durham, and Winchester, drew up an "Opinion," which, in effect, left things much as they are to-day. This "Opinion" was loyally agreed to by both the Bishop and the C.M.S., and from that day the C.M.S. missionaries and the Tamil Coolie Mission had no warmer friend than Bishop R. S. Copleston. William Clark's licence was, however, never restored, and it was to take his place that, in 1878, Rowlands was appointed to the T.C.M.

Early in 1879 Rowlands was sent to Jaffna for two or three months in order to keep work going until relief should come. Owing to sickness and furloughs, Jaffna had been left with no missionaries to superintend the extensive operations of the C.M.S. in the Peninsula.

In July of the same year Rowlands took special leave to England for six months to take three of his older children--Alice, Harry, and Fred--home. Returning in January 1880, re-invigorated by the brief sojourn in the homeland, Rowlands now began those amazing journeys through the coffee and tea estates of the hill country of Ceylon, which, on such an extended scale, have never been equalled.

For Ceylon readers, description of the country is hardly necessary. For the benefit of English readers I would ask them to picture the island of Ceylon in the form of a gigantic pear. Let the core of the pear be represented by mountains dumped down in the middle in an irregular formation. Let the reader picture those mountains for the most part covered with plantations of tea, each plantation or estate possessing bungalows for the planter and assistants, a factory for the manufacture of tea, and rows of dwellings called "lines" for the hundreds of coolies working on the estate. Along these hills and valleys missionaries of the Tamil Coolie Mission had travelled on horseback, visiting the isolated planters, preaching to the coolies, and gradually gathering out in each district small ut increasing congregations of Tamil Christians.

This is, in brief, the work in which "Padre" Rowlands now threw his remarkable energies, making his headquarters at "The Priory," Newara Eliya.

Letters to one of his children, of whom three younger ones--Bernard, Lucy, and Zoe--were living with him at "The Priory," often allude to his having been away from home for a month at a time. In January 1881, "Padre" Rowlands writes from Lebanon estate, in the Knuckles district (a mountain 6112 feet high, with the formation which the name indicates, and giving its name to the district around): "I have only been at home two days this month, and it seems probable that I shall be away almost as much in February."

What red-letter days they were to his little ones in the Newara Eliya home when he was expected home, and what happy memories they cherished of the evenings he devoted to them, playing games or reading to them!

One letter, written from Madulsima in June 1880, gives a typical example of one of his Sundays in the planting districts:

"Yesterday, Sunday," he writes, "was such a busy day with me, and such a pleasant one. At six o'clock in the morning I started from the bungalow, where I spent Saturday night, and rode over to another bungalow six miles off. From about half-past nine to eleven o'clock I was examining four men who were candidates for baptism, and they appeared quite in earnest in their wish to be Christians. At twelve o'clock we had service in the (coffee) store, when about fifty people came, and I baptized those four men and four little children. After the service I administered Holy Communion, and there were fifteen men and women present. At 3.30 we had English service in the bungalow, and at about six o'clock I had a meeting with Christians living on that estate, in the schoolmaster's house. There were about seventeen present, so the little schoolroom was quite full. They seemed to enter into it so much that it was quite enjoyable. In the evening at the bungalow, after dinner, we sang several hymns until it was time for family prayers, and so ended a very happy day."

Nor were adventures unknown during these travels. On one occasion, about 1880, the "Padre" had been visiting estates in the district known as West Haputale, a region of precipitous hills and dense forest, situated in the highest part of the Ceylon mountains. On the return journey he had arranged to spend the night at the Horton Plains Resthouse, a Government resthouse mainly for the use of sportsmen. On arrival at the Plains, about 6 p.m., when dusk was falling, Rowlands found his box-coolie, who had been sent on ahead, waiting for him with the news that he could not find the Resthouse anywhere! Both "Padre" and coolie joined in further search for the Resthouse, but nothing could be found but a ruined shooting-box in the jungle, which, in the fading light, could just be distinguished on the far side of a mountain torrent. Wading the stream for a closer inspection, they found a ruin indeed 1 The roof of the shooting hut had fallen in, but in such a way as to provide a sloping shelter of a sort at one side of the hut. The "Padre" saw that he must spend the night in this apology for a shelter. But a fire was desperately needed, for the Horton Plains, at an altitude of 7000 feet, are freezing cold at night. Search in the box carried by the coolie discovered a match-box containing two matches, a box which had travelled for months through tropical rain and sun. Would they strike? Some dry leaves and twigs were found, aided by a page from the "Padre's "note-book, and, holding their breath, they struck the first match which flickered feebly and went out! Making careful preparations for the lighting of the last match, it was struck, and the benighted "Padre" was thankful to see first the paper catch, and then the leaves and twigs, and soon a blazing fire brought some comfort to their condition. Then came the question of food. Here they were also fortunate, for the coolie had some cold rice, and the "Padre" a loaf of bread and a tin of sausages. The latter was opened with some trouble and cooked by placing it just as it was on the fire. The bread was shared out, and when the meal was finished, and having replenished their fire, "Padre" and coolie crawled in under the fallen roof with thanksgiving to God for having a roof at all. Like his Master on ot\e occasion, "Padre" Rowlands was that night with the wild beasts. At intervals there sounded the unmistakable snarl of a leopard, and once a crashing sound in the jungle might conceivably have been caused by an elephant. Rising early next morning after an uncomfortable night, "Padre" Rowlands continued his journey to Newara Eliya. On the way a new path was seen, which was found to lead to the new Resthouse. The old building had been demolished, and a new one erected, and no indication had been given of the change of site!

On another occasion, in 1882, "Padre" Rowlands was riding down from Newara Eliya by way of the Ramboda Pass. He had been delayed through the drunkenness of his horse-keeper and was accordingly late in starting on his journey. A dense mist had come down on the Pass, which made progress slow. About three-quarters of a mile from Ramboda Rest-house, with a precipitous descent on one side and a cliff on the other, a Sinhalese man riding a pony came along, and, on account of the dense fog, collided with the "Padre's" horse. The Sinhalese pony came off the worse in the encounter, but the position was exceedingly dangerous, for the pony lay kicking and struggling under the "Padre's" horse, and the dense fog, combined with the falling darkness, made it difficult to distinguish between the road and the blankness of the precipice beyond. In the end, when the plunging and frightened horse had been extricated from the fallen pony, and subdued, without further mishap, the position was aptly summed up by the "Padre's horse-keeper when, afterwards describing the incident to the Ramboda Resthouse-keeper, he remarked, "If my master were not a man of God he would never have escaped!"

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