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 XII. Newara Eliya: Work among the Tea Estate Cooolies, 1878-1884

THE Tamil Coolie Mission, being then without Tamil clergy, was very much undermanned. In fact, for a considerable time, Rowlands was the only missionary superintendent, and from Newara Eliya such distant places as Kurunegala, North Matale, Madulsima, and the Morowakkorle had to be visited, together with all the intermediate districts. This meant that the indomitable Padre practically lived in the saddle.

Letters to the C.M.S. indicate something of the life with its difficulties at the time.

"Newara Eliya, December 1881.--The year that is now so near its close has brought with it to me so much of active work, by which I mean of travelling from one side to the other of this large Mission, that there seems to have been literally no time for pausing to take a deliberate survey of the whole field in order to discover points of weakness, as well as points of strength, and, thereby, put oneself in a position to form a judgment on how far present plans have, by God's blessing, proved successful, or how far it would appear necessary that they should be superseded by others. This I cannot but regret; but there has been no help for it. Every one at all acquainted with the Tamil Coolie Mission knows that it will neither flourish nor meet with pecuniary support unless the planters are seen in different districts; and as I have been practically single-handed (because, though our brother Glanvill has, thank God, been with us now for nearly eleven months, he has, of course, been too much occupied with the study of the language to allow of his going from home), I have had to do my best to be ubiquitous, and have travelled, upon an average, about six hundred miles a month. ... It is no small matter for thankfulness to find that decided progress has been made in almost every particular.

"Not that the year has been without its trials. In respect of agents, the Mission has again been undermanned, and it must continue to be until an income is provided more adequate to the requirements of the work to be carried on. Large districts, such as Maskeliya, Dickoya, and Haputale, have had only one catechist each, which means that the visits paid to each individual estate have been few and far between, and that, therefore, room 'has been given to the adversary to speak reproachfully.' Then, again, there have been sad instances of persons, of whom we were hopeful, falling into sin; some among candidates for baptism, who appeared thoroughly sincere, and others among older Christians, of whom we have been compelled to ask with sorrow, as St. Paul said, 'Ye did run well; what hath hindered you that ye should not obey the truth?'

"But perhaps the greatest trial of all has arisen from the indifference and unbelief manifested by many of our own countrymen. To be continually met with the objection that what you are doing is worse than useless, that no results are seen, and that to make the Tamil labourer a Christian is only to make him 'Twice as big a rogue as he was before,' is very hard to bear. ...

"It is not my wish, however, to dwell upon trials. . . .

"For the number of adult baptisms, which, I think, I may safely say is larger than that of the previous year, I feel especially thankful . . . and having examined and baptized every one of the fifty-six persons myself, I am able to state positively that none of them have been received without due preparation, nor without its being manifest that, as far as their knowledge extended, they were really desirous to become faithful followers of Christ. In many instances, the examination, preparatory to baptism, has been most cheering, as manifesting a clear grasp of saving truth, and a simplicity of faith in Christ which could only have resulted from the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart; and I have more than once been constrained to say to European planters who have thrown doubt upon the work of the Tamil Coolie Mission, and the power of the Tamil people to receive Christian truth at all: 'I only wish you could have been with me this morning to hear the answers of such and such a candidate for baptism; for had you been I am sure you would no longer speak or think as you do. . . .'

"During this year 174 persons have been confirmed. The confirmations were held at fourteen different centres, arranged, as far as possible, with a view to the convenience of the candidates who, nevertheless, in some cases, had to come long distances. The Bishop and I travelled together, in the first part of our tour, more than two hundred miles--riding and driving (besides the return journey)--from the 23rd of April to the 7th of May, within which interval nine confirmations were held. . . . Then again, from the igth to the 24th of June we visited Kandy, and some of the neighbouring districts where his Lordship held five more confirmations. . . . The Bishop expressed himself much pleased with what he saw. ... The amount of Tamil contributions last reported was an advance upon the previous year. . . . Now I am thankful to say that the receipts for this year show another advance. . . . The gifts of several Tamil Christians have been very liberal. Among them I may mention a subscription of Rs.ioo from a Kangani towards the church we hope to build in the Uda Pussel-lawa district; a month's pay each from several members of another congregation towards the fund for rebuilding their own church; and a donation of Rs. 60 to the Tamil Coolie Mission from a medical assistant and his wife, as thank-offerings on the occasion of the baptism of their two infant children. ..."

Welcome reinforcements now arrived, referred to in a letter to the C.M.S., dated December 22, 1882:

"Newara Eliya.--When I wrote my last annual letter I was looking for the pleasure of having, during the then coming year, the welcome help of two fellow-labourers, Horsley and Glan-vill. That expectation has, through God's goodness to us all, not been disappointed. We are now able to look back upon almost a year of very happy work together, and the Tamil Coolie Mission has, consequently, been much more thoroughly superintended than was possible for some time before.

"Horsley has taken entire charge of what we term the Northern division of the Mission, i.e. of the districts, which, for the most part, lie to the north of Kandy. . . . Glanvill has, as you know, been living in Haputale since February last and, although he has not yet (pending his second examination in Tamil) taken full charge of the Southern division, he has been able to do so much of the visiting of estates in the Haputale, Badulla, and Madulsima districts that to the first of these I have paid during the year only three visits, to the second, only one, and to the third, none. This has afforded me considerable relief, and has given me the opportunity of more thoroughly working my own division of the Mission than it was possible for me to do from the date of Cavalier's return to England until Horsley's arrival.

"We began the year with thirty-two catechists, and we have the same number now, so that all the districts are still occupied, and although the number of estates assigned to one catechist is, in some instances, larger than it should be, there are very few of our men who--weather and health permitting--may not, if they are diligent, visit each estate in their district at least once in six weeks or two months. The results of this widespread proclamation of the gospel to the heathen are not as numerous this year as they were last. Up to the 3oth September the adults baptized numbered forty-six as against fifty-six last year. . . .

"Another year of depression has told severely upon our schools. On September 30, 1881, we had twenty-four at work; on the same date this year, only nineteen. . . .

"But it is very satisfactory to record that in Tamil contributions instead of a falling-off there has again been an increase, and that of not less than Rs.491 . . . . This is really surprising when we bear in mind that the Tamils have, to a considerable extent, felt the pecuniary pressure which has so severely affected the majority of their employers."

The last letter of this period to the C.M.S. refers to the depression prevalent in the island, consequent on the coffee "smash."

"Newara Eliya, December 29, 1883.--We have had a hard struggle again this year (notwithstanding the Parent Society's temporary grant-in-aid of Rs. 3000) to obtain sufficient funds for maintaining even the reduced staff of the Mission--thirty-two catechists and one ordained pastor. At times it has seemed as though the effort were in vain, so many planters having been in circumstances of the greatest difficulty, while so many more had suffered a considerable reduction in their income that we very well knew that they could not afford to help us at all. It is gratifying to find now that our income has not, after all, fallen below that of last year, but, on the contrary, that it is somewhat larger, being, up to date, Rs. 9334, as against Rs. 9027 in 1882. ...

"The statistics show that the Mission has been enabled to maintain the position it held last year, and that through God's blessing there has been a slight improvement upon it. ... The number of adult baptisms has been fifty-nine.. .. For this result, especially the increase of thirteen in the number of adult baptisms, we cannot but devoutly thank God. ...

"It is most interesting to observe how a considerable number of those now desirous to receive Christian instruction, or who have already been baptized, have been led to the knowledge of Christ. In the majority of cases it has been through the influence and direct teaching of other Christians, some of them new converts, while others long ago brought into the Good Shepherd's fold have been of late quickened by the Spirit of God, and made more diligent in His service than they were before... .

"A Kangani, living with his wife and children, has had to pass through the fire of persecution lately, and has, through God's grace, borne the trial manfully. In August last the catechist and I went to see them on the remote little coffee estate, which has for some years been their home, and found there a brother of the Kangani's, a determined heathen, who had lately come over from India. The catechist told me how bitterly this brother was now opposed to them, in consequence of their having become Christians, and I soon learnt the cause from his own' lips, I had a long conversation with him, endeavouring to show him that there was no other way of life for himself than that which his brother had been led into, but he blindly argued against everything I said; and when the Kangani joined in, urging him to take Christ as his Saviour, he turned upon him with the bitterest scorn, saying, 'You may think that you have found something good, but I tell you that when you come back to your own village' (which they were just preparing to do)' we will make you stand outside the house, in the lowest place, even to receive a drop of water at our hands.' To this the Kangani only replied meekly: 'You may do to me the worst you can, but I know in Whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that He will protect me and save me, even to the end.' . . ." As indicated in the letter quoted above, "Padre" Rowlands was joined in 1881 by the younger colleague, whom he had met eight years before on the S.S. Sultan, and who was then on his way to Tinnevelly. We get brief glimpses of the life and character of the "Father of the Tamils," as seen through the eyes of his younger contemporary. Mr. Horsley writes: "After some years in Tinnevelly I was transferred to the Ceylon Mission, and worked with Rowlands in the Tamil Coolie Mission for three years or so, until he was invalided home on sick leave. I next met him in 1897, when he was Rector of Bonchurch in the Isle of Wight. In 1907, his health being re-established, he returned to his beloved work in Ceylon, among the planters and their coolies. At his Valedictory Meeting he spoke, and I was privileged to hear him. About two years ago I spent a pleasant day with him and his daughter at his delightful home in Tunbridge Wells.

"This is, briefly, my connection with one whom to know was to love and honour, and often have I said to myself, when visiting some tea estate, 'Rowlands has often ridden this very road before me,' and I have prayed for grace to follow in his steps.

"I would say that he was very human, being a man of strong likes and dislikes. Speaking of one man, on one occasion, he said: 'He is a snake in the grass I' hissing the word' snake'!

"He had a strong element of humour, and could laugh heartily over a good story. Fred Glanvill was a most lovable man, but very nervous. On one occasion his horse stumbled and fell. Glanvill rolled off, and, falling heavily to the ground, was a bit shaken. He managed, however, to write a note to the planter, asking for a dozen coolies and a verandah chair. He was then gently lifted into the chair and carried to the planter's bungalow. On arrival, the planter examined him carefully, but failed to find even a scratch on him. The following Sunday Glanvill took as his text,' There is but a step between me and death'!

"This story Rowlands would relate with much glee.

"He loved the Tamils and their language. On one occasion, as I sat in his study at Bonchurch, I spoke in broken Tamil, /'.«. in Tamil freely interspersed with English words, as the manner of some is. Rowlands listened for some minutes as I sat murdering the Tamil language, and then, putting his hands to his ears, rushed out of the room, exclaiming, 'Oh, Horsley, don't, don't!' and refused to return until I had promised not to offend again!

"He knew how to endure hardness as a good soldier, often sitting up till two o'clock in the morning. Being a man of large private means, he had a considerable correspondence, but he never allowed his private duties to interfere with his work as a missionary. When asked,' When did you go to bed?' he would remain silent, and I always knew what that meant.

"Though at one time in very feeble health, his endurance was wonderful. Just before starting on sick leave for England, he worked hard all the morning at accounts, etc., and in the afternoon preached his farewell sermon to the catechists from the text, 'Launch out into the deep.' I have heard Bishops Sargent and Caldwell preach in Tamil, but I have never heard a man, speaking in an alien language, pour out his soul in Tamil as Rowlands did on that memorable occasion, after a long morning's work, and I marvelled at his endurance.

"His influence over planters and others was quite extraordinary. One Sunday morning, while playing tennis, a group of planters recognised in the distance 'Padre' Rowlands approaching on his pony. They at once, out of respect to the Padre whom they loved and honoured, put away their racquets and stopped playing!"

A well-known lady, still resident in Ceylon, helps to complete the picture. Mrs. R. K. Clark writes: "When we were on Hangranoya estate, Mr. Rowlands often used to stay with us on his rounds. He had a nice singing voice, and he and I used to sing Mendelssohn's duets together. He said that he and his wife (he was then a widower) used to sing them. He used to speak of her a good deal. [Mrs. R. K. Clark died while this book was passing through the press.]

"Mr. Rowlands was a good horseman, and on one occasion he and my husband were returning from Kandy together. Mr. Rowlands' horse had been sent on ahead to my bungalow. I therefore sent it and my husband's horse to Nawalapitiya to meet them. They were very late in arriving, and on my asking if the train was late, Mr. Rowlands replied, with his ever-ready humour, 'Oh, I should have been here an hour ago if your husband had not ridden so slowly!' My husband then, being a younger man, thought a man twenty years older than himself quite old, and imagined that he was suiting his pace to a much older man!

"He was once preaching in Tamil to our coolies, and my husband, who spoke Tamil well, told Mr. Rowlands afterwards that he had preached the same sermon on his previous visit. The Padre was much amused as well as pleased that 'R. K.' had remembered the sermon so well!"

The happy state of affairs which existed in 1882, when there were three men in the Tamil Coolie Mission, did not last long. Glanvill retired through ill-health in 1883, and although the veteran leader himself would fain have stayed on, in spite of the fact that over ten years had elapsed since his last full furlough, medical opinion was so peremptory and insistent that "Padre" Rowlands, in August 1884, left Ceylon and the work which he was not to be permitted to see again for twenty-three long years.

Project Canterbury