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 XVII. Haputale, 1901-1913

THE familiar form of the venerable Padre on his plucky little pony "Toby" became again a much-loved figure on the up-country tea estates. "Padre" Rowlands would ride up, to be welcomed with the traditional hospitality of the Ceylon planters, and after a pleasant evening spent with his hosts, he would invariably end up by producing the well-worn little Bible, and after a portion of Scripture, would offer prayers to the Father of all. Next morning, in the cool early hours, the crowd of coolies mustered for the day's tasks would be addressed, after which, taking affectionate leave of his hosts, he would ride on to the next bungalow, taking care on the way to visit and have prayer with the "Conductor," or tea-maker, if Christians, and never forgetting the "S.D." or assistant-superintendent, usually a shy English public-school boy, who quickly thawed under the genial presence and unfailing tact and courtesy of "Padre" Rowlands.

On Sundays the "Padre," besides the Tamil services, which are usually held in the hottest part of the day, and are not infrequently long and tiring, would invariably offer, if within reach, to preach for the district chaplain. Said one of them: "I thought that Rowlands would be tired after a long day, and offered to read lessons, leaving him only the sermon." "Oh, no," said the Padre, "I can quite well read both lessons too!"

A letter from Miss Rowlands to a friend at home contains the following: ". . . It is beautiful to hear the constant testimonies to the way in which his life speaks. A lady said to me the other day, 'It is wonderful how much better one feels for even seeing him.' "

On one of those journeys occurred an adventure which might have had serious consequences. "Toby "slipped one day when crossing a very narrow culvert, and landed both himself and his master in a rocky ravine, fortunately dry at the time. There rider and pony lay for fully a quarter of an hour, the "Padre" being immovably pinned underneath "Toby." The horse-keeper all the time was tearing his hair and calling on his master's God for help. When coolies had been found and brought to the spot, Toby, who fortunately had been lying quite still, was lifted off, and led up the side of the ravine. His master, providentially, was unhurt, and through God's good mercy was able to mount again and resume his journey without any ill effects.

Rowlands' previous letter to the C.M.S. had a somewhat despondent ring about it. The next annual letter to the C.M.S. was written on a more cheerful note. Writing on December 16, 1910, he says:

"When I wrote last year I expressed a feeling of disappointment that more visible results, in the way of souls gathered into the Redeemer's Kingdom, were not apparent. This year we have to thank God that the working of His Spirit in some parts of the Southern division has been much more manifest. Not that the number of adults actually baptized has been much larger than in the previous year--for it is only twenty-five as against twenty--but because a spirit of enquiry and a willingness to renounce heathenism and become the followers of Christ have been created in the minds of many persons (particularly in two or three localities), which has greatly increased the number of candidates for baptism, and has given us bright hopes for the near future.

"On one estate, in the Badulla district, where there were before some fifty Christians, a visit paid by an evangelist from an adjoining district was so much blessed that at least thirty adults gave their names at once as those who were ready to confess Christ and bring their children with them. Among them was the head Kangani of the estate, a man of forty-five, and several of the others were his relatives. The meeting was held in the schoolroom in the evening, and as soon as it was over he led the way (by torchlight, for it was quite dark) to the little temple he had built in honour of his idol god Kathirasan, and, standing before the idol, said aloud: 'Kathirasan, I used to dance in your honour; from this day I will only dance to Jesus Christ.'

"On October 23 I had the great pleasure of baptizing thirty-one of these people, nineteen adults (after careful examination) and twelve children. One of the former was an old man of seventy-five years, and it was no small proof of his sincerity that he had learnt the Lord's Prayer and the Creed, and could give the substance of the Commandments when he could not repeat them perfectly. It was a day not soon to be forgotten. The schoolroom was full to the very walls, and had not the people been sitting on the floor half as many could not have found places.

" . . . The number of estate schools under my superintendence is much the same as it was a year ago. Upon the whole, the schools are certainly disappointing. For the most part (though happily not in every case), the planters take so little interest in them that they practically give the teachers no help at all. The children are kept in the fields so late that they often do not come to the school until a third, or even half, the specified time for teaching has passed, and the consequence is that the teachers cannot work according to the time-table, but are obliged to make the best of the short time which remains. It is needless to say that one result is the omission of the Scripture lesson. Still, there is a decided benefit derived from the schools in the fact that such a large number of children are being taught to read, and that in certain places they are also being well grounded in the Bible. The effect of this is seen in the increased intelligence of the people, and the much greater interest they manifest when addressed upon the muster-ground."

In 1911, fifty years having elapsed since Padre Rowlands landed in Ceylon, the Tamil congregations determined to celebrate his jubilee of service. Special services were held in various centres, and at the little Tamil church in Kandy, Christ Church--which has always been considered the "cathedral church "of the Tamil Christian community--a big central service was held, attended by English and Tamil clergy, and a vast concourse of Tamil Christians from every part of the island. The jubilee celebrations took a practical form, in the collection of a considerable sum of money which, with the concurrence of the venerable missionary, was devoted to the purpose of a Pension Fund for Catechists, to be called the Rowlands Memorial Pension Fund. By means of this Fund the catechists of the Mission, who had rendered long and faithful service, were provided with a small pension, by which their declining years were rendered free from anxiety.

In the same year Padre Rowlands decided to present a church to the Tamil Christians meeting at Maradana, one of the most crowded parts of Colombo, which would provide for the needs of a congregation who had been obliged to surrender their old church to the railway authorities, for the purposes of the reconstruction of the Maradana Junction. This munificent gift was to be a memorial to his first wife, Mary Blackwall Rowlands, who had given her life in the service of the Tamil people.

While this church was in course of construction, the people of Bonchurch, on hearing of this generous gift, instigated by Mr. Fanner, the organist, decided to present an American organ to the new church. This will explain the following letter:

"HAPUTALE, CEYLON, February 7, 1912.

"DEAR MR. FANNER,--When I returned home from a journey yesterday my daughter said she had a very pleasant surprise for me. I could not possibly nave guessed what it was, but when I heard I was more than delighted. I feel sure that the idea, which has been so promptly and generously carried out, originated with yourself, and I do most heartily and gratefully thank you, both for that and for the trouble you have taken in selecting and sending out to us such a valuable organ.

"And what shall I say to our Bonchurch friends for this fresh token of their sympathy and regard? It is so very kind of them all to have supplied the wherewith for the purchase of the instrument. Their doing so was a thing that would never have occurred to my mind, but the news has struck a chord in my heart that will vibrate as long as I live. It is such a very sweet and loving act on the part of friends whom we value very highly.

"It is also particularly gratifying to me to think that those to whom it was my privilege to minister for eleven years in Bonchurch will thus have a share in the church I am building in Colombo for one of our Tamil congregations.

"I shall have a silver plate put upon the organ, to record the source from which it came; and the donors will have the pleasure of knowing that it will contribute not a little to the beauty of the worship which, by the help of the Holy Spirit, will be offered to our God and Father there. Whenever I see it, or hear it played, it will remind me of the dear friends whose gift it is.--Believe me, yours very truly and affectionately,


On September 19, 1912, the new Holy Emmanuel Memorial Church, built to accommodate six hundred people, was consecrated by the Bishop of Colombo, in the presence of a large gathering of Tamil Christians. Miss Rowlands, in a letter to a friend in England, thus describes this memorable occasion:

"It was a very happy day from beginning to end. The church was well filled for the beautiful service at 7 a.m. Our gathering was a very representative one, for there were ten European clergy present and thirteen Tamil clergy. Father preached with great vigour on Ps. cxxxii. 7, 8, 9. think there were about a hundred and fifty who remained to the Holy Communion afterwards. The sweet-toned American organ was played very nicely by the Tamil organist, and the Bishop made several appreciative remarks upon the music. . . ."

This chapter can appropriately finish with an extract from a letter written by the organist referred to above.

"It is a great joy," he writes, "to have been acquainted with his life and work, and to have had the privilege of being his organist for many years. The memory of our work together in our Lord and Master's service has been very sweet and very helpful to me, for which I am most thankful."

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