Project Canterbury

Sketches of Our Life at Sarawak

By Harriette McDougall

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1882.
New York: E. & J. B. Young, 1882.

Chapter X. Return to Sarawak

In 1854, after eighteen months' stay in England, during which time my husband worked as deputation for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, we returned to Sarawak, via Calcutta, in one of Green's sailing vessels, for we were too large a party to afford the overland route.

Besides ourselves and our baby, we had two young ladies who wished to try and teach the Malay women in their homes, and to help with the day-scholars at the mission-house. Only one of these ladies reached Sarawak; the other left us at Calcutta, and married there eventually. The Rev. J. Grayling and Mr. Owen, a schoolmaster, also went with us, and a young friend who was put under my charge, and lived with us for some years on account of his health.

For nurse I had an old Malay woman who had taken some children to England from Singapore, a.nd wanted to return. She was a capital sailor, [105/106] and always able to carry Mab about however rough the sea was. Nothing could exceed her devotion to the child, but she had contracted a bad habit of always sharing the sailor's grog by day, and requiring a tumbler of hot gin and water before she went to bed. This was a great trouble to me, but I never saw her tipsy till we were staying at the Bishop's palace at Calcutta. Ayah, having been in the bazaar buying presents for her children, was brought back lying senseless in a palanquin. The Bishop, who was in the hall when the bearers set the palanquin down, exclaimed, "Oh! that woman has cholera! take her away."

However, she was kindly cared for by the servants, and appeared the next day without any shame, bringing "a toy for missy." All my lecture was quite thrown away--she "had only taken a glass of grog in the bazaar, and they had put bang into it, so of course it made her insensible; but it was no fault of hers." This curious old woman was a Mahometan, therefore her tipsiness was inexcusable. She practised the habit of almsgiving, however, not only with her own money but mine. She used to say I did nothing in that way for the salvation of my soul, and, as she loved me, she must do it for me. I remember seeing a beggar-woman with twin babies, who used to sit in the streets of Kensington with Mab's bonnets on the babies' heads. Ayah gave them for my sake. Indeed, she was notorious in Kensington, because she could not resist treating boys to ginger-beer, [106/107] and I sometimes had the mortification of seeing Ayah with a small crowd at her heels, and my baby kissing her little hands to them as Ayah desired her.

We only spent a week in Calcutta. The object of our going there was that the Bishop, in conjunction with Bishop Dealtry of Madras, and Bishop Smith of Victoria, should consecrate my husband Bishop of Labuan; but the Bishops had not reached Calcutta, and their arrival was uncertain. We were anxious to get to Sarawak, and could not wait for them; so it was decided that Frank should return by himself in the autumn, and we should proceed as quickly as we could. Sad news reached us from Kuching. Our dear friend Willie Brereton, who had done so much for the Sakarran Dyaks, was dead of dysentery. There was no medical man when my husband was away.

Our Rajah had been very dangerously ill of small-pox, and had only a Malay doctor, who was devoted but ignorant. Happily Mr. Horsburgh, with medical books to aid him, came to the rescue in time, but the return of the physician of soul and body was much desired. I see, by my journal, that after a weary passage of twenty-four days in a sailing vessel from Singapore, we reached Sarawak on the 25th of April. Mr. Horsburgh came to fetch us from the mouth of the river in the Siam boat, a long boat with a house in it, which the Rajah brought with him from Siam after his embassy to that country. Mr. Horsburgh told us that all the [107/108] chief Government officers were away, looking for Lanun pirates on the coast; but we had plenty of kind greetings from the Christian Chinese, who came about us in the bazaar, and all the schoolchildren came running down the hill with Mrs. Stahl, who almost screamed for joy at our return. The house looked nicer than ever, for the trees had grown up about it, and I felt most vividly that this was our chosen home, endeared to us by many sorrows, but the place where we had received much blessing from God, and where our work lay, and perhaps some day its reward, in the Church gathered from the heathen into Christ's fold. We were not long alone; the next day Mr. Chambers arrived from Banting with a party of seven baptized Dyaks.

We had brought all sorts of beautiful things from England for the Church. A carpet to lay before the altar, a new altar-cloth, also painted shields for the roof. Our friends in England had furnished us with a box of clothes for the Dyaks, cotton trousers and jackets, and gay handkerchiefs for their heads. We always dressed the Christians for baptism--it was a sign of the new life they professed at the font; but we did not expect them to wear clothes generally, except their own chawats, nor was it to be desired until they knew how to wash them. We had also brought a beautiful magic lantern with a dissolving-view apparatus for our people's amusement and instruction, for some of the slides were painted by [108/109] Miss Rigaud to illustrate the life of our Lord, and there were many astronomical slides also. All these treasures brought us numerous visitors. The Chinese Christians were all invited to a feast at our house, after which the magic lantern was exhibited, and we were glad to find that our schoolchildren could explain all the Scripture slides quite correctly.

Mr. Horsburgh accompanied Mr. Chambers to Banting that day, to assist him in his work for the Balow Dyaks; and soon after, Mr. Gomes arrived from Lundu with a large party of men and boys; but I have already described their visit. My dear husband went off to Calcutta again in September, and was consecrated Bishop of Labuan on St. Luke's Day, October 18, 1855. Sir James Brooke added Sarawak to his diocese and title on his return; indeed, the small island of Labuan, no larger than the Isle of Wight, was only the English title to a bishopric which was then almost entirely a missionary one. The Straits Settlements, including Singapore, Penang, and Malacca, were then under the Government of India, and Labuan was the only spot of land under the immediate control of the Colonial Office. The Bishop of Calcutta would, from the first, have been glad to part with so distant a portion of his then unwieldy diocese, but it could not at that time be effected. As soon as the Straits Settlements were passed over to the Queen's Government, the Bishop of Labuan became virtually the Bishop of the Straits, [109/110] and, even long before that, performed all episcopal functions in those settlements; but the title has only lately been altered.

As I was not present at my husband's consecration, I cannot do better than transcribe good Bishop Wilson's letter to the venerable society (S.P.G.), describing the ceremony.

Calcutta, Bishop's Palace, October 22, 1855.

Thank God, the consecration took place with complete success on Thursday, October 18th, St. Luke's Day. The Bishop elect arrived some days before, the Bishop of Victoria on the 16th, and Bishop Dealtry (of Madras) on the 17th. The crowded cathedral marked the interest which was excited. We sent out two hundred printed invitations to gentry, besides requesting the clergy to attend in their robes. There were more than eight hundred jammed into the cathedral, and hundreds could not gain admittance. The clergy were thirty. After morning prayer the assistant bishops conducted the elect Bishop to the vestry, where, having attired himself in his rochet, he was presented to me when seated near the Communion table. Her Majesty's mandate was then read, and the commission of his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury. The several oaths were next duly administered by the registrar of the diocese. The Litany was devoutly read by the Bishop of Madras, and afterwards the examination of the candidate took place. I should have said that the sermon followed [110/111] the Nicene Creed. It was by the Bishop of Madras, the text being taken from 2 Tim. i. 6, 7:--

"Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

The Bishop has consented at my request to print the discourse, which I shall have the pleasure of sending copies of for the Archbishop and yourself, I was gratified at observing that the text is taken from the solemn words used at the very act itself of consecration. After the exami-tion, the Bishop returned to the vestry to put on the rest of the episcopal dress; and as the vestry in the cathedral is at the west end of the building, he had to pass down the one hundred and twenty feet conducting to it, with the eyes and hearts of the congregation fixed upon him with wonder and pleasure. On his return, the "Veni, Creator Spiritus" was sung, each alternate line being answered by the Bishops and clergy, with the accompaniment of our fine organ. After the appointed prayers, which are directed to follow this hymn, the imposition of hands took place, and the words of the consecration pronounced by myself as presiding metropolitan. The Bible was next placed in his hands, with the admirable exhortation prescribed--an exhortation which I think incomparable and almost inspired, as indeed the whole service is. The collection at the offertory was made for the [111/112] Sarawak Mission, and above five hundred C. rupees collected. The whole service concluded with the Holy Communion of the body and blood of Christ.

The new Bishop preached at St. Thomas's Church on Sunday, the 21st, for his mission; and a single gentleman contributed one thousand C. rupees. He will preach at the cathedral on the 28th, when something more will be gathered. The Bishop of Madras has presented the four hundred rupees of his voyage expenses, from Madras to Calcutta and back, to the same blessed cause. I have had three breakfast parties (for I don't give dinners) to meet the Bishop, of about forty each, on the day after the consecration, and on Saturday, and this morning, and the addresses made by Bishops Dealtry and Smith were most warmly received. Thus has this great occasion passed off--the first consecration, I believe, that has ever taken place out of England since the glorious Reformation, and perhaps the first missionary Bishop sent out by our Church; unless the Bishop of Mauritius may be considered as having preceded him.

It was, indeed, a singular event that four Protestant Bishops should meet in the heart of heathen India, amidst one hundred and fifty millions of idolaters and worshippers of the false Prophet.

God be praised for this completion of episcopal functions in India!


[113] I must add to this graphic letter a note which the venerable Bishop wrote to my husband, November 6th of the same year.

Tennasarim, Bishop's Cabin.

My Beloved Rev. Bishop of Labuan,

Whether to write to you by the pilot or not I can hardly tell. However, I am so anxious for your beginning well at Singapore and Sarawak, and so responsible also from having consecrated you to the Lord, that I must write. I have taken the liberty with you which Mr. Cecil took with me in 1801, to caution you, now you are a chief pastor and a father in God, against excessive hilarity of spirits. There is a mild gravity, with occasional tokens of delight and pleasure, becoming your sacred character, not noisy mirth.

I met with a letter of a minister, now with God, to a brother minister, who was about to take his duty for a time, which I think will give you pleasure. "Take heed to thyself; your own soul is your first and greatest concern. You know that a sound body alone can work with power; much more a healthy soul. Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to Him in all things. Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people. Expound much; it is through the truth that souls are to be sanctified, not through essays upon the truth. You will not find many companions; be the more with God. Be of good [113/114] courage, there remaineth much land to be possessed. Be not dismayed, for Christ shall be with you to deliver you. I am often sore cast down; but the Eternal God is my refuge. Now farewell; the Lord make you a faithful steward." If we do not meet again in the flesh, may we meet, never to part, before the throne of the Great Redeemer!

I am your affectionate


After my husband's consecration, he undertook a confirmation tour for Bishop Wilson, at the mission stations around Calcutta. He also consecrated a church at Midnapore in South Bengal. In December, after four month's absence, he returned to Sarawak.

Our party in the mission-house during his absence consisted of a chaplain, a missionary lady learning Malay and teaching the girls' school, our young friend Mr. Grant, myself, and baby Mab. The days ran along a smooth groove, although we had all plenty to do. Up early in the morning, then a walk, and service in church at seven. After prayers some hours' teaching and learning before midday bath and breakfast. The afternoon was a more lazy time, though the hum of school went on continuously, while we did our sewing and reading in the coolest corners we could find. The new school-house, in which all the boys, the Stahls, and Mr. Owen, the schoolmaster, lived, was near enough to the mission-house for us to know the hour [114/115] of the day by the lesson going on at the time; for all the younger boys repeated their multiplication tables in a loud voice together (in Malay), also their Chinese reading; then came the singing, rounds and part-songs, the most popular lesson of all. At four o'clock the school broke up. The children amused themselves as English boys do. There was a season for marbles, for hop-scotch, for tops, and for kites. Above all, do Chinese children love kites, and are most ingenious in making them. They cut thin paper into the shapes of birds, fish, or butterflies, and stretch it over thin slips of the spine of the cocoa-nut leaf, then they ornament it with bits of red or blue paper, and fasten it together with a pinch of boiled rice. The string is the most expensive part, and two pennyworth lasts many kites, for they are very frail affairs, and in that land of trees do not long escape being caught, though they fly beautifully. Miss J------ had a cockatoo which amused her and the little girls during sewing-class. He was a beautiful bird with a rosy crest, but extremely mischievous. To sharpen his beak he notched all the Venetian shutters in the verandahs; and if he spied a looking-glass, flew at it in a rage and broke it: fortunately there were no large mirrors in the house. These birds look very pretty perching in the trees, and this one became tame enough to be trusted out of doors, but they are bad inmates. We had also a chicken-yard for Alan's amusement, and great were our difficulties in preserving the nests from rats, who ate the eggs. If we placed [115/116] the nests on a high shelf, these creatures managed to shove the eggs out of the nests so that they fell broken on the floor all ready for their supper. At last we circumvented them by slinging the nests by long rattans from the roof.

At five o'clock another short service took place in church. In the evening we read aloud to one another, while the rest sewed or drew.

This tranquil, even monotonous life was very much to my taste in my husband's absence, but after a few weeks it was disturbed by sad trials. First, the chaplain had a sunstroke, and fell out with the climate, the place, and some members of our little society; so he went to Singapore, and from thence to England. When we were recovering from this blow, and had again settled down into our usual ways, a worse trial befell me.

One morning Miss J------ did not appear at early breakfast, and little Mary, who waited upon her in her room, said she was sound asleep and did not wake when she opened the shutters. I thought nothing of it at first, for Miss J------ sometimes sat up late at night; but an hour afterwards, I went into her room and looked at her. Her breathing was so laboured I thought she was in a fit; and first I tried to put leeches on her temples, but they would not bite, and we resolved to carry her into the fresh breeze in the verandah, for the air of the room seemed laden with something close and stifling. When I threw back the covering of the bed, I perceived that the veins of both arms had been cut, [116/117] and a few drops of blood stained her night-dress; also there was a small empty bottle in the bed with "Laudanum" on its label. The terrible truth was evident--she had taken poison and tried to bleed herself to death! Probably the action of the laudanum prevented any flow of blood, yet the few drops may have relieved the brain. The horror of this discovery nearly deprived me of my senses; but there was no time for lamentation--she was not dead, thank God, and all our efforts must be used to restore her to life. We were very ignorant, but we did all we could think of. There was no doctor to apply to, only the chemist who served the dispensary. He gave medicine which was certainly very strong, and we put mustard plasters on her legs. By the evening she was sensible enough to take some food, but for a week there was serious illness, and it was a long time before I could ask my poor friend why she had done this thing. She had left me a letter to read in the event of her death, but of course I never read it. We were very much together, but I had not thought her unhappy; indeed the only reason she ever gave me for so hating her life was, that she could not learn Malay, and did not think she should be any use as a missionary. This despondency was known to me, but I had no idea it cut so deep. Miss J------ had a great deal of quiet fun--she often amused us by her clever and somewhat caustic remarks. But Sarawak was too monotonous a life for her. When, some weeks afterwards, she had quite regained [117/118] the balance of her mind, she went to Singapore, and became a very useful member of society for many years before she died. I never felt that I could judge her, for I had so much more to occupy my mind and interest my heart than my companion. There was baby in the first place, and the responsibilities of the school and mission naturally fell to my share. No doubt it requires an even temperament to live contentedly without,, society, and with only such excitement as daily duties and the beauties of nature afford. Yet these are full of infinite happiness, and we were not without friends, although we had no company: the little party at Government House, as it was then called, were very agreeable and uniformly kind. It is, however, a common mistake to imagine that the life of a missionary is an exciting one. On the contrary, its trial lies in its monotony. The uneventful day, mapped out into hours of teaching and study, sleep, exercise, and religious duties; the constant society of natives whose minds are like those of children, and who do not sympathize with your English ideas; the sameness of the climate, which even precludes discourse about the weather,--all this, added to the distance from relations and friends at home, combined with the enervating effects of a hot climate, causes heaviness of spirits and despondency to single men and women. Married people have not the same excuse; for besides duty and nature, they have "one friend who loves them best," and that ought to be enough for the most [118/119] exacting temperament. I say nothing about the comforts of religion--they are the portion of all, married or single; still some spirits become so sensitive in solitude that they are not able to take the cheerful side, even of their relation to their Heavenly Father, and these are generally the most reserved to their companions. I am glad to find that missionaries are now seldom sent alone to any station, and women are more often associated in sisterhoods for mission work under our colonial Bishops, so that they have the society and sympathy of English ladies after the toils of the day. I felt much discouraged after Miss J------ left me, and afraid of urging any one to follow in her place; but at last a cousin of my husband's came out to us, and as she enjoyed the climate, and delighted in the place and people, declaring that she had never been more happy in her life than with us, I consoled myself that it was not all the fault of Sarawak and the mission-house that poor Miss J------ could not live there.

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