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Sketches of Our Life at Sarawak

By Harriette McDougall

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

Chapter XV. The Children's Chapter

IN 1861 we again returned to our Eastern home, leaving our three children behind, and taking only our baby girl for companion. What a difference it makes in India, to "leave the children behind!"--a common fate indeed for parents, but not the less to be deplored. We used to think and speak of Sarawak as home until 1861; but ever after, we spoke of going home to our children, for where the treasure is there must the heart be also. To do the work so that the time might pass quickly and peacefully, to live upon the mails from England, to carry on two lives as it were, one in the present, the other in the pictures our English letters presented--such at any rate was my fate, though my husband was too true a missionary to feel as I did.

Most of our old Sarawak friends had either died or gone away when we returned in '6r, but the mission grew more and more interesting as Christian Churches sprang up on the Dyak rivers. [189/190] Four new missionaries came out soon after our arrival. Mr. and Mrs. Abe, Mr. Zehnder, Mr. Mesney, and Mr. Crossland, the two latter from St. Augustine's College, Canterbury, from whence had formerly come those two good men, Mr. Chalmers and Mr. Glover. They had both gone to Australia on account of their health, but the teaching of Mr. Chalmers had left its mark among the land Dyaks of Murdang and the Quop, so that Mr. Abe, who was afterwards placed on that station, reaped the harvest which had been sown with many prayers two years before. Mr. Mesney succeeded Mr. Glover at Banting, and its many branch missions; and Mr. Crossland went farther off, to the Dyaks, on the Undop, where he eventually built a church and gathered a little flock of Christians about him. Mr. Richardson came as catechist about the same time, and after staying a short time at Lundu, built himself a house among the Selaku Dyaks at Sedemac, in the country towards Sambas. He was much beloved by those simple people, who speak quite a different language to the Lundus. They exerted themselves to build their own church of substantial balean-wood, and their women learnt to pray as well as the men. "To learn to pray" is the Dyak description of a Christian. "What will you do," asked a missionary, "to bring those around you to Christ?" "I will teach them to pray," was the answer. And surely this is the great distinction between the Christian and the heathen--the one has communion with his Father in heaven, [190/191] an all-powerful, wise, and loving Friend; the other may cherish some vague belief and worship of an unknown God, but has neither love nor trust to carry him above this world's troubles and trials.

Another baby was added to our family in May, 1862, whose mother died at her birth. This little one stayed with us only seventeen months, and was a great happiness to me; then Sir James Brooke took her to England. However, it was a pleasant chapter as long as it lasted.

Julia, one of our original school-girls, became very useful to me at this time. We had taken her home with us in '59, and sent her to a training-school for teachers in Dublin, so that she was quite competent on our return to take the management of the girls' school. We had eight girls in the house, and a few day-scholars from the town. Lessons used to go on in a room on the basement, where of course I was superintendent, and they learnt sewing in the afternoon. Julia was a very gentle mistress, and I was feeling very happy about my girls, when I found to my sorrow that Julia had an admirer, and I must make up my mind to part with my child who had lived with us since she was four years old. Such natural events must not be considered trials, but the difficulty of replacing her was insuperable. I was obliged at last to send my girls to Mrs. Abè, at the Quop Station, for I was too often away in the mission-boat with the Bishop to keep them at the mission-house. This was not until 1865, however. Poor [191/192] Mildred felt parting with "her girls," as she called them, very much, and often said, "Mamma, if Sarah and Fanny might come back we would never, never quarrel any more." Are not such pricks of conscience common to us all when our dear ones leave us? But the past never returns!

In 1863, the Bishop built a charming little yawl for mission work. The Fanny was just suited, from her light draught of water, to cross the bars of the rivers, and she was a very good sea-boat too. Not only was she wanted to take the Bishop on his missionary, tours, but she brought the missionaries to Sarawak when they came for ordinations, or the annual synod; also when they were sick, and required medical aid or change. Very few clergymen know much about the management of boats, and native crafts are very unsafe, so that until the Bishop had a yacht many accidents used to occur, not actually dangerous, for the natives swim like fishes, but drenchings and loss of goods from the upsetting of boats. In the north-east monsoon Fanny was thatched over and laid snugly up a creek, but all the south-west monsoon she was very useful; and no one wanted to travel about, if they could help it, during the wet tempestuous weather which prevailed from November to March.

The Bishop paid his annual visit to Labuan in any steamer which happened to be going. We had the great advantage of frequent visits from an English gunboat, for the admiral of the Chinese seas had orders from England to tell off one [192/193] gun-boat for the two stations of Labuan and Sarawak. This arose from our being also blest with the presence of an English consul. But after he and his wife had remained two years at Sarawak, they were heartily tired of the dulness of their lives, and did their best to get removed to a more stirring station. However, the recognition of England gave confidence to native traders and security to the well disposed, so that there ensued a time of peace such as we had not experienced during our former sojourns in the country.

I think the history of our life during these years may be partly told by the letters I wrote to my children at home, or extracts from them; so that this may be called the children's chapter.

Sunday before Easter, 1862,

My darling Mab,

I am glad you are not here, for it is very, very hot, and you would probably have a bad headache. Julia is sitting in the verandah teaching Polly, Sarah, Fanny, and Phoebe the Easter hymn for next Sunday. Ayah is walking up and down with Mildred, and Louis Koch is running about, making her laugh. I must tell you how we spend the day. Papa gets up at five, and takes a ride on his pony. I make the tea at six, and cut bread and butter for Ayah and Julia, and Samchoon, one of the boys who has had fever and wants feeding up. The bell calls us to church at seven, but I don't go till the afternoon. The gardener brings [193/194] me a tray of flowers, and I make the nosegays for the day. Then I go downstairs and see the butter made. The boy brings in a great jar of milk, with which he mixes some warm water; into this he puts a long piece of bamboo, with cross pieces fixed in it like the spokes of a wheel. This he twirls round and round in the jar till the butter comes. Then he takes it out with his black hands, and I carry it off and wash and salt it. We only get five ounces now at a time, though there are six cows in milk; but the calves are such miserable little things they have to be helped first, and fed with rice-gruel also. The butter finished, I go up to the sewing-class, who are very busy making their Easter clothes, both boys and girls; and I help them with my sewing-machine until half-past ten, only running away twice--once to see what the school cook has brought for their breakfast, and then to order our own. Then we all bathe and breakfast, and Ayah goes away for two hours for her breakfast and midday nap; and I take care of Mildred, which is, I own, the hardest part of my day's work, for the little restless thing will never let me sit down, and is up to all sorts of mischief. At two o'clock Ayah comes and sings Mildred to sleep, with the same old tune of "Doo doo baby" which you used to sing to your dolls. I think in the next box I have from home you might send your old friends Sarah and Fanny a doll each, and dress them yourself. Our Malay Tuan Ku was here the other day and asked after you; he remembered your Malay fairy tales.

[195] My beloved Child,

Our letters were very welcome last Sunday, Easter Sunday, telling us good news of you all. Our church was very gay with flowers and moss ferns; and the font was filled with large pink water-lilies, whose beautiful round green leaves, a foot wide at least, looked quite lovely round the white shell font. All holy week and Easter Monday and Tuesday we had full service at seven o'clock in the morning, papa preaching a short sermon from the altar. It was delightfully cool at that hour, and began the day so pleasantly. I always love Easter, when all our dear ones seem to be gathered to us in Christ our Lord, whether those in Heaven or those far away--all one family, and Christ's children through God the Father's love and mercy. I have been very busy. The school-children had all new clothes for Easter. We worked diligently for three hours every morning. The jackets were made of the Irish gingham I brought from home. This week is holiday, and Julia and I have had a fine wash, and have clear-starched the Bishop's sleeves and ruffles--such a business! My hand aches to-day with lifting the heavy smoothing-iron, which is not iron, but a large brass box, hollow and filled with hot charcoal. We shall get more used to it in time. Mrs. Stahl used to do it. Now she is gone it is quite impossible to let the Kling Dobic touch papa's sleeves; they would soon be torn to ribbons. I gave the school a treat on Easter Tuesday. They had two soup-tureens full [195/196] of syllabub, plum cake, and pine-apple puffs. My cook stared when I said, "Make forty large pineapple puffs." However, they were for his own countrymen--he is Chinese. I thought at first he understood English, for he always said "Yes" to my orders; but it was his one word. After the school-children had finished off with fruit and native cakes, they had, what they like best of all, quantities of crackers, which filled the house with the smell of gunpowder, and frightened baby Mildred out of her sleep. Good-bye.

July, 1862.

My precious Mab,

Thank you for your note, written on the 4th of May, which I received the other day. I always rejoice to think of you in the springtime, because, like other young things, you enjoy the opening buds, flowers, and sunshine after the long grave winter. But winter is a good friend, although he has a grave face; we should be all the better for a visit from him out here. My garden is now as full of flowers as it will hold; Mrs. Little brought me so many new ones from Singapore. I have a very gay nosegay every morning, and still leave flowers to adorn the beds outside. We have turned out some of the fruit-trees to make more room for flowers. This morning I have sown a quantity of blue and purple convolvulus, which only display their beauties to those who rise early before the sun closes their blossoms; but we have [196/197] flowers which only open at night, the moon-flower, and night-blowing cereus, both white and fragrant. Dr. Little has been travelling about the country looking for new plants. He and Mr. Koch went to the top of the mountain of Poe near Lundu. It was so cold six thousand feet above the level of the sea, that they had to supply the natives who went with them with blankets. At the very top of the mountain they found a new orchid growing on the ground, a bright yellow flower, with streaks of magenta colour inside. Dr. Little picked some of the blossoms, and dug up one hundred roots, two of which he gave me; but they will not live in my garden, they want mountain air. He also gave me the dead flowers, and asked me to paint a picture of one from his description and the faded blossom. I did it as well as I could, but I fear it was not very good, and, after all, the flower was not nearly as pretty as a bunch of laburnum in England. They also found growing on the roots of a tree that strange fungus flower described by Sir Stamford Raffles in his book on Java and Sumatra--a yard wide across the petals, brilliantly coloured red, purple, yellow and white, and, in the hollow of the flower (nectarium), capable of holding twelve pints of water, the whole weighing from fifteen to twenty pounds; for it is a thick fleshy flower, not frail and delicate as one likes a flower to be. It is very curious and gorgeous, but as soon as it is fully expanded it begins to decay and smells putrid. Sir James Brooke once found a [197/198] specimen of this gigantic flower in the jungle, and sent it to me to look at; but it had lost all its beauty in the journey, and I held my nose as I looked at it. The Dyaks said, "It is an auton" (spirit), which is their explanation of anything they never saw before. The natives of Sumatra call it "The Devil's sirih-box." [The real name is Raflesia Arnoldi. See page 343, vol. I, "Raffles' Life and Journals."] Are you as fond of frogs as you used to be? Last week, some people were dining with us. I had just helped the soup, and, letting my hand fall upon my lap, picked up one of your friends who had settled himself there. Not knowing at first what the cold clammy thing was, I jumped up, and everybody else jumped up too, to see what was the matter; for it might have been a snake, you know! Good-bye.

December 1, 1862.

My dearest Mab,

Uncle told me of your walk with him to West Hyde Church, and how you made believe to get to Sarawak and see mamma walking in the verandah. You are much better off in the cold December air of England, than you would be in this sultry place, for all its green beauty and never-failing flowers. I had rather you carried the roses in your cheeks than have them in the garden all the year round. Last month papa went to visit the Quop Mission, where Mr. and Mrs. Abi and their little baby, and your old Ayah Fatima, live. [198/199] To get there he goes down the Sarawak River and up the Quop River, then lands at a Malay village, from whence there is a walk of three or four miles, up and down pretty hills and across Dyak bridges, and over paths made of two bamboos tied together, with a muddy swamp on either side. Then you come to the mission-house which papa has built, and to Mr. Chalmers' old house, which at present serves as the church, and to some long Dyak houses. Papa baptized twenty-four men, women, and girls, and confirmed nineteen people who had been baptized by Mr. Chalmers, The old Pangara, one of the principal chiefs, was baptized, and three of his grown-up sons, and one little grandson whom the old man held in his arms. We had made white jackets for the baptized, but the old Pangara had not quite made up his mind, fearing the ridicule of the other elders of the tribe, till papa talked to him; so there was no jacket for him, and papa gave him a clean white shirt, round the skirt of which we tied his chawat, a very long waistband which wraps round and round the body, and that was all! no trousers, and very funny he looked; but papa was too rejoiced at his becoming a Christian, to laugh at him. These people will all be Christians soon. They come to Mr. and Mrs. Abi, morning, noon, and night, to be taught, and there are two daily services; so the missionaries have plenty to do. Two of our old school-boys, now grown up, are catechists there, Semirum and Aloch. There is much love between the people and their [199/200] teachers; they are so happy at the Quop they never want to come away. However, I have asked the Abis to come for a fortnight at Christmas, and bring their poor little baby to be fattened on cow's milk. There are no cows at the Quop.

January, 1863.

My beloved Children,

As I cannot have you with me this Christmas and new year, I must comfort myself as best I may by writing you an account of all we have been doing, and how we have tried to fancy ourselves in old England amidst the frost and snow, notwithstanding the bright sunshine and perpetual green of our Eastern home. When we woke before daylight on Christmas morning the school boys were singing under our windows, "When Joseph was a-walking he heard an angel sing," so we got up and looked out, wishing the children a happy Christmas. Then we dressed, for there was a great deal to do. Papa had many services in church, Chinese, English, and Dyak. I had the wreaths to make. The church had been decked with moss fern the day before, but the flowers must be added in the morning, or they would be faded. So Julia and I made a crown of French marigolds to hang on the cross over the altar, two large wreaths for either side, and one at the west end made entirely of the golden allamanda, in the buds of which you used to imprison fire-flies when you lived here. The font was [200/211] adorned all over, in preparation for the baptisms to take place in the morning service. At half-past eleven we all went to church, and after the Litany there were sixteen Dyaks from Murdang, six Chinamen, and six little children baptized. Mr. Koch read the service in Malay, and papa baptized. It was a beautiful sight. The children, four of my little girls, and two small boys from the school behaved very well, and looked pretty in their new clothes. But they all understood something of why they were sprinkled with the blessed water, for we had been teaching them for some time, and Limo told me on Christmas Eve, that "our Saviour came into this world a little child, to teach us to be eood; and when He had blessed them in their baptism, they must take pains to do all He desired them." I thought this pretty well for a beginning. Ambat always repeats what Limo says, so I do not know how much is her own: she is Limo's sister. Ango and Llan, the other two girls, have been taught by Miss Rocke, who has given them to me; they know but little, but are gentle children. The school had a feast at five o'clock, beef curry (papa had an ox killed), salt pork, rice, and a huge plum-pudding. They had newly white-washed their dining-room the week before, and decked it with boughs, so that it looked very nice with six lanterns hanging from the roof. They played there while we were at dinner, and the Christian Chinese feasted at Sing Song's house. Julia had her little party in her school-room, and dinner from our table: [201/202] some of the grown-up schoolboys and Polly. We had Mr. and Mrs. Koch, Mr. and Mrs. Owen, Mr. Zehnder, and Mrs. Crookshank at our table. Papa counted that ninety-seven people were fed on the mission premises on Christmas Day. After dinner we had a bonfire in the hollow below our hill, between the house and the church. Quantities of dry bamboo had been collected there, which threw up columns of sparks, and lit up all the under leaves of the trees, making the dark sky and the young moon look so far far away. Then the boys began with crackers and rockets. Baby Agnes was not frightened, but poor Mildred could not sleep for terror. Every rocket made her call out "Bumah," and hide her face on my shoulder; however, she got used to it at last. Christmas is the time of year which belongs especially to children, because our Lord Jesus Christ then deigned to become a little child. We forget what happened to us when we were very young--even a mother does not know all the feelings, little troubles, ardent wishes and desires of her little ones--but it is impossible that our Saviour can ever forget. He knows exactly all that belongs to the daily life of a child, not only because He is God and knows everything, but because He was once a child Himself, and remembers all the joys and sorrows of His child-life in the cottage at Nazareth; and so children are very dear to Him--He listens to their prayers, accepts their praises, and watches over them always. Remember, my darling, that He is [202/203] your best friend; to Him you may tell all your little troubles and confess all your faults, for He is very pitiful and of tender mercy.

I gave my school-girls a box of dominoes and a set of draughtsmen with a board for their Christmas present. They play very well. All the sewing-class boys, too, had each a present--either a knife, or belt, or box or basket to keep their treasures in, or a head-handkerchief; but the Sarawak bazaar does not furnish many desirable things, even for school-boys. H.M.S. Renard has arrived since I wrote thus far, and we have had the boat races, which always take place in January. Eleven of our school-boys won the boys' race, pulling against Inchi Boyangs' school, the Mahometan school, and some other boats. We dressed our boys in white and blue, and they pulled beautifully. Papa had taught them to pull all together, when they went to mission stations with him, and they arc really good paddlers. They disdained the short course marked out for the boys, and pulled all the way out to the winning-post, a boat anchored near the wharf, round it, and back again, winning by two boats' lengths. They won five dollars, and papa added two more; they gave some of the money to their school-fellows, and celebrated their victory by singing all the evening so nicely, and hurrahing at the end of each song. They are good boys, and much happiness to us. Good-bye.

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