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 Post subject: Padre Rowlands of Ceylon - Part II
 Post Posted: Tue Aug 30, 2005 2:29 am 
Padre Rowlands of Ceylon

By R. P. Butterfield, M.A., B.D.
London and Edinburgh: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, Ltd., no date.


@ Project Canterbury

Chapter V. Kandy: The Tamil Coolie Mission, 1862

FOR many years following the occupation of Ceylon by the British, virgin forest and jungle covered the hills of the interior. Valleys and hills, which now are busy scenes of a prosperous tea industry, with planters' bungalows charmingly situated amid lawns and flower-gardens, were then a dense and trackless forest, the home of elephant, leopard, and bear.

Coffee planting was first commenced in the Kandyan country in the year 1820, and the first regular plantation was opened in 1827. It was, however, not until the eventful year, 1837, that the planting enterprise may be said to have been begun. Thousands of acres of forest land were sold annually by the Government of Ceylon to intending planters, suitable for the cultivation of coffee. With the ancient capital of the Kandyan race as a centre, the hardy pioneers of the planting industry proceeded to carve out of the primeval jungle clearings for the cultivation of the new product. In all directions there were to be seen blackened clearings where the stately forest trees had been felled and then burnt. In these clearings, amidst the charred trunks of prostrate forest giants, partially burnt, the young coffee shrubs were planted, and, in the course of a few years, the stately but gloomy beauty of the original forest was replaced by the shimmering white of the coffee blossom in its setting of dark green foliage.

The higher uplands were for many years untouched. In 1840, Major Skinner, from the top of Adam's Peak, looked down on a dense, pathless forest, and foretold that this region was destined to become the garden of Ceylon.

The want of roads as a means of communication and transport was a great difficulty. Major Skinner, Ceylon's great Roadmaker, gives us a glimpse of the situation. "With all these purchases," he wrote in 1840, "the demand for land appears to be just as insatiable as ever, while the general cry is, 'Where shall we look for land?' In vain I proclaim that there is a choice of between 200,000 and 300,000 acres of the finest forest land within the Wilderness of the Peak, possessing, in the most eminent degree, every requisite of soil and climate far above anything to be found on these outskirts of it. 'How are we to get at it?' is the not unnatural sequence, for although I have spent many dreary months in it, and there is not a valley I have not traversed, nor a feature, from the highest point of which, and from the top of the highest tree to be found on it, I have not attempted to sketch in my reconnaisance, I know that many a man might dive into the depth of 500 square miles of unbroken, pathless forest, who would never find his way out of it again."

By 1860 much of the Kandyan country had been opened in coffee, and, leaving the dense forests of Dickoya and Dimbula, the adventurous British planter had penetrated to the more open highlands of the Uva Province. The problem of transport was here still more acute. A road had been opened as far as Pelmadulla, but, as Skinner describes it, "there still remained at least thirty-eight miles of the most execrable native mountain path ever traversed, and intercepted by rapid torrents, only fordable in dry weather. Over this path the planters sent down their maiden crops, which were always small and light, on men's shoulders."

Such were the country and the conditions in which William Rowlands was now to commence those indefatigable travels among planters and coolies with which his name is ever inseparably connected. The area, opened in coffee estates in 1862, bore no comparison with the extensive area of the present day. While the Kandyan country was fully opened, together with Pussellawa, Gampola, Dolosbage, Kotmale, and Ambegamuwa, which included Lower Dickoya, the forests of Maskeliya and Bogowantalawa were untouched. Dimbula was represented by six estates in Upper, and about the same number in Lower, Dimbula, just below the Queensbury Gap.

For labour in connection with the great planting venture, the planter was at first dependent on the people of the country. Mr. C. R. Rigg, in an article in the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, writes at the time, "When planting first came into vogue the Kandyans flocked in hundreds to the great distribution of rupees, but this source of labour was soon found to be insufficient and of too precarious a nature to be relied on. The Kandyan has such a reverence for his patrimonial lands that were his gain to be quadrupled he would not abandon their culture. It was only during a portion of the year that he could be induced, even by the new stimulus--money--to exert himself. Next came the Sinhalese from the maritime provinces, who have a stronger love of gain. In 1841-43, thousands of these people were employed on estates; they generally left their homes for six months at a time, and then returned with their earnings.

The sudden access of wealth among them soon engendered as much independence as was to be found in the Kandyans. This source of labour became "dried up. . . . Southern India stepped forward to fill up the vacancy occasioned by the cessation from labour of the sons of the soil."

An abundant source of labour was found in South India, and from 1841 thousands of those whom Skinner calls "the panting, half-famished creatures from the burning sandy plains of Southern India" were yearly coming over, trudging their weary way down the North Road. These South Indian Tamils were the people to work among whom Rowlands was allotted in October 1862.

The existence of the Tamil Coolie Mission, with which Rowlands was now temporarily connected, in consequence of the breakdown of the Rev. S. Hobbs, the head of the Mission, is very closely connected with the fame which Ceylon acquired as a coffee-producing country. There is romance in the beginning of this interesting little Mission, which began with an attempt, not so much to reach the non-Christian as to shepherd Christians. Mr. John Murdoch, at that time head of the Government Seminary in Kandy for training schoolmasters, was accustomed to ride out from Kandy on a Saturday for the purpose of visiting and holding services for the isolated planters in the district around. In this work he was encouraged by one of the leaders of the planting enterprise, Mr. George Wall, who was very much concerned for the spiritual condition of these men. As Murdoch rode about among the estates, he discovered little groups of Christian coolies from Tinnevelly.

An English planter, not long out from a Christian home in his native land, was astonished one Sunday morning to hear hymn-singing in the coffee-store, not far from the bungalow. Going down to ascertain from whom it proceeded, he found a hundred of his coolies gathered together, under the leadership of one of themselves, for a service. Such gatherings were found on more than one estate where Christian coolies were engaged in holding services regularly without minister or sacrament.

There happened to be visiting Ceylon about this time one of the secretaries of the C.M.S., the Rev. W. Knight, who had come out to Ceylon for the purpose of inspecting the whole Mission. Murdoch got at once into touch with Knight, and the idea at once occurred to them that Tamil catechists might be brought over from Tinnevelly to minister to the scattered bands of Tamil Christians, and, at the same time, to evangelise their heathen fellow-countrymen. Murdoch and Knight were invited by the proprietors of some estates hi the neighbourhood of Matale to visit their estates and see what could be done. Knight proposed to the planters that they should subscribe to bring over from Tinnevelly, and support in Ceylon, trained catechists, and that the Church Missionary Society should supply a missionary to superintend this new and interesting work.

Knight's proposal met with the hearty approbation of the planter friends referred to, and they at once promised their cordial support in any measures that might be taken for carrying out the scheme.

Murdoch went over to India and saw the Tinnevelly missionaries. At Paneivilei he addressed a missionary meeting, and called for volunteers for the work in Ceylon. Eight responded, of whom six were chosen as pioneers of the new venture. They duly arrived in Colombo, and, after having been equipped with their instructions and whatever was necessary, started to walk from Colombo to Kandy. On the arrival of the six in Kandy, in November 1854, they soon after proceeded to the estates, the proprietors of which had agreed to support them.

Meanwhile, such of the planters as cared at all for the spiritual welfare of their coolies formed themselves into an Association, undertaking to support the catechists, and provide small chapels and schools for worship and instruction. Many of them were Scotch Presbyterians, but they were quite willing that an Evangelical clergyman should come to superintend the work, and that it shouLd be carried on upon Church of England lines. Accordingly, after about a year, during which the new Mission was under the superintendence of the Rev. E. T. Higgens, who was, at the same time, in charge of work among Sinhalese in and around Kandy, the CM.S. Committee appointed one of the Tinnevelly missionaries, the Rev. Septimus Hobbs, who arrived in November 1855. Hobbs, having spent thirteen years in Tinnevelly, was well acquainted with Tamil, and the work soon began, under his guidance, to go forward. Hobbs describes his methods of work in his first report written in May 1857: "The greater part of the catechists' time is spent in visiting the different estates and preaching to the coolies. After being thus engaged for about ten days, they return to Kandy to rest for a day or two, and receive further instructions from the Superintendent of the Mission. Each of them then receives a list of the estates he is to visit on his next journey, and sets out on another tour. Each catechist keeps a journal in which he records the principal occurrences of every day, and these journals are read to the Superintendent when the catechists come to Kandy. They have not yet visited the very distant districts of Badulla and Saffragam, but they have been repeatedly to the coffee estates in almost all other directions."

Hobbs, as already indicated, broke down in health, and left for England at the close of 1862, and, on his departure, Rowlands now undertook the charge of the Mission until some permanent appointment could be made by the Committee in England.

Chapter VI. Kandy: The Tamil Coolie Mission--Work on the Coffee Estates, 1862-1863

THE next scene in the life of Padre Rowlands opens for us in the town of Kandy, the sacred capital of the Sinhalese Buddhists, containing, as it does, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. Kandy was then a squalid town, set amid mountains of surpassing beauty, a dull gem hardly worthy of its gorgeous setting. For Rowlands, the comparatively cooler climate of the hills was a distinct gain after the stifling lanes of Slave Island.

Kandy was also the centre of the planting enterprise, and here forgathered from time to time coffee-planters from the surrounding hills for business and pleasure. Hither, too, trudged with weary footsteps down the North Road an unceasing stream of half-famished coolies from the sun-baked plains of Southern India for work on the coffee estates.

In the Hill Capital there was stationed a strong detachment of the Ceylon Rifles, and the garrisons of the redoubts on the surrounding hills were furnished from this detachment. Among its officers were such men as Captain Byrde and a subaltern named Tranchell, poth of whom were warm friends of the young missionary, and, moreover, were in sympathy with the work of the Tamil Coolie Mission.

The journal, kept somewhat intermittently, draws the curtain aside on Christmas morning, 1862. It is 5 a.m., and the two catechists, with their wives and families, together with the servants, are assembled in the dining-room for family prayers. This was the custom in missionary households, but, with Rowlands, it was a solemn and sacred duty to gather together, before the family altar, all dependents of his household.

Later, we read that he preached to a large and attentive Tamil congregation by interpretation in the little church in the Bazaar. The Christmas dinner was spent with the Oakleys, then resident in Kandy, after which Rowlands attended a Tamil evening service.

The following day begins a description of one of those journeys among the estates, typical of many such itineraries. Rowlands writes on December 26: "At 2 p.m. left home for Kurunegala [he spells it Kornegalle, in the old-time way]. Drove first eight miles to the bungalow of W. F. Lindesay, Esq., a friend of the Coolie Mission, on an estate in Matale District. Reached the house after a tedious, and, in some respects, dangerous journey, at 8 p.m. Spent Friday night with him. On Saturday morning, the 27th, started about 7 a.m. Called at the house of another planter on my way, and breakfasted there. Finding from him that many of his Kanganies and coolies were very eager indeed to obtain any little books to read, I gladly left with him for distribution all the Tamil tracts that I had remaining."

The labours of the next day represent one of those strenuous Sundays so characteristic of Rowlands at all times in his career.

"Went to the Sunday School a little before 8 a.m., and on my way was requested by a young Burgher man to come and see his father, who was ill. I did so, and read and prayed with him. Opened the school, and taught the first class, composed of Burgher boys.

"At eleven, attended Sinhalese service and preached by interpretation.

"A small congregation, only nineteen, chiefly in consequence of the unsettled state of things among the Sinhalese. Immediately after morning service drove to Titawella, a small Sinhalese village, just three miles from Kurunegala, where there is a nice little school built by the richest men among the Christians. In that school, after a short notice, twenty-five people assembled, and after a few prayers, and the second lesson, read by a Mr. Goonesekara, who accompanied me from Kurunegala, I preached by his interpretation. Upon coming away left Sinhalese tracts with those who could read. At 4.30 p.m. held English service in Kurunegala, and preached on 'The time is short,' to a full congregation. After the service, had a baptism. Upon the whole, spent a very happy day, the more so from its being one of constant labour in God's service." Rowlands loved his Sundays, and over and over again in the little journal is the record of a full Sunday closed with the happy refrain," A very active and a very happy Sunday." The return journey was made by way of the Galegedara Pass, visiting planters en route, the names of whom are long forgotten, but many of whom doubtless, in the Presence of their common Lord, will recall the "pleasant and profitable conversation" they had together.

Tamil Christians have a pleasant custom on New Year's Day of visiting their friends and superiors, and of making them presents of fruit and sweetmeats, with a prayer for prosperity during the New Year. Rowlands describes such a visit on January 1, 1863: "In the afternoon all the catechists, with their families and some others, came to pay me a visit, and brought me a very handsome present of a cake, various kinds of fruit, and sweetmeats. They also presented a very kind congratulatory address in Tamil, which was interpreted in any parts which I did not understand."

From time to time tedious journeys to Colombo had to be made by coach to attend committees connected with the general organisation of the C.M.S. Ceylon Mission. Rowlands, in his own strenuous way, contrived to make them occasions for work outside his own legitimate sphere. "Was busily employed in collecting for the Coolie Mission. In doing that, I was graciously prospered through the love of our Heavenly Father."

On the occasion of another visit to Colombo, he writes: "After tiffin, had some doubt in my mind whether I should go to the school and speak to the Tamil people, or whether I should stay at home and write my journal, and read.

"Felt that this was a temptation of Satan to persuade me to choose the more easy and self-indulgent course, and prayed for more of the love of Christ to banish all such coldness and deadness of heart. Thought for a little time over John xv. 26, 'But when the Comforter is come.' Went to the school at three o'clock, and, after singing and prayer, addressed the people, who numbered twenty, upon the above. To my great pleasure and thankfulness was able to do without an interpreter for the first time. Spoke to a few people in the street and gave a few tracts."

Those early Kandy days continued to be occupied with constant journeys to the coffee estates around the Hill Capital. One such journey was made to the picturesque Rangala Hills to the north, passing on the way, as the traveller did, the scanty ruins of one of the great palaces of the last of the Kandyan kings.

"Saturday, February 1, 1862.--Left Kandy about seven, and drove to J. Blacklaw's (Medamahanewara) where I breakfasted. Drove about three miles farther, and then sent my carriage back, and rode the rest of the way.

"Sunday, 22nd.--Went out with Gnanamuttu, catechist, to a 'line' on Woodside estate, and spoke to the coolies. Returned for breakfast, and on our way to the bungalow we stopped in a retired place to pray for God's blessing on what had been said. It is sad to see how little the coolies upon Woodside seem to be impressed with the glad tidings of salvation.

"About eleven o'clock started out again, and went to the next estate, where we preached to about thirty or forty people, who assembled at one of the 'lines.'" For the uninitiated it may be explained that a "line "is a row of coolie dwellings.

Nor were the isolated pioneer planters forgotten in the ministrations of the indefatigable young missionary. Few churches had yet been built, and thus the journal gives such entries as the following: "Held English service in Court house at Teldeniya. Very few present." Another such service is held in the Resthouse at Kadugannawa. Many services were held in the hospitable bungalows of the planters, as, for instance, in the Moir's bungalow on Hunasgeria, where, among the congregation on one occasion, was the famous "Jack" Tyndall, a famous sporting planter of those early days, with whom Rowlands relates, "I had some conversation."

Maturata was an important centre in those days, situated on the long winding mountain road to Badulla, the capital of the Uva Province. In connection with a journey to this district, we read of an English service held in the "Fort," which doubtless refers to one of the ring of abandoned forts, by means of which British troops had formerly held the Kandyan country after the rebellion of 1818. The names of those forts--Fort Macdonald, Fort William--still remain, with, in some cases, their ramparts and ditches--sole relics of the romantic and stormy days of the past.

One journey to the hills north of Kandy may be given in the words of the journal, without the risk of becoming tedious.

"April 11, 1862.--Left home about one o'clock and drove some miles on the Pangwelle road, then mounted my other pony and rode to Mr. Moir's of Hunasgeria.

"Sunday, 12th.--Walked with Mr. Moir after coffee to a bungalow on the next estate, in the hope of seeing the conductor, who, I heard, was rather favourably disposed towards Christianity, but found that he had gone out. At 11.30 held service at Dotela.

"Very soon after service started for Relugas (ten miles away), but was an hour late in reaching there. No one was at the store (coffee factory), but, on going up to the bungalow, I found five gentlemen, and, by their permission, held a service in the house, preaching on the words, 'What think ye of Christ?' Almost immediately afterwards I went on to Galheria Store, where I had appointed the Tamil Christians to assemble. Before I reached the place rain poured in torrents, and I was very wet, but was cheered on entering the store to find a considerable number of people expecting my arrival. They had almost given me up, and had commenced the service and finished the prayers. Without any delay I preached to them, and afterwards conversed with several persons. Baptized the little girl of Joseph, conductor of Nillaomally, and examined a man who is a candidate for baptism, feeling very glad and thankful to God for so happy a conclusion to my day's duties." How Rowlands loved those strenuous Sundays!

Amidst a record of dull routine and constant travel, fascinating to those who knew "Padre" Rowlands, and the country in which he travelled, but doubtless tedious to the uninitiated, the curtain is occasionally lifted, and we are given a hallowed glimpse of a life lived in happy and intimate fellowship with his Master. Such a glimpse is given in the following entry:

"April 3rd,_ Good Friday.--Awoke with a sense of happiness and joy at the thought of another commemoration of my Saviour's death. Felt that dear friends were praying for me, and thanked God for it. Had a delightful time of private prayer, and also much enjoyed thinking of Gal. iii. i, 'Before whose eyes/ etc. Upon that I preached to the Tamil congregation, and felt my heart stirred up more than ever before to exalt Christ so manifestly before the people, that many precious souls might be drawn to Him.

"Read little book which dear May (his fiancée) sent me, Christ is Ever With You, and enjoyed it very much."

Meanwhile the vital and necessary examination in Tamil is drawing near, and Rowlands is gladly conscious of increased facility in preaching.

On a Sunday in February 1862, he writes: "Two catechists were with me, but as neither of them knows English, I was obliged to speak to the audience as well as I could, without an interpreter, and succeeded pretty well."

On another occasion, on Ramboda estate, he writes: "Addressed the coolies without an interpreter. By God's help was able to speak pretty well, but have no doubt that I made many mistakes."

"Sunday, August 30, 1863.--Rose at a few minutes past five. Felt, while dressing, a happy, calm, Sabbath spirit. Started from home at about 6.30 for Kadugannawa, but before I reached the bottom of this hill my pony fell and broke both his knees. This obliged me to borrow Clowes' horse to drive as far as Peradeniya, where my other pony was waiting. Reached Kadugannawa Resthouse at about 8.30. At a little after ten the catechist brought five Christians to me. After talking to them for a little while, I sent them on to Mr. Cooper's Store and, after a hasty breakfast, went there myself. I read the prayers and preached, without any assistance whatever, and with considerable ease. Immediately afterwards I returned to the Resthouse for the English service. After tiffin, went to a rice store, not far from the Rest-house, where many people were collected. Spoke to them for some time, trying to point out clearly the one and only way to salvation. Several seemed to understand very well and to be much interested. Feel very thankful to God for the blessed opportunity He has given me this day for proclaiming His love to sinners, and also for the gracious help He has vouchsafed to me in speaking Tamil. ,

"September 11, 1863.--Came down to Colombo by night coach in order to be ready for examination in Tamil on Monday.

"Reached Galle Face about 6.30 and was kindly welcomed by Fenn. Drove to Mutwall to make arrangements with Mr. Oneaatje about the exam, and fixed 2.30 p.m. as the time. After dinner, went with Fenn to the Pettah to preach to the heathen."


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