On their arrival in Rangoon, the principal seaport of Burmah, Mr. and Mrs. Judson gave themselves to the acquisition of the language of the empire. Mrs. Judson had not been long here before her health began to suffer from the effects of the climate, and her symptoms became so alarming that she went to Madras for medical advice. Her health being soon restored she returned to Rangoon. For three years Mr. Judson was busy in learning the language, which is one of some difficulty, being at that time without any adequate grammar. His first attempt at writing in the Burman language was a tract containing a summary of the Christian religion.
In October, 1816, the Rev. G. H. Hough came to them, bringing with him a printing-press, the gift of the Serampore Mission. By this press was printed a translation of the Gospel of Matthew and the Summary already mentioned. On Dec. 25th, 1817, Judson sailed for Chittagong, in Arracan, to obtain the services of a native Christian as an assistant. He left Rangoon expecting a passage of ten or twelve days, but singularly enough, it turned out a voyage of six months. The vessel, being driven out of her course, made sail for Madras. Finding it impossible to make that port, on the 26th of January they again changed her course. The following month they once more changed the ship's destination, and made sail for Ma-sul-i-pa-tam, a port north of Madras. This place was reached on the 18th of March, twelve weeks after embarking at Rangoon. He then travelled three hundred miles in a palankeen, reaching Madras on the 8th of April. Here he waited until July 20th for a passage to Rangoon, reaching home August 2d, 1818.
During Mr. Judson's absence, plowing the sea, the mission at Rangoon was reduced to a dead-alive state. After he had been absent for nearly three months, and no tidings had been received from him, Mrs. Judson began to abandon all hope of his return. At this time Mr. Hough was arrested and threatened with banishment; and Mrs. Judson drew up a petition to the Viceroy which procured his release. The cholera now began for the first time to rage in the empire. The beating of the death-drums was heard all the day long. Then came the report of an impending war between the English and the Burmese. A storm seemed gathering, and Mr. and Mrs. Hough resolved to retire before it. They begged Mrs. Judson to accompany them to Bengal. It was now nearly six months since Mr. Judson had left home, and she had heard nothing directly from him. Dreading to stay alone in that land of "wrong and outrage," she commenced a reluctant preparation for the voyage. They embarked on the 5th of July, but meeting with some delays, Mrs. Judson returned to the mission house, resolved to stay and abide the consequences. Within a week after her return Mr. Judson arrived, lamenting the loss of time and his disappointment in not obtaining one of the Arracanese converts as an assistant in his first efforts to preach.
But still he did not abandon his purpose to attempt public worship. The mission house was retired from the public road, and almost hid by trees. Purchasing a piece of ground adjoining their premises and near the road, he erected a zayat upon it and opened the place for preaching in April, 1819. This service was soon followed by signs of the gracious presence of the Holy Ghost. One memorable day in the history of this mission was April 30th, 1819; on that day Moung Nau made his first visit to the zayat. He repeated his visit daily. On the 5th of May, Mr. Judson says in his journal, "I begin to think that the grace of God has reached his heart— It seems almost too much to believe that God has begun to manifest his grace to the Burmans; but this day I could not resist the delightful conviction that this is really the case. PRAISE AND GLORY BE TO HIS NAME FOREVERMORE. Amen." On the 27th of June, Moung Nau was baptized in a large pond in the vicinity, the bank of which was "graced" with an enormous image of Gautama. This first baptism in the Burman empire, administered to the first Burman convert, was the occasion of unutterable joy to these missionaries of the Cross. This native convert became a valuable assistant to Mr. Judson. Two additional converts were baptized in the November following. There were also several serious inquirers; but these, learning that the Viceroy was displeased with their visits to Mr. Judson, ceased going to the zayat. The three native Christians, however, held on their way courageously. But it was evident that the people dared no longer resort to the zayat.
Mr. Judson resolved to appeal from the Viceroy to the Emperor, with a view to obtain toleration for the new religion. President Wayland was of opinion that no missionary of the Gospel should pursue such a course, and that Mr. Judson in later years looked upon the subject in the same light that he did. As it would be aside from our purpose to discuss this question, we will accompany Messrs. Judson and Colman to the "Golden City." Ascending the Irrawaddy, taking with them the Bible in six volumes, gilded in Burman style, as a present to the Emperor, in due time they were conducted, through various splendor and parade, until they ascended a flight of stairs and entered a most magnificent hall. They were directed by the private Minister of State where to sit, and there wait for the golden foot to advance. "The scene to which we were introduced," says Mr. Judson, "really surpassed our expectation. The spacious extent of the hall, the number and magnitude of the pillars, the height of the dome, the whole completely covered with gold, present a most grand and imposing spectacle. Very few were present, and those evidently great officers of state. We remained about five minutes, when every one put himself into the most respectful attitude, and Moung Yo whispered to us that his Majesty had entered. We looked through the hall as far as the pillars would allow, and presently caught sight of this modern Ahasuerus. He came forward unattended—in solitary grandeur,—exhibiting the proud gait and majesty of an Eastern monarch. He strided on. Every head except ours was now in the dust. We remained kneeling, our hands folded, our eyes fixed on the monarch. When he drew near, we caught his attention. He stopped, partly turned toward us,—'Who are these?' 'The teachers, great King,' I replied. 'What! you speak Burman,—the priests that I heard of last night?'
After asking a number of questions, he sat down on an elevated seat, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword, and his eyes intently fixed on us. The petition was then read to his Majesty. The Emperor heard it, and stretched out his hand. Moung Zah crawled forward and presented it. Afterwards he received a tract which Mr. Judson had expressly prepared for his Majesty. He held the tract long enough to read the first two sentences, which assert that there is one eternal God, who is independent of the incidents of mortality, and that beside him there is no God; and then, with an air of indifference, perhaps disdain, he dashed it down to the ground. The Emperor took no notice of the presents they had laid before him. The private Minister of State said, among other things: "In regard to the objects of your petition, his Majesty gives no order. In regard to your sacred books, his Majesty has no use for them;—take them away."
The missionaries were cast down, but not in despair. They made one more effort to accomplish their purpose. One of the British residents of Am-a-ra-pu-ra, or New Ava (now the capital instead of Old Ava), was a rich merchant, Mr. Gouger, who was acquainted with the private Minister of State, Moung Zah. Through the kind offices of Mr. Gouger, they obtained another interview with the Minister of State. The result was that they were assured that there was no probability of obtaining a toleration of a foreign religion. They then returned to Rangoon, resolving to remove to that part of Arracan which was under British protection. But the entreaties of the native converts, and the fact that there were several new inquirers, caused them to re-consider their decision. These converts evinced great courage; while one of the inquirers, the learned Moung Shwa Gnong, seemed to derive boldness from the very things which disheartened the missionaries.
Mr. and Mrs. Colman established themselves at Chittagong in order to collect the converts of Arracan and to provide a place of refuge for Mr. and Mrs. Judson and the native converts of Rangoon, in case of persecution. Meanwhile the divine blessing attended the exertions of Mr. and Mrs. Judson at Rangoon. Three natives were baptized in the Spring of 1820. In June it was found that Mrs. Judson's health demanded a voyage to Bengal, and as she was too feeble to go alone, Mr. Judson decided to accompany her. But before their departure their hearts were cheered by the addition to the little church of four more converts, among whom were the learned Moung Shwa Gnong and a married woman of superior mind and great energy—the first female disciple in Burmah, Mah Men-la. She was baptized at night, by torchlight. The church now included ten native converts, and these manifested a spirit of supplication. They were wont to hold prayer-meetings in the zayat of their own accord.
The Judsons now made a voyage to Bengal, spent two months with the British missionaries at Serampore, and after an absence of about five months returned to Rangoon. Mrs. Judson derived great benefit from this voyage; but six months later she was attacked with such dangerous illness that she was advised to try the virtues of a long sea voyage. Accordingly she embarked for Calcutta, and proceeded thence to London, where she arrived in improved health. From England she proceeded to the United States. Of her visit to this country at that time we shall elsewhere give a more full account.
Soon after his wife's departure from Rangoon, Mr. Judson was joined by the Rev. Jonathan Price, M. D., who had come out to the East with the intention of discharging the two-fold duty of missionary and physician. Dr. Price, commencing practice in Rangoon, showed such skill, particularly in diseases of the eye, that his fame soon spread to the capital. Only seven months after his arrival, he was summoned to Ava by the Emperor on account of his medical skill. Mr. Judson was obliged to accompany him as interpreter. He left behind a church of eighteen native members (one of them had died), and two inquirers. Mr. Judson resided at the capital several months, and had some interviews with the Emperor, the princes and ministers of state. As Dr. Price was much at the palace, Mr. Judson's necessary attendance as interpreter enabled him incidentally to talk about the religion of Christ. The Emperor requested the missionaries to remain at Ava. A pleasant lot was given them, on which Mr. Judson built a small house; and when he was about to return to Rangoon, the Emperor expressed his regret and invited him to return soon, accompanied by Mrs. Judson, and make Ava his home. After going back to his mission, he completed his translation of the New Testament.
On the 5th of December, 1823, Mrs. Judson arrived, after an absence of two years and three months, bringing with her Mr. and Mrs. Wade. The latter, along with Mr. and Mrs. Hough, were now left in charge of the mission, while the Judsons proceeded to Ava, with the view of establishing a mission in the capital. There was some prospect of a war. Mrs. Judson, on her return voyage, had been warned at Calcutta of a probable collision between Burmah and England; and had been advised by her friends not to return to Rangoon. But the medal had two sides. It was understood to be the then policy of Great Britain not to enlarge her territories in the East. There had been previous rumors of this kind which had proved groundless. Besides, Mr. Judson had recently been received at Ava with clemency and marked condescension. Nor was this all; when she arrived at Rangoon, her husband had made up his mind to go and fix his residence at the capital; he had almost completed the needful preparations for the passage up the Irrawaddy. To crown all, Dr. Price, who was in great favor at court, would give them a cordial welcome, and stand between them and all casual ebullitions of imperial wrath.
Our missionaries reached Ava after a wearisome passage of six weeks. On her arrival, Mrs. Judson saw that she was an object of universal curiosity. A foreign female was a sight never before beheld in Ava. Whenever she walked out, crowds followed her. Though they everywhere treated her with respect, yet some would run some way before her, in order to have a long look as she approached them. But Mr. Judson was surprised at the coolness of his reception at court. Dr. Price was out of favor, and suspicion rested on most of the foreigners then in the capital. The Queen had expressed wishes for the arrival of Mrs. Judson, but now made no inquiries after her nor intimated a wish to see her.
The cause of this suspicion and suspension of courtesy is easily indicated. The Burmans had already begun to invade the British province of Chittagong. An army had gone forth with the anticipation of leading the Governor-General of India a captive in chains to the golden feet in Ava. But the English had secretly prepared to avenge the wrongs they had endured in the constant encroachments of the Burmese on their possessions. In May, an army of six thousand men, under Sir Archibald Campbell, suddenly appeared in the river below Rangoon. So great was the surprise of the natives that scarcely a shot was fired. Every foreigner was suspected by the natives, and the Viceroy ordered the arrest and imprisonment of every man in that city "who wore a hat." Messrs. Hough and Wade were chained and imprisoned under armed keepers. In the morning the British fleet was seen approaching the town, and the keepers were ordered to put the prisoners to death the moment the first shot was fired upon the city. Repeatedly were the lives of the missionaries threatened. In one instance they were compelled to kneel with their heads bent forward for the convenience of the executioner, who was ordered at that moment to behead them. At length, however, they were reprieved, and then concealed in a vault of the great golden pagoda until they were released by the English. They then lost no time in embarking for Bengal.
On the 23d of May, 1824, a message reached the house of Dr. Price that Rangoon was taken by the English. The missionaries had just concluded family worship. The intelligence produced a shock which was followed by alternate fear and joy. Mr. Gouger, the young English merchant, who happened to be with them when the news came, had more reason than they to be afraid. He went and consulted the Emperor's most influential brother, who told him to give himself no uneasiness, for his Majesty had assured him that the few foreigners, of whatever nationality, residing at Ava had nothing to do with the war, and would not be molested. As the missionaries were Americans, and not British subjects, they had good reason to suppose that, in any event, they would pass through the crisis without any annoyance from Burmese officials.
The functionaries of the empire were now all in motion. In three or four days they were able to send off an army of ten thousand men. No doubt was entertained of the defeat of the English. In a truly Oriental spirit, reminding one of the words of Sisera's mother, a wild young buck of the palace said: "Bring for me six white strangers to row my boat" and "To me," said a lady of rank, "bring four white strangers to manage the affairs of my house; for I understand they are trusty servants." "The war boats in high glee;" wrote Mrs. Judson, "passed our house, the soldiers singing and dancing and exhibiting gestures of the most joyous kind. Poor fellows! said we, you will probably never dance again. And so it proved; for few, if any, ever saw again their native home."
Soon after the army left, three British residents were arrested and imprisoned. They were suspected to be spies. As Mr. Judson and Dr. Price had received money from America, the Burmese authorities, ignorant of the business of exchange, represented them to the Emperor as in the pay of the English, and very probably spies. His Majesty, in an angry tone, said; "Arrest the two teachers immediately." One day while Mrs. Judson was preparing for dinner, a Burmese officer, holding a black book, with a dozen men, rushed into the room, accompanied by one whose face was tattooed, known as the executioner. Mr. Judson was seized by the executioner, thrown down on the floor, and a small hard cord tied round both his arms above the elbow. This cord is used not only for security but for torture as well. It may be so tied as to cut through the flesh. The prisoner, pinioned by it, is at the mercy of his keeper, who, by drawing it more tightly, can almost take away respiration, dislocate the shoulder, and even cause blood to gush from his victim's nostrils and mouth, until he drops dead.
In vain did Mrs. Judson beg the executioner to loosen the cords; she offered him money in order to mitigate, if possible, the torture. All mercy, on any terms, was refused. Mr. Judson was taken to the "death prison," where he and all "white foreigners" were secured with three pairs of fetters each, which confined their feet only a few inches apart. Then a long bamboo pole was passed between their legs and fastened at the ends; so that they were forced to lie in a row upon the ground; one leg rested on the upper side of the bamboo pole, and with its weight of shackles pressed painfully on the limb below. There lay nine men, closely crowded together in a room made of boards, with no windows and no ventilation except from the crevices in the boards of the prison and its one small door. It was in the hot month of a tropical June; they were compelled to lie on the damp ground, from which arose a poisonous miasma. The authorities did not supply them with food. For this, if rich, they were totally dependent on the money concealed by their servants wherewith to go and buy something to eat; if poor and friendless they were liable to die of starvation. They owed their sustenance mostly to the exertions of Mrs. Judson, although on occasional days of sacred festivity the native women would, as a religious duty, bring them rice and fruit. As the officials made no allowance for clothing, the prisoners were in a few months almost naked. Mrs. Judson considered it her duty to provide them not only with food but with clothing.
The keepers of the prison were all criminals, with a mutilated nose or a blind eye, or with the ears cutaway, or else with the name of their crime branded in the forehead or breast. The others were tattooed with a dark ring upon the cheek or above the eye. The head keeper wore the word loo-that, or murder, burned into the flesh of his breast. He inflicted his cruelties as if they were so many practical jokes and his favorite amusement.
The fellow prisoners of Mr. Judson and Dr. Price were from nearly all classes; robbers and murderers as well as innocent men, who were accused or suspected of being disloyal or of having treasures which the tyrant could confiscate. The standard of morals among the votaries of Gautama, "the Light of Asia," may be illustrated by the following incident given by Mr. Crawfurd in his "Embassy to Ava." When Mr. Judson was in the prison, as he informed Mr. C., he overheard two chiefs, who were subjected to temporary confinement for some peccadillo, discoursing together on moral subjects. The elder of the two asked the other if he knew the proper definition of an upright man. The younger professed his ignorance; when the senior added—"Then I will tell you: an upright man is the same as a worthless man or simpleton."
In three or four days, the houses of Mr. Judson, Dr. Price and the British residents were searched and their property confiscated. The property of the British merchant, Mr. Gouger, to the amount of $50,000, was seized and carried to the palace. The officers, on their return from this act of spoilation, while passing Mrs. Judson's house, said, "We will visit your house on the morrow." She accordingly concealed, in the earth under the house, all her silver, a few other articles of value, and so much of Mr. Judson's manuscript of the New Testament as had not yet been printed.
From the time Mr. Judson was thrown into prison, his devoted and heroic wife was tireless in her exertions to obtain some mitigation of her husband's sufferings. She applied to the jailor, to the Governor of the North Gate of the palace, to the King's sister, and to the Queen. She tried the virtue of gifts and of importunity. She was often put off with empty promises and the assurances of faithless and heartless men. Her prevailing opinion was that her husband would suffer a violent death; and she would of course languish out a miserable existence in the hands of an iron-hearted and tyrannic monster.
Some months of torture and agony thus wore away before there was any manifestation of mercy to our missionary and his wife. At length she was permitted to make a little bamboo room in the prison yard, where her husband was allowed to be much by himself. One of the first things Mr. Judson inquired after, as soon as he and Mrs. Judson were permitted to speak together in English, was the manuscript translation of the New Testament. Fearing it might be stolen, or ruined by mold, it was thought best to sew it up in the form of a pillow, covered with a mat.
From The Story of Baptist Missions in Foreign Lands... by G. Winfred Hervey. St. Louis: Chancy R. Barns, 1885.
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