Why had the English army come to Rangoon?
This was the answer, as the Burman Government decided: The Englishmen living in Ava were spies, and they had induced their countrymen to invade Burma. The three prominent Englishmen in Ava, Gouger, Laird, and Rogers, were put in confinement, and the Americans, Judson and Price, were summoned to a court of examination. The accounts of Mr. Gouger showed that he had paid considerable sums of money to the missionaries. This was simply the cashing of orders for the support of the mission, but the Burmans considered it sufficient evidence that Judson and Price were in the pay of the British, and therefore spies, and the command went forth from the king,
"Arrest the two teachers!"
The little home of the Judsons was in a delightful situation, on the bank of the Irawadi, away from the dust of the city. Just as the happy family were preparing for dinner on the eighth of June, 1824, there was a sudden commotion on the veranda, and in rushed a dozen Burmans. Their leader held a black book in his hand, and with them was a Man with a Spotted Face, which marked him as the executioner at the prison.
"Where is the teacher?" demanded the leader.
Mr. Judson stepped forward.
"You are called by the king," said the officer.
This was the signal to the Man with the Spotted Face. He instantly seized Mr. Judson. threw him on the floor, and produced the small, hard cord, one of the most cruel instruments of torture ever invented. It was fastened around the two arms above the elbows, and could be drawn so tight as to stop the breath.
Spotted Face began to tighten this cord around his victim, when Ann Judson caught his arm: "Stay, stay!" she pleaded with him, "and I will give you money".
"Take her too; she also is a foreigner," commanded the leader. "No, no." begged Mr. Judson, "you have no orders to take her."
A great crowd had now gathered around the house, a fine opportunity for Spotted Face to display his skill. With a kind of hellish joy he drew tight the cords and bound Mr. Judson fast. Mrs. Judson begged and entreated Spotted Face to take the silver and loosen the cord, but in vain. She gave the money to Moung Ing, the convert who stood by her through all the afflictions of this terrible time, and he followed when Mr. Judson was dragged away, to see if he could induce Spotted Face to lighten the torture. But the wretches only threw their prisoner to the ground again, and drew the cords so close that he could hardly breathe.
Thus Mr. Judson was hurried away to the death-prison at Ava, and with him as fellow prisoners were Doctor Price, the three English gentlemen, Gouger, Laird, and Rogers, and some others, besides the scores of Burman prisoners of all ranks and classes.
The prison had a name, let-ma-yoon, derived from the revolting scenes of cruelty that were practiced in it. Its meaning is, "Hand, shrink not.'' It was a ramshackle building about forty feet long, in a stockaded enclosure. The security of the prisoners depended not on the walls of the building, but on fetters and stocks. Three pairs of fetters were placed on Mr. Judson's ankles and legs, and the scars they made he wore to his dying day. In each pair of fetters the two iron rings were connected by a chain so short that the heel of one foot could hardly be advanced to the toe of the other. They were fastened on by the head jailer, "The Tiger Cat," the prisoners called him, who seemed to be possessed by a very demon of cruelty. He made an amusement of his worst cruelties, bringing down his hammer with a jest when fastening fetters, putting his hated arms affectionately around the prisoners, and calling them his beloved children, to get a better opportunity to prick or pinch them, and studying torture as the most comical of arts. He was the most hideous of creatures, branded in his breast loo-that; that is, "murderer"!
When night came on, the Tiger Cat, or Father of the Prison, devised a new means of torture. A bamboo pole was thrust through the fetters of Judson and of his fellow prisoners, seven in all, and a man at each end hoisted up the pole by blocks till the shoulders of the prisoners rested on the ground, while their feet hung in the iron rings of the fetters, so that they were in excruciating pain all night long. In the morning the "Father" came along, and with his customary grin lowered the bamboo to within a foot of the floor.
Besides these physical sufferings, there was the daily mental torture which the prisoners suffered from the uncertainty of their fate. All sorts of reports were whispered through the prison in regard to the English and American prisoners; that they were to be thrown into a lion's cage; that they were to be burned; that they were to be buried alive at the head of the Burman army to insure its victory over the English. Every afternoon, at three o'clock, they faced the possibility of being led away to execution." As that hour approached," as Mr. Gouger afterward described those days, "we noticed that the talking and jesting in the prison gradually died away. It seemed as though even breathing was suspended under the control of a panic terror, until that fatal hour was announced by the deep tones of a powerful gong in the palace yard. We did not long remain in ignorance of the cause. If any of the prisoners were to suffer death that day, the hour of three was the time when they were taken out for execution. The wicket opened, and the hideous figure of Spotted Face appeared, who, without uttering a word, walked straight to his victim, and led him away."
Added to all this was the horrible filthiness of the prison. Mr. Judson was painfully sensitive to anything gross or uncleanly. "It amounted almost to folly," said one of his fellow prisoners, "and made his life a constant martyrdom." And yet amid all these sufferings, surrounded by loathsome conditions against which every fiber of his soul and body revolted, the pioneer refused to accept the idea of failure. "Think what the consequences of this English invasion must be," he said to one of his fellow captives." "Here have I been ten years preaching the gospel to timid listeners who wished to embrace the truth, but dared not; beseeching the emperor to grant liberty of conscience to his people, but without success; and now, when all human means seemed at an end, God opens the way by leading a Christian nation to subdue the country. It is possible that my life may be spared; if so, with what ardor and gratitude shall I pursue my work: and if not, his will be done; the door will be opened for others who will do the work better."
Outside the horrible let-ma-yoon the prisoners had one friend who never for one moment ceased to strive for the relief of their sufferings. The story of their captivity is also the story of the splendid, unfading heroism of Ann Judson.
When the faithful Moung Ing returned to report that his beloved teacher was cast into prison, it was near nightfall. Ann Judson went to her room, and kneeling there she committed her case to God, and sought for courage and strength to suffer what awaited her. Into these petitions broke a rough voice of command from the veranda, calling:
"Come out! Come out here, and submit to my examination!"
It was the magistrate of the place. Mrs. Judson knew that she would have to go, but before she went she destroyed all her letters, journals, and writings of every kind, for they would show that the missionaries had correspondents in England, and had kept a diary of everything that had happened since their arrival in Burma.
After closely questioning her, the magistrate ordered the gates of the compound to be shut, and left a guard of ten ruffians to see that she did not escape. Ann took her four little Burman girls, retired to an inner room, and barred the doors. The guards instantly shouted:
"Unbar the doors and come out, or we will break the house down!"
This Mrs. Judson obstinately refused to do. Then the guard tried a new refinement of cruelty to bring her to terms. They took her two Bengalee servants and began to torture them. She could not endure this, so she called the head man to the window, and promised to make them all a present in the morning if they would release the servants, and after much debate they consented.
The next morning she sent Moung Ing to see if he could find out how it fared with her husband, and to give him food if he was still living. He returned to tell the story of the death-prison and the fetters.
"The point of my anguish now was," Mrs. Judson wrote afterward, "that I was a prisoner myself, and could make no efforts for the release of the missionaries."
But she did make efforts, in spite of her anguish, in spite of the fact that she was a prisoner. She begged and entreated the magistrate to let her go to some member of the government to state her case.
"I dare not let you go," he said, "for fear you will escape.
Then she wrote a note to the queen's sister, who had been very friendly, asking her to help secure the release of the teachers. The note was returned with the message, "I do not understand it." In reality the princess would have been glad to help, but feared the queen.
On the third day Ann sent a note to the governor of the city, who had the direction of the prison affairs, asking to be allowed to visit him with a present. That had the desired effect. The governor received her pleasantly, and heard her story. He told her that he could not release the missionaries from prison or from irons, but that he could make their situation more comfortable. "There is my head officer," he said; "you must consult with him about the means."
Ann looked at the man. "His countenance," she described him, "presented the most perfect assemblage of all the evil passions of human nature." This fine specimen of manliness took Mrs. Judson aside, and endeavored to convince her that she herself, as well as the prisoners, was entirely at his disposal; that their future comfort must depend on her liberality in regard to presents; and that these must be made in a private way, and unknown to any officer of the government. She wasted no time in indignant protest, but went straight to the point:
"What must I do to obtain a mitigation of the present sufferings of the two teachers?"
"Pay to me two hundred ticals (about $100), two pieces of fine cloth, and two pieces of handkerchiefs."
This was about what Mrs. Judson expected, and she had some money with her.
"Here are two hundred ticals," she said, but the other articles are not in my possession."
The prince of grafters hesitated for some time; but fearing to lose so much money, he concluded to take it, and promised to relieve the teachers from their most painful situation.
Then she returned to the governor and secured a pass to enter the prison. She never had the heart to describe that first meeting with her husband in prison; but Mr. Gouger, one of the English prisoners told about it. "At the moment of their interview outside the wicket door, I had to hobble to the spot to receive my daily bundle of provisions, and the heartrending scene which I there beheld was one which it is impossible to forget. Poor Judson was fastidiously neat in person and apparel, but two nights of restless torture of body and anxiety of mind had imparted to his countenance a haggard and deathlike expression, while it would be hardly decent to advert in more than general terms to his begrimed and impure exterior. No wonder his wife, shocked at the change, hid her face in her hands, overwhelmed with grief."
Mr. Judson crawled to the door of the prison and tried to talk with his wife about arrangements for his release. But the iron-hearted jailers could not endure to see them enjoy so great consolation, and they ordered Mrs. Judson to leave.
"But see," she protested, "here is the order from the governor for my admittance."
"Depart," they harshly repeated," or we will pull you out!"
But that same evening the missionaries, together with the other foreigners, who also paid two hundred ticals, were taken out of the common prison and confined in an open shed in the prison enclosure. Mrs. Judson was allowed to send them food and mats to sleep on, but was not permitted to enter again for several days.
Next, Ann tried to get a petition presented to the queen. But no person in disgrace with the king could enter the palace, so she tried to get it presented through the help of the wife of the queen's brother. She took with her, of course, a present of considerable value. She found the lady lolling on the carpet, with her attendants around her.
Careful, careful, Ann Judson; remember that your husband is in prison, and you are in distress; you must be very humble, and prepared for a cold reception. But the intrepid woman waited not to receive the usual question to a suppliant, "What do you want?" but in a bold, earnest, yet respectful manner stated her distress and asked for the lady's assistance.
She partly raised her head, opened the present, and coolly replied: "Your case is not singular; all foreigners are treated alike."
"But it is singular," Ann protested; "we are Americans; we have nothing to do with war or politics, and came to Ava at the king's command."
"But what can I do—I am not the king?
"You can state the case to the queen, and thus obtain their release." Then Ann went straight for the woman's heart. "Put yourself in my place; if you were alone in America, your husband in prison, in irons, what would you do?"
Then said the princess, "I will present your petition; come again to-morrow."
But the next day Mrs. Judson had enough to do to prepare for another trial. She was politely informed, "The officers will visit your house tomorrow." That meant confiscation of everything valuable, and she spent the time in secreting as many little articles as possible, together with considerable silver money. She knew that if it was discovered she might be imprisoned, but she knew of no other way to procure money if the war should be prolonged.
Three officials came, with forty or fifty followers. They were very considerate; only the officers and one secretary entered the house. "Very painful to us, you know, but it is the king's order. Where are your silver, gold, and jewels?"
"I have no gold and jewels; but here is the key to the trunk which contains the silver. This money was sent to build a mission house and for our support while teaching the religion of Christ, is it suitable for you to take it?"
"H'm, we will state the case to the king. But is this all the silver you have "
Now Ann Judson could suffer all things, but she could not tell a lie. "The house is in your possession," she replied; "search for yourselves."
But they did not find it, and they also left untouched some clothing, a work-table and a rocking- chair, "presents from my beloved brother," Ann calls them. The officers who took the property reported to the king, "Judson is a true teacher; we found nothing at his house but what belongs to priests."
When this trying scene was over, Mrs. Judson hastened to the queen's brother's wife to find what had been the fate of her petition. All her hopes were dashed to the ground. "I stated your case to the queen," the lady coolly said, "and her majesty replied, 'The teachers will not die; let them remain as they are.'"
Heavy-hearted, she started homeward. On her way she attempted to visit the prison, but was harshly refused admittance. Then she attempted to communicate by writing, but it was soon discovered, and the messenger beaten and put in the stocks.
For months Mrs. Judson was harassed by the insatiable desire of the officials to enrich themselves through the misfortune of the missionaries.
"How much did you give the governor and prison officers to release the teachers from the inner prison?" the confiscation officers asked her. She honestly told them, and they demanded it from the governor. He went into a dreadful rage, and threatened to put all the prisoners back into the inner prison. Mrs. Judson went to him the next morning, and he broke out at her:
"You are very bad; why did you tell the royal treasurer you had given me so much money?"
"The treasurer inquired; what could I say?
"Say that you had given nothing, and I would have made the teachers comfortable."
"But I cannot tell a falsehood. If you had stood by me with your knife raised I could not have said what you suggest.''
Thus the months went on, with continual extortions and oppressions. For seven months hardly a day passed that Mrs. Judson did not visit some member of government or of the royal family, and she made a number of friends who were ready to assist her with food and in other ways, but no one dared to speak a word in favor of the release of the prisoners while there were such continual reports of the success of the English army. At one time there was a leader named Bandoola in great favor at Ava, and with fear and trembling Ann approached him with a petition. He responded obligingly, and bade her come again. She ran to the prison with this good news; but the next day Bandoola replied, by his wife, that when he had retaken Rangoon and expelled the English he would release the prisoners. So again their hopes were dashed.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Judson had been permitted to make a little bamboo room in the prison enclosure, where Mr. Judson could be much by himself, and where she was sometimes allowed to spend two or three hours with him. Every day she brought or sent him food; once she even managed to make something from buffalo meat and plantain that might be called a mince pie, and sent it by smiling Moung Ing. But Judson was so overcome by this reminiscence of an old-time New England Thanksgiving that he could only bury his face in his hands and weep, and he gave the pie to a fellow prisoner.
In the latter part of these months of trials, January 26, 1825, a baby girl, Maria Elizabeth, was born to the Judsons, and for several weeks Mrs. Judson was unable to visit the prison. When the little Maria was about two months old, Mr. Judson sent word one morning that he and all the other white prisoners were thrust back into the inner prison, in five pairs of fetters each; that his mat, pillow, and other belongings had been taken by the jailers.
Ann went immediately to the governor's house. He was not at home, but had ordered his wife to tell her not to ask to have the fetters taken off nor to have the prisoners released, for it could not be done. She went to the prison, but was forbidden to enter. She was determined to see the governor, and returned to his house that same evening, a familiar figure now in Ava, and one that always commanded attention and respect. Long ago she had adopted the Burmese style of dress, as the governor's wife had told her it would make the people more friendly, and had presented her costume to her. Her dark curls were carefully straightened, a fragrant cocoa-blossom drooping like a white plume from the knot upon the crown: her saffron vest thrown open to display the folds of crimson beneath; and a rich silken skirt wrapped closely around her fine figure, sloping back upon the floor. So she appeared to comfort her husband at the prison; so she stood again before the governor of Ava.
"Your lordship has hitherto treated us with the kindness of a father," she said; our obligations to you are very great. What crime has Mr. Judson committed to deserve such additional punishment?"
As the old man looked at the beautiful petitioner, pleading for one that she loved better than life itself, his heart was melted, and he wept like a child. "Tsa-yah-ga-du," he began, a name by which he always called her, "you must believe me when I say that I do not wish to increase the sufferings of the prisoners. I will now tell you that three times I have received intimations to assassinate all the white prisoners privately; but I would not do it. And I repeat it, though I execute all the others, I will never execute your husband. But I cannot release him from confinement, you must not ask it."
The condition of the prisoners was now worse than ever, shut out from every breath of fresh air. Once a whisper passed through the prison that at three in the morning the foreigners would be led away to execution. As the fatal hour drew nigh, they waited with deep solemnity, and prayed together, Mr. Judson's voice for all of them. And still they waited in awful expectancy. The hour passed—they felt that it must have passed, though they had no means of telling the exact time. And so hoping, doubting, fearing, they waited on till the morning dawned and the Tiger Cat came in, kicking the bamboo till the chains rattled, and the five rows of fetters dashed together and sharply pinched the flesh, while he mocked and chucked them under the chin in cruel jest.
Then Mr. Judson was taken with a fever. He surely could not live long in that filthy place, and Mrs. Judson besought the governor again and again, until at last he gave her an official order to take her husband from the inner prison, and to visit him when she chose.
But where should she put him?
Just before this there had been a strange addition to the number of the prisoners. It was a magnificent lion, formerly a great favorite of the king. But as the war progressed, it was whispered that the English bore a lion on their standard, and that the king's lion was the mysterious cause of the Burman defeats. So the noble beast was put into the prison enclosure, confined in a bamboo cage, ironed and barricaded. The queen's brother gave secret directions that the lion should not be fed. Day after day the prisoners were compelled to watch the sufferings of the powerful beast, until at last starvation conquered.
When Mrs. Judson came to minister to her husband's sufferings he told her of this empty lion cage, and begged her to take him there. The Tiger Cat would not hear of such luxury; but the governor would, when Tsa-yah-ga-du pleaded, and in the lion's cage she tended him and brought him medicine and food.
One morning, May 2, 1825, when she was with her husband, the governor sent for her in great haste. But for once the old man seemed at a loss for something to say. I—I only wanted to consult you about my watch," he stammered, and seemed anxious to detain her in conversation.
It was simply a ruse to hold her there while a terrible scene was going on at the prison. When she left to go to her room one of the servants came running, with a ghastly countenance, declaring that all the white prisoners were carried away from Ava.
From Judson the Pioneer by J. Mervin Hall. Philadelphia, Boston: American Baptist Publication Society, 1913. Chapter 11.
From Judson the Pioneer by J. Mervin Hall. Philadelphia, Boston: American Baptist Publication Society, 1913. Chapter 10.
>> Next chapter - The Pioneer's Farewell
>> More Adoniram Judson