H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

The life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore online

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Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 2 of 46)
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The Afghans, in their sacred month of Ramazan, had risen
in revolt, and Sir L. Cavagnari and his mission had all been
massacred (September 3) after a gallant jSght. The news
came on a Sunday, when Bishop French and his archdeacon
were preaching for the Lahore Cathedral Fund at Landour

and Mussoorie. French wrote : —

Mussoorie, September 8.
I meant to have preached the sermon *The glory that Thou
gavest me,' &c, but had left it by mistake in Lahore, and was
thrown back on the one the — rs borrowed in Oxford— * Is not
this great Babylon ? '—and, strange to say, one hour before the
service came the news of that dreadful tragedy at Cabul. The
coincidence of the sermon was so singular that the bishop said it
much affected the people, and certainly they were both attentive
and generous. He thought it was most well timed and appropriate.
Surely there is a providence in these things. Another Cabul war
is imminent. Sir F. Boberts is already sent back to the Kurrum
to march the British troops to Cabul, so I am told ; however, I do
not like making these statements, as all is confusion at the moment.
It affects me much to think of the Httle conversation at the train
in Lahore I had some ten weeks ago with Sir L. Cavagnari on
God's goodness to him in giving him such great success. I tried to
lead him to God as the true author of his good fortune. I hox>e it
may have led him more up to God. '

For a while our military operations seemed to prosper.
The massacre of Cavagnari was in some measure avenged
by the defeat of the Ghilzais at Charasiab, near Cabul, by
General Roberts on October 6. On the 12th the city was

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publicly reoccupied by British forces; but the whole
coimtry was reported to be ' seething.' On the day of the
reoccupation Yakub expressed his wish to abdicate, de-
claring that he would sooner be a grass-cutter in the British
camp than raler of Afghanistan. General Roberts announced
that the English would for a while take over the admini-
stration. The tribes rose up on all sides, and a jihad or
religious war was proclaimed against us.

In December, after a great explosion in the city, General
Roberts felt it prudent to withdraw his whole force within
the cantonments at Sherpur, where for ten days he was
beleaguered by at least loo/xx) tribesmen. At the end of that
time their assaults upon his works completely failed, and he
was able to inflict a severe defeat upon them. The hostile
combination melted as rapidly as it had formed, and Cabul
was again reoccupied. Meantime we had not lost our grip
on Candahar ; and in January, 1880, Bishop French deter-
mined to visit the British camps in that direction, accom-
panied by Mr. Gordon, who had returned meanwhile to his
Belooch mission work.

From Jacobabad on January 25, 1880, the bishop wrote to
his young daughter Edith at Belstead : —

My dearest Edith,

I have started on what may be a long and anxious journey,
and have only time to send a few lines of fatherly love and remem-
brance, begging your prayers that, if it be God's will my plan should
be carried out of reaching Quettah or some of our garrisons beyond
in these perilous and warlike times, I may have an open door pre-
pared for me to the poor English soldiers, and even to the poor
Afghans, to gain entrance and speak a message in His name, and to
His glory, and to the further spread of His kingdom. I feel greatly
how unworthy I am of being an instrument in so great a work, and
sometimes am ready to think that surely I shall soon be laid aside
and another put in my place ; but He knows best His own work,
and chooseth His own servants, and one must not decline His
service till He gives the dismissal. I cannot say I have many
^tokens for good ' as yet ; but I must not say that I have none.
This is a place in which there has been a military force, called the
Sindh Horse, for many years, first formed by a Colonel Jacob. He
would have no religion or worship of God here, yet he tried to keep
up what he thought a high standard of morahty without God and

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Christ, not believing, perhaps, what St. John says, * He that doeth
good is of God.' He succeeded, people say, while he lived pretty
well in keeping up outward decency and good behaviour ; but as it
had no root, except one man's character and example, and there
was no grafting of men's souls into Christ, all withered away, and
things have degenerated even in outward appearance and show of
morality. As my text had it this morning, ^He shall be as the
light when the sun ariseth, even a morning without clouds.' Only
Christ is a cloudless morning, other mornings have their clouds.
He is all truth, all goodness, (HI love, all joy ; and what is His is
abiding. This is a curious place ; the houses are spread through
a great thick wood, which General Jacob had planted in the midst
of a waste. His force was to keep out an Afghan tribe, the Murrees,
who are still a little formidable in restless times like these.
England and the English power is being searched and tried with
God's candles, and the dishonour done to God being shown up to
us. I hope He will graciously forgive us, and not recall the charge
yet put in our hands, but bring many to say, * Come, and let us
return unto the Lord, for He hath torn,' &c. (Hos. vL). We have
had rather a nice congregation this afternoon of officers and others.
There is no organ or harmonium, but I set two tunes—' Hark !
my soul,' and *Sun of nay soul'— and it went off very fairly;
then I foUowed up the morning text with the vei'se that follows,
' He hath made with me an everlasting covenant.' This you can
feel, dear child, I am happy to know, in connexion with your con-
firmation so lately passed, and the light of that everlasting covenant
will shine ever, I pray, brighter and brighter on your path, and fill
your heai-t with joy and hope.

I am hoping to be able to purchase a pony to-morrow, besides
the one I brought out with me from home, as the marches to
Quettah will be long and weary, and too much for one pony.
About seventy-five miles further I can go by a rail, which they
have been hastily constructing about one mile and a half each day ;
lather quick work, is it not? Now they have to rest awhile from
pushing it further, as thick, massive rocks will have to be blasted
and cut through for the further advance of the line. Mr. Gordon
will join me to-morrow, I hope, to proceed with me on this journey,
which he has traversed before, being so great a traveller.

The ' few lines of fatherly love and remembrance ' ran
on for three more pages, but these need not be given here,
and the remaining notices of this campaigning march are
mainly from his letters to Mrs. French : —

^Jacdbdbad, Jan, 27. I preached for some time in the bazaar
yesterday afternoon. I first bought a stool for four annas, and
used it to preach from. There seemed plenty of people who

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understood Hindustani. It is strange to find the change the
railway has made here in nine or ten months. It was the quietest
spot, and now bustle and movement are visible everywhere.*

' JDadur, at foot of Bolan^ Jan, 30. We reached Sibi day before
yesterday, i. e. myself, Mr. Bell (railway inspector), and Colonel
Medley. Mr. Gordon, being rather slow in his movements, and
wanting various articles at Jacobabad, stayed behind for the second
tiain, whose engine broke down, so he had twelve hours at a lone
station in the wilderness ; however, as his bed was with him, he
had a good night's rest in the guard's box, and came on early this
morning to Sibi, and about twelve we started for Dadur, having
borrowed a couple of Belooch horses and sent on our ponies half-
way. The march was about twenty miles, and would have been
hot but for some clouds, which were to us as the "pillar of cloud."
We reached Dadur about four, and put up at a tent which General
Phayre kindly placed at .our disposal. One of the wagons broke,
so the general and officers lent us their spare blankets and coats,
and I have had a capital night. I scarcely know whether we shall
be ^ble to get camels till the evening. The air is very fine here ;
I wish you could enjoy it too. They say that up the pass it is
terribly cold, but that you would not mind. The mountains of the
Bolan tower above us, but there is no snow upon them. The pre-
sence of British troops induces the people to sow very much more
wheat in the underlying plains than when left to their own
tyrannical rulers. The rest of brain from letters is very refreshing,
tJtiough I have to talk a good deal.'

' Kirttay Bolan Pass, Feb. i {Sunday). I have just had a service
with two officers and two sergeants, who came in on their way to
Oandahar. It was only on Friday evening that we got our camels,
and that with difficulty, and began to lade them at four next
morning, and sent them off, starting ourselves at eight. I had
a pony lent me by Captain d'Aguilar, which is a great convenience,
as I can now do twenty miles a day or over without wearing my
pony out. We rode all day through the Bolan rocks, which are not
very lofty here, not more so than the Westmoreland hills, not
neaiiy so grand and beetling as the Khyber ; but the higher Bolan
is stiJl before us. We crossed and re-crossed the Bolan stream,
which at this season is nowhere more than two feet deep, except in
pools here and there, which are deep and beautifully green in
colour. One well-known and extremely deep pool imderlies and
pierces a cavern, which reaches far into the heart of the rocks, and
is an interesting object ; it lies about the haKway of our yesterday's

'A dak bungalow has been built here in the last twelvemonths
of a rough and unfinished kind, but highly welcome to the traveller.
Mr. Gordon has also his little tent put up. Here and there at every
six or seven miles through the pass is a small detachment of native

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troops, with commissariat stores for man and beast, which are
dealt out in rations, and for which payment is made afterwards.
The walls of the bungalow are almost papered with illustrated
scenes out of the Graphic^ chiefly war-scenes among the Afghans
and Zulus. The bungalow is in a wide plain with rocks encircling
it on all sides ; it is mostly what the natives call a liikduk, i. e.
a dreary, desolate, treeless, almost shrubless waste, except in one
comer where is a village and some irrigation. The Bolan river
disappears at the opposite end of the plain underground, and
reappears here. The water is excellent. Mr. Gordon, unhappily,
is suffering from fever stilL The officers here are pretty fresh
from England, and amuse themselves with dogs and goats, guns
and fishing-rods ; for fish abound in the pools, the best is the famous
Indus river-fish, the marsya. The goats are very ravenous, eating
even newspapers ; one of them ran off with a bit of my Guardian.
The riding all day would have been warm but for the clouds which
nearly overspread the sky, and were to us like the pillar of cloud
by day, and I felt most thankful.'

^Dasht Kadmoaza, Feb. 4. I hope you may have got a letter I left
to be forwarded from Kirtta. Since then I have been on horseback
most of the time, worried and harassed a good deal with the
almost impossibility of keeping one's servants and ponies up, so
numbed and unnerved are they by the cold and bitterly cutting
and frosty winds, which pour down these passes like funnels, and
seem to clot and curdle one's blood almost. From Kirtta we rode
twenty-four miles on Monday to a place called Much, which was
as bleak and desolate a spot in the Bolan defiles as is conceivable.
The tents seemed hanging in shreds with the violence of the blasts,
and the poor little stone huts— one of which was dignified with the
name of mess-house, and was occupied by the two young officers in
charge— were alone available for shelter. In the mess-house I put
up my bed and slept well, after having a short prayer-service with
the officers. Yesterday I started for Sir-i-Bolan first, where I hoped
to hold a service with some five or six officers, but they were too
heavily occupied with transport duties. I had a little light break-
fast and chat with Colonel - — and the rest, and then rode on
twelve miles further to the higher Bolan ranges and passes, which
are much grander and more impressively wild and massive, with
precipices and caves and curious rocky terraces with huge boulders
overhanging them, beneath which a few concealed bandits with
jazayils might keep at bay a large force defiling up the goj^es and
chasms. I am glad to think I may see them again on returning.
They almost seem to me among the most glorious of the works
of God, though but wrecks of old formations and well-compacted
strata. At Dozan, on the way, I found a small encampment where
the hut or mess-house was far more comfortable, and there I left
Gordon for the night to bring up the rear, as Captain d'Aguilar's

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seyce had left my borrowed pony behind him, and I had to send
a sowar in search of him. The fearful cold of the night before had
killed a number of bullocks. Eleven lay dead near the huts.
Lieutenant Adye was going to have them burnt. We had no
shelter for them, and they simply died of cold ; and three or four
poor drivers also— one of them lies a corpse outside the little
caravanserai where I put up last night, a sorrowful and pitiable
sight. It reminds one of the words, *' And the angol of death
spread his wings on the blast." This is the third day that this
wintry and killing blast has swept through the Bolan^ and I am
waiting here in a rough and dirty hut, where six or seven natives
are put up also— the baboo in charge and his servants, Beloochis
mostly. They understand Persian, so I tried to give them a little
teaching out of the Persian gospel this morning ; but the cold is
almost paralyzing. It is a longish hut, at one end of which is the
only fireplace in the caravanserai, and greatly did I enjoy the
warmth at night, and slept well, in spite of the natives chattering
till late, coughing loudly, &c, which I begged them to discontinue.
At the other end they have a little chaiing dish of their own, with
a wood fire, which makes the room almost invisible with smoke.
However, I can only be too thankful to be thus far safe from the
biting hurricane of frost. I have a wash-leather waistcoat, which
Mr. Gordon kindly had made for me at Jacobabad, and a splendid
posteen I bought there of a most fleecy sheep, which is indispens-
able in these journeys. The Khansaman also has his own, poor man !
His patience is almost exhausted ; he says it is not a matter of com-
fort, but of preserving life. It may be weeks before such a desolating
wintry storm as this returns again. One poor English sergeant
alone is here, forwarding siege wagons and commissariat supplies.
These conductors on the way seem half-dead with worry, not being
able to push the siege train on, through stupor which the cold has
induced in men and animals. Having only one pony yesterday,
I rode partly on a camel, and felt the cold terribly. I am very well,
however, and one can't expect a journey in these inhuman and
death-like solitudes without some trouble. C. would draw a laugh-
able picture of me on the camel, with my sheep-skin and luggage on
each side of me. I have not the gift of this pictorial illustration.'

* Quettah, Feb. 7. So many thanks for your dear letters received
this morning, which I shall be able to think over and answer
better when I have a little leisure. I am sad to think you cannot
agree with me in my views about going on to Candahar, but the
way seems so open, and I shall see so much more of the army by
so doing, that I can hardly but believe that it is right for me to go
on, and so I have indented for six mules for Monday or Tuesday
next. Had I known the Kurrum was so much in need of pastoral
help, I might possibly have chosen that route instead. We arrived
here the day before yesterday (Thursday), after a ride of some

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twenty-two miles through a country of striking hill-ranges, with
(near Quettah) some orchards, leafless however, and flowerless at
present ; and memorials of the severe cold we encountered, in the
shape of dead beasts, and one corpse of a poor driver, who seemed,
however, well-clad, and to have died as in sleep, perfectly restful to
all appearance. The Candahar marches will occupy eleven or
twelve days, including one or two rest-days ; the country seems
fairly open, and we shall have escorts (D. V.). We quartered our-
selves first at Dr. Veale's house, a pious doctor here ; the halting-
place we had thought of six miles back was so exceedingly dreary
and inhospitable that we were glad to come on further with two of
our camels. In the afternoon we came over to the Residency
House (Sir R. Sandeman's), which he desired his locum tenens to
place at our disposal. There is little furniture, but the floors are
carpeted with Persian carpets ! - a little malapropos in such a bleak
and wintry region, with little but mud huts, and snowy hills, and
mountain streams all around.'

* QuettaJif Feb, 3. Quinquagesima Sunday, We had a devotional
service yesterday evening, to which six gentlemen came. The
Artillery were marched to a nice tent service (in a large tent) this
morning ; some fifty perhaps were present, including officers and
civilians. I preached from Numbers x. 34-36, as appropriate to the
approaching march to the siege of Ghuzni, not, however, making
the Afghans to be necessarily God's enemies. Tiiere were ten at the
Lord's Supper, including ourselves, and Rs. 30 offertory for the
A.C.S. I feared we should have snow last night, but it has not
fallen. The khansaman has a sore foot from a weight falling upon it.
He must ride all through the march if he can go at all. It will be
a joy to turn my face homewards and youwards again. I hope to
be able to write from the halting-places where it is possible. We
leave the very cold region after three or four marches, which will
be very agreeable. I am hoping to preach this afternoon on the
jailor at Philippi, and am preparing, so must send this off. The
colonel in command here did not attend service to-day, and I have
felt it right to remonstrate with him in a letter. May God Himself
speak to his heart I The other colonel was at the Lord's Supper.
We had two hymns, "New every morning," and "Art thou
weary?" The dear girls would smile at my determination to
make everybody sing. Much love to them.'

* Queiiah, Feb, 10. We are all ready to start. ... I am glad
I brought some forms of consecration of cemeteries, as the cemetery
here is all but in readiness, and may be consecrated on my return
( D. V. ). We had a little prayer-meeting yesterday afternoon ; Dr. V.
prayed for my visitation very sweetly, and praised God for bringing
me among them in these lone and far regions, which will comfort
you about me.

' On the whole I feel rather disappointed with the Quettah results,

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but I trust to be moi*e stimulated and wakened up for future
effort^ One feels so much for these troops on their way to the
front May the great Master Sower Himself sow the seed and His
Spirit water it ! '

* Abdullah KJuin, Kakila. Feb, 12. You will be glad to hear that we
have got on as far as nearly fifty miles from Quettah, and about one-
third of the way to Gandahar. We rode out on Tuesday evening
only nine miles ; yesterday, some twenty-two ; to-day, fifteen or so.
The riding and fine air does me good, and one meets with little
opportunities of speaking for Christ. We hope to pass the Khojuk
Pass to-morrow, if snow does not prevent, but we are a little appre-
hensive of it. The nearer hills are beautifully ribbed with snow-
lines. We have been traversing the Pishin valley. ... At this
place a pious officer (Major Waller) has made us occupy the one
room they have— he and a brother officer. Last night we had
a nice warm hut of mud (we made a fire though there was no
chimney), and so I slept soundly. The night before we managed
in a sort of hayloft where commissariat grass is stored.

* In this scene of confusion I can only send rough ill-digested
letters. In Gandahar 1 hope we may have quiet quarters, and the
gaps I must fill up when we meet (D. V.).'

^Abdullah Khan, Feb. 14. We are snowed up here for the last two
days untowardly, and I fear for two days more shall be unable to
stir backwards or forwards. But it is a great Providence that has
brought us at this crisis to a pious officer's care in a really warm
though rough hut, with abundant provision, even milk, which is
a rare luxury in these parts. I am making a great push in Pushtu,
getting a little conversational experience, and the officer (Major
Waller) has useful books. I fear it is doubtful now whether we
can reach Gandahar by to-morrow (Sunday) week. The regiments
behind us will be in poor plight, stopped short with only tents in
this inclement season.

' You will be disappointed that your loving sacrifice of comfort
and happiness by my absence seems so ill repaid by opportunities
of work to be done. There is only one other young officer (Jones)
and a sergeant here. The little fort or sarai is crowded with
Afghans, bullocks, camels, asses, horses, &c., and the whole country
overmantled with from one to two feet of brilliant snow. I fear
that in the pass the snow is three or four feet deep.

' It seems a long time to have no news from the outer world, but
there was no reason to anticipate such a downfall. For years there
has not been such. It will be good for the country, which has
suffered severely for want of rain. The people are said to be very
quiet and inoffensive in these parts, though Afghans ; they seem
pleased at my knowing their language, and shake hands fiiendlily.
It is certainly very far removed from my plan to be cut off thus
from all active duty. I pray it may not be lost time for head and

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heart. I never yet in India have been in the snows, except for
a day or two in Amarnath. The servants of course are very
unhappy, but they are nearly as well off as ourselves. All seem to
anticipate a struggle at Ghuzni, and Mr. Gordon hopes to be able to
go on with them. His fever still hangs about him. The young
officer and he have been out in search of grouse this morning, but
found it too hard work to go far. We have fowls and mutton.

' I could wish I had a hut of my own where the Afghans could
visit me ; we all four live in one room. You will quite envy me,
as I am sure you would enjoy this deep (deeper than English) snow,
and you will find the heat already beginning to try you, I fear.'

His prayer that the time here spent might not be lost
was answered. Writing to his eldest daughter from Lahore
under date April 13, 1880, he said : —

* A young officer writes to me from the front to-day, saying that
at a critical moment, when attacked by enemies, a little passage
I copied out for him from Carlyle's Frederick the Great helped him.
The extract is :—

' " King Frederick's soldiers on the eve of battle settle their bits
of worldly business, and wind up many of them with hoarse
whisper of prayer. Oliver Cromwell's soldiers did so, and Gustav
Adolphus' ; in fact, I think, all good soldiers."

* I picked it out of an odd volume I found at a rest-house the
days we were snowed up at Abdullah EJian, Kakila. How
curiously little helps arise in unlooked-for providences of our God !'

^Drdbaey, en route for Candahar, Feb. 17. The Khojuk Pass with
its deep snows was repoited practicable for riding on Sunday, so we
started on Monday. It was rather a trying day, but I am none the
worse. We do not expect to encounter more snow. I have no
table to w^rite on, and the hut is so dark I hardly know how to pen
these few lines, but you will like to have this short assurance of
health and safety, thank God, thus far.'

' CandaJiar, Feb. 21, 1880. I know you will be glad to hear of my
safe arrival with no worse effect than a cold. . . . The general
(Stewart) entertains me, and is most kind and hospitable. He is
a grand specimen of the good old British and Highland officer,
a communicant, and exercising an admirable influence morally on
all under his command. He occupies a native house in a large walled
fruit garden divided out into parterres and grass-plots, with rows

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 2 of 46)