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 3 of 46)
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or avenues of peach and apricot trees. The house was a summer
house formerly occupied by the ladies of the governor, one of the
Barukzais, to which clan the Ameer belonged. The city is not at
all splendid, made up chiefly of mud houses of a bee-hive shape,
almost reminding one of the wigwam of the North-West American
Indians ; still they keep out the cold and protect the dirt, which to

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the vulgar Afghan would he perhaps equally desirahle. However,
the fruit garden in the stiflF Elizabethan style is very delightful
after the wildernesses and defiles of stem wild desolation which
-we have travelled through; and indeed the whole environs of
Candahar consist of fruit gardens and cemeteries, with cypress
avenues and a very few other trees. At one point it approaches
a fine hill-range, which towers above it with colossal grandeur.
I am told the bazaai* is singularly well-furnished and elegant
in its arrangements ; but even with four sowars as escort I did not
think, it well to enter through the bazaar yesterday evening, as
another way was open to the fort and camp behind the city. It is
now two months since the last Ghazi attiack took place. There is
one tall hill called the " Little Khyber," which Mr. Gordon tried
to scale last year, but found it impracticable, though he success-
fiilly tried Monte Bosa. A nimiber of officers live here and are
associated in the mess— one of the young Muirs, Major Euan
Smith, &c

' To-day I keep quiet to prepare for to-morrow, and nursed my
cold last evening by abstaining from the mess dinner, especially as
it was Friday. I was so afraid I might not reach Candahar before
this Sunday. I am sorely pushed for time, as I have incessant
sermons and lectures before me. Pray that my words may be
Christ's own, and accompanied by His blessing/

' Feb. 23. With eight or ten regiments here, and such a multi-
tude of officers and men, Uttle rest is permitted of any kind, yet
I cannot but feel that it was by God's counsel that I came here, as
the more serious part of the community so often express their
thankful appreciation of the effort. I trust all the glory may be
His, who from hour to hour supports me. There will be doubtless
cavillers and scoffers, but some unsettled minds may be more
established, I trust, and some seeking souls comforted and helped.
The parade service in the open field yesterday was a striking sight.
I gave an extempore address on Neh. v. 15, " So did not I, because
of the fear of God." I was much helped to speak out, and was well
heard throughout, I find, though with a bad cold I feared it might
be otherwise. In the afternoon I addressed thirty or more in
hospital on Jonah iv. In the evening I preached again in the
garrison chapel, which holds about 100 and was rather well filled,
on the Philippian jailer. I did not speak out so freely, but three
extempore sermons are heavy. We had thirty-one at the Holy
Communion. I called on the generals here to-day— Generals
PaUiser, Hughes, and Barter. Three out of the four here were at
church and at least two at the Holy Communion yesterday. The
other was ill of gout and unable to get out. To-night I addressed
fifty or sixty officers and men on 3 John. It was a cheering and,
to me at least, very helpful service ; much thanks were expressed.
You will be glad of this evidence of the visit being well-timed and
resp« aded to by ready attention of good audiences. I try to place
v^ L II. C

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myself lowlily, and with conviction of much insufficiency, at the
disposal of Him whose minister I am. There is a succession of
addresses for every day except to-morrow, when I visit the chief

*This morning Mr. Gordon and I visited the fort and city
with an escort of three guards, with bayonets and guns. The
fort is in a very dilapidated condition, with faded relics of old
barbaric pomp, rich and gaudy colouring, here and there some
well-chased wood-work, and casts in the plaster of Paris, which
is made here of very strong and durable texture, and holds
arches in excellent support of its own tenacity, without key-
stones or appliance of the rules which regulate the formation of
arches. . . .

* There is a semicircle of more or less striking hills, especially
the conical ones, below which is a fringe of native regiments - Sikh,
Bengali, Ghoorkas, Sindh Horse, &c. Within these again ai*e
various batteries of Artillery, with 6oth Rifles, 59th Regiment,
Sappers, &c. Still nearer us, the Commissariat, Hospital, 25th
Bengal Infantry, reaching almost to where we are in the centre of
the horse-shoe, with the fruit and flower garden and streams from
the Argandab river, which somehow pierces or finds its way round
the semicircle of hills. I am taken great care of, almost too much
80. Nobody seems to know anything of the future policy of the

*jPeft. 28. I am getting my commissariat ready to start on
Monday, having also to lecture this evening, and preach twice
to-morrow. It has been almost the hardest time I have yet had,
except perhaps Simla. I wish I could think it had been more
useful, but living in such a crowd does not supply many of the
opportunities of personal intercourse one desires. To preserve
self-possession is so difficult. I got a quiet evening yesterday
(Friday) to prepare for to-morrow, declining an invitation to the
Ghoorka mess. I am to call on the native governor of the city,
Shore Ali, this afternoon with an escort. Some moollahs talk of
calling to-morrow between services, as they were interested in
some remarks I let drop some days ago here. General Stewart is
just gazetted Commander-in-Chief of Madras. He has been uni-
formly civil and kind.'

^FortCJiaman^, March 3 (on the return route from Candahar).
Three days' long and fatiguing marches have brought me nearly
halfway to Quettah, and but for the sickness of my Simla pony
I should have some hope of reaching Quettah by Sunday, as
I proposed to do, Sunday, I preached at the large parade sei-vice
and in the garrison chapel, besides visiting hospitals and reading

^ Chaman is the spot where Major Waudby and his followers were cut
up a few weeks later by the tribesmen.

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with an officer who was stabhed by a Ghazi the day before, but not
mortally, I trust. It was a Captain Greaves of the Artillery. I ad-
dressed a tea-party of about 120 soldiers on Saturday evening
before dining with the Artillery. Beneath the fine hills which
surround Candahar it was heart -gladdening to think of Moses'
frequent reference to God as ** Israel's Kock," as well as to His
shepherd guidance of them.

' I left Mr. Goi-don at about the eighth mile from Candahar, and
was sorry to part with him. . . . He stays at Candahar for the
present. The sun is a little powerful now, still it is not severely
hot. I have a thick karkee pagri on my hat, and almost wish
I had it on a white helmet, but I have not even had a headache.
The snows have left a thin coating of green blades of grass on the
plains we pass, which is refreshing after the utter sterility. I work
away with the Afghans and Pathans I meet here and there.'

The bishop little thought that this would be his final
parting with his friend. In view of what happened later,
a special interest attaches to a letter from Gordon to Mrs.
French to reassure her as concerned her husband^s safety.
It is also an independent testimony to the value set upon
the bishop's visit : —

My deab Mrs. French, Candahar, Feb, 25, 1880.

I have several times wished to write to you in the course of
our journey, and I am sure you will be glad to hear that the bishop
has arrived safely, and I think I may say on the whole comfoi'tably,
although I have sometimes been anxious lest the fatigue of double
marches and the effect of the cold should overtax his powers of
endurance. Now, however, that he is safe and sound I feel little
apprehension about the return journey, for the weather is likely to
improve, and this is the only source of risk now that the country
is safe and the roads greatly improved upon our former experience.
You will have had a better description in the bishop's letters than
1 can give you of the incidents and sceneiy of our route, and I think
he finds more in the latter to admire than most of us.

But, while I am not enthusiastic in praise of the country and
people, I feel very thankful for the reception which the bishop has
had among ofiicers and soldiers, both here and on the journey ; and
the good which he is able to do is a great compensation for the
fatigue which he has undergone. The meetings and services here
are very cheering, and will I am sure long be remembered by those
who have attended them. The bishop has a cold which needs
nursing, the result I think of wet feet through walking in the snow
on the Khojuk Pass, I am thankful that there has been no worse
result from the bold experiment, and I hope that he will soon be

c 2

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better, as he has a wonderful constitution and does things "which
I cannot emulate. I have every hope that through God's goodness
you will see him back safely before Easter. My only regret is that
I shall not be with him on his return journey to assist him, but
there seems so much to be done here that he feels that it is my
duty to remain and minister to the Bombay forces which will
shortly arrive. Please to give my kindest regards to your
daughters, and excuse a short letter under pressure of engage-

°^®^ ®* Yours very sincerely,


But to resume the bishop's own letters.

* QueitaJi, Monday, March 8. I reached this after an early march
yesterday at 8 a.m., having pledged myself for sei-vices at 11.30 and
5, which I thank God I was able to accomplish— 150 miles in six
days and a bit is pretty well at my age. A soldier and a clerk came
to me this morning to beg me to have the Lord's Supper with them,
as they were not able to come yesterday through press of work.
I felt much refreshed by their joy in God's services, and soon had
my table-cloth and vessels ready for them. I consecrated the
cemetery here this morning, being up early to mark out the limits
of the Church of England, Koman Catholic, and Nonconformist
portions. I got the colonel to take part, the same I wrote to about
Church. I have had hard letter-writing to-day on various business
matters which wUl find their way after me, oozing through the
strata of distance. I have got one hundred miles for the next five
days, then a Sunday at Sibi (if possible), where the rail begins. . . .
I met officers every day along the line of march, and got several
little services and pleasant ones.'

To Wilfrid. ^ ^ •»*- ,

Dadur, Marm 12.

To-day we marched about eighteen miles through the lower
parts of the Bolan Pass. My four mules do all the carrying work
very well, I have a table with me (folding up)~a stool made of
reeds ; a basket called a lunch-basket for tea, sugar, biscuits, con-
densed milk (for fresh milk is seldom to be had), butter in a canister
from England, a little jam (when not used up as mine is now), salt
and pepper, and all the Uttle etceteras of a march. Then I have
a plain lamp for candles, a tin or copper basin (which I bought in
the bazaar at Candahar lately, as I used Mr. Gordon's before),
a little Gladstone case for papers and correspondence, a trunk or
two, and three bags, yfiih a bundle of bedding and a rope bedstead.
The bedding consists of a wax cloth to cover all, a felt rug such as
the Pathans use, and a couple of quilts with a horse rug. With all
this one is very independent, especially when I can borrow a nice
tent with a double fly, or k&nat as here they are called. Then my

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servant has two wicker baskets for cooking utensils and his own
bundle of bedding. On these frontier journeys Government
supplies to servants some meal and pulse daily, with a little butter
and salt; and to the horses some grain and grass, or chopped
straw. In the way to-day I met a whole population performing
their annual migration, like swallows, from the plains (where they
spend the winter to avoid the snows and cold of the Khorassanee
hills, and to feed their flocks) back again to the hills, now that the
snow is melted ; so that the whole people have got two homes, one
for the winter and one for the summer. Isn't that clever of them?
It is an amusing sight to see them wading across the Bolan
streams— men, women, and children, all on foot, and barefooted
except the very old and very little; all their worldly goods on
camels, donkeys, bullocks, or their own backs ; driving their flocks
and herds before them, the dogs running beside them. The lambs
are very numerous, and could scarcely be a week old most of them.
The very little lambs are put on camels and donkeys, their bags
and black tents making a fiat surface. I saw six lambs on one
camel, and a dear little girl seated at top nursing one of them,
quite a scene for a painter to describe. Their tents have pretty
curtains to them, and even their bags or sacks are adorned with
kowrie shells or white stones. They are Brahooies, a tribe of
Beloochis, so I do not know their language at all.

^Sukkur^ Monday, March 15. I was very thankful to have been
led to choose Sibi. My second horse had to be given up at the
last stage on Friday night, as Major W. arrived at the halting-
place quite late from England and claimed his horse. My own
(with a few miles' walk) brought me into Sibi at 11.30 on
Saturday, and I arranged for services next day. General Burrows
is in conmiand, and was at the Holy Communion with five others.
I have two addresses and another engagement at Multan, and may
hope to reach you on Friday evening. I am sure you will thank
God for bringing me in safety through this journey, bronzed rather
but nothing worse.'

For his services on this occasion the bishop became
entitled to the Afghan war-medal (not, as has been
erroneously stated, a sword of honour), and from time to
time at distributions of school medals and prizes he would
allude smilingly to himself as being a recent medallist
also. He heard of the award in the spring of 1882, and
wrote to Mrs. French : —

* It was so curious you should be the first to tell me I had been
presented with the war medal. I found it was known by some of
the oificers on Saturday evening at the great gathering at Govern-
ment House. I cannot think to whom I am indebted for saying

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an3rthing about it. The whole particulars were so accurately given
it perfectly amazes me. I suppose some will treat me as Eliab
did David. I should certainly never have dreamt of asking for
a military medal. If I ever wear it, I shall think I am carrying
Mr. Gordon's rather than mine.'

But though this journey was so prosperous, a heavy trial
was in store for him — a national disaster accompanied
with a home stroke of poignant anguisK To understand it
it is needftd to revert a little to the course of public

In April, 1880, Sir Donald Stewart set out on his march
by Ghuzni to Cabul, leaving General Primrose in military
command at Candahar. He dispersed a great gathering
of Ghazis in the battle of Ahmed Kieyl, and relieved
Sir F. Roberts, as senior officer, of the supreme command in
North-East Afghanistan, where Sir L. Cavagnari s murder
had been ftdly punished, the kotwal of Cabul and many
others had been hung, and Yakub himself— as the result of
a Commission of Inquiry — had been deported as a State
prisoner to India. The troops were weary of fighting and
exposure in the passes, and the more the tribesmen saw
of them the less they liked their presence ; there seemed
no object in continuing the occupation if only a ruler
could be found whom the Afghans would obey. There were
several candidates for the dangerous honour. Of these,
Abdul Eahman, a nephew of the great Shore Ali, and
long a pensioner of Russia at Tashkend, was on July 22
recognized by the British as Ameer of Cabul. "Western
Afghanistan was still under the lesser Shore Ali, the
same on whom the bishop called at Candahar. Yakub's
younger brother, Ayub, advanced against him from
Herat. Shere Ali's troops went out to meet him, but
that ruler was very doubtful of their temper, and soon
sent back for help. General Burrows was despatched
with a brigade to his assistance. As was expected,
Shere Ali's soldiers mutinied, and, though they were
dispersed with loss, the greater number must have joined
Ayub, arms in hand, and given him full information

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about Burrows' force. On July 27 Burrows was signally
defeated in the battle of Maiwand, losing 1,000 men in
killed and wounded. Primrose was straitly beleaguered
in Candahar, and whilst Stewart continued the evacuation
of Northern Afghanistan by the Khyber, Roberts was de-
spatched from Cabul to retrieve the honour of our arms.
General Phayre advanced more slowly from the south.

Immediately on the receipt of the grave news of Mai-
wand, Bishop French put forth a fresh form of prayer to
be used throughout his diocese.

'Gracious God and Father, who dost not willingly grieve the
children of men but for their profit, we pray Thee to cause this
present chastening to yield in us "the peaceable fruits of righteous-
ness"; that the temporary reverse, in imequal combat, which has
befallen our arms may work in our hearts and lives the purpose of
Thy love. Make Thyself known to the bereaved parents, friends
and lovers, widows and orphans of our fallen soldiers as the God
of patience and consolation, who comforteth them that are cast
down, and healeth the broken in heart. Give vmdom and en-
lightenment to our statesmen and generals, that they " may have
understanding of the times," and may perceive and know what
things they ought to do. . . . Give good heart, endurance, and self-
possession to our forces on the frontier. Save them from panic
and surprise, from disastrous accidents of field and flood. Have
compassion on the sick and wounded, the suffering and the dying,
and according to the greatness of Thy power preserve Thou those
that are appointed to die. For the atoning merits of Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.'

The prayer was somewhat sharply criticized by a portion
of the English press. With reference to this the bishop
wrote to Mrs. French : —

* Don't trouble about newspaper squibs. There are always those
who hate intercessions and are glad to carp and quibble. They do
not perhaps know that " lover and friend " is a Biblical word, nor
that surprises and panics by night are common to all armies!
I don't wish to recall anything. I did strike out "lovers," but put
it in again.'

Soon among those appointed to die was numbered his
own friend, George Maxwell Gordon. He was killed on
August 16, whilst attempting, under heavy fire, to bring

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in from an outlying ziyarat five soldiers who had been
wounded in the disastrous sortie from the walk, which cost
us many valuable lives. By one of those strange contrasts
with which our ordinary life abounds, the bishop had just
returned from an enthusiastic soldiers' meeting, in which
the men had organized a 'nigger entertainment' for his
especial benefit, when the sad news was brought to him.
Few sorrows ever tried him more. His correspondence for
months and even years is full of touching allusions to the
sore bereavement. It may suffice to quote from two of
these letters, the first written on August 27, in the fresh
burst of grief, to Miss Holmes, a principal supporter of
the frontier mission work, and the second to his brother
John at Wells, broaching his scheme for a memorial

To Miss Holmes.

Since your most kind and valuable remittance reached me
by last mail, one of my life's greatest sorrows has in God's
Providence befallen me, i. e. the death in the battle-field of my
beloved brother and friend, and your special fellow-worker, Mr.
Gordon. No doubt he had gone out to care for the wounded and
dying, though particulars have not yet reached, but no matter how
this was, the greatest and noblest of our three Punjab apostles has
been taken from our band. I feel too stunned and distracted to
speak or write calmly about it to-day : I only heard it last night,
but it was confirmed in the journals this morning, and there is
no hope of its being an unfounded rumour as it comes with the
telegraphic despatches : it is a bitter and overwhelming sorrow, for
I never had one other friend who threw himself with more single-
ness of heart and entireness of devotion into the cause and work of
our dear Lord, nor any who espoused my own special plans and
purposes with such imabated and loyal confidence, so that every-
thing we did almost seemed mutual and common, shared between
us, except the special functions and offices of my bishopric His
death was worthy of his life, for he has joined the noble army of
martyrs, and it seems hard to suppose that any one who has
known his character and manner of life should not be better and
purer and more singlehearted for having known him, yet how
often it happens that * the righteous perisheth and no man layeth
it to heart.' I have never heard any one, however, spoken of— by
officers in the army especially— with such admiration and esteem.
I feel his removal has thrown a deep dark shadow over the Church
of God in these parts, which in my present freshness of sorrow

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I can hardly expect to see sanctified. May I be enabled to grasp
more that sure truth, 'Behind a frowning Providence He hides
a smiling face.' The fact is I am hardly able to approach the
subject as yet : its right teachings, perhaps its comforting allevia-
tions, will be granted ere long: but as yet there is only the
appalling and soul-harrowing blank. A great man has fallen this
day in Israel, and that at the hands of those for whom he risked
his life, like the good Samaritan to bind up their wounds, and
pour on them the oil and wine of the rich things of the Gospel.
One seems almost ashamed to have been left when one so vastly
more needed to the Church of God has been taken, but we shall
know hereafter.

The last letter I had from Mr. Gordon was dated July 9. Since
then they have been pretty straitly besieged in Candaliar, scarce
a single messenger succeeding in breaking the closely-watched
barrier : even now the fate of the place is a sealed book to us, only
we know they have lost heavily. I send you two copies of prayers
I have issued for use in my diocese. I doubt not Lord George
Hamilton is right in saying this is the heaviest scourge that has
befaUen us since the Mutiny.

In the family, in private, in public, we have tried to pray, and
those prayers will not have been offered in vain, though in the
exact letter of them they be not answered. What is to be done to
keep up Mr. Gordon's various works I cannot say at present : to
take them persancHly in hand you will see at once is impossible.
My brain often feels very weary and worn, and cannot always last
out under such a pressure of labour : a very little more, and it must
give way, humanly speaking.

The letter to his brother John at "Wells will show how
great a multiplicity of trials were pressing on him towards
the close of this sad year : —

September 15, 1880.

I write this time, I fear, with rather a sunken and stricken heart
from the terrible and successive losses which our Punjab church
and the mission cause at home has incurred in the death of my
beloved friend Gordon, the utter prostration by sickness, perhaps
for ever, of Robert Clark and Sheldon of E^arachi ; the deaths of
Vines and Welland in the last twelve months, some of our best ;
the designation of mission work by Bishop Baring's son, and the
tragical end of the C. M. S. excellent secretary, Mr. Wright. These
blows upon blows seem almost to stun and stagger one. Since my
dear brother Peter's death, I have perhaps never felt a comrade's
death so acutely, though my college friend Lea of Wadham's
removal, and Mr. Knott's, were very painful.

My heart turns toward your loving, brotherly sympathy, which

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has been unfailing, and I know my diocese and myself in this hour
of need and destitution will not be forgotten. It is a comfort to
think of Daniel's words—-* The kingdom shall not be left to other

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 3 of 46)