Maria's Diary 32
We walk by faith, and not by sight;
And if we ever go astray,
Do Thou, O Lord! conduct us right,
And lead us in our onward way.
Papa did carry on his work as Governor, but seemed to be hampered in every thing he did. He tried to get a new situation to improve the water supply and it was voted down. He did not dispute the right of the official Members of Council to vote according to their conscientious convictions. But he had not expected them to vote against his darling scheme without giving him previous notice.
The commerce of the Colony flourished throughout Papa’s administration. His treaty with Siam caused, since May, 1855, large shipments of Siamese produce to pour into Hongkong. Hong Kong became by this time the most extensively visited port in the Pacific.
While the social life of Hongkong continued on the whole to center in Government House, I heard it told that Papa occupied to some extent the position held by his literary confrère and one of his gubernatorial predecessors, Sir J. Davis. Both men were about equal in genius and equally unpopular in Hong Kong. It was often remarked that the friends and admirers of Papa were mostly non-English.
Emily has been joined at Larkbear by Lewin who is on home leave. She seems to have decided to become a Catholic and hopes to enter a convent, and Papa was hoping that Lewin would change her mind, but in fact, he revealed that he himself had turned Roman Catholic, at the request of his new wife to be. Frederick was not at all happy about the situation and he wrote to Papa, “I need scarcely say that Emily is as completely fannatical and wrapped up in her religion and its real and supposed duties. Emily seems very happy and what with her religious duties and her school and visits to the poor, she never seems idle.”
About a week later, Aunt Anne died in the mental institution where she was living. Aunt Lucy was still at Larkbeare, but she felt the oncoming of the condition that had killed her sister. She talks about the hopelessness of her state and the certainty that she should soon be confined. But she also had become a Roman Catholic, and Papa felt that if Lucy found comfort in the change, then that comfort would be his consolation. She died two months later, and Grandpa died on the day of her funeral. They were buried in the same grave.
Emily had sad fits of hysteria for several days after the funeral.
After these deaths, John Charles was given reluctant leave from Jardines to help his brothers decide how to deal with the Larkbear estate. Fredrick said he looked so thin and weak, all skin and bone. He could hardly stand upright. But by the autumn he was better.
The brothers decided that the property should be let. Lewin got married to Mary Talbot and took her back to India with him. John Charles took Emily with him when he returned to China. It was so lovely to see her again.
Then Papa was told that he was not to leave Hong Kong at all, to do any more visits to any other part of China nor communicate in any way with the mandarins.
He wrote to Edgar, “This is the unkindest cut of all. And has inflected a deeper wound on me than anything that has occurred. My first impulse is to throw up the whole business but on reflection I cannot afford to do so. I will bear all, battered, broken, wounded, wearied, wasted - a man whose conduct his masters profess to have approved - but these very masters give me cups of bitterness and gaul to drink.”
We all felt weak for months after the poisoning, and very suspicious of everything we were offered for food or drink. It took a long time to trust our servants again. Our stay had been ruined.
Another blow came when a writer whom Papa knew and had collaborated with previously, George Borrow, published a book The Romany Rye. He apparently had expected the appointment in Canton in 1849 which Papa was given, and he was bitter. His book gave a direct attack on “the old radical” meaning Papa. He said “he would do any dirty deed to get himself a place.” He accused Papa of literary piracy.
The chapter headed Pseudo radicals, said that “Maria found herself as an unmarriable spinster, attracted to Miss Sellon’s Daughters of Mercy “ and I was cruelly held up to mockery. Moma and Papa were both scorned for their “dupes of the Catholic priests”.
Papa was laid low by a fever about this time, and Moma was not much better than before, and she had carbuncles covering her body, destroying her rest, breaking down what there was of strength in her poor frame. And she found the heat unbearable.
And there was the awful news about the death of our brother Charles in Rome. Papa wrote to Edgar, “The mail has overwhelmed us in grief and woe for which we were little prepared. We heard of Charles’s illness direct in a PS to one of his letters - his last letter - and indirectly from the Jesuits on the island. I wish we could obtain his MSS and his mementoes which do not belong to the Society. I am most anxious to hear in particular of his pursuits, his illness and death. Your poor mother has been terribly shaken by this misery, but we think of his purity - his intellectual and oral qualities.”
He wrote to Frederick, “It is truly a mystery that children of ripe age, and the fullness of intellect should precede their parents who they ought rather to follow to the grave. The family have been left ignorant of everything connected with his illness, his death and his occupations. He told us so little. In fact he seldom wrote - poor dear, beloved lost.”
About this time Moma and Edith left as Moma felt there was nothing left to help her on Hong Kong, and hoped perhaps the doctors in England might have some treatment for her. Moma felt she had strength enough to make the journey.
A day after Moma and Edith’s departure, Papa had another heavy blow - the death of Uncle Clarles at Liverpool from a lung complaint.
Papa started making plans for our return to England. In May 1858 he wrote to Frederick, “Hope is blasted, I am growing to be weary - family sorrows and deprivations have followed one another in desperate visitation and I shall be glad to be called home. John Charles has now a fortune which will enable him to comply with any pecuniary conditions. I do not want to pass another summer in the tropics. Three times I have had the Hong Kong fever and age does not give the stamina to bear up against these repeated attacks. Will you consult Palmerston or Clarendon as to the course I should pursue? I will initiate nothing till I know what is best but you may say I am a shaken and shattered man as regards my bodily frame. Though I am not aware that my mind is impaired or that there has been any neglect in public duty.”
Frederick wrote back to Papa, “You know what I think of this Chinese war and there is no good to pain you by discussing it. But I think you now err by taking too desponding a view of your situation. You surely must have surmised that you were in fact declaring war and that it must be a serious matter in every view. When the first news came, John Charles, Lewin and I were sitting at Larkbear together and I said, ‘This is a much more serious matter than you fancy; I should not be surprised if it lead to my father’s recall.’ I am happy to find my prophecy has not yet proved true and surely you have nothing to do but to watch the progress of events. I feel this situation will prevent justice being done to your really great acts in Siam and administration generally. For you to resign now would be certain downfall and it could not but enrage Palmerston as much as it would delight the opposition.”
On September 27, 1858, Papa had a letter from his brother-in-law, Thomas Ward saying that Moma had died in Taunton Hospital, she suffered much but died calmly and resignedly. The doctors said her insides were full of carbuncles and ulcers and such like, and there was no doubt all this was caused by the poisoning. She was the only one who died of all the 300 who were poisoned.
You can imagine how dreadful Papa felt – responsible for our coming with him, and then he couldn't even go home for her funeral. He went back into a big depression.
Papa started thinking he was about to follow Moma. He was discredited, wracked by frequent attacks of fever, but some of his restless spirit remained. In November, his doctor said he should get away from Hong Kong and he set out on a six week tour of the Philippine Islands which are under the control of Spain, so it was not an official visit.
Emily and I spent the time he was gone getting more and more involved in the activities of the Catholic missionaries and before long, I too was baptised as a Roman Catholic.