Maria's Diary 36
God is love; His mercy brightens
All the paths in which we rove
Bliss he wakes and woe he lightens
God is wisdom, God is love.
August 3, 1859
As soon as Papa and I docked in London, after our shipwreck ordeal, we called in at Frederick’s and saw Edith for the first time since she left with Moma. She gave us all the sad details and we made a trip to the graveyard where Moma was buried in Taunton.
I decided to stay with them, but Papa was anxious to do something in London so he went and stayed with Edgar before returning to Exeter. Papa wanted to call in at the Botanical Gardens. The plan is for him to stay about a week in Exeter, and then he will go to Aberdeen for a meeting with the Botanical Association.
Papa has to 'avoid too much excitement' as he was not prepared for the miseries he suffered from the wreck of the 'Alma' and exposure on the coral reef. While in London Papa called daily at the Athenaeum Club.
When we finally got home, we had a letter from Emily waiting for us.
Dear Papa and Maria,
I hope you are having a very smooth trip home. I think of you and pray for you every day.
I am so sorry, Papa, that I felt it was necessary to run away and hide, rather than facing you again, and disobeying you, and your wish for me to leave Hong Kong with you. I didn’t feel I could disappoint you, and I so much want to stay here and become a nun. I know that is not what you would wish for me, but I truly hope you can be happy for me, knowing that I am doing what I feel God wants me to do. I know, as you said, I could be a nun in Exeter and do good work there, but the amount of work here that is needed is so tremendous, and I do feel God can make the most use of me here.
Maria, I am sorry I had to put the burden of knowing my plans, and then keeping them from Papa. I know how you hate to lie, or even evade the truth. But I didn’t want you both giving up your trip home in order to chase after me.
As Maria has probably told you by now, Papa, I ran away to my good friend Alonzo Castro, the Portugeuse man who works as a clerk in the government office. He is a very devout Catholic and has been a huge support to me. I stayed with him and his family for the first week, while I got in contact with the newly arrived head of the convent, Sister Benjamin, and the French St Paul de Chartres Nuns to see if they would take me on as a postulant.
Sister Benjamin said that I was welcome to stay at the asylum and help out with the children they have there, and then in a few months, we can both assess the situation and see if I really do have a vocation. I just love the work, although it is very sad as well, as so many of our babies die.
I was welcomed somewhat cautiously by the other nuns. I, of course, have heard, as no doubt everyone in Hong Kong has, about Sister Benjamin’s disagreements with Father Ambrosi over the nuns giving up their property, and as he is the person in whom I have the most trust regarding my vocation, I felt the need to keep in contact with him. So on Sundays I went to the church in town, rather than here at the convent. I was asked why by various nuns. They seemed to suggest I might be a spy for Father Ambrosi and not on their side in the matter of the future of these buildings.
Sister Benjamin reassured me that I was free to go to Mass wherever I wished. She also presented me with the bill for living with them for the rest of the year, which came to £20 a month, so £160 for the year. I was pleased that I had sold some of my jewellery before so I had no problem paying the bill. I don’t yet know if you will stop my legacy money from Moma from arriving. But no matter, I will find the money I need, and presumably when I make my profession, I will no longer be expected to pay. I do a lot of work for the convent - helping with the cleaning and cooking and looking after the babies. I have told Sister Benjamin that I feel my greatest skill is in teaching, but she says there is little hope of them being able to afford to open a school in the uncertain circumstances that we are now in.
Much love always,
On August 10th, shortly after we arrived back, Papa had an audience with the Queen and gave her the presents from the King of Siam. She seemed to be very supportive of him, and offered her condolences on Moma’s death.
This is from the newspaper after a talk he gave in Exeter.
“As regarding Hong Kong I found 30,000 inhabitants and when I left there were 90,000.
“When I arrived there was a large deficit, I have now left a large surplus.
“Trade before was 300,00£, and now is £7,500,000.
“I went through all the mentions of my name in Hansard during the ten years I was gone. They called me proud, abrupt, insulting, arrogant, cruel, unjust, deceptive, perfidious, corrupt, false, bluster, violent, senseless, obstinate, unjustifiable, over bearing, unbalanced, indiscrete, impolite, immoral, discourteous, atrocious, merciless, unwise, oppressive, mendacious, incapable, thoughtless, servile, presumptuous, absurd, barbarous, tyrannical, the violator of the three commandments of the Decalogue.
“But they also called me humane and polite, knowing and temperate, mild and conciliatory, gentlemanly, courteous and reasonable, dispatches were terse, logical and argumentative, exhibiting great ability, calmness.”
Apparently the audience were in stitches with laughter.
October 12, 1859
Papa has gone into London for the trial relating to the wreck of the Alma. Here is the newspaper report about it.
Board of Trade enquiry at Greenwich police station. On behalf of passengers Sir John Bowring said, “as he left China in a very shattered state of health, he had not an opportunity of making the observation he should otherwise have done. He retired to rest about 10 p.m. on the night preceding the wreck. It was a very fine night. It was intolerably hot. He heard around three crashes at about 3 in the morning. He was in one of the salon cabins. The crashes succeeded one another and very soon the sea rushed in a torrent through portholes on the starboard side. He made his way through the porthole in his cabin and endeavoured to reach the deck. He then saw islands on the port side. It was in the direction of the reef that he saw land. The reef itself he did not see. He could not get on deck so returned to his cabin where after a long wait, he was dragged on deck. More than five minutes before he was dragged through the skylight over the deck. While on deck he could see the reef.
“On the 4th day when we sighted the steamer, there was a heartfelt cheer. The boats were lowered with kegs of fresh water handed ashore and it was all drunk very rapidly. Then the ladies and children embarked and received a tender welcome. But later when we joined the Bombay we were called the Alma Savages, as we had lost all our kit so were costumed in varied and curious ways.
“Dr. Williams was wonderful throughout. Those who got off the boat last suffered the least as they could walk on sails. Crew had fled, so it was almost impossible for the passengers and officers to get the boats down, but they did. A sort of tent was made by hanging some of the sails from rocks. The sea was about 50 yards back from where we were.”
Recommendations from the inquiry for Sir John Bowring to take to P and O Shipping Company.
1 no sufficient lookout. Lascar crew deserted vessel immediate after it struck and left the work of lowering the boats to the officers and passengers
2 we think it is unwise to employ a good number of Lascars
3 an extra vessel should be in Adam to meet emergencies
4 P and O agent in Aden went to see the boat without first finding accommodation for passengers and no hotels at all.”
This is completely off the subject, but when we got home, we read in the papers about what our guest in Hong Kong, Mr. Smith, had done with his Chinese show.
We read that the hall was decorated with Chinese curios and works of art, including Yeh's fur-lined coat, the two wooden crosses he brought back from the execution ground at Canton; a piece of the poisoned bread was also on display. He was given ‘a bit of the famous “poisoned bread”’ by Dr. Kenny, ‘the oldest English practitioner at Hong Kong’, as well as other gifts of shoes for women whose feet had been bound, and carved bracelets, presents that Dr. Kenny must have considered representative of life in the colony and of Chinese culture. Dr. Kenny was one of the five doctors in Hong Kong, led by Dr. Harland, (who died earlier this year while helping a Chinese peasant) who had originally analysed various pieces of the bread for poison in January 1857, and he must have kept at least one piece of the bread as a memento of the incident.
A final, crucial aspect of the show was that some people in England chose to deny that the poisoning incident had ever taken place. English attitudes to the Chinese are shown by their insistence on joking about Cheong Alum’s name, which must have contributed to their predisposition to cast doubt on the reality of the attempted poisoning. It was very real.
Papa made lots of speeches after our time in China. Sometimes he told the audience what our lives in China were like, but more often, it was about the positive things he found that he wanted people to know about - like his time in Siam and the Philippines. When they asked him about how I coped in the shipwreck he said, “She behaved throughout with the most secret heroism”.
The London and China Gazelle had this article about Papa on 26 Oct, 1860.
“Sir John Bowring reappears among his countrymen. It is now a good many years since he fell asleep to English electioneering and review writing and was wafted away to Hong Kong to dream of inculcating the largest population in the globe with the sublime principles he studied in his youth. He now awakes again in England.”
There was much speculation about what Papa would do now that his time in China was over. He was suggested as the MP for Exeter, but that came to nothing and the Isle of Wight were talking of making him Governor, but it didn’t happen.
I accompanied him on many of his engagements, as I did for when Moma was not well enough to do so in Hong Kong. I quite enjoyed doing it, but wished that I could do something more in my area of interest - helping the poor.
Papa was then deputed by the English government to inquire into the state of our commercial relations with the newly formed kingdom of Italy. He had interviews with Count Cavour; but at Rome he was seized with illness, the attack being aggravated by the effects of the arsenic poisoning at Hong Kong three years before. He was so ill that for many days we feared for his life.
When he returned, he was nursed to health by a friend of his, Deborah Castle, who is a very active Unitarian. They seem very close, and I am afraid that he might decide to marry her. She is only two years older than me. All my siblings share my fear.
He also is an active member of the British Association, the Social Science Association, the Devonshire Association, and other institutions, often contributing papers to their proceedings and taking a prominent part in their discussions. He is a constant contributor to the leading reviews and magazines, and delivers many public lectures on oriental topics and the social questions of the day.
A lot of people wanted to know his views on opium, as it seemed as if he had changed his mind from when he was strongly opposed to its use before he went to China. He said his time in China opened his mind about the use of opium, which left the imbiber very soothed and mild, unlike alcohol, which had the opposite effect. “Opium in excess is most deleterious but it has nothing like the effect of spirits. Only 4% of those 90,000 Chinese addicted to opium will die from it.”