Maria's Diary Chapter 25
Chance and change are busy ever
Man decays and ages move;
But his mercy waineth never
God is wisdom - God is love.
Because of his enormous debts, Papa decided he had to take the offer of being Consul at Canton, China, and he did so with a sore heart, wondering if he would ever see the rest of us again.
Papa left in January, 1849, aboard the Achilles. He didn’t go directly, but stopped over in Malta, where he was given a very big reception. They acknowledged the work he had done for their country, and presented him with a mahogany chest which contained two candelabra with three light each, and eight silver candlesticks bearing inscriptions. He told them how honoured he was, but he couldn’t stay long as he had to get a steamer to get him to Alexandria for the next part of his trip.
He arrived in Canton in April after a stopover in Hong Kong, where he stayed with Mr. Jardine at his beautiful bungalow close to the large set of buildings where John Charles lives and where the Jardine offices are. He was advised other Europeans i that the Chinese had “no notion of the claims of veracity and always seem to think that lying is safer than the truth.” When he wrote home, he said he was very lonely.
Edgar was in charge of arranging Papa’s messy financial affairs. These problems redoubled in early 1850, when the news arrived, almost simultaneously with Charles’s rejection of the vice-consulship, of the cancellation of his Llynfi Iron Company shares, held as security for loans not just from the company itself but from the London and Blackwall Railway.
The cancellation was technically legal, but Papa said “just at the point it was rising in value and the confiscators knew of its rising value. Half my property is thus destroyed at a blow. I ought not to have left England and trusted to the men who direct the Llynfi Valley Company,” he wrote to Edgar. “The conduct of the company I consider an intolerable injustice. I consider that each of my children is pillaged of nearly 2,000 pounds. I now grieve that I ever left England to be humiliated and scorned here. My sun is fast declining and the infirmities of age intellectually and physically make their gradual inroads.” But Papa gradually recovered his spirits as his salary and Edgar’s astute management of affairs enabled all debts to be gradually settled.
My brother Edgar worked for the Board of Trade. It was his job in 1851 to organise the World Fair at the Crystal Palace, which he did with a great deal of help and support from Prince Albert, the Queen’s consort. They seemed to get on well, and Edgar showed me the letters he had had from the Prince.
Now that we were established in Exeter, Emily got a job teaching at a grammar school, and I worked in the evenings teaching at the Industrial Institute and the Destitute Centre. Edith is a homebody and is happy to be Moma’s companion. Moma is getting more disabled as time goes on with arthritis. She really needs Edith’s help to cope.
Emily and I did manage to get a trip up to Stonyhurst to see Charles, and he seemed very happy in his calling.The grounds are bounded by the River Hodder. We stayed in the village of Hurst. The college is a very prepossessing building, almost like a castle. Charles says the earliest deeds go back to 1200.
It was donated to the Jesuits in 1794 as a home for their school. The original Jesuit school had been the Jesuit mission statement is "Creating people of Good Judgement, Clarity of Thought, and Principled Leaders for the Next Generation." There is great emphasis on realising and helping with the problems of disadvantaged people. It is based on the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola.
We were shown the church of St. Peter’s which is ornately decorated with angels and elaborate patterns.
Charles says their order of each day is as follows: “We rise at 5, and finishing our spiritual duties by 7 we have ¾ hour’s study until ¼ to 8 when we have breakfast. After breakfast, studies come until 10 from which hour until 12 ½ we have Dogmatic Moral, and Canon Law Lectures. Dinner at 1. 2 to 3 Studies. At 3 Hebrew for the 1st year. At 4.30 recreation ‘till 5; after which studies until 20 minutes to 7, at which time we have Circle for an hour, after which supper follows.”
We met two of his friends – Alfred Austin and Charles Boarman. They both seemed very nice men, and very pleased to know Charles.
We didn’t get to see them, but he told us in the library they have Queen Mary’s Book of Hours belonging to Mary Tutor, given to Mary Queen of Scots on the scaffold and then on to her Chaplain. There are 16th century manuscript verses by St. Robert Southwell, and letters of St Edmund Campion. There is also a first folio of Shakespeare.
We were told that in the Long Room, above the bay, between its ceiling and the room above, exists one of the priest holes or hiding places, dating back to the house's time as a private residence in the period of Reuscancy when Jesuits and other Catholic priests were hunted by the authorities. The other hiding place is in the gatehouse, approached up a false chimney. Another was located in the Duchess' Rooms before they were pulled down to make way for the Library wing; it was hidden behind a bookcase, opened by a secret spring. A fourth was under a flagstone in the original washing place, and a further hidden behind a false beam nearby in the 1838 observatory in the gardens.
Charles says his form master is Fr. Cyprian Splaine SJ, a former pupil of the school. “He is preoccupied with minute details of the text and focussed on intricate theological detail. But he is a gentle, rather delicate aesthete, a tortured figure often on the verge of mental illness.
“The First Prefect is Fr Thomas Kay SJ, who has a strict, confrontational approach – particularly, it seems, in the case of Fr Splaine’s charges, perhaps because the authorities sense that the form master is incapable of maintaining discipline.”
It was a lovely visit and we both felt so much better for having seen Charles so settled and happy.
It was after we returned back to Exeter that I heard about the Sisters of Mercy who work mainly in the Plymouth area. The Bishop of Exeter Cathedral knows Lydia Seddon who started the group, and said he had every trust in her work. He suggested that I contact her to see if perhaps I could find out if I have a vocation or not.
Needless to say, Moma and Papa are very against the idea. Emily supports me, but quietly so as not to upset Moma too much. Edith thinks I am mad. Frederick thinks I should make up my own mind. So I have decided, after having an interview with Lydia Seddon, that I will give the convent there a try.
Just to bring things up to date with Papa’s activities:
It was requested by Lewin that Papa provide items from China for the World Fair. Papa was initially confident that “many curious and beautiful objects from this country” would be supplied. However, the merchants in Hong Kong, so solicitous of British arms to further their interests, were not at all interested in contributing “specimens of Chinese products and manufactures”. He encountered “vehement opposition from some of the merchants”; they accused the government of not protecting their rights and were derisive of Chinese culture. Papa managed to raise funds to acquire some fine objects, but while he was away on his tour of the treaty ports, the initiative lapsed and the money had to be returned to the donors. He was furious that “all I had accomplished with the Chinese in getting their support has come to nothing.” Hong Kong’s only representation at the fair was a tiny pagoda, a jade cup and two silver race cups.
Papa sees the British Empire as bound together by “the benefits of profitable commercial interchange” rather than military might. However, in Canton, he quickly acquired a low opinion of the government in China, writing that he did not believe “that ten percent of the revenues reach the Imperial Treasury”, and “every day I have found some new evidence of the universal frustration of Canton’s corruption.”
In defiance of the Nanjing treaty, which was signed at the end of the Opium War, the viceroy Yuh refused to receive Papa in Canton city; and relations remained difficult. The frustrations of dealing with - or being ignored by - Chinese officials altered the perceptions of Papa, who was an impatient man with a profound belief in the civilizing benefits of trade. He was powerless to compel China to abide by the Treaty of Nanjing and permit him to enter the city.
In early 1849, Governor Bonham had managed a meeting with Xu, Yuh’s predecessor, aboard a British ship near the Bogue. But Yuh was unyielding. Papa later wrote: “Year after year I implored Viceroy Yuh to admit me in his presence in his official residence at Canton, or to visit me either at the factories or in Hong Kong, but he was deaf to every entreaty.”
Papa had thought he would see John Charles frequently, but Canton was a long way by sea from Hong Kong, and for the first few years he hardly had a chance to go there.
Papa mixed much with the people, however, and gave in his letters curious and interesting details of their religious and social life, their occupations and amusements, their usages and their superstitions.
He wrote home about the party he hosted after he had been in Canton for a few months. Here are the details: He invited all of European communities of both Hong Kong and Macao, and there were responses from over a hundred of them. Some of them spent a week in the Canton area and Papa took them to see what sights were open to Europeans, including some of the pagodas. From what I understand, Papa entertained them in the quarters of the British trade section, and it was written up in the papers as a very exciting adventure for all.