committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs


life of mrs. ann h. judson, late missionary to burmah;

With an Account of the American Baptist Mission to that Empire.

Chapter 9

Some account of the Sufferings of the Prisoners during the War.

THE sufferings of the Missionaries, during this long and disastrous period, surpassed all that the most alarmed and fertile imaginations had conceived. Of the dreadful scenes at Ava, a minute account was written by Mrs. Judson, to Dr. Elnathan Judson.

" Rangoon , May 26, 1826.

" My beloved Brother .—The first certain intelligence we received of the declaration of war by the Burmese, was on our arrival at Tsen-pyoo-kywon, about a hundred miles this side of Ava, where part of the troops,under the command of the celebrated Bandoola, had encamped. As we proceeded on our journey, we met Bandoola himself, with the remainder of his troops, gaily equipped, seated on his golden barge, and surrounded by a fleet of gold war boats, one of which was instantly despatched to the other side of the river to hail us, and make all necessary inquiries. We were allowed to proceed quietly on, when we had informed the messenger that we were Americans, not English , and were going to Ava in obedience to the command of his Majesty.

"On our arrival at the capital, we found that Dr. Price was out of favour at court, and that suspicion rested on most of the foreigners then at Ava. Your brother visited at the palace two or three times, but found the King's manner towards him very different from what it formerly had been; and the Queen, who had hitherto expressed wishes for my speedy arrival, now made no inquiries after me, nor intimated a wish to see me. Consequently, I made no effort to visit at the palace, though almost daily invited to visit some of the branches of the royal family, who were living in their own houses, out of the palace enclosure. Under these circumstances, we thought our most prudent course lay in prosecuting our original intention of building a house, and commencing missionary operations as occasions offered; thus endeavouring to convince the government that we had really nothing to do with the present war.

"For several weeks, nothing took place to alarm us, and we went on with our school. Mr. Judson preached every Sabbath; all the materials for building a brick house were procured, and the masons had made considerable progress in raising the building.

"On the 23d of May, 1824, just as we had concluded worship at the Doctor's house, the other side of the river, a messenger came to inform us that Rangoon was taken by the English. The intelligence produced a shock, in which was a mixture of fear and joy.

"The government were now all in motion. An army of ten or twelve thousand men, under the command of the Kyee-woon-gyee, were sent off in three or four days, and were to be joined by the Sakyer-woon-gyee, who had previously been appointed Viceroy of Rangoon, and who was on his way thither, when the news of its attack reached him. No doubt was entertained of the defeat of the English; the only fear of the King was, that the foreigners, hearing of the advance of the Burmese troops, would be so alarmed, as to flee on board their ships and depart, before there would be time to secure them as slaves. 'Bring for me,' said a wild young buck of the palace, 'six kala pyoo, (white strangers,) to row my boat; and 'to me,' said the lady of a Woon-gyee, 'send four white strangers to manage the affairs of my house, as I understand they are trusty servants.' The war boats, in high glee, passed our house, the soldiers singing and dancing, and exhibiting gestures of the most joyous kind. Poor fellows! said we, you will probably never dance again. And it so proved; for few if any ever saw again their native home.

"As soon as the army were despatched, the government began to inquire the cause of the arrival of the strangers at Rangoon. There must be spies in the country, suggested some, who have invited them over. And who so likely to be spies, as the Englishmen residing at Ava? A report was in circulation, that Captain Laird, lately arrived, had brought Bengal papers which contained the intention of the English to take Rangoon, and it was kept a secret from his Majesty. An inquiry was instituted. The three Englishmen, Gouger, Laird, and Rogers, were called and examined. It was found they had seen the papers, and were put in confinement, though not in prison. We now began to tremble for ourselves, and were in daily expectation of some dreadful event.

"At length Mr. Judson and Dr. Price were summoned to a court of examination, where strict inquiry was made relative to all they knew. The great point seemed to be whether they had been in the habit of making communications to foreigners of the state of the country, &c. They answered, they had always written to their friends in America, but had no correspondence with English officers, or the Bengal government. After their examination, they were not put in confinement as the Englishmen had been, but were allowed to return to their houses. In examining the accounts of Mr. Gouger it was found that Mr. Judson and Dr. Price had taken money of him to a considerable amount. Ignorant as were the Burmese of our mode of receiving money by orders on Bengal, this circumstance, to their suspicious minds, was a sufficient evidence that the missionaries were in the pay of the English, and very probably spies. It was thus represented to the King, who, in an angry tone, ordered the immediate arrest of the 'two teachers.'

"On the 8th of June, just as we were preparing for dinner, in rushed an officer, holding a black book, with a dozen Burmans, accompanied by one , whom, from his spotted face, we knew to be an executioner, and a 'son of the prison.' 'Where is the teacher?' was the first inquiry. Mr. Judson presented himself. 'You are called by the King,' said the officer; a form of speech always used when about to arrest a criminal. The spotted man instantly seized Mr. Judson, threw him on the floor, and produced the small cord, the instrument of torture. I caught hold of his arm; 'Stay, (said I,) I will give you money.' 'Take her too,' said the officer; 'she also is a foreigner.' Mr. Judson, with an imploring look, begged they would let me remain till further orders. The scene was now shocking beyond description. The whole neighbourhood had collected—the masons at work on the brick house threw down their tools, and ran—the little Burman children were screaming and crying—and the hardened executioner, with a kind of hellish joy, drew tight the cords, bound Mr. Judson fast, and dragged him off I knew not whither. In vain I begged and entreated the spotted face to take the silver, and loosen the ropes, but he spurned my offers, and immediately departed. I gave the money, however, to Moung Ing to follow after, to make some further attempt to mitigate the torture of Mr. Judson; but instead of succeeding, when a few rods from the house, the unfeeling wretches again threw their prisoner on the ground, and drew the cords still tighter, so as almost to prevent respiration.

"The officer and his gang proceeded on to the court-house, where the governor of the city and officers were collected, one of whom read the orders of the king, to commit Mr. Judson to the death prison, into which he was soon hurled, the door closed—and Moung Ing saw no more. What a night was now before me! I retired into my room, and endeavoured to obtain consolation from committing my case to God, and imploring fortitude and strength to suffer whatever awaited me. But the consolation of retirement was not long allowed me, for the magistrate of the place had come into the verandah, and continually called me to come out, and to submit to his examination. But previously to going out, I destroyed all my letters, journals and writings of every kind, lest they should disclose the fact, that we had correspondents in England, and had minuted down every occurrence since our arrival in the country. When this work of destruction was finished, I went out and submitted to the examination of the magistrate, who inquired very minutely of every thing I knew; then ordered the gates of the compound to be shut, no person to be allowed to go in or out, placed a guard of ten ruffians, to whom he gave a strict charge to keep me safe, and departed.

"It was now dark. I retired to an inner room with my four little Burman girls, and barred the doors. My unprotected, desolate state, my entire uncertainty of the fate of Mr. Judson, and the dreadful carousings and almost diabolical language of the guard, all conspired to make it by far the most distressing night I had ever passed.

"The next morning, I sent Moung Ing to ascertain the situation of your brother, and give him food, if still living. He soon returned, with the intelligence, that Mr. Judson and all the white foreigners, were confined in the death prison , with three pairs of iron fetters each, and fastened to a long pole, to prevent their moving! The point of my anguish now was, that I was a prisoner myself, and could make no efforts for the release of the missionaries. I begged and entreated the magistrate to allow me to go to some member of government to state my case; but he said he did not dare to consent, for fear I should make my escape. I next wrote a note to one of the King's sisters, with whom I had been intimate, requesting her to use her influence for the release of the teachers. The note was returned with this message—She 'did not understand it,'—which was a polite refusal to interfere; though I afterwards ascertained, that she had an anxious desire to assist us, but dared not on account of the Queen.

"On the third day, I sent a message to the Governor of the city, who has the entire direction of prison affairs, to allow me to visit him with a present. This had the desired effect; and he immediately sent orders to the guards, to permit my going into town. The Governor received me pleasantly, and asked me what I wanted. I stated to him the situation of the foreigners, and particularly that of the teachers, who were Americans, and had nothing to do with the war.

"I procured an order for my admittance into prison; but the sensations produced by meeting your brother in that wretched , horrid situation, and the affecting scene which ensued, I will not attempt to describe. Mr. Judson crawled to the door of the prison—for I was never allowed to enter—gave me some directions relative to his release; but before we could make any arrangement, I was ordered to depart by those iron-hearted jailers, who could not endure to see us enjoy the poor consolation of meeting in that miserable place. In vain I pleaded the order from the Governor for my admittance; they again harshly repeated, 'Depart, or we will pull you out.' The same evening, the missionaries, together with the other foreigners, who paid an equal sum, were taken out of the common prison, and confined in an open shed in the prison enclosure. Here I was allowed to send them food, and mats to sleep on; but was not permitted to enter again for several days.

"My next object was to get a petition presented to the Queen; but no person being admitted into the palace, who was in disgrace with his Majesty, I sought to present it through the medium of her brother's wife. I had visited her in better days, and received particular marks of her favour. But now times were altered. Mr. Judson was in prison, and I in distress, which was a sufficient reason for giving me a cold reception. I took a present of considerable value. She was lolling on her carpet as I entered, with her attendants around her. I waited not for the usual question to a suppliant, 'What do you want?' but in a bold, earnest, yet respectful manner, stated our distresses and our wrongs, and begged her assistance. She partly raised her head, opened the present I had brought, and coolly replied, 'Your case is not singular; all the foreigners are treated alike.' 'But it is singular,' said I; 'the teachers are Americans; they are ministers of religion, have nothing to do with war or politics, and came to Ava in obedience to the King's command. They have never done any thing to deserve such treatment; and is it right they should be treated thus?' 'The King does as he pleases,' said she; 'I am not the King, what can I do?' 'You can state their case to the Queen, and obtain their release,' replied I. 'Place yourself in my situation,—were you in America, your husband, innocent of crime, thrown into prison, in irons, and you a solitary, unprotected female—what would you do?' With a slight degree of feeling, she said, 'I will present your petition,—come again to-morrow.' I returned to the house, with considerable hope, that the speedy release of the missionaries was at hand. But the next day Mr. Gouger's property, to the amount of fifty thousand dollars, was taken and carried to the palace. The officers, on their return, politely informed me, they should visit our house on the morrow. I felt obliged for this information, and accordingly made preparations to receive them, by secreting as many little articles as possible; together with considerable silver, as I knew, if the war should be protracted, we should be in a state of starvation without it. But my mind was in a dreadful state of agitation, lest it should be discovered, and cause my being thrown into prison.

"The following morning, the royal treasurer, Prince Tharyawadees, chief Woon, and Koung-tone, Myoo-tsa, who was in future our steady friend, attended by forty or fifty followers, came to take possession of all we had. I treated them civilly, gave them chairs to sit on, tea and sweetmeats for their refreshment; and justice obliges me to say, that they conducted the business of confiscation with more regard to my feelings than I should have thought it possible for Burmese officers to exhibit. The three officers, with one of the royal secretaries, alone entered the house; their attendants were ordered to remain outside. They saw I was deeply affected, and apologized for what they were about to do, by saying, that it was painful for them to take possession of property not their own; but they were compelled thus to do by order of the King. 'Where is your silver, gold, and jewels?' said the royal treasurer. 'I have no gold or jewels; but here is the key of a trunk which contains the silver—do with it as you please.' The trunk was produced and the silver weighed. 'This money,' said I, 'was collected in America, by the disciples of Christ, and sent here for the purpose of building a kyoung, (the name of a priest's dwelling,) and for our support, while teaching the religion of Christ. Is it suitable that you should take it?'—The Burmans are averse to taking what is offered in a religious point of view, which was the cause of my making the inquiry.—'We will state the circumstance to the King,' said one of them, 'and perhaps he will restore it. But is this all the silver you have?' I could not tell a falsehood:—'The house is in your possession,' I replied; 'search for yourselves.' 'Have you not deposited silver with some person of your acquaintances?' 'My acquaintances are all in prison, with whom should I deposit silver?' They next ordered my trunk and drawers to be examined. The secretary only was allowed to accompany me in this search. Every thing nice or curious, which met his view, was presented to the officers, for their decision, whether it should be taken or retained. I begged they would not take our wearing apparel, as it would be disgraceful to take clothes partly worn, into the possession of his Majesty; and to us they were of unspeakable value. They assented, and took a list only, and did the same with the books, medicines, &c. My little work table and rocking chair, presents from my beloved brother, I rescued from their grasp. They left also many articles, which were of inestimable value during our long imprisonment.

"As soon as they had finished their search and departed, I hastened to the Queen's brother, to hear what had been the fate of my petition; when alas, all my hopes were dashed, by his wife's coolly saying, 'I stated your case to the Queen, but her Majesty replied, The teachers will not die; let them remain as they are .' My expectations had been so much excited, that this sentence was like a thunderclap to my feelings. For the truth at one glance assured me, that if the Queen refused assistance, who would dare to intercede for me? With a heavy heart I departed, and on my way home, attempted to enter the prison gate, to communicate the sad tidings to your brother, but was harshly refused admittance: and for the ten days following, notwithstanding my daily efforts, I was not allowed to enter. We attempted to communicate by writing, and after being successful for a few days, it was discovered; the poor fellow who carried the communications was beaten and put in the stocks; and the circumstance cost me about ten dollars, besides two or three days of agony, for fear of the consequences.

"About this period, I was one day summoned to the Tlowtdau, in an official way. What new evil was before, I knew not, but was obliged to go. When arrived, I was allowed to stand at the bottom of the stairs, as no female is permitted to ascend the steps, or even to stand, but sit on the ground. Hundreds were collected around. The officer who presided, in an authoritative voice, began; 'Speak the truth, in answer to the questions I shall ask. If you speak true, no evil will follow; but if not, your life will not be spared. It is reported that you have committed to the care of a Burmese officer, a string of pearls, a pair of diamond earrings, and a silver tea-pot. Is it true?' 'It is not,' I replied; 'and if you or any other person can produce these articles, I refuse not to die.' The officer again urged the necessity of 'speaking true.' I told him I had nothing more to say on this subject, but begged he would use his influence to obtain the release of Mr. Judson from prison.

"I returned to the house, with a heart much lighter than I went, though conscious of my perpetual exposure to such harassments. Notwithstanding the repulse I had met in my application to the Queen I could not remain without making continual effort for your brother's release, while there was the least probability of success. Time after time my visits to the Queen's sister-in-law were repeated, till she refused to answer a question, and told me by her looks, I had better keep out of her presence. For the seven following months, hardly a day passed, that I did not visit some one of the members of government, or branches of the royal family, in order to gain their influence in our behalf; but the only benefit resulting was, their encouraging promises preserved us from despair, and induced a hope of the speedy termination of our difficulties, which enabled us to bear our distress better than we otherwise should have done. I ought, however, to mention, that by my repeated visits to the different members of Government, I gained several friends, who were ready to assist me with articles of food, though in a private manner, and who used their influence in the palace to destroy the impression of our being in any way engaged in the present war. But no one dared to speak a word to the King or Queen in favour of a foreigner, while there were such continual reports of the success of the English arms.

"During these seven months, the continual extortions and oppressions to which your brother, and the other white prisoners were subject, are indescribable. Sometimes sums of money were demanded, sometimes pieces of cloth, and handkerchiefs; at other times, an order would be issued, that the white foreigners should not speak to each other, or have any communication with their friends without. Then, again, the servants were forbidden to carry in their food, without an extra fee. Sometimes, for days and days together, I could not go into prison till after dark, when I had two miles to walk, in returning to the house. O how many, many times, have I returned from that dreary prison at nine o'clock at night, solitary and worn out with fatigue and anxiety, and thrown myself down in that same rocking chair which you and Deacon L. provided for me in Boston, and endeavoured to invent some new scheme for the release of the prisoners. Sometimes, for a moment or two, my thoughts would glance toward America, and my beloved friends there—but for nearly a year and a half, so entirely engrossed was every thought with present scenes and sufferings, that I seldom reflected on a single occurrence of my former life, or recollected that I had a friend in existence out of Ava.

"You, my dear brother, who know my strong attachment to my friends, and how much pleasure I have hitherto experienced from retrospect, can judge from the above circumstances, how intense were my sufferings. But the point, the acme of my distress, consisted in the awful uncertainty of our final fate. My prevailing opinion was, that my husband would suffer violent death; and that I should, of course, become a slave, and languish out a miserable though short existence, in the tyrannic hands of some unfeeling monster. But the consolations of religion, in these trying circumstances, were neither 'few nor small.' It taught me to look beyond this world, to that rest, that peaceful happy rest, where Jesus reigns, and oppression never enters. But how have I digressed from my relation. I will again return.

"The war was now prosecuted with all the energy the Burmese government possessed. New troops were continually raised and sent down the river, and as frequent reports returned of their being all cut off. But that part of the Burmese army stationed in Arracan, under the command of Bandoola, had been more successful. Three hundred prisoners, at one time, were sent to the capital, as an evidence of the victory that had been gained. The King began to think that none but Bandoola understood the art of fighting with foreigners; consequently his Majesty recalled him with the design of his taking command of the army that had been sent to Rangoon. On his arrival at Ava, he was received at court in the most flattering manner, and was the recipient of every favour in the power of the King and Queen to bestow. He was, in fact, while at Ava, the acting King. I was resolved to apply to him for the release of the missionaries, though some members of government advised me not, lest he, being reminded of their existence, should issue an immediate order for their execution.

But it was my last hope, and, as it proved, my last application.

"Your brother wrote a petition privately, stating every circumstance that would have a tendency to interest him in our behalf. With fear and trembling I approached him, while surrounded by a crowd of flatterers; and one of his secretaries took the petition, and read it aloud. After hearing it, he spake to me in an obliging manner—asked several questions relative to the teachers—said he would think of the subject—and bade me come again. I ran to the prison to communicate the favourable reception to Mr. Judson; and we both had sanguine hopes that his release was at hand. But the Governor of the city expressed his amazement at my temerity, and said he doubted not it would be the means of destroying all the prisoners. In a day or two, however, I went again, and took a present of considerable value. Bandoola was not at home, but his lady , after ordering the present to be taken into another room, modestly informed me that she was ordered by her husband to make the following communication—that he was now very busily employed in making preparations for Rangoon; but that when he had retaken that place and expelled the English, he would return and release all the prisoners.

"Thus again were all our hopes dashed; and we felt that we could do nothing more, but sit down and submit to our lot.

"Some months after your brother's imprisonment, I was permitted to make a little bamboo room in the prison enclosures, where he could be much by himself, and where I was sometimes allowed to spend two or three hours. It so happened that the two months he occupied this place, was the coldest part of the year, when he would have suffered much in the open shed he had previously occupied. After the birth of your little niece, I was unable to visit the prison and the Governor as before, and found I had lost considerable influence, previously gained; for he was not so forward to hear my petitions when any difficulty occurred, as he formerly had been. When Maria was nearly two months old, her father one morning sent me word that he and all the white prisoners were put into the inner prison, in five pairs of fetters each, that his little room had been torn down, and his mat, pillow, &c. been taken by the jailers. This was to me a dreadful shock, as I thought at once it was only a prelude to greater evils.—The English army had left Rangoon, and were advancing towards Prome, when these severe measures were taken with the prisoners.

"I went immediately to the Governor's house. He was not at home, but had ordered his wife to tell me, when I came, not to ask to have the additional fetters taken off, or the prisoners released, for it could not be done . I went to the prison-gate, but was forbid to enter. All was still as death—not a white face to be seen, or a vestige of Mr. Judson's little room remaining. I was determined to see the Governor, and know the cause of this additional oppression; and for this purpose returned into town the same evening, at an hour I knew he would be at home. He was in his audience room, and, as I entered, looked up without speaking, but exhibited a mixture of shame and affected anger in his countenance. I began by saying, Your Lordship has hitherto treated us with the kindness of a father. Our obligations to you are very great. We have looked to you for protection from oppression and cruelty. You have in many instances mitigated the sufferings of those unfortunate, though innocent beings, committed to your charge. You have promised me particularly, that you would stand by me to the last, and though you should receive an order from the King, you would not put Mr. Judson to death. What crime has he committed to deserve such additional punishment? The old man's hard heart was melted, for he wept like a child. 'I pity you, Tsa-yar-ga-dau, (a name by which he always called me,) I knew you would make me feel; I therefore forbade your application.

But you must believe me when I say, I do not wish to increase the sufferings of the prisoners. When I am ordered to execute them, the least that I can do is, to put them out of sight. I will now tell you, (continued he) what I have never told you before, that three times I have received intimations from the Queen's brother, to assassinate all the white prisoners privately; but I would not do it. And I now repeat it, though I execute all the others, I will never execute your husband. But I cannot release him from his present confinement, and you must not ask it.' I had never seen him manifest so much feeling, or so resolute in denying me a favour, which circumstance was an additional reason for thinking dreadful scenes were before us.

"The situation of the prisoners was now distressing beyond description. It was at the commencement of the hot season. There were above a hundred prisoners shut up in the room, without a breath of air from the cracks in the boards. I sometimes obtained permission to go to the door for five minutes, when my heart sickened at the wretchedness exhibited. The white prisoners, from incessant perspiration and loss of appetite, looked more like the dead than the living. I made daily applications to the Governor, offering him money, which he refused; but all that I gained, was permission for the foreigners to eat their food outside and this continued but a short time.

"It was at this period, that the death of Bandoola was announced in the palace. The King heard it with silent amazement, and the Queen, in eastern style, smote upon her breast, and cried, ama! ama! (alas, alas.) Who could be found to fill his place? who would venture since the invincible Bandoola had been cut off?—At length the Pakan Woon, who a few months before had been so far disgraced by the King as to be thrown into prison and irons, now offered himself to head a new army that should be raised on a different plan from those which had hitherto been raised; and assured the King, in the most confident manner, that he would conquer the English, and restore those places that had been taken, in a very short time.—His offers were accepted by the King and government, and all power immediately committed to him.—The whole town was in alarm, lest they should feel the effects of his power; and it was owing to the malignant representation of this man, that the white prisoners suffered such a change in their circumstances, as I shall soon relate.

"After continuing in the inner prison for more than a month, your brother was taken with a fever. I felt assured he would not live long, unless removed from that noisome place. To effect this, and in order to be near the prison, I removed from our house, and put up a small bamboo room in the governor's enclosure, which was nearly opposite the prison gate. Here I incessantly begged the Governor to give me an order to take Mr. Judson out of the large prison, and place him in a more comfortable situation; and the old man, being worn out with my entreaties, at length gave me the order in an official form; and also gave orders to the head jailer, to allow me to go in and out, all times of the day, to administer medicines, &c. I now felt happy indeed, and had Mr. Judson instantly removed into a little bamboo hovel, so low that neither of us could stand upright—but a palace in comparison with the place he left."



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