committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs







Chapter X - Life in Moulmein (Continued). 1831-1845

It now became Mr. Judson's duty to return to Moulmein. He had been absent thirteen months. The first part of that time had been spent in the futile effort to establish a mission at Prome, and during the last part he had labored alone with native converts at Rangoon, distributing tracts, preaching the gospel, and translating the Scriptures. Mr. and Mrs. Wade had repaired to Rangoon soon after his return from Prome; but Mrs. Wade's health had so completely broken that it was thought best for her and her husband to take a voyage to America. The ship in which the Wades sailed was driven out of its course by violent gales, and at last put into a port on the coast of Arracan. Here Mrs. Wade's health was so much improved that the idea of going to America was given up, and they returned to Moulmein instead. But, in the meantime, Mr. Judson's presence seemed indispensable there. A new party of missionaries had arrived from America, including Mr. and Mrs. Mason, Mr. and Mrs. Kincaid, and Mr. and Mrs. Jones. The Masons had gone to Tavoy, Mr. Jones went to Rangoon to take Mr. Judson's place, and the Kincaids were still staying at Moulmein.

When he returned to Moulmein he saw much to delight his heart. The little church had been enlarged by the baptism of many Burmese, Karens, and Talings. Two million pages of tracts and translations of Scriptures had been printed. The missionaries had also made repeated journeys into the jungle, where a church of fourteen members had been organized at a place called Wadesville, in honor of the missionary who had first preached the gospel there. At the close of 1831, Mr. Judson reported, on behalf of the Burman mission, two hundred and seventeen persons as baptized during the year; one hundred and thirty-six at Moulmein, seventy-six at Tavoy, and five at Rangoon.

Soon after returning from Rangoon to Moulmein he entered upon a new field of operations. Whenever his close confinement to the work of translation necessitated a change of air and scene, it was his custom to take a tour among the wild Karen tribes occupying the jungle back of Moulmein. His restless spirit was always longing to press into the interior of the country, and the great Irawadi valley being closed to him, there was nothing left but to penetrate Burma by the Salwen and its tributaries, which constitute the second of the river systems by which the land is drained.

The Karens, as their very name indicates, were wild men. They are distributed throughout Burma, Siam, and parts of China, and number from two hundred to four hundred thousand. They are perhaps the remnant of an aboriginal and subjugated race, and are looked down upon by the Burmese as inferiors. They speak a different language, and have distinct race characteristics. They are peculiarly accessible to the Christian religion, being devoid of the pride and dogmatism which characterize the Burmans. Besides they had a hoary tradition that white messengers would come from the sea to teach them.

While the Burmans lived in towns and cities, the Karens, like our Indians, occupied villages far back in the jungle, by the side of mountain streams. Mr. Judson's attention was first called to them in Rangoon. "They formed small parties of strange, wild-looking men, clad in unshapely garments, who from time to time straggled past his residence." He was told that they were as untamable as the wild cow of the mountains; that they seldom entered a town except on compulsion, and were nomadic in their habits. A British officer gives a singular instance of their wildness:

"An officer was lying on his bed in a little room inside the stockaded police post, which had a narrow gate with an armed sentry on guard; the hillman, with the minimum of clothing, was introduced by a smart sergeant, who coaxed him to approach. He cautiously and distrustfully, and with great persuasion, advanced stooping to the bed; when close to it he gave one long, steady look at the white man; suddenly, with a yell, threw himself up straight, turned round, dashed out of the room, through the gate, upsetting the armed sentry, rushed across a little stream at the bottom of the stockade, and, clambering like a monkey sheer up the side of the opposite mountain, never stopped till be was lost to sight in the forest."

In order to secure permanent churches among the Karens, the first step of the missionaries was to persuade them to settle down in one place and form large and well-ordered villages. It was in this way that the town of Wadesville, before mentioned, sprang into existence. Christianity has thus proved a powerful agent in civilizing the Karens, and a Christian village is easily distinguished from a heathen one, not only by its size, but by its cleanly and regular streets.

Mr. Judson's tours in the Karen jungles were attended with great fatigue and danger. He was always accompanied by a band of associates. He would take with him eight or ten disciples, and dispatch them right and left up the tributaries of the Salwen. Two by two they would penetrate the wilderness, and meeting their teacher a few days later, would report to him the results of their labor. The Oriental, under good leadership, makes a faithful and intrepid follower. And Mr. Judson's magnetism of character held his assistants to him with hooks of steel. He had the gift of getting work, and their best work, out of the converted natives. Promising boys and young men he took under his own instruction, and qualified them to become teachers and ministers.

At the close of the year 1832 Mr. Judson reported one hundred and forty-three baptisms; three at Rangoon, seventy at Moulmein, sixty-seven at Tavoy, and three at Mergui. This made five hundred and sixteen who had been baptized since his arrival in Burma, only seventeen of whom had been finally excluded.

But the time had at last come when Mr. Judson's long domestic solitude was to end. Under date of April 10, 1834, we find in his journal the following important entry:

"Was married to Mrs. Sarah H. Boardman, who was born at Alstead, New Hampshire, November 4, 1803, the eldest daughter of Ralph and Abiah O. Hall -- married to George D. Boardman, July 4, 1825 -- left a widow February 11, 1831, with one surviving child, George D. Boardman, born August 18, 1828."

Nearly eight years of loneliness had passed since he laid his beloved Ann beneath the hopia-tree. He had arrived at the age of forty-six when he married Mrs. Boardman. He found in her a kindred spirit. She had spent the three years of widowhood in heroic toil among the Karens at Tavoy, and had turned persistently away from the urgent appeals of her friends in America to return home for her own sake and the sake of her little boy. For three years this beautiful and intrepid woman continued her husband's work. She was the guiding spirit of the mission. She pointed out the way of life to the Karen inquirers who came in from the wilderness. She conducted her schools with such tact and ability that when, afterward, an appropriation was obtained from the English Government for schools throughout the provinces, it was expressly stipulated that they should be "conducted on the plan of Mrs. Boardman's schools at Tavoy." She even made long missionary tours into the Karen jungles. With her little boy carried by her followers at her side, she climbed the mountains, traversed the marshes, forded the streams, and threaded the forests. On one of these trips she sent back a characteristic message to Mrs. Mason at Tavoy: "Perhaps you had better send the chair, as it is convenient to be carried over the streams when they are deep. You will laugh when I tell you that I have forded all the smaller ones."

Soon after their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Judson were compelled to part with little George Boardman. He was but six years old, and yet had reached an age when a child begins to be, in a peculiar sense, the companion of parents. But the children of Anglo-Saxon residents in the East have to be sent home at an early age, otherwise they are in danger of death under the debilitating influence of the Oriental climate; or if they get their growth at all, are liable to feebleness of mind and body. Such a separation between parent and child cannot but be peculiarly distressing to the missionary. He devotes himself for life and expects to die on the field, and thus the parting bids fair to be final. Other Europeans and Americans are merely temporary residents in the East, and though also compelled to send their children home, may reasonably hope to meet them once more after a short separation. The missionary's child, on the other hand, must be permanently consigned to the care of distant strangers. This is, perhaps, the keenest suffering that falls to the lot of a missionary.

It was a heavy day for Mrs. Judson when her husband carried to the ship "Cashmere" the child who had been the sharer of all her sufferings and griefs at Tavoy. It was well for her that a veil hid from her eyes the immediate future, else she might have seen the boy's hair-breadth escape from pirates and the tortures of mind to which the shrinking child was subjected on board the ship which was bearing him away from his mother's side.

While in Moulmein, Mr. Judson completed the Burman Bible. It was about the time of his marriage to Mrs. Boardman that he finished the first rough draft. Seventeen years before in Rangoon, all he had to offer of the precious Scriptures to the first Burman inquirer was two half-sheets containing the first five chapters of Matthew. From that time on, beneath all his toils and sufferings and afflictions, there moved the steady undercurrent of this great purpose and labor of Bible translation. It was a task for which he had little relish. He much preferred dealing with the Burmans individually, and persuading them one by one of the truth of the gospel. In a letter which states his purpose of relinquishing for many months the pleasure of laboring in the Karen jungles in order to shut himself up to the work of translation, he says: "The tears flow as I write." Alluding to this same labor of translation, he writes to the corresponding secretary:"And so, God willing and giving us life and strength, we hope to go on, but we hope still to be allowed to feel that our great work is to preach the gospel viva voce, and build up the glorious kingdom of Christ among this people."

But the translation of the Bible was essentially necessary to the permanent establishment of Christianity in Burma, and no other living man was qualified for the work. And so in the brief intervals of preaching and teaching and imprisonment and jungle travel, secluding himself in the garret at Rangoon and afterward in the little room attached to the mission-house at Moulmein, he quietly wrought at this prodigious task until, at last, he could write on January 31, 1834, at the age of fifty-six:

"Thanks be to God, I can now say I have attained. I have knelt down before him with the last leaf in my hand, and imploring his forgiveness for all the sins which have polluted my labors in this department, and his aid in future efforts to remove the errors and imperfections which necessarily cleave to the work, I have commended it to his mercy and grace; I have dedicated it to his glory. May he make his own inspired word, now complete in the Burman tongue, the grand instrument of filling all Burma with songs of praise to our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen."

Great as was the task of thus scrupulously translating the Bible, the revision was still more laborious. Seven years were spent in revising the first work. It was a mental peculiarity of Mr. Judson never to leave a thing alone while it could possibly be improved. His besetting sin was, in his own expressive words alluded to before, a lust for finishing, and it was not until October, 1840, that he could say:

"On the 24th of October last I enjoyed the great happiness of committing to the press the last sheet of the new edition of the Burmese Bible."

In regard to its merits his estimate was very modest. He says:

"I never read a chapter without pencil in hand, and Griesbach and Parkhurst at my elbow; and it will be an object to me through life to bring the translation to such a state that it may be a standard work."

How far his own humble view falls short of doing justice to the excellence of his monumental task, may be gathered from the following statement by President Francis Wayland:

"Competent judges affirm that Dr. Judson's translation of the Scriptures is the most perfect work of the kind that has yet appeared in India. On this subject it will not be inappropriate to introduce a few sentences from the pen of a gentleman high in rank in India, himself a distinguished linguist and a proficient in the Burmese language: 'The best judges pronounce it to be all that he aimed at making it; and also, what with him never was an object, an imperishable monument of the man's genius. We may venture to hazard the opinion that as Luther's Bible is now in the hands of Protestant Germany, so three centuries hence, Judson's Bible will be the Bible of the Christian churches of Burma.'"

From this point our narrative naturally assumes a more domestic character; and we are permitted to see Mr. Judson's deep tenderness as a husband and a father. Some of the greatest objects of his life having been achieved, and his health beginning to decline, his restless spirit turned instinctively to family life for repose. On October 31, 1835, his heart was cheered by the birth of a daughter, whose name, Abby Ann, associates her with his only sister, from whom he had parted so many years before, and also with her whom he left sleeping beneath the hopia-tree.

A son was born April 7, 1837, Adoniram Brown Judson, who was soon followed by his little brother, Elnathan. But Mr. Judson's iron purposes were not melted in the ease and quiet of home life. He did not cease his efforts to save his poor Burmans. A few weeks after the birth of his son, he wrote:

"My days are commonly spent in the following manner: the morning in reading Burman; the forenoon in a public zayat with some assistant, preaching to those who call; the afternoon in preparing or revising something for the press, correcting proof-sheets, etc.; the evening in conducting worship in the native chapel, and conversing with the assistants or other native Christians or inquirers."

Upon the completion of the fiftieth year of his life, and of his twenty-fifth year in Burma, it is not strange that even his wiry physique should have begun to give way beneath the strain. Disease fastened first upon his lungs, entailing loss of voice and intense pain. It was thought that a short voyage to Calcutta would restore his health. He set sail on February 19, 1839, and after an absence of nearly two months, during which he had a delightful visit with the English Baptists of Calcutta and Serampore, he returned to Moulmein, his health somewhat improved. The sadness of this separation from the faithful wife and mother, whom he left behind at Moulmein, was intensified by the apprehension that he might die on the voyage.

The native Christians at Moulmein were glad enough, after an interval of ten months, to hear again the voice of their beloved teacher, though he still spoke in feeble accents, and was far from convalescence. In a letter to a fellow-missionary he refers playfully to the birth of another son at the close of 1839: "Master Henry came into notice the last day of the year; but there was no earthquake or anything."

Mrs. Judson's health also began to fail. She was attacked by the disease which finally terminated her life at St. Helena. The children too were all sick, so that a sea voyage was needed for the very preservation of the family. Mr. Judson reluctantly decided to embark with his wife and four children for Calcutta.

"We had been out only four days," says Mrs. Judson, in speaking of this voyage, "when we struck on shoals, and for about twenty minutes were expecting to see the large, beautiful vessel a wreck; and then all on board must perish, or at best take refuge in a small boat, exposed to the dreary tempest. I shall never forget my feelings, as I looked over the side of the vessel that night on the dark ocean, and fancied ourselves, with our poor, sick, and almost dying children, launched on its stormy waves. The captain tacked as soon as possible, and the tide rising at the time, we were providentially delivered from our extreme peril."

When the family arrived at Serampore, just above Calcutta, they hired "a nice, dry house on the very bank of the river." But, though the sea air had naturally revived the invalids, as soon as they came fairly under the hot climate of Bengal they all suffered a relapse. What was to be done? They met at Calcutta a pious Scotch sea captain, whose vessel was going to the Isle of France, and from thence to Moulmein. He made the kind proposal to take the whole family on such terms that this circuitous course would cost them no more than to go directly to Moulmein. They dreaded the voyage in the month of August, which is a very dangerous month in the bay of Bengal, but there seemed to be no other alternative. So Mr. Judson accordingly accepted Captain Hamlin's offer, and decided to set sail for that island to which he had repaired nearly thirty years before, when he had been driven from Bengal by the East India Company. But before leaving Serampore the fond parents were compelled to bury their little Henry, at the age of one year and seven months.

Bidding farewell to his newly made grave, Mr. and Mrs. Judson, with their sick children, embarked on board the "Ramsay." The voyage to the Isle of France occupied about six weeks, and as the monsoon was drawing to a close, the storms were very frequent, sudden, and severe. Mrs. Judson thus records their experience:

"Could you now look on our dismasted vessel you would indeed say, she is a 'ship in distress.' For the last three days we have had the most frightful squalls I ever experienced; and yesterday two topmasts, a top-gallant mast, and the jib-boom, with all their sails, were torn away, causing a tremendous crash. For the last two nights I have not closed my eyes to sleep, and I find it quite impossible to sleep now. I have, therefore, taken my pen, though the vessel rolls so that I fear my writing will be quite illegible. Do not infer from anything I have said that I am suffering from terror; my wakefulness has been occasioned only by bodily discomfort, arising from the violent tossing of the vessel. I thank God that I feel perfectly calm and resigned; and I can leave myself and my dear family in his hands, with a feeling of perfect peace and composure."

But the voyage, severe as it was, proved very beneficial to the invalids, and, after spending a month in Port Louis, they returned to Moulmein, where they arrived on December 10, in greatly improved health. Captain Hamlin declined to receive any compensation for the passage from Calcutta to Moulmein via the Isle of France, although a fair charge for the double voyage would have been two thousand rupees, or about one thousand dollars. The money which Mr. Judson sent him, merely as an expression of his gratitude, was returned, the noble sailor saying that he considered it a privilege to have been able to show some kindness to the servants of Christ. Mr. Judson wrote at once to the Board, suggesting that it should send to the captain a formal letter of thanks, together with a present, "say of a set of the 'Comprehensive Commentary,'" to be addressed to Captain Thomas Hamlin, Jr., Greenock, Scotland.

Soon after Mr. and Mrs. Judson and their three children returned to Moulmein, another son was given them. He was named Henry, after the little boy whom they had left in his lonely grave at Serampore.

About this time Mr. Judson heard of the death of his venerable mother, who departed this life in Plymouth, Mass., in the eighty-third year of her age. His father and brother, Elnathan, had died before; and his sister, Abigail, was now left alone at Plymouth.

At this time also there was pressed upon him a great task, and one from which he had long shrunk. The Board at home urgently desired him to undertake the compilation of a Burman dictionary. His heart longed to be engaged in direct individual work, winning souls to Christ. He had no relish for the seclusion which the work of translation required. But no one else seemed qualified for this task, and the failure of his voice imperatively forbade his preaching. And so, with the utmost reluctance, be turned toward a work which was to occupy a large part of his time during the rest of his life.

Table of Contents

The Reformed Reader Home Page 

Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved