CHAPTER IV. Six Months at Singapore

January to July, 1835.

A mission family – Death of Mrs. Dean, and care of her infant daughter – Variety of religions – Study of Siamese – Chinese funeral, and school – Voyage to Bangkok, Siam, July 18, 1836

“Oh, what were life,
E’en in the warm and summer light of joy.
Without those hopes that, like refreshing gales
At evening from the sea, come o’er the soul
Breathed from the ocean of eternity?”

Mr. Tracy and Miss White were married January 16, 1835, and in a few weeks the American missionaries at Singapore took a house, Dr. and Mrs. Bradley becoming the housekeepers. In view of this event she wrote as follows: “It is not a light matter in the state of New York for a lady to make her first essay at housekeeping with a family of six or eight, besides servants; but here, where I am an utter stranger to these strange customs, not understanding a word of the language of my servants, the difficulties are well-nigh insurmountable.”

But a severer trial soon awaited her. One of the family, Mrs. Dean, was taken ill on the thirteenth of February, and died the fifth of March. The care, fatigue, grief, and excitement, attendant upon the sickness of Mrs. Dean, so effected Mrs. Bradley as to throw her on a bed of severe sickness, where she remained some weeks. During this period she gave birth to a son, whose brief life terminated in eight hours. Mrs. Dean left an infant daughter, which Mrs. Bradley took to her bosom and nursed with a mother’s care, and a mother’s love. Of this child, she afterwards wrote:

“As for my little foster-child, she is as fat and healthy a babe as you will often see of four months old; thinks her hands are exceedingly beautiful. It is well she cannot see her face, for that is truly handsome.”

Again she writes, “Would you like to know how my little girl looks? She is very tall of her age, seventeen months, somewhat like her mother in her face, with what phrenologists would call a fine head. When well she is very playful, and has a stout will of her own. I cannot say much for her knowledge, for it is but a few weeks since I heard her call a deer a dog, and a goat a pig. She understands very well what it means to go in a boat, and knows per papa’s house when she sees it. She condenms all medicine, sweet, sour, and bitter, as very bad. If all her prattle was in English, she would have quite a vocabulary; but as she divides her attention between five different languages, she is not in much danger of excelling in any.” Afterwards when Mr. Dean removed the little Matilda to his own house, she mourned as one mourns for a first-born or an only son, and said, “When shall I learn to call nothing my own.” When the child was on shipboard bound for America, she wrote, “Matilda han gone. Yesterday I went down to help Mr. Dean about packing, but he wished me to take care of her. It was a pleasant and mournful day. The Lord enabled me to maintain much composure of mind, and to be thankful for the privilege of singing her to sleep once more. I kissed her for the last time as she lay in her cot fast asleep. It was a season of unutterable emotion. It is my earnest prayer that the Lord may be glorified in her early conversion and sanctification. This trial is useful to me; it leads me to the fountain of all goodness.”

Here at Singapore, sometimes denominated “a congress of nations,” Dr. and Mrs. Bradley remained six months. Here was the English high churchman officiating in a congregation of gay and fashionable Europeans; here was the Indo-Portuguese administering the consecrated water to deluded followers, here was the Hindoo devotee performing the self-torturing rite of hook-swinging. Here too are practiced the innumerable absurd and foolish rites of the religion of the Celestial empire. Here a converted son of that empire sends for the Christian missionary to perform the funeral service for his infant child; and the service being ended, the father, not yet divested of all his heathen superstition, deposits a few pice, a small coin, in the cold unconscious hand, for its benefit in another state of existence. Scarcely day passes without some imposing public exhibition of the noisy idolatory of the various nations here congregated. Mrs. Bradley again writes:

Jan 28. “Tomorrow will be the Chinese New-year. That people are making preparations for the day. Rode to Dr. Parker’s, and saw the children dressed for the occasion; those that scarcely ever are with any garments, are clothed in silk today. For fifteen they have paraded the streets, and had evening theatres.

Jan. 30. Commenced the study of the Siamese language with a man called Siamee. He is a fat old man, rides in a gig, carries a watch, and wears a monstrous great ring, which is certainly very br1111ant.

Mar. 19. “This morning I slept late, and ere I had read my Bible, letters from American were brought to me. Some of them were written with the expectation that I should receive them at Boston. Others were dated in October. They breathe an ardent missionary spirit, which I rejoice to perceive is enkindled in the hearts of our friends, I have great occasion for gratitude that I have been permitted to hear from them. May it provoke me to greater seal in the service of my Master. I should have enjoyed these letters much more had there been some among them for my dear husband. During private devotions this evening, I remembered my sin of the morning in taking a gift and forgetting the Giver, inasmuch as I took those letters he sent me and forgot to read the Bible.

April 13. “Last evening the quietness of the Sabbath was broken by the sound of music. We soon ascertained that there was a Chinese wedding and procession; today is the fifth and last day of the celebration. What strange combinations in this world! Today Chet Sang, a rich Chinaman who died on the fifth instant, was buried. He came to Singapore a common cooley, and died worth $400,000. His funeral was the greatest pageant witnessed in singapore. At eleven A.M., the gentlemen of our family went to the place from which the procession was to start taking with them a quantity of tracts, intending to send the palanquin for sister Tracy and myself at a suitable time. By the time it came, Dr. Bradley had dispatched a cooley with three hundred tracts to the brethren on the ground. Making our way through the crowd, we reached a house, from the windows of which we could see the procession as it passed. It is estimated that not less than ten thousand persons collected, principally Chinese. In the room into which we were shown, was a merchant of the place, who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca, and thus secured his title to heaven, and the worship, I might almost say, of his fellow-Mussulman. Before the procession moved, a Hindoo one passed. They were Gentoos, and were performing some religious rites, each one having the mark of his caste on his forehead. At length the procession began to move. First came a band of Chinese musicians–if those can be called musicians who make a noise with anything which is sonorous, without regard to time or harmony. Then followed a huge image made of paper, fifteen feet high. It was one of the most hideous looking objects I have ever seen, If I except two men who proceeded it. These were fantastically dressed, and round their heads was bound white and black pepr cut in strips and hung over their faces; following were poles with pieces of red silk four yards long, with Chinese inscriptions in large characters, telling the name, age, etc., of the deceased. Indeed, these with others which followed gave a history of the man. Next followed a miniature pagoda, with the image of two Chines females borne before it; after it were lanterns dressed in mourning. Twenty little boys followed bearing inscriptions on white silk, similar to the others, but smaller. Another pagoda with twi images of men and lanterns like the first, was followed by another band of boys bearing blue silk inscriptions. Two priests walled leisurely after it, dressed in long slate-colored robes, with black fans, and immense chattas (umbrellas) borne by servents. next was the corpse. A Chinese coffin is composed of four large heavy pieces of timber, in which the corpse is placed, and of itself weighs not less than five hundred pounds. The most which I could distinguished from my situation was a large silk canopy of blue purple and scarlet, most richly embroidered. The whole was placed upon a frame or bamboos, and carried by several men. Then followed the relatives and mourning women clothed in sackcloth, who had been sitting in the dust of the street. His wives were distinguished from the rest by large pieces of white cloth throw over their hands and hanging nearly to their feet. Between the several divisions were musicians, and occasionally a man bearing huge bundles or crackers, which he fired. When sister Tracy and myself reached home, we met two stout Chinamen, leaving home with books, which they were to carry to be distributed in the graveyard. Probably fifteen hundred tracts have been distributed today. When Dr. Bradley reached the ground, he found that the mourners had gone down into one grave, while the corpse stood by another. When they were ready to place the coffin over the grave, a signal was given, and the people beat their gongs, blowed their instruments, and wailed with a loud voice. This was repeated when the coffin was let down into the grave. This being done, all present were invited to least themselves upon the offerings, which were placed in temporary sheds. These offerings consisted of every thing eatable; and after permitting their deities to regale themselves upon the essence, the people devoured the substantial remainder. The rich things which passed in review before us were to be burnt, even the idol, for the use of Chet Sang in his new state of existence. Among the offerings to be thus used was a pack of cards. The old man was a successful gambler, having won since their New-year $4,000 in this way.

May 10, Sabbath. “Went to the house of God, and there heard the most solemn truths fall from the lips of Mr. Tomlin. Some of the people looked serious, and others seemed to say, ‘Who are you that are telling us we are sinners?’

June 5. “The anniversary of our wedding day. I feel that the Lord has been very good in giving me a kind and affectionate husband to cheer me in this land of strangers. Some of those who have left America on the same errand as my self, have been left lonely widows and returned home in less than one year. If it is the Lord’s will, may my dear husband and myself live long to be a messing to each other.

June 8. “Learning that the religious rites connected with the death of Yan Chet Sang were this evening to be completed, we went to his house about eight o’clock. At a distance we saw mourning lanterns in front of his house, elevated far above the surrounding roots. A platform had been erected in front of the building eight feet high, upon which were arranged all manner of fruits, besides four tell pyramids composed of the same. The whole was well lighted with war candles. Melding our way through the crowd which failed the outer court, we were permitted by the guard to enter the principal room. This was well lighted with hanging lamps, and wax candles; two of the latter were three feet in length, and two inches in diameter. The sides of the room were ornamented with grotesque images. The principal attraction in the room consisted of a large table, literally covered with eatables of all descriptions, flesh, fish, vegetables, cakes, and fruit. After Yon Chet Sang had sufficiently feasted his spirit upon their essence, the living were to devour the substantial part. Beyond the table were three arches which opened into another department: passing through one of these, we saw a dozen paper men surrounding a lamp; these resembled much the little paper men and women which my mother used to cut for me, except that these were two feet high, instead of two inches. Upon inquiry, we learned that these were ‘wanderers of the sir.’ Just back of these was block of wood dressed up and called Yan Chet Sang; before it had been placed each day three cups of rice, three cups of tea, and three cups of wine, upon which to feast his spirit. Looking out of a door opening into a veranda, I was astonished to see a company of Europeans drinking wine in an idolater’s house. In his temple was to be seen and image of Boohd, surrounded by silk richly embroidered, and by paintings of birds standing upon trees. These trees, according to Chinese taste, were most beautiful, that is, the most stinted, ragged, and I knotty imaginable. There were also several baskets of gold money for the dead; these tinselled sheets were so folded that you saw only the gilded side. I presume the basket contained not less than two bushels each. I did not count them, but think there must have been a dozen or more. The entrance was guarded by two furious, nondescript paper animals, upon which were mounted two saints of the same material. Afterwards we went to visit a splendid mansion which had been prepared for his use in another world; this too was of paper. It was well lighted within; and looking into the open doors, we saw Yan Chet Sang and his wife, or rather their images, sitting in state, and his children, grandchildren, and friends, in different parts of the house, apparently enjoying themselves much, with coolies and other servants employed in their duties; while a palanquin and a spirited pony stood in front waiting his pleasure.

Having been enough of this foolery, we were preparing to return, when our attention was arrested by the sound of Chinese music. The procession consisted of musicians, priests, and mourners. The priests were dressed in long slate-colored robes, with scarlet cloth throw over the shoulder; the principal one having a cocked hat. This one has probably come from China to officiate on the occasion. The Chinese mourning dress is white and sackcloth. This sackcloth is the same, I should think, which I have seen ladies use in America, ca11 grass cloth. The female areas consisted of a piece of this cloth throw over the head, and reaching to the feet. Following this company, we succeeded in entering the room first mentioned, and witnessed the prostrations of the mourners, and heard the chanting of the priests. Here we spent about an hour, not in the gratification of a rain curiosity I trust, but in observing these things that we might tell our friends at home about them. At the close, they were to break open earth’s prison, and informed the spirit of the deceased that all the offerings and ceremonies prescribed by Confucius had been made and performed. This ceremony consisted in opening a cask of arrack and letting out the spirit. It was then invited to regale itself upon the essence of the offerings, and the mourners and others would feast upon the substance. The paperhouse money, etc., were to be burnt, for his use in a future world. The whole expense is estimated at $5,000, and would have been XXXX much more if the Chinese had not the economical art of making gold and silver, jewel, splendid garments, houses, horses, and carriages, of paper. It is astonishing to witness the great variety of religious rites which are holden in this place; and from this island might issue streams of salvation.

June 10. “Visited Mr. Tracy’s school today. It consists of Chinese boys, taught by an interesting man of the same people, in one of the lower rooms of the dispensary. There were twenty-one scholars present, and for a few minutes they were permitted to study Chinese fashion, that is, each scholar reading the books which he happens to be studying as loud as he can. This done in English would make a freat din, but in Chinese the noise is absolutely stunning. This is the universal method of teaching Chinese, and persons in this way become able to repeat volumes, and yet are not able to communicate, and probably do not understand a sentiment contained in them. Soon they were called out into the room, arranged themselves in a line, and repeated the ten commandments and other passages of scriptures which they had learned.

These children understand Malay far better than Chinese: therefore Mr. Tracy called a Chinaman, who understood both English and Malay, to interpret an explanation of what the children had repeated in the latter language. Next they wrote on slates, Mr. Tracy giving them a phrase, and they writing it in Chinese. He remarked that this exercise had twofold use:it not only taught them to write, but to think with more expedition than is customary among that people. Afterwards he gave them phrases, and required them to give the sence in Malay. Like some scholars whom I have seen in America, they could all answer loudly and promptly, after one had answered. I saw some sheets he had written, called “Advice to Children,” principally from Scripture, which he designed as presents. It is the custom of the Chinese to have sheets put up in their houses, and it is hoped that these sheets will find their way there.

June 29. “Studied Siamese much today; but do I study my heart enough? While walking this evening, we saw a rice-pot boiling upon a furnace.Approaching to see the construction, a Hindoo came out of the house, and by the tone of his voice and gestures for we could not understand a word he said, expressed great fear that his supper would be polluted by our touch, and even seemed afraid of our presence. When will Christian guard their hearts as this man did his rice?

July 10. “On board of the Futtle Barra, China sea. At half past four, on the evening of the seventh, we learned that this ship, bound for Siam, had arrived from Bombay, and would wait for us till the morning of July 9. According we went to work, did what we could that evening, and before night of the next day most of our effects were aboard. At seven we went on board, attended by Mr. and Mrs. Tracy, Dr. Parker, and Mr. Worth. At eight we weighed anchor, and our friends left us, after having commended us to God in prayer.

July 12. “My birthday, and the second I have passed in a vessel. Twenty four years old! How old this age seemed to me a short time since. How little I have accomplished in that great work which should occupy us continually. It needs great grace to keep the Sabbath amidst so much secular business as is carried on by these Arabs and Hindoos.

July 18. “My dear husband’s birthday. Left the ship about nine A.M., and at twelve arrived at Pac Nam. Here we were gratified to find Mr. Johnson waiting for a favorable tide to go to the ship for us. The Meinam–the river on which Bangkok is situated–is a broad and noble stream, its banks covered with trees. Three forts have been built at its mouth, one in the middle of the river, and the others on the banks. They are brick covered with white stucco, are very neat, and have many heavy guns. The mosquitos exceed any others I have seen in size and rapacity. They seem to stand on no kind of ceremony, and delight particularly in the fresh blood of new comers. It was evening before we arrived, and thus we had an opportunity in seeing the celebrated fireflies. They are large and brilliant; but what gives them their peculiar interest is, that they assemble, on a particular kind of tree, and then emit their light as regularly as the beating of the pulse. Arrived at Bangkok at half-past eight P.M., and was kindly received into the family of Mr. Johnson. Here we shall remain till we can build a house. The Lord has at length brought us in safety to this city, but we know not the things which await us here.”

Reproduced from: A Sketch of The Life and Character of Mrs. Emelie Royce Bradley, Ten Years a Missionary in Siam by Nancy Royce c.1865. Please notify of any transcription inaccuracies to DigitalBangkokRecorder