CHAPTER VI. Missionary Life in Siam

1836, 1837.

Routine of a day – Letter inviting a young lady to join the mission – Visit to a watt – Siamese inquirers – Labors in the dispensary – Visit to a royal family

“Shall we not follow where His feet have trod,
And by an humble love and faith sincere,
Approach the likeness of the Son of God?”

In one of Mrs. Bradley’s letters, she tells of her house being erected high and dry upon pieces of round timber driven perpendicularly into the moist earth the sides of it being of bamboo, and the thresholds fifteen inches high, with the kitchen, as in the southern states, a separate building, and the fireplace a shallow wooden box, filled with sand, on which the fire is placed, the smoke finding its way out through the accidental openings in the sides of the building. In another she says, “Our houses here would not be as comfortable as a good barn at home, yet they serve our purpose very well in this climate. We have not a pane of glass, nor should we have if we were possessed of thousands for our wooden shutters, which admit the air as well as the light, are far better.”

Of her daily mode of life, she says, “If I describe the routine of a day just now, it will give you some idea or what others are doing as well as myself. The first thing in the morning, you would hear Dr. Bradley call for the boat, that he may go to the dispensary. There he finds a slate on which we both of us write whatever we find needs to be done in the apothecary line. In a short time he contrives to prepare the medicines in such a way that his apothecary, an Indo-Portuguese woman, can finish them, and returns. About half past seven, our bell is rung for morning-prayers. The exercises are conducted in Siamese, and all of our family who understand that language assemble, and hear a hymn sung, a portion of Scripture read, and a prayer offered. Then comes breakfast, and immediately after, Dr. Bradley goes to his studies. A short time since, I was able to join him about 9 A.M.; but Providence has put under my care a small school. At nine o’cloak, I assemble my little flock and pray with them, then send them to their teacher who sits in the veranda. As he is a child in every thing but age, I must have a continual oversight of him and his charge. This is more or less strict, according to the pressure of duties. At twelve we take tiffin, (lunch) and then load our boat with the little girls who attend school, a green work-basket and some stools, and go to the dispensary. Dr. Bradley here commences his labors with prayer, reading, or exhortation. After this is finished, two minutes’ bustle brings pills, ointments, washes and assistants all to their places. My little girls sent themselves in almost the only vacant place in the dispensary, and I employ my odd minutes in teaching them to sew. My principal business is to oversee the dispensing of medicines. Dr. Bradley receives the patients in regular order, and gives each a written prescription. These are carried by the female patients to a woman, who brings them to me to be interpreted, then puts them in execution. The males carry their to a boy, who pursues the same course. I formerly had some time for conversation; but recently my girls occupy so much of my time, that this is almost excluded. Sister Robinson commenced female prayer-meetings among the patients. She has not been able of late to attend them, and so they devolve upon me. About 3, P.M., we return home and dine. After dinner we go out on the river for the benefit of the air. Of my evenings I cannot give much account, for they are either taken up in sundries, or spent in resting.”

The following letter she addressed to a young lady in this country, urging the claims of missions:

Bangkok, January 7. 1836.

…..”When I think of the immence responsibility which I shall assume in asking you to come, I tremble. Even all the encouragement which I have received from my brethren and sister here to do so, would not induce me to do it, did I not firmly believe that the Lord will direct you, if you commit your way to him. If he bide you come, he w11 make you happy in the performance of your duty. But there is much that I would say to you before I feel prepared to say, Come, and cast in your lot with us. The question I would now propose to you is not whether you love Christ and the heathen better than you love home, friends, and country. This, I trust, you have answered long ago. But can you take us for your friends, and make our home your home?

“Methinks I hear you say, ‘A band of missionaries ought to be good friends, loving brothers and sisters, and their home ought to be a restng-place for all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.’ Missionaries are but human beings, and very imperfectly sanctified. We do not come together because our tastes and habits are the same, but to do the work of the Lord. Undoubtedly you have often rejoiced to aid a Christian brother or sister in some labor of love, with whom you had no little sympathy of feeling, that when the work was accomplished, you sought, for your hours of relaxation, other society more congenial to your taste. It is not so with the missionary. He has no other society than that of the little band by whom he is surrounded; with them he labors; and when labor is finished, with them he must seek to unbend his mind from his severe studies and labors; from them must he draw all those social pleasures which flow from such numerous streams at home. Particularly is this the case with a single person. If the heart of the married missionary is wounded by the real or supposed neglect or ill-humor, or dictatorial or contradictory spirit of a brother, he has’another half’ into whose bosom he may pour his complaints, and find sympathy and condolence. In a band of Christians in a civilized land, the eccentricities of one are so shaded by those of his neighbor, that they are little regarded. But that same peculiarity in the isolated missionary may stand out in such bold relief, that you can neither forget not hide your eyes from it. You are conscious too that everyone you meet is intimately acquainted with all your faults and all your peculiarities of character. The heathen are a constant cause of irritation to you; You cannot hide your eyes from their shameful nakedness, nor close your ears against their vulgar and awfully obscene conversation; nor can you perceive in then any desire to be cleansed from their filthiness.

“You will find not a little inconvenience from the smallness of the houses, and the thinness of the partitions. Now do not say that is a thing of no consequence, and turn away from it without a thought. Is it not a matter worthy of thought, that all your words can be noted by your neighbors in the other apartments of the house that every lesson you take must be subjected to the examination of whoever is so little occupied with his own business that he can attend to yours? It is not a slight mercy to us that the natives understand little or nothing of English. Supposing too that the family is ill regulated, every thing out of time or place, so that you must either have no system at all, or make a new one every day–you cannot pack up your clothes and seek a new boarding place. There may be families far more pleasant, but it may not be in their power to receive you. True, these are not great trials, but a continual dropping will wear away a stone. Nothing but the grace of God will enable you to possess your soul in patience with them.

“Perhaps you leave your native land with the picture of your friend, with whom you expect to spend the remainder of your days, as she was when you dwelt together in freedom from care; now her duties to her family and the heathen leave her less time to cheer the lonely hours of sister. This change may be so magnified by the contrast, that you may often be disposed to ask, where is my friend? Perhaps too you reach your destination, and find the only member of the mission with whom you had any acquaintance, sleeping in the dust. And last, but not least, you have left all the dear delights of home to sojourn in a heathen land; you have labored hard to acquire a knowledge of their strange tongue, and have gathered a band of children around you; and suddenly, from the fickleness of the parents, or the power of some priest, they all begin to make some excuse, and in twenty-four hours you may see your little flock scattered and you left alone. Six weeks since, I had twelve scholars; now I have not one. Yet, under all these circumstances, we say, Come over to Bangkok and help us. My dear husband and myself extend the hand of affection to you, and say. Come and share our home among the heathen.”

Jan. 18, 1836, she writes, “Had a long conversation with my teacher respecting the concerns of his soul. After much discussion, I referred him to the gospel of Matthew which he has, and entreated him to read it with prayer. He promised the former, but not the latter.

Jan. 19. “Find that my teacher has not read the gospel of Matthew. Gave him one, entreated him to read it with prayer for assistance in understanding it. After conversing for some time, he interrupted me by inquiring what salary Dr. Bradley received!

Jan. 24. “Sabbath. Worship in Siamese at the water-house. It was an interesting sight to see those who had come hither for the healing of their bodies all arranged upon seats, and waiting to see what new thing was to be done. As much decorum was observed as could be expected; some peeped through the windows. One priest was present. We had singing and a prayer in Siamese. The Lord bless this effort. Mr. Jones is preaching in the watts, Mr. Dean in his house, and Mr. Robinson in the dispensary. It is pleasing to see the inspiriting effects of these labors upon the laborers.

Jan 26. “This afternoon, went down the river half the distance to the sea, and landed upon a little island. Here was an image and seats under two or three trees venerable for their antiquity. On each side was a watt. We visited the one on our right, and found it very extensive. It is not yet finished, though partly decay. Much to our surprise, we were allowed to go inside, and found a splendid image of Boodh sitting on a throne. It was gilded, and must have been twenty-five feet high. The building was very lofty, and being empty, made our voices resound in a peculiar manner. The walls were black and ornamented with yellow flowers, and at first sight seemed to be gilded. We visited an unfinished apartment, where were three images in the centre, and niches in the walls sufficient to accommodate three hundred images. There were many watts on the river, and many Chinese to whom we distributed books. The country is very fertile, and when we see how pleasant the watts are made, we can form a little idea how it will look when it shall become the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour.

Feb. 14. “A most heart-cheering circumstance occurred today in Siamese worship. Mr. Jones followed Mr. Robinson in some remarks. While he was speaking, I observed a woman standing with her head thrown back to prevent the tears from overflowing the bounderies thus formed. At times the f1oods were so great that she hastily wiped them away with her shoulder cloth. Mr. Jones closed by saying, ‘If you will take this, take it, if not, cast it away.’ She immediately exclaimed, ‘I will take it.’ When the services were closed, I sought her out, and invited her, to come and see me.

Feb. 16. “The woman whom I mentioned on the Sabbath came to see me today, bringing her mother and sister. It seems that they can read. She asked many questions, which showed an inquiring state of mind: Who was Jesus? Id he died, where is he now? What is right, and what is wrong? She was particularly struck with the idea that God is eternal, expressed by saying that he knew neither birth nor death, while she acknowledged that the Siamese god was dead. All this was interspersed with many painfully frivolous questions. Feb. 19. “I have been endeavoring to find an expression in Siamese equivalent to the question, ‘How many times is one number contained in another?’ Those of whom I have inquired say, ‘Siamese never ask such a question.’

Feb. 21. “Have just finished the life of Cornelius. I admire his talent and his social affections; but Oh that I had his singleness of heart. I can never do any thing among the heathen till my heart is renewed in holiness. By the grace of God, I will live in nearer and sweeter communion with him.

Feb. 23. “This is the anniversary of the birth and death of my little boy. It is sweet to think that the soul of that little one, which I trust and gave to the Saviour when first I knew of its existence, is with him in glory; and its dust is guarded, and will be raised a glorious body in the resurrection. Oh that I may be prepared to meet him in heaven.

March 6. “Commenced reading the gospel of Matthew with the children and servants.

March 17. “It is the unanimous opinion of Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, my husband and myself, that I ought to attend to the females in the dispensary. I feel that I need to be more holy to undertake this task. The Lord make me so. This will hinder me in my reading, but that is not a concern of mine if I am doing the will of the Lord.

March 22. “I have spent this afternoon at the floating-house. I had no medicines prepared, and could not prescribe for patients. It was interesting to see such a multitude collected together waiting to be healed: When will such numbers assemble to be healed of their spiritual maladies?

April 7. “Four of the officers of the Peacock called this morning. It is pleasant to meet Americans. I did not know but I had been prejudiced against the English, and had almost decided that when I should meet American officers I should find them as formal as the English. But it was not so. I felt instantly that I was talking to my own countrymen. The surgeon spent the afternoon with us. After dinner, Dr. Bradley and myself went to visit the high-priest Chou-fah-yai,(great lord of heaven).

April 12. “Yesterday, being the Sabbath, we hoped some of our American friends would attend devine service. But they attended a play got up by the acting Phra Klang for their amusement. Lord, let not thy great name br thus dishonored.

April 19. “The Peacock gone. On the sixteenth Mr. Roberts had his audience with the king. On that evening my husband and myself were sent for to see Chou Fah. On arriving, we found him with a box of ladies’ bonnets and dresses. We found that they were among the presents to the king, and he had sent them to this brother to know how they were to be worn. The latter being a little puzzled about it, sent for me. There were three complete suits for a lady. A pelisse and winter hat, red silk velvet dress, and pink silk barege. They were truly splendid. I laid the dress, head-dress, shoes, etc., together which were matched, and told the man–who by the way was a nobleman–how they were to be worn. Happening to speak of the queen, Chou Fah said that the king would not give them to the queen, but keep them for himself.

April 29. Two days since, Dr. Bradley and myself went to visit the king of Ligou, who is here on a visit. At a previous professional visit, he had requested the doctor to bring me to see his women. He received us in an ordinary room, and shook hands with us both, quite in English style; he then introduced us to a daughter of the king of Siam, and a son of the Phra Klang, the former about eleven and the latter eight years of age. She was loaded with jewelry, and the little boy stooped every time he passed her. Soon the Rajah left us and prepared what, we should call his parlor, then sent a servant to invite us to join him there. His house is merely temporary, built of attap. This room was hung on three sides with black cloth, and fourteen posts were adorned each with a tumbler or lamps. More than twenty hanging lamps were suspended from the ceiling. He requested me to go to the other and see his women. Then having two chairs placed on a platform,he seated us there, taking care to place me on the right hand. He and the young princess sat opposite us on a platform a little more elevated. He soon invited the kooms, or ladies, to come and sit on the other end of his platform. Five or six complied with the invitation, though evidently in a place to which they were unaccustomed. I was not a little pleased with this piece of condescension to his females, in compliment to us. Which of them, and how many were his wives, we did not ascertain. One was a concubine of the Pra Klang, and another of Luang nai Silt. Our visit was about after the same form as all visits to the great people. Our entertainment differed a little. First a table, or we should call it a bench, with two little golden trays, each having a poy of tea and two cups. Between them was a high silver tray with four kinds of cakes. The two I tasted were very good. As this was all the bench would hold, another silver tray was placed in a chair. A golden dish of water, with a little gold cup for us to drink out of, was placed on a stool. Here we sat and ate as gravely as possible, while our friends were telling the women that it was our custom to eat together. When we took our leave he wished me to shake hands with the females, but would not allow Dr. Bradley to do so.

July 12. “My birthday, twenty-five years old. I felt, when I bowed in prayer this morning, how much reason I had for gratitude that the Lord had inclined my heart to pray. How many birthdays have passed without a prayer. I have great reason to praise the Lord that I am permitted to spend this day among the people with whom I hope to labor. Almost one years has passed since I set my foot on the shores of Siam. In what respect am I better prepared to labor than I was then? I know more of the language, but my progress has not been rapid. Lord, I would not be a cumberer of thy ground. Aid me in spending the coming year in thy service. The station I occupy in this mission is replete with responsibility, both in regard to the lives and the souls of hundreds of my fellow-creatures.”

A conversation with her teacher 11lustrates at once her fidelity and the terrific moral darkness and blindness of the heathen.

“The people among whom we labor, or rather their priests, are yet mad upon their idols. They are generally too stupid even to cavil with the truth. Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with my teacher, which it may be well to relate, as it will show more what they believe than they will generally take the troble to state. I asked him the meaning of the Siamese word for ‘hell.’ He said it was a boiling pot into which those who had done wickedly by killing fowls would be thrown, and that they was a guard to prevent their escape. I asked him if he did not eat fowls. ‘Oh, yes; but I do not kill them.’ It was in vain that I tried to convince him that if it was wicked to kill fowls, it was wicked to eat them. I tried too to convince him of sin, but he had committed none.

“He inquired if all the people in Siam were going to destruction. I told him, Yes. ‘But the Pra Klang,’ said he, ‘has never done any evil, and he has built a watt.’ I told him that the Pra Klang was wicked in the sight of God, for he and not love the Lord with all his heart; neither do you, added I, endeavoring to bring the matter back to himself. ‘But,’ said he, ‘God does not know about that.’ This gave me an opportunity to speak of the omniscience of God. This he did not relish, and said he did not know there was a God. I pointed to a plantain-tree, and asked him who made it. ‘It grew itself,’ I held up my pencil, and asked him if that made itself. ‘Oh no, man made that.’ We argued the point long, and when the time came for me to go to the dispensary, he still would not allow that the wonderful works of God were any proof of the existence of such a thing.

“I forgot to state, that one of the charges I brought against the Pra Klang was, that he did not regard the Sabbath. ‘How do I know that I ought to regard the Sabbath?’ was his inquiry. I gave him an account of the creation, fall and redemption of man, and offered him salvation in the name of our Saviour. Here, too, he had a refuge. ‘Mr.—-, a European, regards not the Sabbath.’ I said, ‘He is not a disciple of Christ; and he lows that if he does not repent, he will be lost.’ When I think of the pit from which I was dug, I do not wonder that the heathen refuse the gospel. Pray that the servants of the Lord here, may so live that He can compel these heathen to accept of salvation.”

“My dear Aunt Elizabeth—It grieves me much to learn that you were still suffering affliction. No affliction is for the present joyous, yet I trust that this work, together with other trials of a similar nature, for your good. It must require far more grace quietly to suffer the will of God than to do it. Herein perhaps is that paradox explained, that the Christian is so happy under the rod. It is then that he is rereiving abundant measures of grace, which more than compensate for his sufferings. I am reading just now, ‘Flavel on Keeping the Heart.’ He mentions several seasons in which the Christian needs special aid in this work. I felt that I was, and had been, enjoying the season of prosperity. I do not think it will always be so with me. I fear that I am like Jeshurun, waxing fat.”

After speaking of the protracted 11lness of her aunt, she proceeds: These things will prove as a furnace to silver, I trust. Yes, I hope that you may come out of them as gold tried in the fire. When your eyes are shut upon this world, do you not find them turned inward and upward? When you cannot read the promises to the afflicted people of God ‘fresh from the blessed book where they are written,’ can you not ‘rove with ever fresh delight’ among those that you have treasured up in your heart and mind? How soon too shall we enter those blessed abodes where the inhabitants shall no more say, I am sick: where, in the unfolding of the mysteries of divine Providence, we shall see a need be for all these things. We shall see why it was necessary that this one should be scourged, that one goaded on, and a third held in with bit and bridle.

How sweet will be the rest of heaven, to those who have passed through much tribulation.

“As I cast my eye upon your letter, it rests upon your cautions to me upon the subject of overworking myself. I thank you for them. While I feel it my duty to use all my strength in my Master’s service, I do not feel that I have any right to go beyond it. I have no right to unfit myself for future service by ruining my health. I am now spending of ordinary labors. I believe there are seasons in the life of every individual, when the Lord in his providence calls for extraordinary exertions, and gibe extrordinary strength, but if a mother can, even for months, live almost without sleep because a beloved child must have constant watching, is that an indication of Providence that for the rest of her life she must allow herself no more sleep than sufficed to keep her alive during that period?

“Perhaps no class of persons have seasoned more upon false premises than missionaries. It is considered to wear out one’s life immediately. A missionary cannot be useful till he becomes familiar with the language. So when he reaches a heathen shore, he shuts himself up to his studies, perhaps neglecting the advice of older missionaries, who know better than he can the dangers which attend the period of acclimation. But before he finds himself ready to speak in a strange tongue, he has other laid the foundation for permanent illhealth, or sinks into his grave. As far as my observation goes, the man who rises early and spends the dawn in his closet or the wide temple of nature, eats his bread or rice without grudging the time it takes to swallow it, spends several hours in study, attends to his family concerns, which inevitably brings him in contact with natives, and in the evening suffers his mind to unbend, going out perhaps and spending the cool of the day in conversation with natives, make, on the whole, the most rapid progress in his course of preparation for usefulness. My feelings grow warm when I think of the immence waste of life which has already been suffered in the missionary corps.

“I cannot say that life seems less desirable than it did for or five year ago; on the contrary, I find in my husband, my child, and the dying heathen, new bonds to earth. Yet heaven appears more and more desirable. This subject leads me to speak of my health, about which my Clinton friends have so many foreboadings. It is now very good. You have undoubtedly heard that I was quite unwell during the last spring and summer. I still an very cautious, in regard to taking cold, for I no right to trifle with health. I hope that prospect which I had of sinking into an early grave, will teach me to do with my might what my hands finds to do, and to live with my lamp trimmed end burning, waiting the coming of the Lord. My love to my dear aged grandfather; also to all my friends in Clinton. May we meet in heaven.

“Your niece,
“Emelie R. Bradley.”

July 19, 1836. “At Packlat yesterday I was led to an interesting conversation with a young man. I asked him why he worshipped images, and for the first time received an answer to the question: ‘The priest taught me so.’ I repeated the psalmist’s description of the idol-gods, and added that his god was made of brick and mortar covered with a little gilding, while the true God has created the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all things. ‘True, true,’ said he; ‘True, true,’ was reechoed by an old woman from among the listeners. He inquired if the sun and moon were to be worshipped. I fear he received but faint ideas of God. It is much easier to show the vanity of idols, than to give a heathen a correct idea of Jehovah.

August 6. “A rainbow tonight gave occasion to my boy to tell me the Siamese superstition respecting this beautiful phenomenon. They suppose it is an animal eating the cloud, and they will not drink of the rain which may fall from it.

Oct. 15. “In various ways, I have contrived to obtain a school of eight, representing the Siamese, Portuguese, Chinese, and Burman nations. I devote my morning to superintending the girls, and take them with their stools and work into our boat when I go to the dispensary, and contrive to teach them to sew while overseeing the dispensing of medicine. I hope I shall not refuse to do any labor that the Lord requires of me. I desire to be more burdened with souls. O that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep over the stupidity of this people.

Oct. 21. “The Lord has placed for a time another little girl under my care. I know not what may be his design in thus throwing one after another into my hands; but I trust that he will give me strength to take care of them.

Oct. 26. “An eclipse of the moon the night before last. The Siamese made a great noise with every thing they could get hold of, to encourage the moon in its contest with the giant, who was putting it into his nose and ears.

Dec. 17. “The Lord has been very merciful to me. On the morning of November 26, he gave me a little daughter. Lord, help me to render thee the thanks that I owe thee for thy goodness. Let us never have a child who shall live an enemy to thee. I trust my season of confinement has been profitable to me. A return of my cough has led me at times to look upon myself as attacked by a disease which, however silent in its approach, or slow in its progress, never fails to bring its victim to the grave. This has enabled me to bring death, the grave, and futurity, nearer than ever before.

Dec. 26. “Mrs. Jones has spent the day with me. Enjoyed her visit much. Had a sweet season of thanksgiving with her. Went to the dispensary today. I trust I had some grateful emotions, that I was permitted to return to my labors.

Jan. 2, 1837. “Kan came and asked me about the Lord’s supper, and if he might partake of it. In reply to a number of questions, he said he would keep the commandments here, possibly; at home, he could not observe the Sabbath. He feared not persecution, for Jesus was the Lord of life. He wished much to go to heaven. He probably knows not what he asked; but, Lord, wilt thou not show him the way of salvation, and lead him in it?

March 2. “Siamese female prayer-meeting today. One woman very attentive. An interesting conversation with my teacher this morning upon the subject and nature of the atonement. Mrs. Johnson spent the day with me. It is good to have Christian sisters.

March 13. “Just brought up a boat load of sheets to be folded, etc. So the business multiplies. O may I find that every care brings me nearer to God. A present of sea-biscuit from Captain Gordon. A rare instance of gratitude. May we see in it the hand of our heavenly Father, feeding us. My husband’s ‘History of Christ’ in the press. May the Lord bless it.

Sept. 11. “I have been laid seriously to inquire if my days were not numbered. But the Lord has raised me up, and I am now able to attend to my business as usual. My family is in an interesting condition. I have a little boy whom I have taken for the Clinton Sunday-school.

Nov.25. “My days are fully occupied with the cares of my family, my Siamese studies, and scholars; my evenings, with a little English school. On Saturday last, I had the privilege of going up the river several miles with my husband and Jane. I do not know that my cares have ever depressed me as they do this week. I have not felt well, but I will not plead this as any apology for my inexcusable ill-temper and peavishness. By indulging these wicked tempers, I have rendered myself unhappy, and my husband’s home, which ought always to be peaceful and pleasant, uncomfortable, and dishonored my profession in the eyes of my servants. I desire tp be thoroughly humbled for giving place to the adversary. I see that I am not so yet. I fear that the storm is rather spent than subdued. May the Lord give me grace to be more watchful in future.”

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