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HOME > Biographical > A Lady of England-The Life and Letters of Charlotte Maria Tucker > CHAPTER I
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A.D. 1875

In the second week of October 1875, Miss Tucker left English shores, never to return. The voyage was uneventful, differing therein from her trip to Canada. On its very next voyage the good ship Strathclyde, which carried her to the East, went down within sight of Dover. But no threatenings of such a catastrophe disturbed A. L. O. E. on her way out.

A fellow-passenger on board the Strathclyde wrote long afterwards:—

‘My first introduction to A. L. O. E. was when I was lying in all the helplessness of the first days of my first voyage, quite unable to stir from the deck. I became conscious of a grey-haired lady stooping over me, offering some eau de cologne, and with a winning smile asking if she could do anything for me. She was a good sailor, and in those miserable days moved about amongst the sea-sick passengers like an angel of mercy. Even then dear Miss Tucker looked very frail and delicate; and one could scarcely have expected that she would be spared for eighteen years to work in all the heat and discomfort of India. One thing remarkable about her on that voyage was the influence she had over the men on board,—some of them quite indifferent, if not hostile, to religion. No one could withstand her genial, loving ways; and it was a sight to be remembered, to see her gathering the young fellows round the piano, while she led off in some old English ditty.’

Her own letters to Mrs. Hamilton, while on board, are[198] cheery as usual, and speak no word of pain or longing for all that she had left behind; indeed the very first ends merrily: ‘Please give my kindest love to your dearest girl, and tell her that I have already hung up her famous bag. I hope that no ayah will bag it! I could not resist the pun, bad as it is.’

There were five ayahs on board, and she soon struck up an acquaintance with one of them,—a Christian ayah,—reading aloud her Hindustani Bible, and delighted to find that the ayah could understand what was read. ‘I am bribing one to teach me,’ she wrote. ‘The ayahs ought to be glad to help; for they, at least two or three of them, seem to regard me as a kind of supplementary nurse, and if they want to go to work make over the baby to me.’ In the same letter she states: ‘We have a strong Missionary force on board; two Scotchmen, the wife of one of them, and six Missionary ladies. We have not quarrelled at all; but then, most of us have been sea-sick!’—again a little glimmer of fun. ‘We lady Missionaries get on very well together,’ she says in another letter. ‘Very gentle and modest are the Misses A., “your pretty girls,” as Lady I. called them to-day.’

As to amusements on board, she wrote:—

‘Lady I. has started a game which dear Leila and Fred may add to their store at Christmas. She wrote something, missing out all adjectives. A gentleman went round and collected adjectives haphazard from the passengers, inserting them in the places left blank. The piece was then read out. It was a description of the voyage and many of the passengers. Of course nobody could be offended, because the adjectives came haphazard. But how your young folk would have laughed when, amongst other personages described, came—“Miss Tucker, of a grandiloquent disposition, with other bouncing Missionary ladies.”’

About a fortnight later she wrote:—


‘A contrast to —— is Mr. S., the competition-wallah, probably the most highly educated man in the ship. I look upon him as the Squire of the Mission ladies. In his most quiet, proper fashion, he is ever ready to do our behests; and he never seems to tire of hymn-singing.... He has evidently plenty of moral courage. The very funniest thing was that Mr. S. was actually present at the solemn conclave held by us six M. L.[24] to decide whether we could conscientiously attend a second theatrical amateur performance, Mr. S. having been the principal actor in the first one, which we did attend. It was as if Garrick had been present at a Clapham conference on the subject of whether it were right to go to see him act!!! Mr. S. was very amiable and good: he had taken a great deal of trouble to amuse the passengers, and his part was perfectly unexceptionable; but if we all absent ourselves next time I do not think that he will take any offence. I proposed that we should all sleep over the matter, one of my reasons being that I could not but feel Mr. S.’s presence a little embarrassing. On the following day we met without him, and decided that the question is to be an open one; each M. L. is to judge according to her own conscience. I believe that we shall divide; but this is not, we have agreed, to disturb the harmony between the M. L.’

After a few days spent in ‘bright, beautiful Bombay’—these are her own words—she proceeded by rail with one companion to Allahabad. A pause at Jabalpur had been planned, but this fell through; and they accomplished the whole long journey of 845 miles without a break. Wisely, her friends had insisted on first-class, and she was none the worse for the fatigue. On the very morning of her arrival at Allahabad she could say: ‘I had a nice warm bath, and then a good breakfast, and I feel almost as fresh as if I had not travelled 845 miles at a stretch, but merely taken a little drive. Think how strong I must be!’

Later in the same letter, a long and cheery one, bearing no signs of fatigue, she speaks of Mr. George Bowen, an American Missionary, who had ‘laboured without intermission for twenty-eight years’ in the East, and who[200] was known among Natives as ‘the English Faqir,’ on account of his wandering and self-denying life.

‘He will take no salary,’ she wrote, ‘but has earned his own living, I hear, by teaching, supporting himself on the merest trifle. I esteem it a great honour that I sat beside him at breakfast at the Zenana Mission House last Thursday. Mr. Bowen looks quite skin and bone, wondrously thin, but not in the least unhealthy, but as if there were plenty of work in him still. He told me that he does not “believe in age.” He seems to feel as fresh as he did twenty-eight years ago; and yet at the beginning of his career he was so fearfully ill that his life was given up, and he wrote his farewell to his mother. As India has agreed so splendidly with Mr. Bowen, I asked him—as I generally do those who thrive in the climate—whether he drank only water. “Tea,” he replied, smiling. He gave his opinion that to take stimulant here is “the way to have to leave the country.” Almost all the Missionaries whom I have met appear to be water-drinkers. I am particularly delighted with the American Missionaries whom I have seen.... I am ashamed of ever having had a prejudice against Yankees. I am attracted also by Native Christian ladies.’

On her way up-country she came in for the wedding of a Missionary lady, and after her usual fashion she was most active in helping; working hard at the making of wreaths and at the decoration of the Ludhiana Church porch. As the married pair were about to drive off, rice was brought to be thrown; but somebody present objected to the custom for India, as originally heathen, and liable to be misunderstood.’ Then the horses shall have it!’ declared Miss Tucker; and with two hands well filled she went to the horse’s heads, and fed them, amid much laughter, in which she heartily joined. Her own description of the event is overflowing with spirit and enjoyment. It is dated November 30.

‘I have just come in to rest a bit, and wash my soiled hands,—for what do you think that I have been about?—at the express request of the bride, helping to decorate the church for her wedding, which is to come off to-day. This house is jammed full—that is to say, a good deal more full than is comfortable; but the kind folk[201] would not hear of my leaving till after the wedding, so I do not go to my home till to-morrow morning. Indian railways are regardless of convenient hours. I, who was up this morning soon after five, must be up to-morrow morning soon after three. Of course I had to arrive here by starlight; and on the same night there had been another arrival at one A.M. ... There is a grand tamasha[25] about the wedding. Every one seems pleased. It is Missionary wedding Missionary, and—perhaps I had better go and make myself useful....

‘Later. Oh, such a pretty wedding! The little church fresh white-washed within, clean as a wedding-cake. The porch almost like a bower. A border of flowers on either side up the centre made a kind of path. Then the presence of the school-girls in their white chaddahs; the number of Natives in their picturesque costumes,—both Christians and heathen, inside the church and looking in from the outside,—all made a charming scene.

‘But before we went to church, a Begum, a royal lady, granddaughter of Shah-Soojah, came to see the fun. And only fancy, Laura, I was left for perhaps a quarter of an hour to entertain the fine old lady. Would not your Fred and Leila have laughed to have seen me, making gallant efforts to keep up conversation with my dreadfully bad Hindustani. I dashed at it, tried to explain why I wore a black dress when I had lilac and blue ones at Amritsar, told her that I had never been married, answered questions regarding my family, etc. The Begum laughed, and I laughed, for I knew that my Hindustani was very bad; but I did remember always to use the respectful “Ap”[26] to the princess.

‘Presently the dear old Missionary, Mr. Rudolph, appeared. The “pardah”[27] lady, on seeing a man, hid behind an arm-chair. But when I told her that it was “Rudolph Sahib,” the old lady said that he was her father, and that she would make her salaam to him. I hear that the Begum is almost a Christian, and she can read. Wrapped in her chaddah, she walked with me to church, and stayed through the service. I was close behind her. When it was over, I managed to say a little sentence to her in rather better Hindustani, “The Lord Jesus Christ is here; He gives blessing.” The Begum gave a sound of assent.’

Next day, the first of December, Charlotte Tucker reached Amritsar,—the spot which she fully expected to[202] be her home for many a year to come. But Amritsar was only a stage on the road to Batala, where her Indian work really lay.

All who know aught of India know the name of ‘The Panjab’;[28] that province to the far north, a land of five great rivers, where in Mutiny days so much was done for the preservation of our Indian Empire. Amritsar[29] is one of the larger cities of the Panjab, containing a population of about 135,000 inhabitants,—Hindus, Muhammadans, and Sikhs. It is the Holy City of the Sikhs, and has their ‘golden temple,’ wherein they worship, and wherein also is kept their sacred book, the ‘Granth.’

Missionary work has been mainly carried on in the Panjab by the Church Missionary Society; just as, in many parts of Bengal, Missionary work has been mainly carried on by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Where the one great Church Society has obtained a footing, the other great Church Society does not interfere in either case, but goes elsewhere in the Mission field. It is greatly to be wished that this spirit of courtesy were more widely seen in the working of Missions generally among the heathen. During late years the ladies of the Church Zenana Society have come in as an additional help to the Societies above-named,—as true ‘handmaids,’ alike in the Panjab and in other parts of India.

The Mission premises are about half-a-mile distant from the City of Amritsar. A. L. O. E.’s first Indian home was here; in a bungalow, surrounded by a large compound or garden which was part of the Mission premises. When she arrived, in the beginning of December, roses were in full bloom, as well as abundantly-flowering shrubs and creepers. The great banyan-tree, which grew and still grows in front of the bungalow, was soon named by Miss Tucker ‘The Mission Tree.’


A warm welcome was given to her by the Missionary ladies living there:—Miss Emily Wauton, who still labours on in the same spot, though nearly twenty years have passed since that day; Mrs. Elmslie, widow of Dr. Elmslie, the Pioneer of Missionary work in Cashmere; Miss Florence Swainson; and Miss Ada Smith;—not to speak of the C.M.S. Missionary gentleman living close by.

After her wont, Miss Tucker was very eager, very bright, very anxious to become immediately one of the little circle. That first evening, as they sat round the table, she said: ‘I don’t want to be “Miss Tucker” here. Can’t you all call me “Charlotte Maria”?’ The ladies naturally demurred. ‘We could not possibly,’ they said. Miss Tucker’s face fell a little; then came a happy though............
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