After labouring for some time in Hindustan Dr and Mrs Judson finally established themselves at Rangoon in the Burman Empire, in 1813. In 1824 war broke out between the British East India Company and the emperor of Burma. Dr and Mrs Judson and Dr Price, who were at Ava, the capital of the Burman Empire, when the war commenced, were immediately arrested and confined for several months. The account of the sufferings of the missionaries was written by Mrs Judson and is given in her own words.
“Rangoon, May 26, 1826.
“My beloved Brother,
“I commence this letter with the intention of giving you the particulars of our captivity and sufferings at Ava. How long my patience will allow my reviewing scenes of disgust and horror, the conclusion of this letter will determine. I had kept a journal of everything that had transpired from our arrival at Ava but destroyed it at the commencement of our difficulties.
“The first certain intelligence we received of the declaration of war by the Burmese, was on our arrival at Tsenpyoo-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 the other side of the river to hail us and make all necessary inquiries. We were allowed to proceed quietly on when he had informed the messenger that we were Americans, not English, and we’re 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 than at Ava. Your brother visited at the palace two or three times, but found the king’s manner toward 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 occasion offered, thus endeavouring to convince the government that we had really nothing to do with the present war.
“In two or three weeks after our arrival, the king, queen, all the members of the royal family, and most of the officers of government, returned to Amarapora, in order to come and take possession of the new palace in the customary style.
“I dare not attempt a description of that splendid day when majesty with all its attendant glory entered the gates of the golden city, and amid the acclamations of millions, I may say, took possession of the palace. The saupwars of the provinces bordering on China, all the viceroys and high officers of the kingdom were assembled on the occasion, dressed in their robes of state, and ornamented with the insignia of their office. The white elephant, richly adorned with gold and jewels, was one of the most beautiful objects in the procession. The king and queen alone were unadorned, dressed in the simple garb of the country; they, hand in hand, entered the garden in which we had taken our seats, and where a banquet was prepared for their refreshment. All the riches and glory of the empire were on this day exhibited to view. The number and immense size of the elephants, the numerous horses, and the great variety of vehicles of all descriptions, far surpassed anything I have ever seen or imagined. Soon after his majesty had taken possession of the new palace, an order was issued that no foreigner should be allowed to enter, excepting Lansago. We were a little alarmed at this but concluded it was from political motives, and would not, perhaps, essentially affect us.
“For several weeks nothing took place to alarm us, and we went on with our school. Mr J. 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 twenty-third 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. Mr Gouger, a young merchant residing at Ava, was then with us and had much more reason to fear than the rest of us. We all, however, immediately returned to our house, and began to consider what was to be done. Mr. G. went to Prince Thar-yar-wadee, the king’s most influential brother, who informed him he need not give himself any uneasiness, as he had mentioned the subject to his majesty, who had replied, that ‘the few foreigners residing at Ava had nothing to do with the war, and should not be molested.’
“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 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 joyful kind. Poor fellows! said we, you will probably never dance again. And so it proved, for few if any ever saw again their native home.
“At length, Mr Judson and Dr Price were summoned to a court of examination, where a 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, etc. They answered that 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 G it was found that Mr J. and Dr Price had taken money from 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 eighth 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 until further orders. The scene was now shocking beyond description.
“The whole neighborhood had collected–the masons at work on the brick house threw down their tools, and ran–the little Burman children were screaming and crying–the Bengalee servants stood in amazement at the indignities offered their master–and the hardened executioner, with a 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 courthouse, where the governor of the city and the officers were collected, one of whom read the order 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 veranda, and continually called me to come out, and 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 everything I knew; then ordered the gates of the compound to be shut, no person 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. The guard instantly ordered me to unbar the doors and come out, or they would break the house down. I obstinately refused to obey and endeavoured to intimidate them by threatening to complain of their conduct to higher authorities on the morrow. Finding me resolved in disregarding their orders, they took the two Bengalee servants and confined them in the stocks in a very painful position. I could not endure this; but called the head man to the window, and promised to make them all a present in the morning, if they would release the servants. After much debate and many severe threatenings, they consented but seemed resolved to annoy me as much as possible. 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. You may well imagine, my dear brother, that sleep was a stranger to my eyes and peace and composure to my mind.
“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 the 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. The day dragged heavily away, and another dreadful night was before me. I endeavoured to soften the feelings of the guard by giving them tea and cigars for the night; so that they allowed me to remain inside of my room, without threatening as they did the night before. But the idea of your brother being stretched on the bare floor in irons and confinement, haunted my mind like a spectre, and prevented my obtaining any quiet sleep, though nature was almost exhausted.
“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. He told me it was not in his power to release them from prison or irons, but that he could make their situation more comfortable; there was his head officer, with whom I must consult, relative to the means. The officer, who proved to be one of the city writers, and whose countenance at the first glance presented the most perfect assemblage of all the evil passions attached to human nature, took me aside, and endeavored to convince me, that myself, as well as the prisoners, was entirely at his disposal–that our future comfort must depend on my liberality in regard to presents–and that these must be made in a private way and unknown to any officer in the government! ‘What must I do,’ said I, ‘to obtain a mitigation of the present sufferings of the two teachers?’ ‘Pay to me,’ said he, ‘two hundred tickals, (about a hundred dollars,) two pieces of fine cloth, and two pieces of handkerchiefs.’ I had taken money with me in the morning, our house being two miles from the prison–I could not easily return. This I offered to the writer and begged he would not insist on the other articles, as they were not in my possession. He hesitated for some time, but fearing to lose the sight of so much money, he concluded to take it, promising to relieve the teachers from their most painful situation.
“I then procured an order from the governor, 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 seeing us enjoy the poor consolation of meeting in that miserable place. In vain I pleaded the order of 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 had paid an equal sum, were taken out of the common prison and confined in an open shed in the prison inclosure. 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 anything 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 the 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 in a dreadful state of agitation, lest it should be discovered, and cause my being thrown into prison. And had it been possible to procure money from any other quarter, I should not have ventured on such a step.
“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 this circumstance to the king,’ said one of them, ‘and perhaps he will restore it. But this is 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 acquaintance?’ ‘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. Everything 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, etc. My little work table and rocking chair present from my beloved brother, I rescued from their grasp, partly by artifice, and partly through their ignorance. 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 thunderbolt 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.
“The officers who had taken possession of our property, presented it to his majesty, saying, ‘Judson is a true teacher; we found nothing in his house, but what belongs to priests. In addition to this money, there is an immense number of books, medicines, trunks of wearing apparel, of which we have only taken a list. Shall we take them, or let them remain?’ ‘Let them remain,’ said the king, ‘and put this property by itself, for it shall be restored to him again if he is found innocent.’ This was an allusion to the idea of his being a spy.
“For two or three months following, I was subject to continual harassments, partly through my ignorance of police management and partly through the insatiable desire of every petty officer to enrich himself through our misfortunes.
“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 distresses, 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.
“Some months after your brother’s imprisonment, I was permitted to make a little bamboo room in the prison inclosures, 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, etc., 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 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 one room, without a breath of air excepting 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.
“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 inclosure, which was nearly opposite the prison gate. Here I incessantly begged the governor to give me an order to take Mr. J. 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. I now felt happy, indeed, and had Mr. J. 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 had left.
(Fox’s Book of Martyrs By John Fox)