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Methodist missionaries in colonial and postcolonial Upper Burma, 1887–1966

The first British Methodist missionaries came to Upper Burma in 1887 and the last left in 1966. They were known as 'Wesleyans' before 1932 and afterwards as 'Methodists'. This book is a study of the ambitions, activities and achievements of Methodist missionaries in northern Burma from 1887-1966 and the expulsion of the last missionaries by Ne Win. Henry Venn, the impeccably evangelical Secretary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), was the most distinguished and inspiring of nineteenth-century mission administrators. Wesleyan missionaries often found property development more congenial than saving souls. In Pakokku in December 1905, a 'weak' American missionary from Myingyan and a couple of Baptist Burman government officials began 'totally immersing' Wesleyans. Proselytism was officially frowned upon in the Indian Empire. The Wesley high schools were extraordinarily successful during the early years of the twentieth century. The Colonial Government was investing heavily in education. A bamboo curtain descended on Upper Burma in May 1942. Wesley Church Mandalay was gutted during the bombing raids of April 1942 and the Japanese requisitioned the Mission House and the Girls High School soon afterwards. General Ne Win was ruthlessly radical in 1962. By April 1964 Bishop was the last 'front-line' Methodist missionary in Upper Burma and the last European of any sort in Monywa. The book pulls together the themes of conflict, politics and proselytisation in to a fascinating study of great breadth.

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Michael D. Leigh

executions took place. He had bouts of fever, and an officious High-Church District Commissioner tried to fob him off with a site out of town. He held out and acquired 4 1\2 acres in the town centre for the bargain price of 400 rupees. 33 It provided space enough to build a mission house, church and at least one school. Bestall was a chip off the Winston block and it was not long before the Missionary Committee detected the tell-tale warning signs. Bestall slipped into the role of ‘wheeler and dealer’ on the edge of empire. It was the

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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Michael D. Leigh

became the Methodists’ unofficial wartime headquarters, just as U Po Tun was their unofficial leader. 16 Wesley Church Mandalay had been gutted during the bombing raids of April 1942 and the Japanese requisitioned the Mission House and the Girls High School soon afterwards. The Methodists reopened a small school in Mahazayabon and they held weekly services in Saya Klaipo’s house. 17 The regular Burmese congregation was augmented from time to time by an eclectic mixture of Buddhists, ‘Burmese princes’ and

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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Michael D. Leigh

by 300 per cent since 1939 and rice cost ten times more than before the war. The going rate for servants was Rs 300 per month (Rs 600 for a married man), while missionaries’ salaries had remained the same. The mission houses were dilapidated, unsanitary and riddled with white ants. It was rumoured that forty new Baptist missionaries were on their way to Burma, that their cost-of-living allowances had been increased by 75 per cent and that ABM was going to pay their income-tax bills. Life seemed very unfair. The

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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Michael D. Leigh

Pe (the pompous Deputy Mayor of Kalaw) was a Privy Councillor, and a shifty nightdurwan (night-watchman) from the Mandalay Mission House had collaborated with Japanese officers in the Silver Grill Café. 5 Only welfare workers were being issued with civilian travel permits, so Firth applied to become a Red Cross Assistant. He was turned down, but assumed the bogus title of ‘Superintending Methodist Chaplain for Burma’ which did the trick. 6 At 10.30 p.m. on 4 December he boarded a train bound for Mandalay. The

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
Michael D. Leigh

Kyaukse Mission House housed the Chinese Authority. 31 Pakokku High School building had become a hospital. 32 Hawtin had left to join the Burma Army leaving his deputy, Mr Devar, in charge. 33 Acheson was helping in the Evacuation Department when he discovered that private evacuations were to end in February 1942. All evacuation plans would have to go through the District Commissioner for Monywa. Work on the Kalewa-Tamu Road had been completed and evacuations were planned to commence from 1 March. 34 Chapman

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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Michael D. Leigh

considerable pressure from the Missionary Society at home, legislators in Burma and dissidents within the ‘native’ Church. The third question concerns Sheldon’s suggestion that Burmese converts had everything to lose and nothing to gain. Was he right? Some illumination is provided by a sentimental little incident that took place on a steamy day in January 2007. A group of elderly men and women sat on the verandah of the old Kyaukse Mission House. They looked across towards the former slojd school building and reminisced

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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Michael D. Leigh

, all the rest follows’. 21 All Bestall could do was to provide a parlour in the Mission House where Miss Vickers taught seventeen well-to-do little Eurasian girls. 22 His gloom deepened in 1906 when he learned that the American Baptists were about to open ‘a Girls Eurasian Boarding School at a cost rumoured to be Rs.30000’. 23 Guilt and hypocrisy were the main ingredients in the Eurasian question. Henriques explains that Eurasians suffered rejection by both ‘native and ruler’, although they preferred to be treated as

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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Michael D. Leigh

/Dr Sheldon–Dr Wingfield, January 1925. Sheldon suggested that ‘a pukka tennis-court’ should be laid at the mission house; the missionaries refused to play tennis at 105° in the shade. 6 George Orwell, Burmese Days , London, Victor Gollancz, 1935. Lackersteen, Ellis and Flory were fictitious members of the Kyauktada Club. See Emma Larkin, Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop , London, John Murray, 2004, pp. 6–52. SOAS/WMMS/Correspondence/FBN1-2/Letter to Burma

in Conflict, politics and proselytism