Malacca Memories: William Shellabear the strict disciplinarian

happenings2-Oct 2006

‘FATHER had been accustomed to severe discipline in his army life, and he kept himself under severe discipline here in Malacca, rising at 5.30 am with the first streaks of daylight.

First of all, he would go down the back stairway, dressed in his Malay sarong and baju, to the men’s bathroom below, where he shaved and had a cold bath. Then he dressed and went to his study for his quiet hour and some study before breakfast. From breakfast until dinner (lunch) and again all afternoon, he was seated at his desk, working without a break on his translation work.

Since he held himself to such strict discipline, he expected similar discipline in those associated with him, and we were all required to keep the daily routine strictly. All meals had to come according to the clock. During the hours of study and translation, father seemed very serious and almost stern to us, for he was so much absorbed in his work, but after tea he felt free and was then eager for a walk or some play with his girls.

One day after tea, father called out to us, “Girls, how would you like to walk to the back of the garden with me?” This was always a treat, so Margaret took one of his hands, I took the other, skipping along and trying to keep with his long strides.

Father showed us some banana trees he had planted and how quickly they had grown, then we looked at the coconut trees. After that we walked back to the old pond which was considered too dirty for us to play in. Then we walked back to where tapioca was growing and to a large coconut grove. We saw some coconut trees which had fallen down, and it was great fun to walk on these trunks when suddenly we heard his stern voice calling out to us, “Girls, jump to your left and run to me as fast as you can.” We never questioned father’s commands as he always expected obedience …

‘Since he held himself to such strict discipline, he expected similar discipline in those associated with him, and we were all required to keep the daily routine strictly. All meals had to come according to the clock.’

— Mrs Fanny Blasdell, referring to her father, the Rev William Shellabear.

When we reached him, he told us where to stand and he went to cut a long bamboo stick with his pocket knife. Margaret and I watched him go over to the fallen coconut tree, and we then discovered that there was a snake, for father was beating something with all his strength. When the long black snake was dead, he hung it over the bamboo stick, and we all three walked back to the house, very proud of the six-foot cobra which father had killed.

As we neared the house, mother was looking out from the upstairs verandah and called out, “William, where in the world did you find my velvet belt?” Father laughed as he brought it closer so that mother could see the poisonous snake. We were thankful that day that father was always strict …

… Our father was very particular about us being ready for meals on time, and we knew that we were expected down at the tea table at 4.30 pm. One day after our afternoon rest and reading, we had our baths and were in our petticoats ready to slip into our white dresses and run down to tea.

At that moment, Margaret happened to look out of the window and saw our servant and some other people talking below, and she had a bright idea. In the medicine cupboard was the enema syringe, and Margaret took it out. I held the enamel basin full of water near the window behind the curtain, and Margaret squirted water on all the people who passed below. We were having so much fun and were so busy that we forgot all about tea, and after calling us twice, father came up to the bathroom to see what we were up to.

We were caught in the midst of our bad behaviour. Father said very little but told us to come to his study. We knew what that meant … I being the youngest went in first. Father was seated on his revolving chair, and he turned me over his knee and used a slipper on the appropriate spot. Then Margaret received the same treatment, and two very subdued girls made their way out to the tea table.

Needless to say, we were never late for tea again, and never did we squirt water on the servants after that.’ – Fanny Shellabear Blasdell, Malacca Memories, Part I, pp.13 and 15.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.