Happenings, News

Methodist beginnings in Penang

In her Record of 40 Years of Woman’s Work in Malaya, 1887-1927, Miss Sophia Blackmore recounts the challenges and satisfaction of pioneering Methodist work in Penang.

‘IT WAS in the year 1891 that our Mission Conference decided to extend our work. A Mr Moore almost at once began to visit in wealthy Chinese homes. His desire was that the bright little girls should be taught as well as their brothers. He soon became acquainted with a prominent Chinese citizen, Mr Cheah Teck Soon, whose sister was persuaded to have her little girls taught with their brothers.

So a small private school was begun in No. 1 Penang Road, where the missionaries lived. Mr Moore writes in his first report from Penang:

“We only had two girls, but that seemed to us a great thing after all our labour for it and our discouragements.”

Miss Emma Norris was the first teacher. A little later, Mrs Young, a widowed lady, came into the work of the Penang Mission. She played the organ for the Sunday services that were held in the old Armenian church. Mr Moore, finding how capable Mrs Young was, persuaded her to take charge of the school which was held in the home of Mr Teck Soon in Farquhar Street. Soon after, other children joined.

Mrs Young did all she could in making the school attractive and also in visiting Chinese homes. The school grew to twenty pupils, when the missionaries moved to a large house by the sea named “The Priory”. This home meant much to our Penang work in those early days. With the Chinese lady’s consent, the girls’ school was moved to “The Priory”, where it became more stable and continued to grow. Of the religious teaching at this time, Bishop Thoburn remarked, “Everyday is a Sunday School here.”

… Meanwhile Rev G.F. Pykett came to Penang, where he and Mrs Young were married in January 1894. How much of our Mission work in Penang has revolved round Rev and Mrs Pykett in the thirty years they have lived there! Through the years, Mrs Pykett has held to her first duty in the Mission, playing the organ at English, Tamil and Cantonese services …

Dr and Mrs West were now in Penang. They had spent a year in China studying the language. They had brought Christian servants with them from Amoy. Mrs West, by her sympathetic ways, won the hearts of the poor people. She visited them in their homes, took her children with her. The women, always curious to know the ways of the foreigner, asked Mrs West one day what soap she used to make her children so white. The women were so glad to have someone who could speak to them in their own language. They liked also to come to visit the missionary at “The Priory”.

An ignorant woman that Mrs Pykett had as amah was taught to read Romanised Chinese as well as instructed in the Christian doctrine. She was the first Bible woman in our Penang work and her support came from the British and Foreign Bible Society.
One day in Minneapolis, Mrs C. S. Winchell, Corresponding Secretary of the Minneapolis Branch (of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society), received two letters by the same post. The first from Malaya asked for help for Penang and telling of the promise of funds. As Mrs Winchell read it, her heart was touched. She thought, “Here is part of the money, where is the worker?”

The second letter was the solution. The Rev and Mrs Martin of Hamline (University) had a daughter who had finished her college course. It was Mrs Martin’s letter that Mrs Winchell now opened, telling that her daughter, Clara, wished to offer herself for the foreign field. Mrs Winchell immediately felt this was God’s answer. Miss Clara Martin was in Penang before the end of the year, 1897. Has she not proved to be “God’s answer?”

Dr West, with those family at “The Priory” Miss Martin made her first home in Penang, was enthusiastic over every missionary learning Chinese. Miss Martin also with equal fervour took hold of the study. Her Chinese book was with her wherever she went, by day and late into the night … until step by step, the difficult Chinese language was a useable possession of the young missionary.

[On] one of those early days, Miss Martin, looking downstairs, saw a small boy in the school room using a desk as an imaginary horse and riding on it. She went down to the little fellow who said in Chinese, “Don’t beat me, don’t beat me.” To do so was far from her thoughts, but oh, she was so glad she understood what the small boy said in the Chinese language.’

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

Dr and Mrs B. F. West … went to Penang after spending a year in China studying the Chinese language. — Methodist Church Archives picture.