THOMAS FRANCIS McDOUGALL (1856 – 1869)
“Theirs was a true pioneering life; everything had to be started from scratch”..
Thomas Francis McDougall was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons before he took Holy Orders. He was ordained in 1845, and after holding curacies in England he was requested by the Rajah of Sarawak to start an Anglican mission in his equatorial principality.
Dr. and Mrs. McDougall reached Sarawak in 1848. Theirs was a truly pioneering life; everything had to be started from scratch. A Church and a Mission House were built, instruction of school children and prospective converts was organised; and Dr. McDougall’s services as a doctor were much in demand. Mrs. McDougall were as active as her husband, especially in the field of education. She shared the common lot of ‘colonial wives’ in that she had to leave her young family behind in England; of the babies born in Kuching most died. Some of the most touching records of the Mission’s early days are found in Mrs. McDougall’s letters to her young son at school in England, later published as ‘Letters from Sarawak’.
McDougall was consecrated Bishop of Sarawak in 1856. During his time, the strong foundation of the Anglican church in Borneo was laid: the urban mission was never allowed to supersede the needs of the rural people who lived in a far-flung land of difficult access.
Bishop McDougall was ordered to leave the tropics on medical advice in 1867. He kept in close touch with Sarawak and its affairs during the next twenty years, when he served as Bishop of Ely and then Winchester.
WALTER CHAMBERS (1869 – 1881)
“Chambers visited various rural areas and founded outstations …where he acquired fluency in the Iban language and a good understanding of his flock’s customs and traditions.”
Chambers arrived in Sarawak in March 1851, and was initially posted to the Skrang. Because of political unrest at the time, he moved downriver to Banting where he pioneered missionary work among the Balau Iban. He brought his first four converts to Kuching to be baptized on Christmas Eve 1854. Chambers visited various rural areas and founded outstations as far afield as Undup, but his headquarter was at Banting, where he acquired fluency in the Iban language and a good understanding of his flock’s customs and traditions. He translated Christian literature into the native tongue; he started a school in Banting which, especially after his marriage in 1856, did much to plant the good seed.
In his wife, Elizabeth Wooley, Chambers found a useful companion to share the hardships and joys of ‘outstation life’ in Sarawak. Her presence at Banting drew the women to the church; in a letter, Mrs.McDougall described the school girls who ‘follow Lizzy around everywhere’.
Chambers was appointed Archdeacon of Sarawak in 1868, and followed T.F.McDougall as Bishop of Sarawak consecrated by Tait on 29 June 1869. He was installed in Kuching on 5 June 1870 as Bishop of Sarawak and the Straits Settlements. Now settled in Kuching, he continued his ministrations to the Dayak areas, besides visiting Singapore annually. In his first synod of 1871 he planned to have a central school for the Dayaks; St.Thomas’s School in Kuching which building during this period. In his second synod he put forward his vision of a self-supporting Church. 1874 he went on home furlough, taking the 17-year-old mission scholar William Howell with him.
The loss of his wife in 1875 was a severe blow to Chambers; he was not robust but he returned to Sarawak and his episcopal duties. Ill health forced him to resign in 1881; he was a complete invalid until his death on Dec.21, 1893.
Chambers’ reputation tends to suffer from comparison with his forceful, genial predecessor, McDougall. Many contemporaries saw him and Mrs.Chambers as narrow-minded, though both deserve to be remembered as tireless workers and enthusiastic evangelists who literally gave their health and finally their lives to their joint vocation. Chambers’ episcopal visitations were not leisurly progresses, but working trips. At the time of his collapse, the ageing Bishop had been in the stages of planning a three-month ministry in Banting, and so he wore out his strength.