The first Anglican missionary, the Revd. Francis Thomas McDougall, priest and doctor (who later became the first Bishop of the Diocese) came to Sarawak on 29th June 1848 ( St. Peter’s Day) leading a group of missionaries from England.
The present Church compound, which was an area of jungle covered hill behind the old town was given to the Church by the Rajah and on 25th August 1849 this site Dr. McDougall began the erection of a fine wooden church capable of holding 250 persons. On 22nd August 1851 Bishop Wilson of Calcutta (within whose jurisdiction Kuching then lay) consecrated this Church to the glory of God and in honour of St. Thomas, the Apostle.
The foundation stone for the present Cathedral was laid on 15th October 1953 by H.R.H. the Duchess of Kent and the building was completed by May the following year. The Consecration of the Cathedral took place on 9th June 1956 at the hand of Bishop Nigel Cornwall.
They were led by thirty-year-old surgeon and priest, Francis Thomas McDougall, with his wife Harriette, and another clergyman, William Bodham Wright. The group was sent at the invitation of Rajah James Brooke, by an organisation called The Borneo Church Mission Institution, and later fully supported by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), and subsequently with some assistance from the Church Missionary Society.
McDougall and his team began their missionary work at a house near the waterfront, where the present Court House is situated. They then moved inland to the east of Kuching town, which McDougall called: “Church Hill”, and “College Hill”. They served the small community of James Brooke’s Officers and town people, by starting a clinic and school. From thence, the Church expanded With the expansion of the Brooke’s regime to other parts of Sarawak.
From the work of the two priests, and others who followed, after them, the Anglican Church and the teachings of Christianity have developed to what it is now: 24 Parishes, over 100 Chapels, 75 priests, and about 120,000 worshipers. The McDougalls and Wrights have planted the “original seeds” (or what traditional Iban farmers would called “padi pun”) in 1848. Now those seeds have yielded bountiful harvests.
’150 Years later…our foundation and heritage’
In 1998, 150 years after the first landing of the Anglican missionaries, the Diocese of Kuching has organised a comprehensive programme of celebrations to commemorate the historic occasion. This book is part of the celebrations. It is considered timely to place on records the Church’s past achievements as a reflection of our foundation and heritage. This is important. As we strive to develop our Church we should not forget our roots, as they are sources of our identity, tradition, and strength. The book is therefore, a book of records, a book of explanation; and a book in which members of the Anglican Church can identify themselves as part of this historic movement, and be justifiably proud of it. But most of all, the book should be understood as a testimony of the active work of God in our midst.
Material for this book came from the Diocesan Archives and Diocesan Office, as well as, responses from Parish priests and personal communications. Time was a constraining factor in the book’s preparation. The Editorial Committee was only formed late last year. Original indepth research was therefore, not possible. Apart from the brief Parish surveys and archival source, the material for the book’s compilation come from secondary sources such as : Brian Taylor’s (1983) The Anglican Church in Borneo 1848 – 1962; and Graham Saunder’s (1992) Bishops and Brookes; (see other references in the List of Reference at the back), which are duly acknowledged. Visits were also made to some to some parishes with the view of taking photographs and talking with parish members on various aspects of their history.
We are grateful and feel privileged to have our Bishop, who not only gave his blessings and support to this project, but also agreed to contribute to the Preface and Epilogue. Bishop Made, in the Preface rightly pointed out that : “It would not be possible to include all information, articles and pictures, in a book like this.” In this regard the Editorial Committee solicit the reader’s indulgence for any shortcomings in this book, and duly apologizes for inadvertently omitting materials which the reader may regard as relevant.
Book is divided into Four Chapters
The book is divided into four short Chapters. Chapter One gives the background and contributions of the 11 bishops, and serving Bishop, as well as, Assistant Bishop Howes’ extensive service int he Diocese of Kuching. In this Chapter, it is interesting to note that all nine overseas bishops, including the first bishop (Bishop McDougall), resigned from their positions. This was mainly due to the strains of working in the tropics, and the stresses of serving in a Diocese that was sited at a great distance from the centre of the Anglican Church in England. (It took the McDougalls six months to sail from England to Sarawak; the journey from Singapore to Kuching by sailing boat took 10 days). Apart from the discomfort of adapting to the conditions of living in a completely different climes and environment that they were used to, the overseas missionaries had their own personal problems to cope with. (The McDougals lost altogether five children in Sarawak; and the eldest son – Charley who was left behind in England and who Harriette wrote letters to which were published in a book, Letters from Sarawak, died at the age of nine). Bishop Hollis, Peter Howes, Stonton and Mercer were interned during the Second World War, at the infamous Batu Lintang Detention Camp. The first local bishop Basil Temenggong died while still in service. The second , Bishop John Leong served a full term until his retirement.
Chapter Two gives a major historical sweep, from the early historical sweep, from the early history of the Church, to the present. There are colourful stories of conversion among the natives, and the seminal roles of local catechists and lay readers in spreading the Gospel. Not much has been researched on this aspect of our Church history. Rev. Aeries attempts to focus on the contributions of local missionaries and therefore, have made limited references to the contributions of overseas missionaries, albeit their parts have been substantial. However, they have been sufficiently dealt with in the reference books cited earlier. Given this as such there was still little material to base on for the write-ups of local missionaries’ contributions. A few materials are based on the survey responses from the Parishes., while some have come from personal contacts and interviews. For this chapter there are a few anecdotes and interesting tales regarding the life and works of past missionaries and priests which are presented in small ‘window’ articles complied by Heidi Munan, and Rev. Aeries.
During the period towards the end of the 19th Century, when the Brookes regime had almost pacified the whole country, inter-tribal war-fares were curbed and peace prevailed amongst the Dayak communities. This encouraged movements and brought enthusiasm to accept new challenges and knowledge, which in turn led to the people’s hunger for learning and education. The missionaries brought the Gospel with education and perpetuated the new religion through the establishment of schools. The Dayaks became aware of this new knowledge and accepted the new teachings. Their enthusiasm was such that some of them even started their own rudimentary village schools, long before the arrival of the missionaries. The role of the Church in bringing education to the communities in Sarawak are discussed bu Yohannan John in the second part of Chapter 3, under the heading of “Educational Mission of the Church”.
It was the intention of the Church from the beginning to start a native ministry, that is, to train local converts to be priests so as to continue the foreign missionaries’ work when they had to leave Sarawak. It was hoped that the mission schools would produce people to serve the church as catechists, lay readers, teachers and priests.
The first part of Chapter 3 relates the chronology of training of priests from the earliest period in 1860s to the present. Rev. Aeries says that “It took 144 years of mission work in Sarawak before the complete indigenization of the personnel of the Church was achieved.” His reason is that because training of priests is the last work to be handed to the local priests – and that was as recent as in 1992!
Missionaries coming to Sarawak were said to have been given basic medical training, both for their own survival as well as a part of their ministering work. The first part of Chapter 4 tells the story of how the Church made medical ministering part of their mission works. Perhaps the fact that Bishop McDougall was a doctor was not a coincidence. He was the only doctor in Kuching then serving both the Mission as well as the Rajah’s officers and the town’s people. Hence he started the missionaries’ role of serving both the spiritual as well as the physical well-being of their converts in administering medical aid whenever it was required. The second part of Chapter 4 deals with the part played by the Church in agricultural development. The Church encouraged the planting of cash crops as means of supporting mission work. It was said that Bishop Hose brought the first two rubber seeds to Sarawak and planted them near the Bishop’s house. And at mission village schools, the pupils were taught gardening as part of their time-table. The Church initiated the Padawan Land Development Scheme, and the Lemanak Land Development Scheme in collaboration with the British colonial government. In the 1960’s. a Church Farm School was started at Sungai Pinang on the way to Simmanggang.
At the end of the book, there are illustration of old photographs in a series of “Photo Album” showing how the missionaries lived. There is a memoir of Dr. Thomas Chung, a church choir member of the 1950s, and his comment on the present trend of worship in our churches. Five appendices are attached; listing church schools, parishes and Diocesan’s serving priests and staff. For those who wish to know more historical details: our Church constitutional history and chronology are appended.
Finally, in the Epilogue, the Bishop of Kuching has his say on the challenges that lie ahead, and the need to “Rise up and build on the foundation that had been laid for us”. He calls the faithful to be more proactive in Church activities, and thereby contribute to the extension of God’s Kingdom in this land:
“If we are the ‘light of the world’ people want to see the light of Christ shine in and through us. If we are ‘the salt of the earth’ then we must make our presence felt.’