Seminar 30 June
GSQ's Annual Seminar will be held on Sunday 30 June 2013 at the Queen Alexandra Community Centre.
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CHARLES SAMUEL POLLOCK PARISH: CHAPLAIN AND BOTANIST IN BURMA
In researching the family of my maternal grandmother, Eva Kate Burge (née Parish), I was delighted to discover Charles Samuel Pollock Parish whose father, Henry, was an older brother of my great-greatgrandfather, George Thomas Parish.
Charles Samuel Pollock Parish, the second son of Henry and Sarah (née Stowers) Parish, was born on 26 January 1822 in Dum Dum, North of Calcutta [Kolkata], India, where his father was serving as a Chaplain in the Honourable East India Company.
While his parents remained in India until 1839, Charles was educated in England. He was admitted to St Edmund College, Oxford University, where he matriculated in 1837, and was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1841. Charles followed his father into the Anglican ministry and, later, into the East India Company. He was ordained deacon in 1846, and priest in 1847. The Reverend Charles Parish served as curate for West Hatch, Somerset, from 1846 to 1849 and Bickenhall and Orchard Portman, Somerset, from 1849 to 1852.
The Reverend Charles Parish was appointed Assistant Chaplain, Moulmein, [Mawlamyaing], Burma [Myanmar], on 19 May 1852, and became its Chaplain in 1863. Following the first Anglo-Burmese war in the mid-1820s, part of Burma had become a province of British India. The first chaplain was posted to Moulmein, a Garrison town, in 1834. When the East India Company ceased to exist in August 1858, currently serving chaplains remained in their dioceses, becoming members of the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment.
On 19 January 1854, Charles Samuel Pollock Parish married Eleanor Isabella Sarah Johnson in Moulmein. Eleanor, born on 12 May 1830 in Quilon, India, was the daughter of Nicholas Johnson, an Officer in the East India Company Madras Army, and Mary (née Ibbert).
Charles stopped in Madras during his initial voyage to Calcutta. Charles and Eleanor had seven children, born in Moulmein between 1855 and 1868 and all baptized by their father.
In addition to these bare facts about Charles Samuel Pollock Parish, a wealth of other information exists. Charles was a talented man, with a wide range of interests including geology, botany, and drawing, which he pursued rigorously. He was also a prolific writer, who left behind not only published works, but also collections of his papers, drawings, and correspondence.
While living in Somerset in the 1840s, Charles Parish developed an interest in the fossil remains of large extinct Saurians [lizards], which abounded in the numerous quarries on the Blue Lias formation. Not content simply with collecting fossils, he purchased books written by Sir Charles Lyell, the foremost geologist of the time. In Lyell’s Island, a still active volcanic island in the Bay of Bengal. ‘Besides its isolated position … the remarkable feature of it … was that the sea, entering by a gap in the outer crater, completely surrounded the inner or secondary crater, so that a boat could enter and be rowed round between the two.’ He longed to ‘see this strange island’, but believed that there was not the ‘remotest likelihood’ that he would ever do so. He was wrong, but it was almost 20 years before his dream was realized.
Charles Samuel Pollock Parish travelled to Burma in 1852:
‘Being appointed to the Honourable East India Company’s service I proceeded to Calcutta and was at once ordered on to Burmah. It was the time of the second Burmese war [5 April 1852 – 20 December 1852] when Rangoon [Yangon] had just been taken and there was some difficulty in obtaining a passage.
As the war was in full progress everything was in great confusion on our arrival in Rangoon. A kind Scotchman, a merchant of the place, happening to come on board and learning the awkward predicament I was in, at once offered me his hospitality with apologies for the roughness of it… [which I] gratefully accepted…
But I must hurry on to my destination … Moulmein. After some delay, owing to … disruption of the ordinary means of communication, I made my own way over in a sailing transport and reached the end of my long voyage and my home for some twenty five years’.
Very soon, Burma’s plants began to enthrall Charles. Initially interested in ferns and mosses, he soon became especially interested in orchids, a topic on which he was to become a renowned expert. He went to extraordinary lengths to collect orchids and other plants, taking leave from his official duties to travel as widely as he could, often under extremely difficult conditions. He grew plants and, more importantly, began corresponding with, and sending plants to Sir William Jackson Hooker, the first director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Often he sent sketches, to help with the identification of his specimens. Many plants were named in his honour, among the first being the Porpax parishii.
In February 1859, Charles Parish accompanied Major S.R. Tickell, 31st Regiment Bengal Native Infantry, and Deputy Commissioner of Amherst, Province of Tenasserim, on an official tour through ‘an extremely wild, in parts utterly unknown’ area of Burma, but ‘the most accessible line of inland communication between Moulmein, and the capital of Siam, Bangkok.’ The party set out in seven-oar Burmese boats, hollowed out of a single tree and very uncomfortable; one for Tickell and Parish, and four others for their baggage and followers, which included clerks and police. After a few days on the water, they continued the journey on land, by elephant and on foot, much of it through dense jungle, and with temperatures ranging from 52° to 120°.
In a supplement to Tickell’s report, Parish described a wide variety of plants and their uses, paying particular attention to orchids and collecting numerous species.
‘… the vegetation was so dense in many places … it was a rare circumstance to see more than a hundred yards in advance; and so dense in many places was the jungle, that an occasional sight only was obtained of the tops of the magnificent perpendicular limestone rocks, at the very foot of which we were passing.’
‘Among the orchids collected on this journey, I may just mention Vanda gigantean, of which plant, though only once met with on this occasion, there was more in one mass, than could be conveniently packed away on an elephant…’ [and the] ‘ Cyrtosioe species? a singular leafless plant, which I met with only once. Its roots (few and fleshy) were in the ground, and its stem, which was of the thickness of small cane, was thirty feet in length! ... The flowers are numerous, at the end of the branched stem in loose panicles, rather large, boat-shaped, yellow. The whole plant has been sent to Sir William Hooker for determination with many other things.’
Three weeks after leaving Moulmein, the party reached the path leading to the top of Moolee-it, a mountain approximately 7000 feet high. Charles’s chief purpose in undertaking the journey was to climb this mountain, but rain delayed their ascent. Unfortunately, as he had only limited leave from his clerical duties, he was forced to return to Moulmein without achieving his goal. Tickell reported this to be ‘a most mortifying conclusion to our journey.’
One of Reverend Parish’s duties in Moulmein was to visit outlying stations, including those at Tavoy and Mergui, on the coast south of Moulmein. After the 1857 Indian Mutiny, his duties also took him to a newly established convict settlement at Port Blair on the Andaman Islands, off the coast of Burma. During one such voyage:
‘... our local steamer made a straight course from the mouth of the Tavoy river to Port Blair and Barren Island lies in an almost direct line between the two places. Accordingly … as others besides myself were anxious to land, it was determined to do so.
The first appearance of the island … belied its name “Barren”. In fact, its steep sides were clothed with an abundant vegetation of shrubs and small trees from bottom to top… But, as we steamed round to the other side, the true character of the island was revealed, for there was the gap and there was the inner core, black as night, exposed to view as described by Lyell. His description, however, corresponded no further with the existing condition of things; there was no intervening and surrounding water, no place where a boat could enter...
The steamer hove to at a convenient distance from the shore, the cutter was lowered and two or three officers of the ship with myself were soon being pulled to land… On landing we stood on a bed of black lava which … had poured into the sea through the gap… It was evident then that a recent eruption had changed that peculiar feature described by Lyell, which had interested me so much, and had filled up the intervening space between the outer and inner craters with ejected material…
upward towards the foot of the cone … we reached the base and, undeterred by the heat of a tropical sun at noon, girded ourselves for the ascent… Slowly and painfully we toiled upwards, sinking over our ankles at each step, hardly able to get a foothold… Arrived at the top, we stopped awhile to breathe before looking round. Viewed from this point the island certainly deserved the name of Barren, for such a scene of black desolation I never beheld… At the foot of the cone there lay, intervening between the two slopes of black ashes and completely surrounding it, except at the point of landing, a level plain of no great breadth, covered (so it appeared) with sun-burnt grass.
On taking a last look around … I caught sight of a pure white speck in strong contrast with the background of black ashes, near the bottom of the opposite slope … unable to make out what it was and, being curious to know, I determined to go down to it … The descent was easy and rapid … the white spot proved to be a fine healthy plant of Dendrobium formosum, a common but extremely beautiful orchid of the country, named by the Burmese “the Silver Flower” on account of its brilliant whiteness. It was in full bloom and must have fallen off some overhanging tree on the ridge and slid or been washed down by the rain to its present singular position.
And now there came to us an unpleasant awakening. The valley, which from a height of 1,000 ft. had appeared so smooth and level, was found to be of quite another character. Our grass was stiff reed, breast high; our ground, rough angular blocks of grey pumice lying loosely one upon another with ugly intervening holes partly concealed by the reeds. It required the greatest care to walk safely, for every piece of rock moved as we put our foot on it … It was certainly the most painful experience in walking I ever had but at last, with cautious steps and slow the goal was safely reached...
Thus, in a somewhat remarkable manner, on the 19 th day of October 1861, my whimsical wish of years before was fully gratified.'
By the 1860s, Parish was contributing to, and his discoveries being discussed in, scholarly journals. He had identified some 350 of the indigenous orchids, and was growing more than 100 species in his own garden. He reported that, with ‘fresh supplies being continually brought in, it was my daily delight to watch their growth, and hardly a day passed on which I did not either draw or examine microscopically some one orchid or another.’
Charles Samuel Pollock Parish retired from the East India Company on 20 June 1878, after more than 25 years in Burma, and returned to Somerset. In 1879 he wrote a 71-page paper in which he discussed: the history of Burma; its geography and geology, including geological changes to the land which he had observed over the 25 years of his ‘wanderings up and down the coasts of the Martaban and Tenasserim Provinces’; its flora and fauna; the different peoples living in Burma including their physique, dress, and habits; the Burmese religion, Buddhism, and its pagodas, monks and monasteries. During his travels in the jungles Parish sometimes stayed in monasteries, an experience he enjoyed immensely:
‘… it is sweet and pleasant, when hot and weary with toiling on foot under a broiling midday sun, though that toil be self-imposed, to come upon one of these calm and cool retreats, situated, as it is almost sure to be, in some picturesque and lovely spot, amidst tall … trees … and slaking your thirst with a copious draught of cool water (to which you help yourself unceremoniously out of the large jar standing in the broad veranda) to enter the ever open monastery and throw yourself down on the outstretched mat … and close the eyes and dream; lulled by the only sounds which the tropic noonday knows, the murmur of running water, the tinkling of the Pagoda bells hung up aloft, and the crisp fluttering of the brown talipot palm leaf…’
But to Parish, ‘the brightest and most interesting part’ of his story was ‘the beautiful scenery and floral wealth of this far off land.’ After describing the wonders to be enjoyed by the traveler, Parish concluded:
‘I have done all this, through nearly the length and breadth of the land, by sea and by land – on pony and on elephant – in boat and on raft, though chiefly on foot; sometimes with companions, sometimes alone, i.e. with none but a native following of Burmese … And right good fellows they are … good natured, happy, contented, willing, cheerful. Untrammeled by caste, you may share with them and they will share with you any kind of food…
of my life; when, starch and civilization left behind, collars and coat flung aside (till duty required one to resume them), in knickerbockers, flannel shirt and bell, and uncouth ‘sola topee’ (a large white hat made of pith and generally of very uncouth shape familiar to old Indians), with gun on shoulder, or more often carried behind one (for my sporting was of a mild character, as I courted Flora more than Diana) I went wherever I would, walking all day and travelling in the wealth of fern and orchid and flowering shrub. And how indescribably pleasant was it to encamp towards sundown by some still pool or rocky mountain stream and, after a plunge into its deliciously refreshing waters (no one knows what the true luxury of bathing is who has not indulged in it in the tropics and under like circumstances) and a change of clothes, to watch with eager eye the simmering pot on the rocky extemporised fireplace of stones, and to eat the meat of the hungry and the thankful - then smoke the … weed by the light of the camp fires, watch in contemplative mood the ascending smoke, and note the wind light cast on the quivering leaves of the tall overhanging trees … and the groups of half lighted figures squatting around – all else pitch dark by contrast – listen awhile to the crashing of the bamboos as they are torn and trampled by the hobbled elephants as they feed, and to the ever soothing sound of the rushing stream, to the barking deer or other mysterious sounds peculiar to the night in a tropical forest – then, as one by one the followers stretch themselves at length around their fires, draw their cloths over their heads and lapse gradually into silence, confessing at last to the drowsy god, fling away the last fragment of cheroot and follow their example by throwing myself on the cork mattress on the ground under a rude canopy of boughs to keep off the heavy dew – and to sleep the sleep of the weary.
A pleasure, alas, never to return, but one which in my memory alone is a joy and a possession forever.’
How very difficult it must have been for Charles to adjust to life in Somerset. However, he remained interested in Burma and in orchids, making an important contribution to the 1883 edition of a major work on Burma by Francis Mason, originally published in 1852.
In 1881 Charles and his family were living in Mount Street, Taunton, Somerset. By 1891 Charles, Eleanor, and three daughters were living in Roughmoor House, Bishop’s-Hull, near Taunton. Charles Samuel Pollock Parish died quietly in his sleep, at Roughmoor House, on 18 October 1897, aged 75.
Leonie A. Ryder