Dr Margaret MacKellar: Kaiser-I-Hind recipient – I

By WAHEED RABBANI
Dr MacKellar’s Photos Courtesy: B. Chone Oliver

Waheed Rabbani was born in India, near Delhi, and was introduced to Victorian and other English novels at a young age in his father’s library. Waheed graduated from Loughborough University, Leicestershire, England, and received a Master’s degree from Concordia University, Montreal. While an engineer by profession, Waheed also obtained a Certificate in Creative Writing from McMaster University, Hamilton, and embarked on his writing journey.  Waheed’s novels are available on Amazon and other bookstores. He now lives, in his retirement years, with his wife Alexandra in the historic town of Grimsby, on the shores of Lake Ontario, For more information visit his website: http://home.cogeco.ca/~wrabbani Author's Note Following the arrival of French, Portuguese, British, American, Danish, and other European missionaries in India, since the fourteenth century, it is not surprising that the Canadian Presbyterian Church also opened a mission there in 1877. While the former missionaries had already established their missions in the Northern, Eastern and Southern India, the Canadian mission had to settle for the “unclaimed territory” in Central India. Likely due to its location in the remote state, Indore, the Canadian Mission has remained somewhat obscure. However, from its humble beginnings in village huts and bungalows, and following land grants from the Maharani of Indore, the mission established not only churches, dispensaries, schools, an orphanage, but also hospitals in impressive two-story edifices. The need for doctors, nurses and medical staff was met by trained graduates from Canadian institutions, all eager to serve in India. I “stumbled” upon the accounts of these Canadian missionaries while researching for my project, a historical fiction novel on the 1857 Indian Mutiny/Rebellion (or The First War of Independence, as some Indian historians prefer to call it). While noting that a number of British and American missionaries had been caught up in that conflict, being curious, I researched to find if any Canadian missionaries were involved. However, I discovered that the Canadian mission was only opened there, some twenty years later, in 1877. Nevertheless, reading about them, I was intrigued to learn about the indomitable Doctor Margaret MacKellar, for she was from the Bruce County, and I used to travel there regularly in connection with my job for Ontario Hydro. It is unfortunate that, while some sketches of her life exist (even Lucy M. Montgomery wrote a brief account), a detailed biography of Doctor MacKellar’s lifespan has not been written. It is likely because of the dearth of information, particularly of her later years in India and Canada.  My story is a brief compilation of my humble attempt at reconstruction of the life of Doctor Margaret MacKellar, based on whatever details I could acquire on the lifespan of this magnificent missionary lady doctor. She most regrettably largely remains forgotten.

Waheed Rabbani was born in India, near Delhi, and was introduced to Victorian and other English novels at a young age in his father’s library.
Waheed graduated from Loughborough University, Leicestershire, England, and received a Master’s degree from Concordia University, Montreal. While an engineer by profession, Waheed also obtained a Certificate in Creative Writing from McMaster University, Hamilton, and embarked on his writing journey.
Waheed’s novels are available on Amazon and other bookstores. He now lives, in his retirement years, with his wife Alexandra in the historic town of Grimsby, on the shores of Lake Ontario,
For more information visit his website: http://home.cogeco.ca/~wrabbani
Author’s Note
Following the arrival of French, Portuguese, British, American, Danish, and other European missionaries in India, since the fourteenth century, it is not surprising that the Canadian Presbyterian Church also opened a mission there in 1877. While the former missionaries had already established their missions in the Northern, Eastern and Southern India, the Canadian mission had to settle for the “unclaimed territory” in Central India.
Likely due to its location in the remote state, Indore, the Canadian Mission has remained somewhat obscure. However, from its humble beginnings in village huts and bungalows, and following land grants from the Maharani of Indore, the mission established not only churches, dispensaries, schools, an orphanage, but also hospitals in impressive two-story edifices. The need for doctors, nurses and medical staff was met by trained graduates from Canadian institutions, all eager to serve in India.
I “stumbled” upon the accounts of these Canadian missionaries while researching for my project, a historical fiction novel on the 1857 Indian Mutiny/Rebellion (or The First War of Independence, as some Indian historians prefer to call it). While noting that a number of British and American missionaries had been caught up in that conflict, being curious, I researched to find if any Canadian missionaries were involved. However, I discovered that the Canadian mission was only opened there, some twenty years later, in 1877. Nevertheless, reading about them, I was intrigued to learn about the indomitable Doctor Margaret MacKellar, for she was from the Bruce County, and I used to travel there regularly in connection with my job for Ontario Hydro.
It is unfortunate that, while some sketches of her life exist (even Lucy M. Montgomery wrote a brief account), a detailed biography of Doctor MacKellar’s lifespan has not been written. It is likely because of the dearth of information, particularly of her later years in India and Canada.
My story is a brief compilation of my humble attempt at reconstruction of the life of Doctor Margaret MacKellar, based on whatever details I could acquire on the lifespan of this magnificent missionary lady doctor. She most regrettably largely remains forgotten.

One morning, in the summer of 1892, in the hot and dusty town, Neemuch in Central India, while the sun rose above the treetops of the forest that surrounds the chaotic native village on one side, and a neat British military cantonment at the other, a palanquin carried by four bearers traversed through the narrow laneways of the bazar.
Seated inside was Canadian Missionary Doctor Margaret MacKellar. She had boarded the conveyance from her nearby cottage in the Civil Lines.
The dolly arrived at a wooden shack, the sign-board above which read:
‘Dispensary for Women, We wash the Wounds and God Heals them’
A crowd had gathered at the entrance, gawking at something, and parted to let Margaret through. She was shocked at the sight of some objects. At the doorsteps lay a small earthenware tray containing: a corn-cob, lemons cut in two, and a coconut shell partially filled with blood.
“What is this?” she asked an Indian helper, who also stood looking horrified at the items.
“Oh, do not touch Doctor Sahiba. It is a curse,” the aide implored. “An enemy has put it there, something dreadful will befall you. This is the worst thing that anyone could do to you.”
“Nonsense! I believe in the protecting power of God who has said, ‘There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling’.”
Then seeing that no one was going to touch the objects, the attractive thirty-one-year-old doctor hitched up her white gown, and picking up the tray, carried it out to the dump pile.
Upon returning to her office, the indomitable Doctor MacKellar sat at her desk, took off her solar hat, straightened her fair hair, and mopped her brow.
She contemplated the turn of events that, to fulfil her childhood desire, had brought her to medical service in India. Was this incident another test of her motivation, which she had to overcome all her life?
From a corner of the desk, she picked up a weather-beaten Bible. Her mind raced back to the time in Canada, when she had purchased it nearly 18 years ago, with her very first earnings. Her gold wrist watch, a graduation gift, shone in the sunlight; as a flood of memories came back to her.

******

In 1866, in Bruce County, Ontario Canada, five-year-old Margaret and her elder sister, Annie, walked on a grassy path of their 100-acre farm. In the background, outside a log cabin their mother hung her washing on a clothes line.
A colorful flower garden and a vegetable plot lay around the house. The family had emigrated, in 1863, from the Isle of Mull in Scotland.
“Where is Father?” Margaret asked her sister.
“Out on the Great Lakes. He has his own ship now, you know.”
“Where has he gone?”
“Don’t know. But when he was in Scotland he sailed to faraway lands. Even to India.”
Annie then narrated one of the many interesting stories she had heard of their father’s adventures. Little Margaret was fascinated. She wished even at that young age to sail to India one day.
Margaret attended school. Too young to walk in the winter snow the two-and-quarter miles to the schoolhouse, she was usually carried on her young uncle’s back. In 1872, she was deeply saddened at the death of her beloved mother, following a prolonged illness. Another turning point in Margaret’s life came in 1874, when Mr MacKellar took the family for a sail around the Great Lakes.
Thirteen-year-old Margaret was so enamored with her desire for travel that she became disheartened with her studies. Despite stern objections from her father, she left school, and started working for a dressmaker. She purchased a Bible from her very first earnings. Another sailing opportunity came in the summer of 1878, when after her many entreaties, her uncle hired her on his ship as a cook, a job she executed to great satisfaction of the crew.
In the following years Margaret attended meetings, at Town Halls and elsewhere, held for notable evangelists and missionaries on furlough. They spoke fervently about their efforts to win souls for Christ and their work in distant lands. These talks continued to keep the fire of Margaret’s desire for travel and adventure burning.

Dr Margaret MacKellar

Dr Margaret MacKellar

In 1882, Margaret left home to take a position in a wholesale millinery establishment, in London Ontario. Unfortunately, her father passed away that year.
While Margaret started to participate in evangelical gatherings and endeavors, it was a dream one night that made her take positive steps towards achieving her yearnings. She was spending that night at her friends’ home, the MacPhersons, near London. When in the morning Margaret appeared disturbed, Mrs MacPherson asked, “Margaret dear, are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Mrs MacPherson. But I’ve had the strangest of dreams.”
“Oh! What was it about?”
“I dreamt that Judgment Day had arrived, and I was being guided into Heaven by our Lord Jesus.”
“Hmm… and did He say anything?”
“No. But from His extended arm and the smile, He appeared to be welcoming me. However, although I felt happy at first, I was suddenly saddened.”
“Why was that?”
“I felt sorry for having come empty-handed.”
“Oh! So what did you do?”
“That’s when the dream ended. I rose from my bed and got down on my knees to pray. I promised to give myself wholly to God and follow His leading.”
Mrs MacPherson embraced Margaret. “God bless you, my dear.”

*****

Margaret prayed and attended Church regularly, usually emptying her purse on the collection plate. She spoke much of her love for Jesus, while teaching at the Sabbath School, amongst family and friends, and even at her job.
Her devotion was so evident that a Roman Catholic co-worker remarked: “If Miss MacKellar were of my faith, she would surely be a nun by now.”
In 1884, following her attendance at more assemblies held by missionaries, Margaret firmed up her desire to go abroad as a missionary, if God so willed. However, she realized that not having completed even high school, it would take a tremendous effort to achieve her objective.
Margaret approached her church ministers, who wrote of her yearning to the officers of the Canadian Foreign Missions (CFM), and even to the Principal, Dr Grant, of Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario.
While the CFM Secretary responded that: “There are other names that would have to be considered before Miss MacKellar,” the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society (WFMS) — knowing there was an urgent need for female doctors in India — suggested that Miss MacKellar pursue a medical course. The WFMS even offered to help with her expenses. However, Dr Grant and all others strongly advised that she should complete her education first.

Neemuch Red Cross workers with Dr Margaret MacKellar. Fourteen out of 19 members received War Pins for attendance.

Neemuch Red Cross workers with Dr Margaret MacKellar. Fourteen out of 19 members received War Pins for attendance.

That summer of 1884, Margaret took a bold step, and visited the Principal, Mr Merchant, of the High School in Ingersoll. He listened kindly to her aspiration to become a missionary, and responded: “Miss MacKellar, while I am an educationist, I am also an earnest Christian.”
Margaret waited patiently for him to continue.
“So, here’s what I am willing to do. Although you haven’t taken the High School Entrance Examination… in view of your desire, I am willing to admit you to the first form of our High School,” the Principal said. Did he consider her age of almost twenty-three years as well?
He then handed her some papers that included a list of books. Margaret thanked Mr Merchant profusely, and flew down to the bookstore. However, after making her purchases, she had only $5 left. But she was not dismayed, for she reminded herself: ‘I have plenty of faith and determination left.’
Thus in September 1884, Margaret began classes at Ingersoll High School. Quite naturally the advanced subjects’ matters, not having encountered them before, were over her head. In her first dictation class, she had over fifty per cent spelling mistakes! Furthermore, she had difficulty concentrating, and it took her a long time to complete her homework.
In just two weeks, disheartened Margaret went to see the Principal again, and suggested that she should perhaps go back to the Public School. Mr Merchant — again likely mindful of her age — encouraged her to continue, which she did. But it proved to be too difficult, and within a week Margaret was so dejected that she was ready to give up her studies altogether.
It was then, in one of her payers, the Lord appeared before her and gave her the message: “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
Taking this communication to heart, which rekindled her determination, and picking up her courage, Margaret indeed did go back to Public School.
Margaret applied herself most diligently to her studies. She even spent Saturdays, instead of participating in church activities, on school work.
While Margaret wondered if some of the younger students might be secretly making fun of her, she needn’t have worried. In fact one of the pupils — who was later to join her in India — told someone, “Surely this girl has some great purpose in her life. I would never have the courage to do what she has done.”
Even the Principal wrote in her autograph album: “The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Labor omnia vincit.”
So great was Margaret’s desire to complete her studies that she was even willing to go down to a lower room. But that was not necessary, for by Christmas she passed the High School Entrance examination, and continued with her studies as diligently as ever. This can be judged by the fact that she was absent from school for only two days during the two whole years.
In the fall of 1886, Margaret’s prayers were answered, and her efforts were rewarded, when she passed the Matriculation Examination and was admitted to the medical school of Queen’s University. Her school friends presented her with a purse containing fifty dollars, which she used to purchase a gold wrist watch.
© Waheed Rabbani
To Be Continued

Share this post:

Recent Posts

http://www.desiexpressonline.com/?p=472

Leave a Comment