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

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.

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

Story so far: After facing many challenges, and after losing her father when just a girl, young Margaret MacKeller gained entry to medical school at Queen’s University in the late 1880s, with the ultimate aim of going to India as a missionary. Now read on:

At Queen’s University, since Margaret had learned the basics of scientific subjects so well, she had no difficulty completing her medical courses. Yet she had some time left to devote to the students’ Volunteer Movement and YWCA work. Of the latter she was even elected as the President.
Also, so great was Margaret’s desire to go to India that upon the advice of others, she took riding lessons from five to six in the mornings!
Margaret eagerly attended the WFMS meetings and spent summers in internships and visiting family. During one such visit, her Uncle Archie lightheartedly told her: “Well, Maggie, the WFMS has shown great wisdom in choosing you, for you are so homely that nobody would ever want to marry you, and you will be so old when you get through that even the cannibals will not want to eat you!”
While Margaret might have turned crimson, she was too polite to respond, and joined in the family laughter. However, that remark had a foreboding for her. Did it haunt her for the rest of her life?

*****

In the spring of 1890, Doctor Margaret MacKellar, sailed from Halifax for England. Earlier she had stopped in Kingston, at Queen’s University, and had received her medical degree, and even read the valedictory address for her class.
But that was not all, for that evening she was invited to speak at a missionary society’s meeting, held in the same convocation hall. The University Principal, during her introduction, mentioned: “This the second time today that Doctor MacKellar has been up on this platform.”
Margaret spent some six months in England receiving additional training, and managed to do some sightseeing as well. At one memorable moment, in Westminster Abbey, when passing by Doctor David Livingstone’s tomb, she remembered his prayer on his last birthday, and repeated it as her own: “Jesus, my King, my Life, my All, I again dedicate my whole self to Thee.”
Later Margaret, along with a party of clerics from Canada, visited her land of birth, Scotland. There, while she was impressed with the length of bridges and height of mountains, it is not known if she was able to meet any of her parents’ relatives.

*****

On Oct 4, 1890, Margaret sailed from England for India, arriving at Bombay docks on Oct 26. She was met by officials of the Canadian Mission and proceeded with them by train to her first posting in Indore, located some 600 kilometres away in Central India.
Although British and American missions had been set up in Northern, Eastern, and Southern India, since the early 1800s, Central India was still an “unclaimed territory”. Hence, the Canadian Mission had its modest beginning there in 1877.
However, 13 years later Margaret might have been dismayed to see the station still in an austere state.
Located outside the village in a small forested opening, the mission consisted of a cluster of cottages around a small church. Two other Canadian pioneer medical missionaries, Doctors Elizabeth Beattie and Marion Oliver, had preceded Margaret there. She had heard about the land granted in 1888 by the Dowager Maharani of Indore, for a Women’s Hospital, but was disappointed to see the building was still under construction.
She was led to the Ladies’ Bungalow, which served both as a residence for the doctors, as well as a clinic.
Women patients were normally treated in their home, the zenana.
Nevertheless, Margaret got to work, diligently, despite the lack of proper medical facilities. An indication of this can be noted in a letter she wrote home, describing one of her first patients:

Dr Margaret MacKellar

Dr Margaret MacKellar

“… We drove a couple of miles out of the city with its crowded streets and dim lights into the country, and there, before a dirty little tent, I was let out with one native assistant. On asking where my patient was I was told, ‘Within the tent’. For a moment I did not know what to do, but the groan from within made me decide there was but one thing to do, and that I did: got down and crawled in on my hands and knees.
“Before getting my assistant in I was obliged to put out the woman who held in her hand the little vessel from which the light was coming. The light-bearer sat outside and thrust in her hand with the light under the tent. The tent was six by four and three feet high. I had to remain on my knees on the ground with my head brushing against the top of the tent.
“What about the patient? The poor thing was lying on mother earth without a stitch of clothes under or on her. About two yards of dirty cotton was thrown over her. Beside her was one little mortal who had come into this world about twelve hours before.
“After administering chloroform, and attending to some other things, another little cherub was placed beside the first. They both had to be wrapped up in my apron as there was no clothing for them. And yet in spite of it being the cold season, and in spite of the dirt, poverty, want of clothing and antiseptic surroundings, the mother and her children throve.
“When I crawled out into the open it was some minutes before I could stand erect. Outside there were about five men, as many women, and about twice as many children. The children sat naked round a small fire in the open air. Much more might be said about this scene, but I must not weary you…”
In 1892, in recognition of Doctor Margaret’s tireless work in Indore, she was promoted to take charge of new medical work being organized in a small village, Neemuch, some 200 kilometres to the north.

*****

The early morning sounds of hawkers from the Neemuch bazaar filtered into the dispensary, and brought Margaret’s mind back from her reminiscence. She put the Bible she held, and had been staring at, back on the desk and rose wearily from her chair. Stepping out onto the verandah, and walking past the waiting room, she noted the dark painful faces of some patients already gathered there.
Nodding at the Anglo-Indian nurse, as an indication to start showing the patients in, she walked into the adjacent examination room. While putting on her white doctor’s coat and washing her hands at the washbasin, the morning’s event of finding those items at her doorsteps came back to her. She clasped her hands, and in her customary manner prayed to her Lord, to give her strength to overcome the “superstitious curse” if ever there was one.
She ended with the following prayer:
Renew my will from day to day.
Blend it with Thine and take away
All that now makes it hard to say.
Thy will be done.

*****

Dispensary for women in Neemuch, Central India. The white marble slab above the door had inscribed on it in letters of gold: “We wash the wounds and God heals them,” in English, Persian and Hindi. The men are workmen.

Dispensary for women in Neemuch, Central India. The white marble slab above the door had inscribed on it in letters of gold: “We wash the wounds and God heals them,” in English, Persian and Hindi. The men are workmen.

Due to an ever-increasing need for treating not only the sick natives, but also patients from the British cantonment, indefatigable Margaret set about expanding and improving the medical facilities at Neemuch.
In due course 14 acres of land were purchased to build two more dispensaries, a church, an orphanage, and subsequently a well-equipped two-storey 45-bed hospital. She constantly encouraged young Indian women to train for medical work. Eventually, Canadian and Indian nurses, compounders, dressers and Biblewomen were hired.
Margaret was not only proficient in medical work, but also a skillful manager. In one report she noted: “I give as much responsibility to Indian workers as they can carry. I stand at the helm to guide the work.”
The number of patients and treatments, as well as revenue from fees and donations increased considerably. A measure of Margaret’s medical work’s success can be gauged from the fact that patients from as far away as over 600 miles came to Neemuch for treatment.
However, Margaret’s efforts in Neemuch, although acknowledged and well received by most, were met with a certain amount of resistance by some. Apart from the aversion to the arrival of missionaries by some natives, there were objections, particularly from a male member of the Canadian Mission. He expressed concern about the young female doctor being sent alone to operate a dispensary in a remote village, avowing that it was not the proper way of proselytizing to the local population.
Like most institutions of that era, gender politics also played a role in the organization of the Canadian Mission.
Although the Mission had been established in 1877, following the untiring efforts of two determined Canadian women, the subsequent arrival of male missionaries, and their attempts at taking control, put a strain on relationships between the sexes.
Accusations, innuendoes, debates, and letters to the head offices in Canada, followed.
Some missionaries were even recalled.
In view of the women missionaries’ desire to govern their own work — for it was they who knew best the workings of the zenanas, female hospitals, and girl’s schools — it was resolved to have separate Missionary Councils for women and men.
Some thought this decision to be unfortunate.
Although in 1891, shortly after her arrival in Indore, Margaret had expressed her unease on the state of affairs, she managed to stay out of the major controversies and confrontations.
In her characteristic manner she devoted her energies to her work.
© Waheed Rabbani
To Be Continued

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