Morning came early at Hebron Academy. At six a.m., I would enter the bathroom, calmly pick up the basin with the snake curled up inside, and walk outside to dump it in the bushes. I was a border and this was not my first brush with snakes.
The school was in the village of Coonoor, high in the Nilgiri Hills of Southern India.1 Most of the students were the children of missionaries but a few like myself were “business kids”.2
Shortly after arriving at Hebron in 1957 I found two names in the front of an old text book: Margery Angus and Kathleen Angus. It was enough of a curiosity that I wrote home about it. Imagine my surprise when Dad wrote back that they were his cousins, cousins he had never met! Their dad, the brother of my grandfather, had been a missionary in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Now my curiosity knew no bounds!
How did they travel to Hebron? They could not have come like I did, four days from Calcutta on a train. Had they come by ship across the Bay of Bengal to Madras and then on the narrow- rail train up into the hills? At what age did they come? As teenagers? Or were they Kindergarten age and placed in The Nest? Did their parents join them for the May vacation or were they required to spend the holiday month with the school staff?
How did they feel about the school program? About tennis and field hockey? Art lessons, music, and drama? About being kept busy every minute of the day? In what academic subjects did they excel? I bet they had no trouble memorizing scripture or praying publicly in the daily prayer meetings being the children of missionaries. How did they feel sleeping six to a dorm on wooden beds with straw pallets? Or bathing in a tin tub twice a week in water heated over a wooden stove? Did they like the blue and white checked frock uniform? And the navy tunic and tie on Sundays? Were they as homesick as I, living for the daily mail distribution and letters from family?
This was my first brush with genealogy. Names were insufficient – I wanted stories, not just the knowledge that I walked in steps they had walked. I wanted these cousins to come to life for me! Today I want the same thing. The family tree I inherited from my dad was just a list of names and dates. Who were these people, where and how did they live?
Today the internet allows me to find some answers.
Margery and Kathleen’s father Thomas Angus was an Evangelical missionary from Glasgow.3 His wife was Eliza Simpson and they had five children: David, Robert, Joan, Kathleen and Margery.4. There was an Anglican school for girls in Kuala Lumpur but Thomas likely chose far-away Hebron to ensure that his daughters were educated in their own faith. 5 Perhaps his sons went to Breeks Memorial, Hebron’s sister school for boys. Or they may have been left at a school in Britain on one of the furloughs. Thomas’ final trip home was in 1940.6 He suffered from a heart condition and died in 1948.7 His son David took over his work in Malaysia until his interment by the Japanese during WW2.8
My work on Thomas’ family remains incomplete. I will likely never find answers to my questions about the girls’ years at Hebron. The school is now an orphanage, academic records and yearbooks likely lost to time. I have not yet been able to trace the remaining years of the girls’ lives. What is key for me today, however, is that this long ago first brush with genealogy led to my insatiable quest today for family stories.
Notes and Sources
Hebron Gleanings 1958 (yearbook) – on file with author
Note: The school was surrounded by plantations growing the famous Nilgiri tea.
- My father worked for a Canadian mining company that was part of a NGO in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. The job involved the construction and start-up of a newsprint mill in the village if Khulna south of Dhaka on the Ganges River. At the time, Bangladesh was under martial law.
“Mr. and Mrs T.R. Angus arrived to work with the Hakka tin miners and in October 1903 found “a crying need for the gospel on every hand” but few to meet the need. Training locals to serve the Lord proved difficult as the miners led a rather nomadic life and were unable to attend church regularly. Just before the Second World War engulfed the Pacific, the aging Mr. Thomas Angus returned to Scotland and was replaced by his son David Angus.”
- Eliza was listed as the wife of Thomas on his death certificate. To date (February 2015), I have been unable to find any other documentation. The children’s’ names are those provided by my father. The children may have been born in Kuala Lump, indeed Thomas and Eliza may have married there, but I have been unable to access Malaysian records.
- Finding passenger lists (outgoing and incoming) have proven difficult. Angus is not an uncommon name in Britain, there are many British ports from which Thomas may have left, and a Malaysian destination is often merely a port–of-call on the way to a final destination like Australia. The lists I have been able to find sometimes show Thomas travelling alone, sometimes with his wife, or with his wife and children. The children’s names do not all match those given to me by my father. I have found a David, a Robert, a Margery, an Annie and a Frances. I have not found a Joan or a Kathleen. Were they younger than the others or did they go officially by other names?
- Death Certificate: http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
“In 1931 Mr. David Angus joined his father to continue the service the hallmark of which was grace and humility. During the war years Mr. Angus and other missionaries suffered imprisonment at the hands of the Japanese invaders. He survived the horrors of prison with fortitude and emerged with a new understanding of the people in the country of mixed nationalities he had come to serve”