A Conversion at the Deathbed: From the Memoirs of Miss Augusta Blandford

[Ever since I read this account in the 1990s, I have often thought of this young woman and her tragedy. Married to a prince of the Travancore royal family who was the oldest – and so the heir – yet unfit to occupy the throne because of mental challenges, the emotional agony she bore must have been terrible. Even as she was surely expected to bow to the restrictions imposed by traditional respectability and too isolated from her peers and others for human comfort, it is quite possible that she was almost a non-entity. The matrilineal succession that the Travancore royal family followed meant that she was just that: even having a child would not secure her a place in the community of royals without her husband. Her family would have secured honours and resources, sacrificing her.

I contemplated often of what Miss Blandford would have meant to this unhappy young woman who saw no future ahead of her, and of the agency that she tried to grasp on her deathbed. It must have not just been the teachings of Christ, but also the strength that friendships give. Clearly, this woman was at the edge of a modern self, and in her death, embraced an interiority through her independent profession of faith. The tragedy seems to just grow bigger each time I think of it.]

[The excerpt below is from the woman missionary Augusta M Blandford’s book on her life as a missionary educator of women in the Zenana Mission in the late 19th century, titled The Land of the Conch Shell , London: Church of England Zenana Mission ,1901. ]

“… Another interesting palace pupil was [the]wife of Revi Vurma Rajah, an imbecile Prince who was incapable of succeeding to the throne. This young girl had a retentive memory, and as she read her own language, Malayalum, and studied the New Testament by herself, she made great progress in Divine knowledge. She was anxious to be taught, drinking in like a thirst soul the waters of life. Four years passed away, and she not only confessed to me that she was a believer, but in my presence used to talk to her mother and brother about the Christian faith. I often spoke to my pupil at this time about the duty of professing Christ openly if she believed in Him, and she promised me that when the child she was expecting she would declare herself boldly to be on the Lord’s side. One day I learned to my great grief that all was over — that she had died in her confinement.

I went at once to the house, and her poor mother with streaming eyes gave me an account of all that had happened just before her death. When she knew that she could not recover, she begged her friends to send for her “Madama”, the name by which she always called me. It was a long way and the night was dark, so they did not take the trouble to go tell me, but promised her that I should be fetched in the morning. Then the poor lady prayed to the poor Lord Jesus, confessed all around her that she was His disciple, and before morning passed, as I earnestly hoped, in His presence.” (p. 59)

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