Category Archives: Christianity

A unique holiday souvenir

After he retired in 1966 my dad took up family history as a hobby. Things were different then: no internet, no Rather every scrap of information was the result of hours of work, mainly visiting the register of births, deaths and marriages housed at Somerset House, then St Catherine’s House – though living in SW London made this fairly easy. These records, though, only go back to 1837.

Cannington parish church

Cannington parish church

To take the search further back, in June 1975 I accompanied dad for a week’s holiday in Somerset. On his father’s side, the Bryer family could be traced back to Combe Florey, then Cannington near Bridgewater. Whilst staying there we met several distant relatives – I wish I’d kept a journal as 46 years on my memories are very hazy.

One, cousin Nancy Palmer*, lived in Ruscombe House, a rather fine house in the town centre. We also met an elderly couple, George and Elsie Hurley of 8 Gurney Street who produced a picture of the village carpenter’s shop with wagon wheel and part finished coffin amongst the contents. Dad’s grandfather, William, was the village carpenter; his son, my father’s father, George, moved to Bristol and read gas meters for a living; my dad moved to London and became a civil servant, and here I am living in Melbourne.

But back to the main task. We did spend an afternoon at the County Record Office in Bridgewater, but the real interest was in searching through the Cannington parish church baptismal, marriage and death records. There were no shortcuts, rather it was a question of reading through page after page of often barely legible handwriting. Slowly we filled in some gaps in dad’s research but others remained unresolved.

The Holy One front cover

The Holy One front cover

The vicar, Arthur Moss, was very helpful and as a keepsake I bought a copy of his book, ‘The Holy One’. It’s an interesting piece of work: he takes the four Gospels and rearranges them to make one narrative of the life of Jesus.

This was not an original idea: according to Wikipedia the earliest known gospel harmony is the Diatessaron by compiled by one Tatian of Adiabene in the 2nd century which Moss acknowledges as one of his inspirations, the other being William Newcome, Bishop of Ossory who compiled his Greek Diatessaron in 1778. Moss’s work is a translation of this text. It starts with St Luke’s preface and finishes with Jesus’ ascension and John’s epilogue.

Now I look through it for the first time in many years, it’s an beautifully crafted work and I will take time to read it through. My bookshelf apart it has seemingly disappeared without trace. A Google search on “The Holy One” “Arthur Moss” produced nothing of consequence, something that this piece will rectify!

  • Nancy (1920-1980) was the daughter of Clifford Bryer (1890-1970) and Mabel Jenkins. Clifford’s father was William Bryer, who was also the father of George Bryer, my father’s father. Elsie (1894-) was a daughter of William, thus Nancy’s aunt.  

The Holy One, Arthur R. Moss, pub. Citadel Press, Derby 1971, ISBN 0 85468 512 X

Where goes Africa?

Inside Africa frontispiece

Inside Africa frontispiece

In recent months I’ve been re-reading a chunk of John Gunther’s Inside Africa, mainly the chapters relating to what were British colonies. It runs to 960 pages (the index takes up 40) and recounts the author’s experience of travelling the continent with his wife during 1952-53. They visited 105 towns and cities and he took notes on conversations with1,503 people.

It was a time when nearly two hundred million Africans were ruled, for the most part, by five million white Europeans. But, as Macmillan would note in 1960, “the wind of change is blowing through [Africa]. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.

Gunther saw this this desire to shake off colonialism, talking to many emerging leaders, but on page 10 notes: “Many Europeans think that Africans, if they become free, will make a botch of freedom. But this remains to be seen. They also say that African exploitation of Africans could be worse than European …”.

But the desire for freedom could not be supressed. I just remember from my 1960s childhood seeing every few months on TV news another independence ceremony when a Union Jack was lowered, a new national flag taking its place, raised in a spirit of hope and optimism. As far as Africa is concerned the last sixty years, sadly, have proved otherwise.

At church we are currently studying the book of Exodus dating back more than three thousand years. Even if you’re not Jewish or Christian you almost certainly know the plot. The Israelites find themselves enslaved by the Egyptians, the ever-increasing oppression leading God through Moses to cry: “Let my people go.” And finally the moment arrives when they make their miraculous escape through the Red Sea on to a life of paradise in a land of milk of honey.

Save that it didn’t work out that way. No sooner were they free than the complaints started. People were telling one another that they’d be better off in Egypt [Ex.16:3]. Moses was worn out settling disputes between people [18:13-26] and when they were given a set of laws – the Ten Commandments [20:1-17] – for the better regulation of society they forgot them in no time. It would be decades before they (or rather their descendants) were able to enjoy a settled society. The 40 years spent wandering in the wilderness was for many a lifetime.

What of Africa? We’ve seen terrible things happen in so many African countries: thousands dead in the Matabele massacres, vast numbers dying as a result of the Biafran civil war, Rwandan genocide and other conflicts. Up to the 1970s South Korea  and Zimbabwe enjoyed much the same per-capita GDP. Now the ratio is something like 24:1. And that’s not because Zimbabwe has nothing going for it: it used to be called the bread bowl of Africa, has massive mineral resources, at independence was left with pretty good infrastructure (rail the legacy of Rhodes) and has one of the greatest sights in the world in the Victoria Falls. What has it lacked? There’s a good summary here.

But perhaps it doesn’t have to be like this. Check out this 2008 paper by Icelandic Economics professor Thorvaldur Gylfason:

Believe it or not: in 1901, Iceland’s per capita national output was about the same as that of Ghana today. Today, Iceland occupies first place in the United Nations’ ranking of material success according to the Human Development Index that reflects longevity, adult literacy, and schooling as well as the purchasing power of peoples’ incomes. Can Iceland’s rags-to-riches story be replicated in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world? If so, what would it take?

The author’s answer can be found here. The now 1.3 billion Africans were ‘freed’ from colonialism in the 1960s by the winds of change observed by Macmillan. They now deserve to be freed from poverty and bad government. “Formerly one of the world’s poorest countries—with a GDP per capita of about US$70 per year in the late 1960s—Botswana has since transformed itself into an upper middle income country, with one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.” shows us what can be done.

Visiting the McKean Rehabilitation Center, Chiang Mai

I’ve been a supporter of the Leprosy Mission (TLM) for something like 20 years and I’ve made an annual visit to family in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand each year since 2013.This year I made the connection and was able to visit the McKean Rehabilitation Center in Chiang Mai, one of TLM’s associates. Many thanks to TLM Australia for arranging my visit and to Ling for showing us round.

Statue of James McKean

Statue of James McKean

The centre is named for Dr James McKean (1860-1949), an American missionary. With his second wife, Laura Bell, he arrived in Chiang Mai in 1889 to join another American missionary. With a Thai assistant they set up a dispensary which became known as the American Hospital.

Helping those suffering from leprosy, then untreatable, was one priority. In 1905, Dr McKean gained the support of local dignitaries to create a home for lepers on Koh Klang, a river island off Chiang Mai. By 1908, there was an embryonic leprosarium, consisting of three cottages and six adults. Over the next twenty years, under the care of McKean and his team this fledging operation would grow dramatically.

A bio records:

… Dr McKean retired from the mission in Chiang Mai on March 10, 1931. At By the end of his career McKean had made substantial contributions to public health in Chiang Mail. He had helped to build up the American Hospital (and directed it for 24 years). He had also established a vaccine laboratory and the leprosy asylum, as well as 4 churches and over 45 leprosy villages. the leprosarium, there were more than 500 inhabitants, including 350 leprosy patients, in 143 buildings, including 116 cottages, 9 dormitories, a church, an impressive administration building, recreation center, a road for most of the island, a school, sewing factory, tool and furniture factory, and a form of self-government^.

McKean Center resident's cottage

Residents cottage

After WW2 effective drug treatments for leprosy became available and it is now all but extinct in Thailand, though periodically cases are detected in those who have come from neighbouring countries. McKean continues to treat such cases.

By the early 1970s more than 5,000 patients had been treated in McKean, nearly 1,000 still living there.  The emphasis shifted to making it possible for residents to return to their former homes. For some this is not possible, and McKean will be their permanent home. McKean extended its remit to supporting all disabled people both at the centre and through community outreach.



Our ninety minute tour took in the museum, cottages, the two churches, the outside of the 1993 hospital, hostels for those who cannot look after themselves and, of course, the beautiful grounds. All a great testament to James McKean and others who, inspired by their Christian faith, gave (and continue to give) their lives to serve others.

Leprosy Mission Australia   CityLife Chiang Mai visit to McKean