Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Boreham on Granny of Mosgiel

This is a further article in a series on some of the saints of the church by F W Boreham.

In a real sense he believed that all followers of Jesus are saints and the term should not be reserved for those who are framed in stained glass in hallowed places. Such glass lets the light shine through and this might be a better description of a saint—a person who receives and lets the light of Christ shine through their lives. This saint is just known as ‘Granny’.

GRANNY was a pioneer with a vengeance. When the Free Church of Scotland first announced its intention of establishing a colony in far-away New Zealand, she, her husband, and her young family were among the very first emigrants to be enrolled. Brave little woman! For in those days New Zealand was thought of as the happy hunting-ground of wild barbarians.

And good little woman! No finer testimony could be produced to the excellent character that Granny then bore. For the Free Church was determined to send out only men and women of unimpeachable integrity ; and a most searching scrutiny was made into the character of each proposed emigrant. Granny and her guid man stood the test; and, by the very first ship that sailed for the strange southern land, away they went!

After a voyage of nearly six months, the Philip Lang cast anchor off the New Zealand coast. She had been becalmed in the tropics, and had been tumbled in mountainous seas about the Cape; but she reached her haven at last. I have often looked at New Zealand from the scene of that historic anchorage, and have tried to conjure up the land as Granny first saw it. No streets; no houses; no shops; no anything! Virgin bush right down to the water's edge! What a gorgeous riot of emerald forestry! The newcomers must hew down for themselves the trees from which their first rude cabins must be built. And I like to remember that, before an axe was raised or a spade lifted, those heroic pioneers and pathfinders kneeled together on the shore and sought grace to lay the foundations of a new nation in the love of righteousness and in the fear of God. Granny was a young woman then, plump and bonny, with her husband by her side and her children at her skirts. If peace hath her victories no less renowned than war, she has her heroes too. And heroines. And surely a Scottish lassie who could accompany her brawny young husband as he carved a path through an untrodden antipodean forest, in order that they might found for themselves a home in the silent and uninhabited interior, has earned a Victoria Cross!

Granny and her husband paused at last on the summit of a mountain, overlooking the blue, blue sea on the one side and a silvery lake on the other. There on the crest of the hill they resolved to build for themselves a home, and to seek their bread by cultivating the bush-clad slopes around.

Fifty years later it was often my delight to visit her. I was always dragged up the mountain track on a pair-horse sledge. And I never climbed that steep ascent without thinking of those early days when poor Granny, with no track made for her and no horse to help her, fought her way up the difficult slope as best she could. And I doubt not that she bore her bairnies much of the way, or how could they have clambered through the bush to the summit? Those first colonists were made of iron. Up there, on the mountain-top, a home was soon built. It was very rough, but it did. The bush was burned and the first crops were sown. And the great lake on which, in those first days, Granny looked down, was drained by companion settlers, and converted into one of the most fertile plains on the face of the earth. It was out on the bed of that old lake that my manse was built for me.

I cherish amongst my richest treasure-trove the memory of my first visit to Granny. She had been recently widowed. Her sons and her grandsons farmed the fertile hill-sides all around her. And they had built for her special comfort a dainty little cottage at the back of the old homestead. The picture is indelible. There she stands in the rose-covered doorway of the quaint little cabin, like a pretty old painting, exquisitely framed! I can still see her wrinkled face buried in the wavy depths of her lilac sun-bonnet. Her little plaid shawl is neatly crossed over her breast and fastened behind her back. Her Scottish accent was so pronounced and her brogue so broad that I cannot pretend to have caught every word that she uttered; but for all that it was a treat to hear her. There is music in the murmur of the waves, though we know not what they are saying. And at any rate, if poor Granny's speech was too subtle for prosaic southern ears, her eyes were always eloquent enough. They seemed to glow with the very joy of living; and as she stands there, framed in her cottage portal, her hands seem always outstretched to welcome her minister. I wish that every man could share my rare privilege in passing straight from college to such a school as Granny kept for me! When, nowadays, I find sleep coy and difficult to woo, I just lie still and think of Granny as I used to see her at her cabin-door in those first days of my ministry in Maoriland.

What times they were! 'What tales she told me as we sat together in her wee but cosy `but and ben '! The pathos of her early exile; her insufferable home-sickness as she sat, on quiet and lonely Sabbaths, her face in her hands and her elbows on her knees, peering over the wilds and the waters, dreaming fondly of the auld land and the auld kirk. How tenderly she told of the patient struggles of those first days of colonization: the infinite labour of building their home on the summit; the long and perilous tramps in search of every simplest requisite; the heavy burdens that had to be carried on their own backs in the days before horses and cattle were to be had; the prosperity that responded to toil; and the ease that came with the years! Of all these she chatted easily, cheerfully, gratefully.

And when, after awhile, I saw her tall young grandson pass the open door on his way to the stable to harness the horses to my sledge, I used to reach for her old Bible. It had accompanied her through all the days of her pilgrimage. The covers had been more than once repaired. Every page was brown with age and wear. How fondly she eyed it as I opened its mellow leaves! I read to her passages that were like music to her soul. She always chose them, and her face simply gleamed as I read. She had learned every word of those stately chapters by heart before I was born, and, had I stumbled, would have instantly detected the slip; but she enjoyed the passage none the less on that account. And then we kneeled together in the Presence that was very real; and somehow I always felt that prayer was wonderfully easy in the perfumed atmosphere of that little room.

I heard one day that Granny was dying! It was raining in torrents! There was no way of arranging for the mountain-sledge. I drove to the foot of the track, and then commenced the ascent. It was the only time that I ever walked it. And I even felt glad that it was raining. It would have seemed a horrid incongruity if the sun had been shining and the birds singing when old Granny was dying!

To my joy, I arrived in time! Granny was lying dreadfully still and perfectly prostrate in her tiny room. The watchers thoughtfully slipped out and left us, as we had so often been, alone together. I stroked the wrinkled brow about which the snowy curls were tumbled now. Her eyes spoke to me in reply, and I understood. For the last time I reached for her Bible. I knew what to read. If for her great countryman there was 'only one Book' at such a time, for Granny there was only one chapter. `In my Father's house are many mansions.' Even as I gave utterance to the beautiful and rhythmic cadences, the rain ceased to beat upon the little window-pane, and I read on amidst a silence that was like the threshold of another world. It was like the hush of the Presence-chamber, the anteroom of the Eternal. I could see that Granny drank in every syllable, and it was as the wine of the kingdom of heaven to her taste. And then I prayed—or tried to—for the last time! When I rose from my knees by her bedside, the setting sun had struggled through the rain-clouds. It streamed gloriously through her little western window. It transfigured her wan face and wandering hair as it fell upon her snowy pillow. I quietly rose to leave. I was about to take her hand in mine when a thing happened that I think I shall remember when all things else have been forgotten.

To my amazement, Granny rose, and sat bolt upright! In the glory of the setting sun, she seemed almost more than human. `Doon!' she exclaimed, 'doon!' and motioned me to kneel once more by her bedside. I obeyed her. And, as I knelt, I felt her thin, worn hands on my head, and I heard her clear Scotch accent once more. `The Lord bless ye,' she said in slow and solemn tones; `the Lord bless ye and keep ye! The Lord bless ye in your youth and in your auld age! The Lord bless ye in your basket and in your store! The Lord bless ye in your kirk and in your hame! The Lord bless ye in your guid wife and in your wee bairns! The Lord bless ye in your gaeings out and in your comings in frae this time forth and even for evermair!'

I have bowed my head to many benedictions, but I have never known another like that. The frail form was completely exhausted, and poor Granny sank back heavily upon her pillow. In a very little while she had passed beyond the reach of my poor ministries. But I often feel her thin fingers in my hair; and that last benediction will abide, like the breath of heaven, upon my spirit till I shall see her radiant face once more.

F W Boreham, ‘Granny’, Mountains in the Mist (London: Charles H Kelly, 1914), 203-210.

Image: Map of the New Zealand province, Otago which was settled by many (like Granny) who came from Scotland. Click for enlargement.