If Harriet Scudder’s Faith Could Tame Wild Tigers and Elephants in an Indian Jungle,

We Too Can Receive Strength to Confront Trials in Our World Crisis from COVID-19

Messages of Courage from the Pen of Harriet (Waterbury) Scudder, Missionary, 1819–1849


Dr. John and Harriet Scudder

Stories about faith-filled, courageous ancestors can strengthen us when we too are faced with extraordinary adversities. For generations, Rev. John Scudder, M.D. and his wife Harriet W. Scudder have inspired many for their unflinching service in Sri Lanka and India. Dr. Scudder was a pioneer medical missionary in Ceylon and India. Our 2020 crisis from a worldwide viral pandemic seems an ideal time to remember the Scudder family’s legacy of faith and courage from 200 years ago.


Harriet Scudder kept a detailed journal of her unique experiences in the Indian subcontinent. It reveals her attitudes and how she prepared for the night when extraordinary faith was required to save herself and her two year old son John from being trampled by elephants or devoured by tigers. Family members compare this story to the Old Testament account of Daniel’s night in the lion’s den.[1]


In the April 2019 issue of the Scudder Family Historical & Biographical Journal [A Story 200 Hundred Years in the Making] we recounted Harriet’s courage and character to change her heart and to leave her family, friends and girlish dreams in exchange for a life of sacrifice and service to Ceylon and India. This mother who bore fourteen children, nine of whom also served in India, was no ordinary woman. Harriet’s brother, Jared Bell Waterbury, disclosed that Harriet kept a journal of her experiences. The following excerpts from her journal further reveal Harriet’s heart, dutiful to her God, her family and her mission. Almost 200 years later, Harriet’s feelings in these five quotes from her journal resonate with my own feelings about what is important to remember during this present crisis.


Absence and Return

The doctor was absent about eighteen days. He returned home in health and received a most hearty welcome from us all. I suffered considerable anxiety on his account during his absence, and my heart was melted with gratitude upon his safe return. But I am often left alone with the care of about forty persons. I sometimes recall the feelings I once possessed. Before I left America, I thought that in [an unfamiliar] land I could not endure the absence of my husband for a single day…[2]


This first paragraph from early in Harriet’s missionary service shows how her fears of separation were real but how her courage was then tested but grew sufficiently to weather later, even more difficult trials. Sometimes present difficulties, though unwelcome, prepare us in ways for future resilience that will be needed.



The Lord has kept us, and not suffered us to fall out by the way. Our friends, who have been in this field longer than we have, are dear to us, without one exception. We are, including all the band, united in harmony and love.[3]  


This excerpt from Harriet’s journal reminds how important unity, harmony and love are when we are in trying, difficult circumstances. Even though many of us may be in self-isolation in 2020, we are blessed with tools that can keep us connected. Using them to connect with one another in harmony and love can be potent medicine.


Prayer for Revival

Our friends from the different stations came here for the purpose of uniting with us in pleading with the Lord to open the windows of heaven and pour us out a blessing. ‘Our mouths were opened wide’ to ask greater things than we had yet seen, and I believe we can all say, Verily the Lord has been in the midst of us. Oh! we have had a precious season, and trust we have renewed our strength for many days.[4]


Harriet’s earlier experiences with having her prayers answered for renewed strength gave her courage and power to pray all night long when everything depended on heaven’s help.


Letters from Home

The doctor returned late from Odooville, and found me ill with the headache, brought on by a fall. He did not make me acquainted with the treasure which he brought with him. This morning, as soon as the day appeared, he told me that I now should have the privilege of reading letters from America. He would not give them to me last night, for fear I would sit up the remainder of the night. Soon we were gathered around the precious little box, the doctor, myself, Henry, and Amy being the company, and little Willie peeping round for his share. Henry had his feet pinched into the red shoes, and though they hurt him, he did not mind it, but seized the handkerchief sent to the doctor, put it round his neck, and turning to me, says, ‘Poctavaviane, mamma’—that is, ‘good-by’—and went off singing grandmamma. Everything sent us was prized as a grand treasure, and all we shall find very useful. And the letters—what a feast![5]


This excerpt from Harriet’s journal reminds how our precious relationships and communications can lift one another’s spirit. Reaching out to family and friends frequently now through our electronic devices while we observe physical distancing may be needed more than ever.


Dr. Scudder Leaves for Madras

The missionaries, at their late meeting at Manepy, consulted upon the expediency of the doctor’s taking a journey for his health, which has for some time past been very feeble. They all thought it best that he should go to Madras, and from thence to Bengalore, about two hundred and sixty miles from Madras, where the climate is cool and the place considered healthy. It was also left to my choice whether to accompany him on this journey or remain at home. I will not attempt to tell you what have been my feelings in view of my dearest friend being separated from me on account of his health. I will only say the struggle has been a powerful one between self and duty. I have thought in times past, should it be necessary for him to leave, that I would accompany him at all events. But when I looked around upon my charge at Panditeripo, and saw the sacrifice which must be made if I too left the station, my cry was, ‘Lord, strengthen me to take up my cross.’ (Her prayer was answered.)

September 11th. We have parted. Oh, how painful the separation! God grant that we may meet again. I am unable to say much.

September 14th. I returned this afternoon to my solitary home. On entering my room, I found myself quite overcome at the thought of remaining here alone for such a length of time. I found relief in committing my all into the hands of Him ‘who doeth all things well.[6]


This entry from Harriet’s journal precedes the account of her greatest trial, becoming all the more poignant when we consider her later extraordinary moment of truth on that danger-filled night as described by her brother Jared.


Jared Bell Waterbury goes on to say, “These extracts from the journal of Mrs. Scudder—which was a minute diary of daily life, and transmitted to her friends in America—show the energy and self-denial which the women of the mission had to put forth.”[7] He further describes:


In Mrs. Scudder’s case there was a more than usual draft on her strength, as her husband had hospital duties at home, and calls from every quarter to attend upon the sick; yet she seems to have met all these responsibilities with a cheerful energy, and scarcely ever complains of any thing but occasional fatigue and exhaustion.


The secret of all this lay in her patient spirit, her calm, collected energy, and most of all in her spirit of faith and prayer, by which she drew strength from above. ‘God was her refuge, her present help in every time of trouble.’[8]


Perhaps in part due to her sacrifice, the windows of heaven did open at this time to bless them with a great missionary harvest that significantly swelled the numbers of their little church growing among those whom they had come to India to serve.[9] Harriet’s brother Jared recounts how Dr. Scudder’s health began to fail in 1837 due to the debilitating climate. By then the couple had left Ceylon and they were serving in India.


“Observations on the Neilgherries…” 1834

“Observations on the Neilgherries…” 1834[10]

For his health, and on business, Dr. Scudder had journeyed from Bangalore (now Bengalaru) to the Neilgherries where the climate was advertized as European style and better for his recuperation. This trip, however, required a journey through the jungle area around Bandipur, where today Bandipur National Park is the second largest tiger reserve in all of India.


Jared B. Waterbury continues the story by referring to his brother-in-law Scudder’s journal:


Jungle Fever

This malady has features in common with our well-known intermittent fever, or fever and ague; but when it takes hold, it holds on; seldom is it ever entirely eradicated. This terrible jungle fever struck the first heavy blow on the naturally fine constitution of Dr. Scudder….


He passed over the Neilgherries and through the Mysore district, encountering perils innumerable and exposing himself to the malaria…The scenery, with the grand and beautiful intermingled; the air laden with the perfume of flowers such as we cultivate in hothouses, but there growing wild; the impenetrable jungle, the abode of tigers and elephants…


Indian Elephant

Indian Elephant[11]

On the return through the forests and jungles of the midland road he was seized with the jungle fever. His life was despaired of. The sad news was transmitted to his wife, in the hope that she might be able, by traveling day and night, to reach him and receive his dying benediction.[12]


Jared B. Waterbury then describes in his own words what happened next:


Perilous Journey of Mrs. Scudder

Mrs. Scudder prepared at once for the overland journey. A kind friend provided her with a tent, bearers were engaged, and provisions laid in. Then this lonely but heroic woman, accompanied by her little son, and just on the eve of giving birth to another child, [being 8 months pregnant] started on her mournful way. The agony she endured can not be conceived. Nothing stayed her up but her faith in God. She still had a bare hope that she might find her husband alive, and possibly recovering. This faint hope lighted up her dark pathway across the Neilgherries. She had to travel in the night as well as by day, which involved personal peril such as few would dare to encounter.


In the worst part of the jungle road, as night drew on, the bearers became intimidated at the sound of wild beasts roaring after their prey, and suddenly fled, leaving Mrs. Scudder and her little one exposed to the most horrid death, and with none to protect them but Daniel’s God. What could she do? There was but one thing. She held her little one by the hand, and spent that night on her knees in prayer. She heard the heavy tread of wild elephants, which could have trampled her and her little one to death. Then came the growl of tigers and other ravenous beasts, the sound approaching and then receding.


Indian Tiger

Indian Bandipur Tiger[13]

They seemed to be circling round the little spot where she knelt, ready to spring upon their prey. But God held them back. Yes, He who shut the mouths of lions, and allowed Daniel to pillow his head on their manes, sent his angel in answer to prayer to guard these, his dear ones, from the death they dreaded. So they passed the night. Morning came, and the cowardly bearers returned and resumed their burden.


Mrs. Scudder found her husband convalescent. The immediate danger of death had passed, but long months were required to restore him to his wonted health.[14]


Filled with the fire of testimony, Dr. Scudder continued to work incessantly, trying to ignore his failing health but by 1841 it had deteriorated to the point he was told that he must return for a season to America. At first disappointed, this temporary assignment to go home presented an unexpected reconciliation to heal the twenty-year pain in two hearts. Dorothy J. Scudder writes:


Five of the children were already there. In March 1842, he and Mrs. Scudder set out with the other five. Nearly twenty-three years had elapsed since they sailed from Boston on the Indus: then neither of them expected ever to return. Going back home was to them a tremendous experience. One evidence of God’s Providence marked their homecoming. Joseph Scudder, who had sworn to have nothing to do with his son if he went to India, who had refused to write to him and had ignored the claims of his grandchildren, now met the exile on his return, opened his arms, and embracing him, restored him to the home he had surrendered.[15]


This reconciliation of father and son after twenty years was made even sweeter by Joseph’s death the following year. Harriet’s journal also reminds us that you and I have also been invited to ask for divine help in time of need.


[1] Daniel Chapter 6, Old Testament.
[2] Jared Bell Waterbury, Memoir of the Rev. John Scudder, M.D.: thirty-six years missionary, (1870), 100.
[3] Waterbury, 102.
[4] Waterbury, 104.
[5] Waterbury, 105.
[6] Waterbury, 107.
[7] Waterbury, 109.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Waterbury, 107–108.
[10] Robert Baikie and William Hunter Smoult, “Observations on the Neilgherries…” 1834, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Observations_on_the_Neilgherries;_including_an_account_of_their_topography,_climate,_soil,_and_productions,_and_of_the_effects_of_the_climate_on_the_European_constitution_(1834)_(14590644669).jpg,
[11] Yathin S. Krishnappa, “Elephas maximus (Bandipur), 19 July 2005, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elephas_maximus_(Bandipur).jpg.
[12] Waterbury, 177–178.
[13] Yathin S. Krishnappa, “Tiger in Bandipur near Bolgudda,” Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2012-bandipur-tiger.jpg.
[14] Waterbury, 178–179.
[15] Dorothy Jealous Scudder, A Thousand Years in Thy Sight; The Story of the Scudder Missionaries of India, (New York: Vantage Press, 1984).

© Scudder Association Foundation, All rights reserved


1 Comment

  1. M. Shantakumar

    I had studied at the school grew around Pandatharippu Dispensary from 1955 to 1961.
    I have been in to the building houded the dispensary many times. The missionaries provided good service and education for the Tamil community in Jaffna.
    We are very grateful to the American Missionaries.

    I have been living in Melbourne, Australia for the past 35 years.



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