Henry Esbenshade, West Australia Regional Meeting.
Prior to meeting with the QSA Management Committee in mid-June 2012, I Henry Esbenshade of WA Regional Meeting discovered this book in a Devonshire Street Meeting House room used for archives and other purposes. It immediately seemed relevant and worthy to read for advancing my understanding of Quaker service for the QSA 2012 Review that was in progress at that time. I skim-read its 400 pages on the return flight to Perth and just now had another chance after YM13.
This is an important book about the early days of Quaker service – an account of his work along with other Friends in France, Germany, Turkey & Bulgaria. Other experiences are reported after London Yearly Meeting sent him to Italy, America, Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan so to develop their plans for collaboration to encourage peace initiatives. It is available via Google e-books and in the libraries of WARM, Devonshire Street and the Friends House at Toorak.
As the Hon. Commissioner of the Society of Friends War Victims Fund, Jones’ book describes his experiences in France from 1870-71 during the Franco-German War, and then from 1876-77 with Bulgarians affected by the conflict between Turkey and Russia. Examples – (i) France :
I came first into actual contact with the sufferings of the innocent victims of this disastrous war, as instanced in the persons of many of the small peasant proprietors. ‘No corn, no cattle, no horse, no hay, no straw, no food, absolutely nothing left but the clothes we wear’ was said to us…The funds at the disposal of our Central Committee being materially increased, it was resolved to recommence the work of distribution of seed corn and potatoes, on a larger scale, in the distressed districts of France…calling at almost every town and village, gleaning information and organizing in each centre committees of distribution…the information being telegraphed to London, the Home Committee sent out in swift steamers cargoes of seed-wheat, oats and potatoes…The distress is heartrending. I have to-day made out our plans for feeding the villages, sixty in number, where the people are starving…nearly 8,000 souls…There being a dearth of milch cows in France…bulls and cows of the Andalusian breed assigned on loan…where their milk was a great boon to young children…branded around each horn with the word ‘Quakres’ (ii) Bulgaria – The condition of the people, both Mohammedan and Christian, during the Russo-Turkish Wars, was deplorable in the extreme…The Society of Friends also raised a considerable fund…to erect as quickly as possible on the site of the destroyed villages, a number of wooden huts…to shelter the homeless people….set up a steam saw mill there and thus provided a large supply of planks….all the destroyed villages…were rapidly supplied with wooden houses sufficient to shelter about ten thousand homeless people before the inclement winter of 1876-77.
Throughout the book William Jones wrote about convening meetings to raise money and the views of English Friends & others who provided seeds, agricultural implements, cattle, wood for houses & furniture, food, medicine, fuel, and gifts of money:
…the case of these innocent sufferers presented no obstacle to the benevolence of Friends as occurred when the so-called ‘Patriotic Fund’ was raised during the Crimean War. Conscientious objections to subscribe to any fund, which went chiefly to the relief of wounded and sick ‘soldiers’ were felt by many Friends; but no such scruples intervened in regard to the suffering among the non-combatant population, and innocent women and children.
He reported on numerous lectures throughout Great Britain that he and others involved with relief work presented :
….in Leeds more than 500 pounds was raised in the room…in the city of Edinburgh…supported by the Lord Provost whose eloquent appeals proved an effective help….the most influential gathering before which we appeared… in the city of London…largely composed of city merchants.
These fund-raising efforts appear to have been successful because the lectures were given to audiences wider than Friends alone, and they were the personal stories of Jones and other Quakers – not second hand reports.
The author’s work broadened to include a meeting in the Vatican with Cardinal Antonelli who queried him about the Quaker method of ‘never deciding any questions by vote’, and in 1883 he was appointed Secretary of the Peace Society. Jones spent several years organizing work and the delivery of addresses and lectures in all parts of the UK….the great work of establishing a permanent treaty between England and America….In 1887 he went to Richmond Indiana as one of eight representatives to the First Conference of the Yearly Meetings of the Society of Friends in America. Jones was subsequently granted a private interview with President Grover Cleveland who spoke in favour of the treaty for the abolition of war….and the establishment of a High Court of International Arbitration as a substitute for the sword.
A meeting was held the next day with the wife of the President who expressed support for the treaty. A few months later he joined the English Deputation of Members of Parliament to President Grover who expressed entire sympathy…with the desire for a condition of International understanding, which should alleviate the death and distress that war brings…
William Jones traveled throughout the eastern states of America and then in Australia with his wife delivering lectures about the ‘Treaty Question’ that was based, as he wrote, on my own experiences in war-time, some of which have been already related in this book, as well as upon the oppressive militarism prevailing in Europe.
Having been appointed delegate from London Yearly Meeting to the First Inter-colonial Conference of Friends in Australasia that was held in 1888 in Melbourne, he wrote about their traveling by sea through the Suez Canal, arriving in Albany WA and collecting 50 specimens of wildflowers that were entirely new to us including the Waratah and Arum. Jones’ commentary included no such holiday loving people has come under my notice…one almost wondered how the business of the city was carried on amid the numerous picnics and jaunts…Royal birthdays and other such events were availed of as excuses for holidays. They stayed in Adelaide for twelve days giving lectures and then went to the Friends Meeting in Hobart – I believe the oldest in Australasia as a result of the religious labours of English Friends James Backhouse & George Washington Walker and was taken to the land that had recently been acquired for the Friends’ School.
The last five chapters are filled with stories of the couple’s 1889 travels, meetings and lectures about the proposed peace treaty in New Zealand (where a recent earthquake had toppled about 12 tonnes of upper tier stones from the spire of the Church in Christchurch), Sydney, Brisbane and eventually Tientsin China where he reported that the Viceroy agreed to unite with other powers in such a League or Treaty of Peace…the Emperor’s principles were identical with his own. In Japan, Jones and his wife met the Minister for Foreign Affairs who also agreed to the proposed treaty.
After a sixteen-day crossing of the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco, the Joneses spent three months in America lecturing about the proposed treaty – largely to local Peace Societies that had been formed by the Peace Department of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Upon returning to England he wrote ….thankful to arrive in safety, in our native land, which after all the attractiveness of foreign climes has been summed up, was, in all our sincerest convictions, the country of all others to live in.
The final chapter includes a “fifty years’ retrospect” which highlights the Czar of Russia’s August 1898 statement in the interests of a “real and durable peace”…to put an end to the progressive development of the present armaments which are transforming the armed peace of our days into a crushing burden which the people have more and more difficulty in bearing…This noble effort …has transferred….the great topic of Disarmament from the hands of those who have hitherto been regarded as visionary enthusiasts, to the consideration of the Councils of Europe.
Indeed, the writings of William Jones 114 years ago remain relevant for Quaker service.