Bahá’u’lláh - Exile

During our sojourn in Adrianople, Bahá’u’lláh's custom was to walk only in the garden of the house, which was also His prison. Here the friends crowded, weeping and wailing, refusing to be comforted. They determined to resist the separation; great was the tumult. Many telegrams were sent to the Government at Constantinople. At length we all started together on the journey to Gallipoli, and in three days we arrived, having travelled in carts and wagons. Here the Governor announced that he had received orders for our separation. He came to see Bahá’u’lláh and the Master, and becoming friendly, he tried to help us in our distress. Again many telegrams were sent to Constantinople; we stayed for a week waiting for the replies. At last permission was given for us all to embark together in a Turkish boat. In this small boat we, seventy-two persons, were crowded together in unspeakable conditions, for eleven days of horror. Then soldiers and two officers were out escort. There was an appalling smell in the boat, and most of us were very ill indeed.

Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway

The Governor was reluctant to tell Bahá’u’lláh that the order had come for still another banishment. He explained this to Sarkar-i-Aqa* (‘Abdu’l-Bahá), and we were told that we had three days to prepare for the journey to `Akka. Then we learnt that we were all to be separated. Bahá’u’lláh to one place, the Master to another, and the friends to still another place. I well remember, as though it were only yesterday, the fresh misery into which we were plunged; to be separated from our Beloved; and He, what new grief was in store for Him? He accepted all vicissitudes with His calm, beautiful smile, cheering us with wonderful words. One of the friends, Karbila'i Ja`far, in despair at the threatened separation, attempted to kill himself; he was saved, but was too ill to travel. Bahá’u’lláh refused to leave him unless the Governor of Adrianople undertook to have him well cared for, and sent after us when he should be recovered. This was done, and forty days after we arrived at `Akká, Karbila'i Ja`far joined us.

Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway

A servant who had accompanied my brother overheard a part of this despatch read and misunderstood it. Without waiting to inquire whether he had heard aright, he returned to us with the report that the first order was not to be rescinded; that the Blessed Perfection was to be separated from his family and his followers. After telling us this he ran out and spread the news among the believers who were gathered near our house. They were as though stunned, paralysed. One of them, an old and faithful follower, seized a knife, and exclaiming, 'If I must be separated from my Lord, I will go now and join my God,' cut his throat. Fortunately this man's knife was partially arrested by a bystander so that his jugular vein was not severed; with the aid of a physician his life was ultimately saved. The attempted suicide caused a great noise and disturbance, which attracted our attention. My mother and I went out to inquire into the cause of the commotion. We came near, and saw a man lying on the ground with blood streaming from him. The soldiers surrounding the group prevented us from approaching closely enough to determine with certainty who it was, but the first thought which came to us was that my poor brother, on hearing that the order was to be carried out, had, in his despair, killed himself. We could hear the gulping utterances of the man - 'You have separated me from my Lord, - I prefer to die.' Though unable to distinguish the voice, we still thought it was my brother. We remained in this agonising suspense for some time, until we suddenly heard my brother's voice rising high above the din, and speaking with tremendous force.

On hearing him, two things amazed us. First, he seemed to be wrought up to the highest pitch of anger and indignation. Never before had we heard him speak an angry word. We had known him sometimes impatient and peremptory, but never angry. And then, his great excitement had apparently given him command of the Turkish language, which no one had ever heard him speak before. He was, in Turkish, and in the most impassioned and vehement manner, protesting against, and denouncing, the treatment of the officers and demanding the presence of the Governor, who in the meantime had returned to the city. The officers seemed cowed by his vehemence, and the Governor was sent for. He came, and seeing the situation said, 'It is impossible, we cannot separate these people.' The Governor returned to his palace and telegraphed to Constantinople. The next day he received a reply granting permission to the followers of the Blessed Perfection to accompany him. We were told to prepare for immediate departure, but were not told to what place we were to be sent. When we set out there were seventy-seven in all in our band.

Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khánum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi, p. 48-55

An order was, however, made, about two months after our arrival in Constantinople, directing our transfer to Adrianople, a town in eastern European Turkey of notoriously bad climate, to which criminals were often sent.

Before we set out a threat was made of separating us - of sending the Blessed Perfection to one place, his family to another, and his followers elsewhere. This overwhelmed us with apprehension, which hung over us and tormented us during the whole of the journey and long after. The dread of this or of the execution of my father was the greatest of our trials - a horrible fear of unknown danger always menacing us. Such threats were frequently repeated after this time also. Had it not been for them we could have borne our sufferings with greater resignation; but these kept us always in a heart-sickening suspense.

The journey to Adrianople, although occupying but nine days, was the most terrible experience of travel we had thus far had. It was the beginning of winter, and very cold; heavy snow fell most of the time; and destitute as we were of proper clothing or food, it was a miracle that we survived it. We arrived at Adrianople all sick - even the young and strong. My brother again had his feet frozen on this journey.

Our family, numbering eleven persons, was lodged in a house of three rooms just outside the city of Adrianople. It was like a prison; without comforts and surrounded by a guard of soldiers. Our only food was the prison fare allowed us, which was unsuitable for the children and the sick.

That winter was a period of intense suffering, due to cold, hunger, and, above all, to the torments of vermin, with which the house was swarming. These made even the days horrible, and the nights still more so. When they were so intolerable that it was impossible to sleep, my brother would light a lamp (which somewhat intimidated the vermin) and by singing and laughing seek to restore the spirits of the family.

In the spring, on the appeal of the Blessed Perfection to the Governor, we were removed to somewhat more comfortable quarters within the city. Our family was given the second story of a house, of which some of the believers occupied the ground floor.

Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khánum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi, p. 34-36

At Gallipoli the German, Russian, and English Consuls called upon the Blessed Perfection and offered to intercede in his behalf with the Turkish government, assuring him that they could procure, for him and his family, permission to go to one of the countries of Western Europe, where they would have no further trouble. My father replied that he did not wish to oppose the will of the Sultan, nor would he consent to abandon his followers; that his only interests were in spiritual things and his only desire to preach a religion, and that therefore he had nothing to fear. The order from Constantinople directed that we should embark together upon a government vessel, and no time was lost in putting it into execution. In the hurry, distress, and uncertainty of the moment, we neglected to provide food for the voyage, but to one old servant, on his way to the ship, the thought occurred that he had not seen any provisions prepared, and he bought a box of bread. This, with the ship's prisoners' rations, which were almost inedible, was the only food we had for five days, when we reached Alexandria. Here the rumour that we were to be separated was renewed; and all were so terrified by it that no one was willing to leave the ship to buy provisions lest he be prevented from returning. We were able to procure only some grapes and mineral water. The little bread we had was now spoiled; and, what with hunger, fright, and grief, we were almost bereft of reason. On one of our company, indeed, these conditions had so preyed as to unbalance his mind, and he threw himself from the ship as we were leaving the harbour of Alexandria. The ships' officers were, however, fortunately able to bring her to in time to reach this man before he sank, and he was brought on board and revived.

Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khánum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi, p. 48-55

Meanwhile my mother was without money. She would have been reduced to extremities but for the fact that the buttons of our garments were of gold. These she used for buying food and for bribing the jailors to take food to my father.

Four months passed in this fearful agony of suspense and terror. Meanwhile the Government had investigated my father's case and had become convinced that he had had no connection with the attack upon the Shah. This might not have been sufficient to effect his release at that time, on account of the popular fury against all Bábis, but he was so ill that it was thought he would die, and his illness was made a pretext for his liberation and he was released under surveillance. Two weeks later, in company with a number of other families of believers, we set out for Baghdad with a military escort. It was bitterly cold, and the route lay over mountains. The journey lasted a month. My father was very ill. The chains had left his neck galled, raw, and much swollen. My mother, who was pregnant, was unaccustomed to hardships, and was worried and harassed over our recent trials and the uncertainty of our fate. Another thing which grieved her was her separation from my younger brother whom, being very delicate, she had felt obliged to leave behind in Teheran as unfit to endure the hardships of this journey. We were all insufficiently clothed, and suffered keenly from exposure. My brother in particular was very thinly clad. Riding upon a horse, his feet, ankles, hands, and wrists were much exposed to the cold, which was so severe that they became frost-bitten and swollen and caused him great pain. The effects of this experience he feels to this day on being chilled or taking a cold.

We arrived in Baghdad in a state of great misery, and also of almost utter destitution. The only means that we had brought from Teheran consisted of a few personal effects that my mother had collected before our departure, which had been so hurried that she had had no time in which to make suitable preparation. Even these were nearly exhausted by the time we reached our destination, having been bartered on the journey for necessaries.

More misery now stared us in the face. My father was still very ill, my mother and other women in delicate health, small children needed care, while our means were insufficient to procure even the usual necessities of life. My mother's health demanded that we should have servants, but we were unable to hire them. There were, indeed, those among the believers who would willingly have acted as such for us, and who actually did so, to some extent, but we could not permit them to do what we would not do ourselves - especially my mother, who was habitually very thoughtful and considerate, and who always preferred to work for herself and others rather than be a source of trouble to any one.

Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khánum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi