Over the past year or so in Miss Blossom Partridge’s Weekly Digest, Miss Blossom Partridge has been publishing a fascinating series entitled “Female Missionaries Of The Victorian And Edwardian Eras”. I was particularly enchanted by a recent piece on the Edwardian missionary Mrs Diphtheria Croak, and sought permission to repost it here – that permission being granted after I made a small donation to Miss Blossom Partridge’s Charitable Fund For The Relief Of Distressed And Destitute Bus Conductors’ Widows And Orphans (Penge). Read and enjoy!
One of the most venturesome of the female missionaries of the Victorian and Edwardian eras was Mrs Diphtheria Croak, widow of “Chippy” Croak, the one-legged country parson and amateur wrestler who went down with the Titanic. She did not accompany her husband on the fateful voyage, being, by her own account “paralysed with terror by the vast pitiless sea”. Yet within a few years of “Chippy”’s death, she was rarely to be found on land, plying the oceans aboard a series of liners and clippers and packet steamers. Eschewing the comforts of a cabin, she spent most of her time out on deck, scanning the waters day and night through her pince nez. Many thought that, unhinged by grief, she was searching for her lost husband. But that was not it. That was not it at all. Mrs Croak was in the grip of a mania, sure enough, but it was a mania of a different, and far stranger, kidney.
I first became aware of the existence of a colony of giant albino kangaroos, she wrote, when sorting through my late husband’s papers after his death. In among the drafts of sermons, newspaper cuttings of amateur wrestling bouts, and mad hysterical screeds scratched in ducks’ blood in an unknown alphabet, I chanced upon an article torn out of a periodical which made mention, inter alia, of giant albino kangaroos.
Immediately my heart went out to these poor benighted creatures. What kind of life must it be?, I wondered, to be gigantic and albino and to go hopping about like an abomination of nature? I determined at once to go among them, bringing succour and Christ, that they may know the Lord has abandoned none of his creation. But first I had to discover where they dwelt.
This was easier said than done, for Mrs Diphtheria Croak was a geographically obtuse woman who had absolutely no sense of direction. Often, leaving the country parsonage to buy eggs from a peasant who lived but a few yards away to the right, Mrs Croak would turn left out of her door and wander for hours, or days, eggless and ditsy. She had no understanding of the visible horizon, thinking there was something amiss with her eyesight, and demanding ever more powerful pince nez from her eye doctor.
Thus it was that she embarked upon her senseless series of sea voyages. Sooner or later, she reasoned, if she peered with sufficient intensity from the railings of an ocean-going vessel, she would spy land. She further reasoned that the albino kangaroos being giants, they ought to be easy to spot, hopping about in their abominable Godless fashion.
And so for seven years she sailed hither and yon, from continent to continent, port to port, keeping a lookout. In her reticule she kept several Bibles and a bag of millet, the latter a gift she intended to present to the leader of the giant albino kangaroos as a token of her goodwill. She was not sure kangaroos ate millet, but consoled herself with the idea that, if they did not, they could find some other use for it. Eventually she ended up eating it herself, to keep body and soul together when marooned for a month on a remote atoll following a maritime mishap.
Brrrr!, I said to myself one morning, it is very chilly and no mistake!, she wrote, This was seven years into my search, and to date I had seen no signs of the giant albino kangaroos. But I am a single-minded widow of great determination, and I knew in the very depths of my immortal soul that without me, the giant albino kangaroos would never bask in the magnificent effulgence of Christ Our Lord. It was quite impossible that I should abandon them. Now, as I leaned over the railings peering with great intensity into the distance, I saw enormous and forbidding cliffs of ice. No wonder it was chilly! A sailor was swabbing the deck nearby, so I asked him where we were. ‘That is the Antarctic, madam,’ he replied, ‘So you had better wrap up warm!’ I was glad he warned me, for when we made landfall some hours later it had grown colder still.
Some instinct must have told Mrs Croak she was, at last, on the right track, for with a dainty wave to the sailors she set off across the ice towards the enormous and forbidding cliffs.
Several years later, a ship landed at the same spot on the Antarctic coast. As the sailors played an impromptu game of ice hockey, they were astonished to see, emerging from the cold white expanse of nothingness, a country parson’s widow. She was carrying a reticule and peering at them through her pince nez. It was Mrs Diphtheria Croak.
“Might I board your ship and sail back to Blighty?” she asked, “My work here is done.”
And back in Blighty she wrote an account of her years in the Antarctic.
Nothing had prepared me for the look of joy on the faces of those giant albino kangaroos, she wrote, When I dinned into their big kangaroo heads the overwhelming love of Christ Jesus. Now when they hop about in their freezing ice-girt wasteland, it is no longer the hopping of Satan’s spawn. They hop for the Lord, who they see as a giant albino kangaroo much like themselves, only bigger and whiter. It is an image of Christ I have come to share, hence the somewhat unusual wood-carvings that keep me gainfully occupied and have become a feature of my country parsonage garden.
Mrs Croak died in 1934. Her wood-carvings were carted off by a rascally tinker. It is not known what became of them.