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Ambassador at the Court:
The Life and Photography of Effie Baker

by Graham Hassall

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Chapter 5

Journey to Haifa


Dear Friends,

Here we are on board our boat once again. Happy but weary travellers. It has just been a delight and joy for us all to be with you and your kindnesses to us will live in our hearts. You are certainly each one and all following the command of the "Blessed Perfection" that is to "consort with all the people with love and fragrance".

Fellowship is the cause of unity and unity the source of order in the world. Blessed are they who are kind and serve with love. We shall take you all in our hearts on our journey and send to you our grateful thanks for the happy times we have had during our stay in Adelaide. Our united love to you all,


In His Name

Your co-workers

The New Zealand Friends and Effie E. Baker1

Travel by sea to Europe was becoming popular among Australians and New Zealanders, many of who had relatives in England, Scotland, Wales, or Ireland. There were also considerable numbers of Australians whose forebears came from Holland, Germany, and even France. Thus, it was not unusual for Effie, or for her New Zealand companions, to travel to the "mother country." Mrs Blundell had arrived in New Zealand from Cambridgeshire, England, in 1886. Now, at the age of 74 she wished to see her home country once again. Margaret Stevenson and Effie, too, had English relatives to visit. For Effie there was also the excitement of placing some photographs in an English exhibition, (although this does not seem to have been a major reason for her journey, as she hardly mentioned it in later years).

Whereas travel to Britain and to the European continent was popular, breaking one's journey in the Middle East was more "exotic." To Australians, whose manners and customs were originally European, Eastern cultures seemed so inscrutable, no doubt because of the many resounding differences in the sights and sounds of language, food, dress, and behaviour that people of Eastern cultures displayed. For Effie and her companions, the desire to travel into unfamiliar lands resulted from the fact that the spiritual and administrative centre of the Bahá'í Faith was located, through historical and providential circumstances, in the cities of Haifa and ‘Akká in Palestine. The resting place of the Báb, the prophetic figure who was martyred in Persia in 1850, was on Mt Carmel, a steep and rocky landmass encircling the port of Haifa in what was then the British territory of Palestine. Bahá'u'lláh had died in 1892 outside the prison-city of ‘Akká and was buried in surroundings known as Bahjí. Shoghi Effendi administered the affairs of this infant Faith from the home of his late grandfather, `Abdu'l-Bahá, in Haifa.

A letter written on 26 December 1924 by Shoghi Effendi's secretary, thanking Effie for the letter in which she sought permission to make her pilgrimage, reassured her that her journey would be safe and successful.

"My dear Bahá'í sister, I wish to thank you for your kind letter to our dear Shoghi Effendi, and desire to assure you of his great pleasure to see you here in Haifa, the holy land not only for Jews, Christians but for Bahá'ís also.

We all hope that you will have a pleasant journey from Australia, and will soon find yourself in the warmer country of Palestine. Shoghi Effendi feels that your field of service is very wide in Australia and hopes and prays that you will succeed not only in living a true Bahá'í life but also in attracting new souls to the great message of God.

The family of the Master all join me in the utmost love to the friends there and especially to your own dear self.

Yours in His Service,"

To this letter Shoghi Effendi added in his own handwriting:

My dear precious fellow-worker,

Just a word to assure you personally of my unceasing prayers for your welfare and the success of your glorious efforts for the spread of the Cause. Persevere in teaching, work unceasingly and the victory will be yours.

Your true brother,


Shoghi Effendi's cousin and secretary, Soheil Afnan, also wrote on behalf of `Abdu'l-Bahá's sister Bahíyyih Khánum ("The Greatest Holy Leaf"), to thank Effie for a letter that she had received from her, and to say that all the Bahá'ís in Haifa looked forward to meeting her.

The Auckland Bahá'ís farewelled the Blundells and Margaret Stevenson at a gathering on 21 December and the pilgrims departed for Sydney on 6 January in the New Year. Undeterred by a seaman's strike, which left the 180-berth Largs Bay stranded in Sydney, they tarried several weeks in the company of the Sydney Bahá'ís, finally arriving by train in Melbourne, some 1,000 kilometres to the south on the 21st. The Blundells stayed with relatives, and Margaret Stevenson accommodated with the Dunns.1

Following several weeks spent in the joyful company of Mrs Henderson, Kitty McLaughlan, Amy Thornton, Mrs Stanton, Pete Beaver, Miss Hastings - as well as the Dunns, and in which period Mrs Blundell celebrated her seventy-fifth birthday, the pilgrims departed Melbourne on 10 February. Effie's uncle William Baker and his family, as well as the Melbourne Bahá'ís, came to the dock to bid her bon voyage. The Largs Bay had at last arrived from Sydney, and after leaving Melbourne, berthed at Adelaide and Perth, allowing the travellers to visit friends in both cities before steaming northwest across the Indian Ocean toward Ceylon.

Effie's plan was to make her pilgrimage for about two weeks, spend three months in England, then return to Australia via North America. She had experienced so much that was new in the previous three years and her horizons -social, artistic, and spiritual - had been transformed. Her intention was to return home refreshed, and full of energy with which to assist the Dunns in their work. Clara Dunn wrote to Gretta in Hobart:

We have had Margaret Stevenson with us three weeks before she sailed to Haifa - she brought a sweet spiritual peace with her and left it here when she went away - she is one of His saints and I feel sure was destined to journey to the Holy Spot. Dear Effie seemed to have grown in leaps and bounds and as one friend in Adelaide said when she saw her again as they passed through - she left here a green bud but returned a half blown fragrant rose and this dear is the real truth.

From Adelaide Effie wrote to Pete about the reception given them by the Adelaide Bahá'ís, who included Ron Cover, one of Hyde Dunn's business associates at Nestles:


Dear Pete,

Here we are and enjoying every minute. I had a lovely trip over. Got in [to Adelaide] at 7.30am. Mr Cover sent word he would be there at 9am. He brought us to the city. Mrs Scotland and Mrs Almond met us. Took us first to the roof garden of Moores Emporium and showed us the view of Adelaide. From there we proceeded to the Botanical Gardens and had lunch with the friends. Spent most of the afternoon there. Mrs Blundell and self dining with Mrs Scotland, Margaret and Miss Blundell with Mrs Cover. Mr Blundell with Mr and Mrs Almond. After tea Mr Cover is taking all of us for a spin in his car up the hills and letting us see the lights of Adelaide from the heights. Tomorrow someone else is taking us in the morning to the gorge. A beautiful spot I believe. We lunch at another garden tomorrow and tea at another spot then return to the boat to sail at midnight. We are all well and happy. Write me Fremantle. Trust you are well. Love from all of us.

The travellers woke at dawn when tugboats pulled the Largs Bay from the dock and set it in the direction of the Great Australian Bight. They reached the port of Fremantle on Wednesday after a rough crossing. It was 18 February, and the travellers were pleased to be on firm ground once more and in the company of Bahá'í friends. They gathered for the evening at the home of Mrs Kenworthy. Margaret and Effie stayed the evening with Mrs Webb at Claremont, and the Blundells with Mrs Miller. Hyde Dunn had organised for the Bahá'ís in each state to sign a letter for the pilgrims to take to Shoghi Effendi. "We are confident," he had written to the Bahá'ís of Perth,

that these blessed pilgrims will carry with them, in their hearts, the love and devotion of every true believer and investigator - that their presence at the holy presence means the presence of all Bahá'í hearts in the Holy Land - their prayers will be our prayers, for we must pray for them during this wonderful and unique privilege to be the first visitors from the Antipodes.. 2

On a Thursday, at 2pm, the Largs Bay departed for Colombo. Mrs Juleff, Vice-President of the Perth Assembly, filed a report that appeared in a local newspaper:

Passengers to Europe and Asia today by the Largs Bay included five pilgrims to Acca, Palestine, to visit the Shrines of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá, the founders of the great movement for the unity of the world's religions, the promulgation of world peace, universal education, a universal language, and an international tribunal. This movement was begun in 1844 in Persia. Over 20,000 martyrs are said to have died for the Cause. It has spread from the east to the west and was taken to America over 30 years ago. There are Bahá'ís numbering over 17 million [sic] in Europe, Asia, and America. Australia was the last to receive the message (about 2 1/2 years ago). There are now assemblies in each of the states. The pilgrims - Mrs S. and Miss Blundell of Remuera, Auckland, Miss Margaret Stevenson, Parnell, Auckland; Miss Effie Baker, Sandringham, Victoria, and Mr H.K. Blundell - were met at Fremantle by local Bahá'ís, and were brought to the home of Mr and Mrs Kenworthy of West Perth to meet other members. After lunch the visitors were taken to the observatory and King's Park. The party will disembark at Port Said and go on to Akka by train, where they will be met by Shoghi Effendi..."The Guardian of the Cause" and Grandson of the late `Abdu'l-Bahá, who died at Acca in 1921. Shoghi Effendi was a student in residence at Oxford University when his grandfather died, and he immediately went back to Palestine to carry on the work.3

Effie, Margaret, and the Blundells found the boat trip most enjoyable. Each made many acquaintances, and all told their fellow-passengers about the principal purpose of their journey. Many on board had their own interesting stories to relate, and some of the travellers were even known to Effie. She met M.A. Doepel, onetime drawing master at Ballarat, who had known her grandfather; Professor Smith, who taught at Perth Technical School; and A. E. Morison, who was taking a world trip with his wife having retiring as superintendent of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company.

Effie wrote an essay for the ship's newspaper, "Toys for Australian Children" (reproduced in chapter one), describing her interest in, and methods of woodwork. On Sundays, she sampled several of the religious services that were held on board. The Congregational service led by Rev. Austin was, she reported in letters home, "broad and liberal." Three young non-denominational evangelists embarked for study in England before peaching in South Africa also spoke. They displayed "the usual style," she recorded, "... but gave according to their light". There was also much time on board to write letters home, and there were sufficient happenings at sea, besides, to keep the travellers amused. On the afternoon of 28 February a black object was sighted that resembled a small boat. A boat was manned and lowered overboard, and a life jacket was thrown toward the object in case any survivors were in desperate need, but the row boat when it came upon the black object found it be nothing more than a floating palm tree.

Another distraction took the form of seven islands of coral fringed by narrow reefs known as "the brothers" which the Largs Bay sailed close by. The most northern island stood, Effie noted, just 33 ft high and 1/4 mile long, and the most southern one a mere 20 ft high and 200 ft long. Abnormal refraction, she observed, had at times allowed the islands to be sighted at a distance of 100 miles. When the boat passed Shachwan Island Effie observed in her notebook its beauty in the moonlight, especially with its tall lighthouse emitting red and white searchlights alternately. They had now reached the entrance to the Gulf of Suez. At 3am, they passed Mount Sinai.

Expectation was mounting, and unfamiliar sights and sounds began to surround the novice travellers. On 11 March, at 10 in the morning, the Largs Bay reached the port of Suez. The first basin of the Suez Canal was entered at 2pm. To Effie it was a landscape "perfectly barren of any verdure" but subject to changing hues as the sunlight played upon it. By evening, there were four more ships in line behind hers, each lit brightly, and the whole scene presenting an exciting spectacle. Ship searchlights played on the banks. The cost of piloting each boat through the canal was, Effie noted - mixing as she was want to do, practical calculations with the romance of the moment - £4,000.

At daybreak, the party arrived at Port Said. Much to their delight and surprise, at 6am, Martha Root appeared on board. She had promised Effie she would leave Durban in South Africa at the end of January and be in Haifa from the beginning of March, ready to welcome the first Australian and New Zealand pilgrims to the spiritual centre of their Faith. On arriving in Port Said, however, she had decided to linger a few days to accompany her Australian and New Zealander friends on the final leg of their journey to Haifa.

All hurried to dress and get on deck when Miss Root indicated that three Bahá'í men were there waiting. Muhammad Mustapha, a young man who worked in the Telegraph Department at Port Said, spoke English quite well, and later that morning assisted the travellers through the perilous Customs Office.4 Another of the Bahá'ís, Mahmoud el Nouchoucaly, made his living by selling cigarettes to passengers of incoming vessels, and in this way met most of the Bahá'í pilgrims passing through the port, and helped them catch the right train for Haifa. The unfamiliar sights and sound began to challenge some of the travellers, with Margaret Stevenson writing to her sisters:

Fortunately, Martha had a letter from someone which enabled us to get through without anything being opened, but it was the confusion and jabber that made it terrible. 5

At the hotel, Miss Root arranged a meeting with Munavvar Khánum, youngest daughter of Abdu'l-Bahá (Khánum's husband Ahmad Yazdi was the Persian Consul in Port Said). Muhammad Mustapha accompanied the pilgrims on the 6pm train from Port Said, back down the Egyptian side of the canal to Kantara East, where they took a small ferry across to Kantara West, their point of entry into Palestine. The train departed at midnight. Miss Root tutored the pilgrims in Farsi phrases with which they could greet Bahiyyih Khanum: "Marr sho mara lilie dous me darram".6

The carriage was quite comfortable, but the pilgrims slept little. They woke early to the foreign landscape of the Sinai and the coast of Palestine: camels and donkeys, Arab villages of mud and tents, orange groves, and sandy desert. Mid-morning, Friday 13 March, they received a warm reception at the Haifa railway station from a man named Fujita, whom Effie described as a "bright merry little fellow." Saichiro Fujita was born in Japan in 1886 and had become a Bahá'í in Oakland, California, in 1905. He had accompanied ’Abdu'l-Bahá briefly when the Master visited the West coast of the United States in 1912, and have been mentioned in press reports.7 In 1919 he had moved to Haifa to personally serve `Abdu'l-Bahá. Now, after two brief years in the service of his Master (`Abdu'l-Bahá had died in November 1921), Fujita was serving Shoghi Effendi:

He is certainly a good Bahá'í general and soon had his little band of Happy Pilgrims marshalled and in order. We were installed into carriages and driven to the Pilgrim House in the Persian Colony which is opposite Abdu'l-Bahá's Home. Here we received another warm welcome from an American Bahá'í Mrs Corrine True. You all would just love her.

The Pilgrimage had begun, and Effie's life was shortly to take a new and quite unanticipated direction.

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