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

by Graham Hassall

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Chapter 7


In England Effie established bonds of close companionship with newly-met Bahá'í sisters, just as she had done in the period after becoming a Bahá'í in Australia three years previously. These three years had passed swiftly, and the pilgrimage in Haifa had also come and gone in as if in a passing moment. While travelling Effie had nurtured her bonds with Clara and Hyde Dunn, with Ruby Beaver and Greta Lamprill, with Maysie Almond and with the members of her family, through long, descriptive, letters. Her capacity for creating friendships, it seems, was considerable. In Haifa she had become close to the women of the holy household and to her travelling companion Margaret Stevenson, and she had made many other acquaintances besides. Her travels with Martha Root continued to provide treasured memories and spiritual sustenance. Now, in England, she met many more Bahá'ís, with whom she passed supremely happy days, and some of whom became her life-long friends.

After docking at Southampton in the evening of Sunday, April 12th, Effie, Margaret Stevenson and the Blundells, travelled by train to London, arriving there at noon the following day. Sarah Blundell and her children planned to stay in Great Britain for twelve months, and soon purchased a car in which to travel north to Scotland. Margaret Stevenson also went north for a time. She stayed with Grace Challis in September, before sailing for New Zealand on 3rd November. "The New Zealand pilgrims have but one idea", Claudia Coles commented when sending a photo taken by Effie to Star of the West,

" - to awake people to the privilege of knowing the Manifestation in the day of Realisation. Gracious! I enjoy the spirit they radiate. We worship in truth. Dear Mrs Blundell from New Zealand read the Tablet of Wisdom from Bahá'í Scriptures on Sunday with such clearness and power. She is silver-haired, a seeker all her life, a pioneer in many forward movements in New Zealand, but now she says, 'there is no more search'. When the word of the Manifestation is available, people's opinions vanish like mist before the rising sun'. Her children, both grown, have opened out in realization since coming to England and finding their relatives unaware of the bounty they have found. Such workers! Ethel Blundell said: "I have gone deep into all the new movements as they have come to New Zealand, but Mr Dunn brought the light of the Manifestation of God through the Centre of His Covenant. That was what arrested my attention. I knew it was in the world, but I knew he had the truth..."1

Effie stayed in England for three months. At first she considered London a "bewildering place", but was soon captivated by its numerous historic buildings and spent many days absorbing the sights of a city steeped in centuries of tradition. She found them to be unlike the state capitals she had seen in Australia. On a visit to the British Museum Effie did not manage to view Bahá'u'lláh's tablet to Queen Victoria as she had hoped, but did obtain permission to see Bahá'í manuscripts in the Museum's Oriental Room. On other days she traversed London, usually in the company of Claudia Coles - visiting Buckingham Palace, St James Park, Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Pall Mall, Regent St, London Zoo, Regents Park and Botanical Gardens, Windsor Castle (with Mrs Emerson, a Canadian Bahá'í, as well as with Claudia), and the National Gallery. In Piccadilly Circus she enjoyed the sight of daffodils, violets and roses being sold in the street.

With Claudia, regarded by Effie as one of "America's pioneer firm and staunch true believers" who gave the message of Baha'u'lláh at all opportunities,2 she saw a threatre production of the "Life of Christ" (the program for which she posted to Clara Dunn); the pageant "London Defended" at Wembley; a photoplay on the life of Dr Livingstone, and the Great Flower show at Chelsea, of which she wrote:

every huge tent we entered had the most exquisite blooms of flowers of every variety, shape, colour and hue. Our eyes just feasted on never ending rows of gorgeous and exquisite colours blending into one harmonious whole. Certainly nature ever demonstrates the law of harmony to us.3

In addition to this sight-seeing which Effie found so absorbing, she participated as a speaker at Bahá'í meetings more frequently than she could ever have imagined doing. A local publication, the Australian and New Zealander, noted "Miss Effie Baker of Melbourne is at present staying in London where she is meeting with members of the Bahá'í movement". One Wednesday in May she and Claudia Coles combined a visit to the National Gallery with attendance at a "delightful and inspiring" meeting in Lindsay Hall - a "restful spot" at Nottingcote Hill - at which she, Fred Schopflocher, and Lady Blomfield spoke.

This may have been the first, but was not the last time, at which Effie shared a speaking platform with distinguished company. Fred Schopflocher, of German Jewish descent, had settled in Canada and become a Bahá'í there. He was the owner of a successful manufacturing business in Montreal and his business interests now took him to all parts of the world. Elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada in 1924, Schopflocher was emerging as a prominent Bahá'í speaker and administrator. Later he and his wife, Lorel, made large financial contributions to assist in the completion of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár (House of Worship) in Wilmette, Illinois. He had first been to the Holy land to make his pilgrimage in 1922, and was to make many more visits in the future, and to render invaluable assistance to Shoghi Effendi, who subsequently appointed him a Hand of the Cause, and designated him "chief temple builder". Lady Blomfield was as prominent a member of the British community as Fred Schopflocher was of the North American. She had heard of the Faith from Miss Rosenberg in Paris in 1907, and had met 'Abdu'l-Bahá when he visited London in 1911. Following his passing she had accompanied the disconsolate Shoghi Effendi from England to Haifa. Anxious to assist in recording the history of the movement in its early days, she had co-authored "The Passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá" with Shoghi Effendi, and gathered notes from members of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's family during visits to Haifa in 1921-22. Effie may not have possessed as wide an experience of peoples and places as her colleagues, but she no doubt spoke truely and with vitality about her experience as an Australian Bahá'í encountering her sister communities in the East and in Great Britain for the first time.

Her hosts were evidently impressed, for she was subsequently invited to speak in the homes of Miss Elizabeth Herrick, Mrs George, Claudia Coles, and Lady Blomfield. Effie attended a number of interesting gatherings at Lady Sarah Blomfield's home at Hampstead Court. To be in her company while she read extracts from her diary about Abdu'l-Bahá's stay was for Effie and for Margaret Stevenson quite exhilarating. During various visits with Lady Blomfield Effie renewed her acquaintance with Freddie Schopflocher; met Lady Blomfield's daughter and son in law, Mary and Captain Basil Hall; and heard the Bishop of Kensington speak on the religious and ethical aspects of the League of Nations. Several years later, in 1930, Effie had the opportunity to return this hospitality, when Lady Blomfield once more visited Haifa to collect oral testimonies concerning early Bahá'í history for inclusion in her book The Chosen Highway. Lady Blomfield also visited Effie at Claudia Coles' home, as did Mrs Martell, an Australian involved in women's suffrage who had heard Abdu'l-Bahá speak in London.

The English Bahá'ís were few in number at this time, but their London meetings attracted a range of interesting people. At one gathering at University College Effie became an associate of the Save the Children Fund, having met Lady Blomfield's close friend and founder of the fund, Eglantyne Jebb. From Miss Herrick she ordered for each of the Australian Assemblies a copy of Miss Herrick's book Unity Triumphant. During one Monday evening meeting of young people at Claudia's she enjoyed hearing a young Swedish Baron read a paper. Each Sunday evening that she was in London, Effie and Claudia attended meetings at the home of Mrs George. Other meetings were held in the home of Mrs Rosenberg, one of the oldest London believers, who had met and served Abdu'l-Bahá when he had visited, and who was currently a member of the British National Assembly (Effie had met Mrs Rosenberg's cousin, Mr Jenner, when in Hobart with Martha Root in 1924).

On another occasion she met Mr G.P. Simpson, the secretary of the British National Assembly, together with his fellow Assembly members Mr Hall, Mrs Rosenberg, Sister Challis, Lady Blomfield, and Shoghi Effendi's cousin Ruhi Effendi. The "All England Bahá'í Council" had been established less than three years before, in June 1922, and an elected National Spiritual Assembly had first met in October 1923. At several events Effie met Mrs Slade, of Stokenchurch, and American Bahá'ís Mrs Ella Cooper and Mrs Lee, who were then visiting London.

Following several exciting weeks in London Effie travelled to West Moors, Dorest, to visit Sister Grace Challis at Ferndown Lodge, ten miles distant from Bournmouth, where she treated tuberculosis sufferers. Both Effie and Margaret Stevenson became good friends with Sister Challis. In Bournemouth in the first week of June Effie met London Bahá'ís Nancy Musgrove and Mr Coles, with whom she drove to see New Forest. She also attended a 19 day feast and a Bahá'í meeting on the lawn at which Mrs George spoke. Together with Grace, Effie spent some time gathering wild flowers before returning to London on June 8.

The opportunity then came for further travel out of London. After attending Mrs George's 14 June Sunday meeting, Effie left with the Blundells for Seagrave in their "four-seater" Fiat, passing on their way an ancient abbey at St Albans, and lunching in the manufacturing town of Luton. She saw the cities of Oxford and Bath with Mrs Blundell, then travelled by train to West Moors while the Blundells returned to Seagrave via Reading.

The remaining weeks of June continued to be filled with sightseeing, visiting new friends out of London, and attending Bahá'í meetings. She stayed with Mrs Slade at Stokenchurch, where again she met Mrs Cooper and Lee. In London she had Miss Isobel Frey to lunch. She also visited a cousin of Greta Lamprill whom she had the opportunity to explain the Bahá'í teachings to, and renewed her acquaintance with Mrs Elliot, a friend of Claudia's whom she had met when in Auckland with Martha Root. Also, she met Mrs Julia Culver, who was on her way to Geneva to work with Martha Root. She saw the photoplay "The city that never sleeps". This was indeed an exciting time, and Effie's reluctance to end it was only tempered by the knowledge that she was returning to another place in which she had experienced intense happiness, Haifa. Her friend Claudia Stuart Coles accompanied her as far as the train that took passengers to their boat.

Effie sailed down the Thames from Tilbury Docks on the SS Jervis Bay on the last day of June. She saw the white cliffs and castle turrets of Dover for a second time, and used the days of the return journey to Port Said to write her account of her time spent in England. The sea was rough and conditions were showery and cold in the bay of Biscay. It was exciting to see Portugal's Barbary Islands, the Straights of Gibraltar, the great rock of that name, the rugged peaks and occasional towns on the African coast, and the outlines on the historic island of Malta. Shoghi Effendi had invited her to revisit the Holy family for one or two weeks. She was in Port Said on 10 July, and received a transit permit to stay for five days with the Bahá'ís there. She booked her voyage to Australia aboard the "Hobson's Bay", and wrote to inform Clara Dunn that she would be in Melbourne about September 2nd. Clara did not believe this, writing to the Perth Bahá'ís from Sydney that she did not "feel" Effie's presence aboard that boat. She knew that Shoghi Effendi had asked Effie to revisit Haifa, and felt that he would not have done so if he had not been inspired by Abdu'l-Bahá. Clara wanted Effie to return soon, but was led by her intuition to believe that her "spiritual daughter" would stay away longer than others - perhaps including Effie herself - expected.

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