Series: The Azadi Trilogy
Doctor Margaret in Delhi is Book 2 of The Azadi Series and a sequel to, Book 1: Doctor Margaret’s Sea Chest. This historical fiction novel continues with Margaret’s journey from the time she and her Canadian husband participated in the 1854 Crimean War.
Doctor Margaret travels alone to India to be with her parents at the American Presbyterian Mission at Futtehgurh, and then on to her posting at a hospital in Delhi. There she has to not only overcome work pressures, but also deal with her intimidators and intrigues of the Mughals, at the Delhi Red Fort.
Margaret’s tormenter since her childhood, Captain Albert, also joins a British regiment bound for service in India. The Russian, Captain Count Nicholai, whom Margaret had met in Crimea, also arrives in India under the guise of a French physician. The events leading up to the Indian Mutiny/Rebellion that breaks out in 1857 profoundly affect not only Margaret’s life, but also of those who love her and othersí who wish her harm. Also, mixed-up in the bedlam is one of the Delhi King, Shah Zafarís, Red Fortís Guards sepoys, Sharif Khan Bhadur, the grandfather of Doctor Wallidad, an American doctor.
The Azadi Series covers the exciting events and turmoil that enflamed India from 1857 to 1947, and led to her independence. Those incidences engulf the characters of this story at that time, and then later their descendant’s lives, again in the 1960s.
Doctor Margaret in Delhi Available at
Doctor Margaret MacKellar: Recipient of the Kaiser-I-Hind Medal
by Waheed Rabbani
One summer morning, in 1892, in the hot and dusty town, Neemuch in Central India, while the sun rose above the treetops of the forest surrounding the chaotic native village on one side, and a neat British military cantonment at the other, a palanquin traversed through the narrow laneways of the bazar. Seated inside was Canadian Missionary Doctor Margaret MacKellar. She had boarded the conveyance from her cottage in the Civil Lines. The dolly arrived at a wooden shack, the sign-board above which read:
Dispensary for Women, We wash the Wounds and God Heals them
A crowd had gathered at the entrance, gawking at something, and parted to let Margaret through. She was shocked at the sight. At the doorsteps lay a small earthenware tray containing: a corn-cob, lemons cut in two, and a coconut shell filled with blood.
“What is this?” she asked an Indian helper, who also stood looking horrified at the items.
“Oh, do not touch Doctor Sahiba. It is a curse,” the aid implored.
“Nonsense! I believe in the protecting power of God who has said: ‘There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling’.” Since no one was going to touch the objects, the attractive thirty-one-year-old doctor, hitched up her beige gown, and picking up the tray carried it out to the garbage pile.
Upon returning back to her office, the indomitable Doctor MacKellar sat at her desk, took off her solar hat, straightened her fair hair, and mopped her brow. She contemplated the turn of events that, to fulfill her childhood desire, had brought her to medical service in India. Was this incident another test of her motivation, which she had to overcome all along her life? From a corner of the desk, she picked up a weather-beaten Bible. Her mind raced back to the time in Canada when she had purchased it nearly eighteen years ago, with her very first earnings. Her gold wrist watch, a graduation gift, shone in the sunlight; a flood of memories came back to her.
In 1866, in Bruce County, Ontario, five-year-old Margaret and her elder sister, Annie, walked on a grassy path of their 100-acre farm. Beyond corn fields, outside a log cabin, their mother hung her washing on a clothesline. A vegetable plot and a colorful flower garden surrounded the house. The family had emigrated, in 1863, from the Isle of Mull, Scotland.
“Where is Father?” Margaret asked.
“Out on the Great Lakes. He has his own ship now, you know.”
“Where has he gone?”
“Don’t know. But when he was in Scotland, he sailed to faraway lands. Even to India.” Annie then narrated one of the many interesting stories, she had heard of their father’s adventures. Little Margaret was fascinated. She wished, even at that young age, to sail to India one day.
A turning point in Margaret’s life came in 1874 when Mr. MacKellar took the family for a sail around the Great Lakes. Thirteen-year-old Margaret was so enamored with her desire for travel that she became disheartened with her studies. Despite stern objections from her father, she left school and started working for a dressmaker. She purchased a bible from her very first earnings.
In 1882, Margaret left home to take a position in a wholesale millinery establishment, in London Ontario. While Margaret started to participate in evangelical gatherings and endeavors, it was a dream one night that made her take steps towards achieving her longing. She was spending that night at her friends’ home, the MacPhersons, near London. When in the morning, Margaret appeared disturbed, Mrs. MacPherson asked, “Margaret dear, are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Mrs. MacPherson. But I’ve had the strangest of dreams.”
“Oh! What was it about?”
“I dreamt that Judgment Day had arrived, and I was being guided into Heaven by our Lord Jesus.”
“Hmm … and did He say anything?”
“No, but from His extended arm and the smile, He appeared to be welcoming me. However, although I felt happy at first, I was suddenly saddened.”
“Why was that?”
“I felt sorry for having come empty-handed.”
“Oh! So what did you do?”
“That’s when the dream ended. I rose from my bed and prayed. I promised to give myself wholly to God and follow His leading.”
Mrs. MacPherson embraced Margaret. “God bless you, my dear.”
In 1884, following her attendance at some assemblies held by missionaries, Margaret firmed up her desire to go abroad as a missionary. Realizing that not having completed even high school, it would take a tremendous effort to achieve her objective. Margaret approached her church ministers, who wrote of her yearning to the officers of the Canadian Foreign Missions. The Women’s Foreign Missionary Society—knowing there was an urgent need for female doctors in India—suggested that Miss MacKellar pursue a medical course, and even offered to help with her expenses.
That summer of 1884, Margaret took a bold step and visited the Principal, of the Ingersoll High School. He listened kindly to her aspirations and responded: “Miss MacKellar, while I am an educationist, I am also an earnest Christian.”
Margaret waited patiently for him to continue.
“So, here’s what I am willing to do. Although you haven’t taken the High School Entrance Examination, but in view of your desire, I am ready to admit you to the first form of our High School,” He then handed her some papers that included a list of books. Margaret thanked him profusely, and flew down to the bookstore. Upon making her purchases, she had only five dollars left. But she was not dismayed, and reminded herself that: I have plenty of faith and determination left.
In September 1884, Margaret began classes at Ingersoll High School. Quite naturally, the advanced subjects’ matters were over her head. In her first dictation class, she had over fifty per cent spelling mistakes! Margaret had to go down to Public School, but applied herself diligently to her studies. By Christmas she passed the High School Entrance Examination, and continued her studies as industriously as ever. During the two whole years, she was absent from school for only two days.
In the fall of 1886, Margaret’s efforts were rewarded, when she passed the Matriculation Examination and was admitted to the Queen’s University’s Medical School. Her friends presented her with a purse containing fifty dollars, which she used to purchase a gold wrist watch.
At Queen’s University, since Margaret had learned the basics of scientific subjects so well, she had no difficulty completing her medical degree.
In the spring of 1890, Doctor Margaret MacKellar, sailed from Halifax for England. Earlier in Kingston, at Queen’s University, she had attended the convocation, and even read the valedictory address. Margaret spent some six months in England receiving additional training, but managed to do some sightseeing as well.
On October 4th, Margaret left England for India, arriving at Bombay docks on the 26th. She was met by officials of the Canadian Mission and proceeded with them by train to her first posting in Indore, located some 600 kilometers away in Central India. Although, since the early 1800s, British, American, and other clergy had set up missions in Northern, Eastern, and Southern India, Central India was still an “unclaimed territory.” Hence, the Canadian Mission had its modest beginning there in 1877. However, thirteen years later Margaret was dismayed to see the station still in an austere state. Located outside the village in a small forested opening, the mission consisted of a cluster of cottages around a little church. She had heard about the land granted in 1888 by the Dowager Maharani of Indore, for a Hospital, but was disappointed to see the building was still under construction. She was led to the Ladies’ Bungalow, which served both as a residence for the doctors and a clinic. Women patients were typically treated in their home, the zanana. Nevertheless, Margaret got to work, diligently, despite the lack of proper medical facilities. An indication of this can be noted in a letter she wrote home, describing one of her first patients:
“… We drove a couple of miles out of the city into the country, and there, before a dirty little tent, I was let out with one native assistant. On asking where my patient was I was told, ‘within the tent.’ For a moment I did not know what to do, but the groan from within made me decide there was but one thing to do, and that I did: got down and crawled in on my hands and knees. The tent was six by four and three feet high. I had to remain on my knees on the ground with my head brushing against the top of the tent. What about the patient? The poor thing was lying on mother earth without a stitch of clothes under or on her. About two yards of dirty cotton was thrown over her. Beside her was one little mortal who had come into this world about twelve hours before. After administering chloroform, and attending to some other things, another little cherub was placed beside the first. They both had to be wrapped up in my apron as there was no clothing for them. And yet in spite of it being the cold season, and in spite of the dirt, poverty, want of clothing and antiseptic surroundings, the mother and her children throve. When I crawled out into the open it was some minutes before I could stand erect …”
In 1892, in recognition of Doctor Margaret’s tireless work in Indore, she was promoted to take charge of new medical work being organized in a small village, Neemuch, some 200 kilometers to the north.
The early morning sounds of hawkers from the Neemuch bazar filtered into the dispensary, and brought Margaret’s mind back from her reminiscence. She put the Bible, she held and had been staring at, back on the desk and rose wearily from her chair. Stepping out onto the verandah, and walking past the waiting room, she noted the dark, painful faces of some patients already gathered there. Nodding at the Anglo-Indian nurse to start showing the patients in, she walked into the adjacent examination room. She donned her doctor’s coat and, while washing her hands at the washbasin, the morning’s event of finding those items at the doorsteps came back to her. She clasped her hands, and in her customary manner prayed to her Lord, to give her strength to overcome the “superstitious curse,” if ever there was one. She ended with a prayer:
“Renew my will from day to day.
Blend it with Thine and take away
All that now makes it hard to say.
Thy will be done.”
Due to the ever increasing need for treating the sick natives, and patients from the British cantonment, indefatigable Margaret set about expanding and improving the medical facilities at Neemuch. In due course, fourteen acres of land were purchased to build two more dispensaries, a church, an orphanage, and subsequently a well-equipped two story 45-bed hospital. She constantly encouraged young Indian women to train for medical work. Eventually, Canadian and Indian nurses, compounders and dressers were hired. Margaret was not only proficient in medical work, but also a skillful manager. In one report, she noted that: “I give as much responsibility to Indian workers as they can carry.” The number of patients and treatments, as well as revenues from fees and donations, increased considerably. A measure of Margaret’s medical work’s success can be observed from the fact that patients from as far away as over 600 miles came to Neemuch for treatment.
During the 1899-1900 severe famine, Margaret’s determination was tested once again, which received, unexpectedly, attention from another authority. She gave all her efforts to attend to the sufferers. A great number of starving children were brought to the station, and were provided whatever assistance and accommodation that was available. Margaret’s resolve was to attempt to save all, and she would go to any trouble to rescue even one child. Long after the abatement of the famine, the missionaries’ efforts had to continue to care for the large number of orphans left destitute from the calamity.
While in speeches, by the Viceroy and others, the British Indian Government acknowledged these additional labors by the missionaries, a pleasant surprise awaited Margaret in the form of a formal recognition. It came in 1911, on the occasion of her fiftieth birthday. At her outdoor garden birthday-party, arranged by the hospital staff, British and Indian officials were also invited. Towards the end of the festivities, a government officer stood up and said, “I have the pleasure to report that Doctor Margaret MacKellar would be an honored guest at the camp of the Central India Officers, in December, at the Delhi Coronation Durbar for King George V and Queen Mary.” The audience clapped politely, but broke into loud cheers, when the official announced the reason for her invitation being, “Doctor MacKellar’s name is on the honors list of recipients for the prestigious Kaiser-I-Hind Medal!” Margaret was additionally elated when she realized that she was the only missionary from Central India to attend the Delhi Durbar that year.
The following year, 1912, with the events of the Delhi Durbar still fresh in her mind, brought Margaret further joy. The construction of the long awaited Neemuch Hospital was completed. As the day of its opening ceremony arrived, Margaret’s heart was filled with ecstasy, for she considered it the crowning achievement of her twenty-two years of service in India. However, she was ecstatic when the Honorable Agent for the Viceroy came forward from the gathering and stepping up to her, pinned the shining Kaiser-I-Hind Medal on her blouse. Overcome with emotion, Margaret barely managed to murmur her thanks. Glancing around and upon noticing, through moist eyes, in the crowd numerous Indian faces of women and men in hospital uniforms, Margaret felt at peace. That night in her prayers, remembering the much earlier supposedly “superstitious curse” placed at her doorsteps, she particularly thanked God for staying faithful to His words: “There shall no evil befall thee.”
Subsequently, Margaret thought that her work in India was complete, and she would be soon ready to return back home to Canada, to a comfortable life. However, the start of World War I would interfere with her contemplations. She chose to stay in India and worked in a number of hospitals.
Following her retirement, in 1930, Doctor Margaret MacKellar lived quietly in the United Church House in Toronto, Ontario. She passed away in 1941. In her obituary, the Ingersoll Tribune noted her as: “One of the most famous Canadian women medical missionaries.”
Through determination and diligent efforts, Margaret achieved her heart’s desires, helped many of India’s sick, received recognition from the British Monarchs, and raised Canada’s esteem in the eyes of the world. Most of all, she was satisfied that she did not go before God, “empty handed.”
I “stumbled” upon the accounts of these Canadian missionaries while researching for my project, a historical fiction novel on the 1857 Indian Mutiny/Rebellion (or The First War of Independence, as some Indian historians prefer to call it). While noting that a number of British and American missionaries had been caught up in that conflict, being curious, I researched to find if any Canadian missionaries were involved. However, I discovered that the Canadian mission was only opened there, some twenty years later, in 1877. Nevertheless, reading about them, I was intrigued to learn about the indomitable Doctor Margaret MacKellar, for she was from the Bruce County, and I used to travel there regularly, in connection with my job for Ontario Hydro. It is unfortunate that, while some sketches of her life exist (even Lucy. M. Montgomery wrote a brief account), a detailed biography of Doctor MacKellar’s lifespan has not been written. It is likely because of the dearth of information, particularly of her later years in India and Canada.
My story is a brief compilation of my humble attempt at reconstruction of the life of Doctor Margaret MacKellar, based on whatever details I could acquire on the lifespan of this magnificent missionary lady doctor. She most regrettably largely remains forgotten.
Waheed Rabbani was born in India, close to Delhi, and was introduced to Victorian and other English novels, at a very young age, in his fatherís library. Most of the large number of volumes had been purchased by his father at ëgarage salesí held, by departing British civil service officers, in the last days of the Raj.
Waheed attended St. Patrickís High School in Karachi, Pakistan. He graduated from Loughborough University, Leicestershire, England, and received a Masterís degree from Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. While an engineer by profession, Waheedís other love is reading and writing English literature, which led him to obtain a Certificate in Creative Writing from McMaster University and start on his fiction writing journey.
Waheed and his wife, Alexandra, are now settled on the shores of Lake Ontario in the historic town of Grimsby. More information is available on his website.
Doctor Margaret in Delhi Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, July 6
Spotlight at Genre Queen
Tuesday, July 7
Review at Book Nerd
Wednesday, July 8
Spotlight at What Is That Book About
Thursday, July 9
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More
Friday, July 10
Character Interview at Boom Baby Reviews
Wednesday, July 15
Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book
Friday, July 17
Interview at The Writing Desk
Sunday, July 19
Review at Carole’s Ramblings
Tuesday, July 21
Review at Diana’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, July 22
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Thursday, July 23
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Tuesday, July 28
Spotlight at Layered Pages
Friday, July 31
Tour Wrap Up & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
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