"Recollections of Irene Bradley" by Bertha Blount McFarland

Written by Karl Dahlfred.

The following personal recollections about Irene Bradley were written by Bertha Blount McFarland and may be found in the book McFarland of Siam by Bertha Blount McFarland, New York: Vantage Press, 1958, p.289-292.


Irene Bradley, youngest of Dr. Dan Beach Bradley's ten children and the third born at Bradley House, knew George [Bradley McFarland] but they were never really congenial. She was five years older than he and felt her superiority, as children will. Irene was con­scientious and felt it her duty to point out to George flaws in his behavior. She never failed to do her duty as she saw it and frequently spoke with a frankness and bluntness that fell far short of diplomacy. George's reaction was normal for a lad of quick temper. None of this made for mutual attraction, but Irene was a Bradley and George had a deep loyalty to her family whose name he bore. Spats never resulted in open estrangement and as years passed, Irene and George were the only ones of either family left in Bangkok.

For nineteen years after her father's death, Irene and her mother lived on together at Bradley House, much of the time alone. They ran the commercial press until competition forced them to close it, but long enough to put those of the family still in college through their courses. There was never money enough to send Irene also to America, but even if there had been she would not have gone, leaving her aged mother alone. In 1893 Mrs. Bradley died and Irene was left alone at Bradley House. Brothers and sisters wrote urging her to leave Bangkok to live with them but she wisely refused for she never could have fit into any life other than that of Bradley House where she lived alone with her dogs, upstairs dogs and downstairs dogs, which never met. Her dogs barked in unison and antiphonally; twenty dogs offer considerable choral range. Irene loved her dogs and they gave a lonely old woman companionship and protection.


Bradley House in Bangkok
Bradley House in Bangkok


Tall and spare with brilliant eyes, Irene had had an excel­lent education at her mother's hand, one-sided no doubt, but excellent. She knew English, Siamese, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. She could give all of the elements (there were fewer in the days of her youth than now) and she could recite chapters of genealogies from the Bible, her mother holding that since all scripture was given by inspiration, it must follow that gene­alogies were of value in edifying the soul, equal to any other portion of scripture. Irene spoke familiarly of kings and govern­ment heads of every nation on earth referring to having seen them (meaning their pictures in some magazine) and comment­ing on their physical appearances and characteristics. An hour's chat with Irene opened one's eyes to the abysses of one's own ignorance. Irene was eccentric, but so was her mother and probably her father, too. Strong characters are apt to be eccen­tric. Irene was certainly strong.

In 1908 when I first met Irene, she was forty-six, but to me she seemed already a very old woman, dressed as old women dressed in the Victorian age, and living alone at Bradley House, meeting no one except those who sought her out. When we were compiling the Historical Sketch of Protestant Missions in Siam, 1828-1928, Irene was a wonderful asset. She had known most of the early missionaries personally and told delightful stories about those old worthies, the sort which usually do not find a place in serious historical writings. There was one about Mrs. John Taylor Jones who, after the big fire on the Baptist com­pound in 1851 destroyed the Jones residence, mission press and a whole new edition of the New Testament, commented sadly: "And what do you think? I had just finished darning all of our stockings and socks!" {Mr. Jones never recovered from the shock of this fire and died soon afterwards on September 11, 1851. Margaret C. McCord to G.E.McC.}

But in late 1934 Irene was aging and no longer able to look after her tenants nor to collect anchorage fees from the Bejrapuri [sic] sugar boats accustomed to anchor in front of Bradley House, her only remaining source of income. George and I visited her from time to time and were almost her only Bangkok friends. Earlier missionaries had long since left Siam and her Siam rela­tives were in far away Chiengmai, while Irene remained in an impregnable fortress guarded by barking dogs. When she finally confessed her need of money, we became responsible and saw to it that her family had a chance to help her as they had long desired to do, with us as those immediately responsible. From that time on our visits to Bradley House grew in frequency.

Meantime the Royal Siamese Navy was wanting to safeguard its radio tower at the fort adjoining the Bradley property. A retaining wall needed to be built in front of the Bradley com­pound and the Navy desired permission to do this on her property, or preferably, they would buy from her, if the prop­erty was hers. No one knew except Irene and she kept discreet silence. Actually, the transaction had been a lease by the king to continue "as long as Dr. Bradley and his mission paid the annual rental of 320 baht per annum and obeyed the laws of the country as they had heretofore." It is unlikely that the rental was ever collected but mention of it in that original lease signed by the Minister of the Treasury (foreign minister) was evidence of the king's ownership. The Government copy of the lease had long since disappeared. Irene kept hers under lock and key, but she did assure me that she had a legal, document. Irene was old and feeble and not interested in the construction of a retaining wall which would bring to her compound a herd of noisy, un­controllable workmen, so she refused even to consider the mat­ter. We knew that Irene's days were numbered and that ere long the navy would be able to take possession of the property for the Bradley heirs would cooperate. The promise from us that we would secure the legal document on her death and act as go-between was acceptable to the navy which left the matter in our hands.

In mid-December 1940 word came of the death of Irene's brother, Dan, best beloved of her family, and the brother whose picture was constantly beside her on her massive bed. No details were available and day after day as I visited her in her growing weakness, the question was asked, "Any more word about my brother Dan?" They were the last of their generation.

She died on a Sunday night in January 1941. Only that day she had said to me, "God has been very, very good to me." The legal document was found and the land restored to the Siamese government. Later the government made a monetary gift to the Bradley heirs as an expression of gratitude for the service ren­dered by the founder of Bradley House.


Grave of Irene Bradley at Bangkok Protestant Cemetery
Grave of Irene Bradley