The scene commences at Portsmouth harbour in England where several passengers are waiting to undergo the rigours of an approximately 7,000 mile Sea Journey to various parts of the East. Most of them are Englishmen waiting to take up jobs as Governors, Magistrates and other Colonial posts in India, Burma and Ceylon with high salaries.
But among these passengers in strange contrast is a group of men and women also waiting to embark to Ceylon. They however have no assurances of high salaries, housing and other perks.
The leader of this group was Dr. Thomas Coke, Doctor of Civil Laws, a Bachelor of Arts of Oxford and a member of the Judiciary who moved in high circles in England. He at the Liverpool Methodist Conference had pleaded that he be allowed to go to then Ceylon to serve the people there. With tears pouring down his cheeks, thumping the conference table, he said "please allow us to go Ceylon for I am prepared to be even naked once I am set in Ceylon and I am prepared to be there without a single friend." Finally he said that he was quite prepared to spend his savings of 8,000 pounds on this mission. The Conference stunned into silence granted this old man, described as no longer raven haired and in his sixties, his wish.
In this group was a 25 year old lady, wife of Revd. Ault. While our local fishermen were out all night fishing off the coast of Weligama, they saw some ‘White faces’ in a boat trying to come ashore on or about the 28th of June 1814. On arrival they were taken to the then Magistrate’s bungalow at Weligama where the Magistrate was none other than the forebear of our late leader Pieter Keuneman, also a Keuneman. They had left "Bush Hotel" at Portsmouth on December23rd 1813, the team consisting of Dr. Thomas Coke Revs. William Ault, Clough, HowardLynch, Ersaine, Squance and the wife of Revd. Ault. Dr. Coke had high connections with the Lord Chancellor of England Lord Eldon, Lord Liverpool and Lord Addington who, were all his personal friends. But the journey was so tragic that before the ships could reach Ceylon Dr. Coke was found dead while kneeling in his cabin.
The second blow was when some time later once again before the ship could reach Ceylon Mrs. Ault died on board and she too had to be buried at sea in her 25th year.
The team had prepared themselves learning Portuguese and Dutch and had brought a printing press with them.
On arrival in Ceylon, lots were cast as to which areas of the Island these missionaries were to be posted.
Revd. William Ault was to go to Batticaloa and one of the oldest schools in Sri Lanka is Methodist Central College, Batticaloa which he initially founded the same year in 1814 with five pioneer students.
In a letter to his mother Revd. Ault writes "With regard to accomodation I am not very pleasantly situated. I scarcely ever see bread. I have been housekeeper nearly two months and the meat had only been two peacocks which had been shot. One was sent to me as a gift and for the other I had to pay. There has scarcely been any rain for two years, The cattle have died and almost a famine is apprehended on this side unless we get rain. I dwell presently in a hut with mud walls thatched with leaves, and I pay a rent of Rs. 10 per month, I have seldom a good night’s rest as the mosquitoes sting and sting very badly. He adds how he gets up very early and learns the language of the place.
But within eight months of his arrival, on the 1st of April 1815 , lonely and bereaved with only a Tamil servant standing by him, Ault breathed his last but not before he asked his servant to read a portion from the Bible. When he died on 1st April 1815 his coffin was carried to the grave by the soldiers of the British garrison and Ault was buried in a tomb in this church and bore a stone inscription.
Source: Mr. Prince Casinader, Sunday Times 29th June 1997