THE year 1861 may well be called the "dark year" in the history of the Rio Pongo Mission, judged from an earthly point of view. Its opening saw the young missionary, Mr. Dean, snatched away by death.
At this time, too, it was arranged that Lewis Wilkinson should come to England, in order to be trained as a missionary, at St. Augustine's College; but this was not to be, for on May 27th, his father, Richard Wilkinson, the old chief died. This caused it to be necessary that Lewis should become deputy chief at Fallangia, under his brother Charles.
The following account of the old chief's death was given by Mr. Duport:--"He had a lingering illness, free from any very great pain. I went to see him a few days before his death, and spoke of the blessedness of those whose sins are forgiven, and whose iniquity is pardoned. He said he was not afraid to die, for he trusted in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. He always said he had no faith in a death-bed repentance, and on that occasion he added, 'and what hope hath the hypocrite?' On Saturday, the 27th, I went to see him after evening service. I found him in a very low state; in fact, life was fast ebbing away. I committed his soul to God, before whom he was soon to appear. He lay like one sleeping, as calm as possible, seemingly without pain, and breathed his last at 12 p.m.
"The funeral took place at 9 a.m. on Monday, the 29th. The pulpit, the reading-desk, and the chief's pew were draped with black. A crowd of people attended, of all classes. I took the opportunity to preach Christ to the Mohammadans, from the words, 'Be ye also ready.' There was scarcely a dry eye at the grave. The people seemed to feel that the Mission had lost a friend who could not easily be replaced. The chief has fulfilled his vow, and ever been a kind friend to the missionaries, while he served his God faithfully unto the end. They were welcome to whatever he had. He never failed to send them meat when he killed any, and he allowed them milk from the day of their arrival. Without him, humanly speaking, the Mission would never have gained a footing in the country. When open hostilities and private stratagems were at work to overthrow the Mission, he stood firm by us unmoved. Single handed amid all the threatened attacks of hostile chiefs, and the underhand craft of false friends, he erected the church at this place. Again and again was he threatened with hostile invasion if he did not cease to build; but all to no purpose. He continued the work, and has bequeathed to his sons and countrymen an inheritance which their forefathers had not, viz, the possession of the Gospel. Immediately after the funeral two heathens offered themselves as candidates for Holy Baptism."
One month later, and another sad story has to be told. In June a new calamity befel the Mission in the death of its venerable and learned superintendent, the Rev. W. L. Neville. The funeral took place at half-past four, and all classes attended. A number of Mohammadans came to me, and said, 'This old man was a good old man.' His end was peace."
Thus passed away the fourth martyr of the Pongas. While still thinking of Mr. Neville's end, two things must be remembered, one suggested by the Bishop of Sierra Leone, the other by Lewis Wilkinson. First, that in a climate such as that of Western Africa, no white missionary should be allowed, to live in an un suitable house, otherwise his health must go. "Get a good residence," said the Bishop, "and with God's blessing, we may hope that men will be spared to carry on the work." Secondly, "No one could attribute Mr. .Neville's illness and death (so said Wilkinson) to our climate; it was the effect of age."
Mr. Duport was now left once more alone, as in 1856 after Mr. Leacock's death.
During the later part of this year (186x) Mr. Phillips visited Barbados and the other West Indian islands, where he lectured and preached, doing much good to the Mission cause. At Barbados he met with an intelligent family of native people, named Morgan, members of the Church of England, he agreed to go to the Rio Pongo, and settle there as industrial missionaries. Morgan was a carpenter by trade, and had for many years been a master work man. He had known Mr. Phillips from his childhood. Mrs. Morgan was a most valuable housewife, who could bake, cook, and sew well, and it was proposed that the daughters should help with the school; thus there seemed a reasonable hope that an immense civilizing power had been added to the strength of the Mission staff. This hope was not disappointed.
Morgan's eldest son was left in the mission house at Codrington College, preparing for ordination whilst Mr. Maurice, another Codrington student, was sent for a term of special training to Battersea College. At this time intelligence reached home that on September 2 the church and the old mission house at Fallangia (in which Mr. Neville died) had been accidentally destroyed by fire. Nearly all the mission property had been destroyed, but fortunately the new mission house escaped.
By the time that Mr. Maurice reached his destination, Mr. Duport had with great energy rebuilt the church. It was reopened for service on December 8th.
Notwithstanding the many calamities which had overtaken the Mission during this year, the prospects were never brighter than, through the grace of God, they were at Christmas, 1861.