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First Steps of the Borneo Missionaries

From The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, Vol. II (No. XIX) (January, 1849), pages 251-256.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007


TWELVE months have elapsed since, as many of our readers will remember, the Borneo Missionaries embarked a second time on their voyage to Singapore, where they arrived safely at the end of May. It would seem that their friends, and those of the Mission, have especial cause for thankfulness in their safety, for the ill-fated vessel in which they sailed, after having been run down in the Channel at starting, and compelled to return to the port of London to refit, was, with her cargo, totally lost about a fortnight's sail from Singapore, on her voyage homeward; her crew narrowly escaping in their boats. The opportunities of study [251/252] afforded by the monotony of an Indian voyage are always valuable to the Missionary; but, even in a merchant-trader of 350 tons, such as the Maria Louisa, the Christian minister may find a sphere of active duty: and this, in the present instance, does not appear to have been neglected by Mr. Macdougall and his Deacon, who constantly during the voyage celebrated the services of the Church; and, as we are informed by a circular lately issued by the Borneo Church Mission Society, succeeded in making a deep religious impression on many of the sailors.

At Singapore they were most kindly received by the British Governor and residents; and so great was the interest excited in their enterprise, that, during their short stay, a considerable sum was collected in aid of the funds of the Mission.

On the 30th of June they landed at Sarawak, after a ten days' sail from Singapore, and were warmly welcomed by their countrymen there. The entry of the river they describe as very fine--

"Beautiful wooded mountains, jutting out into the lake-like sea, and changing as the river winds into every variety of form, from its mouth up to the town of Kuchin, where they disappear, and are succeeded by a large tract of undulating hills, covered with jungle."

A site for the church, and future residence of the Missionaries, had been fixed by Sir James Brooke before his late visit to England, and the ground is now in course of preparation for building: this, however, will be a work of time, for, extraordinary as it may appear, in a country where mankind and the forest struggle together for existence, and land once reclaimed from the jungle after a very short neglect is again swallowed up by it, every timber required for the framework of the houses has to be brought from Singapore, a distance of more than 300 miles. Until their own residence is finished, the Missionaries will occupy what is called the Court-house, standing on the opposite side of the river to Sir J. Brooke's, or the Government House. This is a square building erected by Mr. Hoope, the German Missionary, who some time since left Sarawak: it is of two stories--the lower occupied principally by the hall of Justice, a large room used for various public purposes, and in which Divine Service is now performed. On this head, Mr. Macdougall writes--

"We have Church Service twice every Sunday--at eleven, A.M. and half-past three P.M. and at seven A.M. on saints' days; but, until we get our Church, we cannot have daily public Service; which I believe will have a very good effect, not only on our own community, but upon the native mind."

As there is at present no physician or surgeon in the settlement, large and frequent recourse is had to the medical knowledge [252/253] and skill of Mr. Macdougall; and here we may mention, that his arrival appears to have been timed very providentially, as, within a few days of that event, two of the small party of Europeans whom he found there were attacked by an ague and fever, which, in one case at least, there is little reason to doubt, must have terminated fatally had medical assistance been wanting. Yet it must not be inferred that the climate is unhealthy; on the contrary, the Missionary writes--

"As far as my present experience goes, the climate is, delightful, and, I have every reason to believe, most healthy. If people sleep in the wet, or in the swampy jungle, they may catch ague or rheumatism; but I know of no other disease that is common, and I have not had one fatal case yet, though I have the medical charge of thousands.

"The Dispensary has succeeded admirably, and I am already fully occupied, every day, with patients, from twelve till three o'clock. They come to me--those that cannot come, I visit."

Mrs. Macdougall writes--

"Every day my husband receives patients, in his little dispensary down stairs. There is a great noise of talking, and often peals of laughter from the natives, with the difficulties of understanding them on his side, and his gesticulations to them. He can get on pretty well with the Malays, but the Chinese speak a mixture of Malay and Chinese which is puzzling enough; and their pronunciation of Malay sounds is bad."

She adds--

"I must not omit to mention the great success he has had with a very bad compound fracture of the leg, (which had been broken nine days before it was brought to him,) by using gutta percha for a splint. He moulded it in hot water to the shape of one of our own servants' legs, and then put the broken leg in it. It makes a complete boot, as firm as any board when dry, and the shape is easily altered with hot water--so that it is both comfortable and safe. The poor man has got on wonderfully."

Under the superintendence of Mr. and Mrs. Wright, a school has been opened, which, as we learn from a letter written by an English officer at Sarawak, and which appeared in the Times of the 2d of December, 'already consists of fifty adults and children, and is thought to be making great progress.'

"The boys," says Mrs. Macdougall, "are very quick, particularly at numbers: they caught the multiplication table surprisingly. Mrs. Wright wanted to know their names; but they would not tell their own names, and answered for one another--from some superstitious reason. They have droll ideas about age; one little boy declared himself fifteen years, and another of the same size said he was seven months. I found this out some time ago in an evening walk, during [253/254] which I noticed all the babies I met, and asked their parents their ages; but they told me nonsense. One little sturdy fellow, standing strong on his legs, they said was three months old--he certainly was."

It is a favourable circumstance, that no ill-will, or apprehension of undue interference, has been excited; many of the natives of high rank visiting the school, and appearing pleased with the instruction given. The same correspondent says:

"One of the young Pangerans as several times visited the; school; he came, in the first instance, for medical advice, as he is suffering from one of the dreadful wounds he received at the time of Muda Hassim's murder. The poor young man cannot be more than eighteen or nineteen years old. He has a bad cut across his mouth, which has injured his face, and another across his chest; but, notwithstanding his disfigurement, he has all the airs of royalty--such a stately walk and graceful manners. A Malay, indeed, is a very refined gentleman; as calm and self-possessed, and averse to any great attack upon his feelings, as any reserved Englishman can be. He never wonders."

To make him a Christian, however, will evidently be a work both of time and difficulty. He is a Mahometan of the strictest kind, and warmly attached to his religion. Thus, we are told--

"In this, which is the great fast month, they are not allowed to eat anything in the day till after sunset; and so strictly do they keep the fasts that they change visibly before the month is over, getting both paler and thinner. While Mr. Macdougall was in the Dispensary to-day, a Malay came who was very ill, and to whom he gave some physic; but the man declined taking it. On this he was asked, 'Why did you come to me at all, then?--Go away; I shall not doctor you.' 'Give me some physic to take home,' said the Malay; 'it is a great fast-day--I may not drink till evening.' See, then, how strict they are in their religious observances! The Datu Patuigi, who came to-day, with a troop of naked children and one of his followers, wanting to hear the piano, refused the fruit which we offered to him, although he would not say why. But not to drink all day in this climate, is indeed a self-denial."

On the 19th of September, in the last letter received from Sarawak, Mr. Macdougall writes as follows--

"I do not know that in this generation we shall do much with the Malays here, beyond removing obstacles, and making them regard Christianity with a favourable eye; although I verily believe, that if the Church perseveres in her operations, the next generation will see them all Christians. But the case with the Dyaks is very, very different. I cannot tell you how it weighs upon my mind, day and night, that I am without an arm to reach them. I think that the time has come for them to be gathered into the fold of Christ; and if means are not speedily used for reaching. The larger and more [254/255] influential tribes, at least, will soon become Mahometans, and draw the others along with them; for they are fast adopting the language, dress, and customs of the Malays, and their religion will soon follow. At present they can hardly be said to have any religion--ghosts and omens are all they seem to reverence. I find, upon investigation, that we have no less than thirty-three tribes of what I may term free and liberated Dyaks in our Rajah's territory, scattered about the country in groups, at distances of from one to four or five days' journey from this place. Some of these tribes are very numerous and influential I would instance three or four--Singhi, Sautak, Sauk, and Lundu, who alone number thousands. Of these tribes, the Orang Kayas (literally 'rich men, or chieftains') tell me that there is nothing they desire so much as to be taught by the white men; and say, that if we will send teachers to them, they will learn our wisdom, and become great men--they will build houses for their teachers, and give them every thing they can get for food, &c. Now, what we want are three or four young men, zealous, prudent, no bigots, able to learn a language, and with some knowledge of useful arts, who would go and dwell with one or other of these tribes for those parts of the year in which they are collected at home,--for at certain seasons they are scattered about at their farms;--and when the tribes dispersed, they should come into Sarawak, and live as it were in college, when they would have the advantage of time for study, which they would never have among the people at first; and the regularity of civilized life and Christian ordinances would prevent them from barbarizing--which, as we see here, is sometimes the case with men who spend much of their time in the jungle. I think that these men should be in Deacons' orders, or at least Candidates for the Ministry. We can scarcely calculate the results of a systematic effort:--if our Dyaks are gained, those of all the surrounding territories would soon follow, and I think that the Gospel would spread as a cleansing f throughout the land. At present we are inefficient; but I trust another year will not be allowed to pass away without our being able to occupy some of the ground now open to us."

Such, then, is the field of Christian enterprise now open in Borneo, and which it is the object of this Mission to occupy. Our readers will remember that the condition of the Dyaks before the government of Sarawak fell into the hands of Sir J. Brooke, was that of the most oppressed serfdom; the tyranny of their Malay masters serving effectually to retain them in a state of barbarism and poverty. Under his government, however, the chains by which they were fettered have been unbound; and the Dyak is now rapidly rising to take that place in the scale of civilisation to which he is entitled by his mental and physical capacities. Guileless and open-hearted--chaste, far beyond the code of morals of European natives--their capacities are stated to be above the ordinary level of the tribes of the Indian Archipelago; but he is, at present, religionless. If, in this crisis in [255/256] the history of his race, he is neglected, and suffered to become Mahometan, a great opportunity will have been lost, and a great responsibility incurred. The resources of the Mission are as yet, we understand, altogether inadequate; and, when the necessary funds have been raised, men will have even then to be found, who will offer themselves in the pure spirit of devotion for the work. We cannot, however, think that either will be wanting; but rather, that the Lord of the Harvest, who has so wonderfully ordered events hitherto, will put it into our hearts to give ourselves, each in his own measure, to the work, that it may not be hindered, and that this abundant harvest may be gathered into the storehouse of the Church.

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