Project Canterbury

The Light of Melanesia
A Record of Fifty Years' Mission Work in the South Seas

By H. H. Montgomery, D.D.

New York: E.S. Gorham, 1904.

Chapter XV. Taape, Carlisle Bay, Reef Islands, Pileni, Nukapu

SOME four miles east of Nelua there a village which formerly supplied warriors to Natei for his raids and when he wished to annoy the school people. But the war--the Christian war--has been carried into the enemy's camp. Natei has been deserted by this village, and they asked and obtained a school. It was obvious that the Southern Cross should touch here, and that a strange bishop ought to assist to make as much as possible of the public demonstration in favour of the new movement. Before we landed it was said to me, "You may be sure old Natei will not be absent to-day. He will wish to know whether the chief here is to get as big a present as he." It was a true forecast. In due time, as I sat on the mat of honour in the palace of Taape, I noted Natei peering round the corner of the entrance with a look of anxious jealousy on his face. And now commenced one of the most amusing experiences of the voyage. The same formalities were observed as at Nelua. The chief gave me mats, though not of a superior quality. I in return presented nearly as much as I had given Natei. The effect, however, was startling. Apparently far more had been given by me than had been expected, and the chief was guilty of a breach of good manners. He burst into a loud laugh, unable to control his feelings. Upon this a spirit of mischief seized me, and I gave him more tobacco. Again he laughed, and going away a second time he brought me a fresh mat. More tobacco followed, and of course the excitement increased. In the recesses of the hut, behind their lord and master, were seated the four wives, who were eagerly watching the proceeding. But now their desire for the herb that cheers broke through the rules of good Cruzian society, and I was conscious of a shower of mats following around me, discharged over the head of the chief, and for the benefit of the man who possessed such tobacco. What could I do but return the compliment by a discharge of tobacco-sticks at the ladies? I did so, and with shouts of laughter I was once more greeted with the shower of mats, and once more it was returned by what their souls loved. I was conscious soon that I should be unable to carry off my booty, and I turned to my companion in despair. The mound of mats seemed to be several feet high, and it was time to retreat Then came the climax. The chief exclaimed, "I will give him a pig." Then we fled, convinced that the Church had been strongly founded in Taape, though in a manner unexpected by a band of sober-minded clergymen. I believe the pig was duly brought on board. But my last memories of Taape bring back to me the picture of a bishop staggering down to the boat, carrying a vast pile of mats, and held by the hand at the same time by the lord of that country. Natei had disappeared, filled, no doubt, with envy, and coveting some of the material wealth of the ship. The chief of Taape accompanied us to the ship in his canoe, and as I was waving a last farewell to the kind old man from the deck, he seized the bow by his side and hurled it on board as a last act of hospitality to one who is not likely to forget that particular spot in Santa Cruz, nor the welcome he received there. The bow in question hangs in the hall of my home, and the mats now form a dado round the walls of the little extemporized chapel at Bishopscourt, in Tasmania. The latest news from the Mission is that the chief of Taape has been too much intimidated to help the good cause. Moreover, the first teacher had been too weak a man.


A few miles further east, and only some six from Nelua, there is a little harbour formed by an island and a coral reef. Though a mile of open surface is stretched out, calm and inviting-looking as an anchorage, there is not really any great extent of deep water, not more perhaps than sufficient to permit one large ship to swing at anchor. The scorching heat of the sun upon the day when we anchored here I shall always remember, as well as the cool and peaceful evening when our work was done, and we chatted quietly on deck under the stars, with Melanesians sleeping round us, and, in the distance, the cross in memory of Commodore Goodenough standing close by the water's edge. There are no Christians yet in the village by the bay; the people are really Reef Islanders, who have come over to settle, and there is constant communication between them and their kinsfolk. The name of the village is a long one, Matalianielovla. It is the spot which possesses a painful interest on account of the attack on the Commodore. By nature the people are excitable, so much so that Forrest did not recommend any one to go ashore but the clergy and a few Cruzian boys. The natives could not be relied upon if we did anything which offended them through ignorance of their customs. Indeed, when it was suggested that we should take a photograph of the cross from a boat, it was thought wise to go ashore first, and tell them what we were about. The sight of a white man gazing intently at them through a box with a small hole in it would have given fair occasion for suspicion until some explanation had been afforded. We were welcomed most cordially; all gathered before the camera, and soon we had the satisfaction of taking what proved to be the best photograph of the cross, and of the locality, that I have seen. The cross itself stands on a sort of raised platform close to the water's edge. Within thirty yards of it is the little beach where all land; and at this spot we induced the natives to collect in order to obtain, so far as we could, a realistic representation of the scene when the Commodore was there. It appears to be certain that the death of one of the most gallant and noble-minded of men was caused by ignorance of native customs. Goodenough did what any Englishman would have done guided by the ways of his own country, but which, from a native's point of view, was unfortunate. Like any one animated by the desire to be friendly, he landed at this spot and was received (as we were) in a most friendly manner. Then, having spent some time with them, he determined to visit the next village. What could be more natural? Yet no step could here have been more fatal. Villages situated as these two were are often at war. To approach one of them from the other is therefore to come from the enemy's land, and therefore as a person to be resisted. It happened that these two places had been at war for years. Had Commodore Goodenough and his party reached the other village they would probably have fared badly, coming as he did from a suspicious quarter. As it happened, I believe they went only half-way, and then retraced their steps. But the mistake had been made, and his old friends had now become suspicious, nay, hostile. He was returning from the enemy's quarter. The result was that the arrows were discharged, and one of the men we could least afford to lose was killed. Had one of our clergy been with him, he would have been told to get into his boat after concluding his visit, and, having put out to sea, to have landed again at the next village without saying where he had been before. The record of his last days should be read by all who value Christian heroism coupled with resignation at the certain approach of a terrible death. I remember that Dean Stanley used to say that the death of Commodore Goodenough was one of the most striking he had ever heard of. The chivalrous desire to help the natives, the command not to return their fire, his speech to his men when death was certain, the scene upon the deck of a man-of-war, all tended to make it unique. To me the day when we stood under his cross, and the evening when we prayed to be made as true and faithful to duty as he was, will never be forgotten. My readers will be glad to know that the two villages are now at peace. They adopted, I believe, a custom common here, namely, the planting of a young cocoanut palm, with a resolution that when it bore fruit all ill-will should cease. As the tree takes seven years to bear fruit, it will easily be understood that there is plenty of time in which to pay off old scores before the day of peace dawns. I am not sure, indeed, whether in this case some one did not cut down the first tree so planted because some outstanding grievance had not been avenged. At all events, the second tree grew, and the old hatred ceased. I do not know what the natives of this village with the unpronounceable name really think of the cross, whether for them it is a charm, but they take the greatest care of it, and are pleased when notice is taken of it. It was a strange thing to note that not more than fifteen yards from it a new ghost-house was being erected. But if only adequate attention could be given to Santa Cruz by the Mission, the cross will win the day.


The contrast is great indeed between the Reef Islands and those we have just left. It is like passing from Vanua Lava, in the Banks Group, to Rowa. There are no high hills, or long slopes watered by streams in these Reef Islands. Their name indicates what they are--low, flat patches, surrounded by coral reefs, extending far out into the sea. The captain showed me one which stretched for thirteen miles under the surface with water on it so shallow that he could not cross it, an awkward place on a dark and squally night. These islands form a sort of semicircle, some twenty miles distant from Santa Cruz, on the north and east. I do not know how many there are, but the names of seven, which are inhabited, I know--Nukapu, Nufiloli, Pileni, Matima, Lomlom, Nipua, and Netuna. Beyond these, again, there lies the Duff Group, only just touched by us through the enterprise of Mr. Forrest. The first school has now been started. These islands alone would more than tax the strength of a white superintending clergyman, but at present they are treated as the rim of a sphere which is far larger and entirely beyond the compass of any man. I landed upon two only of these islands--Pileni and Nukapu.


Those who are learned in ethnology assert that the natives in Pileni and in most of this group are Polynesians. From these places the ghost-houses seem to have been introduced into Santa Cruz. One striking difference between the people no one could help marking. In Santa Cruz, more than anywhere else, the women are drudges, and never consort with the men in public. In Pileni I saw an intercourse so free and untrammelled that I was fairly amazed. We went so soon as we had landed into the men's house, or what answers to the gamal in the Banks Islands, and to our surprise the women and girls came freely in and out and were unrep'roved. As we sat there that afternoon, in the great heat, leaning back and chatting, and buying a few of the island products, I could not help recalling the manner in which Bishop Patteson was killed only a few miles away. Just as in his case, so here, there were crowds of natives present, and behind us a row of them had squeezed themselves in between the wall and ourselves. It was a man sitting thus behind the bishop who struck the fatal blow.

Pileni, like any other recently-formed coral island, consists of a more or less circular space but little raised above the sea, planted with cocoanuts among the usual bush, and supporting a small population. There was rejoicing to-day among the clergy, because they had been promised a boy to be taken to Norfolk Island. The parting between the lad and his relatives was affecting, proving, I think, the affectionate nature of their disposition, and the reality of their family life. One after another the women seized him and kissed him, whilst the men rubbed noses. As to his mother, after she had bade him farewell "she lifted up her voice and wept." There is no better phrase to express her action; and in this she was followed by her women friends, until the air was filled by a really great volume of sound, whilst they swung their bodies about, and showed signs of being distracted with grief. The boy himself was crying, but he tried his best to look unconcerned. I believe there is a bright future here for our Mission. There is no school as yet, nor do I suppose there are any baptized persons. We soon returned to the ship, and then made our way to an island with a name known to all who read these lines--Nukapu.


The interest of Nukapu will ever be, of course, centred round the death of Bishop Patteson at this spot on September 20, 1871. It was here that a life was ended by violence which will ever be precious, both in its achievements and in its ending, to the universal Church. Let us dwell lovingly over a few of the striking incidents of his life ere we come to the day of his death. As a lad he was very much struck with the Absolution in our Church service. He longed to say it, he said, because it made people so happy. As a boy at Eton he was saved from death, or at least some serious injury, by the Queen, then a girl. At Eton Montem he was running beside the royal carriage and stumbled, and would have fallen under the wheels had not the young Queen seized him by his hand. How much depended upon that happy movement! In 1854 a sermon of Bishop Selwyn won him to work in the South Seas. Then we hear of him at Kohimarama with thirty-eight scholars, speaking thirteen dialects or languages. There he sits surrounded with his dear lads, one of whom has given him a new word, and at once he is hunting it up Melanesia and down Polynesia, till the root is found among the Malays. Then the scene changes, and he is on a coral island in a narrow path, and meets a native with arrow on the string and bow drawn tight. "Shoot away!" shouted Patteson, "it is all right," and his pluck and his smile disarm his opponent. And anon he is in a boat, and, when fifty yards off the shore, he jumps into the water and swims to land with a little book in the crown of his hat for new words, and presents tied round his neck. Then came the day when he was consecrated first Bishop of Melanesia. Three Eton bishops had met to consecrate a fourth. Utabilava (not Henry Tagalana, as Miss Yonge says) held the prayer-book for Bishop Selwyn while the words of consecration were being uttered. Listen also to Selwyn's words, they are brimful of feeling: "He will go forth to sow beside many waters, to cultivate an unknown field, himself unknown, and speaking in the name of an unknown God. . . . He will have to persuade them by the language of signs to give up their children to his care, and while he teaches them the simplest elements which are taught in an infant school, to learn from them a new language for every island.

... So may every step of thy life, dear brother, be in company with the Lord Jesus. May Christ be with thee as a light to lighten the Gentiles. . . . May He be with you when you go forth to those mingled races who still show forth the curse of Babel and wait for the coming of a second Pentecost." Then, soon, Patteson is to be seen as a nurse in days never to be forgotten, when at Kohimarama fifty-two out of sixty scholars were attacked with dysentery, and only six died, because the bishop and his clergy became nurses night and day. But turn to this very group, Santa Cruz, of which we are speaking: For nine years running he tried to land, and could not. In 1864 Edwin Nobbs and Fisher Young were killed, though Patteson tried to shield them from the arrows. Some one says, "He was never the same again after their death." So we come to the year 1871. He had been very ill at Norfolk Island, and those who knew him best said they thought he could not live long. Mota that year gave him nearly three hundred baptized members. This was the greatest cheer. Then the ship bore him to the Solomons; there he heard of a labour vessel (was it the Emma Bell?), which made no secret that it was going to Santa Cruz, and the captain meant to get labour by fair means or foul. Slowly against a head wind the Southern Cross beat back to Santa Cruz. The wind fell light, but was right ahead; they could make no progress. For a long time they were almost stationary near Tinakula, that volcano close to the Reef Islands; it was in full activity. The night before his death (on September 19) he was reading the hundred and fourth Psalm, and looked up to the fiery discharges and clouds of steam as he came to the words, "If He do but touch the mountains they shall smoke."

Let us hear now the words of one who was on board. "In proportion as our weariness increased (because of the head wind) his interest deepened, till at last he seemed to think of nothing else save these poor people for whom he began to pray without ceasing. As he sat in the cabin with shaded eyes, or walked the deck, he seemed to be absorbed in meditation and prayer. At night the volcano and the earnest prayer for Santa Cruz; next day a light head wind. Still we held on--we so weary, he so calm, hopeful, and happy." Hear now his own words in his diary (dated September 16, 1871):--

"On Monday we go to Nukapu. I am fully alive to the probability that some outrage has been committed here. The master of the vessel whom Atkin saw, did not deny his intention of taking away from these or from any other islands any men or boys he could induce to come on board. I am quite aware we may be exposed to considerable risk on this account. I trust that all may be well, and that if it be His will that any trouble should come upon us, dear Joseph Atkin, his father's and mother's only son, may be spared."

"September 19.--Here we are becalmed; for three days we have scarcely made ten miles in the direction we want to go. It is not prudent to go near the large island unless we have a good breeze and can get away from the fleets of canoes, if we see reason for so doing. We may have a hundred and fifty canoes round us, and perhaps sixty or eighty strong men on deck, as we had last year, and this year we have good reason for fearing that labour vessels have been here seeking to take away men. Yesterday, being becalmed, a large canoe from Nupani to Santa Cruz came near us. It could not get away, and the Southern Cross could not get near it, so we went to it in our boat. . . . They knew my name directly, and were quite at ease the moment they were satisfied it was the bishop. I shall be thankful if this visit ends favourably. It seems so sad to leave this fine people year after year in ignorance and darkness; but He knows and cares for them more than we do." His last lesson to his Melanesians on board was upon the death of St. Stephen.

Nukapu is smaller, I think, even than Pileni. Even in its crowded days it never contained more than a hundred people, and now no more than a changing population of thirty, as upon the day that I was there. It is surrounded by a barrier reef, which is often most difficult to pass. The surf beats fiercely on it, and though the natives, when the reef is covered, will make straight for it, and battle across in their light canoes, it is very different with a ship's whale-boat; and I have heard of a clergyman being dropped at nine p.m. in the darkness, on a night of rain and wind, to find the reef and to pass the night on it till the daylight enables him to proceed. Upon the occasion of my own visit the sun was nearly setting when we reached the cross, and the last beams were shining full on the monument to the beloved bishop. It stands on a bank, raised some seven feet above the water's edge, and directly behind it is the house where the murder was committed, in the corner of the house close by the cross. The actual erection of that day has been pulled down, but it was rebuilt again with the same timbers.

It was about noon on September 20, 1871, when the Southern Cross hove to off Nukapu, though at a distance of several miles. There were two clergymen on board besides the bishop--the Rev. Joseph Atkin and the Rev. Mr. Brooke. All remarked that no canoes pulled out to them as they usually did even if the ship were three or four miles away. But the bishop said it was probably because they were too far from the reef, and that he would go ashore. The boat was manned by Joseph Atkin, stroke; Stephen Taro-niara, three; John, a man whom I met in 1892, two; and another, whose name I do not remember, rowed the bow oar. When they arrived at the barrier reef some canoes came to meet them, and there was nothing unusual about their manner. As the whale-boat could not cross the reef, the bishop got into the chief's canoe and went ashore alone, telling the boat to wait for him outside. Several canoes stayed with the boat and chatted with our people amicably. They asked where they came from, and were told one from New Zealand, another from Bauro, and so on. The men in the canoes seem to have waited till the bishop had landed on the island and had time to get into the house. Then suddenly they took their bows and arrows and shot at ten yards' distance at the four men, calling out, "This is for the man from New Zealand!" "This for Bauro!" and so forth. As soon as this happened our people took up their oars and rowed away as fast as they could. Mr. Atkin had received an arrow in the shoulder, Stephen was struck by five arrows, John by one in the shoulder, and as for "bow," he threw himself into the bottom of the boat and remained there till all danger was past, and escaped unhurt. The after career of this last individual I have not been able to discover. Apparently he has been lost sight of for many years. The boat reached the ship at last, and the wounded men were lifted out. Stephen said as he came on board, "The bishop and I."

Let us follow the bishop ashore. We saw him last in the chiefs canoe crossing the reef, and at length landing on the beach. It seems that he went into the house of which I have spoken, and laid himself down flat on his back, with his head on a Santa Cruz pillow, and closed his eyes. The place was full of people. Behind him there sat a man who had in his hand a wooden mallet. With this he struck the bishop on the top of his head. Death was instantaneous. It is said that he did not even open his eyes. Then in due time they stripped him of his clothes, except his stockings, dragged him a few yards at least, and, wrapping him in a mat, they placed him in a canoe. Meanwhile on board the Southern Cross there was grief and perplexity. At about three p.m.--not before, for they had to attend to the wounded--Mr. Bongard, the mate of the vessel, called for volunteers, and took the boat through the reef--for by this time it was possible--and rowed up and down near the shore looking to see if there were any signs of the bishop. Mr. Atkin insisted on going back in the boat. When they turned round to row back on one of these occasions they saw two canoes come out from the shore at some distance. A man in one of them seemed to anchor it with the help of a stone, then he jumped into the other canoe and the men paddled ashore again. Mr. Bongard made for the anchored canoe, and as they approached it they knew what was in it by a sight of the striped stockings. They found the body wrapped in a mat, with a palm branch on it, the fronds being tied into five knots. The top of the head was battered to pieces as if by a blunt instrument. There were four other wounds, including one which looked like an arrow wound in the palm of the hand. It is probable this was made after death, for it is the custom for the relatives of a murdered man to pierce with arrows the body of any one whom they have killed in revenge. As soon as the body had been lifted into the boat there suddenly appeared upon the beach the whole population of the island, numbering then about a hundred; they gave a yell, and then vanished again. When the Southern Cross was reached once again the ship stood off to the northward, and at seven o'clock next morning the bishop's body was committed to the deep with the prayers of the Church. A sort of coffin was improvised, in which they placed him. The wounded men were carefully tended; but, as is well known, Stephen and Joseph Atkin died, the latter on September 27, the former on the day after. They were buried at sea among the Banks Islands. Mr. Atkin showed the first signs of tetanus while reading the Communion office. Writing just after his wound, he said, "Seeing people taken away when, as we think, they were almost necessary to do God's work on earth, makes one think that we often think and talk too much about Christian work. What God requires is Christian men. He does not need the work, only gives it to form and perfect the character of the men whom He sends to do it. If it be God's will that I am to die, I know He will enable you to bear it, and to bring good to you out of it." It is certain that the bishop was killed because five men had been kidnapped by a labour vessel. The sequel to this tragedy is also remarkable. The five men were carried off to Fiji; here one of them died, but the other four stole a boat and made their way before the sea breeze as far as Tanna. When they saw the volcano they turned north, and in due time reached Nukapu once more. But they brought dysentery with them. The result was that about half the natives of Nukapu died of this (to them) mysterious malady. And naturally the survivors saw in this the hand of the God of the bishop. There is no spot where a white man is so safe at this moment as Nukapu. The other day Mr. Forrest was there ill of fever. The inhabitants came to him, and after awhile their spokesman said," Father, are you going to die?" Forrest, I believe, answered that he could not tell; they then said, "Because if you think you are going to die, will you go to the next island? "

The Mission after Patteson's death begged that no retaliatory measures should be taken by the Government. But it was not until 1877 that the clergy could touch here again. Bishop Selwyn came in that year with a Mr. Coote as a friend in addition to his staff. Mr. Coote has left an account of his feelings upon landing, and of the excitement he felt. On the memorial cross is the following inscription--


Whose life was here taken by men for whom he would gladly have given it. Sept. 20, 1871.

The effect of the bishop's death was tremendous. It was a fact noted in the Queen's speech to Parliament. It called attention to the unspeakable horrors of the then labour traffic; and I believe the worst abuses were brought to light and sternly repressed. In 1872 Dr. Codrington, the acting head of the Mission, wrote of the dreadful evils of the traffic and of the neglect of the Melanesians in Queensland. "I am persuaded," he said, "that they might tell them of the existence of a God and of a Saviour and of a gospel of peace. This would at least remove the strange reproach that I have heard in the islands that Bishop Patteson was deceiving them about the importance of Christianity, for they heard nothing about it in Queensland. These Melanesians are still heathens, because they are carried into a Christian land, taken away from direct Christian teaching." Thank God this reproach is now being wiped away, but the neglect and the selfish cruelties of the past are an abiding blot on our English race. What a blush of shame rises in our faces when we think of the deeds of the English race in old days in America, in Africa, in Australia, and in the South Seas. How much we have to do to make reparation so far as reparation is possible.

We returned to the ship from Nukapu rather late in the evening. Then, after our evening meal, the bright moon rose, and the night was calm, as calm as on the eventful day in 1871. I do not forget our prayers, stimulated by the associations; then we found it hard to go to rest. Midnight found us still on deck talking and musing. The captain meanwhile had brought us to within a mile of Tinakula. The mountain was quiet, except for columns of steam from fissures at the top. And so Santa Cruz faded from my sight, but the memories remain. Bishop Selwyn called on the Church to "avenge" Patteson's death by giving Santa Cruz the gospel of peace. It is the true type of revenge, and I pray that those who read these lines may help to send aid.

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