Project Canterbury

Albert Maclaren
Pioneer Missionary in New Guinea

By Frances M. Synge

London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1908

Chapter IV. In England

WHEN Maclaren wrote "Laus Deo" after his final entry in the service book at S. Paul's, West Maitland, on S. Paul's Day, 1887, he little thought that his work as a parish priest was finished. At the time of his resignation of West Maitland arrangements were being made for him to take temporary charge of the Cathedral in Brisbane, when the serious illness of Bishop Pearson of Newcastle led to his changing his plans again and devoting himself entirely to his bishop, "because the latter had always been so kind to him". The little party, consisting of the bishop and Mrs. Pearson, the bishop's nephew and Maclaren, went from Morpth to Armidale, and later went on a short visit to Tenterfield. "He undertook the duty of the parish for the short time we stayed there. The railway to the Queensland border was being made at the time and numerous tents along the line were occupied by the navvies and their families. He quickly got to know them and would dodge into this tent or that and have a talk with the mother about the children, and if the father was at home, would soon get on a friendly footing with him. By the time he left the town the little church was full to overflowing and the congregation presented him with a small Communion Service as a parting gift."

At the same place he had to take a pauper's funeral and expressed his righteous indignation when he was told that it was not necessary to read the whole of the Burial Service. He then, no one being present but the undertaker, read the service right through.

As Bishop Pearson's health did not improve, the doctors advised a voyage to England, and Maclaren sailed with him and his party in May, 1887.

The next few months were occupied in Maclaren's constant and affectionate care for Bishop Pearson, and in occasional deputation work for the S.P.G. In December he writes to his friend Miss Arnold telling her that one of his old Mackay parishioners had kindly come forward and offered to pay all expenses to enable him to take his degree at Durham University. Never a great student, he complained of the "hard grind" and rejoiced that he had successfully passed the entrance examination. It is characteristic of him that his mind at this time was much more occupied with arrangements for providing a Christmas dinner for the poor children of S. Peter's, London Docks, than with his University work. "I have promised to collect £10," he writes, "and as I have not a penny towards it, I want you to help me to collect it from Australians in England. I must pay it all myself unless I can get friends to help me. . . ." The money was collected, and on 6th January, 1888, he writes: "The first dinner to the poor children was given on Holy Innocents' Day at S. Peter's, London Docks. They had service in the church, at which I preached, afterwards they marched to the school, where a good dinner awaited them. They were so hungry that the food soon disappeared. Then an orange with a Christmas card was given to each, after which about 150 shoeless, half-naked little ones came in and were fed in the same way. Such hearty cheers were given for the Australians who gave them such good fare. Poor things, it was very sad! On Tuesday last another dinner was given in the poorest part of the East-end; 500 poor little ones crowded into the Sisters of the Church Restaurant, Dock Street, E., where they had the same fare as at S. Peter's. It would have done you good to have seen them and I wished that I could have had S. Paul's (West Maitland) children over. On 26th January is the commemoration of the foundation of New South Wales, and I want to get New South Wales people in England to celebrate it by giving a dinner to more of the hungry ones. Altogether I got £24--for Christmas, a Presbyterian gave me £13. 'What a beggar Mr. Maclaren is!' you will say, but it is for a good cause.

I had no idea that I was such a staunch Australian till I came home, but I am not sorry. I shall go back with many new ideas but with the firm conviction that extremes will not be good for our new country, so be ware of too much ritual lest you become dissatisfied with your own church in Australia."

About this time, when on a visit to Oxford with a friend, he remarked that though the beautiful ornaments and fittings of a certain church gave him great pleasure, he would far rather hear of the work that they were doing. He went up to Durham in January, 1888, and had rooms in University College. Writing in the following month he says, "It is Greek, Latin, Latin, Greek, perpetually". His vacation was spent at Bearsted with his friend Canon Scarth, "reading hard as well as working in the parish".

On 10th December he writes to another:--"I have delayed writing till I knew the result of an examination which I am glad to say I have passed successfully. It was always my intention, if possible, to go to Durham University and get my degree. Last week I went up and matriculated and passed the first part of the final examination, so that if all goes well, and I can manage it, I shall go into residence in January, and remain there till December, i888. The reason why the course is so short is, that the authorities take into consideration the three years at S. Augustine's College. It seems a long time to have to wait, but I think an English University degree is worth having, and the reading and quiet time there will do me much good. I am already longing for the warmth and brightness of Australia. I feel the cold much, and I don't think that I shall ever leave Australia again. Here for the last three weeks we have had nothing else but snow, rain, fog, frost, and the sun seems to spend all his energy in smiling on Australia."

In a letter written on 12th October he says: "It is satisfactory to feel the future is somewhat settled and I am glad to go to New Guinea, although all my friends are somewhat disappointed. I hope I have done that which is right in His sight. Time alone will tell." This is the first reference in his letters to the work with which his name will always be associated. No written record is to be found as to how he came to offer him self for it. It is said that he was one day in the old S.P.G. office in Delahay Street, wondering vaguely what he should do next. It was remarked to him that a leader was sought for the proposed mission to New Guinea, why should he not offer to go? With his usual impetuosity he went off at once to see the Primate of Australia, Bishop Barry, and also Bishop Stanton, his old bishop in North Queensland, who both happened to be in England at the time. "It was in October, 1888," writes Miss Scarth, "that my sister and I had been up to look at the Gordon statue, which was then new, in Trafalgar Square, and as we were coming away we met Mr. Maclaren. He seemed rather excited and at once said, 'Will you tell your father I've just been to the S.P.G. and offered to go to New Guinea?' I am afraid we both received the news very indifferently, having little idea where New Guinea was, but we undertook to deliver the message. I have often thought since how damping our reception of the news must have been when he had just taken the tremendous step and his heart was so full, but we did not mean it."

"I remember his enthusiasm for the work for which he had volunteered in New Guinea," writes the Rev. F.J. Albery, "and how he walked with me in Christ Church meadows, and up and down the Broad Walk, discussing his hopes and sketching his plans for the future like a great schoolboy, and yet behind it all there was an evident realisation of the arduous char acter of the undertaking which lay before him. We little knew how soon he was to be called away from the scene of his last earthly labours."

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