Project Canterbury

Albert Maclaren
Pioneer Missionary in New Guinea

By Frances M. Synge

London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1908

Chapter V. The New Guinea Mission

IF Australia is a continent, New Guinea, or Papua, is the largest island in the world. Its total length from east to west is about 1,400 miles, and at the broadest part it measures 490 miles. The first European to record its existence was D'Abreu who sighted it in 1511. Other explorers of different nationalities visited it from time to time, and in 1770 Captain Cook visited the south-west coast. Little, however, was added to the knowledge of the country until 1845 when Captain Blackwood of H.M.S. Fly discovered the large river which afterwards received the name of his ship.

Lieutenant Yule, in 1846, took observations on the south coast as far east as the island which now bears his name, and in 1848 Captain Owen Stanley of H.M.S. Rattlesnake made a rough survey of the south east coast, but the first really important survey was that of Captain Moresby in command of H.M.S. Basilisk. In 1873 and again in 1874 he conducted a series of exact observations which resulted in the mapping out of the greater part of the south-east coast line, and the discovery of the harbour of Port Moresby and of the China Straits. Of the people little was known until the settlement of the London Missionary Society's agents. The first settlement by Europeans took place in Dutch New Guinea in the eighteenth century.

On 1st July, 1871, Dr. Samuel Macfarlene and Mr. D. W. Murray, of the London Missionary Society, accompanied by eight Polynesian teachers, landed on Darnley Island in Torres Straits, and placed teachers on it and on neighbouring islands, and in 1872 Mr. Murray was joined by the Rev. Wyatt Gill and thirteen additional Polynesian teachers. Somerset Island (Cape York) in that year became the headquarters of the London Missionary Society's New Guinea Mission, and in the same year the first station on the mainland was established in Redscar Bay.

In 1874 the Rev. W. G. Lawes with his wife and child settled at Port Moresby. In October, Mr. And Mrs. Chalmers joined the Mission.

The south portion of New Guinea was formally taken under the protection of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria on 6th November, 1884, and a Protectorate was proclaimed by Commodore Erskine at Port Moresby. The proclamation recognised that the establishment of a Protectorate had "become essential for the lives and properties of the native inhabitants of New Guinea, and for the purpose of preventing the occupation of portions of that country by persons whose proceedings, unsanctioned by any lawful authority, might tend to injustice, strife and bloodshed, and who, under the pretence of legitimate trade and intercourse, might endanger the liberties and possess themselves of the lands of such native inhabitants".

In the year 1887 it became evident that a mere Protectorate was not sufficient. Sir James Garrick, Agent-General for Queensland, speaking at the Royal Colonial Institute, said: "It is clear that matters can not remain as they are. There is at present no security in British New Guinea for either life or property. There is no jurisdiction under which the natives can be punished for the most cruel offences, and no control whatever over the subjects of foreign States. Such a condition of things must lead to reprisals, which will have a disastrous effect upon our future relations with the natives. The remedy for this is to proclaim sovereignty, and to organise our administration, which, while safeguarding the interests of the islanders, will adequately represent the Imperial and Colonial interests."

These counsels prevailed with the British Government, and on 4 September, i888, Dr. (afterwards Sir William) MacGregor made a proclamation at Port Moresby, definitely annexing British New Guinea to the dominions of Queen Victoria, thereby raising its status from a mere Protectorate to that of a Crown Colony. Sir William MacGregor, as administrator of the colony, laid the foundations of British rule in New Guinea.

Such in outline is the history of New Guinea up to the time when Maclaren volunteered to lead the Anglican Mission to the newly annexed colony.

In 1850, when, at the suggestion of Bishop Selwyn, of New Zealand, a Board of Missions was established for the six Australasian dioceses, New Guinea was among the "dark islands contiguous to Australia" which it was to be the object of that board one day to evangelise, and when the General Synod of the Dioceses in Australia and Tasmania was constituted in 1872, it was decided that the synod should have power to make determinations for the promoting of home and foreign missions in the church. A determination thereupon was passed by which "the Bishops forming the House of Bishops in the General Synod" were constituted "The Board of Missions of the Church in the Dioceses in Australia and Tasmania," and the work of the Board of Missions formed in 1850 was transferred to the new board. An executive council was elected by the General Synod and each diocese was invited to form a diocesan corresponding committee under the presidency of its bishop.

The first definite step towards establishing the Anglican Mission to New Guinea may be said to have been taken, when, at the meeting of the General Synod of Australia and Tasmania at Sydney in October, 1886, a resolution was carried on the motion of the Bishop of North Queensland (Dr. Stanton), ' That the recent annexation of a portion of New Guinea imposes direct obligation upon the Church to provide for the spiritual welfare, both of the natives and the settlers. That, as the mission should be conducted on an adequate scale and provision made for considerable outlay, its expenses should be shared by all dioceses in Australia. Further that the Board of Missions be requested to collect in formation with a view to immediate action,"

The Board of Missions, through its executive council, under the influence of Bishop Barry, proceeded to collect information and to seek for money and for men to undertake the work. In 1887 the S.P.G. set aside £1,000 and opened a special fund to assist the Australian Church in planting a mission in New Guinea, and the S.P.C.K promised £500. The C.M.S. wished a hearty "Godspeed," hut regretted its inability to give any help. The response in Australia itself was not at first very warm. Again and again during the next two years bishops and leaders appealed for men and means, and complained of the want of sympathy and support.

In February, 1888 (the centenary of the founding of the colony of New South Wales), the Primate (Bishop Barry) made the following appeal on behalf of the proposed mission:--

"The New Guinea Mission ought to be the chief missionary achievement of this centennial year of the Church of England. Among the objects of the Centennial Fund is rightly included the advance of missionary agency. The call to the New Guinea Mission comes opportunely to awaken us at once to a larger conception of our duty for Christ, and to a greater boldness of evangelistic enterprise. The opportunity is a great one. The vast island of New Guinea is the last conquest of our extending civilisation. The assumption of a British Protectorate over the southern portion of it was in great measure forced by the pressure of Australian opinion upon the authorities at home, who were reluctant to add to the enormous responsibilities of British Empire. In the natural course of events, British protectorate is developing into British sovereignty. It is found that only by some unequivocal and direct authority can the arduous duty there undertaken be satisfactorily performed. At no distant time we may expect to see this part of New Guinea as thoroughly a part of British territory as is Fiji. Now by this apparently irresistible tendency of events, the duty of the Church of Christ in Australia is pressed upon us with increasing urgency. For good, and (I fear I must add) for evil also, we have brought this vast territory with its large population--how large, we as yet do not know--within the area of English power and civilisation. If we believe that our Christianity is the true soul of that power, and the salt of that civilisation, we must strain every nerve to carry it with us in that intercourse with the native races on which we have insisted. In the contact between a stronger and weaker race, if all is left to that selfish assertion of strength, which is the survival in man of the great 'struggle for existence,' in organic life, the effect must be, as unhappily it has too often been, the slavery, the degradation, and finally the extinction of the inferior race. If this lower principle is to be tempered and subdued by the higher spirit of self-sacrifice in the strong for the protection and exaltation of the weak, which we rightly call humanity, the experience of ages has shown that this spirit can only be quickened to a victorious power by the faith in Christian brotherhood. The martyrdom of Bishop Patteson is a monument at once of the cruelty of civilised selfishness, and of the love, willing to spend and to be spent, for the helpless, which is the glory, almost the new creation, of Christianity. In this glorious enterprise of the Christianisation of New Guinea, much has been done already--on the one hand, by the splendid work of such men as Chalmers and Lawes under the direction of the London Missionary Society, on the other, by labours less known--probably as yet less effective--of a Roman Catholic Mission. With their work who would wish, or dare, to interfere? But they are able as yet to touch but a few points on that great coast line of more than a thousand miles. Those who are already at work gladly invite the influx of fresh labourers, as I myself know from communication with the Rev. W. G. Lawes. As there is room, so there is a call for other missions, and that call has come to us in this land. The Hon. John Douglas, Her Majesty's High Commissioner, himself pointed out a vacant sphere for missionary work which we might rightly fill, and offered a hearty welcome to the enterprise. The invitation, brought before our General Synod, was at once thankfully acknowledged and accepted, and committed to the Board of Missions, which with its executive council and its diocesan committees is the appointed missionary organisation of our Church. In England, help is provided by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, to which our own Australian Church owes an incalculable debt of gratitude for lavish aid of men and money in days gone by. But the main burden of the work ought to be borne by us here. Some £2,000 a year (say for five years) is needed to plant a small missionary community on the coast, with some means of transit by sea. It is for this that appeal is now being made to the Church in the various dioceses. If there is reasonable promise of assistance, it will be possible for me on my approaching visit to England, in conference with the Bishop of North Queensland, who is willing to undertake some general oversight of the mission, to organise in this year, 1888, a start in this most important work. I earnestly trust that the opportunity will not be lost; and that one lesson of our centennial year will be the rising above the spiritual selfishness which keeps all our resources to ourselves. Of churches, as of individuals, it is true that 'Whoso is willing to lose his life shall find it unto the life eternal.'"

The invitation by Mr. Douglas to found a Church of England Mission in New Guinea, referred to by Bishop Barry, was embodied in a paper read by Her Majesty's High Commissioner at the Church Congress held in Sydney in May of the following year (1889). As this paper deals in detail with the difficulties which would face Maclaren, several extracts from it are here given:--

"First, let me tell you what I think of the present position and prospects of missionary enterprise on the coast of British New Guinea. Without doubt a great work of pacification has been effected by the London Missionary Society. The early years of this enterprise were full of noble self-sacrifice, of courageous effort in the face of great dangers and difficulties. Wherever mission stations were established along the whole coast from Teste Island to Motu Motu good work has been done, and influences have been established to mitigate the gross barbarism, superstition and ignorance of the native inhabitants. Old New Guinea, with its picturesque savagery, has now passed away within the area of missionary influence. But there is not much evidence as yet of growth in any direction. From a religious point of view it is difficult for a mere outside observer, as I have been, to recognise any palpable extension of the Kingdom of Heaven, though there is a seemly attention to outward observances in some places. In morals, in sanitation, in industrial art, there is some slight improvement. Too much, however, must not be expected all at once. It is not more than sixteen years ago since the mission station was first formed at Port Moresby, and the habits of a people deeply rooted in primeval times cannot be changed in a single generation. It would be unreasonable to expect it, or even to wish it, for any sudden change would probably be fatal to the race. The history of the London Missionary Society's work in Torres Straits, and in Western New Guinea, has been different to that of the eastern portion of the possession. The islanders of the Straits proved themselves to be most receptive and gladly welcomed their instructors. The intelligent and really apostolic enterprise of the first missionaries, aided as they were by a band of South Sea Island teachers, produced excellent results. Houses and churches were built, and schools were established, though no attempt has been made to teach English, which I think is a great mistake. . . The natives of Torres Straits have had the Gospel preached to them, and they have not been unworthy hearers of it; but it is time that the preachers went farther afield.

"The future of these people will now depend chiefly on their industrial development, and in that the missionaries do not take any great interest. The islanders are taking more heartily to pearl-shelling, bêche-de-mer fishing, and to the curing of copra. They find that they can make money in that way, and they like to buy clothes for themselves, smart bonnets and dresses for their wives, and bright things for their children. They do not seem to have any special craving for drink.

"On the whole then I think I can give a good account of the Torres Straits islanders. Mission work, however, is at a standstill and is nearly defunct. Now let me say a few words about the French Catholic Mission station at Yule Island. Commenced in i886 it has got a fair footing, and promises to have an influential career. They have made themselves partially acquainted with the natives at the foot of Mount Yule, and have thus entered upon a wide field in a populous district previously unexplored. One great advantage which this mission has, is, that it has the assistance of lay members both male and female. At this place, Thursday Island, where they commenced their mission, they have, by means of their lay brethren, built a church and dwelling-houses, while at Yule Island they are doing the same thing, so that they both work and pray, and they aim at providing industrial training for the natives.

"They suffered at first from fever, but now they are pretty well free from it and may be said to have got over the first difficulties of settlement. . .

"Having thus briefly glanced at the actual position in the past, let me now pass on to the present. Along the coast of the Possession, as British New Guinea is now called, there are still wide spaces of what may be called unappropriated territory, i.e., unappropriated by missionary enterprise. There is the whole north-east cost line from East Cape to Mitre Rock. Scarcely anything is known of it, and yet it is now fairly accessible from China Straits where there is a trading station and a Government establishment. Lastly there is the whole of the Eastern Archipelago of Islands, including the Louisiade group. It is in this portion of the Possession that, as I understand, it is the intention of the Anglo-Australian Church to plant a mission. At present it is quite unappropriated, for, with the exception of a South-Sea island teacher resident at Teste Island, nothing has been done to give any instruction. Still we really know these islanders better, and they know us better, than is the case in most parts of the Possession. The recruiting in these islands for the Queensland plantations was not an unmixed evil. Abominable as were some of the acts of the men who recruited the islanders, the system was not without its advantages. They learnt something of us, of our ways, and of our English language while they were in Queensland, and the result has been a friendly feeling towards the white man, which may be regarded as a hopeful commencement for future intercourse with them. By nature and habit they are cruel and treacherous, but they have vastly improved in these respects of late years, and I have known among them some estimable and intelligent men. Many of them are fine sailors. Gold also has been found on most of these islands, and it is probable, therefore, that there will be a good deal of intercourse between the natives and the diggers. Hitherto the relations between them have been of a perfectly friendly character.

"Of course, in establishing a Mission, everything will depend upon the men who undertake it. Money in these matters is never the essential difficulty. If the right man can be found, everything else follows. There must be the afflatus,' the spiritual dedication to an unselfish work, and if besides this, there are the mental and physical qualifications of perfect manhood, then the work of those who go with the Divine Message of goodwill is full of interest, and I can fancy also, of an enjoyment which it would be difficult to find in the beaten paths of our civilised communities. The men indeed are to be envied, who in the full vigour of unsullied manhood can enter with some justifiable confidence on such a splendid vocation as that of instructors to such interesting children of nature as these natives are.

"Let me note here, by way of suggestion, a few matters which may be worthy of consideration by those upon whom the practical work of this mission will devolve.

"(1) It must be assumed that a Mission schooner will be bought. It ought not to be less than 50 tons burden, and not much more. Our typical missionaries should be sailors, capable (if necessary) of sailing their own craft. I don't mean to say that at the outset we can expect them to be sailors, but they must shape for that, and must learn to steer and navigate their vessel.

"They must certainly not be land lubbers; and above all things they ought to have a thoroughly human interest in the natives, in their habits, their superstitions, and even in their old barbarous ways. I have seen excellent men, missionaries, who have not had a vestige in themselves of the savage, not a particle of the picturesque Adam, in all his originality, and who were therefore hopelessly out of touch with the primitive man as he is.

"(2) Let me plead for lay missioners, carpenters, artisans of any kind, boat-builders, blacksmiths, tent- or sail- makers, as Paul of Tarsus was, agriculturists, horticulturists, handy men of any kind, men with the fear of God and the love of men in their hearts.

"Surely in the ranks of labour there are some men who might be found to devote their lives to such a service. I plead then for unordained working-men who will devote their lives to this sort of work, volunteers in a service full of incident, full of adventure, and more attractive in many ways than the dull monotonous grind of our great cities. They must necessarily be subject to discipline, but above all things they ought to be good workers, patient and forbearing, and if so I will back them to make a speedy impression among those with whom they live, or whom they undertake to teach. One such white man would be worth half a dozen teachers of the South-Sea Island pattern, such as I now see around me in this neighbourhood.

"(3) As to the head station of the Mission. That I think should not be decided on until the head of the Mission has had a good look round. The strategic base of the Mission should be Cooktown, if the sphere of work is to be in the eastern portion of New Guinea. Ultimately I assume that a school or training college for young natives will have to be established. Cooktown, I think, would be the best place for such an institution, but it will probably be some time before anything of that kind can be attempted.

"I do hope that good men will be found for the work. They ought to be tough men, in the prime of life, with lots of go, and some of them ought to be lay workmen who will work for the love of it. The climate at certain seasons is trying, but I don't believe that it is a seriously unhealthy one, if proper precautions are taken."

Soon after the publication of his appeal to the Australian Church, Bishop Barry returned to England, and "most willingly accepted" Maclaren's offer to the proposed Mission, though he, in common with many others, considered him more fitted for evangelistic than for the ordinary routine of pastoral work.

Maclaren's attention was now turned to preparation for his new sphere of labour, but he had yet to take his degree at Durham.

From Newbury he writes to Mrs. Scarth that he is trying to read ten hours a day for his examination in June, 'but at the end of eight, I find my head becomes somewhat like a boiled turnip--rather soft--and yet I fear I shall fail".

He passed his final examination at Durham, early in October, 1889.

On 25th October, he received his benediction at S. Augustine's College, Canterbury. "It was very quiet, but so solemn," he writes. "The Warden gave a very earnest address. I am so glad I was able to go."

On his last Sunday in England, 27th October, he celebrated the Holy Communion in the beautiful little village church at Wymering, where he had sung in the choir as a boy. He also preached at Matins. In the evening he preached at S. Mary's, Portsea, and stayed the night with Canon Jacob (now Bishop of S. Albans) who had a warm regard for him.

On 3 October there was an early celebration of the Holy Communion at Bearsted and immediately afterwards Maclaren (accompanied by Canon Scarth) left for the Royal Albert Docks to join the Valet As it steamed down the river, the bells of S. Andrew's Waterside Mission Church, Gravesend, with which church Maclaren had at one time been connected, rang a parting peal.

"I am going forth," he had written a short time be fore, "to tell the poor people of New Guinea of the wondrous love of' the Good Shepherd, who came Himself to seek and save them, and to offer them Him who alone can satisfy the longings of the human heart of the poor savage as well as the desires of those who have been brought out of darkness into light. I ask your earnest prayers for myself and my companions.

"The first command of Christ was 'Follow' Me, and I will make you fishers of men,' and the last was 'Go and teach all nations,' and at His command we are going forth. . . . Remember then in your prayers and in your freewill offerings the New Guinea Mission, that men may come forward who will be ready to sacrifice much for the extension of our Lord's Kingdom in that distant part of the world, and that money may be forthcoming to supply all that they need, so that we may help to bring to pass the words of our Lord, 'I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me'."

Project Canterbury