Project Canterbury

Albert Maclaren
Pioneer Missionary in New Guinea

By Frances M. Synge

London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1908

Chapter VI. First Visit to New Guinea

A FELLOW-PASSENGER on the Valetta writes:--"On 3 October, 1889, I was standing on the deck of the P. & O. SS. Valetta and the moorings were just being cast off when I noticed the rather grave face of a clergyman standing near me. I remarked to him, 'We shall not be on English soil again just yet'. He answered, 'Ah; but it is good-bye for me'. I said, 'Oh, I hope not'. He shook his head and replied, 'Yes--New Guinea'. We saw little more of each other then, but later in the voyage I often remarked his kind and considerate manner to all on board, both in the first and second saloon. He was always trying to add to the comfort of the passengers by bringing those together to whom he thought the companionship would be a pleasure, and constantly trying to help those who were unable to resist the temptation of the bar. After the first Sunday (spent in the Bay) he always conducted the services. His sermons and his manner of conducting the service were much liked. During the latter part of the voyage a general wish was expressed to give him some proof of the estimation in which he was held, and this resolved itself into a subscription to a fund to be handed to him to use in any way he wished for the purposes of the New Guinea Mission. It amounted to nearly £25, and was presented to him by a leading subscriber, with an address expressing the thanks and good wishes of all, and I must say that (whether rightly or wrongly) there was a feeling of regret that a man with such a power of influencing others should be leaving England for a country where the climate is so deadly and the natives often dangerously hostile. I well remember that in his answer to the address, he stated that he had left England, not because he had no work there, but because he felt that the mission was a call from God, and he had obeyed it. He went forth, knowing its dangers, but feeling sure that, should he fall, others would rise up and be ready and able to take his place, and that missionary work would still go on."

In a letter from Brindisi he wrote: "The ship's doctor is continually trying to persuade me to return to England, as he thinks I am not rough enough for New Guinea, but I tell him it is not a question of what a man likes, but submission to the Great Will of God. . . . He is a good man though, and I think means well."

Later on he wrote: "The sea is the place to observe people under very different aspects from the land, and the number of different opinions on religion is very striking. I try not to argue, but when I do I think I hold my own. There is a little baby here which has taken a most violent fancy for me, and consequently I have to nurse it at intervals during the day. It is a strange feeling going away from all that is most dear to me, but I know that I am going to a good work and that many are interested and help me in their prayers. I am glad to say I have never yet regretted the step I have taken, and I feel that our Lord is leading me on to that which is best.

"I meet with much kindness everywhere and only hope the natives will like me and then all will be well. I have made one or two good friends on board who will I trust, take an interest in New Guinea in years to come. We have a vice-president of the Church Association with us, and he told me to-day, if all High Church men were not more so than I am, he would be one to-morrow. He went round and collected the £20 for New Guinea. How often one's opponents look worse at a distance."

They reached Sydney on the 20th of December, and Christmas Eve found Maclaren once more at his old parish of S. Paul's, West Maitland.

In January, 1890, he returned to Sydney and for a short time resided at S. Paul's College.

On 29th January he writes: "I am in the midst of taking a Retreat for clergy (only eight altogether) away in the Bush 200 miles from Sydney. Some of the clergy have ridden eighty miles to come. We had Holy Communion at 7 AM. with an address on 'Union with Christ, the Basis of the Spiritual Life'. At A.M. Matins with an address on 'Come ye yourselves apart'. At 12 A.M. Litany with an address on 'God Attracting on the Cross and from His Throne'. At 3 P.M. another address, and meditation later, and at 7.30 P.M. a missionary sermon for New Guinea. I am taking lectures at the hospital in Sydney, so you see I am fully occupied, but it is the happiest life. I have been reading a lot of books on missionary work. . . I hope you will do all you can to help me to get a beautiful sanctuary for our first church in New Guinea. Dr. Livingstone said we ought always to build the church first. Since I wrote the last we have finished our Quiet Day. I have heard some of the hard and difficult work of the Bush clergy. How they need encouragement."

In February, 1890, it was thought advisable that Maclaren should proceed at once to New Guinea on a preliminary visit. The account of this short visit and of the voyage to New Guinea viâ Thursday Island can be given in his own words:--

"I left Sydney on Friday evening and traveled overland to Brisbane, arriving on Sunday morning at 6.30. I preached three times, and on Monday held a meeting, and on Tuesday a farewell service in the pro-Cathedral. N 40 was given to New Guinea. On Tuesday I left Brisbane in the Warrego for Thurs day Island, where I hope to catch the Governor's yacht, and steam thence to New Guinea. I am going at a bad time as it is the wet season, but it is necessary that some one should go at once. I have just been reading the last report of the Governor. He speaks gloomily of the fever, which every one seems to have. With me on board is Sir William MacGregor's private secretary who has only been in New Guinea for six months; he is almost a wreck, the result of several fever attacks, but I shall know more about it before I write again, and shall be able to speak more clearly about the place and its dangers. I know you will all remember me in your prayers while I go on my way--nay, not on mine, but His. The future will be different to me from all that has gone before, and I feel so utterly ignorant of how I ought to act, but He will guide me aright. I expect to be in New Guinea about two months and then return to Sydney.

Ask the village folk to remember me in their prayers, and especially at the Good Friday service. Everything is so different now, though I know I am going to raise the standard of our King and His Church among those who know Him not. Still one is but human. . .

Again, writing to Bearsted on 15 February, 1890, from Bishop's Lodge, Townsville, he says: "I spent the night at Bishop's Lodge, the residence of the Bishop of North Queensland, and as he was away from home I had the honour of sleeping on an episcopal bed which was by no means as grand as the plainest one at Bearsted Vicarage. Apostolic simplicity is marked on everything here."

The following letter to one of his Bearsted friends gives an account of his short visit to the islands off the south-west coast--Cornwallis Island and Sabai--and tells of his first meeting with Mr. Chalmers, the great missionary of the London Missionary Society.

"SS. Merrie England,
"26th February, 1890.

". . . I have just paid my first visit to New Guinea. We left Australian Waters on Saturday morning and arrived off the coast of New Guinea late on the same day. On Sunday morning we had a short service on board and later in the day the Governor, Sir William MacGregor, arrived. I went on to a small island--Cornwallis or Douan. It is rather pretty. There are about 100 Papuans living there, and they have a black missionary teacher settled among them. The church is primitive and the only furniture is a simple pulpit with a heart in front of it. The singing was good, but as it was in the native language I couldn't understand it at all. The captain bought some fowls from them and paid for them in tobacco, this being their only money, five sticks of tobacco were given for one fowl. It was late in the evening on Saturday when we visited them, and the captain asked them to bring some more fowls off to the SS. Merrie England next day. They replied, 'To-morrow Sunday, no sell 'em that day'. So you see the teaching has not been ineffectual. It was strange to see them, and when they were told that I was a 'missionary come along Queen Victoria land,' they all came and shook hands, men, women and children. In the church, the men sit on one side, the women on the other, and the precentor always sings the first half of the line by himself, like we do, in Gregorian tones. On Monday we visited another island--Sabai--where we saw 250 people, and the captain had scrambles of bits of tobacco on the beach for the children, and then for the old men.

"Some boys climbed trees and plucked coco-nuts and gave us the milk to drink. We went to the little church and the only furniture was a pulpit and a pew, in which the native king, the police and the missionary's black wife sat. They sang two hymns for us--very heartily--all sitting on the floor in the little church. Poor things, how little they know, and yet possibly they make more use of it than we do. The black missionary teacher has such a peaceful countenance, and submissive devotion to his Master has left its beautiful mark upon his otherwise ordinary features. We left in the evening thoroughly pleased with our visit. On board the SS. Merrie England I met Chalmers the great L.M.S. missionary and I liked him much. He has been with us since Sunday and only left this morning, so that I had long talks with him.

"My object in coming over to New Guinea is to see Sir William MacGregor with reference to our mission, and I am sorry to find that the Wesleyans have taken possession of our centre of work, so that we shall have to seek a new field. I think I told you that we had decided to take up the Louisiade group of islands at the east end of New Guinea. Now we shall have to go to the mainland. If you have a chart of New Guinea look on the north-east coast, and you will see in latitude 8, Mitre Rock. It is the border between British and German New Guinea. From Mitre Rock to East Cape is now our proposed sphere of work, and Chads Bay will be our first station. I am now returning to Australia to see the bishops, and I come back here in about a month's time to go with Sir William MacGregor to inspect our new quarters. I have had a bad time of it at sea. I expect to spend Easter at Port Moresby, New Guinea. I am reading Lux Mundi, Gore's new book. He would be astonished to hear that it has already reached New Guinea. You will, I am sure, help me in your new parish and will plead with Him we are both trying to follow and to love, that our work may be blessed and strengthened by His perpetual presence."

This flying visit to New Guinea only lasted four or five days, for 28th February finds Maclaren writing again from Thursday Island pleading for spiritual help to be sent to that island, and giving an interesting account of a visit to the leper station on Dayman Island. "I am staying," he writes, "with the Hon. John Douglas, C.M.G., the Government Resident here. His brother was Bishop of Bombay. I stay here over Sunday. Thursday Island is a small, but important place; it contains about 400 white people and many natives. The only place of worship is the Roman Catholic Chapel. The priest is a very pleasant man, and has given me much information in regard to his mission in New Guinea. Their clergy receive £40 a year, the lay brothers £20 and the sisters the same. My reason for staying over Sunday is to have services in the Court House for our people, of whom there are a good many, and to try and get a Sunday-school established. It is a great pity that so many places like this are not worked better. I have just been talking to Mr. Douglas about it and have learnt from him that there is a maritime floating population of 1,500 people here, and that a great many ships stop here from all parts of the world. The leper station is only eighteen miles away. I visited it yesterday on board the SS. Albatross and saw five poor lepers. I was not allowed to go within ten yards of them, but I had a long talk with them. Two are Chinamen, one a Malay, and the other two are natives. I asked them if they were Christians, and they all said 'No'. I asked them if they could read, and one said 'Yes,' but that they had nothing to read. I promised to send them a New Testament and a Prayer and Hymn Book. Cannot you send an illustrated paper to them? the other papers would not be of interest. Please don't forget, because I promised to see to this and would not for worlds disappoint them. They are all happy and are well cared for by the Queensland Government. We took them a sheep, some vegetables, rice, flour, fruit, fish, etc. Each has his own little iron house. . . . None of the poor men seem to suffer much, but one was dreadfully disfigured and another had his face twice the ordinary size. They seemed pleased to see the 'Padre'--that is the name by which I was introduced to them. The Chinamen asked for China onions, China cabbage, etc., and offered money, but we could not touch it as the law forbids all contact with them.

"This is a lovely place and the sunrise and sunset are beyond description. Islands are all round us and little iron houses dotted about along the beach, but the mosquitoes are terrible. Staying with us is a L.M.S. missionary and his wife and little child. They are reading their mail, the first they have received for nearly four months. They live at Murray Island, and are going to Sydney for a short holiday. I liked Mr. Chalmers much and we became friends at once. He makes one laugh with his weird stories about New Guinea. They call him 'Tamate,' the nearest approach they can make to pronouncing' Chalmers'. I am going to pay him a visit at his station in Motu Motu soon.

"On Wednesday I am going to Townsville to see Bishop Stanton, then I return to Cooktown and go again to New Guinea till the end of June. How tired I am of moving about, and how glad I shall be to get settled."

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