Project Canterbury

A Pioneer of Papua
Being the Life of the Rev. Copland King, M.A.
One of the First Two Missionaries of the New Guinea Mission

By the Right Reverend Gilbert White, D.D.

London: SPCK, 1929.
Sydney: The Australian Board of Missions, 1929.

Chapter I. 1868-1891

COPLAND KING was born at Parramatta, N.S.W., on June 24, 1863. He was one of the four sons of the Rev. R. L. King, Principal of Moore College, Liverpool, N. S .W., and afterwards Archdeacon of Cumberland. His grandfather, Rear-Admiral P. G. King, was the son of the third Governor of New South Wales.

As a boy Copland was good at all kinds of outdoor games, especially cricket, and was quick at his school work, but did not specially distinguish himself. His great interest was in botany, and all through his life he kept up a correspondence with botanical professors in France, Germany, and the Philippine Islands. He discovered in Papua many new plants unknown to science.

Copland was educated at home until he was fifteen, when he went to the Sydney Grammar School, and from thence in 1882 to the Sydney University, where he took his B .A. and later his M.A. degree; the Australian College of Theology [9/10] later on conferred on him the degree of Fellow in Theology, in recognition of the great work that he accomplished for the languages of Papua.

He was fortunate in his home life, having the companionship of his brother Cecil, afterwards Rector of Camden, and his sister Ethel, who afterwards did a most wonderful work for missions in organizing and managing the Heralds of the King, which under her guidance spread over Australia, raising before her death in 1928 a sum of over £2,000 a year for missions.

Before his ordination Copland King served as catechist under his father at Holy Trinity, Miller's Point. While there he organized a very successful Young Men's Club, and was a very efficient superintendent of the Sunday-school. After his ordination he was assistant curate of Castle Hill, where his brother-in-law, the Rev. Frank Elder, was rector. He had already thought of missionary work, and was turning over in his mind the claims of New Guinea when the call unexpectedly came.

In January, 1891, he was travelling by train from Sydney to Tamworth for a holiday. At Singleton the missionary priest who was devoting himself to work in New Guinea, the Rev. A. Maclaren, entered the carriage, and King questioned him about his work with a view to gaining information for his Sunday-school children. [10/11] Maclaren, after a little talk, asked him to join the Mission. King, however, hesitated, partly because he had not definitely decided to offer for missionary work, and partly because his own views differed largely in many ways from those of Maclaren. He was, however, quite ready to discuss the matter, and finally they got out of the train and spent the night walking up and down the streets of a wayside town, Quirindi, as the following train left early in the morning. On his return from his holiday he placed a formal offer of himself in the hands of the Primate. He had said to his brother: "Perhaps I ought to go, though I do not feel the affection for the natives that Maclaren seems to have." "Why, then, do you go?" he was asked, and replied: "Well, the need was there and the call for someone. I was available, and so I felt that I ought to offer." We get a glimpse here of the strong sense of duty which always marked him, and the affection for 'his people soon came with overpowering strength. He served in the Sydney Hospital for three months in order to obtain some knowledge of simple medicine and surgery, a knowledge which was afterwards of great service.

The first idea of a mission to New Guinea (now called Papua, though the diocese retains the old name) was mooted at the General Synod of Australia and Tasmania in October, 1886, when [11/12] a resolution was passed admitting the obligation which lay upon the Church to establish a mission in New Guinea both for the settlers and the natives, and calling upon all dioceses in Australia to take their part in the effort. The Board of Missions was asked to collect information and to take action as soon as possible. S.P.G. promised £1,000 and S.P.C.K. £500, and at the Church Congress, held in Sydney in 1889, an interesting paper full of suggestions was read by the late Hon. John Douglas, C.M.G. The Rev. A. A. Maclaren offered himself to the Primate, and was accepted as the first missionary.

In May, 1890, Maclaren visited New Guinea at the Governor's invitation, going across from Cooktown in the Merrie England to Port Moresby. Meetings were held with the L.M.S. and other missionary societies, and it was mutually agreed that the L.M.S. should retain the south coast, the Methodists should take the islands to the southeast, and the Anglican mission the north-east coast from Cape Ducie to the German boundary. Maclaren volunteered to act as the Governor's private secretary for a few months while the secretary was away on leave, and thus by continued travelling he got many opportunities of coming in touch with the natives and of selecting possible sites for the mission. In September Mr. Maclaren returned south, and in January, 1891, he met [12/13] many of the Bishops on the occasion of the consecration of the Melbourne Cathedral. In Melbourne he gained other volunteers for the work--C. P. Kennedy and Mr. and Mrs. Tomlinson, who came from St. Mark's, Fitzroy. Materials were collected for building a house and two carpenters engaged, and a schooner, the Grace Lynn, was chartered to convey the material and the missionaries to New Guinea, a journey of about 2,000 miles. A farewell service was held in St. Andrew's Cathedral on the evening of July 1, 1891, and at its close the Primate blessed the two missionary priests. On the following morning there was a celebration of Holy Communion at Holy Trinity Church, and then the two missionaries left by train for the north.

It was indeed an adventure of faith on which they were engaged. Copland King had had a quiet, uneventful life, and little was known at that time of New Guinea, except that the people were dangerous cannibals, and, moreover, the missionaries had behind them few resources, save a small amount of money and the sympathy and interest of a few earnest Churchmen here and there throughout Australia.

They had to wait some little time at Cooktown for the arrival of the Grace Lynn, which had been slowly creeping up the coast. The voyage from Cooktown to Samarai in a small sailing boat is [13/14] not a pleasure trip. The following description of a similar trip seems to meet this case.

One went on board early in the morning and found the hold of the vessel full to the hatches with cargo and bags of potatoes piled up upon them until it was difficult to move at all. The galley was composed of a few sheets of iron fixed round a fire which would only burn under favourable circumstances, and the cook had only the most rudimentary ideas of cooking--i.e., he could make tea and coffee of a soft and a stew when there was anything to make it of. The staple food was salt meat and bread and jam, as long as the bread lasted, then sodden damper and jam. How the passengers came to hate jam! The only accommodation for these was the cabin aft, where the captain had his bunk. It was six by ten feet square and about four feet high, and was half full of cargo that had overflowed from the hold. As long as the cover could be kept pushed back or even the small side scuttles opened it was not so bad, but as soon as the wind brought the spray dashing over the deck and everything had to be closed the air became so thick and foul that one felt that one could cut it with a knife. The crew had quarters in an even more unpleasant hole forward. The ship was to leave punctually at 6 a.m., but the passengers waited hour after hour for the captain, who was [14/15] getting the ship's papers and making final arrangements. At last he appeared, and it was found that one of the two men who with the cook formed the crew was missing. A search of the twelve public-houses was organized, and he was at last brought on board and dumped into his berth, where for twenty-four hours he was dead to the world. The moorings were let go, and the little vessel drifted out between the wooded heads till a gusty breeze filled the sails and carried it out from the land towards the Great Barrier Reef, twenty miles away, where the ship anchored for the night, after scraping ominously over a patch of coral. The boat was due to be in Samarai in three days, and all felt full of hope as the anchor was raised at daylight and the way picked out through the passage of the reef into the big rollers of the Pacific, which broke in creaming foam on either side. The course was immediately set N.E. by E. Samarai was only 430 miles away, and the ship ought to have been there easily in three days. As a matter of fact it took eight.

The weather was bad, and one experienced the full discomforts of a small vessel. They are perhaps greater than those of any other situation of life. If you goon deck there is no place free from the driving rain, which is chilling even in the tropics, or from the wind-swept waves, which dash at you over the side or well up at you from below [15/16] if you think you have got a sheltered spot at the extreme stern. If you are not careful they may even lift you over the low rail into the sea. If you make up your mind to go below, and are lucky enough to find a place amid the spare stores where you can lie down, you are literally sickened by the poisonous air, and hour after hour, day after day, your body is strained and twisted and flung about by the constant leaping and rolling of the little craft. You cannot eat and you cannot sleep; you would give all that you have in the world and a good deal more to be still, if only for five minutes, to rest and allow the shaken organs to get back to their proper places. But still the eternal shaking goes on night and day, until you lose all hope and feel as if you would welcome death. At last on the fourth day there was a sudden cry. A short distance ahead was a long line of reef on which the breakers were thundering, and in which there was not any break visible. The captain was more than hazy as to where he was; his chronometer had been perforce left behind in Cooktown, and he ran along outside the reef all day. Still no opening or landmark appeared, so after sunset he turned and ran back the way he had come, where at least the way was clear. Next day he continued to run down the reef in the opposite direction, and at last sighted an island, which was recognized as being on the right track. The boat found anchorage for [16/17] the night under the lee of it, and next day limped wearily into its destination.

Some such experience as this was the lot of the two first missionaries as they crossed from Cooktown to Samarai in the Grace Lynn. On August 6, 1891, the old vessel was off Samarai, but could not manage to get in until the Government steamer, the Merrie England, went out and towed her in.

Samarai, a small but beautiful island at the extreme south-east point of Papua, was a Government station as well as a small town, and our adventurers found, as always, a warm welcome from the authorities. As the Grace Lynn was delayed by Customs business they determined to push on to the mainland, and on August 7, 1891, they left in the whale-boat Tasmania, and reached Bartle Bay at dusk on the second day.

The following description of the neighbourhood of the Mission was written by the Rev. H. Newton, the present Bishop of New Guinea, on his first arrival in 1899, about eight years after the coming of the first missionaries. It will serve to describe the place as it then was.

"At the eastern end of the mainland of New Guinea the land runs into a long narrow point with a ridge in the middle of it, the end of a long mountain range, which forms, as it were, a backbone from far away to the north-west in Dutch and [17/18] German territory to East Cape in the south-east. Away to the north-west the mountains rise to unknown heights into the region of perpetual snow.

"The mainland at the end of the Cape is low and covered with coco palms leaning out over the sea, but very soon land rises suddenly and the hill is covered with a dense scrub, a dark green mass with, at certain seasons, splashes of bright red in the foliage. Round the Cape you travel--if the wind and tide suit--then a course is shaped at a very sharp angle to the direction in which you have come. Native villages, the houses on piles, line the shore, roof and walls of plaited coco or sewn sago leaves, or palm leaves of some kind or other, blending in perfect harmony with Nature. Colours of various hues from crotons and dracaenas brighten the scene--native gardens cut out of the scrub on the mountain-side are surrounded by a fence of poles to keep out wallabies and wild pigs--the natives walking about in the villages or sitting here and there as they watch the vessels go by add a touch of life to the scene, the women, with their skirts of sago palm or sago leaves swinging and swishing with a motion from the hips, some carrying bags of food or bundles of wood suspended from their shaven heads, and it may be a baby on the top of the load or carried straddlewise on one hip; the men, with their great bushy heads of hair, carry a spear or tomahawk [18/19] over the shoulder--for a man never goes without one or other--a little netted bag or small plaited basket containing areca nuts and lime spatula, a little gourd of lime, a few pepper leaves, and numerous odds and ends, as numerous and perhaps more useful than those which every schoolboy carries in his pocket. The men have little clothing, but their dark skin obviates any suggestion of nakedness. They merely have a cincture round the waist, it may be of twisted human hair or plaited vine roots no thicker than a boot-lace but of many strands, and a loin-cloth of palm leaves, treated with heat of the fire and marked with a pattern, tied to the belt in front and behind.

"From East Cape to Cape Ducie you run along not far from the shore, and the scenery is much of the same character, and then it all suddenly changes. The mountains are still close to the beach, but the scrubs give way to grass on the mountain-sides and the rounded ridges to sharp razor-backs which zigzag from the shore to the range beyond. The top of the range above is covered with scrub, and there are dark lines of foliage in the gullies between the ridges. So sharp are these razor-backs that a man can only just find footing, and they fall sheer both sides to the valleys. In the wet season the mountain-sides are streaked with silver lines of water falling cascade [19/20] after cascade, rushing, tumbling, hurrying as though impatient to get back to the sea, their mother, and only at peace when they rest on her bosom. The mountains look as though they had been suddenly raised from the sea in bygone ages, and waters have washed the sides bare of all that was soft and loose, carrying back what they could to the sea. Indeed, the huge terraces of coral, 1,000feet up, rising cliff on cliff, tell of the days when all was under the sea.

"Here and there the mountains recede a little from the shore, leaving grassy lawns sloping to the sea, and again valley are noticed widening out as they near the sea, down which flow streams, and though none is large the fall is so great that the tide affects them but little. At their mouth you can, even in ordinary seasons, obtain a drink of fresh water as you pass by in your whale-boat. Peculiarly uninteresting is that long stretch of low coast when seen from the sea, and yet there is a solemn grandeur as one walks along the beach under the callophyllum trees, which always lean out to sea, and in the glare of sun and sand give one the impression of entering some great cool cathedral.

"The eastern end of the amphitheatre is a large plain watered by two streams. Here the natives have their gardens, and the water of the streams is used with a good deal of ingenuity to [20/21] irrigate them. To the west of the Wamira River, and not more than 200 or 300 yards from the beach, the ground suddenly rises 250 feet, and then stretches away, a perfectly level plateau, to the mountains a mile beyond. Right on the front of this plateau is the Mission station. Thirty-five miles away are the great islands of the D'Entrecasteaux group--Goodenough, Fergusson, and Normanby, lying north-west and south-east, separated one from another by narrow channels and away to the south, finishing off with many islands at East Cape, some o miles nearly east of Dogura. The shore turns away to the westward another 30 miles or more from Dogura before it turns back nearly at right angles to Cape Vogel, some 13 miles from Goodenough Island, which rises out of the sea sheer and bold to 9,000 feet, an island that is one great mountain. So the islands and the mainland make of Goodenough Bay a great triangular inland sea So miles by 6o by 30, and we never get any really big seas, though even here it can blow at times and make sailors anxious, wondering if they can hang on in places where there is no shelter.

"Very beautiful are the lights and shades on the mountains and valleys in the late afternoon, gorgeous in the colouring of the sunset sky, violets and reds and pinks and purples fading away in the short twilight of the tropics not less beautiful, [21/22] though perhaps less noticed, are the sunrises. Brilliant are the mountains, lit up at night by long lines of fire when the natives are burning the scrub in the hunting season; wonderful are the starlight nights, but most beautiful of all the moonlight, which sends the natives nearly wild with the joy of living; they are ready to spend the whole night singing and dancing and playing and laughing, shouting in the simple joy of existence free from care. Somewhat monotonous is the succession of bright cloudless days during the southeast season, for the mountainous islands to the eastward rob us of a good deal of our rain, and Dogura is a dry place for the tropics. Very trying, on the other hand, is the north-west season, and thankful one is to be under shelter when the heavy squalls come, and the rain beats down as though millions of buckets had been emptied above, and the noise on iron roofs is such that you can hardly hear one another speak. Then the air is humid, and the perspiration streams out of the pores of the skin as you sit quietly in the house; and when you are writing you must have something under your hand if you do not wish the ink to run into unintelligible smudges when you get further down the paper. We do not get long continuous rains at one time. Fairly regularly in the wet season every day the rain comes and clears away, the sun breaks out fierce and hot in [22/23] its strength, and then there is the hot vapour rising from the ground to add discomfort and depression. But how the vegetation grows! Hills that were dry and brown are in a day or two clothed in green, trees and shrubs send out fresh leaves of various colours while they are young. Nature responds on all sides, and one realizes what wealth there would be if the rainfall were distributed over the whole year."

Such was the spot at which Maclaren and King arrived on the evening of Sunday, August 9, 1891; but as it was dark they did not land until the following morning, August 10, though the natives showed themselves friendly and many swam off with coconuts. Maclaren's canoe was capsized, but though he could not swim he was soon rescued. Later King landed, and they both made their way up to the plateau, which Maclaren had suggested as a site for the station. The sides were steep and scored with gullies. The top looked flat as a table, and behind was a peaked mountain 2,000 feet high, which was covered with long grass where it had not been burned off by the natives wallaby hunting. Below, the villages spread out along the coast-line. The Governor had recommended this site in Dogura, and it was decided to adopt it.

On the evening of the same day a service was held at St. Mark's, Fitzroy, to bid farewell to Mr. [23/24] (now Canon) Tomlinson and his brave wife, and on the following day they and Mr. C. E. Kennedy left Melbourne to join the Mission. Maclaren and King returned to Chad's Bay, where they met the schooner and brought her to an anchorage off Wedau.

Project Canterbury