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 II. 1891-1898

THE first proceeding was to get the natives to build a large native house, and to carry up to the top of the plateau all the goods and timber landed by the schooner. As soon as possible the party left the boat and took up their quarters in the native house. They had brought a native cook with them, but he fell ill almost at once and was able to do no work, and so the first job the missionaries had to undertake was to cook food for themselves and for the two white carpenters. They had only a fire on the ground, and for some time cooking pots were not available. King was profoundly ignorant of the art of cooking, and meals thereafter degenerated into tinned meat and biscuit. It is little wonder that the health of the whole party soon became seriously affected. Materials for the permanent house were safely landed, but the carpenters got on to the job very slowly. At Mr. Maclaren's request King returned to Samarai in the Grace Lynn to transact some business for the Mission, and on his return after a fortnight's stay he fell seriously ill. He was so ill that Maclaren told him that he was going to [25/26] die. King merely remarked: "All right give me a paper and pencil and I will say good-bye to mother." A few days later, however, he rallied. Mr. and Mrs. Tomlinson arrived on October 1 by which time three rooms of the house had been finished. On October 21 Mr. Maclaren went to Samarai in the whale-boat, returning on November 1. Both the carpenters had been down with fever, and it was decided that they, King, and the sick cook should all leave for the south. This they did on November 2. The foreman carpenter died two days after reaching Sydney, but King began slowly to recover his strength on his arrival home. Mr. Maclaren alone remained with Mr. and Mrs. Tomlinson and Mr. Kennedy, and he pushed on the work at Dogura very energetically. As soon as he had things going there he started for Boianai, about twelve miles down the coast, where he landed alone and was quietly received. The following week he went farther down the coast, past Cape Vogel to Mukawa; on his return he heard that a chief at Boianai had been killed by a neighbouring tribe, and at once set off in a native canoe to make peace. He slept in the native club-house, and spent the following days visiting the native villages round Cape Frere. On his return he was too ill to hold service in the morning, but preached in the afternoon. He left in the [26/27] whaleboat for Samarai on December 20, 1891. He was taken on board the Merrie England, still suffering badly from fever, and after a temperature of 106° F. he died the day before the ship arrived in Cooktown. The little band of missionaries, left without a priest, held on to their post gallantly, though their house was unfinished and there was no one left to take even temporary authority. Both Mr. and Mrs. Tomlinson suffered from fever, but no thought of withdrawal entered their minds. Meanwhile Copland King was recovering, and in March, 1892, it was decided that he should return. The Primate issued an appeal for men, but no one volunteered. On March 16 King was licensed by the Primate as Head of the Mission (a post which he held until the consecration of the Bishop six years later), and instructed to proceed to New Guinea and report to him on the state of affairs and the steps to be taken to secure the permanent establishment of the Mission.

When we consider the apparently utter failure of the first attempt, the death of Maclaren, and the broken health of King himself and of the remaining members of the Mission, and the almost utter lack of encouragement or enthusiasm on the part of the Church, it must be admitted that Copland King showed a heroic courage and faith in thus quietly returning to his post. After a farewell [27/28] celebration of Holy Communion in St. Andrew's Cathedral, the solitary priest left for Papua on March 16, 1892. In Brisbane he procured a couple of carpenters, and, leaving by the schooner Myrtle on April , arrived at Samarai on Easter Eve, April 16, and at Wedau on Sunday morning, April 24. In May he travelled along the coast by whale-boat looking for a site for a second Mission station. In June, accompanied by Mr. Kennedy, he took a trip inland to explore the country. They took the occasion of a feast's being held in a mountain village, and ascended a winding gorge behind Wedau, following the river for eight miles, and then ascending a mountain called Topa. They found abundant signs of population in the mountains. The forest had been cleared away and gardens fenced and planted with bananas, sugar-cane, and sweet potato. The villages were small and scattered. After ascending 3,ooo feet they reached the village of the feast. On such occasions pigs are contributed from all the regions around, killed, cut up, and distributed to all the important families together with taro. Each party takes its share and cooks it for itself. There is much dancing, for which the natives decorate themselves with their best clothes and coloured leaves. On this occasion they all carried spears. The forests are the home of the birds of paradise and [28/29] many brilliant butterflies, one of which King found to have a wing spread of nine inches and a length of six. He notes the many orchids, lycopods, and other plants unknown to science, and the hornbills, pigeons, and parrots.

In June, 1892, Canon Whitington, the General Secretary of A.B.M., tried to visit the Mission, but was taken so ill with malarial fever on his arrival at Samarai that he had to return direct to Sydney.

When King arrived at Dogura he found five native boys living on the station, three from Taupota and the other two from near Samarai. With these regular school was begun, but it was found impossible to get children from the villages to come regularly up to Dogura, so school was also started at Wedau and Wamira. It was difficult to get boys from the villages to stay, as they were very restless and could not stand any curtailment of their liberty After a time they gained more confidence, but at first this was a real difficulty. Another was the language. King says: "It may be easy to learn the second island language,. but when one has to learn the first merely from daily intercourse with the natives and without anyone to help, one's task is by no means easy. One may readily get a large number of native words and their equivalents by pointing and gesture. But when the words [29/30] sometimes ended with one syllable and at other times with another syllable it was puzzling. Of course, these terminations meant something, but they were certainly not either the sign of the singular or plural or of gender. After a long time we would be led to use the word with one definite termination, just because we did not know what this or that other termination specially meant and the natives gave way to our weakness, and would use these special terminations which we had adopted whenever they spoke to us. It was the same with the verbs, because there were both ends of the word to puzzle us. Then there were the sounds to bewilder us. We could not tell whether to insert h or not, whether to write v or w, and there were two g's which we found it hard to distinguish, and one of them still harder to pronounce to the natives' satisfaction. And, again, the differences in dialect troubled us. The natives in their good-natured way would use words of another dialect because they thought we knew them, and so led us to believe that the words belonged to their language. It was long before we realized how great the differences in dialect were."

Meanwhile, the Brisbane carpenters were at work at Dogura, and by the beginning of August, 1892, the chapel and some of the rooms were finished, and a Dedication Service was held on [30/31] August 10, the anniversary of the landing in Battle Bay. The carpenters left in September, but there was still a good deal of work to be done on the house; and it took King and Tomlinson till the following March to do it, the mornings being devoted to school work. From time to time King made expeditions by land or by whale-boat to neighbouring villages where murders had taken place, and tried to dissuade the people from retaliatory expeditions. In May, 1893, a conference with the L.M.S. and Wesleyan missionaries was held at Kwato under the presidency of the Rev. W. G. Lawes. The chief subjects for discussion were the laws of marriage, adultery, and divorce among the natives; and recommendations were made to the Government. It was also decided that the name of our Lord should be uniformly Jesu Keriso in all the missions.

King had now been in charge for a year without any additional help having come from the Australian church; but a small schooner of fourteen tons, the Albert Maclaren, had been building in Sydney, and arrived in Samarai in May, 1893. With her were Captain Prothero, a lay missionary, Mr. Elwin, and two South Sea Island teachers. Mr. Kennedy, who had been in charge of the whale-boat, was set free to settle at Taupota, where soon after the first village [31/32] church in the Mission was built. The walls were formed of slabs of sago palm fifty feet long and sewn together at the edges, and had all to be brought a considerable distance. A little later churches were built at Wamira and Wedau, the Governor being present at the opening of the former on St. Matthew's Day, 1893. The work was done entirely by the natives under Mr. Tomlinson's careful supervision. In May King decided to open a station on the northern shore of Goodenough Bay, and placed Willie Miwa at Menapi, visiting him from time to time. Willie did good work, but in October died after eating a poisonous fish. In September the Governor, Sir William MacGregor, arrived in the Menlo England, and invited Mr. King to accompany him up the coast. This he gladly did, and increased his knowledge of the coast as far as the Mambare River. The rest of the year 1893 was spent in steady work, King teaching school at Dogma every morning and at Wamira four afternoons a week at the various stations. As he himself simply says: "Day by day we worked in the villages healing the sick as far as we could, reasoning with and exhorting the wicked, bringing separated couples together, and teaching them all about the Saviour who had died for them, and withal praying for more helpers."

1894 was a year of steady work, but little was [32/33] done in the way of extension owing to mishaps to the schooner, which was twice nearly lost on the reefs, and had to be sent to Townsville to be repaired. Lantern services were introduced and found to be very useful.

In October, 1894, the first party of gold miners came into the district and went prospecting inland, where their leader Henley was killed by the natives. In the following year another party went inland from Wedau, and reached the Mambare River, where their leader Mr. Clarke was killed. The miners added not a little to the difficulties and responsibilities of the Mission. In April, 1895, the Rev. W. H. Murray and Miss Murray arrived and two or three more South Sea Island teachers. Catechumen's classes were formed and regularly attended. Few of the older men joined, but several of the younger married men and in some cases their wives. The majority were girls and boys who had had some training at the Mission stations.

In 1895 work was extended to the north-west to Collingwood Bay, where the missionaries were warmly welcomed so long as they brought iron in the shape of plane irons for exchange. The natives proved to be expert thieves, but were willing to return the stolen articles on their being missed and asked for.

At length in 1896 the firstfruits of the work [33/34] at Dogura began to appear. The catechumens' classes had been steadily going on for a long time. The rules for the catechumens were being better understood, and expulsion from the classes became less frequent. Finally, only two young men were found who it was considered might safely, in the first instance, be admitted to the Sacrament of Baptism. Much time and care was bestowed on their preparation. The Baptismal Service was translated, revised, corrected, typewritten, and taught, and they were carefully instructed on the lines of the Catechism. The training culminated in Lent, 1896, and it was decided to have the baptism on Easter Day on the beach near the village. Mr. King says: "We cut down the grass on each side of a running stream; one could see the water bubbling out of the ground, and its whole length was not thirty yards down to the sea. It ran strongly, but was not too wide to be stepped over. On Easter Sunday afternoon the village church bell rang, and all the inhabitants came along the shore and seated themselves along the right bank of the stream. The body of Christians, three missionaries from Dogura, five teachers, and seven casual visitors were on the left bank, and the catechumens were on the right bank in front of the heathen. The address explained to all the meaning of the service, and when the time came the two candidates, each [34/35] dressed in white singlet and calico, remained standing in front of their fellows, and answered distinctly the questions put to them. Then the baptism came. I took Aigeri by the hand, led him into the water, and as he stood there I poured water on his forehead and baptized him Samuela, and having been signed with the sign of the cross he stepped up into the assembly of Christians; and then we did the same for Agadabi, and Pilipo was added to the church. The service had a great effect on the other catechumens. The second baptism took place on Whit Sunday, when Samuela's wife and child and a young man were baptized." It was with this young man Selwin that King seriously set to work on translation. He had previously made some short translations, Psalms, etc., and he now translated St. Luke's Gospel, using as a basis the Greek text and the Authorized and Revised Versions. His method was to read over the English and explain it as fully as possible to Selwin. He would render it into the native dialect, and King would discuss it and write it down. At the next meeting Selwin would read and discuss the written sheets, suggesting any corrections, after which King made a fair copy. When it was finished King would read it to Samuela, and get the benefit of his advice on Selwin's translation. The whole was then [35/36] type-written for the press, and known as the Wedau translation.

In 1897 King also printed in Sydney a "New Guinea Native Dictionary" of ninety pages. This is described by experts as the "first serious attempt to give an orderly arrangement of this language--a masterly production considering the short time that the missionary had been in close touch with the natives. The book was of great value in initiating other missionaries into a knowledge of this the basic language of the mission."

In 1897 King went to Sydney in order to see his translation of St. Luke through the press and to urge the extension of the mission to Collingwood Bay. He returned in July in time for the anniversary gathering in August. The General Synod of Australia, meeting in Sydney, had passed a resolution on October 5, 1896, that "It is desirable to establish forthwith a bishopric in New Guinea, and that the Australian Board of Missions be requested to take immediate action towards this object." In August came the news that the Rev. Canon Stone-Wigg had been appointed, and he was consecrated on January 25, 1898, having meanwhile paid a visit to New Guinea in November, 1897. With the Bishop's arrival Mr. King's administration of the mission came to an end. The Primate had frequently urged on Copland King that he should [36/37] allow himself to be nominated for the bishopric, but he had always steadfastly refused, holding that he was not fitted for the episcopal office, and would not be able to arouse necessary interest in the mission in Australia. Hence he gladly welcomed the appointment of the Bishop and his enthronement at Dogura on May 26, 1898, and always supported him loyally against the attacks of those Australian friends whose views were more in accordance with his own than those of the Bishop. Honour is due to him for the humble and faithful way in which for seven years he discharged the most difficult duty of head of the mission. With few resources and an insufficient staff, and with none of the prestige of a high official position, he carried on in faith and hope and with no thought whatever for himself until relief came at last with the completion of the diocesan organization. His difficulties are well summed up by the administrator, Sir William MacGregor, who wrote in his report of 1894: "Mr. King has mastered the language of the people near him; he is well acquainted with the habits and peculiarities of the natives, and by teaching in church and school, and by the example of his own life, he has greatly influenced those within his reach. The position is not an enviable one: at the head of a mission provided with an excellent headquarters capable of [37/38] accommodating the necessary staff, with an excellent vessel and good boats, with a unique mission field and practically without a staff. Mr. King requires half a dozen European missionaries and at least forty coloured teachers."

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