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 IV. 1904-1914

FROM 1900, when Copland King went up north to the Mambare, he remained in charge of that northern and isolated outpost of the diocese, with occasional furloughs and visits to headquarters to take charge in the Bishop's absence until August, 1917, a year before his death in October, 1918. The district was a very difficult one, the people being strongly heathen and self-willed.

The Bishop, writing in 1911, says: "The Rev. Copland King's faithful work of foundation laying in this northern station, where the strong charactered people are so wedded to their heathen beliefs and customs and are so averse from any change, and where the language is so difficult to acquire, is beginning to show visible results. The people are now friendly. Services are held regularly in six villages, with an average attendance of i6o, and occasionally in three other villages. Twenty-seven persons are definitely under instruction for Holy Baptism, and in Ambasi village there is a well-managed school, with an average attendance of 42 children. [58/59] Mr. King has completed the translation of the Gospel of St. Luke and of certain portions of the Prayer-Book into the Binandere language. This latter is a great and valuable feat, for the language is an exceptionally difficult one."

King made his headquarters at St. Margaret's Mission, Ambasi, a village on the coast three miles north of the mouth of the Opi River. Native teachers were stationed at various villages in the neighbourhood, such as Oure, at the mouth of the Opi River, and Gona, and farther away at St. Andrew's Mission on the Mambare. The Bishop says in 1913 "The journey from Ambasi to St. Andrew's is extremely trying; twenty miles to the river mouth, then forty-six miles up the river. Two courses of rowers are taken for it, as it is not possible to rest on your oars; you start to drift downstream immediately. Three nights are occupied with sleeping at villages on the river bank, where mosquitoes are exceptionally bad. Indeed, the four days are very miserable. Personally, I dread them, and do not envy Mr. King, who makes the voyage about once every two months. It is hard on Mr. King that after his twenty-two years' work in New Guinea he should be subjected to this trying experience six times a year. The great event of the year at Mamba, as we always call it, was the baptism of seventeen and the confirmation of [59/60] seven in one day. The baptisms were in the Binandere language, and when Mr. King went back to Mamba for Christmas to give the newly confirmed their first Communion he celebrated in Binandere for the first time." Again, a year or two later, he says: "The Ambasi district is one of those big districts which ought to be divided, but lack of men as yet prevents it. There are sub-stations at Oure, Gona, Basabua, Mamba, and (lately opened) Peiro on the Gira River. One or two of Mr. King's South Sea Island teachers are not very capable, but much itinerating work is done, as is evident by the fact that in the district services are held regularly at twenty places and occasionally at twenty-seven. We are handicapped on every side by the want of more clergy." The growth must have been more rapid than the Bishop anticipated, for in the following year he writes "Mr. King is a real missionary. In the big, too big, district of Ambasi there are no fewer than fifty-two villages that have services held in them and over 1,400 people attending them, of whom 1,300 are still unbaptized. The population is reckoned roughly at 5,000. There are no really big centres. Thus the difficulty of adequately working the district is considerable."

King was, as his Bishop said, making a gallant attempt to do the work of at least two men, and [60/61] all the time he was working steadily at the language, Binandere, which was spoken throughout the whole of the district, though with some dialectic variations in parts. The strain on mind, body, and spirit was very great, but the time of his release was drawing near.

In June, 1914, he had the pleasure of a brief visit at Ambasi from his brother, the Rev. Cecil King, and his wife and his sister, Miss Ethel King; but it is characteristic of the man that in spite of his affection for his relatives (he wrote to his brother every week) he would not go to meet them on their return journey or allow their visit of four days to interfere in any way with his work. We quote an account of the visit, somewhat abridged, from Miss Ethel King's diary. The party went by the Mission launch from Dogura, and had a somewhat unpleasant journey.

"Friday, June 19, 1914.--At Okion Cecil called Jimmy at 12.45 a.m., and very soon after we started. Heavy rain was falling, and we had rather a miserable night rolling a lot, though we managed to get a fair amount of sleep. It was very uncomfortable getting up, but we got to Buna between 7 and 8 a.m., and, the rain stopping, we got a bit fresher and started on again; but my head was pretty bad, and after eating some breakfast I was very sick. Soon after we sighted Ambasi, and got there about 12 noon. [61/62] Copland and Ray and a crowd of boys were trying to get the whale-boat off for us, but were so long that M. (Mrs. King) was very sick. There is a very poor anchorage, and we were rolling dreadfully. Jimmy lost patience when he saw how sick M. was, and called out to Owen to get the dinghy down, and we were soon ashore. Ray said: 'You were plucky to come right up here; we did not think you would.' So we felt rewarded for all the discomforts of the trip. Copland took M. and me up to the house, which is at the top of a very steep hill. We both felt awful. M. picked up after a lime drink and phenacetin. After a while we had a very jolly lunch, Evera and Orero going wild with excitement over such a crowd. After a good rest we felt better, and had plenty to do fixing up the house, our beds, etc. We had brought stretchers with us. There are more mosquitoes here than anywhere we have ever been. We all went to Evensong at 7.30 and had Intercessions after, as they do on Friday night on all the stations.

"Saturday, June 20.--We had a quiet day except for crowds of 'visitors,' natives from all parts--such a dirty crowd, many of them, with horrid sores, which R. tried to doctor and wash. Lots of them were daubed all over with mud for mourning. Some of them came as close as possible and stroked our clothes and our hands. M.

and I were very tired when we went to lie down in the afternoon, and still about sixteen of them stood round our beds on the verandah gazing at us. Some of them are fine looking and some of the women quite pretty, but oh, so dirty The difference between them and the Mission boys who live on the station is marvellous. The house boys, Orero, Pitari, Evera, Siriga, and Korria, have each their special work and are very quick. We went for a short walk to the top of the hill late in the afternoon, and Copland pointed out all the points of interest. We saw lovely ferns and creepers. Evensong in English at 7.30, and afterwards we nursed Eileen's dear little baby while Eileen sang a lot of Wedau songs for us.

"Sunday, June 21.--Cecil took the English celebration at 7 a.m. Besides ourselves there were two South Sea Island teachers and Christopher Osembo, a fine-looking Mamba native trained at Dogura. R. and I cooked the breakfast--poached eggs in cups. Copland went off to Ambeia for service there, and walked back for service at Ambasi village, where we met him at 5.30 p.m.

"Copland picked up a spear and began marking out a church in the sand; but they stopped him, saying it was a bad place, for the ripe coconuts might fall, and pointed to a safer place. So he went on and soon traced his square on the [63/64] sand and a line down the middle. The women and girls sat on the sand on one side and the men and boys on the other, and there were lots of babies. Many brought their mats to sit on, and there was one for us. The village children joined well in the service, singing the hymns and repeating the Ten Commandments and answering questions now and then. The horrid village pigs were wandering round the square, and there was a little whispering among the women. The address was on the gospel for the day--the marriage feast. Copland told it in Binandere very graphically with a lot of gesture, now and then speaking to one or another of his congregation by name, and, of course, adapting the story to local conditions. '"Now then, come along to the feast, all you people, Guriga Guriga. Here are heaps of food--taro, yams, and bananas. Come along." But they would not come. So the men went out and found others, and said, "Come along to the feast." But one said, "I must go and catch fish;" another said, "I must go and watch my garden," and so on.' Then all knelt for the final prayer, and one could only pray that some glimmering of light might pierce those dark hearts, and that more workers might be thrust forth to gather the harvest of souls that is surely, but oh, so slowly I ripening in that beautiful land of Papua. On leaving the village we learnt the native form of [64/65] good-bye, and called, 'Isewo' ('Stop here') to the groups as we passed, and they gave us beaming smiles, and answered, 'Bambuwo' ('Go away'). Almost the last house we passed gave a practical illustration of the sermon. An old woman was cooking the evening meal, and on some native dishes some pigs were eating taro, which had been specially cooked for them. 'Why did you not come to church?' we asked, and she answered, with many gestures and a voluble flow of Binandere: 'How could I come? I had to feed my pigs. If I had left them they would have eaten our tea too.'

"It was almost dark when we got back to the Mission station, strolling along the beautiful track cleared in the jungle along the beach, with banks of ferns or lovely grass on either side, higher than ourselves in many places. Native Evensong at 7.30 was attended by all the station, and after we got back we got out the little organ, and at the sound of the first hymn up came the boys from their house in great excitement to see what was making the music, and we sang some hymns, we in English and the Mission boys in Binandere, until we sent them off to bed.

"Monday, June 22.--In the evening the boys played native games. One was that the boys all stood in two rows facing each other with their hands clasped across, forming a sort of bridge, [65/66] and along this one of the little boys was heaved and thrown with much laughter and shouting. Then a boy walked along the bridge of hands, steadying himself by holding onto the boys' heads. As the back of the bridge was passed the boys used to run round to the front of the row, so constantly lengthening it, so that the boy on the top had a long way to go. In another two boys stood hugging each other tightly and all the others danced round them, holding hands. Then the end boy wound his free arm round the two, and the line of boys danced round and round with their arms stretched out and hugging the inside ones as tightly as possible till they were all wound up and looked like a bundle of toes Then they unwound, still holding hands, and danced away. Another they call 'Frogs and Beetles.' They hold hands in a long line, and the two boys hold up their hands to form an arch. Then they call out something, and the boy at the other end answers; and then the line of boys all dance, or rather hop, round and duck under the arch, and at last the two end boys have to twist their arms over and turn round to form the line again, and the same thing is repeated from the opposite end. As they hop they all sing in native 'Frogs and Beetles,' 'Frogs and Beetles.'

"Tuesday, June 25.--Copland was off down to the launch again at daylight. Jimmy arrived [66/67] soon after. We were up early, and packed up and got off as soon as we could. Jimmy fixed up the launch, but it took some time. Then we came off in the whale-boat. We got off about half-past ten. We were very disappointed that Copland and R. could not come down to Emo with us, but as it was impossible we decided not to go there, as it was no good without them, so we made first for Buna."

Some reference ought perhaps to be made to King's ecclesiastical views. He was by early training and always remained a sturdy Evangelical, but he had no sympathy with party, and was entirely loyal to the Bishop and the general policy of the diocese. His views may be clearly seen in the following letter. In August, 1903, a Sydney Church paper criticized adversely the New Guinea Mission on the grounds that it was not sufficiently Evangelical. Copland King replied in the following terms dated:

"October 12, 1903.


"In one of your August issues you animadverted, I believe, on the Report of the New Guinea Mission. My copy was apparently lost in the post, and has not reached me; but I have been told of the contents of your article, and [67/68] your editorial footnote to Archdeacon Langley's letter showed me in what spirit it must have been framed. I believe that one of your points was the lack of evidence of direct spiritual work, from which I suppose you inferred that the material progress engaged our attention overmuch. As one of the members of the Mission, who had nothing to do with the drawing up of the Report, and who never saw it until three days ago, may t suggest that there is another inference which may be drawn? We who study native character know that one of the hardest things to produce is a conviction of sin, a sense of sinfulness. You know how hard it is among white people. But it is one of the last things that a native trying to be a Christian can grasp. Two instances were illustrations of the fact that this great lesson had been learned. But generally many of us hold it to be thoroughly unwise to publish incidents of spiritual growth except with great caution. The account has sometimes come back to the person whose experiences are recounted, with very bad results. And again, it is an unhealthy thing for a missionary to be looking out for such incidents with a view to describing them as a sign that his work is telling. He watches for them with a view to thank God for them. You say: 'Prove to us that your converts are growing in grace.' Do you ever say such a thing to your parish clergy [68/69] as a condition of your support? Have you any right to demand proof while all the time we are saying 'The work is man's; results belong to God'? And we can only realize this help when walking humbly before Him. One word on what you call the constant and irritating use of the word 'altar.' The word occurs in two places in the Report, each time describing furniture given to the Mission. There are many strong Evangelicals, as Dr. Wace, who quite allow such a use without in the least accepting the doctrinal ideas you attach to the word. Another instance, I am told, is in the hymn sung at the festival--

"'The Church of England keep,
Thine altar to the last to rear.'

But who can possibly claim that that refers to putting Communion tables in churches? God's altar is reared wherever His worship is established. We have an altar (Heb. xiii. 10), and that altar is reared in many places in New Guinea by those whom the Church of England in Australia has sent out. But please let me tell what I have been doing to-day--packing up drugs, bedding, books, crockery, etc., because the Mamba hospital is to be closed. We have turned some natives out and refused others. One of the latter died yesterday. There are two white men at Tamata who came in sick from the field [69/70] and have been in the hospital, but we are closing. Whites and natives will lose. Do you want me to explain that they will lose spiritual opportunities as well as temporal blessings? And the reason is, as the Bishop explained in Church yesterday, that sufficient funds are not forthcoming to keep us. And why must we retire? Because a large proportion of Church people persist in striving about words' (2 Tim. ii. 14), and insist on having their own minutiae taught into the creed or the creed not taught at all. The real cause of offence to many is that it is not a purely Evangelical Mission. Well, nor is Sydney Diocese a purely Evangelical one. High Churchman as the Bishop is, he gives full credit for good work done wherever he sees it, and he has Evangelical men under him, working as much on their own lines as if they were in charge of an .ordinary parish, who realize his thorough impartiality as well as his daily self-sacrifice, which is an example to his whole staff. And it is the spirit of carping criticism which is deadening the Church's realization of the duty of self-sacrifice, the duty of supporting the work which our Lord's last words on earth sent us to New Guinea to fulfil. Pardon my length: I am excited. Pardon my incoherency: I am tired. Pardon my brevity: I have not said half enough.


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