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Round about the Torres Straits

By the Right Rev. Gilbert White, D.D.

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1917.

Chapter VIII. The Growing Work

IT is of course only possible in a few chapters to give a very brief sketch of the growth of the Mission. On Maclaren's death at the end of 1891 all seemed disaster. A Sydney newspaper thus summed up the result of the first six months' work: "Two lives lost, two men ill, state of the others uncertain, no leader, and the result of all this and many months' labour and time--nil!" Yes, it was so to men's eyes, but not to God's.

As soon as Mr. King was well enough he went back as head of the Mission, taking two more carpenters and more timber. The children could not be persuaded to go to Dogura, so the missionaries went daily to Wedau and Wamira and taught and healed the sick, gradually extending their ministrations by whaleboat along the coast. Next year a small fourteen-ton schooner, the Albert Maclaren, arrived for the use of the Mission, bringing a layman and two South Sea Islanders for the staff. These South Sea Islanders and those who followed them exceeded in number the white members of the staff, and were of the utmost value to the Mission. They were men who had either been baptized in childhood and educated by the Melanesian Mission, or who had been taught at one of the many South Sea Island Missions on the sugar plantations of Queensland. In race they were closely akin to the natives of North-East New Guinea, and understood their customs and ideas and quickly learnt their language. Although not highly intelligent, they were deeply in earnest, and possessed real missionary zeal, and a genius for extempore prayer; above all, most of them clearly understood that Christianity must be practical, and not merely commended, but set a high example of the practical Christian life. It is difficult to see how the Mission, understaffed with white laymen, and especially with priests, as it always was, could have got on at all had it not been for the quiet devoted labours of the South Sea Island Christians. It is quite true that a point was comparatively soon readied beyond which they could not carry their people, but in the early years their services were simply invaluable.

The first native church was built at Taupota of logs, with a roof of sago-palm. At the end of 1894, Mr. Tomlinson had to go away for a short time for medical treatment, and for a while Mr. King and a South Sea teacher represented the Anglican Mission in New Guinea. Shortly after, however, a young priest and his sister arrived, and four more South Sea Islanders. It was not until 1896 that the first baptisms took place, and they are best described in Mr. King's own words: "The day approached when we should gather in our firstfruits. For a long time past the catechumens' classes had been steadily increasing. We were able to explain our standard of rules more fully to them as time went on, and expulsion from the classes became more and more a severe punishment. But again and again, as we neared the longed-for goal, we were disappointed, and the natives, who had raised our expectations by their attention to our lessons, lapsed from the narrow way and dispelled our bright hopes. At last we found that there were only two young men whom we could venture at first to admit to the Sacrament of Baptism. We spent much time and care over the preparation of these two. The Baptism service was translated, revised, and corrected, typewritten and taught; the Catechism was made the basis of instruction, though it had not yet been translated, nor, if so, could it have been used without adaptation. They were taught the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, and had long before learnt the Ten Commandments, and the temptations which they were daily withstanding and others were falling under were a vivid illustration of the teaching they received concerning the world, the flesh, and the devil.

"The training culminated towards the end of Lent, 1896, and we decided to have the Baptism on Easter Day on the beach near the village. So we cut down the grass on each bank 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 the Sunday afternoon the village church bell rang and all the inhabitants came along the shore and seated themselves on the right bank of the stream. The body of Christians, three missionaries from Dogura, five South Sea Islanders, and seven casual visitors (miners) 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 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 the Christians, and then we did the same for Agadabi, and Pilipo was added to the Church."

In 1896 the General Synod resolved "that it is desirable to establish a bishopric forthwith in New Guinea," and nine months later a Bishop was found in one who had devoted, and has never since ceased to devote, all his time, strength, and worldly possessions to the service of the Church--Canon Montagu John Stone-Wigg, of Brisbane. Immediately after his consecration the Bishop took the bold step of taking personally the financial responsibility of the Mission, under pledge only of support by the Executive Council. The Bishop's only official income was a sum of £450 promised for five years by various Churchmen, not all of which was paid. This and much more of his private means he entirely devoted to the diocese.

The Bishop had to face tremendous difficulties. He had to spend three months travelling through Australia collecting money and men before he could leave for his diocese, and all through its history the wonderful work of the Mission has been continually hampered by these two needs. Soon after the Bishop's arrival a hurricane struck the northeast coast of New Guinea, trees were up-rooted and villages destroyed. At Dogura, two whaleboats were dashed to pieces and the schooner thrown upon the beach with her mainmast smashed; the boathouse and dinghies were destroyed and a new bulk store with £300 worth of newly arrived stores swept clean away. Shortly after this the Mission set up for the public good the first marine light in New Guinea, consisting of a fifteen-inch lamp with proper lenses and reflectors on Dog's Hill at Mukawa.

In August, 1899, Henry Newton arrived, the first priest who offered for New Guinea in the nineteen months since the Bishop's consecration. This set Mr. King free for translation work, for which he had special gifts.

The Bishop spent his time journeying along the coast in the schooner, or more often in open whaleboats, as the schooner had often to be absent for supplies.

The following account of an attempt to reach the Mamba River is characteristic of innumerable other journeys, and too often fever was, as on this occasion, his companion, often his only one:

"It was slow work," the Bishop wrote, "and instead of anchoring at five p.m., as we usually do on that dangerous coast, we pressed on, anxious to reach the Station. It was past six p.m. when we saw the lights, and an hour later before we got abreast of them and about to turn into the anchorage. Then a black rain-squall swept down upon us, put out all the Station lights, and left us in pitch darkness. Other rain-squalls followed, the sea got up, and we were soon in difficulties. It was impossible to find our way in the dark. Reefs abounded, and a two-knot current would upset any calculations. We were unfortunately very short of ground-tackle, having only thirty fathoms of chain. So we let run eighty fathoms of coir rope and a small anchor. The strain on it was severe--it was stretched as tight as a fiddlestring--but it held bravely till midnight, when the edge of the rock cut it through, and we were once more adrift. There was no help for it but to put out to sea. It might mean going straight on the reefs, and our small dinghy could not have lived in the sea that was running. The night had fortunately cleared, and we could see where we were going, but it was an anxious time till daylight appeared, going about every quarter of an hour, and ready every minute for a crash. God mercifully preserved us, and in the morning we found ourselves ten miles beyond the Station, and it took us all that day to beat back again to Tun. All the week I had been troubled with fever, and by this time the vomiting was so incessant that I felt it impossible to go on to the Mamba. The schooner had waited a day or two, but then went on without me, and I was most hospitably treated by the Resident Magistrate. I soon got well, and filled up the time with arrears of writing."

The physical discomforts were, however, the most easily borne of the Bishop's troubles. In 1902, he visited England, hoping to do something towards obtaining a See endowment, as the guarantee had nearly expired and the burden of debt was pressing heavily on the Mission. He was ill most of the time with fever and bronchitis, but was able to invest £5,500 as the commencement of an endowment fund. By the time of his return the white staff numbered twenty-eight, there were 1,000 children in the schools, and 500 baptized persons, with 200 communicants. Every one of these meant long preparatory work. It was seven years before there were any baptisms at Dogura, five at Boianai, and Taupota, and ten on the Mamba River. The general rule was at least two or three years' preparation for baptism, and a minimum of two years' more for confirmation. In 1902, a severe famine was added to the other troubles of the Mission, and it was necessary to send over to Queensland to buy rice for the starving people.

When the Bishop was in England he received from an American gentleman the gift of an oil launch, which was of immense service to the Mission for eight years. The end of the launch was in accordance with the high traditions of the New Guinea Mission. At the end of 1911 the launch was anchored off Taupota when the engineer in charge, a native boy named Edric, who had recently been confirmed, saw a hurricane approaching. He ordered his companion to swim ashore, and no one would have blamed him if he had followed his example, but Edric did not so understand the idea of duty. There was a faint chance of saving the property of the Mission by going straight out to sea, and he got under way and steered straight for the heart of the storm, a tiny speck of white against the inky blackness of the cyclone. Neither boy nor launch were seen again, but a Mission which can breed such boys has a great future before it.

Gradually the sphere of the Mission was extended to Collingwood Bay, and finally to the Mamba River, near the border of German New Guinea, but this only meant that Missions were begun in a few isolated spots on the coast, leaving great stretches quite untouched, and that the interior was entirely unvisited. So inadequate were the means supplied to work the Mission in men and money that Sir William Macgregor was obliged to hint more than once that unless the Anglican Church took its responsibilities more seriously, and was prepared to really grapple with the problem on an adequate scale, some of the territory assigned to it would have to be taken away and given to another religious body. It was not the fault of the Bishop, who was indefatigable in his labours and utterly unsparing of himself. A layman who accompanied the Bishop on a journey up the Mamba thus describes his experiences: "Hardly had we landed when a cloud of mosquitoes flew to greet us. They let us smash them by sevens and tens on all exposed parts of our body. M. camped in the boat while the Bishop and I slung our nets under the fly, killing the scores of mosquitoes which got in with us. At eleven it began to rain, and came in through my net, which projected beyond the fly. M. got wet to the skin and came up to us. I was sitting at the innermost corner of my net with the remainder a pool of water. M. tried to get in, but when he lifted the net several hundreds of the pests entered and drove us out. We tried to cover ourselves with the wet blankets, but the mosquitoes got into our nostrils, crawling over the blankets, and our position was one of acute misery. Never had I found a night so long, and we hurried away at the first break of dawn. We found that the clearing had once been a village, but the mosquitoes had driven the people away."

The work went on in spite of difficulties and hardships, which were met with from the beginning. "When I reach a village," wrote Mr. King in 1900, "I get the people together and give them an address." This was on the Gira, after eight months' study of their language. "I tell them that they are to be friendly with the white man, and that fighting is to stop. I tell them about the Father in the sky, what His words are to us, and about His Son, who came to earth. I know they cannot take in much, but the people who have heard it before will talk about it afterwards. But now the name of God and of Our Lord has been declared on the Gira, and the sound of a hymn in the tongue of the people has risen above the coconuts in the most northern village we know of in British New Guinea."

In 1902 a hospital was established on the Mamba for the benefit of the natives and of the white miners, of whom for a time there were a considerable number. It was extremely useful, but the overworked nurses broke down in health, and the expenses were so heavy that it had to be closed as part of the great retrenchment of the following year.

A great work was done at Boianai by Francis de Sales Buchanan, an elderly layman, who joined the Mission in 1899. Two years later Mr. Newton wrote: "Everyone who goes is struck with the change. Two years ago all was opposition, now all is friendliness. Two years ago murders and disturbances were common in the neighbourhood, now everything is quiet, and when a murder was committed in the mountains a short time ago, one of the chief men of the mountain tribe came to explain everything to Mr. Buchanan, and to ask him, in reporting it to the Government, to let all the mitigating circumstances be known.

"To what is the change due? Those who know the place and the people cannot but think that it is a wonderful instance of the working of the Holy Spirit by indirect means, and with inadequate instruments. Willie Holi's influence was great indeed; Dick has been wonderfully sincere and single-minded, with never a thought for anything but God's work; Mr. Buchanan must have done much, but he has not yet mastered the language, and depends entirely upon Dick for interpreting; the Government has done something in the way of punishing outbreaks and murders; and the influence of the two Boianai boys baptized at Dogura has had its share. But all this is very inadequate cause for such effect. One can only think of the words spoken to the prophets of old: 'Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.'"

Next year and the year after the number of baptisms grew at Boianai at an extraordinary rate, and Mr. Buchanan remained there for ten years without furlough until a priest came to take charge. He has now been eighteen years on the Mission, and absolutely refused any furlough. He once, under severe threats, got as far as Samarai, but managed to persuade the doctor that he was all right, and went back to his beloved work.

Bishop Stone-Wigg's ten years of service were now drawing to a close. He had illness after illness, the result of hardships to which he had been exposed, and when in England for the Lambeth Conference of 1908 the report of the doctors made it clear that he could not possibly live longer in the tropics. He accordingly resigned in August, 1908, and his successor, Rev. Gerald Sharp, the present Bishop, was not chosen and consecrated until 1910. In the interval the Archbishop of Brisbane as Metropolitan visited New Guinea, greatly cheering and encouraging the workers.

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