Project Canterbury

Metlakahtla and the North Pacific Mission of the Church Missionary Society

By Eugene Stock

London: Church Missionary House, 1880.

Chapter XIII. Admiral Prevost at Metlakahtla

Of the four visits mentioned at the beginning of the last chapter, with which the last four years must ever be associated at Metlakahtla, a very peculiar interest attaches to the third in order of time. To the Christian Indians it was naturally the most joyous and memorable event in the history of the settlement. It was not a small thing to receive a Governor-General, a Missionary Bishop, or the chief pastor of their own newly-formed diocese. But since the foundation of the settlement, there has been no day like the 18th of June, 1878, when Metlakahtla had the joy of welcoming, for the first time, the beloved and revered originator of the Mission, Admiral Prevost.

He had never been in that part of the world since the migration from Fort Simpson in 1862, and had never seen the wonderful issue of his own plan. That he should see it now was a privilege rarely enjoyed. To few men is it given in the Providence of God to initiate such an agency of blessing, and to still fewer is it granted to behold such far reaching results.

Of this happy visit, the Admiral himself has kindly supplied for these pages the following deeply interesting account:--

Admiral Prevost's Narrative.

Three a.m., Tuesday, 18th June, 1878. Arrived at Fort Simpson in the U. S. Mail Steamer California, from Sitka. Was met by William Duncan, with sixteen Indians, nearly all Elders. Our greeting was most hearty, and the meeting with Duncan was a cause of real thankfulness to God, in sight, too, of the very spot (nay, on it) where God had put into my heart the first desire of sending the Gospel to the poor heathens around me. Twenty-five years previously H.M.S. "Virago" had been repaired on that very beach. What a change had been effected during those passing years! Of the crew before me nine of the sixteen were, to my knowledge, formerly medicine men, or cannibals. In humble faith, we could only exclaim, "What hath God wrought!" It is all His doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.

It did not take long to transfer ourselves and our baggage to the canoe, and at 4.30 a.m. we started against wind and tide, rain, too, at intervals; but having much to talk about of past events and future plans, the twenty miles of distance soon disappeared, and about noon we crossed the bar and entered the "inlet of Kahtla." On the north side of the inlet stands, on an eminence, "the Church of God;" on either side of it, spreads out the village of Metlakahtla, skirting two bays whose beaches are at once a landing-place for its inhabitants and shelter for the canoes. As we approached the landing-place two guns were fired and flags displayed from house to house--conspicuous by a string of them reaching the Mission House verandah, inscribed, "A REAL WELCOME TO METLAKAHTLA." Near to this were assembled all the village--men, women, and children--gaily dressed.

The choice of this harbour of refuge is one of God's many providential dealings with this Mission. It is defended from the storms and heavy rolling swell of the Pacific Ocean by large and lofty islands, forming a breakwater across its entrance, extending as far out to sea as twenty miles, inside of which smaller islands, numbering nearly a hundred, form channels leading up to the foot of the snow-capped mountains, 15 or 18 miles distant, on many of which are the village gardens where potatoes and other vegetables are grown.

The rise and fall of the tide is very great, often 25ft. It was low water when we arrived, and difficult to land, but this had been anticipated. We found a small canoe covered over with pretty mats (Indian manufacture from the cedar bark). Into this we were transferred, and when comfortably seated, we were lifted quietly on the shoulders of the young men, and carried up to a platform close to the entrance of the Mission House. We were surrounded by kind hearts who had been long expecting us, and the flowers and garlands had withered; but joy was depicted in their countenances. The body of constables, dressed in a uniform given by the Government, presented arms; the small band played; and then all the voices, about 250 in number (the larger portion of the population being at the fisheries), joined in that beautiful hymn--

"What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear,
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer."

Then came the shaking of hands, and let me remind you a Metlakahtla Indian can give a hearty shake of the hand!

Rain obliged us to seek shelter indoors. We all met again in the church in the evening, changing the weekly service to Tuesday. It was my privilege to address more than two hundred from Romans viii. 31--"If God be for us, who can be against us?" It was an evening never to be forgotten. After 25 years' absence, God had brought me back again, amidst all the sundry and manifold changes of the world, face to face with those tribes amongst whom I had witnessed only bloodshed, cannibalism, and heathen devilry in its grossest form. Now they were sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in their right mind. The very churchwarden, dear old Peter Simpson, who opened the church-door for me, was the chief of one of the cannibal tribes.

Words cannot describe the happy month I spent in this happy Christian circle. I can only copy from my rough notes, written on the spot, some of the events which occurred to me.

In the Mission House, I found the Rev. W. H. Collison, and his wife and two children (whom I had known previous to their leaving England), and Mr. and Mrs. Schutt and children. There was plenty of room for all, and in addition to our party there were five girls, boarders in the house, living in a dormitory upstairs with a cheerful look-out. These are industrial pupils training for their future position as wives and mothers. Each girl has her own recess. As many as fourteen boarders have been in the house at one time, and God has greatly blessed the instruction they have received, the Christian young men preferring a wife who has passed through the Mission training to all others.

It rained so incessantly the first three days, that nothing could be done outside. The meetings for Morning and Evening Prayers, in which the boarders joined, were very precious. Sankey's hymns, a portion of God's Word, explained by Duncan in Tsimshean, and united prayer, began and closed the day.

On 21st June, I met by appointment in Duncan's room eight of the twelve elders of the village (four absent at the fisheries) to consult about the programme during my stay. It was no formal assembly, but a council of wise heads met together, all taking a deep interest in the affairs of the village, and all speaking out boldly.

June 22nd.--Still rain, but all the men and some of the women assembled in the school-room, to hear an address from me and to give me their welcome in reply. We met at 5 p.m., and did not separate until 8 o'clock. Let me give one or two of the speeches addressed to me:--

GEORGE USHER (Indian name, Comtsool) said--"I also want to speak, though I occupy not the seat of a chief, but only that of a common man who sits at the door. Your seat is the seat of honour at the upper end of the house. Yet I will address you.

"It is wonderful to us to see what changes have come amongst us since your last visit, and it is wonderful to us to see how much good some people are capable of doing for others. We think of your good work and are amazed. If it shall so be that you leave this world before us to see God, remember we are trying to follow you, to be with you before long. We shall see you again in heaven."

JAMES LEEQUNEESH (chief) said--"Shimoigit, what we once were is known to you, for you saw our state. I was a young man when you first saw us. We profited by your visit, but you suffered by us. Which of us is not now ashamed when we see your face again, and remember the injuries we did to you? But we were then in darkness. We were like the wild animals. We were living in mud and darkness. You got a hoe. You got seed. You designed a garden, though on a very unfavourable site. It was God who touched your heart. Then the workmen came. Your work was among thorns, and you suffered, but so did Jesus the Son of God work among thorns and suffer. So you then got a spade and turned over the ground and put in the seed. God was with you, and now you have come back to see what God has done. You are pleased to see that the plants have come up a little. Yes, the good seed has grown, and this, sir, is the result of your work. God put all this into your heart, and our own hearts are deeply affected and aroused within us by your coming again to see us."

ADAM GORDON (Kshimkeaiks) said--"Sir, though I have not prepared a speech, I cannot help saying my heart is thankful to tell you how happy we all are. It is while we are still in the fight you have come to see us. Like as children rejoice to see a father, so we rejoice to see you. We are fighting every day with sin, but we shall cease fighting; by-and-by, and be happy when we get to the other shore. Then when we reach over there we shall be truly happy."

PETER SIMPSON (Thrakshakaun).--"I remember when you put your ship on shore at Fort Simpson. I remember how nearly we were fighting, and the guns were prepared. You had a rope put out to keep us off, and we heard it said that you would fire at us from your ship when you got afloat. We knew not what you had rather planned to do. You planned to bring us the Gospel, and that has opened our eyes to heavenly things, and oh! how beautiful, very beautiful indeed! Metlakahtla is like a ship just launched. You are here to give us advice where to put the mast in, and how to steer. I address you thus, though you are great and I am poor. But Jesus despises not the poor. The Tsimsheans were very low, yet Jesus raised us, and we are now anxious for all our brethren, the tribes around us, to be made alive. We see them now willing to hear, and we are trying to help them. We know God put it into your heart to come here, and brought you here; God bless you for coming."

Sunday, 23rd.--To me, all days at Metlakahtla are solemnly sacred, but Sunday, of all others, especially so. Canoes are all drawn up on the beach above high water mark. Not a sound is heard. The children are assembled before morning service to receive special instruction from Mr. Duncan. The church bell rings, and the whole population pour out from their houses--men, women, and children--to worship God in His own house, built by their own hands. As it has been remarked, "No need to lock doors, for no one is there to enter the empty houses." Two policemen are on duty in uniform, to keep order during service time. The service begins with a chant in Tsimshean, "I wilt arise and go to my Father," etc., Mr. Schutt leading with the harmonium; the Litany Prayers in Tsimshean follow, closing with the Lord's Prayer. The address lasts nearly an hour. Such is the deep attention of many present, that having once known their former lives, I know that the love of God shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost can alone have produced so marvellous a change.

First, there was a very old woman, staff in hand, stepping with such solemn earnestness; after her came one who had been a very notorious gambler; though now almost crippled with disease, yet he seemed to be forgetting infirmity, and literally to be leaping along. Next followed a dissipated youth, now reclaimed; and after him a chief, who had dared a few years ago proudly to lift up his hand to stop the work of God, now with humble mien, wending his way to worship. Then came a once still more haughty man of rank; and after him a mother carrying her infant child, and a father leading his infant son; a grandmother, with more than a mother's care, watching the steps of her little grandson. Then followed a widow; then a young woman, who had been snatched from the jaws of infamy; after them came a once roving spirit, now meek and settled; then, a once notorious chief; and the last I reflected upon was a man walking with solemn gait, yet hope fixed in his look. When a heathen he was a murderer: he had murdered his own wife and burnt her to ashes. What are all these now, I thought, and the crowds that accompany them! Whither are they going? and what to do? Blessed sight for angels! Oh, the preciousness of a Saviour's blood! If there is joy in heaven ever one sinner that repenteth, with what delight must angels gaze on such a sight as this! I felt such a glow of gratitude to God come over me, my heart was stirred within me, for who could have joined such a congregation as this in worship and have been cold, and who could have preached the Gospel to such a people and not have felt he was standing where God was working?

After morning service, a class of female adults remain in the church, and receive further instruction from the native teachers. At the same time the male adults meet Mr. Duncan in his own room. At three, the church bell again assembles all the village to worship; and again at seven, when they generally meet in the schoolroom, the address being given by one of the native teachers.

June 26th.--Evening Service in schoolroom, about 90 in attendance, most of the village absent at the fisheries. Some strange Indians arrived today from a distance. A large building has been erected on the shore, close to the general landing-place, for the accommodation of such visitors; here they deposit their property (brought for trade), and take up their abode, finding firewood ready for use. As soon as they are comfortably housed and mashed (the latter a positive injunction), they come to Duncan's room, where he receives them, generally having something new and amusing to show them. To-day I was present at their interview, when Duncan showed them a mechanical picture, in which a "ship at sea," a "wind-mill," and a "water-mill," worked by machinery, are moved at the same time. A galvanic battery is also a source of wonder and astonishment. After some time he explains to his audience the cause and effects, exposing, too, the tricks formerly played upon their ignorant minds by their own medicine men. The visit is returned, and in that market-house the good seed of the Word of God has been frequently sown by this faithful man of God to casual visitors, and through them to the surrounding tribes.

A deputation also arrived from the Fort Simpson Indians to consult with the Metlakahtla Indians how to meet the pending difficulties with the White men as regards the Indian rights as to the salmon-fisheries. The bugle sounded to call together the Council. Both parties assembled together in the school-house, and consulted together for several hours; and when they had finished, they sent for Duncan to tell him the result. I mention this circumstance as one of the blessed results of their new life in Christ Jesus. In their heathen days this difficulty with white men would have been met with murder and destruction. In 1859, I was present at an assemblage of chiefs, when gold was first discovered in British Columbia, and when more than twenty thousand white men rushed into that country, bringing with them vice and disease. The question was asked by the head chief, "How shall we treat these strangers? Shall we cut their throats?"--going through the motion of doing so in an unmistakable manner. In God's providence, the man in authority had great influence over the Indian mind and action. A proper answer was returned, and the lives of hundreds, nay, thousands were saved.

27th.--Visited the village saw-mill, conveniently situated at the head of a sheltered inlet about a mile and a quarter from the village. It is managed entirely by natives, the head Indian receiving 8 dols., or £1 12s., the second, 6 dols., or £1 4s., the third, 5 dols., or £1 per week. Lumber of all sizes is supplied to the village for building purposes at moderate prices. Thus the Indians are kept independent of the white man's help. Duncan told me a curious story of an old Indian who came to him, when the mill was being erected, and asked him, "Are you going to make water saw wood?" He got his answer, and exclaimed, "When I see it I die, to go and tell it to my chief."

I visited the widow of Samuel Marsden (Shooquanahts), the first fruits of this Mission. He was baptized, 21st July, 1861, and died May 8th, 1878, a Native elder, a ripe Christian, a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus; and the clear testimony he bore on his death-bed to the blessedness of the Christian hope and the presence of the Saviour was very cheering. Duncan adds, "His parting words to myself and the elders were very affecting; his end indeed was peace, and such a funeral the Indians never saw." Catherine, his widow, is left with two children, and lives in the same house with Catherine Ryan, whose husband died about the same time as Samuel, leaving her with four children. I did indeed wish for some of the friends of the Mission to have witnessed the touching simple faith of these two brands plucked out of the fire, as I read to them a few words from John xi., "Jesus wept." after which we joined in prayer.

Shortly after my return to the Mission House, Samuel Marsden's father called to see me. He was present at my first visit to Fort Simpson in 1853. Poor fellow! he looked quite cast down; he said his heart was sad, he wanted to speak to me. "I have felt," he said, "that I must see you. It has been on my heart to see you. I saw your ship long ago when you first came to Fort Simpson. I saw you then also. I was a young man then. I had a son, an only son, he was then very young. You did not forget us. When Mr. Duncan came, I sent my son to learn. I was anxious to walk in God's way myself; but I was very wicked. But I was anxious that my son should learn; he learned quickly and had but one heart. When Mr. Duncan came to Metlakahtla, Samuel was one of the first to accompany him, and afterwards, when Mr. Duncan had to punish any of the Indians of the villages around who were guilty of crime, Samuel was always ready to go and assist in bringing them to justice. I was not afraid, because I knew he was doing right, and God would defend him and save him. Well, he continued to grow stronger in God's way, and was anxious to work for Him, wherever he went telling the people about the Son of God, the Saviour; but he became sick and was very weak for some time. However, he almost recovered, and when the news came last autumn that you were coming, no one was so glad as Samuel. He was rejoiced to think that he would see you again; but it was not to be so now. God was pleased to call him to Himself before you came. He is in heaven now. Chief! this is why I was not present at the meeting to welcome you. My strength was gone, my only son, I thought he would strengthen my heart now that I am an old man; but God knows it is best. I felt that I could not speak with the rest, as my heart was so weak. But there was a burden on my heart. I felt so much that if Samuel were alive, he would have much to tell you, and I felt that I could not rest until I told you all this, as Samuel would have me do were he alive. I thank you much for your sympathy and encouragement to us. My heart is very full. I am very grateful to you, chief. When you pray, will you ask God to make my heart strong? I want to be faithful too, I want to meet my son and all of you above. I ask your prayers to help me. My heart is strong and glad now, because I have seen you and told you my heart."

One afternoon the girls in the Mission House, five in number, were given a half-holiday, to pick berries on the opposite islands. We availed ourselves of the fine weather and this picnic to see the village gardens. We started in a large canoe (every Indian from his earliest childhood can handle a paddle), towards the head of the estuary, which leads through a labyrinth of islands, to the pine-clad shores of the snowy mountains, nearly twenty miles distance. We landed at some of the islands, most of which have some cultivated land. Every man and woman had a certain portion of ground measured out by Duncan, when the village was first settled, and set apart by him for their sole use. As the children advance in years, an addition is made. At present only potatoes are planted, and these are not properly attended to, for just at the time when labour is required for weeding, hoeing, etc., all hands are absent at the fishing stations. Duncan hopes, in course of time, to make better arrangements. How we all enjoyed ourselves in that holiday trip!--all of us like children escaped from school. Berries were plentiful, and we returned by moonlight, paddling and singing hymns alternately, till the sparkling wood fire in the Mission-room welcomed us to our home.

One evening I was invited by Matthews (one of the elders, and a good carpenter), to hear him perform on a parlour organ, which he had bought at Victoria for 80 dollars (L16). It was a wondrous sight--the Indian and his wife at his side playing and singing many of the well-known Sankey's hymns! Had I accepted an invitation to visit an Indian hut in years gone by, I should have seen all kinds of devilry, witchcraft, and cannibalism, often followed by murder. How strikingly were the words of Holy Scripture brought before me, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

Much of the missionaries' time is taken up in visiting and recovering the sick. Collison and I went together one morning to visit a young woman, a Kitsalass (the people of the Rapids on Skeena river), dying of consumption; her husband, an affectionate nurse for four months, and most patient, seldom leaving her. I read Ps. xxv. 18, "Look upon my affliction and my pain, and forgive me all my sins;" then a short prayer, all around her kneeling. From my note-book I copy the conversation which followed, noted down at the time. "Do you remember what I said to you from God's Word?" She felt she was going to leave the world; she was always thinking of Jesus and crying unto Him. "Have you any fear of death?" "No! because I love Jesus." We replied, "He first loved us!" The husband then spoke. He had been praying three times a day. They did not know anything of their sinfulness before this affliction. "I was greatly troubled at the thought of my wife leaving me, but my heart is satisfied now, my heart is strong now, because the Saviour has had mercy on us. He has shown us the way, and though it is very hard, yet I know it will be for her gain."

Previous to this interview, her great desire had been to return to her own people, but now she asked to be buried with the Christians at Metlakahtla. She hesitated before this to ask to be baptized; she had it on her heart to ask, but now she felt her time was short, and she wished to be numbered amongst the people of God. Baptism was then administered to her, in the simple words of our Lord, "Go ye, therefore, and make Christians of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." As a proof of her humility, she asked to be baptized in her heathen name ("Lukaloosh"), not being worthy of a white woman's name, which is always given.

After two days I visited her again, and found her much weaker, breathing with difficulty. During a sleepless night she exclaimed, "I know where I am going, it is no longer darkness; Jesus is with me." These last words were frequently repeated. In the morning her husband came to say, "she was fast departing, her heart beating faintly." He was comforted by repeating his wife's last words, "Jesus is with me."

Fine weather having now set in, I invited all the village to a feast. Two guns were fixed to recall the absentees, who were at their daily work. Tables were soon spread on the green in front of the Church, each guest bringing cups and spoons. Coffee and biscuit was provided in abundance. Before they were seated, all assembled on the steps of the Church, and were photographed by Duncan, [A picture drawn from this photograph appeared in the Church Gleaner of July, 1879.] to the amusement of all present. A blessing was then asked, and the feast commenced. Games followed, singing, and cheering, the latter very hearty. At nine o'clock all separated to go to their homes.

1st July.--In the early morning paddled over to the island set apart as the burial ground of Metlakahtla. All the graves are surrounded with a neat wooden fence, and several marble headstones are erected. I copied the three nearest to the landing-place:--

Who was drowned in the Skeena. River, Aug. 15th, 1870,
"Be ye therefore ready also."--LUKE xii. 40.

Who died May 2nd, 1877,

(Head Chief of the Tsimshean Indians),
Who died May 6th, 1869,

"Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?"

* * * *

*On 2nd July I left Metlakahtla in a large canoe, paddled by five Kincolith Indians, to visit the C. M. S. Mission at Kincolith, "place of the scalps," Naas River, established by the Rev. R. Doolan, in July, 1864. Since then the Mission has been removed lower down the river, at the entrance of the Portland Canal, beautifully situated, hedged in by high mountain peaks, 3,807 and 3,385 feet in height. Inland there is good farming land, and many native villages, with souls thirsting for the Gospel news. The following day we sighted the church; soon the houses were visible. Flags were run up, and as we approached the landing-place, a gun was fired, and we could see the inhabitants hastening to welcome us, dressed in their best, some in very bright colours.

Being high water we landed easily. Many were the kind words of welcome floating in the bright sunshine. "WELCOME TO KINCOLITH," in large letters of the fern leaves; "COME TO NAAS RIVER"; "TIS DAY (sic), WE ARE ALL VERY HAPPY TO SEE YOU, SIR"--their own composition and spelling. As we landed guns were fired. We were welcomed at the Mission House by Mrs. Tomlinson and her five children. Soon after, we all met again in the schoolroom, where I gave a short address.

July 4th.--Visited the sawmill, which is romantically situated near the river, from whence there is a fine view of the valley. Its high cliffs, and their snow-capped tops, betoken a severe winter residence, though on our return we crossed a meadow where cows and calves were grazing. In the meanwhile my invitation to a feast had been accepted, all were busily employed, and soon all were seated enjoying the coffee and biscuits as at Metlakahtla. During the feast, a canoe was seen passing down the river, and the universal wish was expressed by all the leading men that the strangers should be invited to join them. Oh, how the blessedness of the Gospel is daily brought before one among these Christian Indians--"peace, good-will towards all men"! In former years a watchman would have told of the approach of an enemy, and all would have taken to arms to defend their lives. "Oh that men would therefore praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!"

July 5th.--This was our last day at Kincolith. At 8 p.m., we embarked in our canoe to return to Metlakahtla, taking leave of the Mission greatly encouraged, and thankful for the bright prospects before them, acknowledging with deep gratitude the Lord's hand in the work, and earnestly praying that the young converts may be preserved from the many trials and temptations which are brought nearer and nearer to them year by year.

July 10th.--Before my departure from Metlakahtla, I assembled the few who were left at the village, to tell them I was anxious to leave behind some token both of my visit to them after so long an absence, and also that I still bore them on my heart. What should it be? After hours of consultation, they decided they would leave the choice to me, and when I told them (what I had beforehand determined upon) that my present would be a set of street lamps to light up their village by night, their joy was unbounded. Their first thought had a spiritual meaning. By day, God's house was a memorable object, visible both by vessels passing and repassing, and by all canoes as strange Indians travelled about; but by night all was darkness--now no longer so--as the bright light of the glorious Gospel, had through God's mercy and love shined in their dark hearts, so would all be reminded, by night as well as by day, of the marvellous light shining in the hearts of many at Metlakahtla. When Duncan first settled at Metlakahtla, even the Indians who came with him were in such fear from the neighbouring tribes, that they begged him not to have a fire burning at night or show a light in his house. The system of murder was then so general, that whenever an enemy saw a light he sneaked up to it, and the death of the unsuspecting Indian was generally the result. Thus my selection was a happy one, and I thanked God for it.

I fear the story of my visit to this interesting Mission will try the patience of many of the readers. I would, therefore, affectionately ask them to consider it from my point of view, viz., God's providential dealings with me from my first acquaintance with the Indians in 1853 to the present time. I claim no honour to myself nor to the C. M. S., but for Christ--"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory." Words cannot express my gratitude to God for permitting me to see what I have see of the power of the Gospel of the Grace of God. He who healed the deaf and dumb when upon earth still lives. When brought to Christ, the same power still heals the spiritually deaf and dumb; witness the great chief Legaic--He made him to delight in listening to the same Gospel which once he so opposed, ridiculed, and despised, to love the man whose life he so often attempted, and to join with him in prayer and praise; and finally, at the time of his departure, to hear a glorious testimony, that the sting of death had been removed, and he was safe in the arms of Jesus.

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