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Snapshots from the North Pacific
Letters written by the Right Rev. Bishop Ridley (Late of Caledonia).

Edited by Alice J. Janvrin.

London: Church Missionary Society, 1904.

Chapter XV. More Perils in the Sea

"I learnt
That fears by flames of love are burnt."

ONE more letter, and the series must close. It tells of perhaps greater peril than any the Bishop had yet encountered in his constant journeyings, but its concluding sentence, "God keeps watch and ward," recognizes the protecting Hand that for more than twenty years guided him safely through them all. The occasion of this voyage was a visit to Kincolith to consecrate a new church, erected there by Archdeacon Collison and to hold a confirmation:--

"Sept. 29th, 1900.

"Whom to thank, from Mamertus to Cranmer, for that suffrage in the Litany, 'That it may please Thee to preserve all that travel by land or by water,' I know not. It ought to find a place in the prayers of all who pray for us. 'Tis hard to say who travel over a wider area, or in more varied ways. Others walk through African forests, are carried along Asiatic paths, sail in Polynesia; but out here we are amphibians. During the summer I was afoot or on horseback threading the forests; sometimes on the lovely lakes or rivers. Now in the autumn I am on the high seas, or penetrating the fiords or estuaries of this magnificent coast.

"I have my Polynesia-islands by the hundred stretching row beside row along the indented coast. They form a labyrinth of very deep salt-water channels, along which the tides race furiously, especially in the winding narrows. Again they expand into sounds from five to fifteen miles wide, and perhaps sixty miles long; long enough to suffer the gales to run riot and madden the waves. Then more islands, and the countless islets, all pine clad, have each a beauty of their own, which is often overlooked because so common.

"The tides are less puzzling than the wayward winds that bend and glance from height to height in the crooked channels, till maddened they dash as a whirlwind on some doomed spot and twist the trees out from the soil and leave a wreck. In this way the latest church was lifted this winter, carried from its foundations and dropped, no longer pointing heavenwards, as churches ought. Jackscrews and rollers must put it back again. Behind the church on the mountain slope there is not a tree standing. The ruin looks like a battle-field of Nature. In the face of these terrible gusts no human skill can ensure safety; but an old hand generally knows how to meet the ordinary perils of the sea. Risks he must take, or stay at home with his slippers polishing the fender, and pitying the poor things travelling by land or by water.

"The last twenty-one years have been overwhelming me with merciful providences, so comforting to look back on and thank God for.

"The night before last, September 27th, another enriched my experience, and afterwards sweetened life. Until this voyage I have used for the autumnal itineration of 1900 an open centre-board boat, 25 feet by 7 feet, schooner rigged.

In calms such a craft can be rowed and so time saved; but with the equinoctial gales impending I got ready my forty footer, a pretty and fast cutter. She has good accommodation, is well equipped with new sails, good running gear, and very heavy ground tackle.

"My crew consists of one good Indian sailor, his son, a dull fellow of about sixteen years, and a lanky lad of fourteen full of the spirit of adventure. He is lent to me by Miss West. None of them ever before sailed in a decked vessel, and know nothing of her management, but they are good boatmen. On Wednesday last we embarked at Metlakatla for Kincolith, and slept on board, so as to get out of the harbour with the ebb tide should it be calm. So it happened. We rowed for the sake of getting steering way, and drifted for three miles till we reached the open sea, when a gentle south wind began to ripple the ocean. Then more wind, and more, until we took in a single reef. Ah! that is the trim I like, with the lee scuppers under water, the foam bending over from the flare, and a smooth lane of creamy water swiftly left astern. I wish you could have been there. So we sailed all day till evening approached, when the wind failed us, so that we could not get into a safe anchorage, and were glad to get into seven fathoms outside the bar rather than drift all night as an alternative.

"The barometer was rising rather too fast to be trusted. It was calm, but the sky seemed congested and looked unpropitious as darkness fell. After turning in I rose and paid out more cable, letting go a second anchor. Then I couldn't sleep, though my crew did. The swell increased, and played upon pots, pans, and crockery, music not found even in Wagner's erratic compositions. Again I went on deck and paid out more chain, and crawling back to my cabin, half-dressed before I turned in. Then arose a furious din on deck. The pitching and rolling loosened the water-cask's lashings, and I found it a ticklish thing to capture in the darkness which the masthead light only seemed to thicken.

"Then came gusts of wind. I called up the crew and went below to put on dry clothing and overalls to be ready for contingencies. To leeward we could hear the sea breaking on the uncovered bar. Then came the hurricane. We had done all we could, and felt sure that He Who has been our Refuge before would watch over us now. Hour after hour the tumult waxed wilder in the gloom. I was wearing long rubber boots and holding on abaft the companion. The seas often swept the deck. My boots filled, so I dragged them of. You can't swim in them. The cutter struggled with the waves like a terrier in battle. The water-cask had crushed a finger. The greasy blood made it a little more difficult to hold on to rope or spar, but the mental tension kept the pain out of my consciousness.

"Archdeacon Collison had recognized the cutter, and as his house rocked so much in the hurricane that he felt it safer to be up than in bed, he watched my masthead light most anxiously; partly because of the height of the waves and the pitching of the vessel he sometimes lost sight of it, and thought we had foundered. Finally he saw it reappear in another place, and thought we had dragged our anchors over the bar, but the speed of its movements soon revealed the truth. About 4 a.m. a star shone through a rift and carried its gleam into my heart. Then more rifts and more stars, but the gale still roared. We could now see the broken water around us. The straining sprang a leak. God saw it all; and we saw His stars that lent light enough to make the frowning mountains guarding the estuary to leeward visible. We had furled our sails with a single reef in, so we had to close reef her and get all ready to hoist before we weighed anchors. Sailors will understand the difficulty of this under the circumstances.

" As soon as I felt assured there was water deep enough to cross the bar, we made sail. 'Up jib, a mere handkerchief: peak halliards, be smart! Away we go. Ease off the main sheet a bit. Make fast.' With the wind on our starboard quarter we crossed the bar in the midst of flying foam.

If in the trough of the sea we had struck we must have perished. That peril loft behind, I breathed again.

"How we swept along! I was at the wheel, the adult Indian handling the main sheet, his son pumping for dear life (because the fluke of the swinging anchor started a new leak in the bow), and my lanky lad standing by the jib sheet. Under these lofty and precipitous mountains, one: has to be prepared for a sudden shift of wind. I knew of a little harbour about seven miles from the mouth of the estuary, and headed for it. As we got to its entrance we found the high land diverted the wind, which now met us in heavy gusts. However, we beat in, and dropped anchor into smooth water. We first patched the leak in the bow, then warmed up and ate some oatmeal porridge, and turned in. My crew snored and finger throbbed, but we were safe and in peace. It was the past peril that sweetened peace: so will our calm future be indebted to our present liability to pain and peril for some of its joys. What a contrast between Thursday's fury and Friday's serenity! To-day, Saturday, the waves sparkle, every ripple borrowing its living glory from its fount in heaven.

"I love the sea, and have no choice between its rocking me in my long sleep and the readiness of mother earth to cover me with flowers. Both will be ready to yield their treasures in the day of reunion. Two days ago the glaciers wore their summer robes of glistening blue, or green, as they appear under varying circumstances; but now they are white--so white in their frame of heavenly azure under the bright sun, that one learns what mean those words, 'whiter than snow'--God's light on His robe, covering earth's stains.

"The tempest that shook its terrors over the sea brought a beauty to the mountains less transient than autumnal flowers, and there it remains to brace faith for seeing charms in October and glory in midwinter. So passes life. My summer past; the bronze of autumn's trials is powdered by December. Who would dye the snows of life's approaching winter? Rather would I rejoice in the greyness that grows whiter at each recurring storm as a prelude to the glory every tempest and trial brings nearer, till the last, the most blessed and friendly of all, shall burst and issue in endless day.

"In the meantime each rift in the storm-cloud is to be welcomed as God's eye seeking and finding a path for its light over the mountain barriers of sin into the hearts of the weather-beaten. We struggle on, but how much longer? Long enough to do what God appoints to each, and to learn that He does it all with or without us by His all-sufficient grace. In the very nature of things to some of us the shades are near when we shall hear God's voice at close of evensong breathing softly words of loving welcome home.

"Last night I was delighted to sleep in the Archdeacon's spare room. Sleep? Yes, but not in a hurry. I was hardly ensconced among the blankets at 8.30 p.m., when an excellent brass band began to serenade me. I could have excused this courtesy. Fifty hours of wakefulness made the downy pillow my friend. At daybreak came first the bugle call to wake everybody for the prayer-meeting, and then more music. I showed myself, and again pressed the pillow. Before I was dressed the cannon boomed as if our beloved Queen had arrived, rather than one of her humble and faithful subjects and some Indians. Canoes full of visitors from up river were welcomed with due ceremony. Then I heard the gruesome howling of a steamer's siren. It must have alarmed the bears and wolves in the dense surrounding forests. It was the Mocking Bird, the sternwheel steamer with Mr. McCullagh and his candidates for confirmation from Aiyansh on board.

"The spiritual side of his remarkable mission does not seem to suffer from the development of the secular. I have seen one great big scheme wreck a great work and a much greater reputation, but I trust Mr. McCullagh's judgment and sincere devotion to our Master, who faithfully blesses talents faithfully used. Industrial missions in the charge of agents who profit by their commercial success spell spiritual ruin to their promoters. Mr. McCullagh rightly courts publicity, and is most scrupulous in never letting it serve his private interest. I can therefore confidently commend his sensible but enterprising schemes for benefiting his Indians materially as well as spiritually.

"To-day I have discussed with him his road-making and farm-stocking projects. Here I used to see savagery; now, civilization growing out of Gospel teaching. He built the saw-mill, the Indians own and work it; he bought the steamer, the Indians subscribing for shares; as soon as she is paid for--(let friends subscribe!)--the Indians will own and work her. So it is with everything. The missionary initiates and directs, and then hands over the whole to his people who share his enthusiasm. He will share no profit that is likely to accrue. But I must prepare for to-morrow's functions.


"Saturday was a day for entertaining strangers. These Indians are go-a-head! they fetched four fat steers from Massett, a distance by sea of 139 miles, to feed their visitors gratuitously with fresh beef. They tax themselves to cover the cost of these great festivities. In the evening the Town Hall was crowded by a prayer-meeting. Next morning at 7 o'clock a bugle-call to another prayer-meeting which again filled the hall. Then the public breakfast, which, being cleared away, the workers prepared dinner in good time to be present at the church consecration. Even the children were in the spirit of it. The girls wore bright bows in their swarthy hair, and the boys showed each other the pockets in their new clothes. The oldest men and women, who had reached middle age as pagans, now slowly move about as in a dream, muttering thanks to God as if they belonged to another world. And so they do. As I accost them they look up and say, 'God, God.'

"The tissue of their thought is wholly changed. God is more consciously in it than with us who inherit a creed. I do not mean that they are more consecrated in life, but more godly in attitude of mind. Our standard is not quite theirs, but they live nearer to it. What they know is less, but it is, I fancy, more real and definite, and held with a child's sweet simplicity. This is less obvious among the younger and better instructed Indians, because they look out upon a much larger circumference of knowledge, but their self-sacrifice and greater self-control prove that they are not less Christlike. I, too, point up and say, 'God, God.'

"The consecration service began at 10 a.m. In the meantime the sun shone brightly, and flags fluttered from every mast and pole. Bunting and earnest faces everywhere. As we clergy emerged from the parsonage, we wore charmed by a beautiful sight--not the snow-clad mountains, or rippling sea reflecting heaven's blue, but many hundreds of bright yet solemn faces, that formed the avenue we marched through to reach the new and really beautiful church. Headed by the chiefs was the band in bright home-made uniform; then the choir, the churchwardens and clergy, the female members of the choir, and a stream of men marshalled by stewards bearing wands tipped by tiny flags. Ancient silk chimney-pot hats that only see the light on festivals adorned many a head, and coloured scarves were worn by others according to their social standing. The oldest nobility in Europe is not more exclusive than that among Indians, and money is no factor. Then came the 'Church Army Corps,' with a rather pronounced military bearing. The band accompanied the choir, and the general public joined in the hymns, which were magnificently rendered.

"The square in front of the west end of the church was crowded with a sea of faces intensely interested. The principal chief handed the petition of consecration to a young man who read it fairly well. The phraseology, I dare say, puzzled all. Then an anthem burst forth, 'Open ye the gates,' and as the last words died away the western doors were flung open, and we marched in singing, 'Onward, Christian Soldiers.' Music held a large place in the service. What a delight it was; and how solemn. Only the singing was in English. It was the brightest day in the people's lives. They were proud of their church; they had built it with their own hands, and 90 per cent, at their own cost. After my sermon the offertory was made, which eventually reached about £40. I saw silver bracelets, a watch and chain, rings, and a handkerchief, which a woman redeemed with five dollars--one pound sterling! I seemed to see a soul in everything.

"If the consecration of the building stirred the greater interest, especially among the pagans present by special invitation, the confirmation on Monday morning was the more solemn. I forget the exact number of candidates, about sixty, of whom thirteen were from Aiyansh, and all adults. Some were aged, and they the most awed by the renewal of their baptismal pledge.

"A few of the Christian visitors were from the only Methodist mission among the Nishgas. They wondered why they could not come for a blessing too, seeing it was apostolic and, as they said, they revered the Apostles. It is obvious that our liturgical forms appeal more successfully to the Indian's instincts than any other.

"Two years ago I was benighted on the river and intended to camp at the first suitable place, but the kind Methodist missionary I called on insisted on my accepting his hospitality. It was Saturday night. Before going to bed I said I should be glad to take a class in his Sunday-school. 'I haven't got any,' he replied; 'but with you here I don't mean to take any service. You must do it, and there are to be three baptisms and a wedding.' 'If I were to do so I should use no other than the Anglican form of prayers.' 'Certainly!' 'But it would be a shock to your people.' 'I hope so.' 'But what will your circuit superintendent say? There is his daughter.' 'Oh, I don't mind what he says; I want my people to have the benefit of your visit.' 'Very well, then; I pronounce this to be a Church Mission till Monday morning, and you are my curate for the nonce. He smiled: I don't think I did. So for the first time these Methodist Indians assisted at services in the vernacular (they don't understand English, and I married, baptized, and ministered according to our Church rites and ceremonies. The upshot of it was a general clamour that I would stay and continue to help them to a more full knowledge of Divine things. The confirmation they now witnessed renewed that desire.

"Recently the Methodists appointed an inspector of their missions, and I found him a charming and cultured companion on a voyage we took together. He owned that he greatly admired our literary successes in the vernacular, and resolved to urge on his ministerial brethren the duty of copying it. I feel flattered.

"In 1881 I started Indian boarding-schools, then got a nurse, a doctor, and a hospital; they followed suit with much larger expenditure, and their Medical Missions are now an easy first. I wish them all success, but do not like the second place in any department. I feel sore, but it may do good to suffer in one's conceit.

"Archdeacon Collison's new and noble church is not only handsome but storm-proof in its sturdy strength. The S.P.C.K. has made a grant we feel very grateful for. She deserves the heartiest thanks of Colonial branches of the Anglican Church, and the cordial sympathy of Churchmen everywhere. Besides this grant and the small sums we missionaries can afford to give, the churches and church halls are built and maintained entirely by the great liberality of Indians. So, too, what is called church expenses and Church Army operations. The C.M.S. does not give aught to such things. A fortnight since two of our Metlakatla Indians induced me to sanction their itineration among the Kwagutl pagans, three hundred miles distant. All the help they got was five dollars from me to pay part of their steamboat fare to Alert Bay. At this moment they are diligently going from tribe to tribe to tell of God's dear love in Christ Jesus. For the new church, a woman who earns her living by filling tins with salmon in a cannery went on saving until he had £20, with which she bought a brass lectern. Somebody else gave the pulpit; a family gave a stained glass memorial window for the chancel. Their gifts exceed in value any I know, if measured by the labour and self-sacrifice enabling the donors to offer them.

"These Indians are proud, but their pride often runs in veins where God, I believe, sees much fine gold. They are entirely self-supporting. Fire half-destroyed their town three years ago. They rebuilt it better than ever, not only their private houses--which are better both inside and out than the average working man's on the coast--but also the present fine church, the new town hall, band room, firemen's hall, and Church Army hall. They work as well as white men, and hunt much better. Public spirit is a passion with them, so that they readily tax themselves for all public purposes. The Government of the province does absolutely nothing for them.

"Music is also a power for good. In competition with whites their bands excel. The money they spend, say, £100 on instruments and music, another £100 for a band room, besides the cost of light and fuel, is well spent in providing an amusement of a pure and elevating kind. When their bands meet for competition, their transcribed music is handed to the judges, who require each baud to play from the scores of the other without knowing what it is until they so receive it. Therefore it is competition of the most trying kind, playing strange music at sight.

"This spread of musical knowledge started from my first Indian boarding-school, when she who loved them began to teach them the rudiments of this lovely art. It has spread now even among the pagans, who will pay our young and skilful performers as much as £5 a month, with board and lodging for a whole winter, to instruct the ambitious youth.

This devotion to harmony is very wonderful. What a blessing the C.M.S. has been in every way to these manly and interesting people!....

"But I must tell how I got back to my house. On Monday morning it was clear and calm. Coming out of church and seeing that the wind was fair and strong, I announced my determination to get away as soon as possible. The Indians vainly pointed to the white horses outside. We embarked, and at 3 p.m. weighed anchor. At 7 p.m. we anchored thirty-six miles nearer Metlakatla in a sheltered nook. That is over eight knots an hour. We flew forward under a reefed main-sail before the wind. Before daylight on Tuesday we started off with the gentlest of catspaws which took us six miles, and then rather than drift back we anchored in a perfect calm. Later in the day a puff encouraged us to proceed, and at sunset we were again becalmed, only seven miles from our destination, so we towed the cutter into what my mate said he knew was good anchorage. It became pitch dark before we anchored in five fathoms. The swell from the ocean was heavy, but as smooth as glass. I could see no sign of the shore, but Indian sight is more catlike than mine, and the mate felt sure we were in a good place. After hoisting our anchor light we all turned in. To my horror, about midnight, we struck heavily on rocks. We all rushed on deck in night attire, shortened the cable, launched the boat, up anchor, and towed into deeper water.

"When the day dawned we saw we had not been able to locate the exact whereabouts of the mouth of a small stream the mate knew of well, and had chanced on a berth too near the rocks that stretch out on either side into the sea with about the same depth of water from side to side. With the turn of the tide we had swung round on the rocks. This might have ended in disaster, but God keeps watch and ward; so we got safely back at last, very thankful."

After writing the above letter the Bishop paid, in 1901, an unexpected visit to England, brought home by a disaster which roused the sympathy of all interested in missionary work. He was at Victoria, about to start for the Atlin gold-fields, when he received the appalling news of a terrible fire at Metlakatla on July 22nd. He returned at once to the spot, and found smouldering ruins where he had left a happy and prosperous Mission Station--church, schools and his own home all gone. He wrote the following particulars three days after the conflagration:--

"At this season the whole population outside our missionary institutions is away at the salmon fishery on the Skeena River, so there was no one to use the fire engine. As fast as the children were sheltered in one building the fire chased them to another until no place remained to go to. The buildings destroyed are the great church, the two day-schools, the boys' industrial school, the Indian girls' home, the white home (Miss West's), the Church Army Hall, the Guest House, the chapel, and my own house, as well as many outbuildings, among them the boat-houses, containing all our boats, including my schooner. Nothing of it is saved. Only a few Indian houses were burnt.

"All the buildings were of cedar, hence the frightful rapidity of the great conflagrations. The loss is not less than £7,000 worth.

"I mourn for my library, all my manuscripts--the work of many years on subjects that are peculiarly my own--translations of Scripture, folk-lore, poems, two grammars--one very complete, my best work--and material for a book on the origin, habits, traditions, and religions of Indians. 'Tis, I think, a real loss to literature, seeing that I cannot live long enough, and have not the energy to try to reproduce oven some of it. It is my second great bereavement."

Through God's blessing on the Bishop's untiring efforts, he returned to his diocese with the necessary £7,000, but of course no money could restore the valuable MSS. nor the little treasured mementoes that become more dear each year, as they recall those who have gone before.

This "second great bereavement," as the Bishop called it, and the strain of work which it entailed, finally broke down his health, and after returning to Metlakatla with the contributions of generous friends in England, he felt obliged finally to sever his connection with a diocese where the name of the first of its Bishops will always remain as a household word, to be loved and revered through succeeding generations.

But, though workers change, fruit is still being gathered in those far-off regions, to the glory and praise of God. These letters, we must remember, do not tell the story of finished work, and it is hoped that their collection and republication will awaken fresh interest in that portion of the great harvest-field, so that more earnest prayer may arise that the Indians of the Par West may be among those who shall come to "sit down in the Kingdom of God," and that voices once raised in the wild revelry of the heathen potlach may join with the multitude of all nations, and kindreds and peoples, and tongues in the glad acclaim: "Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb."

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