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Dayspring in the Far West
Sketches of Mission-Work in North-West America

By M. E. Johnson

London: Seeley, Jackson and Halliday, 1875.

Chapter XIV. Further Progress

Improvements in the Village.--Testimony of a Roman Catholic gentleman.--Visit of the Dean of Victoria.--Native Christians preach the Gospel.--Mr. Duncan leaves for England.--He learns various trades.--His return.--Erection of workshops and Church.--Kincolith.--Missionary preaching.

OUR space forbids us to dwell on the many interesting details connected with the progress of this Mission; we pass on, therefore, to the year 1867. The village now presented a greatly improved aspect. The profits arising from the trade carried on by the schooner purchased by Mr. Duncan had been appropriated to the building of a large market-house, a blacksmith's shop, and a saw-mill. The octagon building, used as a church and school-house, had also been improved. The market-house, erected on the shore, near the upper end of a large jetty, had been divided into two portions, the smaller designed for a court-house, the larger for village assemblies and market-house, and for the accommodation of strangers. By this arrangement strange Indians, who often came in large numbers to trade, instead of being scattered over the village, to the great discomfort and detriment of the more civilized villagers, were hospitably entertained, and frequent opportunities afforded of addressing large bodies of heathen from the surrounding country. "The good which the market-house is doing," wrote Mr. Duncan, "in facilitating the preaching of the Gospel to our heathen neighbours is very great, more than would, I think, arise from an itinerating Missionary. It used to be almost impossible to get strange Indians to assemble for any special effort in instruction. Now all is changed. The men who come for trade to us occupy this house, and are, in a sense, my guests, and I can find them ready and happy to hear me, or the young men of our village address them after the hum of trade has ceased."

Many remained over the Sabbath, and attended the services of the church. The advantages of the trade shop were great. Instead of the savage altercations common to Indian trading, quietness and courtesy prevailed. All goods required in civilized life, and tending to elevate their tastes, and improve the appearance of the people, could be obtained at a moderate price. "My soap manufacture," says Mr. Duncan, "is quite a success; I can let the Ind ians have a bar of soap for sixpence; such a bar cost them a few years ago £2 in furs. Now that their habits require more soap, here it is ready at hand, and cheap."

By this time a Mission-house had been erected, containing seven apartments on the ground floor and a spacious dormitory upstairs, looking pleasantly out on the island of gardens.

A Roman Catholic gentleman who visited Metlakatlah in 1866, thus describes the impression made upon him by what he saw. "Being requested by several friends to give a sketch of my three months' trip as far as the Russian possessions, I comply cheerfully, my principal motive for so doing being the vindication of the character of some noble and self-sacrificing men in the Missionary cause from the scandalous aspersions cast upon them by a portion of the press of the colony. I could not but feel surprised and gratified at the vast improvement in the condition of the Indians, both socially and morally. At Metlakatlah this improvement was particularly marked. The houses, numbering fifty, are nearly all of uniform size, weather-boarded and shingled, glazed windows, and having neat little gardens in front. The interior of the houses did not belie the exterior. Everything was neat and scrupulously clean. The inmates were well supplied with the requisites to make life comfortable. Cooking stoves and clocks were common to every dwelling, and in a few instances pictures adorned the walls. The sight at church on Sabbath morning was pleasant to behold. The congregation numbered 300, the females preponderating; the major portion of the: males being at that time out fishing. They were all well clad, the women in their cloth mantles and merino dresses, and their heads gaily decked with the graceful bandanna; the men in substantial tweeds and broad-cloth suits, and having the impress of good health and contentment on their intelligent features. Their conduct during Divine service was strictly exemplary. As a whole, Mr. Duncan's people are industrious and sober; they arc courteous and hospitable to strangers, and if properly protected by their government against the poison vendors of this country, will in time become a numerous and wealthy people." Commander R. C. Mayne says, "The labours of men of Mr. Duncan's class among the distant heathen are understood by the world, which refuses to credit the fact that savages such as these coast Indians undoubtedly are, can receive and return impressions so utterly at variance with their nature and their habits." Such is the testimony of men who have seen with their own eyes the work that has been done and is still doing.

In August, 1867, the Dean of Victoria examined over a hundred candidates for baptism. Of these, he baptized ninety-six adults, besides eighteen children. "It was affecting," says the Dean, "to hear these candidates state their reasons for coming forward. One man, aged sixty-five, said, 'I feel like an infant, not able to say much, but I know my heart is turned to God, and that He has given His Son to wash away my sins in His blood.' A woman seventy-five said, 'My sins have stood in my way, I wish to put them off. I believe in Jesus.' Doubtless many of the Metlakatlah Christians are as yet only babes in Christ, requiring the constant nurture of the word, and the shepherd's watchful care; yet we may indulge the hope that God, having begun the good work in them, will perform it unto the end. Signs of stability and self-reliance are not wanting. They gather themselves together for prayer at home and abroad; they withstand the solicitations of their heathen acquaintances. They are not now ashamed, for they are the stronger party, feeling themselves belonging to Him before whose word the strongholds of Satan have been compelled to bow. There is growth, there is no retrogression, or if an individual lapses, he finds himself in the wretched situation of possessing neither the confidence of the Church nor the world. Thanks be to Him who, in His own time, has seen fit to bring forth an elect remnant from a benighted people, to the praise of the glory of His grace. There is, however, a feature of the work of the Metlakatlah Mission which has struck me forcibly, namely, the temporal elevation of the people, and their advancement in civilization, results which are not the products of chance, or the necessary fruit of the work, but of deliberate arrangement and strenuous effort, even as a vessel among the reefs and breakers is warped to bring it out into the open sea."

The climate of Metlakatlah is damp, and corn will not ripen, but vegetables grow well, the air is salubrious, and the scenery around the village is very lovely.

In the early part of the year 1869 Mr. Duncan suggested to a few of the native Christians to go and preach the Gospel at Fort Simpson to each of the eight tribes there. Four started off at once, and were well received, yet all has not been unmixed success; the faith and patience of the Missionaries have been much tried. Some of the heathen chiefs have done all in their power to restore heathenism, but their efforts have proved futile.

In the spring of 1870 sickness visited the village, and numbers of Indians died. Ten Christians were called to their rest: they died in the faith, manifesting no fear of death, and bearing testimony to all around of the preciousness of Jesus in the dying hour.

Early in this year Mr. Duncan sailed for England; great affection was manifested towards him by the people on his departure. They collected in crowds on the shore, and after he had said farewell and prayed with them on the beach, they followed him in their canoes to the ship.

Mr. Duncan's object in visiting England was to acquire a knowledge of several simple trades, and to purchase machinery, in order that he might on his return instruct his people in new modes of industry, and so find useful employment for the numbers of young men growing up in the village; remunerative occupation being thus found for them in the village, they might be saved from the snares and temptations to which the Indians are exposed when brought into contact with the white men in the colony. For this purpose, Mr. Duncan visited Yarmouth, where he learnt rope-making and twine-spinning; he also learnt weaving and brush-making. He made himself master of the gamut of each instrument in a band of twenty-one instruments: he also commenced a subscription for defraying the expenses of some improvements which he contemplated on his return. He wished to build a new church and school, and he desired to assist the Indians to rebuild their houses after a more substantial and permanent model than had been possible on the first formation of the village. For these purposes he calculated that £600 would be required. Before he left England, he had received £400 towards the required sum. On the 14th of October Mr, Duncan reached San Francisco on his way back to his sphere of labour, "very weary and dusty, having been a second-class passenger, and therefore without sleeping accommodation for over 2000 miles." Being delayed here three weeks, he endeavoured to make the best use of his time by visiting the mills and gaining useful information, which he might afterwards turn to account. He also made new friends, who promised to help him; one of these made him a present of shuttles, treddles, spindles, and carding materials. Arriving at Victoria on the 11th of November, he was compelled to remain some weeks in order to carry out arrangements with the Government respecting the Indian reserves, and other matters connected with the settlement. He obtained from the Government power to allot to individual Indians a portion, not exceeding ten acres, of the native reserves around Metlakatlah, with the right for each one to clear, enclose, and cultivate his own portion. The Government also gave Mr. Duncan a donation of 500 dollars, to be spent upon the constables and council of the village. His leisure Mr. Duncan employed in practising on a band of brass instruments given him in England, and in compiling new Indian services in Tsimshean. He also purchased a steam-boiler and pipes to carry out a new system of making the Oolachan oil so much used by the Indians, their process of manufacturing which is injurious to health.

On the 27th of February, 1871, Mr. Duncan arrived at Metlakatlah, after an absence of thirteen months, six of which he spent in England. It was Sunday afternoon when he arrived at the landing-place; the news of his arrival spread quickly, and on the following morning a large canoe arrived at the ship to convey him home. The happy crew gave him a warm welcome. With a favouring breeze and two sails hoisted, the canoe dashed merrily through the boiling waves to the shore, where the Indians in crowds were waiting to welcome their benefactor. As Mr. Duncan stepped on shore a salute was fired, and the chief men with hats off advanced and gave him a welcome as heartfelt as it was respectful. Then the constables discharged their muskets, and a general rush to seize Mr. Duncan's hand took place. Deeply moved by these tokens of their love for him, Mr. Duncan pressed on to his house, where the people poured in, in such crowds that he ordered the church bell to be rung. At once they all hurried to the church, and when Mr. Duncan entered it was full. For a few moments all was silence, and then the whole congregation joined in hearty thanksgiving to God, after which Mr. Duncan addressed the assembly for twenty minutes. This concluded, he went to visit the sick and the aged. Very touching were the scenes that followed, and many were the assurances he received of the earnest desires of the aged men to see him once more. Returning to his house it was again crowded, and Mr. Duncan sat down with fifty for a general talk, when he gave them the messages he had written down in his note-book from Christian friends in England, and so they remained talking till midnight. Even then the village was lighted up, and many did not go to bed all night, but sat up talking over what they had heard from their dearly-loved friend. How different this reception from that accorded to Mr. Duncan on his first arrival at Fort Simpson fourteen years ago! Then he was regarded with suspicion and contempt. Love had now taken the place of fear, light the place of darkness, and hundreds now joined in prayer and praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whom but a few short years before they knew not.

No time was lost by Mr. Duncan in setting on foot his plans for the benefit of the Indians. Large and commodious workshops have been erected. These shops are lighted by thirty windows, and are much admired by the Indians. A rope-walk has also been made. In a letter dated May 3rd, 1873, Mr. Duncan says, "My work is increasing in every department, and our new church building absorbs much of my time, for having none but Indians to help me, I am obliged to be both architect and master builder." This church will be capable of holding a thousand persons. But while there is much to encourage, there are also difficulties to be encountered. At Fort Simpson heathenism has made a dying effort to regain its lost ground. The cannibal party attempted a renewal of their orgies, which are now, however, put down by law. Mr. Duncan, who is invested with the powers of a magistrate, arrested the old chief who was the principal actor, and rather than suffer himself to be imprisoned, he publicly declared his intention of abandoning his detestable work for ever. These summary measures had the desired effect; others, hearing what had been done, waited on Mr. Duncan, acknowledged their wickedness, and promised to abandon their cannibal and dog-eating orgies with all their degrading and abominable ceremonies.

The Mission commenced by Mr. Doolan at Naas River is carried on by the Rev. R. Tomlinson, who joined the Mission in 1867. Kincolith is the Mission Station: "it stands on a spit of land formed by the junction of the Kincolith and Naas Rivers. It is not an exclusively Christian village; all Indians are welcome to come and live there so long as they are willing to submit to the rules of order, sobriety, and morality which govern the village." Kincolith is distant from Metlakatlah about fifty miles. Thousands of Indians from the surrounding country, and from distant islands in the Pacific, flock every year to the banks of the Naas River, attracted thither by the vast multitudes of fish which frequent the river in the month of March. Multitudes are thus brought within reach of the Missionary, and carry back with them to their homes the things which they have heard. This Mission has had to encounter a most furious opposition from the heathen Nishkah Indians, who openly declared their determination to disperse the little community. Three of the converts were enticed into evil-doing, and others showed signs of wavering. "Day after day only brought fresh tidings of new victories for the enemies of the truth," and the heart of the Missionary fainted within him, yet he persevered, and determined as were his opponents, he was not to be deterred from carrying his message to the heathen around, and it has been given him to see that his labour is not in vain. Steady progress is at present the chief feature of the Mission; the services in the church are well attended, and so also are the schools. The following account of a service held by Mr. Tomlinson amongst a heathen tribe displays the contrast between the work of a minister of the Gospel in our now happy land and that of the Missionary amongst savages.

"Imagine," he says, "a shed about thirty feet by ninety feet with a passage down the centre, and a row of fires on each side. Overhead and about five feet from the ground were thin poles, on which were hanging salmon, around each fire a knot of people, and here, there, and everywhere mats, pillows, boxes of food, &c. The salmon were taken off four or five of the poles, and a small place cleared for me to stand. As we had no lamp oil, we borrowed an old pan, into this we poured some grease, and dropped in some red-hot cinders: this made a fine light. I had a set of large calico prints of the Pilgrim's Progress, these hung from two bent pins and a piece of twine; meanwhile the men, women, and children, gathered as close as possible. The smoke was very thick in the building, and the sticks over my head were so low that I was unable to stand upright; but position, smoke, and every other drawback vanished when I looked round on those grim faces lighted up with interest. My heart burned within me; one thought absorbed my whole soul. Those before me were immortal souls gathered to hear the Word of Life. I began, and such was the interest evinced by those around that two hours had come to a close before I drew up. I told them I was afraid I should tire them, but that I would go on if they wished to hear more. With one voice they said, 'Go on.' Throughout the discourse I laid stress on the fact that we had not come to the end, so they were expecting something great. Imagine their disappointment, when on disclosing the picture of Christian and Hopeful at the River, I told them there is the end of the way, a cold dark river. They looked from one to the other, and then at me. The end of the Christian's way, and the end of your own ways! But beyond the river--and here I pointed out where the difference lay. It was midnight when I ceased, but I was too happy to sleep for some time. I was refreshed and strengthened in myself, and it was granted me to see early fruit in one whom I had brought with me. The thought of his sinfulness and his Saviour's love made him weep all night. He took fast hold of a crucified Saviour, and has since been one of the most earnest, humble followers of his Lord."

"Shores of the utmost West,
Ye that have waited long,
Unvisited, unblest,
Break forth to swelling song;
High raise the note that Jesus died,
Yet lives and reigns, the Crucified."


Those of our readers who have followed the history of the Metlakatlah Mission with interest will rejoice to learn that the latest accounts from the Mission show that it both grows and prospers. Mr. Duncan thus writes, January 29, 1874:--"In no year during the existence of the Mission have God's mercies been more abundantly showered upon us than during the year that is past." Sickness seems scarcely to have visited the settlement; the number of deaths registered during the year being only twelve, and these chiefly infants, or invalids from Fort Simpson. At the date of Mr. Duncan's letter the Indians were engaged in erecting a new church, under his direction; so great is the interest they take in it, that they have contributed £176 towards it. "I wish," says our Missionary, "that our Christian friends in England could witness with how much joy these poor people come and cast down their blanket, gun, shirt, or elk skin, upon the general pile, to help in building the house of God."

The Mission has also been strengthened by the arrival of Mr. W. H. Collison and Mrs. Collison, who, in the true Missionary spirit, at once entered energetically on their work, acquiring the language, and aiding Mr. Duncan in his plans for the benefit of the community to the utmost of their power.

The corps of volunteer constables, now increased to thirty, is more than ever efficient, while the population of the settlement has received numerous additions from the surrounding tribes. It has, in consequence, been decided to lay out a new town, with roads running at right angles to the coast line, and capable of accommodating two hundred houses, each with a garden in front. The new dwellings about to be erected will combine the accommodation necessary for the Indian as a Christian, without interfering with his love of hospitality. Drunkenness is unheard of except in the vicinity of white men. "What a glorious change," writes Mr. Duncan, "from the days of fiendish revel which I have witnessed!"

So expert have the Metlakatlah carpenters and sawyers become, that Admiral Cockrane, of H.M.S. "Boxer," who paid an unlooked-for visit to the settlement last summer, on walking into the work-sheds, and seeing the Indians at their workbenches, mistook them for Europeans, not thinking it possible that Indians could ever become the clever, industrious artisans whom he saw before him. The admiral was greeted with roars of laughter when Mr. Duncan explained to them the mistake he had made.

The school register shows a list of 300 scholars; of these, eighty-five arc children between the ages of five and twelve; 104 are women and girls who attend school in the afternoon, and the remaining in are men and boys attending the night school. Mr. Collison teaches in English, while Mr. Duncan gives religious instruction, singing, and geography lessons in Tsimshean. The services on the Lord's day are well attended by reverent and devout worshippers. On the 3rd of December, the day of prayer for Missions, a special prayer-meeting was held; Mr. Tomlinson and Mr. Collison prayed in English, while four natives prayed in Tsimshean. At Fort Simpson the preaching of the Gospel by the Metlakatlah Indians has produced a marked change for the better. A select body of teachers take the Sunday by turns; two proceeding every Saturday to Fort Simpson, staying over the Sunday, and i-eturning to Metlakatlah on the Monday. They meet the Indians in a chief's house; this chief has lately joined the settlement, but he left his house standing at Fort Simpson, to serve the purposes of these meetings. On Friday evenings Mr. Duncan spends some time with the teachers who are going to Fort Simpson, assisting them with the subjects they have chosen to preach upon. He says of them, "The spirit of wisdom and devotedness to the work which the teachers manifest is indeed gratifying; they receive no remuneration, though they are often four or five days away, whilst the severity of the weather often severely tests their devotion and endurance."

At Christmas the heathen customs at Fort Simpson were, for the first time, generally disregarded. In order to encourage Christian customs in their place, all the congregation at Fort Simpson were invited to spend the festival of Christmas at Metlakatlah, that they might benefit by a series of special services, and be preserved from falling into those excesses which might possibly have followed, had they been left to spend Christmas by themselves. Two hundred and fifty accepted the invitation; they arrived at Metlakatlah on Christmas Eve in twenty-one canoes, with their flags flying. They all assembled in the market-house, at that time used for the church services. After they were seated Mr. Duncan gave them a short address; prayer followed, after which Mr. and Mrs. Collison and Mr. Duncan shook hands with them all. They were then quartered round the village, and, says Mr. Duncan, "a very exciting scene ensued; all the villagers literally scrambling for the guests. After the scramble several came running to me to complain that they had not succeeded in securing a single guest, while others had got more than their share, so I sent two constables round the village to readjust the distribution of our new friends."

Christmas Eve was spent in practising, with a band of twenty young men, a new Christmas hymn in Tsimshean. At 1.30 a.m., Mr. Duncan and his band of young men reassembled, and, accompanied by Mr. Collison, they set out to sing round the village. The village was illuminated, and the singing hearty and solemn. This was the first attempt of the Indians at part-singing in their own tongue.

On Christmas Day the houses were all decorated with evergreens, flags waved in the breeze, and the constable and village council went from house to house in their uniforms greeting the inmates. "Everywhere friends were shaking hands, everybody greeted everybody, no one thought of anything but scattering smiles and greetings," till at length the church bell was heard, and then all assembled in the house of prayer to worship God. So great was the crowd of worshippers that it was necessary to assemble the children in the school-house, where a separate service was held for them. Even then the meeting-house was crowded to excess; at least 700 persons were present. Well might Mr. Duncan's heart overflow with joy. "What a sight!" says he. "Had any one accompanied me to the Christmas Day services I held twelve or fourteen years ago at Fort Simpson, and again on this occasion, methinks, if an infidel, he would have been confused and puzzled to account for the change; but if a Christian, his heart must have leaped for joy." The Tsimsheans might well sing on this day, "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men." After service all the Indians collected near the Mission-house to greet the Missionaries; they were admitted by fifties at a time; to each company Mr. Duncan gave a short address, and then he and Mr. CoIIison shook hands with all. It was 3 p.m. before the proceedings terminated. The following day the young men engaged in the game of football, and all the people turned out to witness the sport. After the game was over, a marriage took place. A young woman trained in the Mission-house was married to a chief. A marriage feast was given, to which between four and five hundred people were invited. During the day a Fort Simpson young man called on Mr. Duncan and confessed a crime of theft which he had committed a year and a half previously. In the evening divine service was held. Some little time after its conclusion the bugle sounded, "Go to bed."

During the time the Fort Simpson people remained in the village, Mr. Duncan held special services every night. The following were the subjects on which he addressed them, viz.: "Thou shalt call His name Jesus!" "Thy word is a lamp," &c. "Understandest thou what thou readest?" "Ye must be born again." "Can the Ethiopian change his skin?" "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" "One thing is needful." "Give me thy hand!" "Quit you like men." On New Year's Eve a midnight service was held. On every occasion the people attended and listened with eagerness to the word preached. On one evening, before the service, Mr. Duncan exhibited a magic-lantern to the Fort Simpson people, showing them scriptural views and the sufferings of martyrs.

On New Year's Day, according to the usual custom, a general meeting was held for the transaction of village business. All the males are expected to attend on these occasions, and only three or four were absent. The ten companies into which the males are divided, were first examined, after which Mr. Duncan addressed them on the affairs of the past year, and introduced the new settlers, who were seated in the middle of the room; each one then came forward and made a declaration in the presence of the assembly to be a faithful member of the community, after which he was registered. Speeches were then made by some members of the village council, and then twenty of the Fort Simpson Indians made very interesting speeches, expressive of the new feelings which animated them, and the line of conduct which, with God's help, they meant to pursue for the future. The meeting was concluded by another address from Mr. Duncan. The assembly then adjourned to the open ground in front of the Mission-house. They stood in two companies, two cannons were fired, and then, with hats off, notwithstanding that it snowed hard, they sang "God save the Queen;" after which they dispersed. On the 2nd of January the Fort Simpson Indians took their departure. When they were ready to start, the church bell rang, and they paddled their canoes to the meeting-house which stands on the beach. Leaving their canoes, they listened to a short address and a concluding prayer. Then once more embarking in their canoes, they pushed off from the beach, a cannon was fired, and amid the ringing cheers of hundreds of voices they dashed off, paddling with all their might. In a few seconds they simultaneously halted, and returned as hearty cheers as they were receiving. The air rang with the double cheering; caps, handkerchiefs, and flags waving, the guests departed.

Contrasting this scene with the one witnessed by Mr. Duncan soon after his arrival at Fort Simpson in 1857, how truly wonderful is the change effected. What a marvellous testimony is this little Christian community to the power of the Gospel! Well may the labourers in the mission field take courage and press on with renewed zeal, assured that their labour shall not be in vain.

"Be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest, and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work, for I am with you, saith the Lord of Hosts. My Spirit remaineth among you, fear not."

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