Chapter II. The Departure for Moosonee
A Land of Romance--Moose Factory--The Call for a Man--Horden Chosen--A Hasty Departure--First Impressions of Hudson's Bay--Moose and its People.
To many generations of English boys the vast regions of the Far West have been a land of romance. To-day, when railways span the continent of America from Atlantic to Pacific, when the isolated settlements of a generation ago are already large towns, and when "the noble red mall" is threatening to become as extinct as the dodo or the great auk, that old interest in the land is gone. But, as the continent has become better known, we are the more able to realise its enormous area. Horden, as we shall presently see, went out to a diocese which measured some 1500 miles from top to bottom and side to side, and had some 3000 miles of coast. Yet it is a mere corner of North America.
If you look at the map of that continent, you will find the great arm of the sea, called Hudson's Bay, thrusting itself far into the land. Its south-eastern extremity is called James' Bay. Into this a river discharges, and on that river, on an island, a few miles from its mouth, stands a village known as Moose Fort or Moose Factory. As its name suggests, it is a station of the Hudson's Bay Company, to which it owes its existence, and the presence of a small European population. The post is still cut off from the world by almost impenetrable forests, and by the ice-bound waters of the bay. Once a year, in the Fifties and much later, a ship came from England with stores and news; when it left, the door seemed again to shut on the outside world. The natives of the regions were Eskimos, Chippeways, Crees, and Ojibbeways. Now the vast area, from the border line of the United States to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, and from Hudson's Bay to the Pacific Coast, is dotted with mission-stations; but then much of the land in the south, now open to settlers, was still unexplored. As for Christianity, thousands of Indians are now living consistent, God-fearing lives, where then no missionary had so much as preached the Word.
But Moose Fort enjoyed some privileges of its own. The European population included men of Christian character, and a Wesleyan missionary had worked amongst the natives. The field was not, therefore, entirely uncared for; but little had been done.
In May 1851, the Church Missionary Society was informed that the Wesleyans were about to withdraw from Moose Factory. There were those who felt that the position ought to be occupied, and as the Church Missionary Society was extending its work in the north-west, why should it not occupy this admirable centre upon the shores of the Hudson's Bay? The call seemed imperative; it was resolved to fill the vacancy
John Horden's opportunity was come. The committee resolved to send out a lay missionary, and the offer of the young Devonshire schoolmaster was remembered. He seemed to be the very man for the post; but could he go? If he went at all, he must sail a married man, and the one ship of the year was to leave in two or three weeks.
But the genuine soldier of the cross is always ready. On May 10, 1851, Horden received a letter from Henry Venn, the honorary secretary of the Church Missionary Society, announcing his appointment to Moose Factory. On May 24, Horden left his work at school; on May 25, he was married; on May 28, he left for London on the way to his post in the mission-field.
Horden had not to choose a wife with the haste which this statement might suggest. At the time when he first offered himself to the Church Missionary Society he became engaged to Miss Elizabeth Oke, who was not only a member of the same congregation as himself, but was filled with the same desire to be a missionary. She, too, had prepared for the foreign field by working at home. When the call to Moosonee came, the decision rested with her. With out hesitation she resolved to go, and the hasty wedding began a married life of singular happiness and of long duration.
Horden and his wife joined their ship at Gravesend on June 8, 1851. The voyage out was slow and uneventful, but the time was not wasted. The young missionary did not believe in keeping his message only for Indians and Eskimo. He acted as chaplain whilst on board ship, and so, in his missionary work, began that consistency of life which, from first to last, won for him the respect of all who knew him. He worked, moreover, at the language he would have to use, and, with an eye to brightening the services with the natives, he learned to play the accordion. Nor was Mrs. Horden idle. One of the passengers on board came from Hudson's Bay Territory, and in this woman Mrs. Horden found her first pupil.
On July 26th, Horden noted in his diary their arrival at the entrance of Hudson's Bay. His own words convey an excellent impression of the land to which he had been sent:--
"The sun shone very brightly in the morning and we saw several large icebergs. In the afternoon the atmosphere became very thick and cold; all felt that they were experiencing the rigour of winter in the month of July. About six the mist almost instantaneously cleared off, the sun shone forth, and land was visible. Yes! we had entered the straits--Resolution being to our right--a barren, bleak, but lofty and majestic shore; while on our left lay an immense field of ice, extending many miles. We passed thousands of pieces of every description and size, some resembling churches, others hills, valleys, mountains, and houses. It was most amusing to hear the sailors give names to the several pieces--This is such a head; that is the hull of such a vessel or barge, and so forth."
Horden went on to describe the voyage up the bay, the perils of which from ice and fog and tempest every year made the advent of the annual ship a matter of extreme anxiety. The navigation of the bay, with its slow progress, its demand for unceasing watchfulness, its alternation of hopes and disappointment, its constant demand upon the voyager to "endure hardness"--was, in a way, both a preparation for and a figure of the difficulties through which Horden would have to pass in his spiritual work on the land before him. Here, for example, are three entries from his account of the voyage:--
"Aug. 10.--Surrounded with ice, atmosphere very thick. It fell calm about tea, and we anchored to a very large piece of ice, and filled our water tank. The ice opening, and a good breeze springing up, we got under way about seven, sailing through very thick ice. Having sailed a few miles, we were again fast, and for four hours gained nothing.
"Aug. 11.--We anchored to a large piece of ice at four A.M. It rained or snowed almost the whole day. The wind blew very strongly but did not open the ice. Some of us went on to the piece to which we were fastened. It was about two miles in circumference.
"Aug. 12.--About three A.M. we loosed from the ice, and, having proceeded six miles in five hours and a half, we were obliged to anchor again, the ice being very close and heavy around us. In the evening the men enjoyed themselves by playing football on the ice, which happened to be very flat."
The ship remained locked in the ice for a week; then they were able to make some progress, and at last, on August 23, they anchored in the outer Moose Roads, about forty miles from the Fort. Three days later Horden was at Moose Fort, which, from that day until his death, was the centre of his work.
The first sight of the place and its people left a vivid impression on his mind. The diary, which formed his first letter to the Church Missionary Society, gives us a summary of his impressions:--
"On reaching the Fort, which stands on a rather large island, wigwams, houses, and inhabitants began to present themselves. We saw first three Indian boys, dressed in flannel coats, playing on the beach, then a house, then many Indian wigwams, and the old factory and stores. Some way beyond, on the same side of the river, stood a neat little church with a suitable tower, while still farther on were a few Indian tents. After dinner we visited almost every one on the island, including nearly 150 Indians, all of whom were very glad to see us. Most of their tents are of a poor description, but some are superior, in the form of marquees. Most of them were dirty. The general clothing of the men is a flannel coat bordered with red, with trousers of the same material; some, however, have decent cloth coats and trousers. A part of the women wore gowns, others a petticoat with a blanket thrown over their shoulders.
"A contrast, this, to Devonshire!"