Project Canterbury

John Horden: Missionary Bishop
A Life on the Shores of Hudson's Bay

By the Rev. A. R. Buckland, M.A.

London: The Sunday School Union, no date.

Chapter III. First Labours amongst Eskimo and Indians

Place and People--Horden's Training--Cut off from the World--Getting to Work--Learning Cree---A Laughable Blunder--A Visitor at Moose--Horden Ordained--A Man of many Tasks.

HORDEN had reached the scene of his labours, and it is time, therefore, to say something more as to the place and the people.

His missionary interest had been first drawn out towards the teeming millions of India. But he had been called to an almost Arctic climate, and not to a field under the tropics; to a few scattered sheep in a veritable wilderness rather than to the dense population of the Indian cities.

At Moose Fort the European was cut off from the outside world. Once a year--if no accident happened--ship came and went, but so difficult was navigation that those who depended upon the ship for supplies were never free from anxiety on its behalf. Even on that moving subject news travelled slowly. One year the ship was held fast by ice in the bay. The tidings reached England before they were known at Albany, a hundred miles from Moose.

Inland communications were no less difficult. Roads there were none. In summer the birch-bark canoe made the readiest vehicle, but even its use meant much hard labour. In winter the choice lay between the dog-sleigh and the snow-shoe. Food was never very plentiful. The natives and even the Europeans knew what scarcity and sometimes famine meant. The extremes of temperature have an alarming look to those who know only an English climate. In summer the heat might reach 100ยบ, and the busy mosquito add its torment to the trials of the season. In winter the mercury would fall many degrees below zero. It will be seen at once that a missionary in such a place had need of pluck and endurance. Horden had to shepherd a vast region, which meant occasionally journeys which extended to a thousand miles or more. He had to camp out, to share the food of his Indians, to be ready for any of the contingencies which may befall the traveller in a land of wood and stream, where men are few and roads are not. But the early disappointment, which gave him a training in manual labour, had hardened his muscles, and educated hand and eye. It had been, after all, the right way for him.

In like manner his after experience as school-master had prepared him for the very serious task of teaching himself new languages and teaching others the gospel story.

One advantage Horden had which does not often fall to the lot of a pioneer missionary. There were Christian men and women to meet him at his coming. The head of the Company's station warmly welcomed the young missionary and his wife. In company with the few other Europeans he rejoiced at the advent of a religious teacher, alike for the sake of the white men and of the Indians. Of the latter, too, some few had, under the teaching of the Wesleyan missionary, become devout and consistent Christians. Thus Horden began his life-work with some advantages on his side. From one point of view they were especially useful; they enabled the young missionary and his wife at once to feel that Moose was their home. It is not often that this is the case; but with Horden the shores of Hudson's Bay were henceforth home, and England was but a place to visit. They lived, as he himself put it a few months before his death," buried in the interminable forest, the door of our grave being opened but seldom." It was hard, perhaps, but he was able to add: "I doubt there being many happier communities than the one to be found where the hand of God has placed me; the wheels of our little society move smoothly; and with God in our midst we envy none the advantages they possess, and are contented with our own diminutive world."

Horden lost no time in getting to work. When he reached Moose there were three or four hundred people in the place; he visited them all within a few hours of his arrival. The next and most urgent task was to learn Cree, the language used by the majority of the Indians within reach. He began this systematically, on the day after he reached Moose. With the aid of a native interpreter, he composed a short address, which he read to his congregation that same evening. So hard did he work that in a few short months he could preach without aid. And Cree is not an easy language.

He found it more trying than Greek and Latin, possibly because he lacked the aids which every schoolboy has for the learning of these languages. But his first sermon drew from an Indian woman this reply: "I thank you for your kind words; I will keep them to my heart." It was, no doubt, Horden's rapid progress with their language, and his resolve to become one of themselves, which so soon gave him a secure place in their affections. In eight months, to their surprise and joy, he could preach to them in Cree without an interpreter. But he had, of course, his difficulties and his blunders. Once, for example, he was explaining to a class of young men the story of the Creation. "God," he said, "created Eve out of one of Adam's--"he meant to say "ribs," but, as the laughter of his hearers showed him, he really said "pipes." But that is the kind of mistake which every learner is likely to make.

It must not, however, be assumed that Horden had come to a place where a missionary's life was likely to be one of ease. The more he knew of the people the more he saw how sadly they needed the gospel he had come to preach. Crime of the grossest character abounded. Men made little of murdering their aged parents or their young children, and cannibalism resulted in the times of famine. The European's life was not always safe, and his property was the object of attentions with which he would often have willingly dispensed. Horden himself, however, had little reason to complain of the people. Indeed, it was their own liking which became the means of keeping him in their midst.

It had been the Society's plan to send a clergyman to Moose and allow Horden to prepare for ordination at Red River, under the eye of the Bishop of Rupert's Land. That plan was never carried out. Instead of the young missionary going to the bishop, the bishop came to him.

Bishop Anderson reached Moose at the end of a six weeks' journey. He had travelled 1500 miles over lake and river to reach this outlying post. He had expected to find a novice; he found an expert. Horden knew the people and knew the language. They were distressed at the bare thought of losing him. What was to be done? The bishop's good sense solved the difficulty. He examined Horden carefully, ordained him deacon and priest, left him at Moose, and arranged that the other clergyman should go elsewhere.

Bishop Anderson had made no mistake. Horden settled down with quiet enthusiasm to his work. Cut off' though they were from the world, there was variety of labour. In the winter the population of the village was small; but the people, old and young, could be taught. Occasionally there was building work to be done, in which Horden's manual skill was of great use; And always there was the task of translating the word of God into the language of the people. To this task Horden early gave his attention, and upon it he was still engaged in his last months of life.

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