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 IV. "In Journeyings Often"

A Winter Journey--Dogs and Snow-Shoes-----A Famine in the Land--And a Flood--Amongst the Eskimo--A Long Days Work--The Bible for the People--A New Trade Learned--Early Fruits.

N summer it became possible to travel, and then the outlying stations called for care. At distances varying from 50 to 430 miles from Moose there were posts at which, at certain seasons, bodies of Indians were to be found. One of the first stations visited was Albany, a hundred miles north of Moose. His own account gives a vivid picture of the difficulties met by the in experienced traveller

"I started," he wrote, "from Moose on January 5th, 1852, in a sleigh drawn by five dogs and ac companied by two Indians. After riding eight or nine miles I walked for a time, but found myself unable to keep pace with the dogs. We were obliged to walk about two miles through thickly-set willows, in snow-shoes, sinking at every step a full foot in the snow. Being unaccustomed to this kind of marching I found it very fatiguing, and, having never before placed snow-shoes on my feet, had two or three falls, and, the snow being so deep, was unable to rise without assist Could you have seen me then in full armour, with a flannel and fur cap on my head, pilot-coat, scarf, mittens, and snow shoes, I little think you would have recognised in me the young man sitting before you in your study, whom you asked whether he wished to come to this country."

A fortnight was spent at Albany, and the return was made "with few mishaps," though, in the same letter, we learn that "during two days the cold was most intense, our faces being frost-bitten----mine not considerably, as it was quickly discovered." This incidental way of alluding to hardships will be found in all the bishop's letters from first to last. He never "makes a fuss"; difficulties, trials, sufferings--all are in "the day's work." In 1854 there was great scarcity of food, amounting to famine--that was a trial always to be feared and often to be faced. In June 1857 danger of another kind threatened the settlement. Immense quantities of snow had fallen in the winter, and the break-up of the ice in the river was expected with more than usual anxiety. A flood was looked for, and a flood came.

"On the night of May 21st the noise, as of distant thunders, told of the conflict going on between the rushing waters and the still compact ice, great masses of which were being occasionally thrown up in heaps. Soon the alarm bell rang, which told us of our danger, and some gentlemen from the Factory instantly came to conduct us thither, as our house is in a very exposed position. The river was now twenty feet above its usual level, and large hills of ice, twenty feet high, were thrown up in several places. The water continued to rise, until it was five feet higher, by which time every house on the island, except the Factory, was flooded; the water, as we afterwards ascertained, having been five feet nine inches deep in my own kitchen."

Happily, although much damage was done, no life was lost. But such effects are long felt by the Indians, for the rabbits which supply them with food and covering are swept off by the flood. There was another visitation of the kind in the spring of 1860, when the wooden church, then building, was floated off and carried nearly a quarter of a mile from its foundation. In the fall of the year the same danger seemed to be upon them.

But there was a bright side even to these visitations, for they meant the break-up of the long, gloomy, trying winter, the prospect of a change of food, a change of work, and news from distant friends. In the long frost-bound months the Indians felt the hardship of dwelling in a barren land; so little stood between them and actual starvation. At one post, early visited by Horden, out of 120 Indians a sixth died of hunger in one season.

At that station one man had saved his life at the expense of his children. There were six little ones; he killed and ate them all. The desolation of the land, which yields so little to man, was brought home to the missionary on that journey. He had 430 miles to travel, and, "during the whole way," he wrote, "I saw no tent or house, not even human being, until I arrived within a short distance of the post. I appeared to be passing through a foreign land."

Yet a land of even greater desolation was under his care. At Whale River there were Eskimo, and to these Horden early paid a visit. In 1862 he was able to give them more attention.

Keen student of languages as Horden was--and he even learned something of Norwegian, in order to be able to minister to the Europeans at Moose--he was dependent partly during this visit on the help of an interpreter. That interpreter is an interesting reminder of the way in which one mission helps another. For the young Eskimo who served Horden had formerly lived on the coast of Labrador. Whilst there he had come under the instruction of the Moravian missionaries, and had carried to Whale River, on the shores of Hudson's Bay, some knowledge of their teaching. He could speak a little English, knew some texts, and remembered some hymns well. Thus the Moravians in far-off Labrador had, all unknown to themselves, prepared the way of the gospel in another land.

The journey to Whale River was trying, but the missionary felt well repaid. He wrote home in the following year, that "those eight days were indeed blessed ones, and will not soon be forgotten by me, for they were amongst the most successful missionary days I have had since I have been in the country."

His day's work amongst them was much as follows. At six in the morning he began with a service for the Eskimo, to which some came "dressed very much like working men in England," in imported garments; others in the seal-skin clothing popular amongst them; and one woman in "an English gown, of which she seemed not a little proud." The service was a mixture of worship and instruction, with as much singing as possible.

This over, the missionary went to breakfast. After breakfast came a service for the Indians, who were less eager than the Eskimo, although more advanced in knowledge.

When Horden had ended his lesson to the Indians he went to school himself--that is to say, he took a lesson from his Eskimo interpreter. This over, he began visiting the homes of his flock--seal skin tents, and not the ice-houses of which we hear at other times. Then came a walk; then another service with the Eskimo; then another with the Indians; an English service for the few Europeans at the station; another hour learning Eskimo; a half an hour's social chat; and at last, "with feelings of thankfulness at having been placed as a labourer in the vineyard of the Lord, I retired to rest."

Horden was greatly drawn towards these Eskimo of Whale River; they seemed so gentle, so contented under many hardships, so ready to learn, so sincere in their new faith. Three were baptized during this visit, two of whom afterwards became man and wife. This little church was soon sorely tried, for the young interpreter was drowned, and the Christian wife died.

One other department of work, in which Horden made great strides during his first period of residence in Moosonee, remains to be noticed. Every wise missionary wishes his people as soon as possible to have the Bible, or at least some of it, in their own tongue. Horden was fully alive to this part of his duty, and from the first worked at translation. But the busiest writer finds himself hard pushed, unless he can have the aid of the printing-press. Something had been done for the mission at home, but more was to be done by Horden himself at Moose.

To his great joy the ship one year brought out every requisite for a small printing-office. It was true that Horden knew nothing of type-setting, or of taking impressions from the type when set; but his early training again came in useful. Nothing daunted, he set to work at the new trade, and taught a small boy to help him. It was slow work, and so different from the means they had seen him use before, that some of his faithful Indians feared this new task had turned his brain. But when the first eight pages were printed off their delight was almost as great as his own. To the occupations of translator and printer Horden added that of a poet, with the result that, before he took his first holiday to England, he had given the Indians the Four Gospels, a prayer-book, and a hymn-book in the Cree language.

But these labours were not without a drawback. Working early and late, with much anxiety of many kinds, he found, when his book of the Gospels was complete, that his strength was overtaxed. "I have felt," he wrote, "that even a very strong constitution has limits, which it may not pass with impunity." That he did not caution himself without good cause will easily be believed when Horden's many tasks are kept in mind. Thus, apart from all other work, he learned Cree, Ojibbeway, and Eskimo, for the benefit of the natives; Norwegian, for some of the Company's staff; and Hebrew, that he might be the better able to translate the Old Testament in time.

His labours were not in vain. Before he thought of visiting England for his first holiday, he was able to estimate that 1800 Indians in his district had either been baptized or were waiting for the rite.

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