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 X. To England for the Last Time

The Coming of Summer--Break-up of the Ice--The Three Cows of Churchill--Eskimo Dog Teams--Farewell Services--A Polyglot Preacher--In the Canoe Once More--A Critical Moment--Horden in England.

THE coming of the summer of 1886 was not without its alarm and danger for the dwellers at Moose. The ice broke up earlier than had ever been known before. An Indian came in on April 16th to warn the settlement that the ice was rotten. Four days later the ice could be seen some six miles off to be standing in high mounds. Big guns were fired--the warning to all Indians hunting at the river mouth. There was no immediate change, but at three the next morning the crash came. "There was," wrote the bishop, "a roar as of heavy artillery. The ice broke right across the river, and began to heave and plunge, and a large body of it moved onwards. A huge field of it, rising above the river's bank, rushed forward as if it would destroy the mission premises, and stopping but a few feet from my front gate, all became quiet again. The river, packed with piled and broken ice-blocks looked wild and threatening, and we anxiously waited to see what the result of future shores would be. The water ebbed and flowed, and an occasional movement took place, but there was no cause for alarm, until eleven o'clock at night, when the water rose very high and the ice was borne forward with great velocity, the field of ice in front of my house being brought up to our fence, and the water lying deep in my garden."

All that summer the bishop was busy. There were still translations to be made; there were still teachers to train; there was still the ordinary work of the evangelist and pastor to discharge. Amidst it all he finds time to write long letters home for publication, for Bishop Horden knew that the way to excite and keep alive an interest in missionary enterprise is to tell people how it is going, and how men fare in the land where the worker is. So Horden trained himself to write almost as fully of the everyday life of his people as of the work of grace which was manifest amongst them.

Thus, in one letter, he has a long account of Fort Churchill, "the last house in the world," i.e. the nearest to the North Pole. He devoted a good deal of space to the three cows of Churchill--valuable beasts, fed in winter chiefly on the white moss beloved of the reindeer. They were a strange trio. One was so small as to be almost a dwarf. The other was "so supple, that she required no milkmaid to milk her; she did it herself." The third was the proud owner of an artificial tail. This distinction she owed to an encounter with wolves. Not being far from home, she succeeded in reaching a place of safety alive. But the wolves were not wholly unsuccessful, for one got near enough to bite off the fugitive's tail.

The loss was serious. Nowhere does a cow want her tail more than at Churchill. Flies swarm there, and without the weapon nature has provided she must die under their attacks. But art came to the help of nature. Somebody remembered that there was a dead cow's tail lying in the store. Happy thought! It was brought out; secured firmly to the stump of the lost member, the join neatly covered with canvas and tar; and then the cow was able once more to hold her own against the flies.

In another letter he gives a long account of the dogs which play so useful a part in the life of their almost Arctic settlement. It is suggested by the unexpected appearance at Moose of a large body of men coming up the river, hauling a heavy sledge behind them. As such work is generally done by dogs, the Moose people knew not what to make of the exhibition, unless the arrivals were strangers from parts unknown. They were, however, no strangers, but neighbours from Albany, who had been compelled to harness themselves to their sledge and come to Moose for supplies, as their dogs had been attacked by a fatal epidemic which had carried off nearly the whole of them.

The bishop then describes the character and work of the dogs upon which the settler has to rely for so much aid in the hardest season of the year.

"These dogs, of pure Eskimo breed, are invaluable in winter, and large teams of them are kept at Albany, Rupert's House, Whale River, York, and Churchill. The Albany team was a particularly fine one, great care having been taken of late years in the selection of animals for breeding. They were well taken care of, were very tractable, and the pride of their famous driver, Harvey, who loved them almost as much as he does his children, and treated them most mercifully, an undeserved blow being never inflicted, and who, when on a journey, saw that every evening they were well fed, and, what is equally necessary, well bedded. Ta summer they do nothing, and are then voted a great nuisance, as they are very dangerous to the calves, and require to be heavily blocked, which by no means improves their temper, and gives them a sadly hangdog look. In winter they do no work at Albany itself, but the whole season ply between Moose and Albany, bringing from there quantities of provisions, and taking back sledge-loads of dry goods. The Rupert's House team is used in a similar manner; Moose, from the large number of inhabitants, receiving all the food the neighbouring posts can spare, and being the depôt of the country, supplying all the goods required for use and trade. At Whale River, where no cattle are kept, dogs haul all the fire wood consumed at the station, and as the wood is cut seven miles distant from the place, and the consumption is very great, they are kept very busy, and I think work much harder than at the more southern stations. A very large team, or indeed several teams, are kept at York Factory, and are employed in hauling venison, the principal food of the station, from the various places where the hunters have succeeded in killing it. The Churchill team, too, is a splendid one, and the principal driver, George Oman, is almost as excellent in his way as Harvey of Albany. I have seen these dogs as playful and gentle as kittens, and as fierce and cruel as a pack of wolves; sometimes they are playing with and fondling each other and persons of their acquaintance, although there is perhaps less personal attachment in the Eskimo dog than in any other; and, again, I have seen dogs lying dead, killed by their companions in their terrible battles. As a rule, they are not dangerous to people, but they do occasionally attack them, and commit great outrages."

The time was now coming for the bishop to make his last visit to England. Mrs. Horden had remained before when the bishop sailed for Moosonee in 1882, and the separation had now been a long one. Yet, if Mrs. Horden was in England, he had blood-ties with Moosonee, and to him that still was home.

It was on the last day of May 1888 that he began the long journey. The preceding Sunday was marked by a general solemnity on all sides, for, as he wrote, "every one at Moose is to me as a son or a daughter."

The first gathering of the day was an English service, at which the congregation numbered 200, although only six were Europeans. There were forty communicants, and the offertory was £35. Mr. Richards was ordained, and, as the bishop afterwards told an English audience, his accomplishments were many and varied. He could preach "a very good sermon" in English, and a "very good sermon" in Cree, and a "very tolerable sermon" in Ojibbeway, besides making himself understood in Eskimo. In addition he could "paddle his own canoe" with the best of them--a useful accomplishment in a land where the bishop himself had been clergyman, doctor, blacksmith, and schoolmaster.

But to return to the service. That over, there was one for the Indians at 7 A.M., to which they brought their own Bible and prayer-books, bought with their own money. At 1.30 the Sunday school began. At 3.30 the cathedral was again crowded.

Every person present was baptized, and every adult had been confirmed. The collection was £20. So ended the public services of a busy and a heart-moving day.

At last the hour of parting came, and from his place in the canoe, the bishop gave "a fatherly blessing" to the crowd gathered on the shore. His daughter and her children went a day's journey with the party, and a young grandson accompanied the bishop as far as Canada. At night they encamped by the river bank; supper was cooked by a roaring fire, and "a very solemn service closed the day."

The next day saw more farewells, and then the journey began in earnest.

It was not without its perils, as the canoe was poled or tracked up the river. At times they had to land, and feel their way as best they could through the pathless woods. Once they were face to face with a sudden death. "We had ascended a terrible and long rapid, and had got by the easiest side of the stream just opposite the foot of our longest portage, but between us and it ran the swollen and fiercely flowing river. We all grasped a paddle firmly, and, bending with our full strength, dashed out into the stream; we could get no farther, and were swept down like lightning into the boiling rapid. The sight was the most dangerous I had ever witnessed; but the men were equal to the emergency. Turning round in the canoe, the bow became the stern, and we were kept clear of the rocks which threatened our destruction."

The voyage to Canada was made without mishap, and soon the bishop was once more in England. It was not a time of idleness, or even of rest. There was much yet to be done in making known the work, and in pleading for the means to still further extend it. At the Church Missionary Society anniversary of 1889 the bishop was a conspicuous figure. He was warmly greeted, when, with other bishops, he appeared on the platform at Exeter Hall in the morning, and in the evening he took the chair.

Few who heard that speech will forget the veteran who made it. He had come, he told the vast audience, from the great Lone Land, where he had spent thirty-eight years of his life. He showed them, in a graphic anecdote, the old condition of the Indians there. Then, by way of contrast, he took them back to that last Sunday in his diocese, already described. In a few days the bishop said farewell once more to his friends in England. He had turned his back upon the old scenes he was never to look on again.

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