Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of E.J. Peck
Among the Eskimos
by the Rev. Arthur Lewis, M.A.

New York: A. C. Armstrong, 1904.

Chapter IV. Hudson's Bay

"I was in prison and ye came unto Me."

ABOUT half a century has elapsed since a Church Missionary Society's missionary first had the opportunity of presenting the Gospel of Christ to the Eskimos. On April 29, 1853, a party of them visited Fort George, on the eastern side of Hudson's Bay, where the Rev. E. A. Watkins had lately arrived. That post, however, remote and solitary as it was, was too far south to be much frequented by them; and subsequently Mr. (afterwards Bishop) Horden more than once travelled northwards to Little Whale River, the furthest point to which the trading agents of the Hudson's Bay Company have advanced, and was privileged to admit three or four into the Church. Three native teachers in succession were sent by him to work among them; but all three died, and for several years nothing could be done.

Here, then, we must return to Mr. Peck, whom we left in the first chapter responding to the call, "Who will go for us?" The Eskimos had been waiting long, but at last a missionary was to be sent to them. The new messenger left the Thames in the Hudson's Bay Company's ship Prince of Wales, on July 11, 1876, with the object of making the Evangelisation of the Eskimos his life's work.

Speaking of the voyage, Mr. Peck gives some interesting glimpses. The crew was of a decidedly cosmopolitan character, though nearly all could understand the English tongue.

"Every one in the ship treated me with the greatest kindness, and I was permitted to hold meetings in the forecastle almost every evening. Some of the crew, as a result of these meetings, I believe, experienced spiritual blessings, and the voyage, in spite of the special dangers of navigation encountered that year, was one of spiritual profit and blessing to others beside myself.

"Before leaving England I was able to obtain from the Moravian Brethrens' office in London a copy of the New Testament which had been translated by the Brethren labouring on the coast of Labrador. This, to me, great treasure I studied when on the trackless deep, and by carefully comparing it with our English translation I was able--especially where there was a repetition of the same words, as in St. John, chap. 1--finally to hit upon the meanings.

"The words which I felt I had thus acquired I marked, and though on arriving at my station at Little Whale River I found some differences of a dialectical nature, still I never once regretted the time spent in that study of the Moravian translation.

"To return to that voyage. It was on entering Hudson's Straits that I saw icebergs for the first time, mountains of glacier ice that floated down, majestic to the eye, but dangerous for the ship, upon the Arctic current into the Gulf Stream that flows out by Belle Isle. Passing through the iceberg region we came upon some fields of drift ice. Drift ice is ice which has become loosened, by the coming of the brief Arctic summer, from the frozen coast line, and has floated out from the more northern bays and inlets. Driven by the winds and currents, until miles upon miles of sea are covered with almost impassable areas of the frozen blocks, the drift ice becomes pack-ice, and forms a fearful danger to the vessel caught in its icy talons. For every ship is not a 'Fram,' fitted to crush her way through this hideous Arctic barrier.

"But God was with us on that voyage, and though we had difficulties, we came safely through these seas of ice.

"Our course was now shaped southerly, and we sailed right down Hudson's Bay. Navigation became very critical here, and oftentimes dangerous, on account of the number of shallows and shoals. The lead had to be kept going for soundings day and night, but finally, on September 7, 1876, we reached Moose Factory."

The new missionary was warmly received by the Bishop and Mrs. Horden, but as winter would soon be coming on, and he had yet in front of him the most trying and difficult, not to say dangerous, part of his journey, he felt it impossible to remain long under their hospitable roof. After one week of refreshment, therefore, he set his face stedfastly to reach his Ultima Thule, Little Whale River.

This last portion of the journey had to be accomplished in a small sailing boat. It made what way it could during the day, but at night it was run ashore when the travellers pitched their tent on land until the morning light enabled them to resume their journey.

The party consisted of Mr. Peck, an Indian crew and a Christian Eskimo, a native of Labrador, Adam Lucy by name, as interpreter.

As in imagination we follow in the wake of the travellers, we realize that the modern apostle can apply to himself the words of St. Paul. For he too is "in journeyings often, in perils of waters . . . in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness."

This coasting voyage was not to be accomplished without serious mishap. On October 9 they had rounded Cape Jones, and were drawing near to a smaller cape when the wind shifted. On this account they could not make much progress, and as it was getting late they determined to make for the shore, which was reached by pulling. By the time they landed it was dark. Mr. Peck therefore had to leave all arrangements to the Indians, who knew the coast, and would, he thought, take the boat to a place of safety. She was at last anchored in what seemed to be a sheltered bay or creek. The party then went to their tent in the woods, taking a few necessaries with them from the boat.

It must not be supposed that a tent in this part of the world is similar to the beautiful and picturesque canvas structure we see at home. The travellers light upon some old poles that have been used by previous parties of Indians. They then proceed to clear away the snow, or to beat it down with their feet. The tent poles are set up, and a rough shelter formed with deer skins, canvas bags, and sundry other articles all kept in place by ropes. A small hole is left at the top for a chimney, while at the southern and lower part is a space for a door. The door itself is another old bag, which can be lifted so that the men of the party can crawl in or out at pleasure. In the centre of the tent is placed a circle of stones for the fire-place.

In such a place as this Mr. Peck and his party retired weary and cold. Realizing that they had no continuing city, but that they were pilgrims journeying to the mansions prepared for them, the evening service of prayer must have come home to them with special comfort, and they laid themselves down in peace and slept.

But in the night sounds were heard of a sighing and moaning wind rising. But they were not sufficient to warrant the rousing of that tired band but only just enough to cause the sleep of the sailor missionary to be broken by fitful dreams and slight misgivings. He woke up early, and with the morning light went down to the place of anchorage. Alas! a strange sight met his eye, for strewed along the rocks were portions of his goods; the boat was also driven up high and dry on the beach. He saw the cause of the disaster. The place, in which the Indians had anchored the boat, was exposed to the northward and westward; the wind sprang up from this quarter during the night, which caused a heavy sea; the boat grounded at low water, and then the sea had made a clean breach over her, sweeping the things out of her or else breaking them in her. Sad to say, the boat was much injured, her keel being driven out of its place, several of the planks being also started. Mr. Peck called his Indians and sent them to collect what they could. The contents of some boxes were considerably damaged, although most of his clothes were saved; this was a great mercy.

The next consideration was to repair the boat. Knowing that there was resin to be had from the small shrubs which grew here, the missionary sent the Indians to gather some; they know how to gather and prepare it, as they use much for their canoes, and it does not make a bad substitute for pitch. Having got some nails by breaking up one of the boxes, and having a little spare canvas, he purposed mending the boat with these materials.

It was a trial of faith, and many a man of less persevering energy and trust in God might have given way under it. But knowing that the life of every one of the party might depend upon that boat, and that by obstacles to be overcome God intends the character of his servants to be developed, Mr. Peck, nothing daunted, set himself to accomplish what may seem to us a hopeless task. The first day was spent in preparing the materials necessary, and it closed as before with prayer that faith might be deepened and patience given, and in confidence that God, who was the keeper of Israel, would supply all their needs out of His riches in Christ Jesus.

On the next day, October n, the actual repairs were taken in hand. A fire was lighted and the resin melted. The boat was turned bottom upwards, and the damaged parts scraped. A coat of resin was put on, and canvas was placed on top of this and nailed to the boat. Again another coat of resin was laid over the whole, and it seemed to the sailor eye of the missionary to be a very fair bit of work. The next day they could not put to sea as the wind was contrary, and this caused a little anxiety, for provisions were running short. The flour had been most of it destroyed when the boat was swamped. Mr. Peck and Adam had saved only a very small quantity. Biscuits, though they had been soaked with sea water, had been saved.

The flour was economised by being mixed with broken biscuits and made into cakes. The result was eatable, though not wholly palatable. In the afternoon of October 13, the wind changed to light and fair. So the boat was launched, and all made ready for the start. But to the grief and dismay of the party she leaked considerably, and was unseaworthy. So once more it was a case of unloading and going through a second course of repairs. Finally, on October 14, they really got away. There was heavy weather to face, especially for such a cranky, patched-up craft as this. But trust in God was not misplaced; the winds and the sea were braved, and at last they were brought to Little Whale River in safety.

This, as has been mentioned, was the extreme northern station of the Hudson's Bay Company. Consequently it was at that time the best base for operations upon the Eskimos. For they came in considerable numbers to this place for purposes of trade, exchange and barter.

The officials of the company were most kind in their welcome to the newly arrived missionary. They hospitably received him into their own houses until his hut could be built. This, too, was built for him by the company. Trade, when it is thus the handmaid of Christ, is an unmitigated blessing. It is a pleasing duty to give a tribute of praise to men who bring the Gospel into the business life as in this case. If all the boundless trade of England went hand in hand with the spiritual welfare of the world, the mountains would soon be made low and the valleys exalted, and the highway for the Empire of Christ prepared.

The logs of which Mr. Peck's hut was built had been brought from an immense distance. They were placed in a framework of other logs; the spaces between them were packed with oakum. The whole of the hut was encased in weather boarding. Inside, the place was warmed and cheered with a little stove, and as the hut had to be kitchen and drawing-room in one, all the cooking must needs be done at that stove.

"Mine was a real bachelor's life," writes Mr. Peck, referring to this period, "and I had to learn to do all my own cooking, presently even mastering the mysteries of bread-making, though it is right to confess (and ladies will appreciate the confession) that the first two or three batches were like stones." A few articles of food, such as sugar, oatmeal, preserved meat, etc., could be obtained from the company's store at Moose, but nothing on the spot. Preserved milk could also be got, so that sometimes he indulged in a rice pudding. The most venturesome and highest flight of ambition was a plum pudding.

The first great work of every missionary is to acquire the language of the people as well as gain their confidence. With regard to the latter, Mr. Peck at once reaped some fruit from the seed sown in former years by the Rev. E. Watkins and Bishop Horden. For owing to the visits that had been paid to the Eskimos by them, he found the people most friendly and willing to receive him. One old man whom Bishop Horden had had the pleasure of baptizing, John Molucto by name, became a tower of strength both to the missionary and the mission. He would gather the people together in his iglo to be instructed by the missionary. As to the language, we have already seen Mr. Peck studying his Moravian Testament during the voyage. He used it with such effect, both on the journey from England to Moose Factory and thence in the sailing boat to Little Whale River, that he was able to set to work among the people without delay. Rejoicing in this, he says, "How soon God finds instruments! I little thought this Testament would be of such service as I studied its pages on the trackless deep or even when Adam assisted me to read it."

The Testament, as has been stated already, was written in the Labrador dialect, and Adam, the interpreter, was also a native of Labrador. Consequently there were grave doubts as to how far it would be intelligible among the Eskimos of Hudson's Bay. But it was found that the chief difference lay in the pronunciation of certain letters rather than in words or idioms. And thus one difficulty which might have been a mountain was removed by the faith which caused Christ's servant to study the Testament though written for the Labrador Eskimos. But a great deal is necessary for the missionary beyond reading. An intimate knowledge of language is everything. It is probable that a man can never be regarded as proficient in a language until he is conscious of not translating his thoughts from his native tongue into the foreign one--or, in other words, until he thinks in the language of the people among whom he is living. For this result to be obtained daily practice in speaking, side by side with reading, is indispensable.

This, by the arrangement of his domestic establishment, Mr. Peck secured. For after a time he was so much oppressed by the utter loneliness of his life at which we have glanced, that he invited a little Eskimo boy about ten years old to come and live with him. This step, in his own words, proved an "incalculable blessing" to himself in the acquisition of the language, and the sequel shows that it was no less fraught with blessing to the boy. It is not difficult in imagination to paint a picture of some scenes that must have taken place in that lonely hut. We see the wonder of the boy overcoming his shyness as he gazes upon each object of furniture or ornament new and strange to his native eyes. We see the missionary and the boy beginning to school each other by the only means in their power. Mr. Peck points to some article familiar to the lad and speaks its English name; the boy, with a nod of his head and a smile upon his broad Mongolian face, repeats the English after him, and then in turn tells the Eskimo word for the same thing. We seem to hear the merry peal of laughter that breaks forth as the mutual teacher and scholar discover that they have been playing at cross questions and crooked answers--laughter bringing a ray of sunshine into the dark, lone, icy dwelling. But best of all we seem to see a holier light breaking in upon the dark, hopeless soul of the lad as he hears, and at last is able to understand, that he is the heir to a great inheritance, that there is an abiding city in which is prepared a mansion for him where there is no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.

The name of this Eskimo lad was Anoat, which means clothing. This seems appropriate in the light of his subsequent history. For the result of this life in close association with the Servant of Christ was that after many years in 1900 he put on the Lord Jesus Christ and was clothed with Him. The Rev. W. G. Walton speaks, in a recent report, of his power and influence. Though his name is Anoat, for some inscrutable reason he was known among the traders as Nero. Happily there is no likeness in character to justify this.

The Eskimo language is by no means easy of acquisition. The chief peculiarity in it is its agglutinativeness, and this also causes the great difficulty which is not so much the learning to express one's own thoughts as understanding what others are saying. All manner of parts of speech may become joined to the verbal root, and then this compound may be conjugated in all moods and tenses like a simple verb. So great is the length to which words may grow under this treatment, that Mr. Peck has often exhibited to English audiences a canvas two and a half yards long which contains one word only--a good object lesson of some of the linguistic trials that missionaries have to face.

Here we may anticipate a little, while speaking of the language, and say that whatever difficulties had to be faced, the patient industry of the missionary overcame them all. About a month after his arrival, November 6, 1876, he wrote: "My plan is to write down over night some simple words and sentences. I then get the corresponding Eskimo words from Adam Lucy or Molucto; the Indian words are gathered from one of the Company's men, David Loutett. I find all very willing to help me, for which I am indeed thankful. My daily collection averages from eighty to a hundred words. These are learned the following day and brought into actual use as soon as possible, thus impressing the same on my memory, as well as making me familiar with the peculiar sound. I have now got some thousands of words, mostly Eskimo, which I gathered by study of the Testament and from my different friends." At first it was mere gathering, massing little by little a great quantity of material. Then came both conscious and unconscious sorting of the heap, nouns separated from adjectives, verbs from adverbs; gender from gender, tense from tense; until at last, after seven years of six hard, studious hours every day, not only is he master of the situation, but is able to produce a grammar of 200 pages, thus making the rough smooth and the crooked straight for those who come after and enter into his labours.

But the missionary cannot rest satisfied with merely mastering for preaching purposes and conversation the language of the people among whom he lives. He must always remain sensible of deficiency until he has placed the Bible in their hands in such a form that they can read it for themselves. With this object in view, as soon as the first winter was over Mr. Peck determined on transcribing portions of the Moravian Eskimo Testament into what is known as the Syllabic character.

This system was the invention of the Rev. James Evans, a minister of the Canadian Methodist Church and a missionary to the Indians at Norway House. Without such a method as this it is difficult to conceive how the roving tribes of Eskimos could ever have learned to read. By this means, however, an ordinarily intelligent native can be taught to read in eight or nine weeks. This would be quite impossible with the Roman characters, especially considering that many of the people come into the trading ports for a few days only at a time. In such high esteem is this system held, and so great a debt of gratitude is due to Mr. Evans for his work, that a few words in connection with its history will not be out of place. The Rev. Egerton R. Young, in his book, By Canoe and Dog Train, gives a full account. He says: "The great work of Mr. Evans' life, and that with which his name will ever be associated, was undoubtedly the invention and perfecting of what is now so widely known as the Cree-syllabic characters.

"What first led him to think of this invention was the difficulty he and others had in teaching the Indians to read in the ordinary way. They are hunters, and so are very much on the move, like the animals they seek. To-day their tents are pitched where there is good fishing, and perhaps in two weeks they are far away in the deep forests where roam the reindeer, or on the banks of streams where the beavers build their wonderful dams and curious homes. The constant thought in the master missionary's mind was, 'Can I possibly devise a plan by which these wandering people can learn to read more easily?'

"The principle of the characters which he adopted is phonetic. There are no silent letters. Each character represents a syllable; hence no spelling is required. As soon as the alphabet is mastered and a few additional secondary signs, some of which represent consonants and some aspirates, and some partially change the sound of the main character, the Indian scholar, be he man or woman of eighty or a child of six years, can commence at the first chapter of Genesis, and read on--slowly, of course, at first, but in a few days with surprising ease and accuracy.

"Many were Mr. Evans' difficulties in perfecting this invention and putting it into practical use, even after he had got the scheme clear and distinct in his own mind.

"He was hundreds of miles away from civilization; very little indeed had he with which to work. Yet, with him, there was no such word as failure. Obtaining, as a great favour, the thin sheets of lead that were around the tea-chests of the fur-traders, he melted these down into little bars, and from them cut out his first types. His ink was made out of the soot of the chimneys, and his first paper was birch bark.

"After a great deal of effort and the exercise of much ingenuity, he made a press, and then the work began.

"Great indeed was the amazement and delight of the Indians. The fact that the bark 'could talk,' was to them most wonderful. Portions of the Gospels were first printed, and then some of the beautiful hymns.

"The story of this invention reached the Wesleyan Home Society. Generous help was afforded. A good supply of these types was cast in London, and, with a good press and all the essential requisites, including a large quantity of paper, was sent out to that mission, and for years it was the great centre from which considerable portions of the Word of God were scattered among the wandering tribes, conferring unnumbered blessings upon them."

In later years, the noble British and Foreign Bible Society has taken charge of the work; and now, thanks to their generosity, the Indians have the blessed Word scattered among them, and thousands can read its glorious truths.

Perhaps a little more may be culled from the same source showing how greatly impressed Lord Dufferin was by this character. When he was Governor-General of Canada he had an interview with Mr. Young and Mr. Crosby, a missionary from British Columbia. The former says: "I showed him my Cree Indian Testament printed in Evans' syllabic characters, and explained the invention to him. At once his curiosity was excited, and jumping up he hurried off for pen and ink, and got me to write out the whole alphabet for him; and then, with that glee and vivacity for which his lordship was so noted, he constituted me his teacher, and commenced at once to master the characters.

"As their simplicity and yet wonderful adaptation for their designed work became evident to him--for in a short time he was able to read a portion of the Lord's Prayer--Lord Dufferin was much excited, and getting up from his chair and holding up the Testament in his hand, exclaimed, 'Why, Mr. Young, what a blessing to humanity the man was who invented that alphabet!' Then he added, 'I profess to be a kind of literary man myself, and try to keep posted up in my reading of what is going on, but I never heard of this before. The fact is, the nation has given many a man a title, and a pension, and then a resting-place and a monument in Westminster Abbey who never did half so much for his fellow-creatures.' Then again he asked, 'Who did you say was the author or inventor of these characters? '

"'The Rev. James Evans,' I replied.

"'Well, why is it that I never heard of him before, I wonder?'

"My reply was, 'My lord, perhaps the reason you never heard of him before was because he was a humble, modest Methodist preacher.'

"With a laugh he replied, 'That may have been it.'"

The adaptation and use, then, of this method for transcribing the Scriptures was an early work for the missionary. So soon as April 9, 1877, Mr. Peck is able to write:--

"I have succeeded in teaching several of the Eskimos to read in the Syllabic characters; they are very eager to learn. One of them said that he was 'mad to learn.' Let us hope that this unusual complaint may prove infectious. There are twelve Eskimos who can now read the 3rd chapter of St. John's Gospel in their own tongue." Molucto and his son were at this time able to read as much as five chapters, some parts quite fluently.

Having experimented successfully in this way, Mr. Peck resolved as soon as possible--i.e., as soon as ever he should feel quite certain of the sounds himself--to transcribe the whole Testament.

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