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 IX. Marriage--Fort George

"Thy people shall be my people."

MR. PECK'S sojourn at Ungava Bay lasted until the arrival of the Hudson's Bay Company's steamer. Then he embarked on the vessel which sailed to a port on the Labrador coast. After various changes he reached St. John's, Newfoundland. Thence taking passage in a ship sailing for England he arrived in Liverpool on the 15th of October, 1884, to enjoy a sojourn in the old country. This English sojourn has no place in an account of work among the Eskimos save for one fact which influenced that work considerably. This was Mr. Peck's marriage. He had known the Rev. W. Coleman, the present vicar of Moreton Morrell, in Warwickshire, before he went to Little Whale River, and when on a visit to him after his return home, he found his friend's sister, Miss Coleman, ready to share his life of privation and danger for the sake of Christ. They were married in St. Paul's Church, Greenwich, where Mr. Coleman was curate at that time. Nothing need be said except that she was worthy in every way to be the partner of the servant of God, and to cheer his solitude. A braver and more devoted help-meet was never given to a man. "Fear did not enter into her calculations where the Lord's work and His glory were the object."

"Is it His will that we should prosecute this work?" would be the only question, and when the answer was affirmative: Then let us go forward "Strong in the strength which God supplies through His eternal Son."

We are reminded as we read this of the patient persevering faith of the first woman who had anything to do with Eskimo missionary work. When Hans Egede embarked at Vaagen for Bergen before proceeding to Greenland nearly two hundred years ago, his friends who had been estranged from him for some time owing to his madness, as they deemed it, in leaving home for unknown perils and hardship, found their love for him revive. They flocked in crowds to see the ship sail and to wish him God-speed. This sympathy and demonstration of affection proved almost too much for his steadfastness of purpose. Then it was that his wife stood by his side bidding him be brave, play the man and not look back after having laid his hand to the plough. And so it is that not only on the day of Calvary but all through the history of Christianity, women stand closest to the Cross of the Saviour.

In May, 1885, almost immediately after their wedding, the newly-married pair left Liverpool for Hudson's Bay. They travelled by way of Quebec, Montreal, through Lake Huron, and a portion of Lake Superior as far as Michipicoten, and from the last-named place, about 500 miles to Moose, in a frail birch bark canoe.

Novel were the experiences for the young bride almost before the days of the honeymoon were over; lakes and rivers abounded in rapids which had to be "shot." The sensations of many in these positions of excitement, not to mention danger, would have been such as those experience "who go down to the sea in ships and occupy themselves in great waters." The Psalmist describes them in the expressive words: "Their soul melteth away."

The Indian guide who accompanied them, and who could speak a quaint, broken English, hoping to amuse and interest the travellers, gave detailed accounts of all the thrilling events which had occurred in the past, when voyagers had essayed to shoot these rapids.

One place he called "De Frenchman's rapid," and in response to the question, "How did it acquire that name?" he replied, for the special comfort and edification of the two travellers, that three Frenchmen had recently been drowned there, while attempting to shoot that particular rapid.

"But shooting these rapids," writes Mr. Peck, "though attended with danger, has its peculiar excitements, and quite ecstatic experiences, and often we almost yelled with excited delight, when after a few minutes of breathless suspense, we suddenly found ourselves rushing safely through the white, foaming waters at the foot of the roaring torrent."

After six weeks of travel the journey came to an end on July 4, 1885, by the arrival of the travellers at Moose.

Almost immediately after reaching the last-mentioned place, Mr. Peck found a small vessel of the Hudson's Bay Company sailing for Little Whale River. He accordingly embraced the opportunity of paying a somewhat flying visit to his Eskimos, Mrs. Peck had met with an accident and was unable to accompany her husband. Concerning this visit he writes: "They gave me a most hearty welcome, and seemed so glad to see me back again safe and sound."

"As regards the work, I am glad to say that two of the native teachers have done what they could to instruct their fellow-countrymen during my absence, and on the whole we saw reason to be thankful that so much had been done."

This journey occupied a very short time, and Mr. Peck's intention was to return to Moose only to take his wife away. But this proved to be impossible. The doctor decided that she must remain where she was through the winter.

Happily the effects of the accident soon passed off. On February 8, 1886, Mrs. Peck writes to Miss Tolley: "I am so very glad to be able to tell you that through the blessing of God, I am quite recovered. The fine bracing weather we have had has done me much good, and I am looking forward with great pleasure to the summer when we hope (D.V.) to go on together to our Eskimos, who have been so long without their minister. I am very happy out in this lonely land. The days pass quickly and pleasantly with a little study of the language, a walk and work of some kind. I have experienced for the first time the intense pleasure of receiving letters after a long silence. The whole of the day on the receipt of our letters was spent in reading them and thinking of the home friends . . . On the arrival of the annual ship, we had much pleasure in looking at the bale of things sent out by so many kind friends. Our pleasure was a little spoiled because we knew we should not distribute them ourselves. I hope next year to know all the people a little, and more as years pass on, should it please God to spare me to work with my husband amongst his people. I am longing to get to the work and shall try to learn both Indian and Eskimo. The latter seems the most difficult; it is hard to get the right pronunciation."

Nine days later, i.e., February 17, 1886, Mr. Peck writes; "As Mrs. Peck is now so well, I shall (D.V.) leave for Little Whale River in a few days. I shall have to walk about two hundred and fifty miles; the remaining three hundred and fifty will have to be done with sledge and dogs." In this same letter we hear for the first time of the prospect of easier journeyings in the near future on account of a useful gift to the Mission: "My little steamer will, I trust, be put together in the coming summer. I shall (D.V.) return to Moose in the beginning of July, and shall, perhaps, use the steam launch in taking my wife on to our own little home."

The postscript to this letter is: "The dogs have just arrived, and I start to-morrow morning early on my long journey."

It needs no words from an editorial pen to enable us to read between the lines, of the patient self-denial of both man and wife, who in the first year of wedded happiness give up one another for long periods of separation and of the faith that trusts God with all that is dearest in privation and danger.

The stay at Little Whale River lasted from March 18 to May 5. No details of this visit are forthcoming, but the general summary is;

"I was kept busy teaching the Eskimos. I was glad to see that many of them had taken care of their little books, and had continued to read them during my absence in England. Others, again, were as anxious as ever to hear the message of salvation, while some, I am sorry to say, have gone back to their heathen ways, and their hearts seem closed against the truth. But to counteract this last saddening fact God has given us a mighty token of His power in the happy, yea, triumphant, death of one of Christ's little flock.

"Having remained at Little Whale River as long as possible, I took an Eskimo, with sledge and dogs, and travelled on to Fort George. One remarkable incident ought to be mentioned here in connection with this journey. When we approached the Fort George River, the ice, which was very weak, began to break up; but fortunately the portion on which we were standing held together until the people at the post came and took us away in a canoe. The rush of water and ice near us was really alarming, and nothing, humanly speaking, could have saved us had the whole force of the current borne down upon us; but, thank God, it was carried in an opposite direction, and we were able to keep afloat until succour arrived.

"Had I known the real state of the ice I should not, of course, have gone near it; but neither my Eskimo companion nor I had any conception of its weakness, and we thus unconsciously ran into danger. May this remarkable preservation be written upon my inmost soul! May gratitude to God for His goodness incline me to real devotion in His service!"

Mr. Peck reached Moose again somewhat earlier than he had at first contemplated, on June 23. Here he found all well and the steam launch within a few weeks of completion. So it was determined that the start should be made almost at once for their own station.

It should be mentioned that on his return from England Mr. Peck received instructions to make Fort George his base instead of Little Whale River. They started, then, for this station, which is about two hundred miles south of his old quarters. Mrs. Peck travelled in company with a medical gentleman, Dr. Dobbs, who was most kind and helpful.

"I went on," says Mr. Peck, "with our supplies, which were shipped in a boat, the gift of kind friends in England, which had been sent out in the annual ship the previous year.

"In due time, after my arrival, Mrs. Peck also arrived, and shortly after gave birth to our firstborn, a fine boy, who I trust will himself become, in God's good time, a messenger of peace to the heathen.

"Our home at Fort George was a log-house, thirty-four feet long by sixteen feet broad. This area was divided into three rooms, one being our dining, the other a sitting-room, and the third my study. Our bedroom was on the second floor, but in cold and stormy weather, we found it practically impossible to use this upper room, and were glad to make any shift in the lower rooms.

"The house was warmed by means of two large stoves, one being for use downstairs, the other up. Wood was burnt in these and a goodly supply was needed to last us through the long, long winter.

"This fuel was obtained from the woods bordering the bank of the river, and was mostly cut in the summer time, made up into rafts, and floated down the river, to a point not a great way from our house. From the river's bank it was carried up conveniently near to the house and stacked in piles for the winter consumption.

"All food, such as flour, oatmeal, tea, sugar and every other kind of grocery and kindred supplies, had to be obtained from England, and this only once a year, by the annual vessel. At Fort George, however, we never saw this vessel, for our supplies reached us by a smaller craft.

"Now it is a remarkable fact, and one for which I would never cease to give praise to our covenant-keeping God, that during the whole of our experience at this isolated station, the vessel never failed to reach its destination.

"At Fort George, in certain more favourable years, we were able to grow a few stunted, diminutive vegetables: we have even grown a few potatoes, though it is not possible to say much about either their size or quality.

"Turnips, as being more hardy, were our standing crop. Our little daughter, who was born at Fort George (and no medical man was near us), when she was big enough to toddle about, used to make her way to the garden and pull up a turnip, and devour it with the keenest relish.

"An amusing incident in connection with this child and her love of raw turnips, occurred in 1892, seven years after, on my return to England. We had just landed, my wife and children and myself, under circumstances that will find their own place later on in this narrative. While waiting at the railway station, previous to the starting of the train, and having seen some apples at a fruiterers near by as we entered the terminus, I thought they would be a treat to my children, who had never, of course, seen an apple.

"Returning to the carriage where I had left them, I dropped some of the apples into the lap of my little girl, waiting curiously to hear what remark she would make concerning the (to her,) strange fruit.

"With wonder in every line of her sweet little face, she looked up into her mother's, and with beautiful, childlike simplicity, cried: 'Oh, mother! what big turnips these are.'

"To return to Fort George. Besides the food supplied from England, we could, in most years obtain a fair supply of fish, rabbits, partridges, and sometimes a little venison. But there were years when these things could not be got, then the anxiety and strain to provide for one's loved ones was very great and sore.

"Mrs. Peck did wonders in the way of making our log-hut bright and cheerful. Our little sitting-room was most tastefully arranged, and our mealtimes were ordered with as much regularity as if we had been living in England.

"We had Indian girls from time to time, as servants, and one of these especially became very useful and helpful.

"Mrs. Peck's daily life was somewhat as follows. After the Indian maid had lighted the fires so that the rooms were fairly warmed, the little ones were washed and dressed.

"Breakfast followed this, consisting often of fried fish, porridge, etc. Then came the morning family devotions, reading and prayers.

"After prayers, various domestic matters were attended to, dinner prepared, children's clothing looked over and mended or newly made. Then at 1 p.m. came dinner.

"After dinner, our little ones were amused and taught, and during my absences from the station, Mrs. Peck held school for the children belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company's employés.

"Tea came at 5 p.m., after which our little ones were read to, and put into bed."

After the little ones were tucked into bed, in that icy northern home of the Pecks, a few other matters employed husband and wife until 9 p.m., then came prayers, and retiring.

"My time," writes Mr. Peck, "was taken up with teaching bands of Indians and Eskimos who came into the station to trade, and who made visits of various lengths. School was also held for the children of the Hudson's Bay Company's people, while tuition was also given to one or two Eskimo boys whom we kept at our house. These were not only instructed, but Mrs. Peck did everything possible for them as regarded food and clothing.

"In the winter, we made a high, thick, wall-like bank of snow (three to four feet wide) against the walls of our house, which proved a great help in keeping it warm, shutting out the piercing wind, and enabling us to keep it snug.

"Our little ones were clad in warm English garments, and in wintry weather were, of necessity, kept indoors. Toys and picture-books, which kind and thoughtful friends sent out from home, with others which we ordered ourselves, helped to amuse them, and make their little lives bright.

"When we were all in good health our lives passed very happily, but when sickness invaded our little home--with the nearest doctor three hundred and fifty miles away--our only real hope was in the loving mercy of the Great Physician, the sympathising Jesus, and in the use of the limited medical knowledge we possessed.

"The greatest strain which Mrs. Peck felt during these years at Fort George, was during my absences when visiting the distant Eskimos. As these people visited Whale River in the months of March, April, and May, I travelled from Fort George early in the month of March, and sometimes in February, to Great Whale River, and did not return until the beginning of May.

"It was at these times that Mrs. Peck found her missionary life most trying. She was not absolutely alone at Fort George, as Mr. Miles Spencer was in charge of the station. Both he and his wife were in many ways real friends and helpers. Still, for all that, the general monotony of life at the station, when alone in our little house, far from her English home, and friends, and associations, needed a brave heart to face brightly the inseparable trials of such a position.

This chapter cannot have a better finish than a few extracts from diaries and letters which will enable the reader to picture to himself the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Peck during the next year or two, whether they are together or in their enforced separations.

On January 18, 1887, Mr. Peck writes: "I start (D.V.) for our more northern station, Little Whale River, on Thursday, the 20th. There I hope to see many bands of Eskimos in the three or four months during which I shall probably remain there.

In my absence my brave wife is determined with God's help to do what she can for the people here. May our gracious Saviour be near to cheer and comfort her in her loneliness."

On the same day Mrs. Peck writes: "And now my husband is again preparing for his visit to Little Whale River. This is a very quiet spot, but I shall not be quite alone. Our little son is getting a very good companion. He has a great deal to say sometimes, and is very amusing."

Thus we see the sympathy of the one and the cheerful patience of the other making the best of a trying position--a true picture of union in and for Christ.

Again, a year later, we have a glimpse into the snug log home which is very charming. It is in a letter to Miss Tolley from Mrs. Peck, in which the annual bale of goods is acknowledged. "Please accept our most hearty thanks for all the presents. The davenport is very nice and so useful. My husband is quite delighted with it. And the bookshelves too make a nice little addition to our room, and so suitable, as all our things are small. The room is tiny but quite English looking, with carpet and papered walls. The wall paper sometimes gives a very loud report, caused by the frost bursting it at the seams in the boards. But in summer we shall mend it again, as we did last year, and it will scarcely show. I like our little home so very much that I would not change it. And then we have our work out here. It is true I cannot do much outside work--I mean, I cannot help a great deal with teaching the people, but I try to keep the home bright . . . Our Christmas and New Year were spent very happily. We had about sixty Indians come to see us and twenty Eskimos, We gave them all coffee or tea and cakes. With that they were very much pleased. They all like to shake hands with us and kiss the boy. They say that he will be their minister by and by, so that they will always have some one to teach them. We should very much like him to be, if it is God's will. The Indian for little minister is 'lyumehowoochemashish,' that is what they generally call him. My husband is called 'lyumehowoochemow,' and I am called 'lyumehowoochemashwow.'"

All this sounds cheery enough, and we can understand the need of cheeriness and brightness within that cabin home when we read at the same time in Mr. Peck's letter: "Our winter here is passing very pleasantly, and we feel quite snug in our little log-house. True the vast expanse of snow outside looks cold, and at times, perhaps, makes one feel a little gloomy. Still we feel that we are spending our lives here for some purpose, and this, after all, is, I think, the great fact to bear in mind. Life spent in the Saviour's service is life well spent."

In the summer of 1888, Mr. Peck started on a journey to Moose, and intended to be away from home at least six or eight weeks. His wife was surprised, however, to find him returning very soon after his departure. What had happened? Was he ill? Had he changed his mind? No, it was simply that a serious accident had happened, but happily unattended by any loss of life. "I had," he says, "rather a serious mishap when going from Fort George to Moose in my boat. We had got some eighty miles on our way when we were obliged through stress of weather to anchor the vessel on the lee side of an island. We then thought it wise to camp on shore. Shortly after a fearful storm came on and drove the boat from her anchorage. She finally foundered amidst the heavy seas. We had a small canoe with us on the island, and so when the weather moderated we were able to go to the spot where the boat had sunk. With much difficulty we managed to get her afloat again. Unfortunately my box was on board containing nearly all my clothes and several of my books. This was shattered by the violence of the waves, and many of the things were lost. Some few, however, were eventually found packed amongst the seaweed and sand. What a mercy that matters were no worse! How thankful one ought to be that I and all that were with me should have been on shore when the storm came on. Had we been in the boat, not one of us, humanly speaking, could have been saved."

There is a bright side to every gloomy position, and it is pleasant to see the missionary take cheerfully the spoiling of his goods.

We do not often hear of Mrs. Peck accompanying her husband on his journeys. But sometimes she was able to do so. In 1889, on March 17, a little daughter was born, and in the summer following, when the baby was only two or three months old, she and the two children went with Mr. Peck to Great Whale River. Here she remained while he went on to Little Whale River. A few graphic touches come from her pen: "Baby was fastened up in a bag called in Indian, 'waspasuiom.' It is a strange-looking thing, laced up in the front. I always think babies packed in that way look like small bolsters. It is, however, the best method of taking them, for the weather, even during the summer, is very changeable. The coast to the south of Cape Jones is very pleasant. There are many islands on which one can go ashore to camp or for meals. To the north of the Cape the coast is open and when the wind was strong we had to lay the canoe up close to the shore for fear of being blown out to sea in our frail craft. This was in some places rather dangerous on account of the shoals. When we left the point of Cape Jones we had to travel in this way. We went about eighteen miles in two hours, and then were very thankful to put ashore on a barren point of the Cape where some Eskimos and Indians were staying. These were very pleased to see us, and came down to the beach to help carry our things to a suitable camping place. We had only a tiny tent made as there were no long poles. The wood and water we used had to be brought in a kayak, and, of course, was not plentiful. It was rather awkward with a young baby. The evening we arrived was pleasant, and our boy enjoyed a game with the Eskimo children.

"The following day, Sunday, my husband was busy reading and speaking to the people. We were kept in the tent on account of the rain which fell almost continuously the whole day. Monday also was very wet and we could not think of going on, so we had to make the best of our surroundings. A poor little Eskimo child died on Sunday night, and was buried on Monday morning. A grave had to be made with large stones.

"The Eskimos are such cheerful people. Although it was such dull weather, they seemed to be happy and contented.

"The following morning was very foggy, but we thought it well to try and get on our way. The poor people were sorry to part with us, and watched until we were hidden by the mist which hung so heavily over the sea. On our tenth day we reached our destination, after travelling about sixty-eight miles in nine hours. Sometimes the waves looked as though they would cover us, but God watched over us. The Indian we had as guide was very skilful in his management of the canoe and never seemed the least daunted by wind or waves. It was to me very comforting to see him so brave. We stayed at Great Whale River two weeks. We were only four days returning to Fort George."

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