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 XI. A New Venture

"Launch out into the deep "

IT was clearly stated in the last chapter that Mr. Peck held strong views about the duty of the Christian Church to obey the simple command of Christ and to seek and save the lost whether in Arctic wilds or arid desert. But when a man holds strong views and is himself perfectly earnest, it is but a step from advocacy to practice, and so we are scarcely surprised, although we admire, when we are told that Mr. Peck himself began to contemplate going further north among Eskimos who had never been reached before by any Christian effort.

The possibility of doing this was presented to him by the impossibility for some years to come of his wife being able to return with him to missionary work. Thus he argued that he might leave the old field for other workers and explore new regions where as yet no lady could go.

Under these circumstances Mr. Peck opened up his mind to the Rev. David Fenn, one of the Secretaries of the Church Missionary Society. The latter entered with much sympathy into the proposal, and advised him to write to the Rev. Sholto Douglas, incumbent of St. Silas, Glasgow, as being likely to put him in touch with merchants and others who had dealings with the more distant Eskimos.

The result of this was that Mr. Douglas gave the missionary an introduction to a member of his congregation, who was intimately connected with the shipping interest, and ultimately he became acquainted with Mr. C. Noble.

It so happened in the providence of God that this gentleman about a week before had completed the purchase of a whaling station, Blacklead Island, in Cumberland Sound, and now he was pleased to offer a passage free of charge for the missionary and his goods to this spot, and to allow him to take up his residence there.

And so with this opening before him Mr. Peck once more went back to Salisbury Square, and there the Committee sanctioned this new departure on condition that a colleague could be found to join him in this newest venture of faith.

If the work be of men, it will come to nought. We may say this with Gamaliel. And God showed that it was not of men, for He had simultaneously with the happening of these events been preparing the necessary colleague.

The anniversary meetings of the Church Missionary Society in Exeter Hall came on. Mr. Peck was one of the appointed speakers. No wonder with all his fire of love for the Arctic wanderers, he put forth a fervent appeal for young men. There was in the audience listening to his words a former student of the Society's Institution at Clapham, Mr. J. C. Parker, who had received a medical training. He had felt constrained to abandon his intention of being a missionary on account of the state of his father's health. He had concluded that his duty was at home. But now things had changed. Since he had left Clap-ham his younger brother had grown up and was able to take his place. So when he heard the appeal, "Who will go for us?" his heart responded with a complete surrender. "Here am I, send me." And so the last link in the chain was forged. The project was acknowledged of God, and the Holy Spirit who centuries ago had said, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them," said the same thing in equally clear terms now in the case of Peck and Parker.

It was said that the last link in the chain was forged. But it must not be forgotten that the chain would have been useless without another worker who must not be forgotten. This was Mrs. Peck. She worked and suffered as truly as those whom the Church was about to send forth.

It was no small thing for her in her weak condition, and with her little children round her, heroically to face the prospect of separation and her husband's utter isolation from the world. But she did face it, and argued that God who was calling her husband forth would not only go with him but would also remain with her and her family. Mr. Peck writes concerning this time, "I may truly say that I never could have gone forward to prosecute this new work but for the prayers, the hearty sympathy, and the cordial consent of my dear wife."

On May 8, 1894, the two brethren were commended to God by the Committee in Salisbury Square, and on May n Mr. Peck writes to their supporters:

"As many friends have expressed a wish to follow us definitely in prayer when we (D.V.) go forward to our new work at Cumberland Sound, may I mention the following particulars?

"The vessel will leave Scotland on the 20th of June, and the voyage out will probably take about eight weeks.

"After landing cargo the vessel returns to Scotland in the autumn of this year, and there is a probability of our not hearing from the outer world until the vessel returns to Cumberland Sound in the summer of 1896, viz., in two years' time.

"In going forward into the very Arctic regions to seek out the scattered sheep in the wilderness, we feel we shall have in a very special manner the prayers and sympathy of many of God's dear people. Great has been the kindness and great the sympathy shown to me as I have gone to many a bright Christian home in England, and it will be a tower of strength when far away to remember that one is compassed about with a host of praying friends. And then, best of all. 'God is with us.' His promise shall never fail: 'Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of."

The ship was, however, somewhat delayed, and it was not until June 27 that Mr. Peck finally separated from his loved ones.

About the start, he writes:

"At Euston Station, near the time of departure (8 p.m.), we had quite a company present to bid us God-speed, for not only were my dear wife and her brother, the Rev. W. Coleman, and Mr. Parker's dear ones there, but, to our great astonishment, a large band of the brethren from Islington College had gathered to speed our going and to wish us every joy and blessing in the work.

"As the train left the station, these dear brethren ran along the side of the train and cheered us most lustily. I do not, of course, know what a certain titled man, who had a stately saloon and a large retinue of servants, all to himself, thought of these strange proceedings, but certainly we felt greatly cheered and comforted by knowing that so many of the servants of our God and King had forgotten neither us nor our work--our work which is His.

"Once clear of the station the mighty express swept on at terrific speed on its long journey north. All that we loved and held dear were now left behind, and one's heart grew full, and there were moments which were overwhelming.

"Then one took up the parable against oneself and cried: 'But why art thou disquieted within me, O my soul? For whose sake art thou leaving all? Hope thou in God. Remember the exceeding love of Him who died for thee upon the Cross of shame and for His sake cheerfully bear the Cross.' "

The travellers arrived at Aberdeen about 8 a.m. the following morning, but they were doomed still to some days of waiting. The time of sailing of a vessel for a whaling station is not characterized by the precision of the P. and O. or a great Atlantic line. It must have been somewhat trying to the missionaries to reflect that they might have spent these days with the loved ones from whom they had parted in London. But there is no sound of a far-off murmur or sign of irritation. They went on to Peterhead, and there made use of their time in making preparations, in prayer, in gaining information and also in open air preaching. Of the last Mr. Peck says, "The attention was very marked, and we have reason to believe that God blessed the Word to some souls."

During these days of waiting Mr. Peck was interviewed by a representative of the Sentinel newspaper. The report of this interview occupied a whole page and contained a vast amount of interesting matter, but as it was taken up almost entirely with a retrospect of work on the shores of Hudson's Bay, it is not necessary to reproduce it here. It is mentioned here only as additional evidence bearing upon the fact which has become abundantly evident of late years, viz., that the work of foreign missions has more and more assumed a position of importance in the eyes of the general public.

It was not until Monday, July 9, that the two missionaries signed articles at the Customs House and so became members of the ship's company. The vessel, which was called the Alert, a whaling brig, registered to carry 129 tons, was only ninety feet in length and twenty-one in breadth. The crew numbered eight men, exclusive, we presume, of the chaplain and surgeon. She was not chartered to carry passengers and so Mr. Peck signed for the voyage's chaplain and Mr. Parker as surgeon.

"On Tuesday, July 10," Mr. Peck writes, "everything being ready we went down to the vessel. We met several friends who wished us every blessing on our voyage and work. As the mouth of the harbour is very narrow we had to employ a tug, which had not towed us very far before she broke down, one of her boiler plates having given way. This necessitated our return to as near our old berth as we could get. God is doubtless overruling all for His glory and our good."

At last on Friday, July 13, a fortnight after the arrival of the two missionaries at Peterhead, the Alert finally cleared the port. Numbers of people gathered to see them off, who sped them on their way with three resounding British cheers. Nothing further could be heard of or from the travellers until the return ship brought letters in the autumn.

Mr. Parker's letter, which was written on September 14, 1894, is interesting as giving the freshness of impressions made on one who had never sailed in Arctic seas before.

"We made a good passage, a possible average of five knots an hour. August 6 gave us an introduction to the ice in the shape of some immense bergs. A just description of them is beyond me. They fill one with admiration by day, but at night their presence creates fear. We met a pack of ice in Davis Strait. When in latitude 65° N. we came to an immense field of it. A skilful navigator is required in these high latitudes, for the ice is very uncertain and treacherous in the summer season. To me sailing among the ice is very exciting, and adds that feeling of dignity which arises from a sense of danger. How shall I describe to you the loud report of the ice when breaking up? I call it that of Arctic artillery. The snow-clad heights of the distant land, when bathed in the light of an evening sunset, were a sight most lovely, and in their ever-varying shades of colour defy description.

"On Saturday, August 18, we sighted and welcomed the gigantic old rocks of Cape Mercy. As seen from off the sea the land here is high, bold and rugged, with much of the iron-rust look about it, while the total absence of trees, so essential to our English eyes, strikes one painfully. Still these have a beauty all their own at daydawn and sunset, besides the glory of their primaeval ruggedness.

"We dropped anchor off Blacklead Island on August 21. Eskimo boats were soon alongside, and we had an early introduction to the Arctic aristocracy. The island, as its name indicates, contains the mineral blacklead. It is a small, high, barren rock. It is a two hours' walk round it on the frozen sea. Its vegetation is very meagre. I can find no shrub six inches high; there is a little grass, moss, lichens, and the berry-bearing heath (Andromeda tetragona)."

Mr. Peck also writes about his first impressions of his new home. After talking of the voyage generally, and of his ministrations to the crew of eight hands, he goes on: "Speaking of the nature of the country near Cumberland Sound, it has a decidedly forbidding and desolate aspect, and the rugged mountain tops rise hundreds of feet above the level of the sea and are still in many places covered with a white mantle of snow. On landing we had the pleasure of finding in the sheltered spots some signs of vegetable life. These, however, were chiefly of the nature of grasses; not a tree or a shrub could be found."

First impressions were confirmed by after experience, for a little later on Mr. Peck wrote: "In very truth this island is a gloomy-looking spot, almost absolutely nothing to be seen but rocks, and the bones of whales which strew the place everywhere. Sometimes in a particularly sheltered spot, one may come across a tuft of coarse, stunted grass."

After landing the missionaries and their property, the Alert sailed on Monday, August 27, for Kikkerton, another whaling station belonging to Mr. Noble, on the opposite side of Cumberland Sound. To avoid delay, however, and possibly to retain her ballast, she did not discharge the coal belonging to Mr. Peck, amounting to fifteen tons. The arrangement was that she should return to Blacklead Island a little later, deliver the coal and pick up her own stores and cargo for the return voyage.

She came back in three weeks' time on September 20, but in a sorry condition. During a heavy gale she had struck a huge piece of ice, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that she was kept afloat long enough to reach Blacklead Island.

The first thing now to be done was to lighten the vessel in every possible way, and Friday, the 21st, was a busy day with everyone, Eskimos, missionaries, and vessel's crew unloading the Alert of all that could be taken out of her. The fifteen tons of coal, among other things, were safely landed and stored, and with a burst of very natural gratitude, Mr. Peck writes in his diary, under that date:

"To God be the praise for His exceeding kindness to usward in this matter! What a mercy that we were not left without fuel in this miserable region! "

On September 22 they were able to get the Alert round to a place on the mainland, called Niatalik. In a few days she returned fitted as far as was possible for the voyage to Scotland. In this interval Mr. Peck writes: "We have now to spend some time writing our home letters, as it is more than probable that we shall have no other opportunity for two years, so we must make the most of this." St. Paul spoke of loneliness among the trials that he had to undergo. What words can describe the solitude and isolation of Blacklead Island?

On September 29 we find the entry, "Alert sailed to-day. We went on board, and bade farewell to everyone. May God bless them and give every one His presence and a safe passage. What thoughts crowded into one's mind as this one last connecting link with the homeland and dear ones was severed! But God is near. He is true and faithful."

And so when the Alert had brought those home letters to their destination, the receivers imagined that the curtain had fallen upon that little corner of the great vineyard, and that it would not be lifted to reveal the fruit of the labour or any details of the lives of the solitary workers until two years should have rolled by.

But on October 10 the unexpected happened. Two whaling vessels called at the station, and the missionaries were enabled to send later letters by them. By these, as well as by those sent on the earlier date, we have a good insight given us into the commencement of the work.

It has been remarked in an earlier chapter that the language of the Eskimos all over their wide range of territory, from Behring Straits to Greenland, is the same with only slight dialectic differences. Happily, on going among the people on Blacklead Island, Mr. Peck found the truth of this. He writes in his diary: "The people seemed perfectly amazed to find that I could speak their language, for I found practically no difference in the speech of these people and that of those to whom I had ministered in Whale River and Fort George.

"I shook hands with many of them (for they do not rub noses now as they did when first the white man discovered them). I explained why we had come, not as traders, but as tellers of God's good news.

"This was too wonderful for them to comprehend, but the time was soon to come when they would understand our meaning."

On the arrival of the two missionaries a hut belonging to Mr. Noble was lent them. It consisted of two rooms, each about ten feet square. One was used as kitchen and schoolroom, the other as bed, sitting-room, and study combined. Mr. Parker wrote that their first work was the repairing, fitting up and arrangement of this abode. "Our aim," he adds, "has been to make it throughout as bright and home-like as possible. The newly-fallen snow lies on all the surrounding hills--sweet emblem of purity and of the sin-cleansed soul through the blood of the Lamb. So now we are looking for God's blessing to rest on us as we begin this real Arctic Mission to these "other sheep" who belong to Jesus in this cold, lone land. Brethren, pray for us, that our faith fail not."

The list of stores needed to start their housekeeping is at first sight somewhat appalling. It is--

Coal 15 tons.
Wood 1 ton.
Flour 1 ton.
Sugar 8 cwt.
Tea 180 lbs.
Preserved meat, with desiccated and preserved vegetables 800 lbs.
Oatmeal 6 cwt.
Ship's Biscuit 1 ton.
Jams 1 cwt.
Soap 2 cwt.
Paraffin Oil 1 barrel.
Methylated Spirits.

Articles of barter, such as knives, pipes, tobacco, scissors, etc., etc.

Some items in this list may seem to be excessive, but several things have to be borne in mind. Firstly, everything, even down to the sticks for burning, had to be imported from home. Then there was the probability that they would be cut off from home for two years, as it was not thought likely that there would be enough produce from the whale fishery to justify the vessel coming from Scotland to fetch it oftener than every other year. So they must be provisioned for that time at least. Lastly, there was always the possibility of their Eskimo friends being actually in distress from time to time from scarcity of food. In such cases the missionaries must have the means of succouring them.

As soon as they had taken possession of their hut, the two brethren settled down into a systematic life. The usual routine, Mr. Peck tells us, was as follows: Rise 6.45 a.m., light fires, prepare breakfast; breakfast 8 a.m., prayers 8.30 a.m.; study of Eskimo language with Mr. Parker from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.; visiting and preparing Eskimo addresses from 10 a.m. to noon. Then came the preparation of dinner. Dinner i p.m., private reading and study from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., school for children from 3 p.m. to 4.15 p.m., visiting and exercise from 4.15 p.m. to 5.30 p.m., tea 5.30 p.m.; after tea, prepare for evening meeting, which is at 7.30 p.m.; after the meeting, study of the language with Eskimos; family prayer at 10 p.m.; then private reading and devotion till 10.45 p.m. This ended the day and bed had been earned.

"God blesses the days," Mr. Peck continues, "as they roll on, and one feels time too short to do all that ought to be done."

School for the children, it will be noticed, occupies a recognized place in the day's routine. This was one of the first things taken in hand. As early as September 9 this entry is found in Mr. Peck's diary: "Visited several of the tents, and asked the parents if we might have the children to teach them. To this proposal they readily assented, and to our dismay the little ones came in such numbers that we could hardly find room to stow them all away." They proved to be very intelligent and eager to learn, and the missionaries were much encouraged. Frequently notes are found to the effect that the children were very attentive, learning their hymns, repeating verses of Scripture, or endeavouring to master the syllabic character.

At an early date after their arrival the missionaries took a census of the population of Blacklead Island. They found there were forty tents, and the people inhabiting them numbered 171. Perhaps the reader will exclaim, What a handful of persons to call forth two men from home comforts to the dreary surroundings of an Arctic whaling station. Surely there is waste of energy and time and money here!

Well, the fewer and more degraded the people, the more is our admiration compelled for those who will go forth to care for them. For they are far removed from any hope of honour or distinction in this world. Anyhow, we should bear in mind that Jesus Christ before He came to earth was not moved by specious arguments about waste. He left countless realms of glory to come to our poor, dark, fallen corner of God's great universe. Mr. Peck, too, did not view his position as wanting in importance. His exclamation about the 171 persons is, "Quite a number of precious souls for which to give an account to the Master! May He fill me with a burning zeal for their salvation!"

One thing the new mission stood in need of, and that was a place of meeting where the people could assemble for worship and instruction and the children could come together for school. This want was supplied by the Eskimos themselves. As early as October 3, Mr. Peck writes in his diary: "Two Eskimos are busy making the frame of a tent, which we hope to have ready by Sunday"; and two days later we hear of its progress, and of the great interest which the men are taking in its construction. This true tabernacle of witness to the presence of God in Cumberland Sound was ready in time, and when Sunday, October 7, was over, we read that it had been "a very happy but wearing day. We visited the people from tent to tent, and invited them to come to our opening meeting. Many came, and they joined heartily in the few hymns they knew. On the whole we have much cause to thank God. The tent is about twenty feet long and ten feet broad. Two long seats are placed along the sides on which the people sit. The women, quite by choice, like to sit together on one side.

"It is an encouraging fact that the tent was made and the greater part of the material provided by the Eskimos themselves."

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