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 XIV. A Corn of Wheat

"In deaths oft"

NOT a great deal has been said about Mr. Parker in these pages. The reason, of course, is that a young missionary cannot, in the nature of things, at first figure in the active work of the Mission so prominently as his elder colleague who has had many years of experience. His time is necessarily taken up with learning the language, the habits, and ways of the people to whom he is sent.

Mr. Parker, however, had made very rapid advance. On Mr. Peck's return from Kikkerton he tells us that his companion is fairly proficient in the language, and is able to take the meetings and instruct the people.

He had previously won his way to the hearts of the Eskimos through his medical skill and sympathetic manner. They called him "Lukta," which was their corruption of our word Doctor. But more than this, as he was somewhat short in stature, they had bestowed upon him a diminutive of affection, "Luktakuluk," which is "the kind little doctor." The native children had also become very much attached to him.

Altogether, he seemed to be becoming now daily more useful to his colleague and more necessary to the Mission. But God sees differently from man, and His ways are not our ways. It was quite impossible to foresee the blow that was about to fall.

Everything was looking bright, the dark and cold of winter were things of the past. "We spend as much time as possible in the open air and enjoy the sun's genial rays. Grasses and other small plants in sheltered nooks are looking beautiful in their summer garb. How I do admire them, and thank God for giving us these tokens of His bounty and goodness." The night was as bright as the day, and sometimes even the heat would be excessive. The longest day came and went; every day was busy. Mr. Parker was working especially hard upon an Eskimo dictionary. In the beginning of August an opportunity for a holiday and recreation was offered him. Mr. Hall, Mr. Noble's chief agent, made arrangements to go to a river some twenty miles away in order to catch salmon. It was proposed that Mr. Parker should join the fishing party and really enjoy a holiday expedition.

Mr. Peck cordially endorsed the proposal. "As my dear brother really needs a change and rest, I quite agree with him that the trip will be (D.V.) beneficial, and I gladly offer to remain and hold the post while he is away."

On Sunday evening, August 9, Mr. Parker addressed a very attentive gathering, and the following day was chiefly occupied with preparation for the journey. But here we will allow Mr. Peck to tell the story of what happened almost in his own words, as the entries are made in his diary.

"On Tuesday, August n, we rose early, and after breakfast had our usual reading and prayer together. The portion of God's word for the morning was Luke xiii., from verse 31 to the end of the chapter." The last verse is the solemn one which here seems to have a peculiar adaptation, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."

The boat was ready, and "I went out to see Mr. Parker start. There was a fresh breeze blowing, but nothing to cause anxiety. After a hearty shake of the hand, and watching the boat out of sight of the island, I returned to our little house. The passage of Scripture which came that day in my ordinary consecutive study happened to be the 20th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which speaks so touchingly of Paul's farewell to the Elders of the Ephesian Church. While reading this portion I was almost overcome with a strange, overpowering emotion which I cannot describe, but which partook of the nature of a hallowed but awfully solemn and tender sense of love to the Lord Jesus, and of strangely drawn-out affection for Mr. Parker."

On Wednesday the weather became cold and windy, but on Thursday it calmed down again, and "I went to see Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Noble's agent, who remained at the post. He had intended to go with the others on the salmon-fishing expedition, but he changed his mind at the last moment, as he was feeling unwell. There were consequently seven men in the boat instead of eight, viz., Captain Clisby, Mr. Parker, Mr. Hall, and four Eskimos. The object of my visit to Mr. Sheridan was to arrange for a trip to-morrow to a place called Noujakhalik, some three miles from here.

"The people were anxious to get some shell fish which are found in the sand at low water at Noujakhalik, and I was feeling the need of one day's change.

"On Friday, August 14, the weather was very fine, and we got together a crew of Eskimos and made a start. We reached our destination, and had been ashore about three hours when an Eskimo, who had been to the north in his kayak hunting, came to us with the awful news of his having found a boat with a dead body inside; he also stated most positively that the boat was the very one in which our friends had sailed on the Tuesday.

"I was utterly overcome with the horror of the news, and could only kneel down and try to cast the awful burden upon the Lord.

"Gathering the people together, we pulled some miles in a northerly direction, and there we found the ill-fated boat, not bottom up as we expected to find her, but quite upright and almost full of water, with a dead body, face downwards, across the thwarts. The body was that of Captain Clisby.

"As the weather was calm, and the boat did not appear much damaged, I got one or two of the men to help me bale her out. After some time spent in hard baling we got the water under, and managed to plug up some of the holes in her with oakum. Then taking her in tow, we succeeded in reaching Blacklead Island late in the evening.

"Our arrival caused, as may well be imagined, great consternation and grief. The relatives of some of the men were on the island, and then all the people knew what a friend they had lost in Mr. Parker.

"Captain Sheridan, a Captain Marshall, and myself carried the body of Captain Clisby up to Mr. Noble's store.

"Here, on examining the body, and from the marks and wounds discovered, together with the position in which we found the deceased, we are led to infer that after the boat left Blacklead Island (the wind was quite fair when she started) the boat's boom-end, through the motion of the craft, was rolled under the water, and while the boat was thus held down the sea rushed into her.

"In this emergency Captain Clisby, knowing that the only way of saving his companions was to get the boat upright, bravely rushed for'ard, cut the halyards of the sail and the rigging on one side of the mast. He then evidently managed to get to the other side of the boat, and was engaged in clearing away the remaining stays which held the mast when the boat must have suddenly righted herself, the mast toppled over, tore away the socket in which its heel was held, caught Captain Clisby (on what would then be the lee side of the boat), and there the brave, devoted fellow must have been held, pinned down as in a vice by the weight and pressure of the mast, etc., and so perished, partly, we think, by the injuries he had received, and partly by the cold seas which must have washed continually over him.

"The others, as we surmise, must have held on to the boat as long as possible, but were finally overcome with the cold and washed off.

"Oh, the utter sadness of the awful catastrophe! What can one do in this trying hour? Our refuge is in God! We know His love never fails! What He doeth we know not now, but we shall know hereafter."

On August 15 "I consulted Captain Sheridan, and it was decided that he should take the few men now on the island, and look for any further signs of wreckage. We also thought (although the chances are slight indeed) that some of the party might possibly have reached one of the islands about here.

"As Captain Sheridan knows all the land thereabout, it was arranged that he should take the search party, and that I, with the help of an Eskimo, should make a coffin for the remains of our friend, Captain Clisby.

"Captain Sheridan returned in the evening with the sad intelligence that not a vestige of anything or any one had been seen."

"Sunday, 16th.--the remains of Captain Clisby were laid to rest. Nearly all the people attended the funeral. Two boats were manned, and the coffin being placed in the stern-sheets of one, we then proceeded to an island some four or five miles from here. This island has been used as a burial place for many years for men who have died in the country. I counted some twenty-five graves, several of which contained the remains of men who had died on board the whaling ships.

"Some of the graves had boards erected over them, giving the name, age, etc., of the deceased. One I particularly noticed gave the names of three poor fellows who had died of scurvy. Another board gave the mournful record of two men who had perished in a snow-storm. Altogether it was a sad and touching sight to see all these tokens of loving remembrance in this barren and lonely spot, It was a scene which thrilled one's soul with a solemn sense of the nearness of God and of the great unseen world.

"After the Eskimos had cleared away sufficient sand and some large stones, the body was lowered into the grave. I then called them together, and, standing close about the open grave, we all sang, 'Safe in the arms of Jesus.'

"The Burial Service was read in English (Captain Sheridan being present). I then read a portion of the same service in Eskimo, and afterwards spoke to the people of the need of our being ever ready--through faith in Jesus--to meet our God.

"Poor people! They seemed deeply touched. May the Lord speak to them and to us all through this pressing sorrow!

"After returning to Blacklead Island a boat's crew of Eskimos arrived. They had picked up a few articles belonging to the boat, but nothing had been seen of any of the bodies.

"Captain Sheridan is sending off another search party as soon as possible, though we all feel that there is little hope of finding either of our friends alive, for the current where we believe the boat was swamped is so rapid, and the water so cold, owing to the immense quantities of loose ice about, which has remained with us this summer, that no one could possibly have survived."

"Monday, 17th.--Wind too strong to despatch the search boat, as intended. I feel the loss of my brother Parker intensely. He was so strong and reliant a companion, so useful with the people, so ever willing to do anything. How lonely the little dwelling looks and feels now! How everything I look upon and touch reminds me of him who is now at rest with his Lord. I flee unto Jesus in this trying, lonely hour! Thou loving Lord Jesus, how steadfast Thou art! To whom should I, to whom could I, go but to Thee!"

"Tuesday, the 18th.--Climbed the rocks that I might be alone with God, Had a season of very special prayer for support and guidance. Lord, let Thy will be made clear. Yea, Thou wilt make it clear. Thou has never failed me yet, and why should I doubt Thee now?

"Search party started to-day. They are to go along the coast and islands, and return in a week's time."

"Saturday, 22nd.--The Alert arrived to-day. All on board were much distressed to hear of the death of our friends. The arrival of Mr. Sampson, whom the Society has sent to re-inforce, and make it possible for me to go home and see the translated Gospels through the press, greatly cheered my heart and strengthened my faith in God, and gave me the assurance that God wished this work prosecuted. HE has heard the petitions of our many praying friends, and has guided the committee to their decision.

"I gave Mr. Sampson a hearty welcome, arid the first thing we did on reaching our little house was to commend ourselves, the work, and the people to our covenant-keeping God. Surely He will keep that which we commit to His trust.

"Letters from loved ones and friends were all encouraging, so there is much to thank God for. I am naturally much exercised in mind, now that dear Parker has been summoned home to his Lord, to know what the will of God is regarding myself at this critical time.

"One fact the Lord seems clearly to have impressed on my mind, viz., that He does not will my going further North in whaling vessels next year, which I had hoped to do.

"If I go home this year, I have a strong desire to return to Mr. Sampson next season. But before deciding anything I must know more of my dear brother, and ascertain if arrangements can be made with Mr. Noble's agent here, that, if necessary, Mr. Sampson can live with him, before even I can contemplate leaving him even for the winter.

"Of course, I dare not forget the great responsibility connected with my dear wife's health, and what might result from a further heavy mental strain, especially considering the terrible nature of the complaint from which she previously suffered. Our God will surely guide me! I ask Him for an absolutely single eye for His glory. I ask for wisdom, and we have the promise that if we commit our works (ways) to the Lord, our thoughts shall be established. 'In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.'"

For the next three or four weeks our missionary was often alone in prayer for the very special guidance he needed, while at the same time he had long consultations over the position with his new colleague, Mr. Sampson.

The people had taken to Mr. Sampson, and his medical knowledge gave him a ready access among them. Then, too, he showed a marked linguistic capability, and began to study the language with much diligence.

Mr. Sheridan readily agreed to board and lodge the new young missionary if necessary, and to help him in every way possible, if Mr. Peck finally decided to go home.

The Alert, which would be the only known means of return to England, was, however, much hindered by successive gales, and it was evident that she would be unsually late in starting on her return voyage.

Then, while still waiting upon God for guidance, the Divine hand was shown to our Missionary in a remarkable manner.

About 9 a.m. on Thursday, September 17, there were sounds of excitement outside the little house, and news was brought that a steamer was close to the island, and that already some of her people had come ashore.

The steamer proved to be the Hope, with Lieutenant Peary and his Arctic exploring party on board. When the leader of the expedition learned the position of affairs, he very kindly offered Mr. Peck a passage in the Hope, which was bound for Sydney Harbour, Nova Scotia.

From thence the traveller would be able easily to get to Halifax or some other large port, and from there could ship by liner for home.

After renewed prayer, careful consideration, and a final consultation with Mr. Sampson, Mr. Peck decided to take Lieutenant Peary's offer and return home, three special considerations weighing with him in all his deliberations over the matter: First, the absolute and pressing need for the Gospels to be seen through the press, that the people might have the Word of God in their hands; second, the condition of Mrs. Peck's health; and, third, the critical condition of his own throat, which, if not treated, threatened to stop all his work by actually rendering him unable to live in the land.

It was on Thursday that the Hope arrived off Blacklead Island, and on the same afternoon she steamed into Nanyaktalik harbour.

On the Friday, Mr. Peck, having now decided to go home, went to Nanyaktalik to see Lieutenant Peary and the commander of the Hope, Captain Bartlett.

The Hope was just starting for Blacklead Island, and Mr. Peck returned in her, landing at 6 p.m.

From that moment until midnight he was busy packing and entertaining the numerous callers.

After a few hours' rest, rising again at 4 a.m., he had to go on board the Hope, as she was to start early that morning. The two recently united colleagues commended each other to God and started for the ship.

A touching and interesting farewell then took place. The sorrowing Eskimos, fearing that they would see the face of their beloved teacher no more, crowded on board for a sad good-bye. Some of the old women produced knives, and requested Mr. Peck to cut their flesh deeply, so that they might always have a scar to look at and remind them of him. It is only fair, however, to say that they did not mean or expect their friend to take them at their word. It was merely a form of expressing their love and sorrow, and an indication of the wound that the separation would cause in their hearts.

It is needless to say that Mr. Peck was deeply touched by these tokens of affection, and full of sadness as well as bright hope, he watched his island disappear as the steamer forged ahead.

We do not know that Mr. Peck ever had any real intention of saying a final farewell at this time to his Eskimo friends at Blacklead Island. We do not think he seriously contemplated such a step, though perhaps a sentence in his diary might lead to such a supposition. But whether he did so or not, the death of his colleague put it quite out of the question. He recognizes this when, in speaking of his future return, he remarks, "the path of duty is the path of safety." He saw his path of duty plainly marked out for him; he heard the voice of God telling him that his sojourn in England would be brief, no matter how the ties of relationship and earthly affection might seem to bind him to the old country.

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