Project Canterbury

A Visit to Lahaina

By John Sheepshanks

From Mission Life, Vol. VI (first series), September 1, 1869, pages 535-547.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2008



AT the time of my visit to the Sandwich Islands, a steamer was plying between Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii, and I determined to take advantage of this to pay a visit to the two last-named islands. Starting from Honolulu one evening in April, 1867, late in the forenoon of the next day we arrived before Lahaina, the principal town of Maui, having been some eighteen hours on the way from Honolulu, though it would not be above a seven hours' passage in a really good steamboat. Lahaina was formerly a place of some little consequence in the island, and threatened to be a rival to Honolulu, the whalers preferring it on account of the comparatively small port charges, a subject of great complaint at Honolulu; but latterly, owing to the decrease in the whaling trade, it has much decayed.

A few ships, however, still go there to take in supplies. The anchorage is very open, outside the coral reef and in front of the town, which runs along the water's edge. Behind the town rise the bold, lofty, barren-looking mountains of Maui. One of these, is the famous extinct volcano Haleakala ("House of the Sun,") 10,200 feet in height, and possessing one of the largest craters in the world. There is nothing remarkable about the town itself; trees have been planted round all the habitations, and there are some groves of cocoa-nuts which seem to give the place a picturesque appearance from the sea, but the impression it conveyed to me was that of a parched and dreary spot. It was, however, with the object of seeing the Mission of the Anglican Church there that I went to Lahaina; and, accordingly, as soon as I landed I made straight for the house of Archdeacon Mason, the clergymen in charge. He was teaching in the boys' school at the time, but came out to see me, and kindly offered to show me the good works going on there in connection with the Mission. First we went into the boys' schoolroom, a good-sized room about 50 feet by 20. It is stoutly built, the walls being of thick coral stone, with wooden lattice work running all round the apartment under the eaves to admit as much air as possible. There were then sixty-five boys attending school, twenty-five of them being boarders and forty day scholars. Each boarder paid $100 (£20) [535/536] per annum, and in many cases where the boys' parents were poor their expenses were defrayed by the Government. In the second master I recognised a young clergyman whom I had formerly known at San Francisco; he had lately joined the Mission, but told me that hitherto he liked both the place and the work thoroughly. The latter I could quite understand; when an earnest man is engaged in a real work for God's sake, and a work upon which He appears to be bestowing His blessing, he will love his work and be happy in it; but that he could say that he liked Lahaina I could only explain by the fact that he was happy there. All certainly seemed happy enough at the school at Lahaina. The boys appeared to be in thoroughly good hands. They had none of those dull, or dogged, or hard sulky looks which one not infrequently sees in English country schools. They seemed bright, intelligent, cheerful, and attentive. They were clad, after the manner of Hawaiian boys, in white trousers and shirts, no jackets nor waistcoats, no shoes nor socks. Neither of the under masters had either coat or waistcoat on, so that though the day was oppressively hot--in fact I gained the impression that every day is oppressively hot at Lahaina--with the abundant ventilation, and the lightness of their attire, they all appeared to be cool and perfectly at their ease.

From the school we went to the temporary church, a simple, rough building, soon, I trust, to give way to a better one, for which some funds have I believe been already collected. But poor though the building was externally, pains had evidently been taken to do all for it that love and zeal could effect without expense. It was scrupulously clean, though always kept open for the advantage of any, whether whites or natives, who might wish to go in to say their prayers.

A slight screen of wood separates the chancel from the nave. In the chancel are the seats for the choir, which is formed of native boys. The altar is well raised above the chancel floor, and over it there is a devotional medieval-looking picture of the Crucifixion, evidently a good and expensive copy of some old painting. This was a gift to the Mission from some friend in England. As in all the churches attached to the Anglican Mission in the islands, there are daily and Sunday services for both the Hawaiians and the whites. Though there are not much above two hundred whites in the place, the "foreign" [536/537] service is crowded every Sunday, for the Archdeacon is a man of great gifts, and the settlers ride in for miles from the country round to come to church.

This I gathered from conversation with several residents. There are ten white, and thirty-eight native communicants attached to the Church. As regards the native communicants, the clergy find that they must exercise strict discipline, for the Hawaiians, brought up in the sight of a great deal of lax and nominal Christianity, and naturally knowing no restraint upon their passions, would desire to communicate and yet indulge in the sins to which, as a nation, they have always been accustomed, and in which they can with great difficulty be brought to see any sin at all; so that the clergy, who make purity of life a sine quâ non of communion, are obliged to be very careful as to whom they admit; and in order to prevent any who may lapse (for some such there will be in every community converted from heathenism) from still frequenting the holy table, as they otherwise unquestionably would, they scrupulously enforce the Church's rule as to the necessity of due notice before communion. In this, no doubt, most wise; for, apart from the momentous question of the weal of any such backsliders themselves, nothing injures the cause of Christianity more among a godless people than the scandalous lives of those who, notwithstanding, are admitted to all its privileges.

The Calvinists and the Roman Church both have long-established Missions here. The American Missionaries naturally have a good deal of influence, analogous to that of the chief. The bond, however, which unites them to their people has latterly in some cases become much weakened. The natives, becoming careless and cool in their religion, refuse to pay their subscriptions, and are straightway cut off from fellowship; and our clergy are not infrequently solicited to baptize the children of those who have been thus rejected by their former teachers.

The question as to how soon, and to what degree, native converts should be called upon to contribute to the support of the ministrations of religion among them, is no doubt a difficult one, and one that has not as yet, perhaps, received sufficient consideration. That they should be taught, and invited to contribute as soon as they realise the blessing that they have received, seems clear. The country that sends the Mission will not [537/538] continue to support it always, and new fields are continually opening. When the enthusiasm or interest excited in favour of any Mission at its start begins to fall off, funds will soon be wanting, and, unless by that time the work be in some degree rooted in its new home, diminished effort will be the result of diminishing supplies. For the sake of the converts themselves, too, it is desirable that they should assist the work among them with their offerings. It is a law of human nature--to omit all reference to the precepts of the Gospel--that we are never so much in earnest in support of a cause which "costs us nothing," as for that which calls upon us to exercise some self-denial. In this respect, many of our Missions are fairly open to the charge of backwardness: and this is but natural; for the English clergy, unaccustomed in general at home to call upon the people for their own support, are very loth, when in the colonies, or engaged in purely Mission work, to remind their flocks that the labourer cannot labour without his hire. Great care must of course be taken to show that there is no desire to make a gain of the people, and herein is the difficulty; but, as far as my own small experience goes, I believe that if the natives see that the whites among whom they live are willing to contribute of their means, they will not be found to be backward. I have known, again and again, North American Indians, being present in a church with their white brethren, though unasked themselves for their offerings, stand forward to put their half-dollars and quarters into the church plate--the perplexed churchwarden at first not knowing whether to receive their alms or not. In this, no doubt, some of them were actuated by a desire to place themselves on an apparent equality with the more civilised whites. As regards boldness and experience in making a new community self-supporting, the Missionaries of non-established bodies have no doubt a great advantage. It is obvious, however, that if Church and State should be disunited in England, the cause of Missions would, at all events at first, suffer terribly. The sympathies and purses of churchmen would be so much engaged in providing for home wants that they would not spare much consideration for the work in foreign lands.

The Roman Mission, which finds the difficulty that I have already spoken of in enforcing strictness of life among its communicants, has, I was informed, about twenty that are [538/539] trustworthy at Lahaina. There is now no service for the whites there, except that of our own Church.

From the church we drove to the other end of the town, to see the girls' school, under the care of the Devonport Sisterhood. There were two sisters there at the time. One of them met us at the gate, and showed us over the establishment, with which I was much pleased. The buildings are of wood, and of a simple, unpretending style. We were conducted to the schoolroom; to the refectory, where an abundant supply of poi and meat was being put upon the table for the children; and then to the dormitories, where everything was as neat as it could be. Each child has a separate bed, and each little bed has a mosquito curtain round it, supplied by the friends of the children. Thence we went to the oratory, where everything, as one might have expected, was in beautiful order. In the courtyard was a beautiful kukui. This is one of the handsomest and most useful of the trees of the Islands.* [Footnote: See next paragraph.] It is large and wide-spreading, with smooth leaves, and somewhat like the walnut in appearance. Gathered under its shade, we found the children assembled, and, under the direction of one of the sisters, they sang two or three hymns for us, in English, very sweetly. They were nearly all quite young, for the sisters will not receive any over twelve years of age; though they can remain there, if their parents are willing, until they are young women, when they can be received into Mrs. Mason's Home. They were all very clean, and tidy, and smiling, and seemed very happy. Their complexion was very much lighter than that of the Hawaiian children that one saw running about in the streets: The sisters observed that civilisation made them lighter. No doubt the being somewhat more within doors has its effect. The diet, too, may have somewhat [539/540] to do with the change. The Kanakas have a saying, "Sweet potatoes make the skin light-coloured and soft; rough and dark is the skin of him who eats poi." The question of the change in the colour and texture of the skin is an interesting one, as bearing upon the diversity of races. Variations of climate have of course the greatest effect. Morell, the Englishman who was discovered not long since in Australia, after nearly twenty years life among the aborigines, had approximated very greatly towards the natives in appearance. The descendants of pure Africans, escaped slaves, settled in North America, as regards their skin, lose, after several generations, many of their distinctive features; but I believe that a change of habits, diet, and general mode of life has more to do with modifications of the original type than might at first be supposed.

[Footnote, from above: * [539n] The kukui is used by the natives for various purposes. Of the wood they frequently make their canoes, they also obtain from it a gum, which they use in preparing varnish for the kapa or cloth. The inner bark furnishes a dye of a dark red colour. From the nuts a useful oil is obtained, of which great quantities have been exported. The nuts themselves are also used by the Hawaiians to answer the purpose of candles, in the following manner:--First, they are baked, and the external shell removed, then a hole is perforated in the kernel, through which a rush or string is passed, and they are then hung up for use. In their houses they string ten or twelve upon the thin stalk of the cocoa-nut leaf. The top one is lighted, and as it is consumed the flame kindles on the one below it, and this goes on until all are consumed. Each nut will burn two, or three minutes. The various uses to which the natives put this tree illustrate their ingenuity in availing themselves of the natural means at their disposal.]

At the time of my visit to Lahaina there were forty-two boarders at the Sisters' School, besides several day scholars. No more could be accommodated in the present buildings, and the sisters would be unwilling to receive them if it were possible, as in their opinion it would not be advisable to have too many under one roof. If their operations were enlarged, they would set up another establishment on the other side of the town. The reinforcement of sisters with whom I had the pleasure of sailing from San Francisco, are now conducting the girls' school at Honolulu, and, as I hear, with eminent success.

It is difficult to over-estimate the importance of the work of sisterhoods in the Missions of the English Church. Any one who is practically acquainted with the Mission field will have seen how great is the loss of the Church from a want of the power derived from the principle of association. Nowhere is there more need of the magic power of sympathy than in lonely and often disheartening mission work. Nowhere does one more require that support which is obtained from an association with others having a common object in view; engaged in the same work, buoyed up by the same hopes, made happy by the same signs of progress and blessing, baffled by the same difficulties, and perhaps discouraged for awhile by the same failures. As regards the general work to be done, such work as is carried on by the associate sisters, it is the more likely to be performed efficiently from the fact that each one will find employment for the exercise of her peculiar capabilities in that branch of the work to which the bias of her mind and inclination lead her, and for which [540/541] she is obviously the best adapted. One may take one portion of the work as her spécialité, another another. It may be seen that the gift of one lies in teaching, of another in visiting and tending the sick, of another in the management of the material affairs connected with the institution; and yet all will feel that they are labouring for a common object, and will take the deepest interest, not only in the general success of their undertaking, but also in that of each branch or department of the whole work. Thus each, instead of feeling that numbness which often results from a sense of isolation, will work in more hopefulness and in better spirits from the sense of partnership and the having sharers in troubles and in joys. They have the aid and inestimable comfort of a visible and tangible communion in sacred things, a participation of holy hopes, an intercourse upon sacred subjects, an interchange of consoling thoughts. They have besides, what is by no means to be forgotten, the advantages within themselves of a refined and highly cultivated society. They are not therefore in the position, as they would be if isolated, of having no one of kindred tastes with whon1 to associate. With similar tastes and of equal culture, they can converse upon terms of intellectual equality, and thus always possess within themselves the means of recreation, or at least of relaxation; and, more than all, they have the support and comfort of a common worship and the blessings of united prayer.

It is obvious that these considerations will apply equally to communities of men. There may be, perhaps, greater difficulties in the way of their formation, but surely they would be accompanied with similar advantages; and certainly it does seem strange that among a practical people like the English these advantages should have been so long apparently overlooked, and no attempt ever made in this direction. That the peculiar difficulties and trials of the Missionary life are enhanced by isolation is too obvious a truth to be denied or disregarded, and to meet the difficulty it is counselled by some that the Missionary should be always a married man. But this plan often only removes one difficulty to import others quite as great. The clergyman's wife cannot, perhaps, make herself happy in a sphere so different from that to which she has been accustomed. She is [541/542] an English gentlewoman, and has been accustomed to all the comforts of an affluent home, and to all the pleasures of good society; and she suddenly finds herself in a rough uncivilised land with no society--with not a woman of education within perhaps twenty miles--in the midst of barbarous or semi-barbarous natives, with sights and scenes around her which frighten and shock her every time she steps out of her own doors. Her husband, perhaps, can bear this, but he has been called to his work, and perhaps is deeply interested in it; but she, it may be, feels no call nor inclination for anything of the kind. This mode of life is one which she never contemplated when she married, and for which she is wholly unfitted. Perhaps she has children: then how many more difficulties surround the family life! Servants are probably scarcely to be had; wages are enormously high; they cannot afford to keep a servant. All her time, and no inconsiderable portion of her husband's time, is necessarily taken up in household duties and in the care of the children: her life is a mere drudgery. The Missionary, seeing his wife over-worked, cannot leave his home, to go upon Missionary expeditions which otherwise he would be glad to undertake. The sight of his little ones fills him with many anxious thoughts. How can they be educated? Will they grow up to be like the rough inhabitants of the land? Nay, how are they to be provided for? If he should stay out at his work for many years, and then return home, he will have to begin life again,--a middle-aged or elderly man,--upon a curacy of £100 per annum, with no interest, and small hope of improving his position. Perhaps he thinks that he must do something for his family, and begins to plan how he may make money, and takes up land and commences farming, thus bringing in more distractions. Then there are innumerable troubles in colonial domestic life, for those who are poor and have never been accustomed to hard work, which may seem petty when viewed from a distance, but which in truth are real and practical enough. Perhaps for several months in the year the little community is frozen in and no fresh meat can be obtained, and the Missionary forages for stray birds with his gun; or the mosquitoes are in summer so numerous that life is made almost insupportable, and the children become feeble and sickly; while in dead of winter the mercury descends to zero, and, when living in a poor wooden [542/543] house with no servants, half the morning is consumed in boiling water, thawing the different articles of food, and preparing the first meal. There are a thousand other deprivations and petty hardships which make up the wear and tear of colonial life, harass the Missionary's good wife, and prey upon her spirits. She becomes depressed, and instead of cheering her husband with sanguine and hopeful views of his work, looks gloomily at the future, and, to use a favourite colonial phrase, becomes a "croaker." It is, too, extremely probable that she is of a delicate constitution; the climate does not suit her. Scarce any colony is as healthy as England, at least for those that have been brought up in Britain. Harassed and worn out, her health utterly breaks down, and her husband, with a sore heart, feels that if he will not see his wife die before his eyes, he must give up his work and return to England.

This is no exaggerated picture; its truth will be recognised by many. Of course it is by no means meant as a description of what always happens--many points of the sketch are inapplicable to our older and more civilised colonies--but of what is not infrequent, especially in the newer and rougher communities. That it is not infrequent, the records of our Missionary Societies would, I think, abundantly testify. The case of the bachelor is not much better. He may, perhaps, be quite a young man, settled in some remote district, quite as an outpost of the army of Christianity. At first he is wholly uninstructed and inexperienced in Missionary work--surely never were soldiers so ill prepared sent out into any battle-field as are some of our Missionaries--and scarce knows how to set about it. Being quite alone, he has no one with whom he may consult, from day to day, as to what is best to be done. There can be no partnership, no division of labour. Whatever is done, be it preaching or teaching, or pastoral visiting, or; maybe, cooking or mending clothes, he must do it all himself. He has no one to help him or cheer him, or sympathise with him. It is extremely likely that there is no one with whom he can associate, no educated men within miles with whom he can converse upon terms of intellectual equality. If he do his work he is sure to meet with a measure of respect and liking from many of the whites around him, but there seems to be scarce any one who cares a straw whether he succeeds in his ministerial work [543/544] or not. It is likely enough that there will be representations of other forms of Christian belief, which he believes to be either erroneous or defective, in the field before him; and he sees that to a greater or less degree they appear to be prospering, while, perhaps, over-sensitive and scrupulous, he can see scarcely any result of his own labours which he thinks would stand any severe test. He longs for some kindred spirit with whom he could talk over what lies so near his heart; and when in his evening walk he passes the French Mission House, and sees two of the pères pacing together up and down the verandah, talking and smoking their cigarettes, while from some corner of the building come the gay notes of the French horn, skilfully played, he envies them their companionship, and says to himself--"If only I knew French a little better I would go in and ask those fellows how they are getting on." The Bishop does indeed once, perhaps, out of compassion, send up to him a supernumerary clergyman, just arrived from England, whose station has not yet been decided upon; but men are too scarce, and money is too scarce, for him to be permitted to remain there, and so, after a week or two, he goes away, and the gloom is all the deeper for the brief period of its illumination. In his lonely evenings despondency and self-mistrust attack him more or less often. "The disciples," often he thinks, "went out two and two, even for their short absences from their Divine Master. The apostles, such even as they were, had companions upon their journeys. Holy Paul could say, apparently despondent, 'only Luke is with me;' and I------!" And then he naturally begins to think that he has mistaken himself, that he is not fitted for the work, that it is reserved for better men than he; and that he had better at once have the candour and the courage to acknowledge his error and seek a humbler sphere, for which he would be better qualified. If, indeed, he be a man of strong faith, moral force, and physical strength, he will battle away manfully, and, by God's mercy, doubtless in time have his reward. There are men, thanks be to God! who, like my friend Mr. Duncan, at the noble Mission of the Church Missionary Society at Metlakatla, can labour away for years single-handed in the midst of men as savage as the beasts of Ephesus; but men of such calibre are not always to be met with. The army is not made up of Havelocks; and why cannot some system be adopted which shall utilise [544/545] for the Missionary cause men who may be too much wanting in physical or mental strength and stubbornness of will to stand alone, and yet, if supported, might be able to do good service in their Master's cause? This is most certain, that many a man, from isolation and loneliness, utterly breaks down in health of mind and body, and finds himself compelled to give up a work which is perhaps just bearing fruit, and which it sorely wounds his heart to leave. Why should not the principle of association, with all its supporting and comforting influences, be brought to bear upon this, the most arduous and trying work which the Church has before her. Is there anything in the nature of Englishmen which prevents their combining together upon the principle of aiding each other and giving way to each other for the promotion of a grand object? Let us hope not. At least, why should it not be attempted? It is not for me to say how. Probably only some experience would show the best method. Before attempting anything upon an extended plan, it might be well to try the practicability of the system in our English Church upon a humble scale. I believe that if clergymen of known piety and practical wisdom were to avow themselves ready to organise and to head associations of clergy and lay helpers for the evangelization of any particular nation, district, or tribe, there would not be wanting those who would offer to take part in the enterprise: men would come forward who are now deterred from volunteering for Mission work by timidity, self-mistrust, and a conscious want of resolution. The consent of parents and friends, an important consideration, would be more willingly granted than under the present system; and on the supposition that the plan would be organised with practical wisdom and carried out in a spirit of mutual consideration and forbearance, with the Divine blessing a good work might be done. If these attempts were successful, they would develope, beyond doubt, into a more complete system, and lead to organisations upon a more extended scale. Why should not Englishmen do upon the principles of the Church of England what has been done by men of other nations? Will it be said that this is a system which we cannot adopt because it has been adopted by the Church of Rome? But, setting aside the fact that this mode of action is founded upon the wants of human nature, and is anterior to what is purely Roman, are we, upon the supposition [545/546] that there is nothing in it essentially sinful or unworthy, to refuse to use it merely because it has been adopted by those with whom we do not agree, and has been found to answer?

To return from this somewhat long digression: there is one other institution connected with the Church Mission at Lahaina which is well worthy of notice: this is a Home for Young Women, to which the girls may be removed on leaving the Sisters' School, and which also any other young woman may enter, as far as there is accommodation for them. It is under the care of Mrs. Mason and a young lady assistant. There were twelve inmates when I was there. It scarcely need be said of what vast importance it is to keep a good influence over the young women of the native race, as they are growing up to womanhood. So to educate the young women that they may become faithful wives and good mothers--to assist them, as far as human instrumentality can do so, with the Divine blessing, to keep themselves pure amidst the unbounded profligacy that surrounds them--seems the true way of effecting permanent good, and to be the only means of saving a remnant of the fast-perishing Hawaiian race. Sir George Simpson, a very acute observer, remarks concerning the Sandwich Islanders, "The principal measure for preserving the native population appears to be the elevation of the female character." It is indeed a most difficult work, for by centuries of nature-worship licentiousness seems to be ingrained in their nature: they shew signs of it at an almost incredibly early age; but until some progress is made there can be no permanent improvement in the native character.

As a visitor, I need scarcely add how deeply I was pleased with what I saw at Lahaina. Parched, desolate, and most uninviting as the spot appeared externally, yet, in truth, "the wilderness and the solitary place" seemed to me to "blossom as the rose."

It was fragrant with Christian love, zeal, and self-denial. Accomplishments and highest talents are there being employed upon what might seem to some ignoble work. Are they being thrown away? Are they who are labouring there hiding their light under a bushel or not? or rather, while illumining the darkness around, preparing for the time when they "shall shine as the stars for ever and ever." Dies monstrabit.

There is another Mission of the Anglican Church in Maui, at Wailuku, on the other side of the island. It is presided over by [546/547] a clergyman in American orders. I heard most favourable accounts of it, but was unable to visit it myself. There, as elsewhere, the Mission has wisely set itself to the education of the young. Individual converts--I mean real bonâ fide converts--may be won from the adult portion of the population, but the great work is to be done among the young. Some sixty or seventy children are being trained at Wailuku. I regretted much not being able to visit it, but feared that I had not time, and therefore reimbarked in the steamer on my way to Hawaii. However, having proceeded but about a mile from Lahaina, the wretched old boat broke down in her machinery, and we came to a dead stop. It was wonderful to see the indifference with which this was taken by all of us. The few passengers lolling about the decks--for the greater part of the natives had left us at Lahaina--scarcely exerted themselves to ask what was the matter, though I "was told that" if something else had broken, which fortunately did not break, half of us might have been badly scalded. But indeed it was far too hot to permit of much excitement. For some time we lay perfectly still; for we were under the lee of the land, and the captain seemed to think that there was some risk of our being drawn by the current upon the rocks. This I inwardly thought would perhaps be no such bad job after all, for we were too near the shore and the sea was too calm to admit of any danger to life or limb, and it was quite time that the old tub received her coup de grâce; but, however, the boats were got out and we were towed lazily by the Kanakas out of harm's way. A slight breeze sprung up, and after a few hours, when we got into the Channel, we caught the trade wind blowing strongly and steadily. The sails were set, and when we awoke next morning we found ourselves back in Honolulu. No charge was of course made for our abortive attempt to reach Hawaii, so that I made my trip to Lahaina and back at the cost of one dollar expended in boat-hire.

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