Project Canterbury

Five Years' Church Work in the Kingdom of Hawaii

By Thomas Nettleship Staley
Bishop of Honolulu

London, Oxford and Cambridge: Rivingtons, 1868.

Chapter II. The Response to the Call

IT was early in the year 1861 that the Bishop of Oxford, in a discussion which took place in the Upper house of Convocation, on the subject of Missionary Bishoprics, spoke as follows:--

"That the King of the Sandwich Islands was most anxious to see a Bishop of the English Church established in his dominions. His Majesty mentioned that, 'according to the Constitution of his kingdom, no established Church, in the proper sense of the term, can be formed there; that all creeds are left free, to be supported by voluntary contributions.' He proposes to make the Bishop preceptor to the Crown Prince. He thought it best to communicate with the Queen, and wrote a letter, in most excellent English, begging Her Majesty to give all the assistance she could in sending out a Bishop of the Church of which she is the temporal head. The present mail has [13/14] brought me a letter from the Bishop of California, who points out the importance of making the islands a missionary centre. Further, the American Church is very anxious to unite with the Church of England in this work. [See in Appendix, Letter from Right Rev. Dr. Kip to the "Pacific Churchman" (1866).] And Bishop Potter states that they will undertake to support one or possibly two Missionary Clergy, to work with the Bishop whom the Church of England may send out. All this is matter of the deepest interest and the greatest importance; and I think it most important that we should at once consider the question. If God opens to us new fields, we ought to turn our attention to them, and to occupy them in a manner consistently with primitive customs and primitive practice, and to follow out historical precedents in extending the Kingdom of Christ."

The invitation of the King to our Church being thus publicly and formally announced, and the difficulty to its acceptance being the need of funds, the course usual under such circumstances was taken. Those who sympathized with the object came together and formed a committee, consisting of Church dignitaries, noblemen, and gentlemen; several of them members of the committees of the two venerable [14/15] Societies for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge.

Within one month after the Bishop of Oxford's speech in Convocation, the following statement was published and circulated:--

"POLYNESIAN CHURCH.--The committee for promoting the establishment of a Church in Honolulu, in communion with the Churches of England and America, having taken into consideration the King of Hawaii's desire to receive a mission from the Church of England headed by a Bishop, are of opinion that measures should be taken for fulfilling the desire thus put, we trust, by God into the heart of His Majesty.

"That having respect to the importance of these Islands as a probable centre of Christian influence in the North Pacific Archipelago, as well as to the immediate needs of the actual population of the Hawaiian group, an earnest appeal for support be made to the Church at home.

"That as it appears by letters from the Bishops of California and New York, that there is a readiness on behalf of the American Church to unite in this [15/16] effort, the committee hail with gratitude to God such an opening for common missionary action between the two great branches of the Reformed Catholic Church.

"That the Bishops of California and New York be requested to convey to the Church a America most earnest invitations from this committee to unite in the work.

"The city of Honolulu contains, besides its native population, European and American residents. The French Roman Catholics possess a cathedral, with a Bishop, clergy, &c., and the American Congregationalists have also places of worship. The King offers on his own behalf and that of his subjects and residents who desire the establishment of the English Church, a yearly payment of 200l. and to give the site for a church, parsonage, &c. It is also probable that a grant of land may be made for the future support of the Mission. The resources of the Islands can probably not do much more at present than this, and the committee appeal with earnestness to their fellow Churchmen to assist in sending forth labourers into this part of the Lord's vineyard."

The two venerable Societies, the Society for the [16/17] Propagation of the Gospel, and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, immediately signified their approval of the movement by liberal grants in its aid.

After some discussion as to the manner in which the consecration of a Missionary Bishop should be performed, whether or not with any action on the part of the Crown, it was finally decided that the Royal Licence was necessary. And on the 15th of December, the consecration of an English Bishop for the newly-created see of Honolulu took place in Lambeth Chapel, by the then Primate, Archbishop Sumner, assisted by the Bishops of London and Oxford.

It was the morning when England awoke to learn how vast a loss she had sustained in the death of the Prince Consort, and when every nerve of the country was quivering under the blow!

A farewell service for the Mission party was held in Westminster Abbey, when the Bishop preached, and the Holy Communion was administered to a large number, chiefly the friends and supporters of the undertaking. The celebrant was the Dean, the present Archbishop of Dublin, assisted by the Bishops of Oxford and Capetown. A few days before the departure of [17/18] the Bishop from England, he received from the Archbishop of Canterbury the following letter:--


"I am much gratified by your kind note, and the opportunity which it gives me of wishing you farewell, which my state of health has prevented my being able to do, as I could have wished, in person.

"I have also to thank you for the sermon which you have forwarded to rue, and the assurance which I receive from it (not that I wanted it before) that the blessing of the Head of the Church will accompany your ministry.

"My earnest prayers go with you and your family, devoting yourselves, as you have done, to a work which few would have undertaken. I shall not survive to hear of the success granted you; but what we know not now, we shall know hereafter.


These words of sympathy and encouragement were among the last written by the venerable Primate.

The Mission party, consisting of the Bishop of Honolulu and family, the Rev. G. Mason, M.A., [18/19] and the Rev. E. Ibbotson, embarked at Southampton for the Isthmus of Panama, on the 17th of August, 1862. By the kind permission of the Rev. Mark Cooper, Vicar, the Holy Communion was celebrated in St. Mary's Church at 8 a.m. (specially for the Mission), notice having been given to that effect in all the churches of the town the day before, which happened to be Sunday. The communicants numbered nearly 100, and the offertory was devoted to the fund of the Hawaiian Church.

The first part of the voyage terminated at Colon, or, as the Americans call it, Aspinwall, the port on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Panama. Here services were held on Sunday, September 7th, in a Wesleyan chapel, kindly placed by its minister at the disposal of the Bishop; and several persons were publicly confirmed. The seed thus sown was not without yielding its fruit; for a neat Gothic church has been since erected by the Panama Railroad Company at this place, in connexion with the Episcopal Church of the United States.

It ought here to be mentioned that the managers of this American line, with praiseworthy liberality, remitted the usual charge for excess of baggage, on the ground of its belonging to missionaries; thereby [19/20] saving the party upwards of 50 l. sterling--an example which our English companies might well imitate.

On the 10th of September, the Bishop and party sailed from Panama, the old Spanish city on the Pacific side of the Isthmus, and arrived in San Francisco after a voyage of fourteen days. Here they were kindly received by the Bishop of California, Dr. Kip, and the American clergy of the city. A vessel was on the eve of sailing for Honolulu, in which, after a rest of two days, they embarked.

The weather was propitious. On the twelfth day of the voyage Molokai and Maui were passed, looking beautiful in the setting sun. In the morning the vessel was off Honolulu. Full of thankfulness and hope, the Bishop and his companions held their last service in their little barque. Scarce had they risen from their knees, than they were greeted with the sad tidings, brought on board by the pilot, "The Prince of Hawaii is dead!"

Every member of the Mission felt this as an almost fatal blow. The baptism of the Prince had been anticipated as the inauguration, so to say, of the work. Her Majesty Queen Victoria had graciously consented to stand sponsor at the ceremony; and she had sent out by the hands of the newly-arrived [20/21] British representative, Mr. W. W. F. Synge, an appropriate gift for her god-child, while Mrs. Synge was to act as her proxy. It was found on inquiry, that a Congregational minister had been summoned to baptize the little fellow privately, his distracted parents having first sent to the British man-of-war, "Termagant," which had lately arrived in port, to see if there were a chaplain on board. Alas there was none.

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