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Notes of a Missionary Tour by the Bishop of Honolulu

[By Alfred Willis]

Excerpted from Mission Life (periodical), Volume IV (1873), pages 218-225.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006


HONOLULU, November 18th, 1872.

I HAVE just returned from a visit to Kona, where Mr. Davis has commenced his mission. I started on Monday, November 4. Our little steamer, which plies between the islands, always leaves Honolulu on Monday, about five o'clock in the evening. The Kilanea, for it is named after the volcano, is by no means an uncomfortable vessel--a vast improvement on the schooners which used to furnish the only means of communication between the islands. The food is excellent, the steward being the best cook in the islands. His cookery is thought so much of, that dinner parties in Honolulu are often given on Saturday when the Kilanea is in port, that Fernandez may be engaged as cook. He is, besides, wonderfully attentive to the passengers. I think he would have made a good nurse in a hospital. The passage to Lahaina occupies about twelve hours. On a fine night it is a pleasant trip. There are no staterooms, and the berths round the cabin are exceedingly hot and close. The pleasantest plan is to have a mattress on deck where one can sleep in fresh air under the canopy of heaven. I can sleep as soundly on the deck of the steamer as if I was on shore.

When I woke on the morning of the 5th at 8 bells (4 A.M.) I found we were already off Maui, not far from Lahaina. Landing at Lahaina, and at all places where the steamer touches, has to be done by small boats. Honolulu is the only place where the vessels can come up to the wharf. It is the excellent harbour which has brought Honolulu into its present prominence, and made it the capital of the kingdom. Lahaina was formerly the metropolis. The whale ships which came here for supplies used to lie in the roads between Maui and Lanai. Lying under high mountains, which shut out the trade winds, Lahaina is the most tropical place in the islands. The view of it from the sea, especially at sunset, is attractive enough. The cocoanut, bread-fruit, and other tropical trees, give it a cheerful appearance, and the bright green of the sugar plantations which rise on the slopes above are in striking contrast with the general sterility of the surrounding country. At this season the islands present a better aspect than I have before seen. The rains have given a tint of green to the mountain slopes, which at my last visit presented no signs of vegetation.

Those who come here expecting to see "green islands in glittering seas" will be probably disappointed as they cruise about these [218/219] coasts, particularly if it happens to be the height of summer. At an elevation of 2,000 feet vegetation is generally luxuriant enough, the mountains in many places being well wooded; but the coast line is barren and desolate. The steamer stays at Lahaina two hours for receiving and discharging freight, so I had arranged to have a celebration of the Holy Communion. Two months ago (September 6th) I confirmed 13 of Sister Phoebe's pupils from the school of S. Cross. This was to be their first Communion. Three of them had gone out to service since their confirmation. There was some doubt whether they would be able to attend. It was still quite dark when I landed. The Church-school, in which we have service, is very near the landing-place. Mr. Blundun, of S. Augustine's College, is here as schoolmaster and lay reader until his ordination at Christmas to the diaconate. As I did not come ashore by the first boat, not having completed my toilet, he went off to the ship, and so passed me on the water as I came in by the second boat. It was too dark to distinguish persons on the boats as they passed.

The day was just breaking when the service began a few minutes before six. All those who were confirmed were present. There was not time for a sermon, but I spoke a few words to those who were coming to their first Communion. They were all native or half white, but they thoroughly understand English. There were twenty communicants in all. The service was barely concluded when the second whistle of the steamer sounded, and it was necessary to hasten back to the ship. As we coasted along the shores of Maui, and under the cloud-capped heights of Haleakala, I occupied myself in reading St. Augustine, De Catechizandis rudibus--glad to have the opportunity for a little quiet reading. The day was very fine, and the sea as calm as an inland lake. After landing passengers for Ulupalakua, where Mr. Whipple is, the course strikes across the channel between Maui and the large island of Hawaii, called in Cook's time Owhyhee. This is the roughest part of the passage. I imagine this channel is rarely smooth. One by one the passengers disappeared to their berths. The good steward brought me a mattress on deck, and in a horizontal position I was able to continue my studies, without suffering from the mal de mer, although I found it advisable to decline his invitation to supper, which happened to be served when we were in the middle of the channel.

As evening came on I feel into a sound sleep, and when I awoke we were in still water off the shore of Hawaii, and the steward had prepared lunch for the passengers who had missed their supper. The idea of having "lunch" at eight o'clock in the evening will be rather amusing to you till you know that he word is in general use in America for any meal that is not breakfast, dinner, nor super. At [219/220] ten o'clock I landed at Kawaihae. As I was not due at Kona till Sunday, I had invited myself to Waimea, where I heard there was quite a community of foreigners, without any church or clergyman. It so happened that a court, corresponding to the assizes in England, was to be held the next day at Waimea. Kawaihae is the shipping place for this part of Hawaii. There is a large store here kept by Mr. C------, who is also deputy sheriff of Hawaii. I was to be the guest of a Mr. Spencer, who has come here from the colonies, and has a large sheep station. He had sent a horse for me to Kawaihai. It was nearly midnight when Mr. C------ was ready to start, and the moon, which was only three days old, had set. Waimea is ten miles from the coast, situated on an extensive plateau 4,000 feet above the sea. There is a wide road for bullock-carts and mule-teams, but one which a stranger would find it difficult to keep on a dark night. However, under the guidance of Mr. C------, the ride was enjoyable enough. We could not attempt to travel fast in the dark up the dark ascent, and it was past two o'clock when we reached Mr. Spencer's house and received a hearty welcome. The climate of Waimea is quite different from that of Honolulu. I was glad to have a blanket on my bed, and it was delightful to be able to sleep without mosquito curtains. The court opened the next morning at nine, and it was found necessary to summon a foreign jury. Posts went out to jurors residing twenty, thirty, and thirty-five miles distant. The next day twelve true and faithful men were in the jury-box at 9 A.M. Tolerably expeditious, without the aid of railways!

The session of the court and continued wet weather hindered me from doing as much as I had hoped at Waimea. However, I found among the whites a strong desire expressed for a resident clergyman and an English school. Every one seemed willing to do his utmost for the support of a pastor. I hope in the course of next year to be able to supply their wants. There is a large grass building, very cool, built for a court-house before the erection of the one now used, which is unoccupied, and could be fitted up for a temporary church-school.

It was arranged to have a service in the court-house on Friday, but the business not being concluded it had to be postponed. My visit, however, was not unfruitful, for on Friday afternoon I married a couple whose union would otherwise have been solemnised by the congregational minister without the benediction of the Church.

The thick fog that hung over the plateau prevented me from obtaining a clear view of the region I was in. There are hundreds of cattle feeding on the plains. On the wooded slopes of Mauna Kea, [220/221] which rises from this plain to an altitude of 14,000 feet above the sea, there are thousands of wild cattle. The hides of these cattle form one of the exports of the islands. When the fog lifted, I could see that the peaks of the mountain were covered with snow. Not many years ago there was a large native population in Waimea, which has now passed away. There is but a handful left. The same depopulation has taken place all over the islands. The attorney-general had intended to accompany me to Kona, and as the journey by land is considered one of the worst in the islands, he had proposed that we should go by water. A breeze generally comes down from the mountains at night which will carry a boat through from Kawaihae to Kealakeakua Bay in twelve hours; but on Thursday there was a southerly storm, and we heard that the Kilanea had parted from the buoy off Kawaihae on her return, and if the captain had not had steam up, the vessel would have been upon the rocks. This altered his intention. My wish had been to start for Kona on Friday morning if the journey was to be made on horseback, so as to get at least part of Saturday for rest. The wedding, however, detained me till Friday evening. After the wedding, the father, uncle, and two brothers of the bride rang a peal on eight handbells they had brought out from England. It was past five in the evening when I got away.

Mr. Spencer had lent me a horse to take me as far as Kawaihae. I was glad to get below the fog before sunset, and then in the bright moonlight there was no difficulty in following the road. When I reached the beach the sea was calm and peaceful, and I anticipated a pleasant sail; but when I came to make inquiry, I found that the little wind there was was from the south, so that it was impossible to go by water. Travelling about these islands is often charming; but it is sometimes wearisome and sometimes ludicrous. I call it ludicrous when, after knocking about for eight hours, you arrive at a house where you are not expected, and find the owner already in bed, his Chinaman gone home, so that you can get neither supper nor lunch. Before retiring to rest I had succeeded in hiring a horse which I was assured could go through to Kona. The distance is fifty miles. The road is rendered difficult by crossing successive lava flows, which present a surface to be traversed rough, rugged, and barren beyond description. The traveller ought to have a good horse, well shod, who wishes to make the journey in a day. The natives hardly ever shoe their horses, and it is astonishing what rough ground they will gallop over without suffering. The horses that go backwards and forwards between Waima and Kawaihae are not shod. But the sharp penetrating edges of the clinkers make this Kona road particularly bad for an unshod horse.

The native of whom I had hired the horse brought him in the morning at six, and assured me that, though he was not shod, he was [221/222] quite used to the journey. There is no shoeing-smith in Kawaihae, so I had my saddle and saddle-bag put on the horse, and, as soon as I had had some breakfast, started on the journey. A guide was not to be had, but I was assured that it was impossible to miss the road. The owner of the horse accompanied me a little way along the shore, and as he left me he said, "Keep spurring all the time." This was not encouraging. The first part of the way the road kept crossing rocky spurs, and leading down into sandy bays, into which the waves were rolling in no very peaceful mood. It was high-water, and the hard sand on which at low-water I might have galloped across these bays was covered, and my path lay across the deep soft sand just above the high-water mark. After crossing a plain of alluvial soil, the road entered the region desolated by the lava-flow. A road has been clearly marked out across the rugged track, but my rate of progress was sensibly diminishing. The whole region, as far as the eye could reach, until it rested on the mountain slopes, seem to forbid the approach of vegetation.

After five or six miles, the road is crossed by the lava-flow of 1859, which is entirely different in its structure from the more ancient flow which is traversed first. The natives call the one aa; the second, pahoehoe, the slate lava. It would appear that that which has cooled down into the pahoehoe was poured out from the crater in a state of more complete fusion than that which makes the aa. The surface of the aa is jagged and bristling, the molten lava having been full of stones, scoriæ, and cinders. The surface of the pahoehoe is smooth and perfectly black. This is the most difficult part of the road. In the summer, the heat reflected from these black rocks must be intense. Horse hoofs leave no trace across this flow; but the road is marked out with bleaching bones laid at intervals on piles of stones. The bones are those of horses which have died upon the road. Among them is the skull of a favourite mule which once belonged to Mr. Spencer. At length I reached a little village named Kiholo, which means cut off. It is the remnant of a larger one which was destroyed by the lava-flow in 1859. This village is only about fifteen miles from Kawaihae, and it had taken me six hours to accomplish that distance.

The worst part of the case was, that with smooth ground and a fresh breeze from the sea, my horse showed no signs of vigour. Neither whip nor spur would rouse him from a sluggish walk. "Poor horse that!" said a native, of whom I had begged a little water. I inquired if he had a horse. "Yes, he is up; he in the mountains," for there is not pasture here on the beach. "Look here," he said, "you sleep here; me go up mountains, fetch horse, came back last night; then you go over mountain tomorrow morning." I had no [222/223] intention of sleeping there, for it was not much past noon. But I accepted his offer of another horse, and he conducted me to his house, a large roomy building, constructed of grass in the old native fashion. It consisted only of one room. The two sides evidently formed the sleeping apartments, one for the men, the other for the women. In the centre was a table, a stool, and an American rocking-chair. A fine old man was seated outside, mending his saddle; I suppose the father of the man who had gone for the horse. The old man gave me some bananas, which were very refreshing. Unfortunately, my watch had not been wound up the previous night, so that I cannot give an accurate account of the time I spent here. I was beginning to think of leaving my saddle and bag in charge of this native, and proceeding on foot, when the man returned with the horse that was to take me quick over the mountain. It must have been past three o'clock when I was again in the saddle. The horse was very small, but a lively little fellow. That he would go quick for thirty-five miles did not seem very probable. At this point the road leaves the coast and strikes up to the slope of the mountain. The ascent is over another cinder-field of the aa description, the barrenness of the waste howling wilderness of rocks and chasms being only relieved by the distant view of trees some way up the mountain-side. Presently I came upon a creeping plant, a yellow flower, trying to clothe the nakedness of some gloomy cleft. And now there is a bush which has found some soil in a deep chasm. Now plants and bushes become more frequent. As the road ascends, the trees I had seen in the distance are reached, with their roots deep in the clefts of the lava. Higher still vegetation became abundant, and as the sun set, the road merged into a thick forest. I had learnt a lesson how in time to come, years, perhaps centuries hence, those barren fields which I had crossed would become clothed with verdure and vegetation, and the wilderness blossom as the rose.

Travelling quickly was out of the question, for my little horse was tender-footed, and in the shade of the forest I was obliged to leave it to the instinct of the animal to choose the path, which in many places was overgrown with long grass, reaching to the girths. The beauty of the scenery, and its striking contrast with the barrenness of the region I had left, relieved the weariness that I began to feel. The ground on either side was carpeted with ferns; the bananas were growing with a luxuriance I had never before seen; there were fern-bushes ten or twelve feet high, their graceful fronds sparkling with dew in the moonlight, and native trees of large growth, which in deep gorges ever and anon shut out the light.

At length I came upon some native houses, and seeing a light in one I made for it, and asked for water. There are no streams in the [223/224] region I had crossed. Although there are abundant rains, the ground is so porous that it soaks away and makes its escape close to the sea. I declined the offer of a bed, and after a little rest and some lunch and a few biscuits, and the water these people kindly gave me, mounted my steed and pursued my journey. Twenty miles still lay between me and Kona. It was a great blessing to have a fine night. The road kept along at an elevation of some 2,000 feet above the sea. There were no more lava-flows to be crossed. The point where the lava-stream had flowed out into the sea was now behind me, and the mountain was now clothed with vegetation down to the shore. And so I crept along though the silent night. It was no use to attempt to hurry along a rough path in the imperfect light, unless my horse had been more willing to go quickly.

Fortunately, he was a fair walker; so, like the tortoise, I kept moving, and, as the hours went by, the distance grew less. At last I came upon signs of cultivation and human habitations. Had it not been for the blight upon the orange-trees and the coffee, this would have been the most productive district in the islands. I think that people here have to learn that the soil will not continue to bear without labour, and that even in these islands man must eat bread by the sweat of his brow. It is sad to see the lack of industry which the plantations manifest. No doubt this is partly owing to the want of a labouring population. How to obtain a population for these islands is the question that has to be solved. It is proposed to bring people from Japan.

The moon had set, and the cocks were crowing lustily as I passed scattered habitations, expecting at every step to come to a spot that would be familiar to me from my former visit; but then, as I landed at Kealakeakua Bay, I entered Kona from the opposite direction, and had not gone beyond the church and Mr. Greenwell's house. The longest road has an end. Here is Mr. G's house, and here is the church, with the house, close by, where Mr. Davis lodges. As I take the saddle off and lay it down in the verandah, a voice comes from the window, "Is that you, Bishop? I sat up for you till twelve." It was, I suppose, about four o'clock. I had been twenty-one hours on the road; the time usually allowed is fourteen. I was very thankful to be at my journey's end. The breakfast with which I was regaled gave unmistakable evidence that I had reached a land flowing with milk and honey. This repast and a sound sleep of a few hours completely refreshed me. My Communion bag I had sent on by the Kilanea with other things. Service was at 10.30 There was a fair congregation, but only one communicant besides Mr. and Mrs. Davis. This is not surprising amongst a people who have been so long neglected. Nearly all the foreigners here are English, [224/225] many of them sailors, who have settled here and married native wives. In the afternoon the rain descended in torrents, so that no one came to church. November is usually a dry time in this district, and these continued rains are unprecedented. On Monday afternoon the rain fell in sheets of water; and on Tuesday it rained, but no so heavily. All this time it was dry in Honolulu. In spite of the weather I succeeded in calling upon all the whites in the district. Mr. Davis is evidently liked, and, I am sure, will in a little while draw people together.

I am anxious next year to raise £3130, to purchase for a parsonage the house in which Mr. Davis lodges. It is a good house, close to the church. He will then feel comfortably settled here.

At noon on Wednesday I left by the Kilanea from Kealakeakua Bay, where Captain Cook met his end, and at night was off Kawaihae. Slept on deck. Went ashore in the morning, and visited one of the old heathen temples, or hehaus, which is in very good preservation a short distance form the landing-place. An infant was brought down from Waimea for me to baptize, according to an arrangement made in the previous week. The steamer makes long stoppages at each port on the return journey for taking in freight. We sailed from Kawaihae at noon, and at 8 P.M. anchored under Ulupalakua. The vessel remains here all night, so I went ashore, and walked up four miles to Mr. Whipple's place, 2,000 feet above the level of the sea, where I had the comfort of being able to take my clothes off, and sleep in a bed. Mr. W. has the promise of a site for a church here as soon as money can be raised for the purpose. Besides his work here, he is keeping together the congregation at Wailuku, twenty miles distant, until I can get a clergyman for that Mission. At 5 A.M. the next morning Mr. W. kindly had two horses saddled, and rode with me down to the bay. At 11 A.M. we were off Lahaina. Here the vessel stays till 6 P.M. Mr. Blundun had a horse ready for me, to take me to see a dying boy, one of his scholars. The day was spent in making visits, one of which was of a particularly satisfactory nature. The promise was given me of a piece of land for the erection of a church quite in the centre of Lahaina. I need not say it has been accepted. There are many persons in England interested in Lahaina, and Sister Phbe's school, who will be glad to know that the site is much nearer S. Cross Schools than the building now used for Divine service. With £300 or £400 a very nice church could be put up. This was a satisfactory conclusion to my tour.

After dinner with Mr. Dickenson I went on board the Kilanea, and at sunrise the next morning, Saturday, was safe and sound in my own home.

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