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In the Isles of the Sea: The Story of Fifty Years in Melanesia

By Frances Awdry

London: Bemrose & Sons, Limited, 1902.



AFTER a visit to England in 1854, Bishop Selwyn returned to Auckland, bringing with him the son of an old friend who had volunteered for the Island work--John Coleridge Patteson. From the first, Mr. Patteson devoted himself soul and body to the Melanesians, and the busy Primate of New Zealand found himself more and more able to leave the Islands to his care. By this time the Island voyage was a regular institution, and the first of a series of mission vessels built for the purpose, and called the Southern Cross, was Mr. Patteson's chief home.

The Melanesians were still near Auckland in the summer months, but the College had to be moved to a warmer and more sheltered spot, and at Kohimarama (which means in Maori "Focus of Light") the health of the boys was somewhat better, but it was never good till they were removed to Norfolk Island.

During their Auckland days, when Melanesians and Maoris learnt together at St. John's College, they had for a pet and playfellow Bishop Selwyn's own younger son--John Richardson Selwyn, or "Johnnie," as they always called him. But before very long he had to be sent to England, to get at Eton and at Cambridge the education which was to be so useful to Melanesia in after years. The stay of the Melanesians at Auckland was not one of many years, but in it began the love for them of this man and boy (both bearing the name of the Apostle of Love), who were to give their life's work, and indeed their lives, to bring Christ's love home to the Islanders.

We must now turn to an island, half-way between New Zealand and Melanesia, belonging to neither, but connecting them together.

Norfolk Island is only a little fertile rock in the Pacific Ocean, not much more than four miles square, some four hundred miles from any civilized country. Its coast is very steep and dangerous, and it has no harbour, therefore escape from it was almost impossible; and for thirty years it was used as a convict settlement, given up to criminals of the most desperate kind. Perhaps there was not on the face of the globe any one place so wretched and so hopelessly wicked as Norfolk Island fifty years ago. In 1855, however, the Government decided to give up the convict settlement, and to people the empty barracks and prisons with the Pitcairn Islanders.

Melanesian Boys.
(From a Photograph by Rev. L. P. Robin.)

[6] This is not the place to tell the romantic story of Pitcairn and its simple people. It is enough to say here that they are the descendants of the mutineers of H.M.S. Bounty by Tahitian wives. The striking way in which this once Godless community repented itself and turned to God with simple and earnest devotion has been written elsewhere. [See "The Story of Pitcairn," S.P.C.K.] All that concerns Melanesia is that in 1856 the population of their tiny island having become too large for it, the greater number of the Pitcairners settled down on Norfolk Island, under the care of their chaplain, Mr. Nobbs. He was not of Pitcairn birth. He was English, with inherited qualities which made the Islanders look up to and obey him instinctively. He had an unsettled youth, and had been in the Royal Navy, where he had learnt the discipline which was the great want in Pitcairn life. But he was now fifty-seven, and had for many years lived amongst the Pitcairners as their chaplain, and had married there and had a large family; though his own twelve children not being enough for him, he was regarded almost as a father by the whole community till his death many years later.

[7] Norfolk Island was really in the Tasmanian Diocese, but it is so absolutely away from all highways of the seas that it was very difficult for its own Bishop to visit it, whilst it was perfectly easy for Bishop Selwyn to do so on his way from Auckland to his islands, and by arrangement between the two Bishops, episcopal work there was done in this way.

February 24th, 1861, was a great day in the history of Melanesia, for on that date Bishop J. C. Patteson was consecrated. He had only one clergyman under him, but, still, it was time that the work should be separated from that of New Zealand, and henceforward Bishop George Selwyn sinks into the background of the history, and the work for and in the islands was entirely in Bishop Patteson's hands, including the Norfolk Island part.

The Pitcairners are very emotional and full of religious feeling, and they took an immense interest in the conversion of the heathen, so much so that several of them volunteered as Missionaries, and were taken back to Auckland to receive the necessary training at the College there. The idea was not altogether a success. The lads were quite in earnest, but they had not been taught self-control, and had no idea what was required, and most of them could not stand the discipline, and went back to their old life.

But two remained and flourished under discipline--a son of the old Pastor, Edwin Nobbs, a fine young fellow in the full glory of early manhood; and Fisher Young, a heavenly-minded child, whose sweet nature and beautiful faith were Bishop Patteson's great delight. Nobody ever more willingly than Bishop Patteson left father and mother and home for the Gospel's sake; but that very thing made him enjoy affection more when it came to him in the way of his work. Great hopes of what these two young fellows were to do for the Islands were entertained, and many plans floated brightly in the Bishop's mind with regard to them; and we can hardly say they did less than he expected, but the work they had to do was of a very different kind.

In the years that had passed since the islands began to be visited, a new element had been introduced into the Southern Seas. Plantations of sugar, cotton, etc., in Fiji and Queensland and other lands too hot for Europeans to do much work in, had been found to be very profitable, and there was a great demand for natives of the tropics to work them. Vessels went to the islands and persuaded men to come with them, and very often if they would not come willingly they were carried off by force. Naturally, the natives resented this kidnapping intensely, and as they did not see much difference between one white man's vessel and another, there was at times great danger in the Mission vessel going to places which had been quite friendly last time they landed there. [See Appendix II.]

One of the most difficult islands to reach was that of Santa Cruz, so named by the Spaniards who discovered it some three hundred years ago. These Cruzians are [7/8] a manly race, and Bishop Patteson felt strongly drawn to them, and much wished to start work amongst them, but had never succeeded in so doing. They are very excitable and very suspicious, and it takes very little to make them finger the bows they always carry about with them, and let fly one of their long arrows at any visitor they do not quite like.

The Avenue, Longridge, Norfolk Island.
(From a Photograph by Rev. L. P. Robin.)

It so happened that this year, 1864, just before the Southern Cross called at Graciosa Bay in Santa Cruz, a labour vessel had been there and deceived the people cruelly. Of course, if he had known, the Bishop would not have visited them till their feelings were less irritable, but as it was, things seemed as usual, and there was no warning of danger until they suddenly poured a shower of arrows into the boat, wounding Edwin Nobbs, Fisher Young, and an English sailor called Pearce. They rowed out of reach at once, the Bishop standing in the stern holding up the rudder, which he had unshipped, in the hope that it might shield the others from that rain of death. They climbed on board the vessel, and the arrows were drawn out. The Melanesian arrows are not as a rule poisoned, but they are tipped with very sharp human bone, which is apt to break in the wound in a most dangerous way. Pearce seemed much the most dangerously wounded at the time, but he recovered; whilst it was given to Edwin and Fisher to be the first of the white martyrs [8/9] of the Mission. Both died of lockjaw, which is terribly prevalent amongst the southern constitutions, and it was a heartrending time; but their lives were willingly given, Fisher's childlike way of speaking of their murderers being merely, "Poor Sta. Cruz people!" He had no difficulty in realizing "they know not what they do."

Two or three years later, in 1867, the ties that bound the Melanesian scholars and Norfolk Island became closer yet, for the College was removed there from New Zealand, which was clearly too cold to be safe for these tropical islanders, even in summer. It was not a sudden idea--it had been wished for for some time; but it was not till this year that Government would consent to Bishop Patteson buying the land and establishing his headquarters there.

St. Barnabas' Chapel and Training College, Norfolk Island.
(From a Photograph by Rev. L. P. Robin.)

St. Barnabas' College, as the station is called, is not very near the settlement of the Pitcairners, and is quite independent of it. Their ways are very different, and it would never do to mix much; but they are friendly neighbours to the Mission, and have themselves reaped much benefit from having such a high-toned centre of [9/10] work in their midst. St. Barnabas' is worked very much like an English public school. Its imposing buildings stand beautifully on a gentle slope, and are approached by an avenue of Norfolk Island pines a mile or more long. The buildings are detached, and were originally all wooden, but there now stands as their central glory a stone Church, built in loving memory of Bishop Patteson and others who have given themselves to or for the Mission.

Printing House, Norfolk Island.
(From a Photograph by Beattie, Hobart Town, Tasmania.)

As is usual with college buildings, there is a Hall for common meals, meetings, and school, and there are houses for single Missionaries, and six dormitories, each holding some thirty boys at night, and used as class rooms by day, with the beds rolled up. The few girls are divided amongst the houses of the married Missionaries, whose wives have no easy task in training them. As a rule, the girls are very docile, but they are accustomed to being the slaves of their fathers and husbands, and they have very little idea of domestic comfort. They work in the fields and gardens, [10/11] cook, etc., but it is very hard to realize what their homes and their thoughts about them are, and so to prepare them for the wives and mothers of island Christians. Still, they can be taught to be clean and methodical and quiet in their ways, and they are not behind the boys in the power of understanding holy things.

Though Norfolk Island is what we should call rather warm, it is so much cooler than the islands that even here the Melanesians need an amount of clothing that would make them ill at home. They need flannel vests under their stout shirts and trousers, and they have to be most carefully watched still, though they are much less delicate here than they used to be in New Zealand.

The days begin and end with service in the Chapel, and all meals are taken together in the Hall. There is a certain amount of actual schooling, but it is not the main work of the day. Melanesian heads have not been trained to pore over books, and they could not stand much of it at a time; besides, there is a great deal else that they must learn. The girls learn to make a great deal of the clothing required, and for this there is a large and busy workroom.

Then, of course, there is a Kitchen, where boys take it in turns to cook the meals, and there is a carpenter's shop, and a kitchen garden to be cultivated, and a farm with animals to be herded. These two supply much of the food required by the large party.

And last, but not least, there is the Printing Press, always busy, for here the Bible and Prayer Book are printed which Missionaries and Teachers have translated into many languages, printed largely by the Melanesians themselves for the benefit of the Islands.

The common language of the Mission College is Mota. It so happened that several of the most intelligent of Bishop Patteson's early converts came from the little island of Mota, so that it was possible to get translation into that earlier than any other, so it came to be adopted as the training language. It is, of course, a strange language to the boys from other islands, but it is a language which expresses the island ideas in a way English would not do, so the natives learn it much more quickly than they could English, and their services in the Chapel are held in this. Of course, all Missionaries must learn Mota, but besides that each more or less devotes himself to the language of the islands with which he has most to do--one to Ysabel, one to Cruzian, one to Torres or Opa, as the case may be.

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