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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.



WHEN Mota was reached on the return journey of the Southern Cross there was still room to doubt how many lives had been sacrificed. John was keeping well, but there was no surety that the sudden and fatal turn might not come to him also, and it was best for every reason to drop him at his home in Mota.

The Southern Cross was expected, for had not the Bishop promised he would, on the return voyage, ordain George priest amongst his own people? And the visit had been looked forward to as a very great and solemn but happy event.

The vessel came, indeed, but it was all so different from what had been expected that at first the inhabitants seemed perfectly stunned by horror and the sense of orphanhood.

On the evening of that sad day, George Sarawia gathered his flock together in the beautiful little church over which Bishop Patteson had so lately rejoiced with them, and there he spoke to and comforted them. He told them they must not fancy the Bishop's religion had come to nothing because he himself was dead: that religion came from God, not from man, and God would help them to work on alone.

For some days the poor, undisciplined villagers remained perfectly crushed and unnerved by grief, but they soon resumed their Christian habits, attending prayers and school as before, and in a fortnight's time George himself baptized fifteen adults who had been waiting for the Bishop, and who must not remain heathens till the Southern Cross returned next year with the white clergymen.

It must be remembered that in these days George Sarawia stood quite alone, the only native clergyman. He had been in deacon's orders for three years, and must have been a few years past thirty, although it was impossible to tell the exact age of the lads of that generation, as natives had not yet begun to keep count of time.

When Kohimarama and the other Mota villages had somewhat rallied from the shock, George started for the neighbouring islands to tell them of their loss and to apprise them that the work would go on as before.

At Santa Maria (Gaua) he was in some danger from the people, who thought they should never again see their boys whom they had given to Besopè, and they were ready to avenge them on George. He said quietly, "If you have any other [25/26] reason for killing me, do so; but your boys are safe at Mota and Norfolk Island," and this pacified them.

It was largely due to George's courage and faith, as shewn by his attitude at this time, that the effect of the great calamity was to drive home, not scatter, the lessons of their Bishop's life amongst the Banks Islanders. When, next May, Mr. Palmer visited the group, he found many awaiting Baptism and great progress, which showed itself largely in the foundation of new schools. One of these was under John Ngongono, who was completely recovered from his wound.

Bishop Patteson had always been aware that he carried his life in his hand when landing on a heathen island, and he had made Mr. Codrington promise that in case of his own removal he would at once assume command at the centre of work. Consequently, when the Southern Cross came in with its story of bereavement there was no disorganization, no doubt who was in authority, although the College having lost its right hand in Mr. Atkin, as well as its head in the Bishop, they were sadly crippled in all ways that year.. But there was no panic or prostration, such as may readily be forgiven, in still half-savage Mota.

The elder scholars were called together, and it was plainly pointed out to them that on them now lay the hope, on them now the work of the Mission. They must show what they had learnt and could do. And they rose to the emergency. Twenty at once came forward and were put on the teaching staff, besides which nine boys and four girls amongst the newer arrivals at once asked for Baptism, and received it in due time.

That was a disastrous year in the islands in other ways, and Mota especially had need of all its faith and courage. A terrible hurricane occurred which did greater damage there than anywhere else. Trees were blown down, gardens and crops destroyed, so that there was a great scarcity of food; and this and the unhealthy conditions of life caused by the ruin of their villages resulted in a wave of sickness and many deaths. Yet that year, 1872, had its blessings too. When in November the Bishop of Auckland (no longer Bishop G. A. Selwyn, who had accepted the English Bishopric of Lichfield) visited Norfolk Island, three more Banks Islanders were ordained deacons--Henry Tagalad, Edward Wogale, and Robert Pantutun.

As the Bishop of Auckland could not come to the Islands to ordain George Sarawia, and the Banks group could not spare its only native clergyman to go even to Norfolk island, his advance to the priesthood had to wait. But in 1873 he was no longer single-handed, and it was arranged to leave Robert Pantutun at Mota, with Joe Watè to help with the school, whilst Mr. Codrington took George to Auckland to be ordained there.

Patteson Memorial Cross at Nukapu.
(See page 28.)

He had a sad homecoming, poor fellow, for he returned to find his good but delicate wife, Sarah, had died in his absence, which was a great blow, though he eventually married again. It is very desirable that all the native teachers and clergy [26/27] should be married. Not merely is a suitable wife the greatest possible help to the work, especially amongst the women, but also it is seldom "good for man to be alone" in the midst of heathenism. Life in the islands is very full of what a Christian knows to be sin, though his heathen neighbours do not so recognize it; and the women have been so ground down for uncounted generations that their tone with regard to modesty is not high. In the Melanesian Mission there has never been a fixed rule as to whether the white clergy are or are not married There is abundant [27/28] work for single men and for married men and their wives. But the married Missionary certainly has the harder part in leaving wife and children behind him when he goes for his sojourn of months in the islands; whilst they on their part must wait, in some cases with much anxiety, for his safe return. There can be little, sometimes no, interchange of letters. Each must leave the other in God's hands. But if both the clergy and their wives are missionaries at heart, it can be done, and the married ladies are invaluable at St. Barnabas'. The sight of Christian home life and the way Christian children are managed and brought up is a very important factor in the teaching of Norfolk Island. But it is terribly hard for a man to have to go away, and on returning find, perhaps, that his wife or children have been taken from him whilst he was absent on the Master's work, as happened to Mr. Palmer in 1892, and to others at different times.

It was only gradually, as their fear of the consequences of their crime died away, that the why and how of Bishop Patteson's death was explained by the Santa Cruzians. We have already mentioned that five men had been kidnapped, which explains the why. What happened inside the reef when the Bishop entered the hut by the shore, and the boat's crew lost sight of him, seems to have been as follows: The hut stood just above high water mark, and after the fierce sun outside it was restfully dark, being only lighted by two small doors at the ends. It is the Cruzian custom to spread new mats for visitors, and on one of these the Bishop sat down and closed his wearied eyes. It is doubtful whether he ever opened them again on earthly things, for it was whilst he was in this attitude that a man from behind struck him a sudden and immediately fatal blow with a heavy wooden mallet.

Where the Bishop landed there is still a hut, though not the one of thirty years ago, and by it the sun strikes on a tall iron cross, with a scroll of burnished copper, which flashes out to sea. On the scroll are these words:--

"In Memory of
John Coleridge Patteson,
Whose life was taken here by men for whom he would willingly have given it.
September 20th, 1871."

This was how those nearest and dearest to him told the story of his murder.

But years had still to pass before Nukapu or any of that group could receive the message of love and pardon. In time, two of the five kidnapped men returned, but they brought misfortune with them. One of them almost immediately developed a virulent form of dysentery, which spread like wildfire amongst the natives. Nukapu took it as punishment, and believing itself under a curse was much impressed by [28/29] the "bad luck" which seemed to attend all who had had anything to do with the murder. It is sad not to be able to say that none of those deaths were avenged, but the heathen relations of Stephen Taroaniara were less forbearing than the white men, and Stephen was a great man in his own island. His only child was a little daughter, Rosa, who, being motherless, was brought up at Norfolk Island; but some of his neighbours caused a boat load of people from Santa Cruz to be murdered at Ulawa-a great distress and misfortune to the missionaries, though they had no power to prevent it.

The way in which England took the news of the Bishop's murder was very striking. There were many who cried "Martyrdom" exultantly, but those best informed, led by the Bishop of Lichfield and Miss Charlotte Yonge, bowed their heads and said, "Punishment." Of course, they did not deny that the individuals had won their crown, but they realized that England had been greatly to blame in not doing more to regulate the labour traffic, and the Church accepted it that some of the guilt lay at our own door. From that time date two changes. It was about St. Andrew's Day, 1871, that the news reached England. When that day next year came round, throughout the length and breadth of the land it was observed as a day of prayer that God would send forth more labourers into His vineyard; and during all the thirty years since the Church of England has kept a day of United Prayer for Missions--prayer which has brought an abundant blessing and a thankworthy increase of interest in mission work.

The other change was a political one, and may be summarized as a more watchful carrying out of the law with regard to the labour traffic.

Many people who "did not believe in missionaries," and who would have heard of the murder of some unknown good man with a contemptuous shrug and the words, "Ah! very sad, but probably it was his own fault," were startled by hearing of the death of a man of the stamp of Bishop Patteson, whose judgment as well as heroism was notorious, and his death set a seal to his life in the eyes of the world.

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