PREVIOUSLY to 1892 the Melanesian Islands were left to themselves, except for missionary influences, so far as internal affairs went, but "policed" by European men of war for the protection of Europeans who might be settled or trading among them. A dual control has been exercised by mutual agreement between the British and French Governments in the New Hebrides, Banks, and Torres Groups, with the result that the French traders and labour recruiters are put under much laxer regulations in their dealings with the natives than the British.
Starting from their penal settlement in New Caledonia, the French have annexed the whole of the Loyalty Islands, and French trading operations in the New Hebrides are largely promoted by Government assistance, which gives them a great advantage over the British.
In 1892 the Solomon Islands were divided into two Protectorates--English in the south-east, and German in the north-west; but in 1899 the German Government handed over part of their Protectorate to the British in exchange for the undisputed possession of Samoa, and one or two other places. A British Commissioner now resides in the Florida Group as deputy of the High Commissioner of the Pacific (Governor of Fiji), and is supposed to govern the whole of the British Solomons; i.e., he governs the peaceably disposed and coerces the turbulent so far as it is possible to do so with a force of a dozen native policemen and the occasional assistance of a man of war. This Protectorate has lately been extended over Santa Cruz and the adjacent Reef Islands.
The following facts may give some idea of the Ecclesiastical influences in Melanesia. When Bishop Selwyn first visited the islands he found the London Mission already endeavouring to evangelize the Loyalty Group and Southern New Hebrides. With this Mission he cultivated friendly relations, and some of his earliest scholars were taken from Nengonè. When the Loyalty Islands were annexed by [146/147] France some disputes arose which ended in the withdrawal of the London Mission. A Roman Catholic Mission was sent from New Caledonia, but afterwards replaced by a French Protestant Mission as more congenial to the tastes of the inhabitants, the French Government aiming, according to its custom, at political ends through missionary means. Attempts have been made in the New Hebrides by French Roman Catholic Missions from New Caledonia, but without success until recently, when great efforts have been made, and on Pentecost Island (Araga) they have been specially active. The Scotch Presbyterians early sent a Mission to the New Hebrides. By a treaty with Bishop Selwyn and his successors, it was agreed that the whole group should be left to them, except the islands of Raga, Maewo, and Opa; the Presbyterians undertaking not to interfere with the Melanesian Mission in these islands or any of the more northern groups. This treaty has been loyally observed until, quite recently, it was disturbed by the unauthorized individual intrusion of a Presbyterian missionary into Opa. Between 1840 and 1850 a French Roman Catholic Mission was sent from New Caledonia to the Solomon Islands. The first bishop and some priests suffered martyrdom; notwithstanding the great self-devotion of the missionaries it had to be withdrawn without effecting anything permanent. Since 1896 the French Romanists have been renewing their efforts in Guadalcanar and Savo. Fiji was evangelized by the Wesleyans, and they continue to be the dominant religious body there, but the Romanists have made considerable advances of late. Very valuable work has been done for the Melanesian labourers by the Anglican Chaplain. There is also a Wesleyan Mission in New Georgia.
The policy of our Government within the British Protectorate is to allow no Mission to occupy ground already occupied by some other Mission. This is a fair rule if it can be consistently applied; unfortunately in a region so unsettled as the Solomon Islands it is often susceptible of disputed interpretations. Some attempts have also been made by Australian Missionary Societies to introduce so-called "undenominational" teaching into one or two Solomon Island villages.
So far as our present view of the matter extends, it appears to us very unfortunate that the Melanesians are now being treated to the spectacle of a divided Christianity, which was so long mercifully withheld from those within the sphere of the Melanesian Mission.