Project Canterbury

Island Voyage, 1900

From The Island Voyage & Report, Auckland, June, 1901, pages 1-6.

By Cecil Wilson

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2010

[1] Island Voyage, 1900.


A MISSION, to do its work with success, must have a double staff of workers--one for service abroad and the other for service at home. These make the right and left arms of the Mission, and one is almost as important as the other. The missionaries leave their homes, and preach Christ among the heathen abroad; and the home staff supports them with prayers, alms, organisation, committee work, and in a thousand other ways. That Mission is happy, indeed, where the workers at home regard the winning of the Mission's special field to Christ quite as much their concern as the missionaries themselves do; where all workers of every kind look upon the work they are doing as specially committed to them by God to do, and do it with all their might.

The "Island Voyage" contains an account of the work of the missionaries abroad. It will be followed by a "Report," giving an account of the work which has been done by our many friends at home, with a list of scholars, and islands supported, the Mission's financial statement, and other matters.

Everyone knows that, fifty years ago, when Bishop Selwyn founded this Mission, he decided that the missionaries to the islands must be chiefly natives taken as children from the islands, and trained in a Christian school, until sufficiently educated to return and teach their own people. In the first year of the Mission (1849) five lads were brought from the Loyalty Islands to S. John's College, Auckland, and the work began. In 1867 the school was transferred to Norfolk Island, which was 600 miles nearer to the islands from which the boys came. Here the lads, and the girls to whom they are betrothed, if we can get them, stay for about eight years, learning the doctrines of Christianity, and to read and write and sum; the boys also learn to farm, carpenter, and be useful in various ways, the girls to sew and mend, and be good Christian wives and mothers. There are generally about 200 lads and girls in training. Many become excellent teachers for their people; a few are ordained after some years of trial. Some take places as lower teachers; some are not [1/2] fitted to teach at all, but we hope are a leaven for good among their people; none go back to absolute heathenism, but some relapse to indifference and uselessness. There are now over 400 native teachers in the islands, most of whom have been trained at Norfolk Island. Occasionally, some of them fall into sin, and have to give up their work, but the proportion of these is not great, when the nature of the islanders is considered, and the constant temptations with which, at any rate, in heathen islands, they are confronted. During the past year there was a grievous fall, one of our native priests (Henry Tagalad) after the death of his wife taking her sister to his house, to the great scandal of all his people. A teacher fell also in Gaua, in the Banks' Islands; another in Bugotu. But anyone who reads carefully the reports of the missionaries, knowing that they do not hide these things any more than the other failures of their people, will be struck by the absence of such lapses from virtue in a people so lately come out of heathenism.

The preparatory school of S. Luke's, Siota, in the Solomon Islands, has had to be temporarily closed, owing to the belief amongst the natives that the site is an unhealthy one. Archdeacon Comins, who has been in charge here from the beginning, gives his opinion in the "Report on Siota," which we publish. With great energy and perseverance, he, Dr. Welchman, and Mr. Wilson, have, with their boys, worked at filling up the swamp which divides the S. Luke's Hill from the mainland. The trees have been felled, and the sunlight let in, to the dismay, no doubt, of the crocodiles, frogs, and little tree-climbing fish who used to be its only residents. In two or three years the swamp will be completely dried and filled up, and then it is hoped that the school will begin again, and continue. Meanwhile, Archdeacon Comins and Mr. Hopkins, the missionaries in charge of Florida, will occupy the buildings, and some strong Mala men will work away at the swamp.

Our best piece of news comes this time from the Solomon Islands, where the Rev. P. T. Williams has been able to establish no less than four schools in Guadalcanar, and one in Savo. The first of these islands is one of the largest in the Solomons, having a length of about 100 miles and a breadth of 30. Fine mountains, in places 8,000 feet high, and haunted, according to native tradition, by men with tails, form the backbone of the island. On the northern side the Roman Catholics have established a training school for 100 boys. On the east end, we have our station of Maravovo, or Vaturanga, where Mr. Williams and twelve teachers started last May. Those who know the difficulties that the Mission had in winning even foothold in this island, which it did, after many attempts, through faithful George Basile and his brother Hugo Gorovaka, will understand our joy at having [2/3] four schools now instead of one. Amongst the school villages is Savule, where Basile was placed six years ago to make his attempt, and was turned out by the chief. A bush chief, with, it is said, so much blood on his hands that he never dares to sleep two nights following in the same house, lest, his whereabouts being known, he should be killed by the friends of those he has slain, did his best to rouse the superstitious fears of his people and get the Mission party turned out. He sent his people to throw "ghost stones" into the Christian village, and a message to Philip, one of the teachers, to say that if he did not leave he would come and cut off his head, hands, and feet, and nail them to the walls of the school-house. The little party left their fate in God's hands, and stayed on, and have lived down the chief's opposition to them. Vaturanga is now "no longer a weak little place, which the natives avoid, but a centre, and the natives are anxious to come and live near us" (see Mr. Williams' Report, page 12.)

In addition to this good news from Guadalcanar, we are thankful to have to report that in Savo also there is now once more a school. Eight miles of sea divides this little island from Guadalcanar, and across this strait the Savo canoes have come to harry people living on the coasts until in places the population has almost been destroyed. When the chiefs of Savo heard that the Guadalcanar people had received teachers, and were likely to become Christians, they came to threaten and forbid them, warning them of Vele (their great spirit's) anger. It is a matter for great rejoicing that the battle has been carried back into the enemy's own country, and a school established by two of Mr. WiIliams' teachers, Ben Tiaku and Francis Qat, in Savo itself.

Florida, where in 1880 Commander Brown, of H.M.s. Sandfly, was murdered with six of his sailors, by the headhunting chief of Gaeta, is now Christian, with over 3,000 baptised people. One of them, Alfred Lobu, was last year ordained priest--the first Solomon Islander to receive priest's orders. There is much to be thankful for in this Island. The teachers, who number 90, seem to have worked for the most part very well, and none have lost their positions for bad conduct. Six of the Mission party in Guadalcanar belong to this island, and give us hopes that Christian Florida will make its neighbour Christian, too. If it would make it its mission to spread the faith it has received, there is little doubt that it would escape the condition of stagnation that some converted islands have fallen into; having received the Gospel themselves, and the peace and happiness it brings with it, and then, because there seemed to be no more worlds to conquer, falling to idleness, then to indifference, and at last to the thraldom of the superstition from which the Gospel delivered them. There is nothing like missionary work for keeping our own faith strong, [3/4] and there is no lack yet of missionary work for our Christian natives. It is a well-known fact that the smaller islands have been the easiest to win to Christ, and frequently now we find a small island with a strong Church on it lying close to a great island fiercely heathen. So, Christian Florida has its Guadalcanar, Ulawa its Mala, Bugotu its New Georgia and the islands of the headhunters. The Mission must try to inspire the little islands to attack the large ones, and, whilst the struggle continues, the faith in these will burn all the brighter for their efforts to win others, (See Archdeacon Comins' Report, page 16.)

Another great island in the Solomons is Mala, called sometimes Malanta, and sometimes Maleita. This, too, has a Christian satellite, Ulawa, lying 27 miles to the east of it. Mala, a very few years ago, was one of the worst islands in the Pacific, the people almost in every part of it being cannibals of a very bad type. From a small beginning at Saa, on the north-east corner, the faith has spread over all that end of the island, and has rooted itself, besides, on the west coast of Fiu, and native Christians are trying to hold services and make schools in some other places in the island. Last year witnessed a great gathering into the Church of school people, 310 being baptised in ten villages. (See Mr. Ivens' Report, page 18.)

In Ulawa, where Clement Marau is, all the villages, except one, now have their little churches and schools. What a change has come over this island since 1879, when Clement, the Banks' Islander, decided to serve his Master in the Solomons rather than at home, and chose this completely heathen island to work in, because his godson, WaIter Waaro, lived here, and was too weak a Christian to live safely alone among his heathen friends! There was no encouragement at first, and no one joined the school. After three years Clement asked Bishop Selwyn to remove him, for "these people can never become Christians." They knelt on the shore together, and asked the Father of All to show them if this were true, and Clement said he would try once more. And now, all the island except one village is under Christian influence.

The large island of Ysabel has a Christian population, with over 300 communicants at one end, and headhunters at the other. The Christian district is called Bugotu, the heathen is Vulega. The hundred miles of coast between the two is bare of population, every soul having been swept away by the headhunters. Last year the Queen's flag was hoisted on this island, to the great joy of the Christian natives, it having been one of those ceded by Germany to Great Britain in exchange for Samoa. But before this took place, Rona, the chief of Vulega. had given us his own son to go with us to Norfolk Island. This. and the Queen's proclamation have given a sense of security to the Christians, who [4/5] have for some time lived in expectation of a raid, because of their refusal to join in some heathen rites.

Bugotu is the country which Soga, once a headhunter and afterwards an earnest Christian, ruled over until he died in 1898. There are now four principal chiefs--Soga's two brothers, his son, and nephew--an unhappy condition of things, which it is hoped that by this time the British Resident has remedied. The people have gone on steadily attending their schools and churches, some- times disappointing Dr. Welchman, their missionary, and sometimes cheering him. A good tonic for a low-spirited missionary in Bugotu would be a visit to the islands farther westward, where the headhunters are. There he would see what a change Christianity has made in his people. (See Dr. Welchman's Report.)

We cannot compare Bugotu with the Santa Cruz Group, which lags far behind the Solomon Islands in civilisation and in matters of the Faith. The Church in these islands consists of only 128 souls; and there are still Vanikoro and Tupua, which we have not yet reached, and where we are quite unknown. In no place is our shorthandedness so distressingly apparent as here. The people themselves are difficult to convert into teachers, owing to a delicate constitution, which makes them sicken at Norfolk Island, and the Mission until now has never been able to spare more than one white missionary for the group. We now have two (Mr. Nind having joined Mr. O'Ferrall), who began their work together by spending a short time last year in the Reef Islands and Santa Cruz. They were able to help to make peace between some villages in Graciosa Bay, where they have great hopes that this year they will find an opening for a Mission-school. It was in this group that Bishop Patteson, Rev. Joseph Atkin, Edwin Nobbs, Fisher Young (two young Norfolkers), and Stephen (a native teacher), were killed. (See Mr. O'Ferrall's Report.)

The Torres Islands is the first group to be left entirely in the hands of a native clergyman. The Rev. Simon Qalges has his whaleboat, and moves about amongst the islands, Toga, Loh, and Tegua, all of which are now under the Mission's influence. The fourth island, Hiu, is still entirely heathen. On these islands there is only a small population, and it has been made still smaller in the past year by the visits of labour-vessels from Queensland. A protest was sent by us to the Queensland Government, begging that this small group might not be recruited from, but the answer received was to the effect that French labour-vessels called here, and it was useless, therefore, for British ships to refrain.

Qalges has done his work well, and the people have gone on steadily, as though a European missionary were with them. As he is, unfortunately, only a deacon, the communicants have had to depend upon the visits of the "Southern Cross" for the celebration [5/6] of the Holy Communion. This is not at all what we would wish, but we are very thankful that the people have done so well, notwithstanding their disadvantage.

Mr. Adams' first impressions of the Banks' Islands are interesting, albeit in some cases sad enough. We read of a native priest's fall into sin, and the terrible effects it has had upon Motalava, which once was so full of promise; of "continued laxity and indifference" in Mota; of "indifference and slackness" in Gaua, and of "a lapse into superstitious customs" in Ureparapara. But there are gleams of sunshine, too: "a great deal of religious life" in Merelava; Merig "very earnest in the faith;" "some very zealous Christians" even in Gaua; "work progressing, and the Motalava teachers sticking to their posts, and making good headway" in Lakona, and a "great deal of life" in Rowa. In Mota, whose "laxity and indifference" Mr. Adams complains of, "the people are not wicked, but have lost their first love, and need continual rousing up." In Motalava, too, there are "many encouragements," and some schools which are a "cause of great thankfulness and joy."

Truly wonderful progress has been made in the New Hebrides lately. In Opa (Lepers' Island) there are schools all round the island, and fighting is confined now to the bush villages. In Raga (Pentecost) there are tidings of schools everywhere. They spring up by themselves, and are discovered by Mr. Edgell, the missionary, after they have been at work for six or more years. Boys taught in Church and Nonconformist schools in Queensland at once, on their return, begin to teach their heathen friends, and all work happily together under the Mission. The spread of Christianity in two of these islands is shown by the extraordinary increase in the number of schools in them. In 1891, after 25 years of work, we had only three in Raga. In 1894 we had seven. There are now forty-two, found in every part of the island. In Opa, too, until lately a grossly cannibal .island, the schools have increased from three to twenty-four. There is abundant work here for more European missionaries, and I am sending Mr. Godden to help to gather the people in. I wish I had more to send. Mr. Edgell complains bitterly that French missionaries are at work gathering in his harvest. His statistics show that last year he baptised 492 persons, and that he has 226 Catechumens awaiting baptism. Very few yet have been confirmed, but this also will follow. Seventeen villages in Raga are still waiting for teachers, and about 1,500 people have joined the Roman Catholics in their anxiety to be taught some form of Christianity.

I trust that this summary of the missionaries' work will lead those who peruse it to read the interesting narratives that follow.

Bishop of Melanesia.

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