Project Canterbury

The Annual Report of the Melanesian Mission for 1902

From The Island Voyage and Report, Auckland, March 1903, pages 1-10.

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

[1] The Annual Report of the Melanesian Mission for 1902



"And (Jesus) said unto them, Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature" (S. Mark xvi. 15).

"I had conceived a great prejudice against Missions in the South Seas, and had no sooner come there than that prejudice was at first reduced, and then at last annihilated. Those who deblaterate against Missions have only one thing to do, to come and see them on the spot. They will see a great deal of good done; they will see a race being forwarded in many different directions, and I believe, if they be honest persons, they will cease to complain of Mission work and its effects."




THE strengthening and consolidation of the Mission itself has been the most prominent feature in the past year's work. Year by year we have become more and more impressed with our smallness and utter inadequateness to our task of extending Christ's Kingdom over an area of 1,000 miles of ocean, containing islands great and small, and a race of people almost all of whom are now ready to accept Christianity. In 1894, we had only nine European Missionaries, all told, and with these we had to staff the training college at Norfolk Island, as well as superintend the work of the native clergy and teachers in the islands, and break up new islands for the Gospel seed. Five years later our little band of Missionaries, clerical and lay, had grown to sixteen, but one was in England working for us as Organising Secretary, and another was [1/2] sick, and shortly afterwards expired. Thus in 1899 we really mustered fourteen on our active list in Melanesia. In that year I laid the condition of the Mission before the whole Church, and appealed for twenty more men and a new Mission ship. Two priests joined us in the following year, but 1901 was a blank year; no one joined us. However, in the islands new work was begun, over 1,800 persons were baptised, 800 were confirmed, and money came in for the new ship at a rate of about £1,000 a month. When the last voyage of the year was ended, and the Mission staff met together (it was the last staff meeting which Archdeacon Palmer attended), it seemed to us necessary that I should hasten to England, in order (1) to buy a ship, (2) to help in raising the last £4,000 or £5,000 needed for her, so that we might not be encumbered with a heavy debt, (3) to persuade, if possible, four or five new men to come and join us.

On Good Friday (March 28th) we landed from the s.s. "Moravian" at Plymouth, and about the same time three young laymen joined the Mission at Norfolk Island—Messrs. C. E. Fox. R. G. Coates, and J. Palmer. In England I got to work at once. First came a man down to Newcastle to confer with the Bishop, who is Chairman of our Committee at Home. Then a meeting of the New Ship Committee, and after this the engagement of a naval architect. Mr. Robin had given me a fairly solid list of engagements to preach or lecture, when he met me at Plymouth. This I had to lengthen, until very few days were left unoccupied, and I found myself flying about all over the country, telling the tale of the Mission to old and new friends, until I was wearied of it, and longed to get back again to do Missionary work, instead of talking about it. A break came in the middle, when the King was to have been crowned, and no one wanted Missionary meetings for two or three weeks, while preparations were being made, and money saved for the great event. Soon after the actual Coronation my work was finished. Tenders for the new ship had been called for, and on August 19th I signed the contract with Sir W. G. Armstrong and Co., and on the 20th we started on our journey home to Norfolk Island. The following letter, written from Marseilles, on August 22nd, gives further details as to the new ship, which is now expected to reach Australia in June this year:—

"My work in England was ended on August 19th, at 3 o'clock, when I signed the agreement with Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth, and Co., Newcastle, by which we bound ourselves to pay £20,000 for a Mission vessel designed by Mr. H. A. B. Cole. The price seems a long one, but shipbuilding has been expensive for the last five or six years, both material and labour being more costly than they were seven years ago.

"It is only two years ago that we began seriously to collect money for a new ship. At the Australian Jubilee of Missions' famous week of meetings in August, 1900, we proclaimed our need of a new "Southern Cross," and in the previous December I had issued an appeal for "20 men and a new ship." We [2/3] asked then for £12,000. The war in South Africa was raging, and our prospects of getting the money seemed rather dark. Our difficulties were increased by the rise in the price of all iron goods owing to the war. Owing to this, we were told, that our ship would cost £15,000, or even £20, 000, instead of £12,000. Nothing daunted, in England and in the Colonies our friends set themselves to collect the larger sum. Money came in at £1,000 a month for some time. and now in two years we have at the time of writing £19,700, besides the old "Southern Cross," which I trust will sell next May for enough money to pay our architect's fee and clerk of the works' fee, and all extra expenses, except that of sending the new ship from England to Norfolk Island. It is estimated that the cost of this last step will be well over £1,000 for coal, wages, and stores. May I suggest and ask now that a fund of £1,500 be raised for sending her out? This would crown all the previous efforts made, and give us a new ship without a penny of debt on her, or drawn on the General Fund. It does, indeed, cheer one to see the Church of England rally round one of her foreign Missions in its time of need, as she has done lately round us.

"Your readers will wish to know what the new ship will be like. Her rig will be like that of the present ship. i.e., a barquentine; but her engines will be 160 nominal horse-power instead of 25, and her speed 10 knots instead of 4. She will be a full-powered steamer with auxiliary sail power, instead of a sailing ship with auxiliary steam put into her merely for harbour use. She will be a steel ship of about 500 tons (gross measurement) instead of 300, and capable of carrying nearly 400 tons of coal instead of 54. There will be sleeping accommodation for 60 boys, 30 girls, 18 Missionaries (12 male, 6 female), besides captain and crew. She will carry 8,000 gallons of fresh water, and 100 tons of cargo. She will draw 13 feet when loaded, just of a size, there- fore, to enter the dock at Auckland. On the upper deck there will be a chapel, opening into the saloon, fitted up in memory of that staunch friend of the Mission, Miss C. M. Yonge. The length of the ship will be 168 feet (between perpendiculars), and her breadth 30 feet. Now, I think I have said all that is necessary about our new vessel, except this only, that the builders will take six months to complete her, and so she cannot reach N.Z. until next April.

"We hope, with this new vessel, to do twice as much work as was possible with the old one, but I quite expect we shall have to pay twice as much to maintain her. That is to say, our ship maintenance bill will be about £4,000 a year. It is a terribly large sum, and I only hope that by economy we may reduce it somewhat. It must be remembered that, without a fast ship, it is out of our power to visit all the islands as they should be visited. There are, at least, 46 inhabited islands in our part of Melanesia, many of which are very large. Some lie to windward, or some are remote, or for other reasons the year is too short for our slow-going ship to take us to them. I trust now that we shall go everywhere, and that before long there will not be an island in Melanesia where the Gospel of Christ has not been heard.

"The increased cost of maintaining our ship calls for very anxious consideration. If our income does not increase very largely, it is evident that an extra charge of £2,000 a year on the General Funds of the Mission will ruin us. We are relieved now of the work of collecting money for buying a new ship; may we not ask all who have subscribed or helped in any way to buy her now to promise an annual subscription to maintain her?"

Whilst busy in procuring the ship, I had not forgotten our crying need of men. My Commissaries had accepted for us two priests, Revs. J. M. Steward and C. Howard, before I arrived. During my stay six more men joined us—Revs. M. Faithful Davies and C. G. D. Browne, Messrs. Drew and Staples, and Brothers [3/4] Bourne and another (Lichfield evangelist). Messrs. Steward and Browne came out on the "Ophir" with us, and reached Norfolk Island early in October. On my way through Australia I was happy enough to be able to accept the offer of two more laymen, Messrs. N. Drummond and A. Bishop. These brought up our number of new Missionaries during the year to thirteen—from New Zealand three, from England eight, and from Australia two. Fifteen of the twenty men appealed for in 1899 have come. How thankful to God we are for sending them, and how grateful to them for coming. We have now twenty-eight Missionaries instead of nine (it must be remembered, however, that two are Organising Secretaries), and we shall now be able to send our messengers, if not exactly two and two together, yet two and two to every large island or group of islands, so that, if not actually living together, they will be in the next parish, as it were, and able to get help from one another in case of sickness, or trouble, or other need. When the last five men come, and the "twenty" is complete, as we doubt not it will be, we shall be able to take up work on islands altogether new to us, where the Gospel has not been preached.

Thus we have our ship on the stocks, and our men come and coming, and our latest news is that a lady, Miss Herbert, has been accepted to be head of a Women's Training Home at Norfolk Is- land. With her arrival we shall, we hope, begin sending women as well as men to work in the distant islands. The present women's work at Norfolk Island, which consists in training and teaching the future wives of the boys, will go on as before. But with Miss Herbert's arrival there will be opened a new side to our work—the training of ladies for work in islands which are already Christian, or mostly so. Work amongst the women and girls in the islands is very much needed, and I hope that now we shall to able to wipe away what I spoke of last year as one of the "weak spots" of our work.


I have spoken with joy of our many gains during the past year. Against these we have to put the severe loss the Mission sustained in the death of Archdeacon Palmer. I heard it just by chance a day after leaving Teneriffe, in March, and could not believe it, for he had seen us off at Sydney, and had seemed haler and heartier than ever, and in the best of spirits at the prospect of meeting all his children in a few days in New Zealand. Forty years of Mission work seemed to have left but little mark on his tough frame and constitution, save that they had turned his hair snow white; and he still trudged over the Mission fields, supervising the work of the farm; with his gun he was the best shot amongst us; and no mean player at tennis. Knowing Mota better than anyone else here, he spent much of his time translating, and had he lived another year there is no doubt the whole Bible in Mota would have been completed. His experience and knowledge of the islanders and of their [4/5] way of regarding things, added to his great affection for every Melanesian, boy or girl, made him a very great power amongst them. He found difficulty in preaching or speaking to white people, but it was heart speaking to heart when "the Archdeacon" preached in S. Barnabas' Chapel, or spoke in hall at the beginning of term, or taught in the class-room. He had served as a young man under the great Bishop of New Zealand, Bishop Selwyn. Later on he had served under the saintly martyr, Bishop Patteson. After his death, he had served for many years under Bishop John Selwyn. After working under such a trio of wise and great men and heroes, he might have found it hard to give loyal allegiance to a fourth Bishop, however good he might be. However, when the new man was appointed, chosen, indeed, by Bishop John Selwyn, but young and utterly inexperienced in Mission work, John Palmer accepted him at once as his father-in-God, and for eight years stood by him as the loyalist of all his friends, and the best counsellor that ever a Bishop had. The Archdeacon was really the father of the Bishop in this case, and when I heard that he was dead, I felt that I had lost one far dearer to me than a friend. The whole Mission felt orphaned when "Palmer" died. It is comforting to us to have his son, another John Palmer, join us immediately afterwards, as though to take his father's place. The good old stock seems thus to live on still amongst us, and sends up this shoot to carry on its work.

The Primate of New Zealand, Bishop Cowie, and Mrs. Cowie, both strong and kind friends of the Melanesian Mission, passed away during the year. These we must reckon among our losses, seriously discounting our gains.

The Rev. T. C. Cullwick has accepted the Archdeaconry of Southern Melanesia, with Norfolk Island, and will thus fill the vacancy made by Archdeacon Palmer's death.


Very little new ground was broken up during the past year. The British Resident's challenge to send a man to N.W. Mala, which he said was "ripe for Christianity," was accepted, Mr. Hopkins going there early in the year, and remaining until the Resident requested him to retire, the place, he said, being unsafe for a white man at the present juncture, when H.M.s. "Sparrow" was about to punish some of the people for various murders. It was a disappointment, no doubt, to the Resident, as much as to us. However, we managed to get some small boys lent to us, and these are now with us at Norfolk Island. Mr. T. A. Williams was left at Fiu, not many miles away, and is there at the present time. Mr. Ivens tells of great progress at Port Adam, and new openings in -S.E. Mala. In Guadalcanar and Savo the Church has held its own, and no [5/6] doubt strengthened its hold on the people. The Rev. R. P. Wilson made an attempt on Santa Anna, but was not allowed to remain or make any beginning of Missionary work. The Rev. H. J. Nind settled down by himself in the Santa Cruz group, and, except that he is well, we have heard but little of him, or his work. The native teachers' mission to Hiw, in the Torres Islands, was repelled; and the beginning made last year in Tikopia could not be pressed home for lack of time, although half a dozen Motlav men would go there to-morrow if they had the opportunity. The Rev. T. C. Cullwick's severe illness left the Banks' Islands almost entirely to the native clergy and teachers, although in November the Rev. H. V. Adams took up his quarters for a two years' stay in the group. The Rev. W. H. Edgell carried forward his work in Raga after returning from his furlough, and numbers now 60 schools in this island, with eight more in Maewo. On one of his journeys he narrowly escaped drowning; his new boat was lost, and afterwards recovered in Opa. In this latter island the Rev. C. C. Godden has added three new schools, and has now 29 altogether under his care.

In the islands, therefore, there has been less breaking up of new ground orextension of the Church's borders than we are able to record in some years; but there have been attempts, albeit unsuccessful ones. The Mission has been consolidated here too. Mr. Wilson has built himself a little Missionary Vicarage at Pamua, in San Cristoval, and Mr. Edgell has done the same in Raga; whilst the Revs. H. V. Adams and H. J. Nind, and Mr. T. A. Williams have become resident among their people. We know of 571 persons baptised during the year, but no returns have reached us from the Banks' Islands, Torres Islands, Santa Cruz, or Bugotu; our statistics are therefore very incomplete.

There have been no ordinations during the year, and two of the native deacons have failed, and had to be displaced, one having fallen into actual sin, and the other into lazy habits and neglect of his work. Of the other native clergy, I can only speak with the highest praise. Alfred Lobu, in Florida, has shown himself well worthy of the office of priesthood, to which he was advanced in 1900. William Vaget is a tower of strength in Merelava itself, and voyages about the Banks' Islands in his boat baptising and administering Holy Communion. Robert Pantutun has done his best to take George Sarawia's place in Mota, and is certainly respected by the people. Maros, an old deacon in Mota, is allowed once more to teach. Clement Marau seems to grow in earnestness and power, and is now at Norfolk Island studying before ordination to Priests' Orders. Reuben Bula, in Florida, is rather failing in health but is a pillar of the Church in his island. Hugo Gorovaka is leading an advanced wing of the Church in Guadalcanar, and is doing, Mr. Williams says, "splendidly." Dear old Joseph Wate has been ill, [6/7] and has come up to Norfolk Island for medical treatment. He is now reading with Clement Marau, and will probably be well enough to return to Mala in April. Worow, last year's deacon, is full of work in Motalava, and extends his journeys to Vanua Lava, to build up the Church or baptise. For these ten native clergy I am indeed truly grateful to God. They have, as natives, a peculiar grace which we white men have not. They can put the Truth before their people by metaphor, idiom, and figure as we never can. "Your hearts are full of the things of this world," said Alfred Lobu, "and Christ just lies on the top of them. No wonder that you fall into sin." "On a hot day you see the heat rising," said Clement Marau, in a sermon; "and getting hotter and hotter until you expect soon to see flame; so the Presence of God in the Old Testament grew hotter and hotter, until at last it became visible in Christ."

Self-help and the Missionary spirit are slowly growing. Nearly every congregation, besides building its school and church, now sends a contribution towards the stipend of its teachers, and for Missionary work. Far more will be done some day in this way; but it is gratifying to see that the native Church is more and more seeing that it is its duty to give as well as receive. Florida last year gave over £100 as its subscription to Church work. A Missionary spirit, too, is growing there. The Church has sent a second contingent of teachers to Guadalcanar. Motalava sent over 20 teachers and their wives to Lakona and Vanua Lava during the year. And the Merelava (Banks' Islands) lads are getting for themselves Ulawa (Solomon Islands) wives, so that they may not be impeded by their wives when they wish to teach in distant islands. More and more we are encouraging the boys at Norfolk Island to decide to work in some other island than their own, and it is becoming common experience amongst them that they carry far more weight in a foreign country than at home.

Our peculiar system of "a black net with white corks" has built up for us a splendid body of native teachers, numbering now 547 in all. Most of them have been trained at Norfolk Island, and can speak Mota, and act as interpreters for us when needed. A considerable number, however, have been trained in our island schools, and not a few have gained their Christianity in the Mission schools of Queensland. I have spoken more than once of the high value I set upon these Melanesian schools in Australia. Would that there were twice as many of them as there are! The temptations to which all these native teachers are subject in the islands are probably but little understood by white men and women. Few of us are ever tempted as these natives are; and probably it is true that their will power is not so strong as a white man's is. But year in and year out they go on reading prayers and holding schools at sunrise, and reading prayers again at sunset; preaching sermons [7/8] on Sundays; and steadily upholding a general level of Christian life through the Faith which they preach and the lives that they live. Some are better than others, as, of course, we should expect; some far more diligent than others; some stronger to resist temptation than others; some every year fall into the snares that are set all round them, and have to be replaced by others. They do better work when their white "father" is near at hand than when he is absent, but even in his absence their work will not cease, nor the Church fall to pieces, for the old system has taught them independence, or reliance on God alone, although they will never attain to that complete independence for which Bishop Selwyn, our founder, used to hope.

Teachers in S.E. Mala.


The Missionary system of the Pacific, by which the four largest non-Roman Catholic bodies of Christians have for 50 years worked harmoniously side by side, is well known. The islanders of the Pacific have sat down "in companies," or "garden-plots," and the seed been sown and watered in each plot by a different Society. Roughly speaking, the Eastern Pacific, including Samoa, has been cared for by the London Missionary Society (Congregationalists), Fiji and Tonga by the Wesleyans, the New Hebrides (except the three northern islands) by the Presbyterians, the Solomons, with Santa Cruz, Torres, Banks', and part of the New Hebrides by the Melanesian Mission of the Church of England. Probably there was never any formal compact between the Missionaries of the different bodies restricting their operations to their own particular "spheres of influence," but there has been certainly a tacit understanding amongst us, which has forbidden encroachments, and left each Society alone to work in its own way in its "plot," and as a consequence the islanders of the Pacific have had one form of Christianity offered to them, and one only (if no R.C. Mission was at hand), and their choice has had to be made between that form of Christianity and heathenism, and not between two different forms of Christianity. There is a tendency in the latter case when in doubt to choose the old faith of their fathers. In the former case they choose that which seems as light compared with darkness. We, therefore, value highly the "compact," and wish for the present to abide by it. However, we are constantly being warned that the other Societies have finished their work in their plots, and would like to come and work in ours. The Presbyterians ask us to cut off our New Hebrides Islands, Pentecost, Lepers' Islands, and Aurora, and to give them to their Mission to work in. Nothing could exceed their courtesy and the friendly spirit in which they make the request. But we can see no reason for giving up these islands, and many against doing so. We are occupying them in considerable strength; we have schools and teachers scattered all [8/9] over at least two of them, and the third is sparsely populated; the people themselves cannot be treated like sheep, or as if they had nothing to say in the matter. As it is, the people would seriously object to the transfer. The Wesleyans, who have already New Britain and New Ireland, Fiji, Tonga, etc., in the Pacific, have for many years been working over the fence into our plot, and questioning our methods, and shaking their heads at the results of our work as incommensurate with our efforts. First, they asked us to cut off Guadalcanar, and to give it to them; this we declined to do. Then, after a good deal of hesitation, the Australian Methodist Conference decided to send a Mission to the Solomon Islands, and asked us to choose whether they should send it to Guadalcanar, Mala, or New Georgia. Mala and Guadalcanar were both occupied by our Mission, and New Georgia was not; there could be no doubt, therefore, which we should prefer them to go to. New Georgia represents five or six islands at the west end of the Solomons, lying parallel to Choiseul and Ysabel, and it was to reach this distant part of the diocese that we first began collecting funds for a new ship, and getting more men. The present time, when we are getting both of these, seems to us inopportune for settling a Wesleyan Mission there. 'The report of the Society states that it will never be anything but a small Mission, as the New Georgia people are not numerous. But it seems to me a mistake to have imperilled the agreement that we have had with the Wesleyans throughout the Pacific, for the sake of taking up work in a hitherto neglected corner of our diocese, which we were on the point of beginning to work ourselves. Perhaps we may hope that when they see us prepared to occupy these islands they will withdraw their Mission again.

We hear now of a Plymouth Brethren, or Undenominational, Mission in Queensland, which intends to establish itself in Mala. It has already sent two young men to Malu, at the N.W. end of the island. Thus our plot is invaded again. We regret it, believing that the Church of England's share of the Pacific is already far too small, and, further, that our progress in it will be retarded by the difficulty of reconciling the different doctrines of different Missions Our policy is to strengthen the Mission; not to lessen our area. Hence our call for men and a ship. The Resident two years ago warned us that we should lose our islands to other bodies if we did not put more Missionaries in them. We have done our best to do so, and the Church has responded well to our appeal. There are still unoccupied islands in Melanesia, such as Vanikoro, and others. These lie in the heart of the diocese, and should be occupied at once. Our experience in New Georgia will at any rate show Church people that the danger is a real one; and those who are proud of their Church, and long to see her fulfilling her mission and bearing her full share in winning the world to Christ, will be [9/10] moved, we trust, to offer themselves to carry the Bread of Life to these Melanesian islanders, who are waiting to receive it from us. We appeal to Churchmen everywhere, on the borders of the Pacific first of all, in Australia and New Zealand alike, and afterwards to those in England.

We are trying to make the Melanesian Mission worthy of its high vocation; and we are praying God the Holy Spirit to help us. We are asking Him to purify our hearts, and increase our devotion to Christ, and readiness to bear anything for Him. We follow what is called the "policy of faith"; and believing that the money will be forthcoming for his support, we accept every good man who offers himself as a Missionary, if we see him to be suitable to our work. Similarly we did not hesitate to buy a Mission vessel, which will vastly increase our expenditure, because a larger and faster ship had become a necessity for our work. We believed that the money would be forthcoming for its maintenance. And, further, we have not hesitated to gather together the largest number of boys that we have ever had at Norfolk Island, although a drought had destroyed our crops, and all our food for them had to be bought. A Mission must go forward, relying on God Who sent it, the Missionaries doing their part in giving their lives, and believing that God will see that the Church which sent them out will do her part in giving her alms. This is no time for New Zealand Churchmen to say, "What have we to do with Melanesia? We have the Maoris." Or for Australian Churchmen to say, "We have New Guinea." Surely the cause of the Church is one everywhere. She is weaker in the Pacific than almost anywhere in the world. This is not the time for her to take her hand from the plough, and look back, or reduce her subscriptions, and confess failure. It is the time rather for the Church to take the conversion of Melanesia seriously in hand, as other bodies of Christians have done, and to make our plot the brightest of all, and an example to all the islanders of the Pacific. If new and necessary work in New Zealand or New Guinea now confronts the Church, may we not say of it, "These things ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone?"

A Church which believes herself to be purer in doctrine than others, in that she not only "adheres to the doctrine of the Cross, but also stands apart from Papal and Puritan innovations," would surely come under the greater condemnation if, having the best, she allowed the world to have what she considers to be the less good. The better fulfilment of our Missionary duty to proclaim Christ to the world would show that we are not only a true Branch of the Catholic Church, but also a living Branch, for it is to-day the fulfilment of our Missionary duty, which is the mark of a Church standing or a Church falling.

Project Canterbury