Project Canterbury

Bishop's Report for 1903

By Cecil Wilson

From The Island Voyage and Report, Auckland: Wilson & Horton, Printers, 1904, pages 1-9.

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

[1] Melanesian Mission.


THE attention of those who study Missions has recently been called to the numerical weakness of the Church of England in the Pacific. It has been shown that Non-conformist Missions claim 150,000 native converts, whilst the Church can claim but 13,000; and that the other bodies have made such good progress in the Evangelisation of the Islands in which they work that few heathens now remain, whereas Melanesia, the Church of England's sphere, is still largely heathen. It will be well to give in our Report this year a bird's-eye view of the Diocese of Melanesia, the only part of the Pacific which the Church of England (apart from America) has seriously taken in hand.


At the southernmost end of the Diocese are three New Hebrides Islands, Raga, Opa, and Maewo, where the Mission is in fairly strong possession. There are more than 100 Village Schools, and about 5,000 persons, or considerably more than half the population, attending them. We have now a white man in charge of each of these Islands, but, unfortunately, Mr. Edgell (of Raga) has been obliged to leave his work temporarily on sick leave, after a boat accident in 1902 in which he narrowly escaped drowning. Mr. Godden has built himself a comfortable little house in Opa, and Mr. Palmer is about to do the same in Maewo. These Islands are quiet, and it is long since there was an outrage on white men in them. Cannibalism has died out, or become rare, in the last five years, and the Mission's influence secures peace for those even who are still heathen.


The next group of Islands, the Banks', can be characterised as Christian, for almost all the people in these eight Islands are members of the Church. There are, however, a good many heathen left in Santa Maria; amongst these, teachers from Motalava and Merelava are setting up schools, often in inaccessible bush villages, and with wonderful perseverance and enthusiasm are making war upon the superstition of the people, and teaching the fear of God and the Gospel of Christ. There is still some fighting in these bush villages, and deaths are brought about frequently by witchcraft. In the other Islands of this Group, fighting has long ago been given up; the people are Christians, and have built for themselves pretty little stone churches. Every year many people seek Confirmation, and it is no uncommon sight to see over 100 persons together at Holy Communion. We may fairly say that Christianity is in possession in the Banks' Islands, nearly 4,000 out of 6,000 persons having been baptised, and almost all the people being in attendance in the schools. We have, working here, two white priests and a layman and four native clergy, besides teachers.


The next is a small group of five Islands, the Torres, of which one is uninhabited, one heathen, two are Christian, and one rapidly becoming so. There has been no white Missionary here for five years, but the little Church has held bravely on under its native teachers. There is no question that a white man was needed, but without doubt if he had not come, and these native Christians had been left to themselves for yet another five years, we should have seen no collapse of the Church. Happily, we are able to spare the Rev. C. Howard to this Group, and are sending with him Mr. Andrews. They will find the Mission fairly well in possession, 600 out of 1,000 people attending the schools.

These three Groups make up the Southern Archdeaconry of Melanesia, and we find that out of 15,000 people there are about 9,000 actually attending the Mission Schools, and that the heathen are influenced by the Christians, and cannibalism and inter-tribal wars have practically ceased.

We began work last year at two Islands lying between the Torres and Santa Cruz, but a good deal off our track, to eastward. The first was Tikopia, a little Island inhabited by Polynesians of great size, and very friendly. Two Motalava men, with their wives, made a beginning last year, and 40 people, mostly young, attend the school. The second is Vanikoro, a large Island entirely reef- encircled, with only 300 or 400 people; here we prepared the way for Benjamin Teilo, of Matema, to begin work. Between Vanikoro and Santa Cruz lies Utupua, which we have yet to attack.


Santa Cruz is a large Island, and has 10 satellite reef Islands lying near it. Fifty miles beyond the Reefs lies the Duff Group. In this latter Group we have one teacher, and in the Reefs there are three schools. All these are now in the charge of Mr. Drummond, whilst the Rev. H. J. Nind has charge of Santa Cruz itself, where there are but two schools. We have sadly little to boast of in this Group. There are but some 200 school people, and only 125 of these have been baptised. It is not our purpose in this R port to explain why we have failed here. We are trying to show how far the Mission has carried the Evangelisation of the Islands it works in, and in Santa Cruz we come to our very weakest spot. Here is a Group with perhaps 9,000 people, and of these only 200 are under direct Christian influence. Fighting goes on--except just in our villages--children are given up to be murdered after a tribal war, in order to equalise the numbers slain on either side. In every village is a Ghost House, containing a few upright, pointed posts, brilliantly coloured with blue and other pigments, representing ancestors. A white man has occasionally to throw himself between two hostile forces firing poisoned arrows at each other on the reef. More schools would be gladly accepted if we could supply teachers, but Cruzians, though physically very powerful, are constitutionally weak, and do not stand well the climate of Norfolk Island, and so seldom become teachers. Natives from other Islands rather shrink from settling amongst these noisy, passionate fighters, whose customs are so different from theirs, and their language almost impossible for a stranger to acquire. Our Mission has so far done little except lay foundations, but our prospects are brightening, and we feel that now we have a better chance of succeeding than we have had hitherto. We need three more priests for this district.


It is a 200-mile journey westward from Santa Cruz to the Solomons, and here we think that we have more to be proud of and thankful for, than we have anywhere else. The Islands are larger, averaging about 100 miles each in length, and the chiefs are of greater importance, and more capable of resisting the new Faith. It is these men who have always been the principal opponents of Christianity; they think that the new Religion will destroy their influence, and impoverish them, and they know that it will rob them of all but one of their wives. Every sickness which visits the Island is attributed to the new Religion, and the villages which first accept it are closely watched in expectancy that the people will die. These Islanders are fiercer than those in the Southern Islands; cannibalism and head-hunting are in most of them national customs. The languages spoken are innumerable.

[4] The first we come to, travelling from Santa Cruz, is San Cristoval. Villages on the northern or lee side lie far apart, for nearly all the natives live in the bush. Of those we pass, eight show by their little schools or churches in course of erection that they are Christian. The Rev. R. P. Wilson, the Missionary, says that he has applications for teachers from fifteen villages besides. But these San Cristoval people do not make good teachers, and this is a Mission field for other Islanders more advanced in Christianity. On the south side of the Island there are scarcely any villages at all to be seen. The people are all in the bush, or on the tops of the hills, to be out of danger's way, for this is one of the worst parts of the Solomons at the present time. On a voyage down this coast last year in a trading vessel, we heard in every bay in which we anchored that the villagers in the neighbourhood had either just raided some other village and taken from 10 to 40 heads, or had been raided and lost as many. Mr. Wilson has planted one school on this side of the Island at Bia, and the people seem happy in having it. It is impossible to say how many live in this Island, for the bush hides them, but there may be any number, from 10,000 to 20,000. About 350 are attending schools.

Mr. Wilson is making an attempt on Santa Anna, a little Island with a large population at the east end of San Cristoval, but the people are living the worst possible lives, and prefer to do so. Capt. Svensen has a trading station here, and he very kindly gave us leave to build a schoolhouse on his land, which is outside the village; it is hoped that beginning here we may some day be invited to build in the village itself. At the other small Island off San Cristoval, Ugi, the same difficulties were also met with, but have now been overcome; out of the seven villages three now have schools, though as yet there are only 33 people attending them.

Ulawa, 30 miles to the north of San Cristoval, is a great contrast to it in many ways. It is much smaller, having scarcely a dozen villages; the people live on the seashore, and about half of them are under Christian instruction. The Rev. Clement Marau, one of our most capable native priests, has charge of the Island, under Mr. Ivens. Fighting has ceased, and the Christians meet the heathen on friendly terms. One beautiful coral church has been built, and another is building; there are 80 communicants, and there is much enthusiasm. The Rev. W. G. Ivens divides his time in the Islands between Ulawa and south end of Mala, 27 miles away.

Mala, as the natives call it, or Malaita, as it is called by most white men, is about 100 miles long, with a swarming population, computed at any figure between 50,000 and 100,000 souls. They rank as the most daring men in the Solomons, and in Queensland they made the best workers, for their constitutions are as strong as [4/5] their physique is good. There have been more white men murdered on this coast than elsewhere. Amongst themselves life is very insecure; nearly every man carries a rifle, and is ready to use it. This is the only Island which we know of in Melanesia to which it can be truly said that it is dangerous for a native from Queensland to return. Of late years the Mission has made good progress. We have attacked at many different places at once, and the little native Church of Mala numbers now about 1,000 souls, with 300 more under instruction. Mr. Ivens is gathering in the people at the south end near Saa, and is extending his schools to villages along the coast on either side; whilst at the opposite end of the Island, at Nore Fou, the Rev. A. I. Hopkins has made a station, and works his way in his boat down the coast as far as Fiu, almost effecting a junction with his brother Missionary. Mr. T. A. Williams, until his health failed, lived at Fiu, and pushed far into the bush. An undenominational school at Mala, between Nore Fou and Fiu, holds its own under a returned labourer, Peter. Mr. Hopkins visits him, and we count him as one of our own teachers. He has 200 people attending his school. Any form of Christianity is bright sunshine compared with the darkness of heathen Mala, and we welcome the little schools which we find along the coast, formed by brave men who have become Christians in Fiji or Queensland, and who now, instead of returning singly to their homes, to be swamped by heathenism, prefer to cling together on the land of one of them, and form a little Christian settlement there, looking to the Mission to visit them, and give them if possible a good teacher. These are bright spots indeed on a dark coast, the only beacons that the Mala shores, as yet know. Only 1,300 attending school out of 50,000 do not seem many, but those who know Mala are surprised that we have these.

Twenty miles westward of Mala lies Florida, which, in traders' language, is spoken of as "Missionary," for it has passed over to Christianity, but 600 out of its 5,000 people remaining heathen. It has a native priest and a native deacon, 100 teachers, and 700 communicants. The Rev. C. D. G. Browne took over the care of these people last year, and has no white helper. The Florida Church has 20 native Missionaries of its own, now working in other Islands, and raises from £80 to £100 a year for Church expenses. It holds a Congress annually, at which last year 500 men were present. As in all the other Islands, the people build their own churches without expense to the Mission. Formerly one house served as school and church, but now pretty little bamboo churches, very carefully built, with cement floors, and beautifully thatched roofs, are taking the place of the old school-churches. The people are musical, and the singing excellent. The men who have been in Queensland teach their simple friends many queer things on their [5/6] return, but they do not succeed in teaching them to disregard Sunday, or neglect Church-going. It is said that for a few weeks on their return they often abstain from the Services, but the weight of public opinion is against them, and they have to give in. In deference to the people's wishes, Capt. Svensen, the owner of the coaling station at Gavutu, has forbidden the coaling of ships, etc., at his station on Sundays. Here, then, in the centre of the Solomons, is a Christian Island.

In Guadalcanar, 20 miles from Florida, we find a different condition of things altogether. The Church is making progress, as her line of school villages, manned by teachers from Florida, shows. Dotted along the coast for 60 miles there are schools, but the coast-line is 200 miles, and so, much still remains heathen. The Roman Mission has settled on a small Island on the. East Coast, and has three priests and several stations. We have but one priest (Mr. Steward), a native deacon (Hugo Gorovaka), a layman (Mr. Coates), and a few native teachers. Our school people number 340, and the population of the Island is perhaps 20,000, mostly living far up in the bush. We had not even a foothold eight years ago. Three years ago we had but one small school, and a powerful chief had set a price on the heads of all the school people. When this opposition was broken, petty chiefs asked for the new teaching, and the Florida Church provided the teachers. Four new schools were formed last year, but they are, of course, very small. In some cases the scholars number only two or three, but the little school house marks a beginning. In one such village there was but one scholar, and yet the people readily gave up their ghost-stone idol, showing that they all had lost faith in it; in another village they made one last sacrifice to their idol, and then gave the sacred grove to the teacher for his garden. The chief and the teacher in one of these new school villages went together, a three days' march into the hills, to visit the tribe which had been their traditional enemy. They made terms of friendship with them, and the hill people asked for a teacher for themselves. There are many Guadalcanar boys now being trained at Norfolk Island, and we hope for the day when with these we shall be able to extend the Kingdom far into the bush, as well as along the coast. The people are extremely superstitious, the chiefs are polygamists, and children are ruthlessly stolen to provide them with wives. However, one of their greatest chiefs, Paura, last year received a teacher, and has made a school for him at Wanderer's Bay. We need at least two more priests for this Island.

Savo goes with Guadalcanar. It is a small island off the north end, and its influence has been very great on its big neighbour. Formerly the Savo men raided the villages along the Guadalcanar [6/7] coast. Latterly, since there has been a movement towards Christianity, Savo has been energetic in warning the people of the deathly properties of the new Teaching. The ghosts' feelings, they say, will be hurt. Everyone who goes to school will die, chiefs will have to send away all their wives but one. And when we have carried the war into our enemy's country we have had but little chance of success, the people being terribly afraid of us, and most unwilling to be taught. Our teachers were once put into a boat and sent away, and very unwillingly received back again afterwards. At last, however, these people have asked us to give them teachers, two invitations reaching us from two different chiefs, and in our new ship last October we landed six men from Florida to supply three different villages. These, by the Grace of God, will convert this superstitious little Island to Faith in the true God in the course of a few years, and then Savo will be as helpful to Guadalcanar as it has hitherto been troublesome.

The furthest Island on which we are working is Ysabel, of which Bugotu is the eastern end. It is 50 miles from Florida, in latitude 9 deg. Formerly the people were head-hunters, and head- hunted. Their houses were built high up in the trees until the days of rifles, when they found that being up a tree only made them an easier prey to the enemy underneath. Accordingly they moved their houses to the hills, and until lately lived in hidden and inaccessible places there. However, the head-hunting raids from Rubiana have been checked by the Government, and the sides of the hills and the coasts have become dotted with villages. There are 1,500 people going to the different schools of Bugotu, and 480 are Communicants. Dr. Welchman, the Missionary in charge, last year planted a school at Kia, at the further end of the Island, and he has schools also in the bush, which the little bushmen attend. Any attempt to estimate the population of an island where almost everyone lives in the bush, as is the case in every Solomon Island until peace follows in the Mission's footsteps, or Government suppresses head-hunting raids, can only be guess. There may be 20,000 people in Ysabel, or more or less. Two Lichfield "brothers" will join the doctor this year. This is the last Island on which the Mission is working. From it we look across to Choiseul, RusseIl, Rennell, Bellona, Lord Howe, and Sikiana, which no Mission has yet occupied. And nearer still than some of these is the New Georgia Group, made up of six islands, stretching westward, with a small population, amongst whom in the Rubiana Lagoon a Wesleyan Mission has lately settled.

To sum up the position of the Mission in the Solomons, it has stations upon all the eastern Islands, except a few small ones, which lie out of the way, but it has not reached the more western Islands yet. It has attending its schools in eight Islands nearly [7/8] 8,000 natives, 6,465 of whom are Christians, 1,413 Communicants, 269 teachers, and 5 are ordained.

The conclusion of the whole matter is that Melanesia is still a Mission field, in which the Church is a small body of 13,000 souls, with nearly 5,000 more adherents as yet unbaptised, in the midst of a heathen population of 130,000, who can only be won by increased effort, with much difficulty and self-sacrifice, and at a cost to the Church which it has never yet been asked to pay.


I have already mentioned the progress made in the Islands at Nore Fou (Mala), Kia (Ysabel), Vanikoro, Ticopia, Savo, and Guadalcanar.

At Norfolk Island, in July, I ordained Clement Marau, priest, and he has returned to Ulawa. Simon Qalges is recovering his character and good name by hard work at Vureas. WaIter Woser is helping again as a teacher in Motalava. Worow, the other Motalava deacon, unfortunately died last year. He was a devoted and faithful worker, and his death is a great loss.

Two priests (one to work in Australia), 6 laymen, and 2 ladies joined us from England, and one from Australia.

The new "Southern Cross" arrived in September, and made her first voyage round the Islands, giving the greatest satisfaction. She is roomy compared with the old ship, fast, and admirable for our work. The expense of bringing her out from England was great, and it was feared that her cost of maintenance would be greater than the Mission's income would bear. However, Capt. Sinker's estimate now is £3,500 a year, which is but little more than our old ship cost us. Others think that her outside cost to the Mission will be £5,000 a year. A ship of our own is at present a necessity for a Mission which works in a Diocese of scattered Islands, in many of which there are no traders, and no inducement to a trading steamer to call. The new ship travels twice as fast as the old one, and will take us to every island in the Diocese. It is a great advance to have acquired such a vessel, and we believe that all those who helped to give her to us will see to it that the extra money needed for her use is forthcoming.

"St. Mary's Home," for training women Missionaries for the Islands, has been built at Norfolk Island, and was opened on January 1st, 1904. Miss Herbert is in charge, with Miss Kiddy as Matron. There are two ladies now beginning their training there. [8/9] Of late years the value of single lady Missionaries has been recognised by every Mission. In 1883, the O.M.S. had 15 such ladies in the field, in 1903 it had 380. Our Mission has not one such worker in our Islands, our women's work having been hitherto confined to Norfolk Island; this new venture will be watched with interest, and, we hope, with many prayers.

Nearly 600 persons were confirmed during the year; the returns of those baptised are again, unfortunately, incomplete, but we have news of 709. The Mission Staff (excluding natives) numbers now 28 men (of whom two are Organising Secretaries, and two are on sick leave) and 11 ladies (including wives), or 39 in all. There are, besides these, eight native clergy and 549 teachers.

To further advance the Mission's work it will be necessary to increase greatly the number of native teachers. Everywhere they are being asked for. To meet the want we hope to form Primary Schools in three places--at Vureas (Banks' Islands), at Siota and Bugotu (Solomons), and to receive at Norfolk Island only boys who have been prepared at these.

It is evident that all these new developments of Mission work must cost a great deal more money to maintain than we have been accustomed hitherto to receive. The question a Mission has to ask itself is: Ought we to arrest development, and turn our backs on new openings until we have money to go on? or should we go on, and do the work which God has sent us to do, believing that He will supply the means? It is the last course, which has been called the "Policy of Faith," which we are following. Ours is no ordinary business, but a Divine one, and we do not look to the rise and fall of the market, but to God, who wishes a certain work to be done, if we will do it. We believe that He will find the money, for the silver and the gold are His. Our present income is barely £10,000 a year, and we shall need at once £13,000 a year in order to go on. Other bodies have made their Missions in the Pacific a leading feature in their Missionary programme, hence their immense number of converts in Fiji, the New Hebrides, and the Eastern Pacific. The Church of England, on the other hand, has spent comparatively little money, and sent very few men to Melanesia; the Mission has been one of the smallest of all her Missions, and hence our backwardness at the present time. We cannot but believe that now that attention has been called to the heathen condition of many of the Islands in the Church of England sphere in the Pacific, a very decided increase of effort will be made for their conversion.

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