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The Island Mission: Being a History of the Melanesian Mission from Its Commencement

Reprinted from "Mission Life."

London: William Macintosh, 1869.


IN July, 1851, as we have said, the Border Maid started on her first missionary voyage. The Bishop of Newcastle, who had a few weeks before accompanied Bishop Selwyn on his return from Sydney, was on board with him. The farewell service with the clergy and other friends on the deck of the Mission schooner was over; the last good-byes had been said, and with an unclouded sky the four months' voyage began. Besides a student and a scholar of St. John's College, as first and second navigation mates, two English boys and one Maori lad, who acted as the ship's carpenter, there were on board the four Melanesians who had passed the winter at Auckland.

The first place at which they touched was Anaiteum; but, between their departure from New Zealand and their arrival at that island, a thousand miles distant, their time was not wasted. The hold was fitted up as a school-room, all the hammocks being taken down; and here the Bishop and his fellow-workers kept school at regular hours, occupying the time and thoughts of their charges as on shore.

After visiting Mr. Geddie, the missionary there, the Border Maid steered her course to Futuna, about thirty miles to the north-west of Anaiteum.[23/24] Here both the Bishops went on shore; the people proved very friendly, and they soon returned with two nice-looking boys, whom they had selected from their amiable countenances and gentle manners. In spite, however, of these signs of a good disposition, a circumstance very soon occurred which showed how independent the cruelty of native customs is of individual character. Irai, the youngest of the two, fell sick; the elder, his brother Sadua, at once proposed to throw him overboard, on the ground that he was unhappy himself and only made others so--that his life was, in fact, "no good."

Some finesse was needed to keep these two boys eventually. Though ready enough to come on board, they were equally ready to go again, and as soon as the vessel approached any island, had they not been sent below they would very soon have made their way to shore.

From Futuna the Bishops steered their course to Tauna, another station of the London Missionary Society, about fifteen miles to the west, guided all night by the ever-active volcano which Captain Cook mentions. Here they found a little Erromango boy tending a sick English sailor with an uuwearying love and patience which would put many Christians to the blush, and that too although the man was always striking and scolding him. The man had been left at Erromango--put on shore by his companions--[24/25] covered with wounds, and in such a dreadful state that when he was taken on board the Mission vessel contagion was feared. He had gone to Tauna for the benefit of the natural hot-baths; there the boy had accompanied him as his nurse. The Englishman was eventually taken to Sydney in the Border Maid, the boy Umao going with him, and then being taken charge of by the Bishop, as his "earning," to bring home to St. John's College.

They next went to Maré (Nengonè is the native name), and found the Samoan teachers still there, and with increasing congregations and schools; and to the Bishop's joy he found that Siapo, one of the former pupils at the College, had been steadfast, and had kept close to them, and improved in reading and writing, and in all ways. Bishop Selwyn was on shore here for two days, and much pleased with the progress made. A large native chapel was built, and well filled with Christian worshippers. He joined in the services, preached in Samoan, and visited the schools, and earnestly wished he could leave some permanent minister, in answer to their earnest entreaties, as he thinks this island now ready for the formation of a Mission Station. As it was, he could only bring away five of the youths for training, two of them being old friends. Another young chief desired to come very much, but his father would not let him, and he sat by the Bishop, crying bitterly.

[26] The Bishop of Newcastle gives the following account of the visit to this island:--

"We landed at Maré, the island in which a boat's crew had lately been killed. Here the Bishop of New Zealand had visited before, and had in a previous year been entrusted with the care of three of the youths, who returned to the island in 1850. Native teachers also, from the Samoan Islands, had been for some few years engaged as Missionaries on this part of the island; as soon, therefore, as we obtained information that the teachers were alive, all risk was over. The two teachers came to meet us, and by the time our ship's boat came near the shore, about 200 natives had collected. Our boat would not pass over the coral reefs, so we got into one of the canoes, and as many as could find room for a hand on the canoe drew it, sometimes swimming, sometimes jumping from reef to reef, safely to shore. Such a chattering and noisy joy you never heard. Every man, woman, and child presses forward to receive and return a most hearty shake of the hand. We then proceeded to the teachers' house, walking in a long winding line singly along the narrow path, through cocoa-nut trees and shrubs of the most luxuriant foliage. We reach the teachers' house, and sit down on a bench outside, while the natives form a circle round us, and seat themselves on the ground. Every eye is upon us--we are engaged in making inquiries of the teachers, [26/27] and through them speaking to the principal men a word now and then. There they sat for more than two hours, quiet, gentle as little children, delighted with merely watching us, and each one pleased beyond expression as my eye rested for a moment on him. While I was surveying and studying the countenances before me, we announce through the teachers that there will be service in the chapel at sunset. At the appointed time we leave the teachers' house, and three boys immediately begin to march before us, striking one stick upon another, keeping time together, which answers for the church-going bell. We enter the chapel--a large oblong building some 90 feet by 30--about 400 are collected there, and (mark you!) every knee is bent during the prayers, every voice joins in the responses, and with heart and mouth every one assists in singing the hymns of praise to God, and, a volume of hearty joyous sound is produced, which is perfectly thrilling. I must pass over the rest of that evening, merely stating that as we sat in the large room of the teachers' house every part of the floor was occupied by natives sitting there, who seemed unable to quit us, or, take their eyes off us, till we told them they must really go to their houses, and we to our rest.

"The next morning, after a night's rest on the hard floor, we walked to the other side of the island--a distance of about fifteen miles; man [27/28] accompanied us, and happy did he think himself who could get a plaid, or a glove, or anything belonging to us, to carry. It would take a volume to describe all that took place on that day, the numbers that. we collected--about 500--their wild joy, the Evening Service; and then after the service, as we sat outside the teachers' house, about 300 came in long procession, one by one, each bearing some present, a yam or two, or some Indian corn, or cocoa-nuts, literally filling the whole front court with their heaped gifts, and each one thinking he was amply repaid by the two Bishops thanking them in their native Maré language, and exchanging with them a hearty shake of the hand. The next morning there was school for an hour before breakfast, and about 300 attended--great huge men, perfect Titans in form and height, with women and children, all shouting together their spelling lessons of b-a ba, b-e be, b-o bo, &c., then repeating their Catechism, and joining in one of their simple hymns. Then came the selection of those youths whom we were to take away in the Mission ship to New Zealand for a year. Many were anxious to go, and we selected five, and, what was most interesting and touching, the young chief wanted to go, while the old men would not give their consent; we held, therefore, a kind of primitive parliament, the young chief sitting between the two [28/29] Bishops, and about 400 of the tribe sitting round on the ground, and for two hours the question was discussed. The young chief said he would go, the old men entreated him not to go; if he went they should have no more sleep, they should weep all night. We explained through the teachers what care we would take of their chief, and the benefit it would be to him; but they could not be persuaded to part with him; and when we found them so fixed in their opinion, we settled that it would not be wise to take the young chief without their consent, and told him he could not go with us. He then began to cry from disappointment, and as the large tears formed in his eyes and fell on the ground; it was beautiful to see one of the old men come with tears in his eyes also, and sit down close before the young chief, and comfort him in a soft whisper, while his whole face beamed with affection and respect. Verily, there is no lack of gentleness and kindly feeling among this people, who are called, and are really at times, ferocious savages and murderous cannibals. We selected five youths, sent our substantial presents to the ship, and then we took our departure, the whole shore and every jutting rock being covered with human beings, and the air rent with the plaintive cries of the friends of the youths whom we were taking away. It was a scene which I can never forget."* [Footnote: * "Gospel Missionary," vol. ii. p. 145.]

[30] The Isle of Pines was the next place reached, but the island being entirely in the possession of a Roman Catholic Mission, no attempt was made to land there.

At Lifu Bishop Selwyn was at once greeted as "Kame Thol," Thol's father. Thol (an old pupil) being inland, was at once sent for. He came directly, quite prepared to return to school, and bringing a relation with him, whom he begged might be allowed to come too. The first night he said the Lord's Prayer in English, and several other things which he had been taught previously. From what they could learn, there were no Christians on the island.

They reached Mallicolo on the 25th August, landed there, and were well received, though the natives did not even know the word "Missionary" or "Tobacco," which seem to be the first English words known in these seas. The Bishop and his party walked about the island, and made special acquaintance with a very pleasing elderly man and his son, a very fine intelligent youth, whom the Bishop wished much to bring away. They found a well of good water, on a hill near the shore, and next morning the Bishop returned with a party to replenish their water-casks at this well. He had two boats, some of the sailors, two English, some Maori boys, and Siapo; one English lad, and one [30/31] sailor stayed in the boats, and the Bishop went up the hill with the rest to the spring. His quick eye saw that all was not as he had left it the preceding evening; strangers were there, and there seemed a questioning and disputing between these and the friendly natives, who still seemed as friendly as ever. One of the strangers followed them, making faces; when the Bishop turned upon him, fixed his eye upon him, and motioned to him to be gone, he slunk back, but still followed. The Bishop was always most particular in keeping his party together, not allowing them to straggle on shore, and this day an Italian sailor, who was always making shortcuts, was nearly separated from them, but called back in time. They had filled their casks, and were walking down the hill again, when the Bishop saw a man above them throw something which fell near them, and immediately a yell was heard from below; he desired his party not to run or to show any fear, but to walk on with their water-casks, as if regardless of all around them. The accounts vary as to the numbers of the natives gathered together; there might be two hundred in all, and only a few of them were evil disposed. Certain it is that there were quite enough to have surrounded and murdered the little band, if that had been their intent: as it was they did no violence, for though they threw stones and let arrows fly, none of them hit, and they are too sure marksmen to miss [31/32] their aim if taken. When they came within sight of the boats they saw that one had pushed off towards the vessel, while the other was surrounded with natives, who where brandishing their clubs about Nelson Hector, and making all sorts of bragging and threatening gestures,--in short, as the Bishop said, "Hectoring Hector," while he sat unmoved, a worthy disciple of the Bishop, only quietly resisting their attempts to take the oars from him. The Bishop and his train of water-bearers made their way steadily onwards to the water's edge; he said, "Go on," and they walked on into the water, lifting their casks higher and higher as they advanced, till he saw Siapo marching on with his till he was lifting it above his head and the waves dashing into it, when he called to him to empty it, as the water was spoiled, but even then he was very unwilling to lighten his burden.

As they approached the boat the natives around it made off, and in a few minutes more they were on their way to the Border Maid, with only one cask missing; one of the sailors had let it fall and it rolled down the hill, and the Bishop would not let him go back for it. As they went they could plainly see the two parties on the shore, the friendly natives and the adverse ones, disputing still; and after they reached the vessel they saw a party of their friends bringing their missing cask after them. They had [32/33] no sooner received these on board than they were followed by the mischief-makers, but they kept them from entering the vessel; the Bishop kept his eye upon the leader, and seeing, by a look of his at the chains, that he thought they could get up them, he ordered the tomahawks to be brought up, and let them see that they could resist any force. The friendly set, at sight of the weapons, were going to jump overboard, but a sign and a touch from the Bishop made them understand that they were not for them, and they sat down quite content, and took a friendly leave, with the presents given them.

We have given the details of this adventure, because it seems to illustrate the nature of the difficulties attending the work of this Mission, and the peculiar fitness of the Bishop to cope with them. His quick-sighted reading of countenance, apprehension, of gestures, his habits of order and forethought, besides his calmness and courage, have always, humanly speaking, contributed greatly to his safety, and often enabled him to walk unscathed where others would have been in danger.

Some of his friends at home have thought him rash; they would not if they heard the details; though he is bold and fearless, his thought for every one, and preparation for every contingency, and selection of persons for different trusts is wonderful; for instance, no one, perhaps, but Nelson Hector [33/34] would have kept his post with the boat as he did. He and the sailor had waited till he saw the natives coming down with menacing gestures, he then ordered the sailor to put off towards the vessel, and be free to come back to the Bishop's aid if his boat should be taken; he stayed himself where he was placed. They came up, got into his boat, felt him all over, and bullied and threatened in all ways, and he passively suffered them to do anything but take the oars; sometimes he thought they were going to dash the club at his head, but more often that it was bravado, and so he kept them in play till the Bishop returned, and no doubt their safety was in a great measure owing to his not failing them.

The Bishop of Newcastle, who had been left in the ship with the mates and one sailor, and two or three native boys from other islands, was in no little anxiety. In a letter written to a friend in England shortly afterwards,* [Footnote: * See the "Gospel Missionary," vol. ii, p. 150.] he gives the following interesting account of the occurrence:--

"The natives had probably observed the evening before how many sailors were in the ship, and perhaps had been annoyed that they had not all been allowed to come on board. When, therefore, they saw the boats go away with so many hands in them, they would know how few must be left in the ship, and feel assured that if some ten or twelve of [34/35] them could get on board under pretence of merely seeing the ship, they could watch their opportunity, overpower the few in charge, take possession of the ship, and then have also the whole party in the boats at their mercy. Within an hour after the boats had left the ship two or three canoes came off to the ship, filled with huge men, most of whom were armed with their clubs and bows and spears. In the first canoe the chief man was such a ferocious-looking ruffian, with a formidable club, that I at once determined he should not come on board. I refused to allow them, but made them understand, by pointing to the sun and tracing its course in the heavens, that they might come on board about noon, when it was over our heads. By that time I knew the boats would have returned, and then if we only admitted a few on board at a time, making them leave their arms in their canoes, there would probably be no great risk. They seemed much disappointed, and in order to keep them in a good humour I talked to them, asked their name for different things, and wrote down the words in a book. I thus got them to tell me their names, and in order to carry on this amusement and pass the time I pointed to an old man in the canoe, and made signs that he might come and sit on the bulwarks, and tell me the names of things which I wanted to know. The [35/36] old man came and seated himself beside me and as I wrote down the first word he gave me I saw him looking most anxiously all over the ship, and as I wrote down the second word I detected him making signs to the ferocious chief with a look that said distinctly, 'It's all right,--only one or two left in the ship; let us get quickly on deck, and the ship is ours, and the white men in our power.' I immediately sent the old man back to the canoe, and made them understand that no one could come on deck till the sun was over our heads. Five or six other canoes had by this time come off to the ship, and there must have been at least fifty of these huge men in them, many armed, and some five or six looking as if they could do anything.

"For more than two hours they kept close to the ship, asking again and again to come on deck, which I again and again refused. Every now and then, one more forward than the rest would take hold of the ship, and plant his foot on a slight projection, so that one good spring would bring him on deck. No sooner had he planted his foot and looked up, than he saw me just over him, directing him very calmly but decidedly to get back into his canoe. All this time the native boys from the other islands who were on board were in the greatest terror; one came to me with a countenance of livid paleness and said, 'Those very bad men, they want [36/37] kill you and me; they no come on ship, you no let them come.' Another of the biggest boys, a stout strong fellow, came to me with a countenance so full of fear, so ludicrous from the excess of fear depicted on it, that I could not help laughing. Well! after two hours, the men in the boats consulted together, and evidently came to the conclusion that it was of no use to try any longer, and began to move off. My work was then done, and the chief mate came up to me and said,--'I am rejoiced, my Lord, that these fellows are gone; we have been in great danger; and if three or four had once got on deck, the ship would not have been now in our possession.'

"Next came the most anxious hour; when the canoes had made off a little way they stopped, and every eye was directed towards the two boats of the ship, which were lying off the shore, where the water was being fetched from a pool about a quarter of a mile up a rocky, wooded bank. The men in the canoes consulted together, then changed their places, filling the two largest canoes with those who were evidently the greatest fighters; and then two canoes paddled towards the boats. While I was called upon to act and protect the ship, I felt no fear; now, I was full of alarm.

"As the two canoes went slowly towards the boats, I could see other natives running along the [37/38] shore in the same direction. With the telescope I could see one man in each of the boats, and about a hundred natives on the shore. The danger was, lest the two canoes should reach the boats and overpower the two men before the Bishop of New Zealand came down with his body of men from the water-pool, in which case the natives would be in possession of the boats, deprive the Bishop and his party of all means of reaching the ship, and destroy them at their leisure. The canoes neared the boats--I called to the mate, and asked, 'Can we render any assistance?' 'None, my Lord.' I pointed to a third small boat still on the ship. He said, 'That would sink if put into the water, and we have now only one oar to it.' I paced the deck a few seconds, and then asked again,--'If anything should happen on shore, and the natives taste blood there, have we any means of self-defence in the ship?' The answer was, 'None.' If anything could have been suggested, I should at once have set about it. But the thought that something fatal might happen on shore, brought with it a sickening disregard as to what might happen to myself. I therefore paced the deck, and rendered the only aid I could render, that of a fervent prayer to Almighty God, asking in our Saviour's name that He would guard and protect, and restore to us in safety, my dear friend and his companions.

[39] "I saw soon the canoes reach the boats--I saw two of the natives in one of the boats--I heard a noise and shout from the shore. I could not trust my eyes when I thought I saw the boats move from the shore rowed by our own men. I gave the telescope to the mate and eagerly asked him if he could see the men in the boats and the Bishop with them; he looked, and answered, 'Yes, they are all there, and his lordship steers the first boat.' You can imagine my thankfulness."

After leaving Mallicolo, the weather and the defective state of the ship's gear obliged our voyagers reluctantly to turn homewards. They called for "Tom," who as they approached the shore appeared and quickly swam off to them. Proceeding with the voyage they reached Newcastle on Sept. 20th, and Sydney on the evening of the same day, arriving at Auckland with their thirteen Melanesian scholars on Oct. 7th, 1851.

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