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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.


ON June 19th, 1852, the Bishop embarked with the Rev. Mr. Nihill and the island boys. Three New Zealanders accompanied the party, one of whom, Henaré or Henry, stayed with Mr. Nihill and aided in his mission work--frequent mention of him is made in the journal from which we shall shortly quote. It is, indeed, one of the most cheering tokens of good resulting from this Mission, that it has tended to raise a missionary spirit among the New Zealanders themselves. They have in many instances devoted their substance to its support: and a few have volunteered to act as Missionaries themselves. There was no lack of useful employment for every one on board during these cruises. One day the Europeans would all be employed in learning to take lunar observations from the Bishop, who was as much at home in navigating his own vessel as in his episcopal work on shore; plenty of school work goes on. On another day, lots of scrubbing and cleansing above and below deck, for promotion of health and cleanliness; the boys wash their own clothes. Mr. [44/45] Nihill noted the amusing contrast between this and the preceding return voyage from the islands, brought about by English clothing and language, which seemed to have quite changed the same individuals. Yet as they drew nearer home their native traits naturally re-appeared, they seemed to get wilder again; tied on handkerchiefs in room of native headdresses; talked more of their own tongue, and in louder tones.

On July 1st the welcome cry of "Land ahead!" was heard, and Anaiteum is reached. Here they landed Mr. Inglis (coadjutor of Mr. Geddie, the zealous Presbyterian missionary on Anaiteum), with Mrs. Inglis, and their live stock; with good hope that the friendly relations between the Bishop and these missionaries would continue.

A quiet Sunday was spent off this island; all comfortable, with clean decks, and the boys in white frocks and trousers, with red neckerchiefs. Tanna and its volcano, and Futuna, in shape of a frustrated cone, in sight. An old Tanna chief was on board, a fine specimen of a fighting man, with one eye knocked out, and divers others scars; every lock of his hair, as their custom is, twisted round with grass; tortoiseshell earrings, armlets of shells, &c., and a white plume, some two feet long, of which the old man was specially proud. On July 5th they reached Futuna, where the Bishop landed with two boys, [45/46] very different in appearance from what they were when first brought on board eleven months ago. Though they had made less progress in school-work than others, yet their thoughtful and gentle expression of face would, Mr. Nihill thought, point them out to a stranger as having been under instruction. Again guided through the night by the light of the volcano of Tanna, they reached that island next morning, where the Bishop landed, and left the old chief with all his treasures.

On July 7th they touched at Erromango--the savage island where the missionary Williams was murdered. Here the Bishop took ashore one little fellow, Tom, and brought off Bob, who had been left last time, and two other nice little boys. A very friendly feeling was displayed towards the Bishop at this place. In the evening they stood away to the southward, with a fair breeze for Maré or Nengonè, which they reached next morning, July 8th, being the day that the Bishop, in his list of "agenda" had set down for arrival at this island. On their leaving Anaiteum, Mr. Geddie had kindly furnished them with the following letter to the native teachers at Maré:--


"ANAITEUM; July 3rd, 1852.

"This is my letter to you, teachers at Maré, to Maka, Mita, and Paripoa. The chief minister from [46/47] New Zealand arrived here yesterday: we have held a consultation about the thing of which Mr. Murray and Mr. Sunderland told you. This, then, is my speech to you, teachers at Maré: it is right that a clergyman, Mr. Nihill, and an English teacher, should live in Maré. Do you all be kind to them, and help them, and labour together with them in the work of God in Maré.

"Peace be with you all in God!

"From Mr. GEDDIE."

This letter proved a very satisfactory introduction; but we must now leave Mr. Nihill to speak for himself.

"We hove-to," he says, "off Guama, to wait for a canoe that was coming off to us (Guama and Siwarcko are two Christian settlements at opposite extremities of the island). When they came alongside, we recognised Bula, the young chief, Narsilini, and others, all old acquaintances. They brought most encouraging accounts of the progress of religion in the island. When we were here before there were five teachers on the island--three Samoan and two from Rarotonga. Since then one Samoan, Fili, has died; and another, Solia, is gone to live on a small island to the north, called Toka. For the next two months there will be a good deal in my journal about the teachers, Solia, Maka, Mita, and Paripoa, [47/48] and the chiefs Narsilini and Bula. Maka, or Mark, is a fine tall Rarotonga man, about twenty-six; was a child when Williams was at Rarotonga, but remembers him, and had the place where the 'Messenger of Peace' was built pointed out to him by his father. He has had a very good education; but does not write as well, nor possess as much information as the college boys. He and Paripoa are both good carpenters, and handy men in every way.

"Mita, the Samoan teacher, is a dear old man. He is neither a good scholar nor a good workman, but he is an honest, upright teacher. His wife talks villanous Nengonè, but seems to be beloved by them all.

"We hear that we shall only find Maka at Guama, Paripoa having gone to Siwarcko to help Mita to put up a house.

"Narsilini the elder, one of the chiefs, is a quiet, amiable man, who, in his father's lifetime, withstood all the attempts of a brother, younger in years but superior in rank (since dead), to cut off boats coming ashore from vessels. It is principally owing to him that the teachers have been allowed to pursue their labours among the people in peace.

"Hezekiah, the younger Narsilini, was, when a heathen, always foremost in fighting and all sorts of evil. He is now one of the steadiest friends of the teachers. Bula, a younger brother of the two others, [48/49] is the principal chief here, and receives tribute from a large part of the island. He is a young man about seventeen, and has put away seven wives (only retaining the eighth), because he wishes to become a Christian, at an age when no other youth would be allowed to think of marrying. He is superior to the two Narsilinis and all the rest of his elder brothers, men old enough to be his fathers; and the only reason I have heard is, that his father chose him out of the rest of his sons to be the chief.

"July 9.--I am now in the teacher's house. The three chiefs and one of the teachers came on board this morning and had a very satisfactory conversation with the Bishop; and the whole party shook hands with me, and expressed their readiness to be kind to me, and work together with me.

"July 10.--The Bishop came on shore this morning, and stayed four or five hours with us. He said that he had made up his mind to baptize the four eldest boys (who had been in New Zealand), Siapo, Napai, Kaiwhat, and Cho; and asked me to explain to Katiengo that he had better wait another year, and go on conducting himself properly. He had not been recommended by the teachers the year before, because, on returning to the island from their first year's schooling, he had gone off with his companion Uriete to follow their own devices, and had not stayed with the Christian party, or come to church regularly.

[50] "Sunday, July 11.--The Bishop came on shore after breakfast; and soon after we went to the church. The service was very interesting. The baptismal service was in English, with the exception of the particular words accompanying the act of baptism, which were in Nengonè. Although the prayers and exhortations were in English, the meaning of them was explained by the teachers in the language of the people; and the extempore prayers of the teachers, and the address given by one of them to the young men, were of the same purport as those in the Prayer Book. Nothing here is so wonderful to me as the people's singing; there is all the Maori correctness of time without anything flat; the boys' and women's voices keep up the pitch wonderfully--it is quite deafening. There were at least 1000 people in the church, and I suppose every one of them singing with the whole strength of his voice.

"Siapo was called George, after the Bishop; Napai, Charles, after Mr. Abraham; Kaiwhat, Mark, after the teacher; and Cho, Solomon, a name of his own choice. After the service the Bishop left us and sailed away.

"The Bishop took Cho and Siapo with him, intending to call at a good many places on the island of Lifu, and to land them again on the north shore of this island. They can both talk Lifu well, and were with poor Apalé when he died.

[51] "We are living amongst a most interesting set of people. There are perhaps 2000 in our immediate neighbourhood (Guama), and 500 or 600 at the other end of the island, who have had no other teachers than men from Rarotonga and Samoa. The two with whom we are living are both young, unmarried men, who have been working steadily here for the last six years, a great part of which time they were without any resources but their own. They have gained the respect and attention of all the natives; and from these two places, Guama and Siwarcko, converted natives are constantly going out every Saturday morning to preach at other settlements, where the people have not yet decided in favour of Christianity, thus extending the knowledge of the Gospel through the whole island by little and little.

"The early morning we spend in school and church. After breakfast we devote two hours and a half to instructing the young men who act as teachers. During this time, Henry writes out lessons, &c.; in the afternoon, he teaches, I print. On Thursday and Friday evenings there are classes in the church. Every night we translate for about an hour and a half. The natives supply us with food in abundance. They treat us as they do their own chiefs; and their teachableness is shown by the congregation on Sunday amounting to 1000, and by Henry and myself [51/52] receiving each a regular daily attendance of about twenty-five, who spend two hours most patiently and attentively in being instructed by us; having already been two hours in the church, either teaching or being taught. I wrote down the names of all the people at every village I visit, and find it of the greatest use.

"I collect seeds, ferns, leaves, shells, &c. as I walk though the woods and on the beach. I find all these things are so many pegs to hang words on. The children have found out my propensity, and they bring me insects and flowers to bottle up and write down. I am afraid my notes are getting unintelligible; for I am writing in public. I counted the row of faces just opposite to me a short time ago, and they amounted to forty-five. I have no table, and cannot write so well without as with one.

"The light is not very good, although a little maiden takes her place at the fire, in the centre of the room, as soon as it is dark, and keeps feeding the flame with the dry stalks of the cocoa-nut-tree, which she splits up with her teeth. She never moves from her place, and never speaks till she is relieved by another.

"These people spend more time in worship and religious exercises than any I have ever known. I do not know what time monks in religious houses are supposed to spend in common worship; but every [52/53] Sunday these people devote seven or eight hours to it. During the whole time, broken up into five parts, they are either hearing prayer, or reading, or being catechised, or singing. Everything is conducted with the greatest solemnity and decorum; and I am quite anxious and perplexed, because I fear that this cannot last, and that, unless God gives these simple converts a greater share of grace to keep them steadfast than is usually vouchsafed to men, there must be a falling away. Religion has become the business of their lives; and unless something is given them to do, they cannot, I fear, withstand the temptations which their easy mode of life must continually expose them to when the novelty is worn off. The interest seems likely to be kept up at present by their missionary efforts among the neighbouring wild tribes; for every week six or eight poor missionaries set on a long and weary path, with no other dress than a bundle of leaves round their waist, and no better stock of knowledge than they have been able to pick up from the Samoan teachers--broken Nengonè; these Samoan teachers, themselves the fountain of instruction, having had no other help to draw upon than the portions of Scripture translated into their own language. But can one doubt that the Spirit of God goes with them? Most of the teachers scattered through these islands were young men when they came; and, with very few exceptions, they have been [53/54] enabled to keep their own good name, and to raise their hearers from the deepest heathenism to a state of professed Christianity.

"The two things that seem to have been wanting in New Zealand are now in a great measure supplied there by the recent introduction of missionary efforts for the benefit of the other islands, and by the establishment of children's schools. The Waikato tribe have regular missionary meetings, and have contributed both men and money to the work. The Sunday before we left, my own little congregation at Orakie, entirely of their own accord, subscribed nearly £4 at the offertory. I wish I could introduce something of the kind here; for the spirit of contribution is very powerful. The people frequently bring us presents of pigs, fowls, fish, yams, &c.; and little children, whom I pass in the woods with bundles of sugar-canes on their backs, while they draw up in a line on one side of the path amongst the bushes, half frightened at the unwonted appearance of a white man, whisper, as I pass, 'Waca' (sugar-cane), or 'waum' (cocoa-nut); 'give him some sugar-cane,' and hand me a present, or if I have been too quick for them, run after me with it. Truly, they deserve to be taught; and the little which Henry and I are able to do for them in our short stay, is repaid over and over again every day by substantial marks of gratitude, and a thousand little attentions and [54/55] kindnesses from young and old,--from Old Sarai, who creeps into the house while we are away to shake the mats; and Cho's mother, who follows me into the canoe, to ask where she shall bring some cocoa-nuts which she has been keeping for me, and then jumps up to her shoulders in the sea, the canoe having set sail while she has been talking, down to little Téwéné, who brings me a live mouse, and then crouches down at my feet to see whether I will eat it up, or skin it, or put it in a box, "bane hue New Zealand" (to take to New Zealand).

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