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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.


THE want of a ship again detained the Bishop and his party at Sydney. "All the ships that can be procured," he wrote, "are engaged in one great race to carry potatoes from Sydney to Melbourne;" but his stay in Sydney proved extremely gratifying, and he would have enjoyed it greatly, he said, but for his anxiety for the health of his boys. The Sydney churchmen, on this occasion, out-did even their former liberality. The post for some days seemed to rain bank notes, and in most cases the donations were anonymous. Every expense of the voyage from New Zealand, and of the residence in Sydney, and of the voyage to the islands and back to Auckland, was paid in full, and still a large balance remained in hand. There was a large meeting held in one of the Sydney school-rooms, when great enthusiasm was shown upon the entrance of the Bishop with his ten Melanesian scholars, and not less when he proceeded to give an account of the islands and of his cruises among them. The Bishop of Newcastle, who, it may be remembered, accompanied Bishop Selwyn [80/81] in the Border Maid in 1851, also spoke and told his experiences among the Melanesian islands.

At length a ship was procured, and the Bishop and his scholars sailed in the barque Gratitude from Sydney to Anaiteum, Nengonè, Lifu, and Mallicolo, returning to Auckland in September. The boy who had been brought from Erromango was, at his own request, left at Anaiteum with the London Society's Missionaries there; for at home, the little fellow said, they had to lead a life of constant quarrelling and ill-treatment, and were set by their parents and elder brothers to watch the fire all night, in order to drive away evil spirits.

Poor little Umao, the sick sailor's nurse, died on this voyage; and the number of deaths during this year convinced the Bishop that it was necessary to choose some warmer climate than Auckland for the site of the Melanesian college. On the 8th of November the indefatigable Bishop again started on a voyage, this time in H.M. colonial brig Victoria, accompanied by the Governor, Sir George Grey. His object was to leave Mr. Nihill at Nengonè, and to see whether either Norfolk Island or Sunday Island would be suitable for a new college. In December he returned, and in January, 1854, he left his diocese for England, in order there to settle the necessary business before the entire country could be divided, as he wished, into three bishoprics.

[82] Although it is here anticipating the order of events, it may be as well to mention the farther history of Mr. Nihill. The Bishop never saw him again. For more than a year he and his wife lived and laboured upon the island; the natives had built him a coral house with a thatched roof; and a church capable of containing two thousand persons. Towards the latter part of his stay there, however, there occurred some misunderstanding of the agreement into which the Bishop and the London Mission had entered. It may be remembered that Mr. Geddie, one of the ministers of the Presbyterian Mission, had recommended Mr. Nihill to the native teacher at Nengonè, and the London Mission had agreed that the island should be considered a Church of England station. But, unfortunately, through some mistake, when Mr. Nihill was settled there at work, a deputation from the London Mission came and set Mr. Nihill aside, claiming the island as theirs. Mr. Nihill submitted quietly to be thus set aside, knowing that nothing would be more fatal to the cause which both parties had at heart than the slightest appearance of contention between them; and from that time, as long as he remained upon the island, did all he could to help the new comers, giving them his translation, and assisting them with his knowledge of the language.

In June, 1855, Archdeacon Abraham sent off a [82/83] vessel to Nengonè in order to bring Mr. Nihill, his wife, and child back to Auckland. The Exert hove-to just opposite Mr. Nihill's house; but a whale-boat, manned by natives, put off from shore, and brought the news that Mr. Nihill had died from dysentery some months previously, and all they could do was to bring away his widow and child, who had been kindly cared for since his death by a medical man and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Sunderland, attached to the London Mission.

Meantime, Bishop Selwyn was in England, pleading the cause of his diocese in person, and with good effect. Although it was the year 1854, when all eyes were on the East, and all available purse-strings open for the supply of extra comforts to our soldiers through that long and terrible Crimean winter, he found some responsive to his call also. His friends subscribed to procure him another vessel, and he had a schooner of seventy tons built, which he named the Southern Cross, and which followed him to New Zealand the next a year.

In the Advent of 1854 he preached four sermons before the University of Cambridge, on "The Work of Christ in the World." In these sermons, addressed especially to the Cambridge men who composed his audience, he pleaded for more workers in the field which lay open before him and in the other colonies [83/84] of England. From the spirit of self-sacrifice which at the beginning of the Crimean war had caused volunteers to spring forward for the army, he urged that such devotion ought not to be confined to the army only, but to spread to the Church also.

"I forbear," he said, "to speak of myself, because it has pleased God to cast my lot in a fair land and a goodly heritage; and in the healthful climate of New Zealand, and among the clustered isles and on the sparkling waves of the Pacific Ocean, there is too much real enjoyment for me to be able to invite any one to unite himself with me as an exercise of ministerial self-denial. But we also want men of mind and faith to mould the institutions of our infant colony; above all, we need men who can stand alone, like heaven-descended priests of the Most High God, in the midst of the lonely wilderness. There are such minds here present--hearts which God has enlarged to the comprehension of the whole field of our Christian duty, and who are ready to undertake the work of Christ in any part of His field to which they may be called. But they are as backward to offer as the Church is backward to call. One or other must break through this natural reserve. Offer yourselves to the Archbishop, as twelve hundred young men have already offered themselves to the Commander-in-chief. Let the head of our Church have about him, as his staff, [84/85] or on his list of volunteers, a body of young men who are ready to go anywhere or do anything. Then we shall never lack chaplains either for our soldiers in the field, or for the sick and wounded in our hospitals; nor clergy for our colonies, nor missionaries for the heathen. If but fifty men in each University would every year renounce the hope of quiet residence in a college, or of domestic comfort in a rural parish, there would be men enough at the disposal of the Church to officer every outlying post of her work."

In the fourth sermon, speaking of the evils of schism, he says:--"We make a rule never to introduce controversy among a native people, or to impair the simplicity of their faith. If the fairest openings for Missionary labour lie before us, yet, if the ground has been pre-occupied by any other religious body, we forbear to enter. And I can speak with confidence upon this point, from observation ranging over nearly one-half of the Southern Pacific Ocean, that wherever this law of religious unity is adopted, there the Gospel has its full and unchecked and undivided power; wherever the servants of Christ endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, there the native converts are brought to the knowledge of one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.

"Nature itself has so divided our Mission field, [85/86] that each labourer may work without interference with his neighbour. Every island, circled with its own coral reef, is a field in which each missionary may carry out his own system with native teachers, trained under his own eye, and obedient to his will--grateful and loving men, ready at a moment to put their lives in their hands, and go out to preach the Gospel to other islands, and there to encounter every danger that pestilence, or famine, or violence may bring upon them: with no weapon but prayer, and no refuge but in God. It is my happy lot to visit these island Missions, some occupied by missionaries of our own race, and some by native teachers; and to see the work of the Gospel in every stage of progress, from the simple teacher just landed from his mission-ship among a people of unknown language and savage manners, to the same teacher, after a few years, surrounded by his scholars and ministering in his congregation, his chapel and dwelling-house built by their hands, and himself supported by their offerings.

"Many of these islands I visited in their days of darkness; and, therefore, I can rejoice in the light that now bursts upon them, from whatever quarter it may come. I feel that there is an episcopate of love, as well as of authority; and that these simple teachers, scattered over the wide ocean, are of the same interest to me that Apollos was to Aquila. I [86/87] find them instructed in the way of the Lord--fervent in spirit, speaking and teaching diligently the things of the Lord; and if in anything they lack knowledge, it seems to be our duty to expound to them the way of God more perfectly; and to do this as their friend and brother, not as 'having dominion over their faith,' but as 'helper of their joy.' Above all things, it is our duty to guard against inflicting upon them the curses of our disunion, lest we make every little island in the ocean a counterpart of our own divided and contentious Church."

He concluded in these words:--

"I go from hence, if it be the will of God, to the most distant of all countries--to the place where God, in answer to the prayers of His Son, has given Him 'the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession.' There God has planted the standard of the Cross, as a signal to His Church to fill up the intervening spaces till there is neither a spot of earth which has not been trodden by the messengers of salvation, nor a single man to whom the Gospel has not been preached. Fill up the void. Let it be no longer a reproach to the Universities that they have sent so few Missionaries to the heathen. The Spirit of God is ready to be poured out upon all flesh, and some of you are His chosen vessels. Again I say, offer yourselves to the Primate of our Church. The voice of the Lord is [87/88] asking, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' May every one of you who intends, by God's grace, to dedicate himself to the ministry, answer at once--'Here am I!--send me.'"

One who heard that address of Bishop Selwyn's felt his heart deeply stirred. He was fellow of a college in Cambridge: earnest-minded, deeply loved by those who knew him--bent on forwarding the work of the kingdom of God. In eight years from that time Charles Mackenzie lay dead beside the Shire river, in the wilds of Africa--a noble pioneer fallen in a noble cause. Who shall say that the Bishop's earnest appeal found no earnest hearts on which to fall?

In the next year another volunteer came forward from the sister University, and offered himself to the Bishop, to help him in his work in the Pacific islands--one whose name will often henceforth occur in Melanesian annals--John Coleridge Patteson.

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