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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 party of Melanesians who were at Auckland from September, 1856, to April, 1857, made fair progress in their education during that time. Mr. Patteson's presence in the school, to which he gave his full attention, set the Bishop free to pursue his many other duties; and the education of the two young women from Nengonè was cared for by Mrs. Nihill, who continued to work in the cause in which her husband had died.

The religious instruction imparted to these lads had to be illustrated as much as possible by action and gesture. Thus, after a short sketch of Bible history, Mr. Patteson would take two books, or anything else, and say, "This one is God and that is man; they are far apart because man is so bad and God is so good, but Jesus Christ comes into the middle between them and joins them together. He is God and He is man too, and in Him God and man meet."

During the seven months they remained at the College, the seven lads from the Solomon Islands [126/127] got on well in reading and writing, and, at the end of that time, could answer simple questions on the most important articles of the Christian faith. One of them, Hiriha by name, was a very quick, bright boy, and the others showed quite as much diligence and ability as would be considered satisfactory in an English school. The two young women, and the four young men from Nengonè, had received a fair education before they came. Wadokal and the two young women had been at New Zealand before, in 1853. This Nengonè party was extremely hopeful. "They had had good teaching for three or four years; but you would hardly be prepared for indications of real goodness and earnestness such as these: 'Sir, may we stay with you always? We see this teaching is right; may we be always with you at Norfolk Island, or here? By and bye we might be able to teach some other people.' One day Kowine, a lad of seventeen, as yet unbaptized, brought the following prayer, written entirely of his own accord: 'O God! Thou strengthenest us, Thou lovest us. We have come from a distant land, and no evil has happened to us, for Thou lovest us. Thou hast provided us with a Missionary to live here with us. Give us strength from Thee every day. We are men who have done evil before Thee, but Thou watchest over us, and savest us from the hands of Satan. We do not wish to follow him, but to be Thy servants, O Jesus, and [127/128] the servants of Thy great Father, and of the Holy Spirit, who givest us life for evermore.'"

One night Wadokal came to Mr. Patteson, and said, "I have heard all kinds of words used, Faith, Repentance, Praise, Prayer, and I don't clearly understand what is the real great thing, the chief thing of all. They used these words confusedly, and I feel puzzled. Then I read that the Pharisees knew a great deal about the law, and so did the Scribes, and yet they were not good. Now I know something of the Bible, and I can write, and I fear, very much, I am very much afraid, I am not good, I am not doing anything good." Upon which recital of the lad's perplexities, Mr. Patteson talked to him about the comfort of having definite work to do, and after a while put him in authority over a class of lads, which at once employed his energies and satisfied his aspirations.

Another time Mr. Patteson quite unintentionally excited Wadokal's grief by saying, "Come, put on the good trousers I gave you, these are so shabby; you want to keep the good ones to go to Nengonè in." A little while after a slate was put into his hand, upon which Wadokal had poured out his griefs. "Mr. Patteson, this is my word; I am unhappy because of the word you said to me, that I wished for clothes to go to Nengonè in. I do not wish for the clothes; what is the use of clothes? can my spirit [128/129] be clothed with clothes for the body? Therefore my heart is greatly afraid, because you said I greatly wished for clothes which I do not care for. Therefore I fear, and I confess and say to you, it is not the things for the body I want, but the one thing I want is the clothing of the soul for Jesus Christ's sake our Lord."

The Bauro boys said: "We only know a very little about God, and Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit; but we can teach our people that, and by and by come and live with you and learn more. Plenty of boys will come away with you this year: we shall tell them all about you and the Bishop." When Mr. Patteson, writing down a prayer in the Bauro language, in which were these words, "Enlighten the minds and renew the hearts of the men of Bauro, and Gera, and Mara, and of all men who have not known Thee," called Hiriha to him to ask whether the words were good Bauro, the boy's face brightened at the idea, and he said eagerly, "Very, very good."

The day was ordinarily spent in this way. At daybreak the boys got up, washed and dressed themselves; at 7.30 they went to chapel, then to breakfast. After breakfast they swept and cleaned their rooms, being taught how by Mr. Patteson, who invariably led the way in every menial employment to which the boys had to be set, so that they might not think any work below their dignity. From ten to twelve they [129/130] were in school, the Solomon Islanders learning to read, write, reckon, and being taught the elementary truths of Christianity; while the Nengonè lads answered questions set to them in writing, and joined in translating into their own language portions of the Scriptures and Prayer Book. At 1.30 they dined in the College Hall, and the afternoon was spent in various ways--walking, printing, weaving nets, cricketing, or basking in the sun, which is too congenial a habit to tropical natures to be readily given up. At 5.30 they met once more in the hall for tea. Prayers with the Solomon Islanders, and some serious conversation closed the day for them; and the Nengonè lads then had their turn for reading the Bible, catechising, and prayers; and then, after the rest had gone to bed, one or two of the most forward of the young men remained with their teacher until ten o'clock, engaged in helping him in his work of translation.

There was but little deviation from this course throughout the time that the Melanesians passed at Auckland. Sometimes they walked to Auckland to see the soldiers, or to Kohimarama in the hay-making season; and the last three weeks were chiefly passed in printing, in order to get the translations finished for the lads before they left New Zealand. The Nengonè lads were all ready to work; but it was not thought well to force them too much to do so, as it [130/131] might have made their stay at the College irksome, and rendered them less willing to return.

The lads began to find out what were the pleasures of work, as well as of idleness. Without a word said to them by any one, they picked some of the New Zealand flax plant, twisted the thread, made their meshes, and proceeded to make beautiful and serviceable nets. Their favourite amusements were throwing light reeds or canes, such as many of us may have seen who have witnessed the sports of the Australian aborigines, as shown, at least, by the eleven who have lately been playing cricket in this country; and also careering about the field mounted on a donkey of independent character, upon which none could retain his seat more than two minutes. However, they all fell like cats upon their legs amid roars of laughter. The donkey usually steered straight for some small scrubby tree, and then kicked or plunged, or else rubbed their legs against the side of the house, while all the rest of the boys were leaping about the one who was mounted, and the fun was great.

At the approach of the cold weather, in April, Mr. Patteson put them on board the Southern Cross, and sailed for Nengonè. The Bishop was not able this time to accompany him, in consequence of the meeting of the Church Congress at Auckland; and as it was only in order to return the lads to their [131/132] islands--not to obtain more scholars--that this voyage was made, his absence was less felt than it would otherwise have been.

Six days brought the vessel to Nengonè, where the lads were returned to their friends amid a general welcome; six more to Bauro, where the five lads who had come from thence were landed. The scenery of this island was marvellously lovely. At one point Mr. Patteson came suddenly out of the bush, on the extreme slope of the precipitous coral rock facing due west, where the tropical sun was about to set in a flood of burning fire, with cloudless sky and calm sea. The first object that his eyes rested upon was the top of the cocoa-nut trees far below, with the calm ripple of the sea upon the beach seen through the slowly-waving palm branches.

"As soon," writes one of the party, "as the Bishop's flag was recognised, thirty-one canoes came out to meet us, and soon we were busily engaged, asking and telling one another what had occurred during our absence. Having the chief on board, and being entirely satisfied of the goodwill of the people, we determined to drop our anchor in the middle of the small bay, and to spend the next day filling our water casks and visiting the people, or rather, suffering them to visit us. It was a beautiful sight, as the schooner very slowly moved from her anchorage, the flotilla of canoes surrounding her, and the beautiful [132/133] bay in front lighted up by the setting sun behind us. As it grew dark, the people were sent on shore, with the exception of the two principal men of the village, and some of the relatives of our own lads. We passed the evening looking at and explaining Scripture prints, and speaking to them of the great truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At eight P.M. they were all present at prayers, and seemed to listen with attention to what they heard."

Mr. Patteson heard old Iri telling a man who came up when he was sitting silent, and asked if there was not a man speaking Bauro staying with him, "Yes, and he said men were not like pigs and dogs, and birds and fish, because they can't speak or think. They all die, and no one knows anything more about it; but he says we shall not die like that, we shall rise again." At which point Mr. Patteson thought fit to break in and take up the conversation. It was especially gratifying to hear two or three of our own scholars taking up their teacher's words, and enforcing and applying them to their own people.

The next morning, as soon as it was light, they began filling the water casks, and by ten A.M. all the work was finished. All day the vessel was crowded with visitors, coming with presents of yams, cocoanuts, &c.; many children also came on board, and the most perfectly good understanding prevailed. Some of the party went ashore and visited the different [133/134] cottages, receiving everywhere a hearty welcome, explaining the reason why they came to the island, and urging the people to have some lads in readiness to accompany the Mission vessel to New Zealand in the course of three or four months.

At Gera the reception given was equally friendly and hearty; but here the Southern Cross narrowly escaped a great danger. She had dropped anchor in the bay without sufficient knowledge of the nature of the bottom, and in the attempt to heave anchor the cable broke, and in the force of the rebound moved the vessel towards a reef about three or four hundred yards distant. The vessel, in consequence of a strong under-current, refused to obey the helm, and slowly approached the reef. One moment of intense anxiety--the next, gently touching upon an outlying rock, without injuring herself, she swung round into deep water, and the danger was over. Had it been otherwise, the Southern Cross must have gone to pieces upon the reef.

The next voyage of the Southern Cross, after her return to Auckland, was to Canterbury; and after her return thence, Bishop Selwyn started in her for another Melanesian voyage. Again Mrs. Selwyn was left at Norfolk Island, much to the joy of the people, and the Bishop and Mr. Patteson proceeded to visit the islands, much in the same order as they had taken them in the previous year; but now [134/135] visiting many others which had been passed by before.

Among these last was Erromango, the island where John Williams, the devoted Independent Missionary, had been killed many years before. It was this island which had produced the little Umao, the sick sailor's nurse, who had died at sea in 1853; and the other boys who had then been at St. John's College recognised the Bishop, and showed him that they had not forgotten their reading. Further on they sailed round to Dillon's Bay, where, being rowed to the shore by five of the Pitcairn lads who had accompanied the expedition, they saw with pleasure a white Mission house standing on the right bank of the river, just opposite the spot where John Williams was killed.

"It was, indeed," writes the Bishop, "a happy, change to row quietly up the pretty river, as far as it is navigable; to land among smiling and bright faces; and then to be welcomed by the young missionary and his wife (a Mr, and Mrs. Gordon, of the Presbyterian Mission, which had brought forth so much fruit at Anaiteum), who have come from Nova Scotia to devote themselves to the care of this more injured than injurious people. A pleasant walk up the coral crags, by a path which Mr. and Mrs. Gordon have already improved, a friendly conversation ending in family prayer, and then a quiet row [135/136] back to the vessel in the face of a gloriously-setting sun, were the moral and natural pleasures of mind and sight which gladdened my fifth visit to Erromango."

There is something sad in reading this glad, hopeful description of the Erromango Mission, when we think of the sequel of the history of this good man and his wife. Erromango was, indeed, in accordance with the Bishop's own regulations, taken out of the hands of the Melanesian Mission, by the fact of its occupation by another religious body; but he regularly called there in the Southern Cross in his succeeding voyages, and enjoyed much friendly intercourse with Mr. and Mrs. Gordon, and they had much consultation together about the best means of carrying on their common work. For some time the prospects of this Mission seemed hopeful, though never as much so as that at Anaiteum. But three years after this time, when Mr. Ashwell, then accompanying Mr. Patteson in the Southern Cross, called at Erromango to see whether Mr. and Mrs. Gordon were in need of any assistance that could be given them, he found the sky already overcast with clouds. A few months before, a sandal-wood trader had purchased from the natives a quantity of sandalwood; he had then crossed over to a neighbouring island, and had thence procured a large number of persons to accompany him to Erromango, to bring [136/137] the sandal-wood to the beach. Arrived there, he told them that he had no food for them, but that they must take what they wanted from the gardens of the Erromango people. The trader accompanying them with his musket, they destroyed four or five villages near the Mission Station, and took their food; the Erromango men retaliated, and drove the invaders, with the trader, from the island. This, as might be expected, changed the disposition of many who had hitherto been well-disposed towards the Mission. A terrible epidemic--measles, followed by dysentery--also was brought to the island; by a ship from Sydney, and raged there with a virulence equalled among European races by nothing but Asiatic cholera. The heathen priests, Mr. Gordon said, accused him and his wife of being the cause of the epidemic, and were doing all they could to oppose and thwart them: Mr. Gordon accompanied the Mission party down to the ship: it was a glorious moonlight night, and he pointed out to them the scene of Williams's murder, and told them how, on the Bishop's first visit to the spot, when all around was unmitigated heathenism, he had knelt down there and prayed that the blood of the martyrs might be the seed of the Church. Had Mr. Gordon any foreboding that more of that precious seed might be needed in Erromango, before the glorious harvest time appeared?

The prospects of the mission in Erromango grew [137/138] darker. Fewer and fewer came to listen to Mr. Gordon's teaching. He felt that his life was in danger, but he stayed at his post. He did not compromise matters, but spoke strongly to them about their idolatries and murders; and his having said to them, that a judgment would fall upon them if they did not leave off their evil ways, was remembered as a proof that he had brought the epidemic upon them. He still went about fearlessly among them, however, doing his duty like a brave and earnest man. On the 7th of June, 1861, Mr. (now Bishop) Patteson landed at Erromango, and found that the worst had befallen his friends. A fortnight before they had both been murdered by the natives, and all that Bishop Patteson could do was to read the funeral service over their graves, some thirty Erromangan lads, men, and women standing round the grave and weeping. "So once more," writes Bishop Patteson, "I remember the old saying, 'The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.'"

Returning, however, to Bishop Selwyn's voyage of 1857, the point from which we started upon this digression. Among other islands of the New Hebrides group he visited Mai, whence he brought two young men, named Petere and Laure. They engaged to stay ten months with the Bishop, as, of course, all who volunteered to join him were [138/139] obliged to do; but the natural effect of sea-sickness was to produce violent home-sickness, and when the Bishop had been visiting a neighbouring island he found these two lads standing up on deck and shouting with all their might to a canoe at a little distance, to be taken back to Mai. Soon after they came to the Bishop, who had told them that he would be their father, and they his children, saying, "If you love us as a father loves his children, take us back to our own country." After a time, however, they became contented on board, and said that when they went home they must "talk, talk, talk; night, night, night; day, day, day," in order to tell their own people of all the wonderful things that they had seen.

At Whitsuntide Island the Bishop writes: "We rowed to the shore, to the mouth of a fine stream running into the-sea, over sand and rocks, with deep water close to the mouth. Here we found a most friendly party, sixty in number, with a chief named Mankau at their head. It may be remarked generally that we do not find that aristocracy has that withering and blighting effect which journalists in England impute to it. We are glad to find out a chief, because we can then conduct our intercourse with the tribe with much more safety to ourselves and benefit to them. Several times at other places we have been obliged to [139/140] retire altogether, not from any fear of the people or suspicion of unfriendliness, but because they all rushed to our boat and crowded round us, each trying to be the first to exchange his yam or his club. The present instance was an example of a really gentlemanlike interview, ending in a traffic, conducted with all the regularity of civilised people. Mankau first met us in the water up to his knees, and presented me with his branch of bright colours: a compliment which I acknowledged by the gift of a hatchet. Mr. Patteson and I then stepped into the water, and walked with him to the mouth of the stream. We then explained, by the usual signs, that we wanted water, and having learned the words for 'sit down' in Ambrym, we tried the effect of them here. The words 'mura ravauna' were taken up and repeated, and the whole party sat quietly down upon the beach, while Mr. Patteson handed to the party in the boat as many buckets full of water as filled three casks. We then produced our stores, which, at first, disturbed the equilibrium of the party; but we soon succeeded in explaining that we wished the chief to conduct the exchanges; upon which every man came forward quietly and gave his yams and cocoanuts to the chief, and received the payment through him. When this was over, we wrote down names, and exchanged those expressive looks which supply [140/141] the want of words, and which are so effectual that in a circle of perfect strangers you may see every dark brow lifted up, and every dark eye glisten, when some look of ours has convinced them that we come to them as friends."

One of the most friendly islands visited by the Southern Cross was Mota, or Sugarloaf Island, in the Banks group. "This island," writes the Bishop, "is of a peculiar form, having a volcanic cone in the centre, resting upon a flat base, as if an eruption of igneous rock from below had pierced through a flat coral reef, raising it fifty or sixty feet above the water, without altering its level. The face of the old coral reef is now covered with festoons of creeping plants, above which the cone rises, covered in the same manner with the richest foliage. It is in islands like this that we grow out of conceit with Heber's Missionary Hymn, because every prospect pleases, and man is not vile."

At Mota the Bishop and Mr. Patteson did not land; not from any fear of the people, but simply because he thought it might be difficult to get away from the hugging that would ensue without giving offence. Two hundred were assembled on the beach, without tattoo or any other ornament or garment. They were quite friendly, swimming off to the boat with yams and cocoa-nuts. The surrounding scenery was lovely; first a steep wall of coral about forty or [141/142] fifty feet high, and covered with foliage, the parasites and creepers giving to the trees a regular dense roof, so that the luxuriance of the foliage, said Mr. Patteson, was scarcely capable of being realised by any one who had not seen it: then the sugarloaf peak and a backbone running from it, towering above the coral wall, so steep that it could be seen from the beach itself, and all covered with trees, cocoa-nuts, bread-fruits, &c.; a bright coral beach, and 250 clear, tawny-coloured forms running, jumping, bathing, swimming, chattering, and laughing.

The Bishop paid satisfactory visits to Bauro and Gera, bringing several lads from either island. He then directed the vessel's course for New Caledonia, a large island, where the French had lately made a settlement.

It was at Yehen, one of the northern districts of this island, that the Bishop was especially anxious to renew his visit with Bassan, the chief of that part of the country, who several years before had begged him most earnestly to send an English Missionary to instruct himself and his people. He rowed into the harbour, and there learnt that Bassan was at his house about two miles up the river. Accordingly he pulled up the stream in search of him, admiring the neatness and regularity of the cultivations which on either side of the river sloped down the hills to the [142/143] water's edge. He found Bassan stretched on the grass before his house, with a good many men round him. His first remark was, "Ah, Bishop! long time you no come see me;" and then, pointing to the well-built houses, he added, "You see, plenty house here all ready; all men want to learn; what for no man come to teach?"

It was easy to satisfy poor Bassan that the Bishop's absence had not been owing to want of will, but to want of power; but it was a painful task to have to tell him that after making many inquiries, no one had been found willing to live with him, and to teach his people. He was so eager upon the subject that the Bishop invited him to come with him to Auckland, to use his influence with the clergymen there; but it was the time of year for the planting of his yams, or he would have accepted the offer. However, he determined to follow in the next vessel which might put in at Yehen; and sent a little orphan boy named Kauambat, to be educated at Auckland.* [Footnote: * It would have been well for poor Bassan had he gone with the Bishop; for the French, who had just taken possession of New Caledonia, construed his refusal to receive a Roman Catholic priest into an act of rebellion, and carried him away a prisoner to Tahiti.] The little fellow sat quietly in the boat until he saw some other natives, who had also spent some time on board, prepare to leave, when he got frightened, and sprang into the water to swim ashore.

We were about half a mile from the land, and the [143/144] other two swimmers were at some distance. After calling in vain for him to return, we were obliged to give chase; but he doubled, dodged, and dived, like a little duck, and, as fast as we turned the boat's head towards him, he doubled and dived again. But, fortunately for him, our habits were as aquatic as his own. So, instead of sitting like an old hen clucking in vain after her lost duckling, I asked John Quintall (one of the Pitcairn lads) to jump in after him; and he soon caught him in his arms, and brought him, all trembling and shivering, back to the boat. He had not been an hour on board before he was quite at his ease; and ever since he arrived at Auckland he has been the merriest little companion to Mrs. Selwyn, very quick at his daily lessons, and very apt at imparting his own language. The great joke between us now is, to give his name to a runaway pony, which will not allow itself to be caught; at which he bursts into one of his mirthful peals of laughter.

From Lifu, one of the Loyalty Islands, the Bishop brought away his old scholar, the young chief, John Cho, and his wife. Both here and at Nengonè the people were very anxious for a resident Missionary; but, at the latter island, it was thought better not to interfere with the working of the London Mission, whose minister had only left the island for a time. At Lifu it was resolved to send some one to remain [144/145] during a portion at least of the next year upon the island; and this was eventually done.

The Southern Cross, after calling at Norfolk Island for Mrs. Selwyn, went back to Auckland, which she reached on Sunday, November 15. During the sixteen weeks of her voyage she had called at sixty-six islands; the Bishop and Mr. Patteson had effected eighty-one various landings; and thirty-three pupils had been brought to New Zealand from nine different islands. It had been a more successful voyage than had yet been known, and Mr. Patteson closed his report of this year's affairs with the words, "Favourable openings for the introduction of Missionaries are in many islands presenting themselves--the fields seem to be whitening to the harvest. May God grant that this be not too hopeful a view of the present prospects of the Melanesian Mission! Whether it may please Him to send trials and reverses, or whether the time be indeed coming soon when He will gather the multitude of the islands into the fold of Christ, His alone is the work, and to Him be the thanks and praise."

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