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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 quiet course of the summer education at St. John's College, Auckland, was disturbed by but few events worthy of notice. One boy from Bauro died, in consequence of a prick which he had accidentally given himself with a poisoned arrow, and which produced tetanus--a frequent disease among the natives of the Pacific Islands, including the Pitcairners. His place was supplied within a few days by our old acquaintance William Didimang,--or Meste as he used to be called by the sailors, who came originally from the same village as the poor boy who had just died. Nothing had been heard of him since he had been taken back to his own island in 1853; but he said that having been away from home when the Southern Cross called at Bauro, in 1856, he had gone in a trading vessel, intending to work his way to New Zealand, accompanied by the son of Iri, the chief. The two lads, however, had been taken to China, where Didimang's companion had died; and subsequently he had been brought to Sydney, whence he had worked his way to Auckland. The authorities of the College were at first doubtful as to the habits [146/147] and language he might import among his companions, but they did not find that he taught them any harm, although he did not take as much pains to improve himself as he might have done.

"Our time," says the Report for this year, "was spent in regular attendance in chapel, school, and hall, making clothes, printing, &c. The pupils generally progressed rapidly in writing, more slowly in reading: their power of imitating anything put before them as a copy having often been noticed. The daily school presented a singular appearance. Groups from various islands assembled in one class, where rows of men, learning letters like little children, coming meekly to put E Y E, and H A N D, together, and doing sums upon a black board, did not suggest to the mind any thought of wild savages, while their cheerfulness and merriment kept themselves and their teachers alive. Those who had made any progress were sharp enough on the others who lingered behind, and would nudge and shout to a dull schoolfellow, without mercy. The teaching to read can hardly at first be regarded as a means to a direct end, but rather as a sifting process, in which the larger number will fall through; but some may be left who may be seedling Missionaries, and are as such worthy of diligent training."

Those who had made a little progress, however, were often seized with a vehement desire to get on, [147/148] keeping their books by them to spell out at odd times, and amusing themselves with the novelty of this intellectual exercise. They were all very quick in adopting the new social usages to which they were introduced, their imitative faculty, before noticed, here coming in to help them. They sat quietly at table, eating with forks and spoons, and drinking tea, as if accustomed to it all their lives, and soon learned to keep their rooms and clothes neat, although in many cases it was only a few weeks since they had been introduced to such luxuries.

The Loyalty Islanders were found to be much more promising pupils in many ways than the Solomon Islanders. They had a less relaxing climate at home, and a soil which needed hard work to make it supply them with food; and they had thus been trained in habits of energy and industry. Missionaries, also, either of the Church of England, or of the London Society, had been living in Nengonè for some years, and had superintended the teachers on the other islands. Nevertheless, the Nengonè lads could, some of them, be very trying to their teachers: with the conceit that comes of a small amount of superior knowledge, they enjoyed teasing and laughing at the Bauro boys for their ignorance, and had to be impressed several times a day with the moral of the parable of the Pharisee and Publican.

Among the other lads who had been taken for the [148/149] first time from their state of heathenism, a long time was required to root out the effects of their early training; and success in this matter had to be measured less by their intellectual progress, or by their fluency of expression on religious subjects, than by their passage from idleness and dirt to cleanly and diligent habits. The first shows no moral effort--the second does; and one moral effort is worth much more than any amount of intellectual quickness or power of talk. "They are delicate subjects," said Mr. Patteson, and "require delicate handling, morally and physically. The strength of passion and weakness of constitution which belong to their tropical nature require careful training; but if they can be acclimatised mentally as well as physically, and taught to unite the energy and perseverance of the inhabitants of a temperate region with their own fervour and impetuosity of character, there can be little doubt that they will prove most efficient teachers and Missionaries to their own people, when once the grace of God's Spirit shall have shined into their hearts."

The first impression produced upon one of these lads, newly brought from a heathen island, is that of wonder at the new and strange persons and practices with whom he is surrounded. He may not make much progress in his learning--his dormant intellect will have enough to do in taking in the wonders which he sees around him. Order and discipline, [149/150] steadiness and regularity, make his life very different from anything he has known before: he contrasts law with lawlessness. Having arrived at this point, it is probable that he returns to his own country. He finds that he is conscious of a want which he never knew before; he will wish to return again to New Zealand. Then his mind will enlarge--some great truth will present itself to him, the first ray of dawn in the darkness; and then, little by little, when once this truth is grasped, the mists of heathenism will gradually give way before it. To watch this process--to know by the brightening eye, the look of intelligence, the changing expression, that the heart is expanding and the mind awakening to the love of God and man, "this is the blessing not seldom granted to those whose happy lot it is to live with natives of the Melanesian Islands."

The following letters, translated from Nengonè (written, however, some few months later than the date at which we have at present arrived), may give some idea of the progress of the Nengonè scholars. They were written by Simeona and Wapai to their old friend Mrs. Nihill, who had returned to England:--

"New Zealand, Nov. 16, 1858.

"For Mrs. Nihill and Lissey.

"This is the word of me, George Simeona, and Carry Wabisane, and John Patteson, our son, to you, [150/151] Mrs. Nihill, and Lissey. What we have to say to you is, that we have come from New Zealand again from Nengonè, and are at this time living at the College, with Mr. Patteson. A great many of us have come--forty-three are the boys and men, three women, and two children; if you put them all together, it makes forty-eight. Now I will tell you the names of those who have come from Nengonè. Carry, John, Wadokal, William Nihill Wapai, Harper Malo, and myself, George Simeona, altogether. From Lifu, eight; from Toka, three. The names of the boys from the other islands I am unable to tell you.

"This is again another word that I wish to say to you two; Carry and John and I think of you, and love you, and mourn for you every day, because we shall never see the faces of you two again, nor can you see our faces. Just now we have been made very glad, and rejoice greatly, because nurse has told us you have grown strong end are not ill, as you used to be: that is the reason of our rejoicing. Carry is always thinking of you and Lissey. We are very grieved to think we have nothing to send you two. This is finished.

"Now, again, I have something to say: John has grown quite large, and is beginning to walk; he is a fine boy, and the same colour as the Maories.

"There is another word I have to tell you. The house that Mr. Nihill told us to build long ago is [151/152] finished: it is a stone house; four are the rooms in it--one a very large one; there are six windows in the house, just like doors--this is my thought. Good is this house of Carry's and mine, but there is one thing that is bad--there is nothing nice to put in it; but very good, indeed, is this dwelling of ours.

"Mrs. Nihill, this is another word to you: it will be very good for you to think of us every day and every year, because Carry and I never forget you and Lissey. And because Mr. Patteson and we are to live together always, never to be separated for ever and ever: my wish to you is that if ever you have a letter, or any presents for us, that you will send them to Mr. Patteson, and he will bring them to us this is my desire to you.

"Now I want to tell you about the reading and writing in Nengonè. The boys and girls learn very well--not so the men and women: their learning is not quite good, though Mr. Creagh and his wife do teach well. Mr. Creagh's house is such a very good one, just as good as if it had been built by English people, and everything in every room is so good too. This word also is ended.

"But here again is another: the boy John, my son and Carry's, is growing ill here in New Zealand: his illness has grown very much, and we don't know what it is; but nurse is very learned, and she knows, so we are staying with her. All we who have wives [152/153] are living in Mrs. Abraham's house: the rest are living with Mr. Patteson in the house we lived in formerly. This is all.


"This is the letter of me, William Nihill Wapai, to you, Mrs. Nihill, lady. We two lived together formerly in Nengonè. This is now the second time that I have come to New Zealand to see you, because I loved Mr. Nihill. I have heard you are ill, and that makes me love you. It is now a long time since we parted, and it will be very good for you to write me a letter, that I may rejoice; because we used to live together, and now we are separated. It will be for God to take care of each of us, these years, and months, and days.

"When I lived in Nengonè, I was not baptized; but now I am. Mr. Patteson baptized me, and I have taken the name of William--the name of my elder brother, who taught me so well. I mourn for him every day; but God will take care of me and teach me, and lead me in the way I should go."

Some of the pupils were now considered far enough advanced in their education to be put in training for the occupation which it was the aim of the Mission to fit them to pursue--that of teaching; and here the authorities were especially careful in the [153/154] selection of their men, since it is not every one, however earnest and estimable in his life, who possesses the gift of teaching, and attains to sufficient grasp and clearness of thought to make him capable of communicating to others what he himself has been taught. They found it the best test of a man's fitness for the work to set him over a certain number of boys, and to see whether lie was capable of the drudgery of teaching, or whether he mistook the nature of his work, and supposed that the daily morning and evening school might be exchanged for a loose rambling address twice or thrice a week, giving him no trouble, and his pupils no instruction.

This system of training answered admirably. Later on, Mr. Patteson wrote:--"If you were to come in this evening to see our school, I think you would be most pleased of all to see these young people teaching their own friends. Every evening one of the first class is set to teach six or seven of the less advanced scholars; it is capital training for them, and you know our great object is to teach these young men to be teachers. We are all astonished to find them so 'apt to teach;' it is really surprising to hear and see how very well they understand their business: no mere loose talk about the matter in hand, but real catechising, explaining, and then questioning out of the boys what [154/155] had been explained. This is the most hopeful sign of all."

Of the Nengonè lads, two, Wadokal and Harper Malo, eventually proved to be remarkably good teachers, and were marked out as probably the future native pastors of their islands.

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