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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.


THIS year, 1858, it was proposed to introduce a novelty into the programme of the voyage, by holding a winter school on one of the Loyalty Islands. John Cho, the regent of the greater part of the island, had spent the preceding summer at Auckland with his wife, who had been baptized by the name of Margaret; and they had had a little daughter born to them at the College. Lifu was one of the islands which had been taken under the charge of the London Mission Society, which had placed Samoan and Rarotongan teachers there, but had been unable to supply a Missionary. These Samoan teachers, though earnest and devoted men, lacked the intellectual education to do all that was needed in the island; they had no translations of any part of the Bible into the Lifu language, and of course were unable to supply themselves. The people of the island requested the Bishop to supply them with a resident Missionary; but he told them that his plan was to raise up native teachers and Missionaries from the people of each island, and invited the chief to [156/157] come with him in the Mission ship to see his plan of work, proposing on his return to leave Mr. Patteson at Lifu during the winter months, with ten or twelve lads from some of the other islands.

Leaving Lifu, the Southern Cross pursued her voyage as usual. At Mai, in the New Hebrides, Petere and Laure, the two pupils who had been brought thence the year before, gave such a glowing account of what they had seen in New Zealand, and of what they had been taught to believe, that five young men and lads volunteered on the spot to accompany the Mission party to Lifu, and many, others subsequently wished to join them. At Mota and Vanua Lava, they had, as usual, a hearty reception, and brought away two scholars. Their visit to Bauro this year merits a longer notice.

On May 26th, canoes from this place came off as, early as two in the morning; and at daylight a party went ashore, as is usual here, in order to fill their water-casks. While the Bishop was thus engaged, Mr. Patteson was fully occupied with a large party on board. In the afternoon the Bishop took him on shore with his party of scholars, all nicely dressed, and looking very orderly and respectable. Of two out of the number they had good hopes that they would continue to advance. Of course the greater number fall back into their native ways; but they always remain friendly, if not improved in any [157/158] higher respect. Mr. Patteson slept on shore, and had some interesting conversation with the principal chief, Iri, who seemed only to lack energy to take some decided step in favour of Christianity.

His only son had left Bauro many months before, with William Didimang, and had died in China, and the silent grief of the father was most touching to witness. While the men of the village were breaking a plank out of his son's canoe, and the women alternately wailing and singing about their young chief, cut off so early in a far-distant land, the father sat apart on the beach, with a large mother-'o-pearl ornament in his hand, which had belonged to his son. He took no part in any of the loud expressions of sorrow which were being uttered around him; and even when a man, fully armed, rushed out of the crowd, brandishing his spear, and, wildly imprecating vengeance against some unknown person who was assumed for the occasion to be accountable for the young man's death, hurled his spear at a party of men, who, being prepared for such an exhibition, of course easily avoided it, Iri took no notice, and said not a word. At last he moved slowly away to his own house, and not long afterwards came and took his place among the circle of men who were sitting round Mr. Patteson. Then a long conversation took place, in which Mr. Patteson tried to make them understand that it was time for them to consider [158/159] carefully the meaning of the frequent visits they had paid them, the object they had in view in taking away young men and educating them in New Zealand, and in speaking to them so frequently on subjects which they ought now to know were of vital importance to them.

"It is not our intention," he said, "to be always coming hither merely to give you fish-hooks and a few hatchets, and to give some of your young men an opportunity of seeing other lands. Our object is to teach you the knowledge of the Great Father in heaven, and of His Son Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit of God. This is what some of your own young men can tell you now; and this is the only way in which you can learn to be happy now and hereafter. You have heard often that when you die you will not be destroyed and pass away into nothing, as the beasts and birds perish, which cannot think, and talk, and understand about the Great God. You will all rise up again from the dead, and if you learn to love and obey the Great God now, He will take you to live for ever with Him in heaven; but if you go on fighting and hating one another, and stealing, and lying, and leading impure lives, the Great Father, who loved you so much that He gave His own Son to die for you, will never let you be happy, will never let you live with Him in light; but your hearts will always be dark now, and you will dwell in darkness hereafter for ever."

[160] A dead silence followed this short sketch of what they ought now to be prepared to embrace as their rule of life. It is not till a real change of habits is proposed to the heathen that the real antagonism of evil to good becomes at all evident. Hospitable, friendly, and good-tempered as they are, nothing is easier than to pass the time pleasantly with them, while they are not called upon to take a decided step, which involves the abandonment of old habits, and the acceptance of something as yet but very faintly understood, and apparently very difficult to practise.

It was clear enough that the very great majority present were by no means prepared to be very gracious to one who told them that it was time to come to some understanding as to whether they were disposed to let him take away and educate some of their young men for the express purpose of enabling them to hear, through their agency, the great truths of Christianity, or whether they wished merely to carry on a friendly intercourse which should stop short of attempting the great object which he had in view.

In conclusion, they were asked whether they would put up some house in which every one might assemble, who desired to hear from those who had been under instruction the teaching they had received. Iri, speaking for his people, said that they would do so: and so [160/161] ended this attempt at making the people aware of the necessity of making up their minds on a matter affecting their temporal and eternal welfare. A considerable amount of excitement was caused by this discussion; for though but little was said by the men assembled at the time, it appeared subsequently that they had afterwards been talking about what they had heard.

That same night, Mr. Patteson, lying by Iri's side on the ground in his hut, was suddenly addressed by him--'Do you think I shall see him again ever?" It was something striking, in the dark night, to hear such words from the mouth of the heathen chief. His heart had been softened by the death of his only son, and it seemed as if the great truth of the resurrection, of which he had several times been told, presented itself to him now as a real fact in which he had a personal interest. It may be supposed that a long conversation followed upon such a favourable opening as this, when the learner was asking questions, as it seemed, not from curiosity only, but with a real wish to obtain light and knowledge.

The next day, when the Bishop and Mr. Patteson prepared to get into their boat, they found Iri and his wife already seated there, intending to forsake their own country and to go to Gera, and it was with difficulty that they were dissuaded from their purpose.

Calling at Gera and Malanta, the Southern Cross [161/162] made its way to Lifu, where Mr. Patteson was left with twelve boys for his winter school.

The circumstances of Lifu just at this time made this visit almost necessary for the welfare of the island. The Loyalty Islands had just been annexed by the French as an appendage of New Caledonia, and French Roman Catholic Missionaries had here, as well as in poor Bassan's territory, come to occupy their outlying stations. In the working of the Melanesian Mission it was always found that while the Missions of all Protestant bodies were willing to acknowledge and help on the Missions of the Church of England, the Roman Catholics alone persisted in treating them as enemies. The priests at Lifu, though with Mr. Patteson in particular they had none but amicable dealings, did not seem to make much way in the affections of the natives. The French love of centralisation has always prevented their becoming good colonists, and they constantly resorted to intimidation, and brought the words "man of war" into every discussion with the natives. Mr. Patteson, afraid lest the people of Lifu should be led to rebel against this treatment, did all he could to keep matters quiet, to point out to the natives the uselessness of any opposition, and to induce the French to deal more gently with the inhabitants, and reserve for them the free exercise of their Protestant belief.

In some respects Lifu is not well suited for the [162/163] Melanesian winter school: the island is merely an upheaved coral reef, in the ragged clefts of which soil has now accumulated to a sufficient depth to allow of the growth of very large yams. Cocoa-nuts are abundant, and taro is grown in small quantities. But the natives of the more northern island miss their own bananas, bread-fruit and sugar-cane. Water is scarce, and fish is not caught there; and the Melanesian lads, on returning to their homes, reported--"Lifu people very kind; but no water, no bread-fruit, no: banana, no fish! very good go to New Zealand." Besides, they liked new sights and sounds--cows, horses, and soldiers--which were not to be seen nearer than Auckland; so that perhaps their discontent with Lifu was not to be wondered at.

The climate, during the four months that Mr. Patteson lived there, was beautiful: but little rain; fell, the sky was almost constantly unclouded, and the trade wind, night and day, was rustling in the cocoanut trees. It was never very hot, and no inconvenience was felt from walking from morning to night for several days successively on various occasions. On the other hand, it was often so cold that clothing was rendered necessary on the score of health; the people certainly were not the better for the large fires which, without outlet for the smoke, they kept: in their close huts by night and day.

The diseases which are found among them may be [163/164] accounted for by the rapid alternation of temperature through which they pass, going from their close huts into the cold air, and back again. When a person is ill, the favourite remedy is to place him close to a glowing log of wood, while friends and relations crowd round and keep out the air, of course increasing the inward fever. The Lifu people are disposed to consumption, and at first they seemed sadly disappointed that the Missionary had not the power of miraculously curing them; but they ended by entertaining a less exaggerated idea of his wisdom and skill.

The position of Missionary among a people such as that of Lifu, with their own system of government and their own laws, requires great tact and judgment. At first the new converts to Christianity look up to their white teacher as the greatest and wisest of men; they are ready to transfer to him the allegiance which they have always given to their chief, and to obey him implicitly in anything which he commands them.

If all this reverence and respect be carefully directed to the source of all authority, and wisdom, and truth; if the plain distinction between God's moral law and man's positive injunction is carefully pointed out; if natives are taught that such and such a course is right, not because the Missionary says so, but because it is declared by the Word of God; the blessed result may be, that, having a real standard of truth [164/165] and purity before them, and not depending upon any man's example, they may become a reverent, humble-minded, God-fearing people. On the other hand, if advantage be taken of the implicit confidence placed by the natives of any island in a Missionary, to turn them into servants, and to make them regard the Missionary rather as a chief than as their servant for Christ's sake; if certain regulations are dictated to them and enforced by an arbitrary withdrawal of spiritual privileges in case of disobedience; if, in short, the fact is made apparent to them in many ways that the Missionary is the great man, and that the natives can never be regarded as upon an equality with him, and that their natural vocation is to minister to his wants; then it is almost certain that a reaction will set in sooner or later, that the once venerated man will become an object of dislike, and that, having begun by doing everything for him out of pure goodwill, they will end by refusing to do anything which might be very fairly required of them.

Following these principles, Mr. Patteson always paid the natives for any work done for himself, while he encouraged them (but did not insist even upon this) in each performing his share of any public work, such as a chapel or school, without requiring remuneration. In civil and political matters he left the control of affairs entirely to the chief, only striving to bring his influence to bear upon him to incline them towards [165/166] constitutional government, not tyranny. Owing to his clear-sightedness in these respects, he has rarely found any change in the goodwill which the people of any place have manifested towards him.

Mr. Patteson spent three months and three weeks at Lifu; and though, as has been said, Lifu was not popular as a winter school, yet his sojourn there did much for the islanders themselves. He had kept school, had a class of twenty-five men who wished to learn reading and writing, and had conducted services, visited the sick, and made tours round the island to ascertain the state of the people near the different stations.

On the 30th September the Southern Cross called at Lifu, and Mr. Patteson and his twelve pupils embarked in her for another voyage to the northward.

The brightest spots on the Mission field were, as usual, two of the Banks Islands, Vanua Lava, and Mota. These two islands have the same language, though with different dialects. Their inhabitants seemed to be simple-minded and friendly, resembling rather the ideal savages of the last century than the less pleasing reality which usually meets the eye of the Missionary. Here is Mr. Patteson's account of their visit:--

"We dropped our anchor in our favourite corner (in the harbour of Vanua Lava) just before sunset, [166/167] and were instantly visited by many of our old friends, delighted to see their two young men safely returned to them. Indeed, as these were probably the first natives of this group who had ever been so long away from home, it was a matter of especial thankfulness that we were permitted to bring them home safe and well. Poor Wonfras had lost his father during the winter. We saw him, soon after his friends came on board, sitting by himself and crying; and upon asking him quietly what he was crying about, he told us very simply the sad news he had heard. There was no violent expression of grief, but a more subdued and therefore in all probability a more real sorrow. Eleven men and lads slept on board, among them some of those who had from the first especially attached themselves to us. On the next day we were visited by a large party from shore, and some canoes from the neighbouring island of Mota came across to us. Much of the day was spent on shore among our old friends, being introduced to the relations of our pupil Sarawia, looking at their yam grounds, &c. We set up three oars as a triangle on the beach, and weighed out all the yams and taro which we wanted to purchase, giving them the value of their produce in hatchets and fish-hooks, according to a regular scale, reckoning a ton of vegetables to be worth two pounds. It was amusing to see how entirely the people acquiesced in the fairness of this [167/168] arrangement. One man, for instance, whose basket of yams did not come up to the weight required, would borrow a yam of some neighbour, without a word being said by us, as soon as he saw that his basket was too light; while a murmur expressive of strong approbation ran round the circle when we, in our turn, returned any yams to the lucky owner of a basket which was over weight.

"Seldom can it have been the lot of any person," wrote Mr. Patteson, "to meet with a people so simple and friendly. Much, no doubt, is going on among them which may, by God's grace, be remedied before long; but they know nothing of war, they have no fear of each other, and are soon won by kindness to become confiding, and fearless with strangers.

"One story they have, of one of their ancestors having been killed a long time ago by a white man. Two or three canoes had started to go off to a large vessel seen at some distance from Mota, and one of the men had been killed by some unknown person on board. They say they have seen ships at a distance from time to time, but that they have never paddled off to them: the story which they have received from their fathers taught them to be afraid of them.

"But when once they saw that the strangers treated them kindly, nothing could exceed their simple joy and happiness. There is no wish to be [168/169] exclusive, and to keep apart from others: on the contrary, they are constantly interchanging visits among each other. They are just like happy children, amused and pleased with any act of kindness, and not afraid of suffering themselves to show that they are pleased. We had no difficulty now in obtaining scholars. Four lads, of apparently about seventeen or eighteen years of age, slept on board on Thursday evening, and sailed away with us the next day: one of them having from the time of our first visit considered himself as specially belonging to us."

At Bauro, the lecture which Mr. Patteson had given a few months before had so far effected its object, that he was allowed to take away two old scholars, as well as two other lads. At Gera he had to repeat the lecture which he had given to the Bauro people, with some variation. Crowds of men wanted to come away, but, as usual, the Bishop and Mr. Patteson only wished to take those whom they thought promising; and the friends and relations of these lads began, as they had done before, to lay hold on them, and pull them forcibly out of the boat. This was soon stopped, and the people were told that unless they chose to conduct themselves quietly, and to leave the selection to the Bishop, who would afterwards consult with their parents, the Mission party would not take the trouble of paying them [169/170] such frequent visits. This lecture somewhat disconcerted them, but had its effect: they brought forward lads to be inspected, and eight were chosen to go to New Zealand.

Gera was more democratic, and therefore more lawless and difficult to deal with than many of the other islands; the chiefs seemed to have no power over their people, who are continually at war with one another. At Gera it is necessary to use more caution than at Bauro, though even there Mr. Patteson is able to go into the huts and sleep ashore.

They next sailed to Malanta. The northern end of Bauro, the eastern end of Gera, and the southern point of Malanta, formed a triangle, in the centre of which the Southern Cross lay becalmed for one afternoon. It was a grand sight to look along these three large mountainous islands, with their dark forests and high ridges standing against the clear sky, and to watch the changing light upon them as the sun went down, hot and fiery to the last, and the soft evening breeze came whispering over the smooth transparent sea.

Malanta appears to be inhabited by two perfectly distinct populations; a scattered one on the sea coast, speaking a dialect of the Gera language; and a denser one in the centre of the island, who hold no communication with the coast, and are separated from it by thick tangled growths of forest, which clothe [170/171] the sides of the mountains. The Mission has never, as yet, been able to reach this inland nation; but those who live on the coast are more attainable, and the chief of Ioroha, a village opposite to Gera, came away in the Southern Cross, to spend the summer in New Zealand.

After visiting Lifu and Nengonè, the Southern Cross returned to New Zealand with forty-five scholars and two babies on board. The Bishop had had it built so as to be capable of accommodating this number, with double tiers of beds, made of a frame of galvanised iron, with a piece of canvass stretched tightly over it; this could be put up or down at will, like the flap of a table; and thus they completed the voyage without difficulty. On the 16th of November they arrived at Auckland, and the regular course of school life recommenced.

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