Project Canterbury

The Island Mission: Being a History of the Melanesian Mission from Its Commencement

Reprinted from "Mission Life."

London: William Macintosh, 1869.


THE readers of these papers must now be able to imagine for themselves the course of the year 1859. It passed tranquilly, without much incident; as the winter drew on, Mr. Patteson took back his boys to the islands, and returned for them in the spring. Those who remember the letters written by George Simeona and his wife Carry to Mrs. Nihill, will be sorry to hear that poor Carry died three weeks after her return to Nengonè; and her husband returned to Auckland in the spring, also a dying man, and knowing well that he would never see his home again. But they had a better home to look forward to than that which they had described with such pride to Mrs. Nihill--"four-roomed and six-windowed;" and they left their little boy, Mr. Patteson's godson and namesake, to his charge.

The kindness of the author of the Daisy Chain, who devoted its whole proceeds to the cause, had provided the Melanesian Mission with funds for a college of its own, and an excellent site was found [172/173] for it at Kohimarama, on an estate which had long been the property of the Mission. There is a small bay at Kohimarama, which looks northward, and is sheltered from cold winds by low hills on either side. Here, in a sheltered place, lay the Mission schooner; at one end of the beach were small cottages for her master and mate, and one married seaman; and the school buildings were at the other and more sheltered end. The kitchen, store-rooms, and hall, were of stone; the school-room, chapel, and dormitories of wood, removed from St. John's College at Auckland. There was accommodation for forty scholars; and three or four English people, among whom was Mr. Patteson, lived in little wooden huts near, taking meals and living in common with the Melanesian lads. It received the name of St. Andrew's College.

No winter school was attempted during this year; but the Mission was gradually working itself into a more defined shape than had been possible while all was new ground.

In April, 1860, Mr. Patteson--now accompanied by two assistants in the Mission, Mr. Dudley and Mr. Kerr, and also by a New Zealand Missionary, Mr. Ashwell--sailed with his thirty-seven scholars from Auckland. Mr. Patteson and the Bishop had for a long time been thinking about holding a winter school at Mota: the surrounding Banks Islands, always prolific in scholars, would of themselves supply [173/174] a sufficient number of pupils for a winter school, and it was hoped that some continuous Missionary work might during these months be done in the island.

The Southern Cross visited Nengonè, Taka, Mai--the most promising of the new Hebrides group--Aurora, and Mara Tava, leaving the natives of those islands at their homes. The boys from the Solomon Islands were to remain at Mota during the summer, as the Southern Cross was not to undertake so long a voyage till her second visit in the spring. On the 24th of May they reached Mota, and when the inhabitants understood that Mr. Patteson was come to stay for some time with them, their joy was unbounded. The vessel was soon surrounded: some carried the frame which was to compose the Mission-house ashore, and others brought baskets of bread-fruit, cocoas, and yams, for which they declined to receive any payment.

The next few days were spent by the whole party at Mota and the neighbouring islands; the house was put up, and many of the Mota people, in their zeal for Mr. Patteson, unroofed their own huts, in order to thatch his. As many as a hundred were at work upon it, and it was quickly finished. Their chief desire was for pieces of iron, and empty glass bottles, which they broke to pieces, and used for shaving. Mr. Ashwell walked alone to several villages, and was made welcome everywhere, and offered fruit: [174/175] in fact nothing could be pleasanter, or more friendly, than the behaviour of these kindly people, who seemed as yet to have been preserved from many of the worst evils of heathenism. The Mission-house here was situated in a lovely spot, whence, looking across the sea, you could see five islands; it was surrounded by bread fruit and cocoa trees, and near it grew a huge banyan forty-five yards in circumference. On the Tuesday the house was finished, and Mr. Ashwell and Mr. Kerr bade farewell to their friends, and re-embarked in the Southern Cross. It was the last time that Mr. Patteson ever saw the good little vessel which had served him so faithfully, and which he looked upon as an old friend.

The Southern Cross, after calling at Erromango, experienced a continuance of heavy gales and rain. However, she pursued her homeward course, manfully rising to the high waves, and shipping but little water. On Sunday, the 23rd of June, the weather became very thick, with heavy rain, and as they had sighted land for some time, they hoped to reach Auckland on the morrow. The wind shifted from the north-east to the south-east, providentially for the Southern Cross, else she would have gone aground on a rocky beach, when all her crew must have been lost. As it was, having lost their reckoning, from the fog and rain, they found themselves aground, with a [175/176] heavy surf beating over the deck of the ship. They did not know where they were, but imagined that deep water lay beyond the breakers; and the captain, fearing that they might be carried by the wind into this deep water, took an axe to cut away the masts. He laid it down for an instant, but when he wished to take it up again it was not to be found, and the masts were left standing.

When the ship struck the seamen gave themselves up for lost. Mr. Kerr came into the cuddy, where Mr. Ashwell was, and said, "We must trust in God--nothing more can be done." In a quarter of an hour the cuddy filled, and they were up to the waist in water. They went to the main cabin, but that too soon became unsafe, as a heavy sea broke over the deck, putting out the lights and filling the cabin. The two clergymen, fearing to be swept off the deck, took shelter under the lee of the anchor, but soon all were obliged to take to the rigging, which, owing to the captain's loss of his axe, was still available. The boats were soon washed away, and from two o'clock in the morning to daybreak all remained in suspense, awaiting death. Mr. Ashwell spoke to the sailors, referring to their imminent peril, and then to his Maori friends, who were with him; after which they remained for three hours clinging to the rigging, but holding on with difficulty, and benumbed with cold and wet.

[177] Slowly the long night passed. At last morning light appeared, and the shipwrecked men perceived. that their situation was less hopeless than they had thought. They were in a bay with a low sandy shore, and it was nearly high water--they also saw European houses at a little distance, and felt that if they could reach the shore they would be able to find shelter and food. Taniora, Mr. Ashwell's Maori teacher, was the first to try to swim to shore with a rope, but the tide was ebbing, and the outward current was so strong, that he was glad to swim back to the wreck. An hour later the tide had gone down so far, that he volunteered to try again, and, with one of the sailors, succeeded in carrying a rope to the shore, and the whole of the party were, one by one, drawn through the surf to the land, after seven hours in the rigging. As soon as they were all ashore, they knelt down on the beach, and thanked God for their unexpected deliverance.

The place where the shipwreck had occurred was an English settlement called Ngunguru, and here the whole party were hospitably sheltered and entertained. A few days afterwards they reached Auckland, where they found the Bishop so thankful that their lives had been saved, that he let no regrets appear for the loss of the vessel--a great loss, indeed, to him, for she had not been insured, as the premium demanded upon a vessel sailing among the Coral [177/178] Islands was so great, that the original cost of the schooner would have been paid before this time. It was at first thought that she might be recovered and repaired, but this was found impossible, and reluctantly it was decided that the gallant little schooner must be left to her fate. However, if a ship has anything like such a personality as her sailors attribute to her, the Southern Cross might be comforted by knowing that she had done good work during her short career.

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