Project Canterbury

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

Reprinted from "Mission Life."

London: William Macintosh, 1869.


ONE fortnight after the arrival of the Southern Cross, and the radiant sky was heavily overcast: her first use was not to sail gaily over the leaping waves with a happy party on board, but to lie in Kohimarama Bay, and serve as a quarantine ship. A terrible form of dysentery broke out in the College, defying all remedies, and pursuing its victims steadily until they died. On the 22nd of March the Bishop wrote: "I write from the dining-hall (now our hospital), with eleven Melanesians lying round me in extremity of peril. I buried two to-day in one grave, and I baptized another, now dying by my side, yesterday. There are in the hall (the hospital now) at this moment eleven; eleven more in the little quadrangle--better, but in as anxious a state as can be; and two more not at all well."

Night and day these devoted men attended to and nursed the sufferers, among such scenes as few but those who have had experience of such things can imagine. No office of kindness was too menial or distasteful for their Christian love. Mr. Pritt and Mr. [215/216] Palmer spent their time in preparing puddings and nourishing food such as the poor invalids could take. Bishop Patteson undertook the office of head-nurse, being relieved only for six hours out of the twenty-four. His presence, indeed, was more necessary than any one's, from the number of patients whose language he alone knew how to talk, and whom he alone could persuade to take their food or medicine, or do anything which was distasteful to them.

No precautions--nothing seemed to stop the progress of the disease. Day after day fresh lads drooped, and had to be sent ashore off the schooner. On one occasion, as the Bishop had been sitting absolutely still for some hours lest he should disturb those who were sleeping round him, on going to the bed of one of them he found him dead.

Passion Week, a month after the outbreak of the disease, found little of its virulence abated. The poor boys were almost all of them patient and obedient, thankful and appreciative of the care and love with which they were tended; and Bishop Patteson was watching their patience and absence of anything like fretfulness and waywardness, even when worn out with pain and restlessness, and felt that many a lesson might be learnt from them by others, who know far more of Christian truth than they.

For himself, Bishop Patteson said, he had for [216/217] some time thought they could not always sail with a fair wind, and that some trial or other must soon come. But what was this to the falling away of any of their baptized scholars? He felt that they were all in the hands of One who loved them better than he did, and though he felt it a piteous sight to see them suffer and not be able to alleviate their pain, he could yet trust that all was for the best. In Easter week fifty out of fifty-two Melanesians had been attacked by the disease, and six had died. None of the English, and only Fisher Young out of the Norfolk Island party, had suffered from it. At last came a change for the better: a lessening of the virulence of the disease, a less haggard look about the faces of the sufferers. With what thankfulness it was welcomed by the Bishop may be imagined.

As soon as the convalescents could be moved they were taken on board the Southern Cross, and the schooner sailed for the islands. They slowly, but steadily improved, and the voyage proceeded without further anxiety. However, notwithstanding that the new Southern Cross proved fully equal to her predecessor, the voyage proved less successful than the last in some respects. The scholars were all safely taken back to their homes, and the winter school was begun at Mota by Mr. Pritt, Mr. Palmer, and four Norfolk Island and native teachers. The Bishop, as his custom was, meanwhile was cruising [217/218] about among the neighbouring islands; after the first fortnight's voyage he found all well, but upon his next return he found that a severe epidemic of influenza and dysentery had broken out at Mota, and thought it necessary to remove the whole party. Having so many on board, some of whom were unwell, and the captain also having been attacked by sickness, the Bishop reluctantly gave up the plan of visiting the Solomon and New Hebrides Islands, which had afforded such remarkable openings the year before, and took back thirty-five scholars, all from the Banks Islands and a few from Ysabel. The old scholars, with their wives, now looked upon returning as a matter of course, and they arrived at Kohimarama in August.

The cold weather (for August, it must be remembered, is in New Zealand like our February) did not injure the health of the scholars; and again everything went on brightly and happily for some months. As there were not so many fresh dialects to learn, there was more time for working up the languages which the Bishop had already acquired; and he wrote in this year's report that "grammars and native stories, with translations, were being printed in seventeen or twenty languages, and that others were under consideration."

In March, 1864, the Bishop accepted an invitation from the Australian Dioceses to go there and tell [218/219] them about his work. While he was there, the same terrible disease again attacked the Melanesian scholars. Sir George Grey, the Governor, kindly allowed them to move down to a small island belonging to him, about twenty-five miles from Auckland; and there the same scenes of suffering and anxiety again took place. One lad had already died of consumption and one of dysentery during this year; when Bishop Patteson returned to Kohimarama, he found that six more scholars had passed away.

"We have been so tried," wrote the Bishop. "Fourteen scholars have died in twelve months. Often we had thought that some trial must come soon; and God sent it in the most merciful way. We may be tried--He only knows--by the far more bitter sorrow of seeing old scholars fall away, and the early faith of young converts grow cold. The trial--and it is a heavy one--has been given in the way in which we could best bear it now; and with the trial we, of all others, ought most to acknowledge that we have received a blessing."

Project Canterbury