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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.


IN May, 1864, the Southern Cross again sailed for the islands. This voyage was marked by a sad occurrence, which, though the only one of its kind yet experienced by the Melanesian Mission, had ever been before their eyes as a possibility, fully reckoned upon when they counted the cost of devoting themselves to the work.

The idea of making the Norfolk Islanders the future assistants of the Melanesian Mission had been acted upon, and from time to time lads from that island had spent the winter at Kohimarama. Among those who had been early devoted by his parents to the work was Fisher Young, who had been an especial pet of Mrs. Selwyn's during her stay in the island, and whose family returning to Pitcairn's Island, had given him into Bishop Patteson's charge. For two or three years he had been constantly with the Mission party, and was now about seventeen years old: a remarkably natural, simple-minded, conscientious boy, thoroughly devoted to Bishop Patteson, who abundantly returned his affection. Edwin Nobbs, the son of the clergyman of Norfolk [231/232] Island, who, it was hoped, would eventually succeed his father in his office, was another who accompanied the Southern Cross on this voyage: he was somewhat older than Fisher--a strong, handsome young man of twenty-one.

The Southern Cross cruised about for several weeks among the New Hebrides, and several little adventures occurred which had more than a spice of danger in them. At Tasiko, for instance, the Bishop went ashore to see the people, and to procure yams. The landing-place was a neutral ground between two villages: an undesirable circumstance, since the state of society in these islands is such that war, not peace, is the normal condition of any two neighbouring villages; and as the inhabitants of both are certain to rush down to the beach at the first hope of trading, the stranger who arrives there is likely to find himself between two fires. So it proved on the present occasion. The Bishop, as usual, hung up his steelyard upon a tree, and proceeded to buy yams by their weight. When the basket was about half full a quarrel arose, from some unexplained cause, and the inhabitants of the two villages rushed off towards their homes, shooting vigorously at each other as they went. The Bishop was in the midst, and not liking to leave his steelyard behind him, remained for some little while under fire in order to detach it from the tree and to carry away [232/233] his yams; after which he made his way to the shore, mercifully unhurt.

At Leper's Island, where the Bishop had now regularly for some years gone ashore, he was sitting in the midst of a crowd of people, when a man came running towards him with uplifted club. Not wishing to show any want of confidence, the Bishop merely remained sitting, and held out a few fish-hooks; but one or two of the men near sprang up, and, seizing the assailant round the waist, forced him off. It proved that a native of this island had been shot dead there, two months before, by a white man, for stealing a piece of calico; and the wonder was, not that the friends of the murdered man should have wished to revenge his death after their manner upon the first white man they saw, but that the rest of the population should have been able to discriminate, and to protect the Bishop from harm.

But it was at Santa Cruz that that event occurred which showed that now, as ever, those who devote themselves to doing God's work must be prepared to give up even life itself, if need be, in His cause.

Two years before, Bishop Patteson had landed at seven places on Santa Cruz, and had been received with friendliness in all. The people had a bad name, as some of the most treacherous of the Pacific Islanders; but Bishop Patteson had seen no sign of the justice of the accusation, and was inclined to [233/234] believe that it was a fabrication concocted by people who had provoked them by injury or insult, and had then found themselves attacked. However, he took here his usual precaution of landing alone, so that his life only should be endangered; the boat remaining about twenty yards from the coral reef, with Fisher Young, Edwin Nobbs, and two Englishmen, Mr. Pearce and Mr. Atkins, in it. Nothing occurred while the Bishop was on shore, to give him any suspicion of unfriendliness; he went up to the village and sat among the people, and then returned to the boat, swimming out to it as usual; 300 or 400 natives stood upon the coral reef, and some, as usual, swam by the side, and there kept their hands, it was observed on the boat, and refused to detach them, so that the Bishop had some difficulty in getting clear of them. Suddenly an arrow flew by, and another, and another. The Bishop had not shipped the rudder, and held it up, hoping to ward off any arrow that came straight; but on looking round he saw arrows flying in all directions round him, Edwin Nobbs with an arrow in his cheek, and Pearce lying at the bottom of the boat with the shaft of an arrow in his chest. Suddenly Fisher Young, who was rowing, gave a faint scream as an arrow transfixed his wrist; but the brave boy still pulled on, and the Bishop and Mr. Atkins sustained no injury. As soon as possible the sail was put up, [234/235] and with a light breeze the Southern Cross, two miles off, was reached without further harm. The arrow wounds were dressed, though it was a work of difficulty to extract them, especially poor Fisher's; and then came days of suspense and anxiety--were the arrows poisoned, or not? If so, it seemed impossible that the Norfolk Island lads, who, like all Pacific Islanders, were especially subject to lockjaw, should escape. Five days after, as Fisher was sitting with the Bishop in the cabin, he said, "I can't tell what makes my jaw so stiff." From that time there was no hope: the poor fellow grew worse and worse, his body rigid, like an iron bar, with fearful convulsions and spasms from time to time; but in his most terrible agony he never lost faith and patience. Simple-minded and humble, as he had always been, so he remained to the end, trusting that all things were ordered by his Heavenly Father for his good, and that the blow which thus struck him down in his early youth, while life was just opening before him, was but opening the gate of the glorious land beyond. Several times his mind seemed to revert to the men who had killed him, and he said, "Poor Santa Cruz people!--poor people!" His sufferings were mercifully ended on the Monday morning, when he passed away to his rest. Five days afterwards, Edwin Nobbs was attacked by symptoms of the same, terrible disease. His case [235/236] appeared to take a less acute form, and for some days it was hoped that he would recover; but after lingering for some time, during which he showed the same Christian faith and steadfast endurance, he also died, and was buried at sea.

Thus that precious "seed of the Church," without which few great works of Christian love have been brought to completion, was sown in the Church of England Mission in Melanesia. For the sufferers themselves--much as their ever-increasing present and visible usefulness was missed by their fellow-workers--there could be but one feeling: they were both so completely of the number of those

"Happy, who through this world of strife,
And sin, and selfish care,
Their Resurrection-mantle white
And undefiled wear:

Happy, who through the gate of death,
Glorious at last, and free,
Unto their joyful rising pass,
O Risen Lord with thee!"

The Bishop's next meeting with Edwin's and Fisher's relatives was a very sad one, as may be imagined. But they felt that the cause in which their children had died was a noble one, and worth the sacrifice: and Mr. Nobbs, together with others, offered to commit to the Bishop's care some more of their children, to be trained by him to follow in the same career. The chivalry of religion is not extinct in this our day, even among the isolated inhabitants [236/237] of a Pacific island, where there are no links with the past in the shape of grand cathedrals and families who derive their lineage from Crusaders: it is to be found wherever the love of God and of man has its due place in the heart.

The other wounded man, Edmund Pearce, recovered after a time; but his precarious state caused the Bishop to hasten back to a colder climate as soon as possible; and five old scholars, whom the Bishop had wished to take back with him, were thus unavoidably left behind. The Southern Cross returned home with a freight of forty-three persons, and the school at Kohimarama settled down quietly to its summer work.

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