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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.


ON Easter Tuesday, 1867, the Southern Cross conveyed the bulk of the Mission School, with the Bishop, Mr. Codrington, and Mr. Bice, from Kohimarama to Norfolk Island. Mr. Palmer had spent the summer there, and Mr. Brooke and Mr. Atkin, with the boys under their charge, had been there for a month; so that when the Bishop arrived there, he found his new station in a fair state of preparation, enclosures and outhouses ready, and all in a state of sufficient forwardness to receive the large party who were there to be lodged. It had been intended to give it the name of St. Andrew's, after that of Kohimarama, but the Norfolk Island people had already given it the name of St. Barnabas, as it was upon that day that the Bishop decided upon the removal, and St. Barnabas continued to be its name.

Almost immediately after the Bishop's arrival at Norfolk Island, he started, with Mr. Brooke and Mr. Atkin, to take back his scholars to the islands; while Mr. Palmer, Mr. Codrington, Mr. Bice, and twenty boys from the Banks Islands, remained in Norfolk [277/278] Island, and spent the winter in finishing the necessary work for the Mission School.

One name will be missed in the catalogue of Bishop Patteson's clergy--that of Mr. Pritt, who had done so much towards the industrial development of the school. He had for some time been failing in health, and though equally regretting and regretted, he had at last been obliged to give up his connection with the Mission, and to take other work which did not demand so close and continuous a strain of attention. He and his wife were greatly missed, though the good effect of their work upon the school proved to be permanent.

The Bishop did not take back many fresh scholars, or visit many new islands during this voyage: he wished to have, during the ensuing summer, only those who were in some degree disciplined and accustomed to his ways, as the migration of the Mission School was in some ways a novel experiment, not without its dangers.

The following is an extract from a letter by Mr. Bice, written during the time of Bishop Patteson's absence among the islands:--

"Norfolk Island seems to hold out peculiar advantages as regards the working of the Mission. In the first place, it is only about 800 miles from the nearest group, the Banks Islands, where the people are most friendly, and from which a large number of [278/279] children come away every time; whereas from Kohimarama, in New Zealand, it was 1,400 miles, and the roughest part of the passage lies between this and New Zealand. And, again, here the climate is much nearer the climate of the islands; so that, while the boys can enjoy it, we are enabled to produce the fruits and vegetables of their own islands, which they infinitely prefer before English produce--a taste which is especially to be studied, as we do not wish to make them Englishmen in any particular, save in those of civilisation and Christianity, which go hand in hand.

"These advantages will counteract many things which at first appear dull and tedious to us white people; for instance, separation from the world in point of communication. But this one soon learns to give up, if the benefit will be great to the souls of one's fellow-creatures.

"Here we can keep a large school on less means than in New Zealand; besides which, probably, the health of the children will be less a matter of anxiety to the Bishop and those concerned in the Mission.

"We are left here now--Messrs. Palmer and Codrington (both in orders), myself, Hale, Nobbs, and about twenty-four boys from Banks Islands. I have got on very fairly with my Mota, and am now trusted with all the school in the afternoon, and a class in the evening. The morning is now devoted [279/280] to manual labour. Some of the bigger boys are quite Christianised, and about twenty have been baptized. Some five or six can now be trusted with classes in the school; and probably all those who have been baptized would be pretty ready with answers to fairly stiff Biblical questions. All in the school are taught to read and write their own language--no English entering the school at all; in some cases you will get a fairly voluminous account of things in general when you call for it. The school is now nearly self-working; everything can be done by the boys themselves, such as cooking, washing, planting, and things of every-day life. They are very quick at picking up things, and only require the white man to do a thing first and show them the way. At present everything connected with the Mission looks prosperous, and there is great cause for rejoicing that 'the multitude of the isles' are beginning to pay heed to the message of the Gospel of Peace. The seed is being sown, I feel sure, in the young hearts here, and God, in His own good time, will give the increase.

"Soon, by God's blessing, I think we may hope to reap a harvest among the many islands from whence these youths come; for I do think there are some here in whose hearts the Spirit of God is working. They are all eager to be taught here, from small to great, and out of school hours may be [280/281] seen sitting about with their books, spelling out the words for themselves. Our translations, as yet, are for the most part in Mota, and that is principally learnt and spoken among the boys. How many languages are spoken here really I cannot say--certainly a very great number; but they all soon get to know one another, and converse in one language.

"And now a few words about Norfolk Island. My most sanguine expectations met with a perfect realisation when I had an opportunity of contemplating its beauty. The whole island is six miles in length, three in breadth, and twenty in circumference, and with about 9,000 acres of good land on its surface. We have a grant of 1,000 acres, which is situated on the western, and to me prettier, part of the island. While walking through anywhere here, from one place to another, you can easily imagine yourself in a large English park, carefully laid out with shrubs and trees; while the native long grass is very verdant, and is, I hear, capital pasturage for cattle. Fruits of every kind grow and abound here--the orange, lemon, banana, guava, melon, peach; and all are to be had for the picking."

In August, 1867, the Bishop returned to Norfolk Island, and the regular school routine began. The boys enjoyed their yams and sweet potatoes, and were perfectly satisfied with the change; and nothing [281/282] remarkable marked the progress of time until March, 1868, when an epidemic of typhoid fever broke out among the Pitcairn people, and spread, notwithstanding every precaution, to the Mission School, where four of the scholars died. This epidemic, however, was proved to be due not to any unhealthiness in the climate, but to temporary causes, easily removable. In consequence of it, Bishop Patteson, fearing that some of the boys might carry home with them the seeds of the fever, which in that hot climate might turn to a frightful epidemic, decided to make no voyage to the islands this year. The last accounts gave reason to hope that George Sarawia might be considered sufficiently prepared for ordination by the autumn of this year (1868); and thus it is probable that by this time the Melanesian Mission may rejoice in the attainment of the first step towards that native pastorate which has been its prime object from the beginning.


We have traced the course of the Melanesian Mission for nearly twenty years, and we have watched the slow but steady progress of the tiny shoot planted by Bishop Selwyn, in his voyage in the little Undine, to the thriving and promising aspect which it bears at present. Yet it must be remembered that all the history of the foregoing pages is not the history of a complete work, but of a [282/283] beginning--such a beginning as may be compared to the digging of the conduit in the son of Sirach's parable, through which we see trickle a few drops of the overflowings of that river whose streams make glad the city of God, to turn the waste places into a garden, and to make the wilderness blossom as the rose. The beginning is toilsome and laborious; but, as that parable teaches us, there will come a time, sooner or later, when the fruits of that earnest and patient labour will be made manifest and gladden the earth with their beauty.

"I said, I will water my best garden, and will water abundantly my garden bed: and lo, my brook became a river, and my river became a sea."

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