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The Annual Report of the Melanesian Mission for 1919.

From Melanesian Mission: Report Issued by the English Committee 1919, pages 9-19.

No place: Melanesian Mission, 1919.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2009

 [9] The Annual Report of the Melanesian Mission for 1919.


THE first nine months of 1919 were for the Mission mainly a time of waiting, during which her policy was just to "carry on" until she had once more a Bishop at her head. How great her gratitude to Mr. Wilson for his untiring energy as our Administrator must be, only those who know how deep were the waters through which we have just passed can fully realise. Speaking for our whole Staff I can simply say that we do realise how difficult was his task, and do fully appreciate his noble work, and tender to him our sincerest thanks for all he did through those anxious and troubled times.

Above all, do we thank him for the way in which he set us right in the eyes of our Mother Church of New Zealand. An unfortunate paragraph in one of the New Zealand papers, the origin of which we have failed to trace, gave people the idea that the priests of the Mission had risen in revolt and practically expelled their Bishop. It was chiefly owing to Mr. Wilson's efforts that this false and most damaging idea was corrected and the real state of affairs made known, first to the duly accredited representatives of the Church of New Zealand, and thence to the Church at large. The misunderstanding is now happily at an end, and no more need be said on the matter; but it would ill become me, on whom the choice of the priests has fallen to succeed to the vacant episcopate, to omit from my first Report this expression of personal and united gratitude to our late Administrator for so rehabilitating the Mission in the eyes of the Church.

Now, during the time when we were debating among ourselves as to our future policy in Melanesia, there were four questions which insisted on being answered. They were--

(1) Whom shall we choose for our new Bishop?
(2) What shall our policy be as to the question of the division of the Diocese?
(3) What about Norfolk Island? and
(4) What shall we do about the Southern Cross?

and it seems only right that our supporters should know what answers we found to these questions, and the reasons we arrived at the decisions to which we, as a Staff, finally came, before I proceed to give an account of the work of the last three months and the programme I have before me in the immediate future, and purpose with GOD'S assistance to carry out.

As to the first question, those who know us well can probably easily picture to themselves what actually did happen. Two or three of us older members of the Staff met informally, and decided that we had [9/10] better delegate the right of recommending a fit person to some Bishop or Bishops in Australia who knew something of our circumstances, because, though all of us would have much preferred one of ourselves for our future Bishop, we did not see amongst ourselves any one who would be physically likely to be able to carry on the work for any considerable length of time; nor indeed, did any of us older men covet the position. If I may introduce a personal note, I for my part was particularly undesirous of such a post as, apart from a personal sense of my unfitness, I had at last found a settled home in the islands and a work which I greatly enjoyed, which, also, I felt competent to do.

Accordingly at the meeting of the Staff it was duly proposed and seconded that we should once more delegate our right of recommendation to others, when to the surprise of many a member of the Staff of many years standing proposed that before we decided to whom we should delegate our right, we should first sound the minds of the Staff as to whether they wished to delegate or no.

It was then decided to drop the discussion, so that we might have time for quiet consideration, and that the next morning, at a Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, we should seek the direction of the Holy Ghost and then and there record our votes.

The result was that two names were suggested for recommendation to the General Synod of the Church of New Zealand, and only two votes were in favour of delegation. At the meeting of the Staff, which followed after breakfast, these two votes were withdrawn and a unanimous vote was given for the selection of one of ourselves.

The matter was then discussed in all its aspects and the pros and cons carefully weighed. The main objections were obvious. We were choosing a man unknown to the Church in general. But the reply to this was, We are choosing a man whom we know and, after all, that is the main thing as far as we are concerned, and we are the people most closely interested.

We were choosing a man who probably had already given the best years of his life to the work. To this it was replied, Perhaps so; but by the time he has exhausted his activities we ought to have among us some younger man who will be fit to take up the burden when he lays it down. But the main argument that carried all before it was, We have come to a crisis in our history when we feel that we MUST have a leader who knows us, and whom we know, and who knows what our life and work out here really are; who knows from personal experience the problems that have to be faced and solved NOW; who knows the people he has to deal with. In a word, we want a Melanesian Bishop, and not merely a Bishop of Melanesia. No doubt he will be out of touch with the questions which are occupying the minds of the leaders of the Church at home, but he will be in touch with the problems which we here in Melanesia have to solve, and that is what we really [10/11] need, and this we can only obtain if we have as our Bishop one who himself has been through the mill with us.

Even then, under Mr. Wilson's cautious guidance, we were not hurriedly going to decide so momentous a question. Many of us wished to save further delay, and a still greater accumulation of episcopal work, and to proceed at once to an election. But our Administrator dissuaded us, and it was decided to let us think and pray over the matter until as many as possible of the, priests, native and missionary, should have been consulted and could meet at Norfolk Island and record their votes, personally or by letter.

This was accordingly done, and when the lot fell on myself, I felt, and still feel, that I could do no other than bow to what my brother priests desired of me.

As to the second question, the difficulty in coming to a wise decision was augmented by the uncertainty about the political future of these islands, and this in itself was sufficient reason for the decision at which we arrived, viz.: that while we desired and earnestly advocated the creation of a separate bishopric for those islands that had been under German rule, we did not consider that the time was ripe for the further sub-division of the Diocese as it exists at present.

There are, however, further considerations which moved us to defer for the present the question of this further sub-division.

It has long been a commonplace saying that the present Diocese is too vast for one Bishop's powers; but it must be quite candidly admitted that the attempt to supervise this area by one Bishop resident in the islands has never been made, and amongst many members of the Staff the opinion exists that it is not beyond the powers of one man who is willing to delegate certain of his powers to others. I have agreed to make the attempt, for my part, and have appointed a Commissary for the Solomons, chosen by his fellow priests, and pending the time when the Southern men can meet together to select one of their own number, I have nominated an Acting-Commissary for the South, who will act and speak for the Mission in my absence. Another reason why most of the members of the Mission Staff' deprecate any immediate decision as to the sub-division of the existing Diocese is that, while the Southerners also wish their Bishop to be one of themselves, should such sub-division take place, they are so few in numbers that it is hard to see who could be spared from among them to be their Bishop. While considering the immediate need of funds to carry on a "forward" policy, it seems to many of us little short of criminal folly to set aside the large amount of capital needed to endow a bishopric, the need of which is an open question, from the already too small income which we possess.

Incidentally, I may remark that it seems to some of us unjust to expend on two Bishops a sum of money equivalent to the stipends of ten priests when the present rate of living is so high. Lest these [11/12] figures should sound impossible, I should say that the income formerly drawn by the Bishop of Melanesia was £600, and the endowment suggested for the new bishopric was £700, while the stipend of a priest of the Mission is £130. Considering that the Bishop should be always ready to look on his stipend as a trust, to be expended for the good of his Diocese, I do not think that £500 or £600 is too much for a Bishop of Melanesia, but when it is suggested to expend £1300 on the episcopate of Melanesia, and when one considers the sum that is considered enough for a priest and also the immediate need of all the funds at our disposal to carry on our present work, not to speak of a further advance, no one can be surprised if some outcry should be raised.

I must here speak very plainly and with a full sense of my responsibility for my words, to our friends and supporters throughout the world, and what I would say is this. "If you really wish the Church in Melanesia to advance and take up the responsibilities to which GOD has called us, she must have a sufficient episcopate and priesthood, and YOU MUST PROVIDE BOTH MEN AND MONEY FOR THE PURPOSE." We, out here, are prepared to hold on to what we already occupy, with, please GOD, a largely increased native Ministry, but the means and men for any advance into fresh fields you must provide, and the credit for success or the guilt of failure will lie on your shoulders.

We as one man look for and pray for a Province of Melanesia, or better still of the Isles of the Pacific, with sufficient episcopate and a large number of priests, and it is to you that we look to make this vision a reality. When the political future of these islands is settled we, the present staff of the Mission, do not deprecate, but desire, a reasoned division of Melanesia into not two, but four or five dioceses, including if possible all the islands of the Pacific, but we cannot with equanimity view the possibility of a division that means only fewer men and less money than before.

The geographical and political questions are too complicated to be discussed here, but I world just sketch out our dream for the not, please GOD, very distant future. There should be at least three bishoprics for Melanesia proper, two at least (we should suppose) for New Guinea and one at least for Polynesia. The Carolines, Marshalls, Ellice and Gilberts might form another, Tonga and Samoa another, perhaps, and a Province of the Pacific uniting the whole in one hope of glory, with similar problems to face and similar aims to pursue. . . . But I am going far beyond my subject and no doubt rushing in "where angels fear to tread."

The third question was, What about Norfolk Island? And first of all there are two misapprehensions under which many people seem to labour: (1) That the removal from Norfolk Island is a new idea, hastily arrived at, whereas the matter has been under discussion for some ten years past, and the move was definitely decided upon early [12/13] in the episcopate of Bishop Wood, and we are only carrying out the policy settled for us years ago. Of course every sentiment is against this seeming break with the past, but after all, in moving our headquarters into the islands, we are only carrying on the policy that Bishop Patteson followed when he moved from Kohimarama to Norfolk Island, and getting as close as circumstances permit to our people.

(2) The second misapprehension is that our property at Norfolk Island was financially speaking a valuable asset to the Mission, whereas, of course, it was a very expensive matter to keep it up, and when it was decided that the main educational work of the Mission could and should be carried on in the islands there was no excuse for continuing to spend money on a place that was of no real use any longer to Mission work. It then seemed only right to do as we have done and hand it over to the Mission Trust Board in Auckland and ask them to dispose of it as seemed best to them.

A question I was frequently asked was, "What are you going to do with the Norfolk Island estate?" to which I replied and reply, "I have no say whatever in the matter. The Mission having no intention of using it for Mission purposes it naturally reverts to the Trust Board in Auckland, and they will of course deal with the matter in whatever way seems to be best for the Church in general and the Mission in particular."

But will Norfolk Island still remain part of the Diocese of Melanesia? This is, it seems to me, a question which concerns primarily the people of the island, and I have therefore asked their chaplain to consult the Vestry, putting before them all sides of the question, and have promised for my part to, as far as in me lies, fall in with their wishes.

To the question "Why did you leave Norfolk Island?" there is one answer only, and that is, "To get nearer our people." Every one who knows how strong are the ties of sentiment that bind nearly all the Mission Staff to Norfolk Island should need no further assurance from me to convince them that we should never have unanimously decided to make this move had we not one and all after the most careful and prolonged consideration been certain that it was for the best interests of the Mission that we should do so. Once more, this is not the action of a few hasty minds, but the considered decision of the entire Staff, undertaken on the part of many of us with the greatest reluctance, but in the firm conviction that it was necessary to the well-being of our work.

The next question I have to deal with is that of the Southern Cross. This is on all hands agreed to be a most difficult problem to solve, and one that calls for most careful consideration. It is very easy to say, "Sell the Southern Cross and buy a more suitable vessel," but then we have to face the further questions, "Will any one buy her?" and "What kind of vessel do we need to take her place?"

[14] The second question is really the crux of the matter. What we seem certainly to need is a vessel of such a kind that with it we can remain at sea for a very considerable time, that can anchor practically anywhere, that can be kept hanging about for perhaps a week or a fortnight in one place without one feeling that she was eating up money and doing nothing for it, that shall not be too large for the Bishop alone to voyage about in her and shall yet be large enough to accommodate several Missionaries, men and women, not to speak of a considerable number of native men and women from time to time. Now a ship to suit all these different conditions is beyond human skill to design; what then is the most practical course to follow? I have talked the matter over with everybody who seemed likely to be able to help me to come to a decision on the matter, and frankly, I have not yet been able to satisfy myself as to what is actually the best course to pursue. My present frame of mind is this: It is very questionable whether if we sell the present ship we shall obtain for her more than just enough to build a much smaller vessel to take her place, and it will cost very little less to keep such a vessel as we should need constantly in commission than it does to keep the Southern Cross running as she does now; and it will be very much harder to obtain suitable officers--a most important point.

Then comes the question, "If we retain the present ship can we run her in such a way that she will really do the work for which she was intended, and that at a not impossible cost?" And I believe that this question can be answered in the affirmative. If the Southern Cross were to make only one voyage of nine months duration every year, and during that nine months were to be the Bishop's residence, she could, I am almost certain, do the work she was meant to do. The Bishop could go in her wherever he was needed, and stay as long as he considered necessary. The ship would meantime find some good anchorage as near at hand as possible, have time for painting, etc. (so necessary to the long life and health of a steamer), and then pick up the Bishop again and carry him to his next port of call, or might proceed to some other piece of Mission work where the Bishop's presence was not necessary. During the three months of bad weather that remain the Bishop could have a spell ashore, which most people who have travelled by the Southern Cross will probably think he will want, at his Training College or elsewhere. The ship, though at work in the islands, would not be burning so much coal in proportion as she does under the present system, and also the long run from the islands to Auckland would be reduced by half. No doubt there are many objections to this scheme as to any other, and I am not in any way pledged to it. I hope to be able to avail myself of Captain Burgess's expert knowledge on the matter next voyage, and as we cannot think of getting rid of the Southern Cross until the heavy work of removing the Norfolk Island plant is completed, that will be time enough to come to a final decision. I am afraid the above may not sound very satisfactory to some of our [14/15] friends and supporters, who may have looked for a definite pronouncement on the future of our ship. New brooms proverbially make a clean sweep of things, but then, even my warmest admirers would hardly describe me as a new broom, and I prefer to look, perhaps, overlong before I leap lest I land myself and the Mission in a hole, from which it will need a far more gifted man than myself to extricate us.

Now, having to the best of my ability answered these four pressing questions, let me proceed to my report of the past three months and my hopes for the future.

The Southern Cross left Auckland on September 30, and proceeded to Norfolk Island, where I was duly installed and enthroned as fifth Bishop of Melanesia by Mr. Wilson. During our stay there I had the opportunity of meeting the Staff and giving them some account of my visit to New Zealand and of the various matters that were discussed at Wellington between Mr. Jones, the Chairman of the A.B.M., and myself. After a very pleasant stay of some days there we started for the islands on October 10. Generally speaking, I found the state of things in the South satisfactory, though needless to say much handicapped by lack of men. This part of the Diocese has its own special difficulties and needs special help. It is absolutely essential that more men should be forthcoming at once for the work here, especially as there does not seem much prospect of suitable candidates for Holy Orders from among the present staff of teachers being forthcoming in anything like sufficient numbers at present. Raga is at present without a missionary priest, though I hope before long to put Mr. Godfrey in charge here; but we need also another priest for the Banks Islands, and the Torres Islands are still waiting for some one to supply them with those Sacraments which we profess to consider "necessary to Salvation." One finds it hard to avoid a note of bitterness creeping in when one considers, for how long we have appealed, and almost in vain, for more men and again more men. Please try to realise that Melanesia is an unhealthy place to live in, and that therefore we need a continual stream of fresh recruits to repair wastage before we can dream of making an attack on those islands which are still heathen.

In the Solomons the same shortage of men obtains. The Reefs and Santa Cruz are without a priest; Tikopeia, Anudha, Taumako and Anula are in the same state. In these islands Christianity is really making wonderful headway. But is it to be Christianity without Sacraments? The answer to this lies with the Home Church. With all the earnestness at my command I commend these places to you. "Come over and help us." Once again San Cristoval needs another priest. South Mala has no priest, the whole of Guadalcanar and Savo are dependent on Hugo Toke for the Sacraments, and right nobly is he trying to supply their needs, but one man cannot cope properly with such a task. I had the great privilege on Advent Sunday of ordaining Joseph Gilvelte to the priesthood, and Martin Marau to the diaconate, [15/16] and I thank GOD that there are others who, I am sure, are ready for this great work, Hugo Hebala in Bugotu, and Charles Turu for the people of Fiu, and others still who are now at the College at Maravovo.

But even these are not enough. I am most thankful to say that we have been able to re-open the College with Mr. Hopkins in charge, with Mr. Thompson to help him, and that the College is as full as accommodation will allow, while Mr. Hodgson is at the old hospital at Hautabu with a band of younger boys to be prepared to become teachers; and as to the future of the Solomons, I am most hopeful that a really strong native ministry will be built up, but this must be a comparatively slow process if I am to be "faithful in ordaining, sending, and laying hands on others." Again, it must be remembered that our ideal is not that our native priests should be continually travelling about and supervising; very few of them are fitted for this kind of work; on the contrary, what we are aiming at is a real fatherhood of priests, with "families" of such a size that they may be able to "teach, and to premonish, to feed, and provide for them." And so for many years we shall still need missionary priests to do the work of travelling and supervision. And here there seems to be an opening for men who are willing to give only a short term of years to the work, to keep things going until our native priests are sufficiently numerous to make it possible largely to reduce the numbers of our supervisors, though it must always be borne in mind that it needs a long time even to begin to get in touch with our Melanesians. And one word in parenthesis as to the kind of man we do not want, and that is the man who comes out full of self-confidence and the knowledge of how to handle natives. Unless a man will realise that all his life here he has to be a learner, he will be no use here, and probably very little use elsewhere.

I am afraid that again I am letting my feelings run away with me, but it is not easy to keep unmoved when one has as one's theme the future of Christ's Church in Melanesia.

To return to my report of our present activities; we have, then, well established our Training College at Maravovo, with an addition a smaller school for younger boys at Hautabu. Next year we hope to move these establishments to Siota, which will be the Mission headquarters in the future. I am glad to say that we have not only got a considerable number now in training but also a number in waiting till their turn comes, or till we have larger accommodation.

Our school for smaller boys at Pamua is also full and flourishing under Mr. Nind, while in the South at Vureas we have another most successful school for smaller boys, and are building a school for their elders which will we hope in time be the Maravovo of the South. At present Siota is occupied with a school for girls which, though small, is, doing well under Miss Wench and Miss Child. When the boys move to Siota we shall have to provide a temporary home for the girls elsewhere, but there should be no difficulty about that. The training of [16/17] the girls who are to be the wives and mothers of the rising generation is a most important part of our work. I am glad to say that we have one new woman recruit now on her way here from Tasmania and two from Wellington due here by the next voyage of the Southern Cross, while there are two more from Palmerston North who should be ready to join us before long. So things look very promising for this branch of our work. Indeed, our chief difficulty will be to provide homes for them.

The next matter I have to deal with is our future policy. This falls under four heads.

(1) The setting in action of a Synod of the priests to aid the Bishop with their advice, and to regularise the decisions that we may from time to time arrive at. This Synod cannot, from the nature of the Diocese, meet very frequently; I am therefore hoping to form a Committee of Synod consisting of the Bishop, the two Commissaries, and two missionary and two native priests selected from those working both in the Northern and the Southern halves of the Diocese who will be able to meet more frequently, while the Bishop should be able to meet the Northern and the Southern members of this Committee separately at least once a year. This should not only give the Bishop a representative band of advisers but also provide the priests with an opportunity to take their proper share in the direction of the Church's work in their Diocese. The deliberations of the Synod will have to be carried on in Mota to enable the native priests to also bear their proper share in the work.

(2) Secondly, I look forward to a largely increased native priesthood. The ideal I have in view is to provide a priest for at least every three or four villages of considerable size. In this purpose I have the enthusiastic support of all the Mission Staff. Needless to say every possible precaution will be taken to test the vocation and fitness of those we hope to ordain and to train them to the best of their and our abilities. Our reason for being here being solely to build up a native Church of Melanesia, this purpose of ours should need no further advocacy, much less justification. Nor indeed must my readers suppose that I consider this an innovation in the Mission policy, for it is only through the labours and wisdom of our predecessors that we are now enabled to find so many who show signs of being before long fitted for the Ministry in their Church.

(3) I am hoping to make a real feature of technical education in the islands. The printing press from Norfolk Island is coming here, and I am hoping that the buildings at Maravovo and Hautabu will in the near future be a scene of busy industrial life and training. Besides printing, we hope to teach and practise every form of carpentry, joinery, cabinet-making, furniture-making and kindred work generally. I am much helped here by the enthusiasm of Mr. Anderson, our veteran carpenter, and Mr. West, while the zeal of Mr. Isom promises a great [17/18] future for the Mission, Press. Incidentally this should not only vastly improve the natives' social conditions but also help, not a little, the finances of the Mission.

(4) My last heading is, "An Itinerating Bishop."

It seems to me at present that the Bishop must not only be resident in the islands but also continually on the move amongst them. How best this may be effected is not an easy question to answer out of hand, but it depends largely on how we ultimately settle the question of the Southern Cross. At present I am proposing to do the best I can in a whale-boat. I am, at the moment of writing, on Bunana, where the ship dropped me a day or two ago. I have with me Mr. Norman Dixon, our latest recruit from home, whom I am proposing to introduce to island life by taking him with me as my chaplain on my journeyings. I am proposing to remain here for about a week, to get some very necessary correspondence done. Then I purpose going to Tasimboko and working up the Guadalcanar coast to Maravovo, where I hope to spend Christmas at the College. Thence to Savo, and on to Gela for the bad weather. During this time I hope to ordain Mr. D. E. Graves to the diaconate. Then, if weather permits, about March I hope to get across to Mala; work North Mala with Mr. Mason and then go down the coast to Saa, Ulawa and Ugi, finishing up with about three weeks in San Cristoval, where I hope the Southern Cross will pick me up about May 13, take me all round Bugotu and then to the Southern part of the Diocese, where I hope to remain travelling around till she returns once more and takes me back again to the Solomons next October. As I shall be moving about considerably, I hope, all letters for me should be addressed c/o A.B.M. Office, 242 Pitt Street, Sydney, whence they will, as far as possible, be forwarded on to me.

There is one more point upon which I wish to touch, and that is the organisation of the Mission. Probably many of our supporters hardly realise how complicated a matter this is. But picture to yourselves what it means for a Bishop to keep in close touch with four centres! One in the islands, one in New Zealand, one in Australia, and one in England, especially as at the present time it takes anything from five to seven months to write to England and receive a reply.

What I wish to ask our Committees in England and the. Dominions is whether they cannot evolve some scheme whereby there can be one central organising body to which a bewildered Bishop who wishes to know, for instance, how much money he has to spend can apply. Everything seems to point to the newly organised New Zealand Board of Missions as being the obvious central body for Melanesia, at present at any rate. I regret to say that I have not received any very definite statement of the details of this Board, but I know that we can repose the fullest trust in them, and that they are only waiting for us to hand over all our organisation in New Zealand to them. I myself am only waiting for further information before doing so. I earnestly commend [18/19] the consideration of this matter to our English Committee and to the Australian Board of Missions. I do not ask them to relax their noble efforts on our behalf; far from it. I am fully conscious of the value of all they do for us and most grateful to them for it, but what I do need is a kind of "Clearing House" where I can learn what I want to know about home organisation, and to which I can apply for the support I may need. This body would keep the other organisations informed of the general state of Mission affairs, while from the islands we could send out more detailed news from time to time.

In the meantime the Rev. J. L. A. Kayll has consented to act as our Organising Secretary in Auckland and will perform the much-needed duty of keeping the Mission before the eyes of the New Zealand Church. In conclusion, I ask for four things: very largely increased support both in men and money, the advice and council of those in touch with us at home, your confidence, not in me personally, but as the man chosen by ourselves, and your prayers for us all, and specially for myself.

Your friend and servant in Christ,

JOHN, Bishop of Melanesia.

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