Project Canterbury

The Annual Report of the Melanesian Mission for 1920.

From Melanesian Mission: Report Issued by the English Committee 1920, pages 9-13.

No place: Melanesian Mission, 1920.

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

[9] The Annual Report of the Melanesian Mission for 1920.


DURING the past year I have been able to visit practically the whole of the Diocese, although owing to ill-health and other causes I have not been able to see as much of some of the districts as I had hoped to do. The earlier part of the year was spent in visiting most of the districts in the Solomons by boat with Dixon as my companion. New Year's Day found us still at Maravovo, where the college was in full swing at its invaluable work of fitting our teachers for their most important duties. The Mission owes a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Hopkins for his untiring efforts here, and it must be a pleasure to him to know that his efforts are not in vain. More than one of his past students has qualified to receive Holy Orders, and the reports of the others are invariably satisfactory. At Hautabu, formerly the site of the hospital, Mr. Hodgson was starting his new work of teaching the rising generation, and I am happy to say that he is now, at the end of the year, settling in at Siota with a nice number of boys from all parts of the Solomons. At Maravovo I had the great pleasure of confirming some whom I had known from their childhood. Early in January we left Maravovo for Savo. The Church here is by no means dead, though in such matters as keeping their churches in proper repair the Savo people are probably the laziest in this region. However, there were a good number of people ready for Confirmation, and I hope the few days I was able to spend there were not wasted. From Savo we went over to Gela. Here, under the guidance of Mr. Graves, the Church seems really to have taken a new lease of life. More than four hundred people were brought to me for Confirmation; several really splendid new churches were ready to be dedicated, and others were and are in process of building. Even cemeteries were not neglected, and some of the best singing I have ever heard in the Islands was that of the people as they sang in procession at the graveyards. It was a great pleasure to me to ordain Graves to the Diaconate on S. Paul's Day, and, together with Ben Tumu, to the Priesthood on S. Thomas's Day. At the same time I ordained Peter Sukoko to the Diaconate, and now, with three Priests and two Deacons, one may venture to predict a happy future for the Church in Gela.

From Gela we went across to Mala, worked our way down the coast to Saa, and over to Ulawa and Ugi. At all these places we were cheered with many signs of life and vigour in the Church. The people are virile and keen. Mala has now two Native Priests and Ulawa a Native Deacon, viz., Martin, the son of Clement Marau. Mason and his wife are in Mala North, and Thomson has taken over Sage's district [9/10] in "Little Mala," as the southern end of Mala is called. So here again is much cause for hopefulness. From Ugi we went across to Pamua, and had an enjoyable stay at Nind's flourishing school, where I was glad to have some of my little Guadalcanar boys presented to me for Confirmation. Next we went down the coast to Fox's district. Here, again, I am glad to say that things are, generally speaking, satisfactory, although this district, with much inland work to be done, is quite beyond Fox's physical powers. I am hoping to move him to another sphere of work, no less important, but not quite so arduous, physically speaking. He has appealed for a successor from New Zealand. I most heartily endorse his appeal. Neither New Zealand nor Australia are sending anything like their proper proportion of men to Melanesia. After leaving Fox we came into Joe Gilvelte's district. In spite of not very good health, Joe is doing splendid work, though I should have liked to have seen better churches built for him. His life and work show of what missionary work a Melanesian is capable. San Cristoval was the last island on our list, and from there we returned to Gela, to wait for the Southern Cross. She had been much delayed by the outbreak of influenza on board, but at last she arrived. We offer our sincerest sympathy to the families of Mr. Steel, the second engineer, a true friend and faithful servant of the Mission, and of Arthur Buffett, whom every person at S. Barnabas knew and loved. Both of these died on board and were buried at sea. Everyone on board seems to have risen to the occasion, and if I only mention the name of Mr. West, for an example of tireless and utterly self-forgetting work in almost every capacity, I am sure that the others will not think that their services and self-sacrifice are forgotten or underrated. Before leaving the subject I must pay a tribute of most grateful thanks to Dr. Hoggarth, of Vila, not only for his splendid work during the time the ship was in quarantine, but also for the manner in which he responded, time after time, when we needed the services of a medical man. Not only his own Mission, but also ourselves, and all the residents of the New Hebrides, will join in regretting the loss of a true friend and a faithful worker for God when he leaves the Condominium. We venture to offer to him and Mrs. Hoggarth our wishes for much happiness and opportunity for successful work in the future.

I visited Bugotu in the Southern Cross, but was not able to do more than such work as was absolutely necessary. A series of Confirmations and finally the ordination of Hugo Hebala to the Priesthood, after many years' faithful service as a Deacon, was all that could be done. I am not satisfied with the condition of the Bugotu Church; the people seem quite unable to stand by themselves. They seem to expect their Priest or the Bishop to do everything for them, and if the latter fail them they simply say "the Church in Bugotu is perishing." This does not say very much for the forcefulness of their Christianity. No doubt there are individual exceptions, but the general atmosphere of the district is one of helplessness and apathy, an absolute lack of [10/11] "back-bone" and a most reprehensible yielding to any anti-Church influence. Mr. and Mrs. Sprott have a difficult work before them here.

From the Solomons I went in the Southern Cross to the Banks Islands. Here I had hoped to do as I had done in the Solomons--visit each district by boat and get a fair insight into the condition of affairs. But after visiting Merelava, Gaua and Lakona, and arriving safely at Vureas, I was not able to do any more travelling until the Southern Cross returned. But the little that I did see filled me with amazement at the terrible fall of the people from their former state. I had heard much of the evil effects of the Suqe and the recruiting of natives, and while I am not prepared to say that the harm done by either of these was in the least exaggerated, the one thing that impressed me as most deplorable of all was the very general absence of any Christian public opinion. At Lakona I had to excommunicate no less than nineteen people for living with other people's wives or husbands, and I am told that on Opa things are not much better. Although the harm done by the Suqe was generally admitted, there seemed to be no stigma attached to those who practised it. Our missionaries in the Condominium have a very difficult work before them, and that most farcical form of so-called government is unable to protect the natives from their enemies of European extraction. When the "Big Four" can spare time to consider this out-of-the-way part of the world one sincerely hopes that the position, creditable neither to France nor Great Britain, may be rectified. The school at Vureas, under our returned veterans the O'Ferralls, is doing excellently, and we have now Miss Hurse and Miss Williams trying the experiment of a school for girls next door at Torgil. All through the Mission the women are doing a splendid work, and it is not always under the most favourable conditions. I earnestly hope that at our Conference in next November this most important work may be put on a firm and satisfactory basis. Mr. and Mrs. O'Ferrall were untiring in their kindness to me while I was more or less invalided at Vureas, and as a result I was able to do the necessary work in the other islands when the Southern Cross came. I found Webb, as usual, struggling manfully with his difficult district of Opa, and Matthias Tarileo had plenty of work ready for me at Raga. Our younger generation of native clergy would delight the heart of any bishop in the world. Energy, zeal, and above all the most beautiful humility, coupled with courage and initiative, are the signs of their worthiness and a most hopeful omen of the future of the Melanesian Church. I would end this part of my report on this note of hopefulness and personally of gratitude to every member of the Mission staff for their loyalty to and patience with me, but there is another aspect of affairs that must not be slurred over. When one turns one's eyes to the interior affairs of the Mission one sees nothing but encouragement for the future, but when one looks further afield and to outside influences one is tempted at times to pessimism. Mr. Fox's report will give an idea of how nearly all the natives and some of the white people regard [11/12] the Government of the Solomons, and no one that I know of has a good word for the Condominium. With regard to the officers of the Protectorate I feel it no less than my duty to express my opinion of the most praiseworthy manner in which they go about their most difficult task. With but few exceptions they are, as I personally can testify, really keen on the amelioration of the natives under their care, and ready to lend a sympathetic ear to their complaints and troubles, but they are hopelessly overworked, and have to leave too much of their work to native subordinates, who only too often are quite unworthy of any responsibility, and sometimes men of no moral character whatever; and it must be admitted that the average Melanesian is a very difficult person to deal with, and can be about the most irritating creature conceivable, especially until one knows him very well indeed. His ability for misunderstanding what seems the most simple matter imaginable is wonderful, but it does not make the task of governing him an easy one. Meanwhile our position as a body and as individuals seems clear. We have to act as the intermediaries and interpreters between the natives and the Government officers, to do our utmost to remove misunderstandings, and to make the task of the rulers of our people as easy as possible while we keep a watchful eye on the interests of the natives to see that they suffer no real injustice from the ignorance or incompetence of unsatisfactory subordinates. Difficulty number two lies in the great shortage of recruits. During the past year we have only received one recruit in Priest's orders. Two newly ordained Deacons are expected early next year, all from England. We are continually being told that the Australian and New Zealand Churches accept the responsibility for these islands, but where are the offers of service that responsibility should produce? We need at once Priests who are willing to face considerable hardships and loneliness for Christ's sake in the Reef Islands, Santa Cruz, Tikopeia, and Cherry Island. We look to the younger Clergy of the Home Churches to show the same readiness to volunteer for arduous work for GOD that they showed for the sake of the Empire.

Lack of men brings one naturally to lack of money. It is not a pleasant task to be continually begging for money, but money is needed after all. The Mission is prepared to exercise the greatest possible economy, but it is a very false economy to stint money for absolute necessities. At the present time we cannot reduce expenses if we are even to carry on with the work we are doing, not to mention any idea of advance. There are at present two very heavy items of expense which in our peculiar circumstances are inevitable. The first is the upkeep of the Mission ship, without which the Bishop is utterly unable to visit the scattered island diocese. At the prices ruling at present this costs no less than the truly alarming sum of £10,000 a year! The second is the cost of the erection of the buildings needed for establishing our headquarters in the islands. We are making every possible use of old materials salved from Norfolk Island, but even then the expense [12/13] is very heavy. During the last year our budget reached the huge figure of £25,000, and there is no prospect of our being able to reduce it this year, even if we do not exceed it. We are at present £10,000 in debt, that is to say that whereas when I was consecrated we owed £5000 we have not reduced that debt, but doubled it. Now I think that I can guarantee that we shall be able to carry on for this coming year, but unless our supporters come nobly to our relief I cannot see how we can face 1922. The Southern Cross will have to be laid up, and the work in the island centres put on one side while we wait for this load of indebtedness to be gradually lifted. I will not dwell on the inconvenience, to use no stronger word, that all our people in the islands will have to suffer if things do come to this; but it will be a crying shame if the Church has to relax its efforts in Melanesia owing to lack of money, especially when we have just accepted the responsibility of a new Bishopric for the late German possessions.

A further trouble to us in Melanesia is the action of the Conference held in London last July in deciding against the formation of an oceanic province. We had hoped for so much from the formation of such a province that the news that it was not to be has come as a very heavy blow to us. However, I hope we can give the traditional British reply to the question, "Are we downhearted?"--"No!" for we still firmly believe that we are doing GOD'S work, and He will not let it fail. Still He does work through human instruments, and if we try to do our duty out here I am sure that our fellow-workers of the home churches will do theirs. So then I commend the Mission to your prayers and alms and persons, and am bold to offer as a motto for 1921 the same as that with which we started, WITH GOD ONWARDS. 1921 will be a very special year for all friends of Melanesia. It marks the sixtieth anniversary of BISHOP PATTESON'S consecration, and the fiftieth anniversary of his death, and I feel confident that we shall not let that year pass without a very special effort on our part that the work for which he gave his life shall not suffer loss or delay.

Brethren, pray for us.
I am your servant in Christ,
Bishop of Melanesia.


Project Canterbury