Project Canterbury

John Steward's Memories

Papers Written by the Late Bishop Steward of Melanesia

Edited with an Introduction by M. R. Newbolt

Chester: Phillipson and Golder Ltd., 1939.


I had thought of calling this chapter "Five hundred miles in an open boat" (probably this is an underestimate); it contains some account of my Primary Visitation of a part of the Diocese of Melanesia.

When the Southern Cross left me on Bunana* [Footnote: * Bunana is a little island off the mainland of Gela; he made his headquarters here for the first part of his visitation.] I had before me the task of visiting, for Confirmations, Dedications, and other Episcopal duties, the districts of Guadalcanar, North and South; Savo; Gela; + [Footnote: + Steward uses the Melanesian names. Gela is Florida, and Bogotu, Ysabel.] Mala, North and South; Ulawa; Ugi; San Cristoval and Bogotu +. [Footnote as above] I took with me Mr. Norman Dixon, our latest recruit from home, whom I proposed to introduce to island life as my Chaplain. My only means of travel was a whale-boat,--except when going round Mala, where I hoped to avail myself of Graves's launch. The time; available was the better part of six months, but of these, January and February were the hurricane season, when travelling any distance from land would be out of the question. These two months, accordingly, were allotted to the home country of Gela, Guadalcanar South.

On December 3rd, 1919, on a wet and cloudy evening, Dixon, the boat's crew and I landed from the Southern Cross and settled down for the night in the excellent houses left by Mr. Wilson. Next day the ship sailed and we began to unpack and settle in. The first thing was to provide some place of worship, since, during our absence in New Zealand, the Chapel had been partially destroyed by rough weather, and as Miss Wilson's drawing room seemed the most suitable place for the purpose, the altar and its furniture were transferred to it and a very good Bishop's Chapel was fitted [79/80] up. We were not left long alone in our glory, for on the 7th the steamer from Sydney arrived bringing Mr. and. Mrs. Sprott on their way back to Bogotu, as well as Miss Elizabeth Wilson to reinforce the staff of the Girls' School at Siota. So elastic are the resources of the Solomon Islands that this merely meant a shifting of apartments, the ladies went to the guest house, and Sprott (according to his usual custom), camped on the verandah. December 11th saw the break up of our party, Graves came in his launch for Miss Wilson, and the Commissioner with his usual kindness, sent the Afa to take the Sprotts to Bogotu.

Next day it was our turn to move on, and by about nine o'clock the boat was loaded with provisions and all the necessaries of life on tour, including two beds, two chairs, a jug, two basins, cooking pots, crockery, knives, forks and spoons, etc., with food to last our two selves and a crew of eight boys for some three weeks or a month. So off we set hoping to make Bokogau, on the Guadalcanar coast, before dark.

Wind and tide however had their say in the matter and, when we ultimately did reach land about five o'clock, it was at a place called Suagi, about fifteen miles to the west of our proper destination.

Although not expected, we were, as is always the case, most hospitably welcomed by the people, and next morning, after confirming a man who was too ill to go to the centre I had selected, we went on to Bokogau and got there safely, none the worse for our first day's journey, though both of us whites had developed rather fiery complexions from the effect of the sun.

Here we rested for a day, and on the Wednesday held a Confirmation and baptised some infants.

[Un-referenced footnote probably referring to the above two paragraphs: * It was the Bishop's custom to administer Confirmation before the Eucharist and to give first Communion to the newly confirmed candidates himself. I presume that he followed this practice, when practicable, during this tour.--M.R.N.]

[81] That evening we were entertained by a series of crocodile-stories by one of the teachers, an old friend of mine whom I had known from his early boyhood. His description of the wise crocodile who after upsetting a canoe with a man and two children, selected the full grown man for his meal and left the babes, and that of the giant man-eater in whose stomach were found innumerable bracelets and anklets were greeted with acclamation by all. As a matter of fact this part of the coast is a favourite haunt of crocodiles, who not only take dogs, pigs and calves from the Plantations, but also from time to time are bold enough to attack human beings, indeed next day, at Volonavua, our next sleeping place, in the Berande Plantation we were shown the carcase of a fifteen-foot crocodile, a monster quite capable of disposing of a full-grown man.

At Volanavua we held another Confirmation and some Baptisms, and the next day, December 16th, we started off for Tabulivu, the first village in the District of North Guadalcanar.

The distance is about forty miles and we had expected to be two full days on the voyage, but a good breeze carried us famously along, so we slept at Tasivarono Plantation, and next day were lucky enough to get as far as Tabuhu, a village some twenty five miles beyond Tabulivu.

Here were three infants to be baptised, and we retraced our steps about ten miles to Maravovo, where we were to spend Christmas.

Here I was really home again, for I had spent the greater part of my time during the past sixteen years in this neighbourhood. We were quite a large party, Hopkins and Thomson in charge of the College, which I had left only two years before, Hodgson, with his school boys at Hautabu, waiting for their permanent home elsewhere, and last but by no means least, Nurse [81/82] Saunders and Miss Sunderland, my staunch helpers in former days at the College, in company with whom I had faced much trouble in sickness and death of fellow workers and friends. Needless to say we thoroughly enjoyed our stay.

Christmas was ushered in with Festal evensong and the Confirmation of three San Cristoval boys from Hodgson's flock of scholars, and that night, once again, I lay awake and listened to the carol parties singing in the language that had for so many years been familiar to me.

Cold common sense protests that walking about singing carols most of the night is hardly the best way to spend the time between the last service of Christmas Eve and the Eucharist on Christmas morning. There are indeed, persons with souls so dead that they dislike being woken in the small hours by competing parties of hoarse carollers, each of which insists upon working through its full repertoire outside the doors of their white Fathers' and Mothers' bedrooms. I have heard younger and perhaps wiser men denounce this custom with fervour, even with passion, but sentiment makes me slow to agree with them.

After the morning Services we all went down the hill to Taitai, the Plantation landing place, for a dinner of roast beef. Clifford had killed a bullock from our herd, and with our own company and the visitors we successfully devoured it all. This sounds a rather greedy performance, but it must be remembered in extenuation that we had no means of preserving the meat, and by next morning none of it would have been fit to eat. A feed of fresh meat was only possible when we had collected a party large enough to eat a whole beast at one sitting, and this only happened on great days and few.

On Boxing Day there was a native dance at Maravovo, which we all attended, and Robert, Hugo [82/83] Goravaka's son, entertained us to a sumptuous tea with all the civilised adjuncts. He was very pleased with himself and we were pleased with the tea, so everyone was satisfied.

On New Year's Eve, Hopkins, Thomson, Hodgson and myself gave a Shadow Pantomime to the people at Hautabu and if the audience got half as much amusement out of it as we did "behind the scenes," it must have been a most successful evening.

New Year's day was celebrated by a cricket match between the College and Hodgson's school boys reinforced by some of my crew, resulting in a victory for the visiting team. Next day we all went to Verahue, about five miles away, where there was a cemetery to dedicate, and we decided to make a general picnic of the occasion, for it is a pretty, well kept village and the Vicar, Hugo Toke, one of our best native Clergy, would be sure to do us very well. This day was chiefly memorable for a deluge of rain which overtook us on our return. Dixon, my Chaplain, was wearing a very special cassock, of some extra thin material, of which he was extremely proud but unfortunately the dye was not "fast" and gradually, as he got wetter and wetter, his surplice got bluer and bluer. When we returned to Hugo's house, with our bodies, if not our spirits, thoroughly damped, and stripped in order to change into such dry clothes as we had brought, Dixon was discovered to have reverted to primitive custom, and stained himself blue all over. However, he borrowed some soap from Hugo and gradually returned to the normal.

We lunched in Hugo's house and watched a dance performed by the people while our clothes dried by a rather smoky, fitful fire, returning home about five o'clock, none the worse for our wetting.

[84] On Sunday I confirmed some of the lads and girls of Maravovo, whom I had known from babyhood, and after the Epiphany, we took leave of our hospitable hosts and left for Savo. Though only about fifteen miles away it took us five and a half hours to cover the distance, but once there I was again among old friends.


Next day was Dixon's birthday, which we observed by doing absolutely nothing at all, and on the following day we went to Panueli, a village some three miles off, where I was to hold a Confirmation if the Church were suitable. We found it in such a dilapidated condition that I decided that it was out of the question, so confirmed the candidates on Sunday at our landing place, Pagopage, and after lunch we strolled over for Evensong to Panueli, where the local planter Mr. Risby, entertained us to supper, and after waiting for the rain to stop, we got back home again about 10-15 after a very pleasant day's work and play.

On Monday we left Savo to return to Bunana, covered the twenty four miles or so in about eight hours, well roasted by the sun, but otherwise none the worse, with the comfortable feeling that the first part of our programme had gone off without a hitch.


We now could get about a bit faster, as we had Graves' launch at our disposal, and we left our whale boat pulled up safely on the Bunana beach.

Gela is one of the oldest established of our centres in the Solomons and we had more work here than in any other single district. Our first business was to get settled down once more on Bunana, and hold a Confirmation on the mainland across the water, about two miles away, Graves then joined us for a few quiet days [84/85] before his Ordination, which was fixed for St. Paul's day in his own Church at Halavo, about seven miles away.

Our plans were nearly upset, for on Friday the stormy north-west weather began, and on Saturday we were in doubt whether we could reach Halavo. We made the attempt in the whale boat, but the sea was too rough for us to get round the last point before we made the harbour so we were forced to run into a bay at the back of the village and walk over the hill.

It had been pouring all the way, and I had covered myself with a new green canvas, so-called waterproof, sheet. It was not waterproof, and the colour came off on to my clothes. The hill leading to Halavo, like most of the hills on Gela, is composed of red clay soil, which the rain had made very slippery, and coming down the other side I sat down suddenly. We made a somewhat undignified entrance in consequence, first the Bishop, dripping wet, bright green before and bright red behind, then Graves, the deacon to be, less brightly coloured, but even more wet, and finally a boy with a suit case carrying my dry things. Fortunately we were un-noticed, otherwise our arrival would have formed a sad contrast with that of Johnson Tome, the native Priest, who came in a canoe with twenty paddlers, while the whole village assembled on the shore to welcome him. As a matter of fact I had already made my state entrance from the Southern Cross, and been greeted with a specially composed hymn of welcome, but this time I sneaked in by the back way and hardly anybody knew that I was there. As soon as they did, they went off in a body, in spite of the rain, to fetch the rest of my things over the hill.

The Melanesian custom of greeting the Bishop with a hymn of welcome is very picturesque, but has its disadvantages. Sometimes the whole village will line [85/86] up on the very edge of the dry land and the Bishop has to stand and look pleasant in the water, while a ten verse hymn, each verse of eight lines, gradually gets itself sung to an end before the next important function can take place, which is shaking hands with every single person, from babies in arms to bent old folk.

Sometimes, if you land a little way from the village proper, you have to wait, however tired you may be, and however much you want a cup of tea, till the people have got into their best clothes and are duly drawn up in order of dignity. Once I was greeted with the National Anthem, which I found a little embarrassing for I could not decide whether I ought to accept the greeting as my personal due, or whether I should loyally stand to attention. It was difficult to combine the two attitudes standing in the sea, accompanied by fellow passengers all trying hard not to grin, but happily the native is not easily struck by the incongruous.

On Sunday I had the happiness of ordaining Graves to the Diaconate, he had done some six years of work for the Mission as a layman, first on the Mission ketch, then on a launch, at sea in all weathers; a most unpleasant life, I should think, but a most valuable work.

On Monday he presented a large number of his people for Confirmation, and on Tuesday we started for Boromoli, calling in at Bunana on the way, to pick up Dixon who had been laid up by an attack of malaria.

Boromoli lies on the other side of the island of Gela, and one reaches it through the Boli Pass, a narrow passage between hilly land, where the foliage reaches the water on each side, making the inlet seem like a river, as it twists and bends through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Islands.

Here we had meant to hold a Confirmation, but Johnson Tome said that, as hitherto all the big functions had been held at Boromoli, it was only fair that some other village should have a turn, so next day we crossed [86/87] the Passage to Siota, where St. Hilda's Girls' School was; spent the day with the ladies in charge, and on the morrow walked for the Confirmation to Belaga.

On Saturday we went to Vura, dedicated a splendid church (St. Alban's), held a large Confirmation and then went on to Haroro, where there was another fine church to dedicate, and another large Confirmation.

Half the population of Gela seemed to be following us round from dedication to dedication, so that we always had huge congregations and great festivities, generally including a cricket match in which the team composed of Graves's launch boys and my boat's crew covered themselves with glory.

At Haroro we experienced a slight set-back, for the people seemed to have expended all their energies in building their very fine new church, and had omitted to repair the house which is set apart for visitors.

It rained most of the time we were there and we spent most of our time under a small lean-to, probably meant for the kitchen, and the only water-tight place.

Some excitement and, as far as Graves and Dixon were concerned, amusement, was caused by my finding a poisonous centipede crawling over my chair.

The floor was sand, the only light available two smoky hurricane lanterns, and in the excitement caused by my sudden leap from my chair (I am more afraid of centipedes than of anything that walks, crawls or flies), the creature escaped. A panic-stricken Bishop, a Priest and a Deacon, the two latter armed with huge knives borrowed from the cooks, in a little leaf lean-to, in the mysterious light of two smoky lanterns, all declaring that a six-inch centipede was somewhere else, should provide inspiration for any artist.

However we settled down for the night in hopes that the beast had found the neighbourhood unattractive.

After another Dedication and the re-opening of a church that had been closed for some time, finished our [87/88] work in that part of Gela, on Friday, February 6th, we returned to Bunana, only just in time. That evening the north-west weather set in in earnest and during the next few days we had reason to congratulate ourselves on having a sound roof over our heads.

By Wednesday 11th, the weather moderated a little, and on that day Graves had arranged to call for us and take us to Gumu, for the Dedication of a church. I had been troubled with ear-ache, and for the last two nights had not had much sleep; so I was not feeling up to much, and as there was still a fairly big sea running in the Passage between Bunana and the mainland, I was devoutly hoping he would not be able to come.

At about half past ten in the morning I had begun to congratulate myself on not having to make the journey, I had just said to Dixon, "Well, he won't come to-day anyhow," when my house-boy arrived with the message, "Graves's boys have come in a canoe and want to see you." Inwardly groaning and fearing the worst, I went to them. Graves they said had not been able to make headway against the sea in his launch and so had sheltered round the point, sending them overland to get a canoe to fetch Dixon and myself to join him in the launch.

There was nothing to do but "grin and bear it", so Dixon and I put as much of our baggage into the canoe as it could carry and we started off. Things were not too cheerful even then, but when we had to leave the canoe and walk over to the launch, fresh misery awaited us. We found we were expected to cross a mangrove swamp with no more signs of a road than there is through a village pond at home.

Walking through a mangrove swamp beggars description. I once chased a lunatic through one, and I am not likely to forget the experience. You either hop from one slippery root to another, balancing precariously to avoid falling forwards or backwards into horrible [88/89] liquid, black and smelly mud, or, taking no chances, just wade through, hoping that you will not trip over the innumerable roots that twine thickly underneath the slime. Just about this time we had read in a home newspaper that a leading dignitary had refused a Bishopric on the grounds that he "did not want to travel everywhere in a motor car," so Dixon and I cheered one another up from time to time with this remark, but it was not an enjoyable walk. At last we reached the launch, envying our boys who, loaded as they were with all our things, had skipped from root to root as though it was the simplest matter in the world. They were quite happy, like Brer Rabbit when he found himself in the briar patch and probably for much the same reason.

All this time it had been raining hard enough to satisfy anyone but when we left the launch to tranship into another large canoe which was to take us up the river on whose banks Gumu is built, it poured down in sheets. In fine weather it would have been a most wonderfully beautiful trip, up two miles of winding river, over-arched with palm leaves of every species, in the heart of the virgin forest. Even in the rain it was impressive.

After some wonderful steersmanship on the part of our native pilot who took the long canoe with its high stem and stern smoothly round the sharpest corners and under overhanging branches, we reached the 'port' of Gumu. And still it rained. A walk, in the rain, of half a mile or so brought us to the village, where it still rained. Indeed the record of our trip to Gurnu must be continually punctuated with the words . . . "still raining." It did clear up for a few minutes to allow us to go in procession round the church, but as soon as we were inside it started again, and continued through the night. Next morning, when we started after breakfast for Halavo, it was . . . still raining.

[90] We were weather bound at Halavo till Friday the 20th, and then set off for Siota, intending to call at Bunana en route. The weather was still too bad for the launch to negotiate the heavy sea that was running so we sought refuge in the calm waters of the Boli Pass and ran straight on to Siota.

Here we spent Sunday, returning on Monday to Bunana, where we slept the night and then went further on for another series of Confirmations.

The weather was still too rough for boating so we did the work by road, which is quite easy in that part of the island.

Almost incessant rain dogged our footsteps, but the work had to be done, so on we plugged.

One of our engagements was to dedicate a church at a village a bit inland, built on the usual clay soil of the Gela hills. Here a slight difficulty arose. The ground was wet, red and slimy, the vestry was some distance from the church, the Bishop's new and beautiful Cope was rather long. How was he to get to the church, walk in procession round it and avoid bedraggling the hem of his garment?

While we were seeking a way out of our troubles, two small boys, late pupils of mine at Bunana, neatly dressed in white singlets and red loin-cloths, turned up to listen to our discussions. Happy thought. Could they not act as train-bearers? They could; and did. The difficulty was overcome and the function gained considerably in impressiveness.

The next afternoon saw us once more on our way to yet another village with yet another church to be Dedicated and a Confirmation. Here at last, the weather was fine, but my two small train-bearers turned up again and stood looking on wistfully as I robed, so they again assisted, to their great delight and with full sense of their own importance.

[91] The Dedication of three more cemeteries finished our work on Gela, and we came back to Banana to wait for the mail steamer before starting on our next voyage to Mala.

The steamer was late, so we filled up the interval by patching and painting the boat and packing up.

When the ship arrived we went over and got our mails, and then proceeded by launch to Siota, towing the boat behind us full of household gear and luggage. Here we stayed four days to answer letters and hope for better weather, until Tuesday, March 16th.

By Tuesday morning there was still a strong wind and a heavy sea running, but I was determined at any rate to make the attempt, although the boat was loaded so deeply with equipment for nine weeks that there was hardly room to row, and even then we had to leave some stores behind. A cargo of all the necessaries of life for two white men and eight natives takes up a considerable amount of the available room in a thirty-five foot boat, and leaves a very little free-board in case of accidents, so when we set off we rather wondered if we should ever get anywhere, and our kind hostesses at Siota watched us away with anxious eyes.

However we had a good wind behind us, so that we were able to sail the whole way over, taking only five hours for the twenty five miles, and we suffered nothing worse than having to bail out the seas that came over the side at intervals.


Owing to ignorance of the coast line, we struck Mala some miles away from our destination and it was nearly dark before we reached the Government Station. Here Mr. Bell, the District Officer, who was seven years later to lose his life at the hands of his people, very kindly put us up for the night, fed us well and despatched us next morning by road to Fiu, Mason's place, which we [91/92] should have reached the evening before, if we had not lost our way. After all, it was fortunate that we did lose it, for most probably we should never have succeeded in landing; there was a bad surf running on the beach even when we did get there.

But, what a road it was. It consisted of sand, scrub, sharp coral and tree-stumps. An acrobat or a monkey might not have complained; but loaded down with a bag of papers and magazines that grew heavier and heavier with each mile, I was truly thankful when I more or less collapsed on the verandah of Mason's house.

The next day the surf had moderated and our boat was able to come round safely with the boys and the rest of our gear.

I was now ten days behind my programme owing to the delays caused in Gela by bad weather, so the next two days were fairly full. On the Thursday there was a Confirmation, and on Friday, the 19th, I ordained Charlie Turu to the Priesthood and appointed him parish priest of Fiu. Charlie, who had gone as a lad to the sugar plantations on Fiji, and had become a Christian there, was now elderly and not very strong, but he had done such excellent work as teacher and Deacon, and was a man of such sterling character that I had no hesitation in ordaining him, especially as the numbers of communicants in the two villages that make up Fiu district were fast increasing. As it turned out, he had only a few more years to live, but as long as he could move he was untiring in his work and he went to his rest in harness, a very faithful and devoted servant.

That same evening I dedicated a church that Charlie had built, a fine building, large, well decorated and kept in beautiful order. This was a specially interesting ceremony for me, for not many years before I had preached in the original small church while a sentry, armed with a rifle, walked up and down outside to protect the worshippers from their heathen neighbours. [92/93] Now we had just ordained one of their own people as their Priest and were living there quite peacefully and unafraid.

The next morning we left for Dala, Mason in his boat, we in our own. We arrived there some few minutes before Mason, which was rather a triumph, as he had been a little inclined to commiserate with me because my crew were only lads, while his were full grown men. It is true that we had a double crew and he a single one, but none the less we thought it only right to rub it in a bit. As a matter of fact, I had found long before that a crew of lads takes the whole matter as a great adventure and will row as hard and stick to it as long as an equal number of grown men.

I must confess I was a bit pleased, because Mason had by no means been the only one to suggest that my lads of sixteen to eighteen would never stand the strain. We met with some pretty bad weather at times and they still had some long and tiring rows before them, but not one of them ever grumbled or slacked, or was a bit the worse at the end of our journey. I never had a crew that gave less trouble or worked so loyally and happily. To be The Bishop's Crew, no doubt acted as an incentive; none the less they served to confirm my opinion, and that is always a pleasant thing to happen to one.

We had been having typical nor'westerly weather, strong winds and torrents of rain with intervals of dead calms and roasting heat. Our trip to Dala was made on one of our really hot days, and a bathe in the river was a welcome end to the day's work. On Sunday we held a Confirmation, and on Monday started off for our next point of call, Gwounatafu.

Now our troubles began. Rain in torrents all the day; and rain in an open boat, with all one's possessions exposed to it, is no joke anywhere, specially in the Tropics when the rain is showing what it can do when [93/94] it tries. In pouring rain we rowed along, in pouring rain we held a Confirmation, in pouring rain we left and went on to Maanere, in pouring rain we arrived, in pouring rain we landed and watched our sopping beds and bedding brought ashore. "Grin and bear it" might well be the motto of the travelling missionary. Our first duty was to see to our soaked crew, as they huddled shivering round a small, smoky fire. The native hates being out in heavy rain and very soon gets thoroughly chilled by it; common sense would make one see to their well-being even if one had a heart of stone. I dosed them all with a mixture of quinine and port wine, put a dry mat over my chair, and settled down in comparative peace and comfort.

We had called here before on the Southern Cross, and found the teacher laid up with a bad back, caused by a fall from a tree. According to his own account his back was broken, and I was afraid that his spine might really be injured as he seemed to have no power in his legs. I prayed and laid my hands upon him, and on our arrival here this time I was delighted to see him about again in normal health. He at any rate was convinced that I had cured him, and my "mana" was great in his eyes and in those of his fellow villagers.

That evening the rain stopped, and I dedicated the church. In the morning we held a Confirmation and left in fine weather for our next port of call, which we reached about mid-day, and we dried out everything in a broiling sun. On the way we found that the brass rod on which the rudder of my boat hung had broken, and the morning was spent in patching it up with string and wire, the best materials to hand.

It was a nice little church, built by men who had been in Fiji, and clearly modelled on some English church which they had seen there. It was very small and very crowded, and the builders had felt that no church was complete unless it had an iron roof. Consequently, at the Confirmation in the afternoon, I was [94/95] nearly roasted alive, and had to cast off Cope and Mitre in the course of the service.

Next morning we set off again for Malu, where we had the advantage of using Mr. Bell's temporary quarters for ourselves and an empty police-barracks for our crew. It is a very nice, clean spot with a good bathing pool behind the house, so we were very comfortable. The village where I had work to do was miles away, across a stream on a hill and reached by a flight of one hundred and forty-four steps. We found it very warm work climbing up for Evensong, but there was a beautiful view when we did get there.

Here a good number of people were gathered for a Confirmation, with them some old teachers, trained in Queensland . . . dear old men, not brilliant intellectually, but very zealous and devoted. One of them felt it incumbent on him to kneel and kiss my hand. We are, generally speaking, a very democratic lot in Melanesia, and this, I may say, is not the usual greeting that the Bishop receives.

The next morning we set off again for Fouia, the village of Jack Talofuila, a Queensland-trained native Priest. Jack is a delightful fellow, but he has one great fault. He will talk English. Now pijin English I can understand, but Jack is far above this, he has evolved an English of his own which nobody but himself can comprehend. When he told me that he had been busy over "lixtrix John," it was some time before it dawned upon me that Jack, like the Venerable Bede, had been engaged upon the translation of the Gospel according to St. John the Divine.

We reached his place after a voyage of about eight hours, having had to walk part of the way, hauling the boat across the reefs at dead low tide.

In this part of Mala are the well-known artificial islands. The coast is fringed with very long reefs, nearly bare at low tide, and the people have laboriously [95/96] built up coral walls and earth foundations till they have made a series of little islands, varying in size from about a hundred yards in length to ten. Each island is crowded with people; it is amazing to see the numbers that can pack into so small an area, and in spite of their over-crowding they are some of the healthiest of all the Mala people, probably because the sea acts as a daily scavenger and removes every scrap of refuse that is thrown "overboard." Jack's village is well kept and has a fine stone wharf built to allow for landing at low tide, or as he calls it, "dry waters," but we were too tired to pay very much attention to it then and went early to bed.

The next day, Palm Sunday, we held a Confirmation for them and in the evening I was clumsy enough to trip over a stone and "bark" my shin badly, besides giving my back a twist, the effects of which I felt for several days. We stayed here till the Wednesday, when we parted company with Mason, who went back to his own district for Easter, while we went on to Norefou, about four miles away, for the rest of the week.

A Confirmation on Easter Eve and the Baptism of six adults on Easter day finished our work here, and on Easter Monday, about three in the afternoon, we left the North Mala district for the South.


We had a journey of seventy miles before us, the better part of which we hoped to cover in the afternoon and night of Monday, expecting to be somewhere near our destination early Tuesday morning.

We were, all of us, strangers to the district, and our journey demanded both expert advice and a guide. We got both, but the advice was confusing and the guide was incompetent. Not realising either of these facts, we started away full of hope and, travelling [96/97] comfortably by moonlight, had covered some forty-five miles by eight o'clock next morning, when we went ashore for breakfast and a rest on a little island.

The first question to settle was where we were. Our destination was a place called Ramarama, and we asked the Guide how far off that was by now. "Not so very far," he said, "with any luck we shall get there well before dark; as soon as we are round the next point we shall see a village about six miles this side of Ramarama, called Malande." Elated by this good news, well rested and refreshed, we set off gaily about half past ten, and soon got round the point. "Where's Malande now, Pilot?" "Just round the next point." So on we go again till we get round that point. "Where's Malande now, Pilot?" "Oh, just round the next point. We shall see it quite clearly then." This conversation was repeated verbatim at each point till nine o'clock that night, when we found ourselves among innumerable reefs, off an iron-bound coast. At last a small patch of white sand showed up in the moonlight, and although our pilot once more assured us that Malande was only just round the corner, our faith was shattered and, preferring to spend the night on the open beach to looking for a problematical village, we determined to take a rest on land. The pilot, assuming his stand in the bows of the boat, proceeded to "take us in," but after he had rammed successively every possible patch of rock and reef, he was deposed and put into the bottom of the boat where he could do no particular harm, while I usurped his place. We got safely ashore, landed on a nice, white, sandy beach, hauled up the boat, got our beds set up and, being too tired to eat, rolled up and went to sleep. All the sand-flies on Mala seemed to have selected that spot for their camping-ground, but they could not keep me awake. I had been comfortably asleep for about two hours when Dixon woke me up to say "Do you know that the sea is coming up to your bed?" I moved a [97/98] yard or two further inland and went to sleep again. Another two hours' interval, then: "I say, the sea's all round you." Once more I moved inland, repeating the motion at regular intervals of about two hours, until I was squeezed into the bushes that fringed the shore. Then the sea left me in peace, and at half past six we started again, unfed and unwashed, for all our supply of water was exhausted. Our guide, still hopeful if hardly confident, assured us that Malande was only just round the corner, and though, as usual, he lied, when we did get round the corner he told is that "Just in there, there is water." We certainly wanted it badly, we were all beginning to feel thirsty, not to speak of the need of ablutions. But could we believe him? No-one really knew where Malande was, it might be hours before we got there, so we decided to take the chance and rowed ashore. It was about half an hour's pull, and I spent the time quite pleasantly in picturing to myself just exactly what the boat's crew would do to the guide if he had misled us.

This time, however, he was right; we had a wash and a drink in a little stream which we found about a hundred yards inland, and returned to the boat to find some people in canoes hovering about.

"Have you asked them where Malande is?" I called out to the boat's crew. "No," they replied. "We don't know their language." "Idiots!" I remarked. "Can't you all speak English?" and, turning, addressed the visitors as follows: "You fella savvy passage belonga Malande 'e stop? 'e close up? 'e no long way too much?" and received the reply, in the same language, "We fella savvy, 'e close up, unner side 'e pint." This time it really was only just round the corner; at half past eight we were ashore, and at nine Dixon and I were sitting down to a hearty breakfast of sausages and fried yam fritters, prepared by my (at times) excellent cook.

[99] Malande consists of two artificial islands, one inhabited by Christians and Hearers, the other by those who still cling to their heathenism. The Christian island is crowded with pleasant, friendly folk, with whom we stayed till about three o'clock, when the tide was high enough for us to leave again. Then on to Ramarama, a most beautiful journey, in and out amongst the islands of Port Adam, for about two hours.

Ramarama itself is a poor village, with a small church and no good accommodation for visitors, but after our long boat journey we were not inclined to be too critical, so we decided to spend a little time there. On Thursday, April 8th, we went by canoe to the village of Falele, half a mile away. A nice little place, with a keen teacher who has just built a very good church, with a small sanctuary jutting out from the east end, which I hope to dedicate when completed.

On Friday, April 20th, we had arranged to row across to the other side of the bay and visit Kalona, a village some little way inland. The teacher had warned us that we ought to start early, as we should not be able to get there at low tide; accordingly, about nine in the morning, we started off. All went well till we reached the other side and had punted the boat some distance up a creek through a mangrove swamp that was the approach to the village. Then we came to a place where the creek was just wide enough for the boat to float, but no further could we go. The boys got out and leaped from mangrove-root to mangrove-root in their usual easy manner, as if it were the simplest method of locomotion imaginable, but neither Dixon nor myself felt moved to imitate them--we had "been there before." After a while one of the boys returned in a very small canoe that he had "found." It seemed to me the obvious thing that my Chaplain should make a trial trip; then, if all was well, the canoe would return. So Dixon embarked, and two boys walked in [99/100] the mud and water towing him along as there was only room for one person in the canoe. Shortly after we heard shouts of laughter, and a boy in the bow of the boat called out: "They are carrying him in the canoe." Before long the boys returned with the canoe, saying it was all right and that I should come. With some hesitation I entrusted myself to their care and proceeded without adventure till we came to a shallow place, where six of them calmly picked me up, canoe and all, and carried me to deeper water again. How it was that the bottom of the canoe did not come out I have no idea. We went on a bit further till we came to a path where I disembarked and waded over stones and mud up the hill to the village. We were well repaid for our trouble. The people welcomed us warmly and entertained us with native delicacies, which we did our best to appreciate. A very old heathen chief came to ask for a school and a teacher in his village, which was far away in the bush, and I hope that I have been able to get him what he asked for.

The view from the top of the hill was very fine, and we had a good rest there. When the time came to return, Dixon and I thought we would walk a little further than we had done on our way there, but instead of keeping near the stream where the canoe was waiting for us we tried a short cut which led us right into the heart of the swamp, whence, after ploughing our way through mud, black, stick, stinking and full of twisted roots, we struggled back to the boat. I suppose the actual distance was not more than half a mile, but it seemed like ten. A more ludicrous sight it would be hard to imagine. Slipping and sliding, sticking and panting, perspiring and plodding, each claiming to have found a good patch and then plunging in deeper than ever at the next step, weak with laughter and fatigue, at last we reached the boat, washed the clinging mire off legs and feet, got home about five o'clock dead beat, had our tea, and so to bed.

[101] On Saturday we treated ourselves to a lie-in, which we felt we had earned after our exertions. There was a Confirmation in the afternoon and as the church was so small that there would have been no room for anybody except the candidates, we held it on a nice little plot of grass just in front of the West doors. Fortunately, the rain held off till the service was over and everyone back in their houses. On Sunday there were Baptisms and on Monday we started off for Roasi, where I had meant to baptise some infants who could not come to Ramarama, but it was pouring with rain and the village was on the other side of a stream which was now so swollen that we could not cross it.

Here my carefully mended rudder-bar broke again. This time it snapped right off, and at our next place of call, Roapu, I made shift to replace it by a small iron rod, part of an erection meant to carry an awning in the boat, which we never used.

Roapu is a nice village with a fine church, and we were warmly welcomed. The school house was decorated with flowers and croton leaves in our honour, and in it we took up our residence. On Tuesday I baptised twenty-seven people at ten o'clock and meant to walk back to Roasi for Baptisms, but just as we were going to start the Roasi people turned up, two adults and six babies; at two I baptised them and at five I held a Confirmation.

On Wednesday, after breakfast, we started for Aulu. We landed as near to the village as we could and sent the boat on to Saa. At Aulu we had the grandest reception we had yet met with--a dance was held in our honour, three fowls were killed for our table, and there were endless native puddings. On Thursday there was another Baptism, and also another Confirmation. I protested against the slaughter of any more fowls, but I could not escape innumerable presents, spears, rings, fish-hooks, food, fowls, and a florin. In [101/102] the evening we were entertained by the village band of pan pipers.

Next day we set off to walk to Saa, where two hundred and twenty-seven people were drawn up to line to shake hands, and in the afternoon there was more dancing.

Here they had built a splendid church, seventy-two feet long and thirty-six feet wide, designed and fitted on the model of St. Barnabas, Norfolk Island, and with the same dedication. On Saturday, at 7 a.m., I baptised nine infants, at 10.15 dedicated the Church, and at Evensong held a Confirmation. On Sunday I baptised some adults and preached in the evening, and on Monday we bade farewell to the hospitable folks of Saa. I had to be in Ulawa that evening if I was to get my work done before the Southern Cross was due.


Eight hours in broiling sun brought us to Madoa, Martin Marau's village on Ulawa. The effect of such a voyage is not becoming. Face and neck are the colour of a boiled lobster, and the skin is so tender that one cannot shave for days. At the end of this time no self-respecting tramp or "sundowner" would have associated with us. Scarlet cheeks and nose stood out from a three-days' stubble, and the only consolation was that it could not have been helped. Carelessness in leaving the arms and legs uncovered to the sun and salt air may very well lay one up for days and even weeks at a time with festering sun-blisters, but I was an old hand at this kind of travelling; I warned Dixon to keep his sleeves and trousers down and his feet covered, so we were none the worse for our grilling, though very glad to spend all Tuesday resting.

As Martin is only in deacon's order, there were penitents for me to re-admit and marriages to bless.

[103] On Wednesday, April 22nd, we went round to Suholu, the other side of the island, and here I held a Confirmation early. On Thursday morning we went to mend the rudder-post again, for my last effort was not a success. This time I was able to borrow a screwdriver, brace and bit, and make a fair job of it that lasted as long as the boat was in our use.

That afternoon we were entertained with a new dance, the figures of which had been seen in a dream by the composer. Being a new dance, the people wished it to be blessed before it was performed, and this I did, though it was an occasion for which I could find no Proper Office in any book of Pontifical Duties. We then settled down for the dance itself. If the composer had dreamed it all in one "sitting," all I can say is that he must have slept for days on end. It was interminable. I managed to sleep a good part of it out in my chair, waking up in time to see the final figure and express my formal delight.

On Friday I baptised a baby, taking the service in the Ulawa language, which is full of pitfalls for the novice. When I came to "Name this child," I did expect to have at least one word in English for a rest, but my hopes were dashed to the ground when the reply was "Haasaemano." The parents had chosen a native name which meant "Consolation" for their daughter, but it was a minute or two before I grasped the fact.

Later on in the day we returned to Madoa, and on Saturday walked to Aripo, a village a mile or so away, to be welcomed with the usual hand-shaking and another dance. I blessed a marriage, returned to Madoa for lunch, and on Sunday evening held a Confirmation.

On Monday we went on again to Marata, and after lunch walked about a mile to Ahia, a picturesque place, divided into "School" and "Heathen" quarters by a stream in a small ravine. We visited the heathen half and were warmly welcomed by the chief, who seemed [103/104] very friendly, and then came back to the "School people," where I baptised six adults and an infant. Afterwards we watched their dance, which was easily the best one we had seen so far. It was enlivened by the antics of a Professional Humorist, who was really funny. Then, in the rain, we returned to Marata, and at five o'clock I re-admitted three penitents, blessed two married pairs, baptised eight adults and confirmed six; I had to take the last two services with the aid of lanterns held as close to the book as possible, for, owing to the rain, it got quite dark in church before I finished.

This was the last of our duties on Ulawa, and on Tuesday at nine o'clock we left for Ugi.


It took us twelve and a half hours to cover the distance (about thirty-six miles), for we found ourselves among unknown reefs and shoals and had to go some distance out to sea before we felt secure.

In this voyage, as was our custom, Dixon and I whiled away the time with song; not always of a strictly ecclesiastical nature nor without reminiscences of Music Halls visited in our unregenerate youth. My favourite was a pathetic ballad contributed by my chaplain, the refrain of which was--

"Can't get away to marry you to-day,
My wife won't let me."

So, with snatches of melody, keeping a cautious look-out for reefs and others perils of the deep, we came ashore at about half past nine at night at Mr. Charles Buffett's station. He was a very old friend of mine and spared no pains to make us comfortable. The next day we walked to the Pawa estate, where we were to purchase land for a new Central School. Here Messrs. Dickinson and Freshwater entertained us with [104/105] an excellent dinner and many yarns of home, island and war-time life. The following day found us at Ete-ete, where I held a Confirmation, and during the day Mr. Dickinson looked in and told us more tales of his adventures. He has an endless fund of anecdote, though there are occasions when one would like a few corroborative details "to give an air of verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative."

On Friday, Messrs. Dickinson, Freshwater and Buffett all came to bid us farewell; we had a great send-off on our way to Pamua.


Pamua was reached in about three hours without mishap, though we nearly upset on the beach, owing to my having misjudged the surf and tried to land without a steer-oar. Here we found Nind and Fox waiting for us, and while I put up at Pamua with Nind, Dixon camped out at Raubero with Fox.

On Sunday I confirmed eleven of the St. Michael's boys, among them some of my own Guadalcanar children, and on Monday afternoon left for Heuru, arriving there about 11 p.m. Here we had a very small dance, a Confirmation and a giving of presents; and on Wednesday left for Wano, lunching en route with Captain Mumford, who has allowed us to start a small school on his plantation.

To save a fifty-mile boat journey, we were advised to make a twelve-mile trip over-land along what, we were assured, was a good road, with the warning "you will have to cross a river once or twice, and as there has been a good deal of rain, the road may be rather muddy in parts." We crossed that river forty-four times, twenty of which crossings occurred in the first hour, and the depth of water varied from just above the ankles, in a very few places, to half-way up the thighs, in more. When, for a change, we left the river [105/106] for five minutes or so, we found the road was, as they said, rather muddy--at least, it pulled the shoes off my feet twice. In despair I went on barefoot. After three hours of this we had a rest, which we felt we had earned, and a little further on left the river for the bed of a stream which formed the "good road" of the next two hours. It was not long before the stones which formed the surface of our road compelled me to put on my shoes again. So passed two hours of considerable discomfort, when we at last left the stream for dry land, clambering up a very steep hill and down the other side, which was steeper still. Fairly tired out, we took a portion of the descent sitting down and sliding, a mode of progress neither dignified nor comfortable. At last, seven hours after leaving Wano we reached Bia, and pausing to cut off the draggled legs of my trousers, I enjoyed the luxury of a warm bath--in the sea--returning to spend the night in a house which required a feat of athletics to enter. My chaplain nobly took pity on my weariness and set up my bed for me, so that all I had to do was to change into clean things, lie down and wait for tea. Before we had started on the walk I asked if either of my predecessors had made this journey, and was told "No Bishop has ever walked across San Cristoval before." I am not surprised.

The next morning (Friday, May 7th) we left Bia in two canoes and some three hours later reached Marogu. The journey was depressing, owing to violent rain squalls, but the arrival was even more so, for not a single soul was to be seen, only a few tightly shut-up houses. At first I felt that some mistake had been made, but I was assured by Joe Gilvelte, the native Priest in charge, that this must be the place where we were to spend the next three nights, for here was the only church in the neighbourhood. The church certainly was well worth seeing, though the interior was sadly neglected with faded decorations and long-dead flowers [106/107] on the altar. But the altar itself, carved and decorated by a native artist, in three panels, with wheat ears and grape vine on each side and in the centre the figure of our Lord on the Cross, reminded me of some old fresco discovered behind the whitewash of our oldest English churches. The drawing, indeed, was crude, but the design had reverent feeling and real beauty. A rood beam, with an ornamental cross six inches thick, marked the approach to the sanctuary, while above the west door was carved a cross entwined by a serpent and on the gable end a cross surmounted by a dove. I wonder how many of the stern critics of the "idle native" would care to expend the labour that must have been given to this piece of work, and given for no reward except the joy of service and the delight of accomplishment. The name of the artist, Elias Sau, deserves recording. When I came to enquire for the lodging provided for Dixon and myself, I was shown a raised "house" about eight feet square and no more than five feet high in its highest part. This was more than I could stand, so we commandeered the school-room, after disposing of innumerable ants and other undesirable neighbours from beneath the rotting mats on the floor. Then, not in the best of tempers, we settled our few belongings. Saturday morning found us more resigned to our surroundings; and while the boat's crew went pig-hunting I, by applying the one leg of my battered trousers to the portion most abraded by my down-hill progress of Thursday, made of them a pair of shorts, suitable for a bathing costume or such another journey as the one we had endured. The hunters were equally successful, returning with two fine wild pigs. I must say it seemed to me unnecessary to kill them by strangulation at our front door; however, we looked the other way and they had no idea that they were doing anything unusual; but when preparations were made to cut up the bodies in the same place, I did venture to suggest that they chose a more distant spot.

[108] On Sunday I celebrated the Holy Eucharist in our wonderful little church, and after breakfast held a Confirmation of people from the neighbourhood, bidding them build fit Houses of God in their villages, and thus be "doers of the word and not hearers only--deceiving themselves."

After another Confirmation on Saturday morning, we left for Pamua to await the Southern Cross, but just as we reached the village a canoe brought a note from Martin Marau to say that he had heard a rumour on Ugi that when the ship had reached Vila, in the New Hebrides, a bad sickness had broken out on board so that she had had to return to Auckland, also that there was a mail for me at Ugi. This news upset all our plans, so after a Confirmation at Pamua on the Sunday, on Monday morning I sent my boat over to Ugi for further news. The boat returned with my mail and the confirmation of Martin's report. Influenza had broken out on the ship (how bad it was we did not know till she arrived), and they had returned to Auckland on May 3rd.

The arrangement had been that the Southern Cross should pick me up at Pamua on the 23rd, but now the question was how were we to get back to Gela. The ship might be held up indefinitely, and all our plans must be re-arranged.

The first thing to do was to finish my work on San Cristoval. So on the Wednesday we started off, intending to get down to Rumatari, twenty-four miles off; but no sooner were we well away than the rain came down in torrents, so we were driven ashore, wet and depressed, at Mwanihuki, only eight miles out from Pamua. Next day, Dixon and I walked to Kirakira to call on Mr. Barley, the District Officer, and enquire if any ship bound for Gela was likely to be passing. We had had enough of our whale boat for a while, and Gela was over a hundred miles away. We were consoled to hear that the schooner Joan was due any day, [108/109] and returned to Mwanihuki, meaning next day to go to Rumatari, but we were far from well. Joe had fever and both Dixon and I had diarrhoea, and with rainy weather still to be expected we were fed up and could not face sixteen miles in the boat. So we had to give up Rumatari and, after a Confirmation at Mwanihuki on Whitsunday, returned to Pamua to wait for something to turn up.

Thus ended our work on San Cristoval, with two places unvisited, the Southern Cross indefinitely delayed, the Joan not yet sighted, ourselves not too well and tired out with the long boat journeys. Our boys were probably in pretty much the same exhausted condition, though they never grumbled or complained.

Stranded at Pamua, eating Nind out of house and home, we waited there till Friday, when we decided that it was no use delaying any longer, for it was becoming a problem whether Nind himself and his boys could hold out till the ship came, let alone feed us too, now that all our stores were finished. The only thing was to make a start, hoping to be picked up somewhere on the way, for another hundred miles in our boat did not appeal to any of us. Accordingly, at mid-day we started back to Ugi, to try and get provisions to carry us home. Here, just at the last moment, fortune smiled. We found the Joan of Arc, the cutter of the Marist Fathers, with Brother George in charge.

He was on his way to Rerei on the coast of Guadalcanar, which was at any rate nearer Gela than Ugi or San Cristoval were, and in a part of the islands where we were more likely to find a ship bound homewards.

He most willingly offered to tow us as far as he was going, and that night we spent in comfort on board his little craft. The next morning we were at Rerei, where we were set on our way with a good meal by the hospitable manager of the Plantation, and rowed eight miles along the coast to Aola, the nearest Government Station, to cast ourselves on the charity of Captain [109/110] Hill, the District Officer, who, as soon as he could be persuaded that the wet, grubby, ill-dressed tramp who appeared suddenly on his verandah really was the Bishop of Melanesia, gave us noble entertainment, both mental and bodily, till Wednesday, June 2nd, when the Belama brought the Resident Commissioner over, who returned us "distressed mariners" safely to Siota and a much longed-for rest.

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