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Christmas in Norfolk Island.

From Mission Life, London, 1871, pages 269-273.

ON the first day of the dead year 1870, on the Parade Ground of the former Penal Settlement, the foundation stone of a new church was laid by the Rev. G. H. Nobbs, the venerable Pastor of the Pitcairn Community, in the presence of the Right Rev. Bishop Patteson and the clergy of the Melanesian Mission.

This new church was badly needed; for nothing could be more calculated to chill devotion, and induce cold, than the old damp vault in which, at one end, in high pews, the officers of the establishment; at the other, in a gallery, out of harm's way, the women and children; and, in a lean-to, opening on to the body of the building by means of three main arches, the convicts, were gathered Sunday by Sunday. On the opposite wall, immediately facing the prisoners, were the Tables of the Law, enframed in a huge brown structure, which raised its hideous head nearly to the roof, the legs of the monster dropping down behind the Holy Table.

As pendants, on either side of this monument of ugliness, were the reading-desk and pulpit, from which, as the minister prayed and preached at the convicts straight before him, he could deliver an occasional sidethrust at the immaculate in the pews on his left, or broach a theory for the benefit of the higher intelligences in the gallery to the right.

No building could be better adapted to inculcate habits of irreverence in attitude and idea, than this wretched building, erected for the comfort and repose of those in authority, and the thorough supervision of those most unhappy fellow-sinners of ours, who, with the iron entering into their souls and the devil strong in their hearts, chained, lashed, and dungeoned, were called upon to listen to a profession of the Law of Love, of which every spark had been crushed out of them.

But now the ruins of the Law's great stronghold shadow forth its inability to soften man's heart, and, therefore, successfully and finally to grapple with social disorder. [The convicts, on one occasion, are related to have cast lots which should have the privilege of murdering a turnkey, and so securing the few weeks' return to the eights and sounds of civilised life involved in being sent to Australia to be tried and executed!]

It is a happy change, then, to turn from the ruined abodes of human Law, to the new shrine of the love-inspired message of the Divine Gospel. Our Pitcairn friends have indeed brought good out of evil, by taking of the spoils and building them into the fabric of the temple of God.

The new building is ninety feet long, thirty-six wide, and thirty-seven high.

It was used for the first time, on the Sunday before Christmas, for the ordination, as priest, of the Rev. Charles Bice, of the Melanesian Mission. [269/270] On the first Wednesday in the new year, it was duly consecrated by Bishop Patteson, who, with his five clergy, was met at the western door by the pastor, magistrate, and councillors, requesting the consecration of the church. A procession then formed, headed by Mr. Nobbs and the legal officers, during whose passage to the east end of the building. the congregation chanted the 24th Psalm. One of the principal features in this interesting ceremony was the singing of a hymn, composed for the occasion by the Rev. G. H. Nobbs, which runs as follows


With grateful heart and cheerful voice,
Into Thy presence, Lord, we come;
With loners tribes of old, rejoice
That we have reared for Thee a home:
And, though Thy rest is not on earth,
Nor fanes nor flocks are Thy demands,
If grateful hearts can give it worth,
Accept the labour of our hands.


From every nation far removed,
Where Thy almighty name is known,
In loving kindness long we proved
Thy tender mercies oft were shown.
Though dwelling now midst other scenes,
To other modes of life inured,
Still give us grace to use the means
On which Thy blessing rests assured.


Our offspring here we dedicate;
Illume their minds by Wisdom's rays;
And may they early consecrate
To Thee, their thoughts, their words, their ways:
And, when Thy mandate calls us hence,
And these assume the parents' claim,
Be Thou their Rock and sure defence,
And children's children love Thy name.

The singing of this hymn cheered us all; and the Bishop was moved to deliver a stirring address, in which he reminded the people of the mercies of the past year, and, among them, of the completion of their church without a single accident.

After service, we all enjoyed Mr. Nobbs' hospitality, which is proverbial with us, and the afternoon was devoted to cricket and other games. The Bishop's presence among the community-now unhappily rare since his late illness,-his cheering manner and genial smile, delighted them and us, as affording a proof that his health is improving, although he is still incapable of any great exertion.

The remainder of the week was devoted to feasting and merry-making. Our Melanesian lads indulged in native dances, night after night, till they were hoarse with singing and lame with leaping. Your humble [270/271] servant, with the assistance of his brethren who are learned in that department, made plum-puddings for the whole party, numbering one hundred and seventy!

I will only add that the prospects of this Mission are very encouraging. Next winter we hope to station out many new teachers in the Solomon, Banks, and New Hebrides groups. Our great hindrance is the kidnapping of natives from these islands, which has so exasperated the inhabitants, that we cannot now land, without risk, at places where we used formerly to go ashore without a thought of danger.

When will this most un-English traffic be swept from the face of the earth?

By the kindness of the Warden of St. Augustine's, we are able to add the following further particulars of the progress of the Melanesian Mission, sent to him by the Rev. C. Bice, a former student, whose ordination was mentioned above:

"October 17th.--The 'Southern Cross' duly proceeded on her island visit, taking as her cargo Revs. Palmer, Atkin, and Brooke, and about forty or fifty Melanesians; Bishop Patteson being, as you will remember, still in Auckland, suffering from a severe and tedious malady. Everything went on most prosperously--all the Melanesian boys were landed safe and sound in their several homes. After rather a tedious passage the ship duly arrived here, and by evening she was away with a fair wind, Auckland-ward. On arrival there she found the Bishop much better, and quite ready to take his departure. The Bishop came ashore to us, and spent the night at the Mission. Nice, and very natural it was, having him back with us again. The morrow, however, was to see him on board again, en route for the islands. Two English boys came with him, who are to be educated here, with a view, we hope, to their being, at some future time, useful members of our Mission Staff.

"Since the departure of the vessel we have had no tidings of her, but are now almost hourly expecting to hear of her return hither. During the first voyage, Mr. Codrington and I were left here with the superintendence of 90 boys and girls-he taking a general supervision, while my province was again the out-door work. Things went on very well with us; but, even with the assistance of a goodly number of native teachers, we found we had our hands too full to do satisfactorily our school work. However, this has been a peculiar year, and the inconvenience of numbers another time will be met by an adequate amount of competent teaching.

"Mr. Palmer speaks of everything as most satisfactory at Mota, under George Sarawia and his two fellow-helpers, Charles and Benjamin. Although coming upon them quite unawares, he found them in a most neat and tidy condition--the house nice and clean, and the books and school [271/272] materials all put away orderly in their places; and punctually at regular hours, a large number of boys, young men, and adults, assembled for school, and quietly took their respective places in the several classes, under the tuition of George and his helpers. They had morning and evening prayers, and service and teaching on Sunday. About thirty were living and boarding regularly with George on the Mission premises at Kohimarama, some of whom were fairly advanced in the arts and sciences and customs of civilised life; so much so, that two boys, brought back from their number to Norfolk Island by Mr. Palmer, take their places in my baptismal class, and fall into the cooking and other work as naturally and as quietly as if they had been living here all their life, instead of coming, about twelve months ago, out of savagedom and ignorance.

"George had suffered a sad loss in the interval; his little child, baptized by the name of Minnie, had died, and he and his wife Sarah had been in great grief about it. Benjamin's firstborn too had been taken away, yet they knew 'Who gave,' and so he piously acquiesced in His methods, who had seen good to take her from him. The state of the island too was precisely as it was left the year before. No bows were to be seen, and everywhere there was the greatest good-will and friendship, coupled with the desire, we hope, to know more of our teaching, and, in very many cases, the proper way to follow it. May the Lord of the harvest hasten the time when all are to know Him, from the least to the greatest, when Mota shall become a bright beacon to the surrounding islands, from which the glorious rays of the blessed Gospel message may radiate and spread; and so, from island to island, and group to group, may the precious news circulate, 'That Christ has died to save!'

"Gradually, we think and hope, our desires with respect to Mota are meeting with their longed-for realisation, viz., that it may be a central spot to which other islands of the group (Banks') may flock for instruction in the school, now well established and flourishing; and from which, through their means, the same teaching may extend to others, who perhaps may not have the power, opportunity, or inclination to spend a long time away from home and at school. Many, moreover, may be willing and glad to receive it, if it comes in their way at home.

"An unexpected circumstance happened a short time since at Mota, showing how not only the islands of the group alone may be affected by the presence of the Mota school, but even islands far away north may also feel their way, by the glimmering of that bright light which shines so strongly on others, whose more fortunate lot it is to dwell in its fulness. A canoe from Tikopia had gone out fishing, and before they could get back again to land, the wind had risen very high and they were carried away out to sea, and thence by the current floated far away towards the Banks' Islands. Ureparafava was, I believe, the first island they attempted to land at, but here the people wanted to kill them, but they made [272/273] their escape and came on still to Mota. Here even the people were undecided as to what to do; some wished to put them to death, others said, Why?; and after a good deal said by this one and that, the three heroes found their way to the Mission premises, where they were placed under the care of George Sarawia. Day by day (for they stayed some time) they saw the work of the school going on, and, I believe, fell regularly into the classes and linai of the place. Soon afterwards they announced their intention of returning homeward to tell their story to their own people. The island must be some hundreds of miles off, so in an open canoe they ran the risk of finding a watery grave. They seemed to have thought of this, and they told George they would surely return and bring others with them if they reached home in safety. Against this, however, there was not only the risk of being drowned, but moreover, one of their number being sick, the other two declared their readiness to die with him, agreeable to a custom among them ('mutatis mutandis,' not unlike the Cornish motto, 'One and All,') that if one of a party of friends dies from home, the others die for company. Should they reach home and put their good intentions into any practical form, we may, I hope, except some fruit to result from their visit. The island is a very large one, a good deal away to the east of the islands we usually visit, but inhabited by a very fine race of people. The Bishop has already been anxious to know more of them, so we hope and trust this may be a favourable opening to a faller and more lasting acquaintance.

"Yet the good done, as it were, accidentally in this way, is undone in other ways by the unfortunate practice of the 19th century, of employing slave labour on sugar and cotton plantations. From the Banks' Islands, numbers have been decoyed away, who have never again reached home, and who have had to do hard service in the Fiji, or New Caledonia, or Queensland. Great indignation prevails in many islands, so much so that, at one place, they formed a plan for cutting out a slaver, killing everybody on board, and appropriating to their own use whatever they happened to find in her. Fortunately something interposed to frustrate their design, or they most surely would have carried their terrible plot into execution. George Sarawia was applied to, I think, and was instrumental, in a great measure, in persuading them not to attempt it. The principal actors had even got on board the vessel, and waited only a signal from their leader to commence the horrid deed, when they remembered George's counsel, and the captain himself suddenly became very sea-sick, lost his land-legs, jumped overboard, and swam ashore, followed ignominiously by his daring and courageous abettors.

"It is said that the Duke of Edinburgh is commissioned to suppress the traffic in the 'Galatea.' Although, perhaps, not the wisest step (I speak with all due deference) yet it certainly looks as if it were going to be stamped out effectually with a high hand."

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