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The Wake of the Southern Cross
Work and Adventures in the South Seas

By Cecil Wilson, D.D.
Bishop of Bunbury; sometime Bishop of Melanesia.

London: John Murray, [1932]

Chapter I. Introductory

On Christmas Eve, 1893, having been for two years Vicar of Moordown, near Bournemouth, I received a letter from Bishop John Selwyn asking me to succeed him as Bishop of Melanesia. The choice of a new bishop had been delegated by the Mission to him, together with the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Benson) and Canon Jacob, Vicar of Portsea. With Canon Jacob I, served as a curate for five years before being appointed to Moordown. There, my father having died, I made a home for my mother and sister in my vicarage. I had five thousand people in my parish, and two excellent curates; I was perfectly happy and had no wish for a change. But this letter, asking me to give up my home and practically everything I valued, to go to a diocese at the Antipodes as its bishop, I could not turn down lightly, because at Portsea, under Canon Jacob, I had come to realise the obligations of the Church to the whole world, and had discussed with Bishop Smythies of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa (in a long walk on the Surrey Downs) the pros and cons for my joining him. I had also been greatly attracted by Albert Maclaren, the founder of the New Guinea Mission, when he visited Portsea, and had considered offering myself to S.P.G. But [1/2] when my mother came to end her days with me, it seemed I was not called to go abroad, and I preached and spoke in support of missions without any further idea of being a missionary myself.

The letter from Bishop John, coming just when we were preparing for the Christmas festival, was most disconcerting. I had no wish to be a bishop, and could laugh at the idea of following men like the Selwyns and Patteson, the martyr Bishop of Melanesia; yet I would not refuse to go without the advice of others, who could judge better what I should do. My own Bishop, Dr. Thorold of Winchester, said I could not possibly leave my parish after so short a time in it. Canon Jacob's advice was that I should go if I could, and take no notice of my Bishop's counsel, which only showed that bishops can make mistakes as well as other people. Dr. Vaughan, Dean of Llandaff (with whom I had been for a year before ordination), wrote that "to decline would be right, but to accept would be more right." After that, I felt that the only permissible tie I had with England was my mother, and when I asked her she refused to keep me back from what she believed to be a much higher duty than care of herself. I then said I was ready to go, if the Archbishop of Canterbury accepted me. On January 5th, the Eve of the Epiphany, I went to Addington to see him. His mind was evidently much occupied with worries nearer home, but he confirmed the choice that had been made, and my fate was sealed. England had never to me seemed [2/3] so beautiful as it did on that day. It was a clear sunny winter's morning and the snow covered the hills and valleys in that lovely Surrey country. All this I had promised to leave. I had to go, because this Melanesian Mission had been for three years and a half without a bishop. Old Mrs. Selwyn, the widow of the first Bishop of New Zealand, said to me, "I cannot believe that it is God's will that this Mission which my husband founded, in which Bishop Patteson gave his life, and my son John his health, should be allowed to remain any longer without a leader."

On the next Sunday Bishop John Selwyn was announced to preach in my church. People wondered to what we owed the honour of his visit. For three years or more he had been a cripple, and he hopped up into the pulpit on his crutches. He spoke of Mission work in the islands as the very best thing a man could be called to do, and then he told my people I had been chosen to follow him as Bishop. After service one of the choirboys said he was so afraid for me that he would like to come too, which he did in after years, and became a priest, in the Banks Islands. Then came letters both of congratulation and sympathy. An old friend reminded ' me that it was "better to be a live dog than a dead lion." Another wrote to ask if it was "a lifer," and another said he would "rather be Mr. H. in Wormwood Scrubs Gaol" than myself. My old Headmaster at Tonbridge, T. B. Rowe, wrote that my real troubles would begin when it came home to me [3/4] that I could have done more good in an English parish than in all the South Pacific. "But," he added, "it is not so really, for there you have to lay foundations (and they mostly afterwards hidden) and begin history."

My Kent cricket friends gave me a farewell in Maidstone Town Hall. Though I had not been at Eton as my three predecessors had, they were quite sure that I should still be an "eaten missionary." I had played cricket for Kent for eight years (in 1884 I took part in the match when we beat the Australians at Canterbury, and were the only county that did so. It was absurd that we should win, for we had Murdoch, Giffen, Bonner, Spofforth, Palmer, Blackham and Boyle against us). My last county match was against Middlesex in 1890, and there I ended my cricket career most ingloriously by making "spectacles." I have kept up with my old cricketing friends ever since, and every year receive the match lists of the Band of Brothers and Free Foresters Cricket Clubs, with a request that I will let the Secretaries know in which matches I shall be able to play.

On the 20th April, 1894, I left England in the Orient Liner Austral, for Sydney, with rather a sore heart and in some bitterness of soul, but believing the hand of the Lord was upon me. The first place we called at in Australia was Albany, for ships from Home did not call at Fremantle. Here Captain Tuke fired a gun because he said everyone was always asleep. Albany, now in my present Diocese [4/5] of Bunbury, W.A., is a pretty little place, with a harbour roomy enough to hold a fleet--and they have let me tell them about that gun in their early days. Calling at Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney, I was met by many of the Australian Bishops, the Australian Church recognising the Melanesian Mission as one for which at a conference in 1850 it had accepted joint responsibility with the Church in New Zealand.

In those mid-nineteenth-century days of the pioneer missionaries in the Western Pacific, a Comity of Missions had been established which gave to each its own sphere in which to work.

The London Missionary Society and the Presbyterians were the first in the field in Melanesia, and the Wesleyans in Fiji. When George Augustus Selwyn was sent out in 1841 to be first Bishop of New Zealand, the Colonial Office in England inserted in his Letters Patent that his diocese was to stretch from the 50th degree of south latitude to the 34th degree north--of course meaning the 34th degree south; but the Bishop accepted the position so far as to consider as under his care the islands to the north of New Zealand where no other Christian Mission was as yet at work; and, so soon as he was able, he visited them in his own 22-ton schooner, the Undine. It was to St. John's College, Auckland, on October 1st, 1849, he brought the first five Melanesian boys, and Auckland was therefore the birthplace of the Melanesian Mission. Patteson, when he came out from Home in 1854, took charge of [5/6] the Melanesian work and moved his boys down to Kohimarama on the shore of the harbour. Later, however, finding the New Zealand winter too cold, and desiring a more retired situation for his headquarters, he bought land in Norfolk Island, and in 1867 there set up his new college of St. Barnabas.

In 1894 many people were still living in Auckland who had known and loved my great predecessors. They must have wondered what manner of man I was to follow them, but when I arrived on the 10th June they showed only great warmth of affection for the Mission and a wonderful kindness to the new young Bishop. I found the New Zealand Bishops assembled for my consecration on the following morning, St. Barnabas Day, the patronal festival of the Mission. Bishop Cowie of Auckland was Primate at the time, and so my consecration took place in the pro-cathedral of his city, the Bishops of Christchurch, Nelson, and Dunedin assisting. The Bishop of Christchurch (Dr. Julius) preached on the text, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," and it struck me, I remember, that if all the sermons preached in New Zealand were on this level, preaching here was a good deal above that in England. Two of Bishop Patteson's old Melanesian "boys," both priests, George Sarawia and Henry Tagalad, were my chaplains. They were the only native clergy in the Mission at that time. The church was filled with people sitting or standing, for--as a newspaper said--the "installation of a Bishop who is to tread in the footsteps made glorious by a [6/7] Patteson and a Selwyn is surely an occasion to draw together, not merely those who regard it as the highest and noblest work of man to preach the Gospel, but also those who admire a life of sturdy self-sacrifice in any of life's callings."

In 1893 (the year before my consecration), Bishop Montgomery, of Tasmania, at the request of Bishop John Selwyn, who had retired, made a visitation of all the island stations held by the Melanesian Mission, and reported in The Island Voyage for that year that the Church had only eight schools in the Solomons apart from Florida (Gela), and that very many islands were still untouched by the only Mission working in them--namely, our own. The true policy of the Mission, he thought, was to get more clergy and to link up the Melanesian Mission with the Mission in New Guinea under one Bishop, taking advantage of the fact that we had a ship, as well as long years of experience. All that was wanted, he said, was "a young and vigorous Bishop," and he suggested that Anglicans living in Fiji might also be brought into the same diocese.

At that time our resources of men and money were far too small to make so big a scheme practicable; the total income of the Melanesian Mission that year was only £8,322 (of which Australia gave £1,525 and New Zealand £1,413). I myself was the "young and vigorous Bishop," but I did not see my way to take over the New Guinea Mission and Fiji in addition to our own islands, so many of which were as yet untouched.

[8] Insurance agents chased me to insure my life until I joined up with one of their societies in order to ward off the attention of the others. To my surprise I found that, although I was certain to suffer, like everyone else, from fever and ague, and, as I judged from what I had heard, might be eaten in the near future, none of these insurance gentry asked me for anything extra on account of my risks; and the thought began to stir in my soul that Melanesia might not after all be quite so black as it had been painted.

At a farewell service before sailing for Norfolk Island I was presented by the boys of All Saints, Ponsonby, with a pastoral staff made of wood from the old Southern Cross, which I am still using.

The Maori clergy of New Zealand thus welcomed me: "Welcome, Spirit of our father Bishop Selwyn, who began the work on which you have now entered! Welcome, Spirit of Bishop Patteson, who gave his body to die, in his great earnestness to preach the Gospel to those who are sitting in darkness and the habitations of cruelty! Welcome, successor to our young brother Bishop John Selwyn, now in England, whose heart is yet agonising to return to the work which he had to leave through ill-health! Sir, we are the fruits of the missionaries who have recently passed away. Our fathers were like the black people of the islands to which you are going, and we here stand as some of the results of their labours, and of their fellow-labourers."

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