Project Canterbury

Dr. Welchman of Bugotu

By Ellen Wilson

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1935.

Chapter VIII. 1900-3

The year 1900 was an important one for Santa Isabel. On the 7th August H.M.S. Torch arrived with the Resident Commissioner on board, and the English Flag was hoisted; a sign to all that the Island was no longer under the German, but under the English, Protectorate.

"The people were really very glad but, as usual, undemonstrative. They might have assisted daily at the transfer of their island for all the outward sign they gave of interest. Yet they are glad and so am I, for it will make a great difference to us; not only by the removal of hindrances (which were real hindrances to our freedom of action, however much the goodwill of the authorities might minimise them to us), but also in the actual assistance that will now be afforded us in our work."

Dr. Welchman was a good deal disturbed at this time over the roku or hiroku custom. The word signified the rough cloth used in mourning and pohe roku or pohe hiroku is used to translate "sackcloth," where it occurs in the Gospels and elsewhere. Hiroku appears to have been connected with the period of mourning and the mourning feasts, and to have been definitely heathen and evil. At last Dr. Welchman called the chiefs Nabe, Eric, Herbert and Ellison together (Lonsdale being away turtle hunting) to discuss the question. "I told them I had no intention of giving them orders on the subject, nor should I visit any of them with excommunication if they kept it, but I wanted them to give it up of their own free will and put an end to the hiroku on Bugotu. I pointed out that God had shown [54/55] them it ought not to be by making to fail the garden they had planted for the feast. On this Herbert added two other signs: one that when Lonsdale went to catch turtle for the feast the previous year he fell in with the enemy. Second, that when they had tried to go to Vunala to buy calico for the same purpose, a storm had driven them back.

"It was a perfectly friendly meeting and Anika happened to come in and backed me up. I left them to think it over."

The roku, evidently, formed an important part in social life; for the next day he heard that the people were much disturbed at the idea of giving it up, and asked him to take off the ban. On the contrary, he preached everywhere on the evil of the custom.

Some weeks later, when he landed at Vulavu, he found Sam Devi with a gaily decorated basket, in which were parcels of pudding. He was taking them round to various families, who were in mourning, that they might break the roku. He came back with a gleeful face: they had all eaten, "so my address on Sunday has already brought forth fruit. I hope we have seen the last of that."

Anika's appearance at the meeting was the first indication that she had taken up an interest again in things. Her life had been emptied completely when Soga passed out of it. For nearly a fortnight she had refused to stir from the house, until Dr. Welchman persuaded her, at last, to come down and see him and sit for a little while. After a time she made up her mind to leave her house and have it pulled down, as soon as the consultations of the chiefs and their counsellors were finished. "It is the best thing she can do," wrote Dr. Welchman, "she is very miserable there."

Her sorrows were not over, for Ben, her youngest boy, left her also, one year after Soga's death.

"He was a great favourite with all and a particular friend [55/56] of mine, having constituted himself as cook during my stay for several years past. The head cook who did the work might change from year to year, but Ben always supervised him."

"Being of princely rank, his illness drew a large number of people together, and there was a great likelihood of a revival of heathen customs at his death; but I claimed the boy as my 'son' and, with the consent of his mother, brothers and uncles, I forbade any following of heathenism whatever. It rather staggered the people; for, at his father's death, some customs had been indulged in under mistake, and it was supposed that they were countenanced; but they found themselves in error and they speedily recovered their balance: and Ben both died and was buried as a Christian. I think we may fairly hope that a new and better state of things in that direction will now follow in all the villages."

Anika had been sorely tried; for only four years had passed since the only little daughter had died in an epidemic of whooping cough. Then Dr. Welchman had been summoned by the cry from Soga, "My father, I cannot write a long letter to you because grief has come to me, and my child is dead with me, and I continue wretched. I have not done anything against God." A cry which has gone up since the days of Job; and like Job, Soga had left his house, and was sitting desolate with Anika in the canoe house, while the child's grave was covered with her toys and small possessions. Now Anika sat alone, husband, daughter, and son all gone; and although, as a Christian, she knew they were not separated for ever, she was only conscious for the moment that the home had been broken up on earth.

Meantime, the presence of so many chiefs in Bugotu was causing confusion and a certain amount of lawlessness.

[57] "The people said they did not know who was chief, and some found it convenient not to know whom to obey, and the villages were becoming chaotic. I urged them to settle among themselves who should be the leader and the sole judge for Bugotu. After a great deal of talk they came to a conclusion, and on the following day they came and told me that they had chosen Eric Notere. It is not quite as I should have wished. I should have preferred for Lonsdale to take his proper place, but he shrunk from acting as judge. Failing him, I would have chosen Ellison, who is actually the most fit for the post and who will, I think, fill it in time to come."

Yet, not long afterwards he was discussing with Ellison the project of his going to Norfolk Island to be trained for a teacher, and possibly for Orders, and then to take the oversight of the schools, leaving the kingdom to Lonsdale. "Eric was present, and thought well of it."

This project was eventually carried out, with the exception of the Norfolk Island training. Ellison was educated and trained entirely by Dr. Welchman, and when he presented himself for deacon's orders his sound knowledge of Church history and Church doctrine, inclusive of all the heresies, was a revelation to the examiner.

He was ordained at Bungana during the Conference in 1911, together with Hugo Toke, Mr. Moir, Mr. Andrews and Mr. Sprott:--Ellison was Gospeller. Great hopes were entertained of him, but he was attacked by that island scourge tuberculosis, and died in January, 1914. He spent a month at Bungana in the hope that the change might do him good, but it was too late. Tall, slight, with a beautiful face, he was greatly gifted both mentally and spiritually, and it is a privilege to have known him.

Another pupil of Dr. Welchman's was Hugo Hebala, of [57/58] whom mention has already been made. He was a bush boy, like many others who were given over to Dr.Welchman for training, and was very near his heart. He took infinite pains with the boy, and pointed to him proudly as an example of what could be produced outside Norfolk Island. Hugo made a runaway marriage with a bush girl, who was his faithful partner till his death, and who is still alive. At this time Hugo was teaching at Lageba, and in one of his visits Dr. Welchman speaks of the good work done by him.

On this same round Dr. Welchman found in another village among the catechumens a boy, "whom I had not thought to examine because of his youth, and who pleased me very much. Ben Napo pleaded for him, as the boy was so anxious to receive baptism. He was a sickly-looking lad, and he said, 'I do want to be baptized, for I shall not live long, and I want to have my soul ready to die.' The boy answered intelligently all the questions I put to him, and his earnest gaze all the time gave me much encouragement."

Apart from teaching and visiting, matrimonial and other quarrels took up part of his time. One man came to say that his dog had killed another man's pig, and Devi and another man were deputed to fix the price. A woman accused a man of having caused the death of her husband by a charm. We read of another woman that "it is her long tongue which is at the bottom of all the mischief," and "this is corroborated by Anika, who says Emma's tongue is so long that she does not know how to stop."

What a great hold Dr. Welchman had gained over the people is evident from the diary; how much they respected his word, how they brought everything before him. He had gained this ascendency by living among them as one of themselves, his house a duplicate of theirs, and open to all. He said to me once, "I don't quite believe in these wooden [58/59] houses with verandas raised up from the ground; I believe the steps up form a barrier between the white man and the people. I like a native house with a mud floor, where the men can come and sit about and feel at home." He lived their life, yet they were conscious that he lived a spiritual life on a far higher level than theirs: that his standard admitted of no falsehood or slackness or self-seeking: that his word carried, therefore, a great force. He might speak stinging words at times, but they were never unjust, while his healing powers seemed miraculous.

He had long talks at night with the people on all sorts of subjects: one day on India: another day on the origin of man in the Islands, "but I could only give them a very rough idea of the conflicting theories. They seem to have discussed the question at one of the teachers' meetings."

On the teachers themselves he spent infinite time and pains, gathering them together for instruction, and writing out rules for their guidance in his absence. Among the instructions given this year are:--

1. Catechumens are to present themselves clean.

2. Occurrences in the village are to be written down.

3. The roku and hiroku are to be stopped as evil.

Amid many disappointments he had his times of gladness, as at Sepi on St. John Baptist Day: "48 communicants. A long service but full of delights, for the people took their part well and were most reverent in receiving. I preached on the grace of God, prepared for by the preaching of repentance and the knowledge of sin." He often preached on the Resurrection of the body "a point on which they are woefully ignorant in Bugotu."

All these months he had been feeling ill, and when H.M.S. Torch called he saw the doctor on board, "who looked me over and prescribed 'a change.' The Bishop [59/60] has been talking to him no doubt! But he gave me some medical advice, which I may, or may not, follow, as it is rather inconvenient down here."

Probably the doctor noticed certain serious symptoms which, later, resulted in an operation and weeks of ill health, keeping him from his work for two years.

Meanwhile, his health was not allowed to interfere with either his teaching or his visits. The following extract will give an idea of some of his experiences on his boat journeys:

July 31. "The wind being strong and dead against us, though we had twelve paddles going, we went ashore and took up our quarters for the night in some fishing huts at a little distance."

August 1. "Too rough to leave: wrote and read all day. In the evening some of the crew came to me and asked what I thought of doing. I told them we would not stay any longer, and, if the tide rip did not allow us to pass, we would return to Rei Sapa, go overland to Sepi and leave the boat till the first chance of getting round. As an alternative I suggested that they might try and go in the morning with a light boat and carry most of the things overland to Logo Hutu where the boat would await us. They jumped at this--but I did not tell them that I had been praying all day for a chance in the morning, and that I believed we should find a suitable opportunity.

August 2. "I had a bad night, for the rats ran over me and kept waking me up. My prayers were answered, and before daylight they came to tell me that there was a sufficient calm to venture, and they would try. They could but return if it was impossible: with that they literally ran off, and were soon out of sight. They left one boy to get my breakfast and about 8.30 they came back with the glad news that the boat was at Logo Hutu in charge of a boy. [60/61] We started at once and divided out the rest of the things; they had taken all the heavy luggage in the boat. It got wet at one place and the boat nearly upset, but God heard my prayers and we got through. It was rather a trying walk to Sapa ni Vena, and when we emerged we saw that the waves had returned in their strength. We got to Sepi about mid-day by the mercy of God, for which I give Him thanks. He gave me just a sufficient answer to my prayers."

At the end of October, 1900, Dr. Welchman left for a much needed rest, and after a few weeks in New Zealand he proceeded to England, expecting to return at the end of a year, but over two years elapsed before he was fit to take up work again.

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