Project Canterbury

Dr. Welchman of Bugotu

By Ellen Wilson

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1935.

Chapter X. 1903-6

Up to this time Dr. Welchman's work had been that of the pioneer, finding an entry into heathen villages and training teachers to place in those villages, when asked for; using also the few boys who had finished their schooling on Norfolk Island.

That work had now advanced to its second stage, that of strengthening and settling the new School Villages, so lately started, in the Faith. Many of the villages changed both their names and their situations. Sites, which once had been dangerous, if not impossible, now became safe and more advantageous than the old.

The work remained quite as strenuous, if less adventurous: old superstitions die hard, and new converts are a long way from sainthood. The catechumens needed specially careful examination, for there grew up a certain spiritual competition among the teachers, which had to be guarded against, lest numbers should be thought more of than true preparedness.

There were constant and perplexing marriage questions to be settled and questions on Church life to be answered. "Was it right to eat the blood with the pigs that they had killed?" "What about eating things which had died of themselves?" "What about the marriage of unbaptized persons?" "What," asked a chief, "was he to do about fines?"

The first two questions, regarding the eating of the blood and things which had died of themselves, had already been discussed and settled by the people themselves on rather [76/77] curious grounds: they considered that the first was not right for those who drank of the Chalice, nor was it right to eat things that had died of themselves, since our Lord died voluntarily upon the Cross. The Bishop had already laid down that all persons attending school should go through the Christian marriage ceremony. The chief was told that he must use the fines, justly imposed, as he thought right.

Marriages, as ever, presented varying and difficult problems. To whom did a certain girl belong? To the youth from whom she had been taken away, or to the man to whom she had been given, and from whom she had again been taken away? Both parties claimed her, while the chief wished to keep her as a slave. The verdict given was that the first marriage was illegal, and everyone was satisfied with the exception of the chief, who had lost a useful helper. The relations and legal guardians of the girl were called together, and gave their consent; the second man and the girl were duly married and sent home to live among their own kith and kin.

There was seldom any haste in Dr.Welchman's decisions; every case was thoroughly investigated.

To the chief who had consulted him about the fines, Dr. Welchman added the counsel that he should judge all evildoers, but be patient with the heathen, only resorting to extreme measures, such as destroying their gardens and burning their houses, in very obstinate cases and as a last resort. In heathen days this would have been the first and obvious step to take.

Two other questions arose as to fishing and turtle hunting. What if a shoal of fish were driven ashore by garfish or other enemy of the fish on Sunday? The answer given was that they might run and take what they could with their [77/78] hands, but they must not use nets, nor wait for them, nor miss prayers or school in order to take them.

"What about turtling?"--for a turtling party has to leave before daybreak and does not get back till late at night, having to watch the tides when the turtle come up. To this enquiry it was suggested that such a party should go into Church and have short prayers before leaving and after return; as Dr. Welchman did himself, when leaving before the hour for Matins or when arriving after Evensong had been said.

"What if a trader shot fish on Sunday?" Well, they were advised to leave them alone and not touch them, and this many had done already.

Some minor details were settled by the teachers themselves. One of them reported that he had reproved a man for having beaten his wife on Sunday. "I told him," said Charles, "that we are forbidden to work on Sunday, that all that sort of thing must be done during the week."

There was a thirst shown also for information on Scripture subjects: details were desired on the Holy Innocents; the age of Adam and of his descendants; the children of Esau; the burial place of Elisha; to these the answers are not recorded. It is not surprising that Dr. Welchman's voice, at one time, gave out under the demands made upon it.

Happily, along with the increase of responsibility, there came an increase of help in the persons of two of the Wolverhampton Brotherhood from Welchman's old diocese. Of these, Brother Millward stayed a short time, but Brother Bourne remained, a much valued helper and a cheerful, congenial companion. He was both a musician and a linguist: as a layman he was always ready to submit his views to the Priest-in-Charge, while carrying out [78/79] efficiently his own work. With his gift for language he was quickly at home with the people and competent, within six months of his arrival, to take on the work alone at Kia. Some of us found it difficult to remember that Brother Bourne was only a layman, so completely did he fill the office of preacher, teacher and spiritual guide to the people. Few were more fit for Holy Orders, had he felt the call. Bad health obliged him to retire for a time, but he came back at once on hearing of Dr. Welchman's death and carried on his work till his own health gave way completely; but not before Mr.Thomson was established on Bugotu and able to carry on in his turn. When Mr. Bourne was attacked by his last fatal illness he lay with his Bugotu books piled round him, and his thoughts and words to the last were of the people he loved.

But to return. It was with great gladness that Dr. Welchman heard of Brother Bourne's coming, though he was not at Mara na Tabu when he actually arrived, having started on one of his rounds as soon as the school session at Mara na Tabu closed in the beginning of June.

His furthest point was Kia where he found the school doing well. There had been a scare, when news came that a party from Belua were camped on an island about twenty miles away, and had said that they were going to wipe out Kia, now that the people had accepted Christianity, and would therefore probably put up no fight in return.

The prospect was unpleasant and disturbing, but watch was kept and prayer made, and for some unknown reason the enemy did not appear, and though they returned to Choiseul carrying eight heads, the heads did not belong to Kia; the people's faith was strengthened, for they felt they had been protected.

The new village was not yet finished, and the land was [79/80] encumbered by felled trees, but canoes came daily from all around for school, and the returning flotilla formed a delightful picture in the sunset light.

Rona, the old chief, had died, which had unsettled the village for a time; but there had been no killing after his death, only "human weeping"; no heathen rites or wailing. All three of the younger chiefs were attending school daily, and so advanced had Sagevaka become that he and Janet were put on the list of teachers to help Ambrose with the junior classes.

Among the changes in village sites one of the most important was the transference of Lageba to Kilomama or Buala as it was finally called. The move was in the course of making, but, to Dr. Welchman's surprise, the Church was nearly finished though the houses were not. He writes, "By the time we got there a good many had already assembled, but the greater number arrived the next morning and at once set to work on the Church. They got on so fast that the roof was on before noon, and the chief came with Hugo to petition that the opening service might take place at once, as they were not likely to get so many people and teachers together in a hurry. I pointed out that I had no vestments with me, and not even a decent suit of clothes, not having intended to be there more than a day. However, they very properly did not consider that clothes added anything to the Benediction, and I consented, on condition that they put up the walls and made temporary seats for the congregation. They went off, and got everybody to work, and in a couple of hours they were ready.

"The Church was filled with some two hundred people, a large number were seated outside, and, at a little distance, a crowd of heathen stood and looked on respectfully. We were all in working clothes, but we made a small procession [80/81] of eight or nine teachers, and sang, 'Angels, open wide your gates,' and proceeded with the short dedicatory Service which we use in Bugotu. One portion of the extemporised seats gave way during the sermon, but no one even smiled as the occupants slid down, and, as soon as it was clear that nothing more was likely to happen, they accommodated themselves to the incline and we finished the service without more interruption. A great feast followed and the next morning we all dispersed."

Looking across the Meringe Lagoon Dr. Welchman would see the little islet of Kasimaigila, which twenty-five years later was to become the station for the women workers whom he had desired, and prepared for, in vain.

Returning to Mara na Tabu to greet Brother Bourne, Dr. Welchman started off again, two days later, for Kaipito, this time in Ben Hageria's large canoe. From the shore they followed one of the steep rough bush paths which led up to Malabolo (now Totoba) where Ben was teaching. The diary says, "All the houses that had been burnt down were rebuilt, and the School is capital, seeing how short a time it has been in existence, and it is pleasant to hear them sing the Canticles and hymns by heart. Books being scarce, Ben has taught them by word of mouth, and the singing is hearty. They are learning the Bugotu tongue at the same time that they are learning the Service. Most of the outlying people have come in, but a few still remain who cannot make up their minds. A happy village is this at the top of the hill.

"Nine adults were baptized. Mostly elderly men, who had shown by their lives that they realised the meaning of the Gospel message; men who had spent a lifetime in superstition and murder, but who had submitted themselves willingly and without reserve to the King of Peace."

The month of May in this year, 1906, brought a new [81/82] and valuable auxiliary to Bugotu in the shape of the Ruth; a small schooner, which a gift of money, collected in England, enabled Dr. Welchman to purchase. She was to be of immense service in taking him to the distant parts of his district, especially Vella Lavella which he was attempting to reach and which he was able to work after the arrival of Mr. Andrews. The Ruth had been built specially for Dr. Welchman in Sydney, and was to be commanded and manned by Melanesians, and Dr. Welchman lost no time in starting on her for the western Islands.

Great was the pride of the captain and crew in the sailing of their own ship; but a Melanesian, although knowing everything there is to be known about a canoe, is not equally at home on a sailing ship, and there is an entry in the diary which runs, "The crew were unusually stupid, and would not listen to Sam's orders, and, in consequence, we bumped two or three times on the reef before they got the sails up."

The Ruth had required a second coat of paint, of which only a dark stone colour could be procured: "Sam protested against spoiling her beautiful white with the dark colour, but went to it with a will when I said, 'People will see that we are not the Daphne, and won't mistake us for her; and besides, you are dark men and the ship is for dark men, and I am as good as dark myself I am so much one of you; let the Ruth be dark too.' Sam and Boi both burst out laughing and said, 'It is good.' By night they had covered all but a white band under the rail."

So the little dark Ruth sailed for Vella Lavella and arrived safely, for all her bumping on the way and unwise anchorages. At Vella Lavella the chief accepted a present for himself, and tobacco for his people, and promised to receive Dr. Welchman when he came again. And on proceeding [82/83] to Kia he found that some of them had been over to Choiseul, and that two men from Kubolo were at that moment on a visit to Kia, and, by taking them back on the Ruth, there seemed every hope of effecting an opening at Kubolo.

But all hopes were dashed on arriving; for, though the chief was quite friendly, he told them that he had sold the island to the Wesleyans, and would follow them. "'If you had come first I would have followed you,' were his words," wrote Dr. Welchman, adding sorrowfully, "Too late."

This disappointment weighed heavily on his mind. Like every other Island Priest he thought the Southern Cross ought to give him all the time he asked for; and complained, as they all complained, that he did not get enough help from the ship, while the ship found it hard enough to share out the limited time among the various claimants.

For the first time in all those years a note of deep despondency sounds in his diary, and three days later comes the following entry: "I have thought much the last few days on my position in the Mission with regard to the Islands of the West. We have practically lost them, for the Wesleyans are on the spot in force. The Bishop has always told me he considered me responsible for their evangelisation, though I seldom was allowed the use of the Southern Cross to visit them, and then was hurried up on the score of waste of time and money. On the last visit the captain flatly refused to visit the eastern side, as it was uncharted. The Bishop apparently expected me to go down in my boat, as he considers travelling here is like sailing on a mill pond. It seems to me that as he had held me responsible for the Islands he must, as a matter of course, hold me responsible for their loss, and, on that ground, I have written to ask him to release me from the Mission."

[84] Fortunately, this letter from a rather sick, tired and momentarily disgruntled man never reached the Bishop, as will be seen later, and Dr. Welchman's spirits recovered themselves when he reached Logahaja, where a pleasant surprise was in store for him. A large number of catechumens were ready and waiting there, the result of Joe Bengere's steady, faithful work. Dr. Welchman had proposed to spend two days at Logahaja, but found that three days would be taken up alone with examining catechumens whom Joe had prepared. His diary contains an account of the following Sunday when the baptisms took place.

"There was a Celebration at 6.30 with three Communicants. Joe Bengere was then ill with asthma, but managed to get through the service: afterwards he could do nothing, which was very sad, for it has been a great and glorious day. We had Sunday School, and then Matins at 9 a.m., at which I preached on the Birth of Christ, adapting it to the circumstances of the day. Then I rested while the Church was prepared for the Baptismal Service. We had previously set all the people in their places so that there might be no confusion. I had the Font set up on a platform at the east end, there being no Altar, and I stood on the platform to baptize, all the people facing east in their seats. No one was admitted except the teachers and the catechumens, for there was no room, and there are no baptized people except the teachers and a few children.

"The service began at 11.15 and was not over till 1.45. I baptized forty men and forty-nine women and twelve children, 101 in all. I read all the questions over four times, twice for the men and twice for the women, and let the one side sit while the other side stood to answer. The people were very quiet and reverent, and there was nothing upsetting through it all.

[85] "I have never baptized so many till now, and believe that it has never happened in the Mission; and, thank God, they all knew what they were doing, for I had rejected eighteen. Eleven of the children were brought by newly-baptized persons, and only in one case was the father missing.

"I rested all the afternoon, and before Evensong I blessed four couples of the new Christians who had been married as catechumens. Then I preached at Evensong on the Child Jesus being about His Father's business. After supper we checked all the names, and then had a friendly talk with a large number who came in. I humbly and devoutly thank God for this day of mercies."

Only three years before, these catechumens were living scattered in the bush, always in a state of terror and ready, on the slightest pretext, to fight and kill.

A new spirit was in them all, though old customs might still prevail, as was shown during the examination of the catechumens, when the interpreter suddenly became silent, and retreated to the background on the entry of an elderly woman. Pressed for the reason of this holding up of the proceedings, the interpreter explained shyly that the woman was his mother-in-law and he might not speak to her. "In some matters of etiquette the Melanesian is ahead of the European," is Dr. Welchman's comment.

Going on to Buala he found the chief had been confronted by one of the many difficulties arising out of the old custom of polygamy. When a man became a Christian, which wife was to be kept, which sent away? A man named Pijama, on receiving Baptism, had sent Agu, his first wife, home, and had kept Bee, his second wife. The chief remonstrated with him and said he ought to have kept his first wife. So Pijama obeyed and sent Bee home, but when [85/86] he sent for Agu her relations refused to part with her as she was too useful. The chief told him to go again and claim Agu in the chief's name, which he did, using threats without the chief's knowledge: whereupon the people became insolent and sent an abusive message to the chief, who, in his turn, sent a man to fine them, whereupon they became more insolent still and talked of fighting, and, to add to their insults, five of them took new names: Haehathe, i.e. Give Advice; Mane Vahi, i.e. Inquisitor; Mane fate, i.e. Judge; Loki Supa, i.e. Lock us up; and, as a crowning insult, requiring a brand new name, Plisman, i.e. Policeman. So stood affairs when Dr. Welchman arrived upon the scene; however, he seems to have succeeded in making peace all round. Agu returned, well satisfied, to her husband, and Bee remained happy with her own kith and kin.

There was a great drought that year, such as had not been known for twenty years; streams were dry, gardens burnt up and there was much sickness; nor was there any prospect of rain while the wind was in the same quarter. "Never," wrote Dr.Welchman, "had there been any need to use the prayer for rain, and no one thought of using it. At Buala I talked to them about it and the conditions under which it must be used, and we began that evening. In three days we had a slight shower and then more rain, and before I left we had been granted a good quantity. At Bagovu the condition was the same, and they had not shared in the showers which had fallen at Buala, beyond a few drops. Here, also, we used the prayer, and the clouds, which were gathering before I left, brought the rain early next day. At St. Lawrence we had rain almost the whole night. At Sepi, which is in the direct line of the wind with St. Lawrence, and is only separated from it by the width of [86/87] the mountain, they had seen the rain cloud pass over them and had received none of it. Again I gave them instruction in the use of the prayer, and we used it daily. Everywhere they were enjoined to continue its steadfast fervent use, with faith. There was no rain at Sepi while I was there, but two days after it fell in gentle bounteous measure, and it has continued in sufficient quantity ever since. The remarkable fact about it all was that the rain came up with the wind, and that Sepi, which is open to the trade wind and, from its position, generally catches the rain first, was the last to get it. With the advent of the rain the sickness abated, and we did not forget to offer our thanksgiving. It may be that God has given a merciful warning to Bugotu; for there have been things of late years that ought not to have been; but I could only think of the beautiful words of Psalm 107: 'He maketh the wilderness a standing water, and water springs of a dry ground.' If ever there was a direct answer to prayer it was here. Mockers may laugh, and unbelievers may talk of the laws of nature, but, 'Whoso is wise will ponder these things, and they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.'"

The year ended happily, for Mr. Andrews arrived in October to take the place of Brother Millward, and was able before long to go to Vella Lavella, where he did a notable work.

In October also the Southern Cross arrived and, in a talk with the Bishop, he found that his letter of resignation had not reached him. In a later interview Dr. Welchman said that "he felt God had stopped it from reaching the Bishop, and he took this for a sign that he was not to go," and, in fact, he had not resigned. "So everything goes on as before, left in God's hands."

[88] Sunday, the 8th October, was another great day when the new Church at Mara na Tabu was dedicated. "Hopkins came ashore very early, and we had the Holy Communion in the new Church with fifty-eight communicants. Later, after breakfast on board, the twenty-six teachers assembled in the School and met us at the Vestry. Jack Palmer, Brother Bourne, and Andrews joined the procession round the Church singing 'We love the place.' I made replies to the Bishop and then we proceeded to the Sanctuary, singing 'Angels, open wide your gates.' The Dedication of the Font, place of Confirmation and Marriage, Reading Desk, and Altar, followed; then the blessing of the Church. I escorted the Bishop to his seat, and then knelt before him as he gave me his blessing. We sang 'Now thank we all our God' just before the final blessing. Then we had Matins. Brother Bourne read the first lesson, Hugo Goravaka the second; there was no sermon, but we sang the Old Hundredth as we left the Church. The singing was beautiful; everyone most devout and the building packed.

"We went on board to lunch, and I spent an hour in talk with the Bishop. Everyone is in good heart. They are full of joy, they say, and took keen delight in all the services, especially in the Bishop giving me his blessing. After I had given out tea and meat for 154 visitors and staff, we went on board to dine. It has been a glorious day, as bright as the sun which shone on us. My heart is full of joy and peace.

"Next day there was a teachers' meeting, and the offertory declared for the year was £32, with a balance from last year which brought it up to £36. They wished it all to be given to Missions: China, India, Africa, and Palestine, except £5 for a bell and lectern for the new Church of All Saints. I was amazed and thankful.

[89] "Then followed the feast of three pigs and kumaras, and I gave a stick of tobacco to everyone on the ground. In the morning they asked me if I could not give a pig to the ship that they might join in the feast; they would do with less themselves; so I sent one. Hearty cheers followed grace, and then they departed as they liked; a great many may stay till to-morrow. These days are full of blessing and happiness. We were all very glad to sit down and be quiet in the evening; but more came in at night and I had much talk with the teachers. I think everyone will long remember the dedication of All Saints."

I think the joy and peace that filled his heart came partly from the heart to heart talk with the Bishop, when any misunderstandings that may have arisen were cleared up. They did not always see eye to eye, but, in common with all the staff, Dr.Welchman had a deep affection for his Bishop.

Next day Sam Devi and Catherine, who were in charge of Mara na Tabu, were summoned to receive high praise for their hard work, and the excellent way in which everything had gone off, and were given, respectively, a shirt and a dress in remembrance of the day.

The dedication was a happy beginning to the new school session, when life was stationary and more or less of a routine, though full of work. Translation went on unceasingly, whether travelling or stationary, and Dr. Welchman told the writer once of a curious incident connected with a hymn. He was engaged on "The Church's one foundation," and had made a very fair translation with the exception of one verse, the third I think, which he could not get to run. One night he went to sleep with his mind full of this verse, and in his sleep the right translation came to him. He woke up and wrote it down at once, and, later, read the whole hymn to Ellison Gito, saying nothing of his [89/90] dream till afterwards. "It is all quite good," said Ellison, "but one verse is better than the rest, that is true Bugotu." It was the dream verse. Years after, when Ellison was staying at Bungana, when it was a boys' School, I asked him about this, and he said it was quite true; he remembered the fact perfectly.

At the beginning of 1906 Dr. Welchman went across to Nagotano and Florida to give Celebrations, and, on his return, found Ellison and his wife in deep grief over the death of their only child. As in their other family troubles he sat with, and comforted them, bearing record that "they behaved beautifully as good Christians should." He had them to stay at Mara na Tabu with him for a few days.

Dr. Welchman's own health was beginning to fail again after the three years of strain, and when the ship arrived it was to find Brother Bourne very ill, and Dr. Welchman laid up with a bad leg. They were both taken away, Brother Bourne to Norfolk Island, on his way to England, and Dr. Welchman on his way to Auckland for a short rest of three months. Those of us who had last seen him in England, restored to health and vigour, were shocked at his appearance when he landed on Norfolk Island. We saw an old man leaning on a stick.

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