Project Canterbury

Dr. Welchman of Bugotu

By Ellen Wilson

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1935.

Chapter XII. 1908

The sin of lethargy could certainly never have been laid to Dr. Welchman's charge. Yet, after the month of August 1908, we can see that it was growing more difficult for the weary body to respond to the demands made upon it. The entries in the diary speak of neuralgia, "a new thing to me," of a gathering in the ear, of severe giddiness, of bad nights. Yet the will is indomitable as ever and the days are full. Classes are taken as usual. We read, "Still very seedy, not at all inclined for work, but had all schools." Translation and revision work still went on.

He was much taken up with the finding of a suitable wife for Ellison Gito, and believed that she had been found in Samuel Devi's daughter, Ella, and planned that she should go up to Norfolk Island for further polishing. At first her relations were against the match, on the ground that Ellison, being of higher rank, might expect his wife's relations to work for him; but they had to confess that Ellison had always shown himself more ready to give than take, and they withdrew their objections.

There were serious talks with Ambrose, whom he was helping to rise to his feet again after his bad fall, talks which were to bear fruit later in a restoration to a life of useful service.

He reasoned once again with Hugo Hebala on the wrong he was doing in keeping, as servant to Clara, a woman who was a seka. These seka, or captives, brought back after a raid, were to be found everywhere. Sometimes they were adopted, sometimes they found their way back to their own [108/109] country. Margaret had been obtained by Hugo's father, was kindly treated and exceedingly useful; so useful that Hugo had, so far, refused to give her in marriage to a man who wished to have her. No one likes to part with a valuable servant. Dr. Welchman pointed out the immorality of having a seka at all, and reminded him, "how long I had stood out against the possession of a seka, and how I had forbidden the taking back of those who had escaped." Hugo was finally convinced that he was doing the girl a wrong, and it was arranged that she should go to Anika till the marriage took place.

There were many interviews. He mentions "a remarkable one with Joseph Votu who came in and knelt down and prayed for light and guidance: he then asked that he might go and pray with the heathen in the bush. I gave him free leave, only guarding against visits to neighbouring districts."

On October 6th he wrote, "Began to put things together for the bush journey, if it please God that I get there, but I am very doubtful; the giddiness still continues, though not so bad as it was."

Two days later he was busy setting out his time-tables for the next term and writing out his lectures.

On October 31st. The Teachers' Meeting began, and the day was filled by a lecture on the Twenty-first Article: a devotional meeting: revision work on the translation of the Prayer Book: private talks: and finally "as a new departure I put up in the evening a map of the Western Hemisphere, and gave them a casual talk on the two Americas, and on the South American Missionary Society. They were greatly interested. Then I talked about Christmas dances, bade them provide for invited visitors only, and to limit their invitations to one village, allowing them to [109/110] have two days if they liked. I gave them permission to change back to the old style of women on the north, and men on the south, as we have it now at All Saints."

On November 2nd the meeting broke up and Dr. Welchman wrote, "I gave Ellison three saws as an acknowledgment of his ever ready help in everything. This meeting has gone off well in every respect, and I humbly thank God for it. It may be the last."

On November 3rd he finished up his books and his business, and the crew from Bubuli arrived, ready for the start the next day. Kidoe was sent for, who was to look after the Doctor till he arrived at Hirobuka.

We may well believe that Dr. Welchman's heart was set on getting once more to Totoga, that village of happy memories, where there was always the line of people waiting to give him a cordial welcome; set also on seeing Ben Hageria once more, best beloved of all perhaps, and his excellent wife Caroline; Ben, who had never once caused him sorrow or anxiety since the day when Figirima had given him and Martin Tagraeita over into his care. He would like to climb that path once more if it were permitted, but he had misgivings.

On November 3rd he wrote, "Set to work in earnest to get things packed, and by 10 o'clock everything was ready."

On the 4th of November he left, never to return. When Mr. Bollen visited Mara na Tabu in January Sam Devi said to him, "What did the Doctor mean by this? He never did it before. Just before he started on his journey, he called me in and said, 'Look!' Then he turned all his pencils and pens upside down in their stands, and told me three times over not to touch them on any account. What did he mean? He never once did this before going on a journey. I think that he knew he had finished his work [110/111] here on earth, and this was his sign to me." Mr. Bollen added, "'He being dead yet speaketh,' and I am sure that no one can enter the house at Mara na Tabu without feeling that it was the abode of a holy man."

The following are the last entries in the Doctor's diary: Nov. 4th. "Set to work in earnest to get things packed. By ten o'clock everything was ready. Gave Devi his last instructions: to get someone to help him with the gardens and the coconuts: to keep the record of the rainfall: to bring Alina (an orphan) to stay with them and teach her Mota. We left at 10.45! reached the Toutoru Creek about 2 p.m. It takes half an hour to get up it to the kiala (boathouse). There are two kialas there, and a house. Started at 3.30 along a bad path encumbered with much fallen timber, and muddy. Did not get on very fast, and at five o'clock we reached a shelter in good condition, and I decided to stay there for the night, as I was fairly spent: they told me that they could not reach the next stage by sunset, and it was impossible for me.

Nov. 5th. "A short but heavy squall during the night promised badly for the condition of the roads, and our sleep was rather broken. A very short trial showed me that I could not hope to reach Raradi by night, the giddiness was too bad. Sat down in the shelter again: wrote letters to Montague at Buhi and Ben at Totoga, saying I would meet them at Kaipito, and sent them by a party of Raradi men, who just then happened to come up. Then we returned to the kiala, fed, waited for the tide, and then set out for Kaipito which we reached about 3 p.m. The Church is quite nicely built, my house is without walls: both sides of the river show a village of fair-sized huts, quite sufficient to accommodate those who will come down. Perahogo and his party [111/112] went back to Toutoru leaving Kidoe and me alone. Luke Kuru and two boys came later.

Nov. 6th. "We had a bad night; for the mosquitoes tormented us all. They were outrageous, and left their sign manual on my pyjamas. Began some typewriting. Then Ben and a party came down, delayed by a heavy storm lasting for about two hours in the forenoon. The river was in high flood by 3 p.m. Ben moved my house nearer the river, where the wind could drive away the mosquitoes. Then I began to examine the catechumens, and saw all that had come. Perahogo came, but none of the Bubuli people yet, except my crew, who only went back to Toutoru. Short evening prayers in Ben's house, as the Church will not be opened till Sunday. Many of the Totoga people are stopped by the flooded river.

Nov. 7th. "Short Matins. Then examined some more catechumens after a spell of typing the Kia report. Montague Posamai came down with about ten of the first class, but Daa, and all the adults, thought it was too far. Including my boats' crews, about twenty Bubuli people are here. Went to bathe. At night had a free talk with the people.

Nov. 8th, Sunday. "We had Matins early, about 7, on account of the heat. I blessed the new Church, which will be called St. Nicholas, and preached on 'The House of God.' After school, held a class for the catechumens and then one for the Bubuli people. Promised to receive them for Baptism, gave permission to the school children, who had not come down, to attend prayers, and put all the rest of the people on the hearers' list, i.e. forbade them to attend prayers.

"I wrote to Daa, and gave him as my reason, that they [112/113] had professed to desire a school, but they were all halfhearted, so much so that not one of them would take the trouble to come to Kaipito. Gave the letter and the list to Montague, whom I offered to take again at Mara na Tabu for a spell, and he accepted: but it cannot be till April. Showery, and then scorching all day at intervals. Went to bathe and then had Evensong. Preached on Christ leaving us to ourselves as He left His disciples after His Resurrection. After supper we sat out, but not for long; it was too cold. Ben, full of wonders as usual. Within a few months two fire balls fell close to the houses at Totoga. Once in the middle of the night, and once in the early dawn, they heard two or three strokes of the drum.

Nov. 9th. "At Matins preached on 'The Apostles left to themselves.' Then had school. Then translated some of 2 Sam. xix. Was interrupted by the arrival of the Resubuka party. Went through the books and after lunch examined several catechumens. Went to bathe, then held a class for catechumens. Then Evensong. Preached on God receiving those who believed on His Son. A class for Confirmation candidates followed. Then Ben brought me two large families: one an old lady with seven children present, and the other with six here and one at home. Gave them then-bonus. Lot Kamanegna came down, and I arranged to meet them at Tuarugu.

Nov. 10th, Tuesday. "At Matins preached on the election of Matthias. School followed and they were very stupid and inattentive. Then sat with the catechumens. Translated more Samuel. Had more catechumens later. Ellison called on his way to Kia: and I arranged to visit them early in December. Held the class for catechumens before Evensong, preached on 'Christ taking away the sins of the world.' Class for Confirmation candidates afterwards. Sat [113/114] out after supper and talked of gas and electricity. Told them the tale of St. Patrick and the old snake."

Here the diary ends abruptly.

The work of the last week had been that of a man in full vigour: it was the supreme and final effort of a very valiant spirit. Fever laid hold of him the next day, and on the following day he set out on his farthest journey of all.

It was fitting, and according to his own wish, that the two who had been with him at Siota in those dark days of 1897 should be there to watch by and tend him when his own call came.

They brought his body back to Mara na Tabu and laid it to rest on the mainland, where the people themselves put up a marble cross to mark the spot.

The following spring brought the Bishop and the Rev. R. P. Wilson to Bugotu, and the following is the latter's record of their visit to Kaipito as printed in the 'Log': "The last place called at on Bugotu was Kaipito on the southerly side of the Island. There was a melancholy interest attaching to this place, as it was here that Welchman died. We were shown the small native built house and the rough bed place on which he lay. The bush people, and with them two special boys of his, Ben Hageria and Martin Tagraeita, were there to greet us, just as they were there when summoned by Welchman, then sick and dying, to meet him. He spoke with them and taught them up to the last, and when Ben Hageria began to cry by his side he soothed him and told him not to cry. There was a large number of people, about one hundred and fifteen, confirmed by the Bishop, having been prepared by Welchman; it was a very impressive sight; the workman had been taken home to his rest, but there were the fruits of his labours.

"In the evening the Bishop and I went ashore again, [114/115] and in the little church, by the light of native torches, casting a lurid glare, there were baptized twenty-eight adults and babies, whom he had tried to baptize but found himself too ill to do so.

"Don't let anyone bewail his lonely death, it was not lonely to him, he had those whom he loved about him, loved most on earth, next to his own kin; viz. those two special boys of his, Ben and Martin, whom he had begotten in the Lord. Why did he not want the ship to stay and work Bugotu last autumn? Why did he refuse to have a man put down with him? He had the offer of one. It is quite evident to the writer that he knew he was going to die, and he wanted to die alone, except for his own people: and we think that some of us can thoroughly understand that desire.

"Few men, if any, in the Mission have done better and more lasting work than he whose loss we deplore. Strong in character, devout and true, he was beloved and respected by all who had any opportunity of knowing him; and those who might differ from him in matters under debate always felt that he spoke from conviction, not minding the consequences. He was greatly beloved by the Bugotu people, as shown by the letter of Hugo Hebala, a translation of which is printed below, and he leaves a gap there most difficult to fill up. No doubt it is a consolation to them to know that his body lies in their soil."

"For a while the tired body
Lies with feet toward the dawn,
Till there breaks the last and brightest
Easter morn."

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