Project Canterbury

The Story of Commander Allen Gardiner, R.N.
With Sketches of Missionary Work in South America

By John W. Marsh, M.A.
Rector of St. Michael's, Winchester

and W.H. Stirling, D.D.
Bishop of the Falkland Islands

London: James Nisbet, 1883.

Chapter IV. The Last Voyage

WE must now turn to the final effort which ended Captain Gardiner's exertions for the benefit of the South American Indians. He had returned from Tierra del Fuego ardently desirous to induce his countrymen to send out another mission more efficiently provided than the last, with a brigantine or schooner in which they might keep their provisions, retire in case of difficulty, and maintain communication with the British colony on the East Falkland. He did not regard hia recent attempt as a failure, but as a voyage of observation, showing what further means were required. He found few prepared to take the same view with himself, even among his stanchest supporters; but impressed as he was, with the firm conviction that it was his Master's will that he should exert all his powers to carry on that Master's work in South America, neither disappointment nor remonstrance had any power to withdraw him from it.

The question was submitted to the Moravian Church at Herrnhuth in Silesia, whether they would undertake a mission, for which their experience in Greenland seemed to prepare them. Captain Gardiner went to Herrnhuth as the representative of the committee; he was much gratified at meeting there some of the Moravian bishops and clergy from Africa, the West Indies, and other parts of the world, who had come to the synod, which it is their custom to hold once in ten years. The proposal was fully discussed, and excited a deep interest, but the final reply was given a year and a half afterwards declining the undertaking. And now, two applications having been made in vain to the Church Missionary Society to take up the cause of missions to South America, and one to the Moravian Church, a similar application was made to the committee for Foreign Missions of the Church of Scotland; but equally in vain.

It was now clear that the committee of the Patagonian Missionary Society must either abandon all hope of a mission to Tierra del Fuego, or adopt the plans of the ardent and disinterested man who pressed them upon their notice. They therefore authorised him to collect the necessary funds as a first step towards such a mission. In the course of his journeys as a lecturer, Captain Gardiner became acquainted with the Rev. George Pakenham Despard, of Redlands, Bristol, a man of courage, energy, and piety, and a warm friendship sprang up between them. When, therefore, difficulties thickened round the infant society--when money for the projected mission came slowly in--when Mr Ritchie, who had been indefatigable in discharging the duties of honorary secretary left London for Liverpool, and no one of the existing members of committee was able or willing to succeed him--Mr Despard was persuaded by Captain Gardiner to come to the rescue. In March 1850 the committee met once more in London, and elected, as members of their body, Mr Despard and those of his friends who had consented to aid them with their counsels. It was resolved, at the same time, that the committee should meet in future at Bristol instead of London, for the purpose of enabling Mr Despard to undertake the laborious office of honorary secretary.

As it seemed impossible to raise money enough for the execution of his original scheme, Captain Gardiner endeavoured to modify his plan, so as to combine sufficient security with less expense. He proposed, instead of a brigantine, to take two launches, 26 feet by 8 1/2, in which provisions for six months might be stowed, and two smaller boats to act as tenders to them. Believing that launches of that size would be quite sufficient to navigate the intricate channels of the straits, he spoke confidently to the committee on the subject, and was heard with the deference which his practical experience demanded. They knew that he was sanguine, but they knew also that he was not asking others to undertake toils or dangers which he was unwilling to share with them, or of which he knew nothing. They felt apprehensive when they compared his original plan with the one now presented to them, but he was so clear in his reasoning, and so confident of his facts, that a majority agreed to assist him in carrying it out. Besides, it is apparent to all, that about the stormy coasts of England and Scotland there are hundreds of fishing boats which are safely navigated by bold and skilful seamen. The launches proposed for the mission were to be of the best character, of good size, and provided with decks; while, for a crew, he proposed to obtain experienced Cornish fishermen, accustomed to navigate the Irish sea.

Again with patient pertinacity the unwearied man travelled over England and Scotland, but little progress was made in raising the necessary funds, till a lady at Cheltenham, being-assured that the want of money alone hindered the enterprise, generously gave £700 at one time, and afterwards £300 more that it might be immediately prosecuted.

The party was soon collected. Mr Richard Williams, a gentleman practising as a surgeon at Burslem in Staffordshire, resigned his professional prospects to share its hardships. Mr John Maidment was pointed out by the secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association in London as the one man of his acquaintance whose piety, trustworthiness, humility, faith, and hardihood, rendered him fit for such a work, if he should be disposed to engage in it. Joseph Erwin the ship carpenter, who was one of the former party, volunteered to go again, saying, that "being with Captain Gardiner was like a heaven on earth, he was such a man of prayer." Three Cornish fishermen, John Pearce, John Badcock, and John Bryant, completed the party. They were men of high character and simple piety, who had worked together as fishermen, and lived together as Christians.

This little company sailed from Liverpool in the Ocean Queen, a fine barque, bound for San Francisco, on the 7th of September 1850, and two months after, letters were received from them, one of which gives the following account:--"As for our little mission party, you will be glad to hear that everything goes on most harmoniously,--not a jarring word has been uttered, and, as far as I can judge, but one spirit prevails,--a desire to serve the good Master in whose name we go forth, counting it all joy to endure hardship for His sake. May we have all grace to persevere unto the end. The mission boats, Pioneer and Speedwell, are highly approved, and cared for as if they belonged to the ship."

Soon after the arrival of this letter, the committee prepared to send out a second six months' supply of provisions, and every effort was used to find a vessel to take it. But though they had been successful in prevailing on the Ocean Queen to land the missionary party at Picton Island, they were now unable to find a vessel which would take the stores to that island. They therefore fell back upon the other suggestion made by Captain Gardiner, i.e., to send stores to the East Falkland, thence to be forwarded by a vessel which, he hail reason to believe, was sent monthly by Government for wood to Tierra del Fuego. This information was confirmed from what appeared to be authentic sources, and the stores were put on board the brig Pearl, which was advertised to sail for that colony in April.

In due course of time letters were received from the voyagers, announcing their arrival at Pieton Island on December 5, 1850, after a long voyage. The incidents of the first few days are thus narrated:--

"Before we anchored, three canoes, with natives, were seen occupied in chasing porpoises; and as we approached Banner Cove, to my no little satisfaction, five goats were observed perched up among the rocks. The crew of this vessel went on shore, and caught two of them, and I have given them to the captain as some little return for his constant kindness. On Friday the 6th we erected our tents, and slept on shore. On the 7th, we constructed a strong fence of trunks of trees, &c., round our position, leaving only one small opening. This night, and during Sunday, the number of natives increased. The party which we found here on our first landing were quiet and peaceable, but not so the people who joined them. Their rudeness, and pertinacious endeavour to force a way into the tents, and to purloin our things, at length became so systematic and resolute, that it was not possible to retain our position without resorting to force, from which, of course, we refrained. For the present we must keep the stores and everything in the boats. As soon as the Ocean Queen leaves us, I purpose going to Button Island, and endeavouring to find out Jemmy, in the hope of persuading either himself or some of his relations to locate here; secondly, should we be unsuccessful in this endeavour, I intend to go still farther to the west, in order to obtain two or three boys from a different tribe, and to retain them for the purpose of learning their language. As a last resort, should we find the difficulties too great, we could easily take three or four lads to Staten Island, or to East Falkland, and after their language had been acquired, resume our position here under more favourable circumstances.

"December 18.--The Ocean Queen will probably sail to-morrow morning. . . . Our boats are not too deeply laden, but sadly encumbered, besides which, the leak in the Pioneer is not remedied, as I had expected; nothing remains but to lighten her, and get quite to the keel. We know where the leak is, and only require a proper place to unlade in. Nothing can exceed the cheerful endurance and unanimity of the whole party. I feel that the Lord is with us, and cannot doubt that He will own and bless the work which He has permitted us to begin."

Such cheerful communications were calculated to allay the anxiety of friends in England. They knew that the stores which the missionary pioneers had taken with them were sufficient to last till June, and that they had also guns and powder, besides nets for fishing. They knew that Captain Gardiner had written to Mr Lafone of Monte Video, who had extensive property in the Falklands, telling him of the present effort, and requesting him to provide that a vessel should ply periodically between the Falkland Islands and Tierra del Fuego, bringing provisions for the mission, and carrying back a supply of wood. A letter was addressed to Captain B. J. Sulivan, R.N., at that time residing at East Falkland, asking his co-operation, but this unhappily did not reach the islands till he had quitted them. It was also believed that the mission boats made a retreat to the colony possible in case of necessity.

But as time passed, and no further intelligence was received, application was made to the Admiralty for assistance, which was promptly rendered. Captain Morshead, of H.M.S. Dido, received directions to touch at Picton Island, on his way to the Pacific, and left England in October 1851.

We must now follow the eventful course of the mission party. The Ocean Queen left them on December 19; and, according to the plan stated in the letter which he had just sent to England, Captain Gardiner prepared for a voyage to Button Island. But first it was necessary to disencumber the boats by depositing a part of the stores in some place of security, and to stop the leak of the Pioneer. On the very same day they began their search for a secure harbour on the north shores of the Beagle Channel. The one selected Captain Gardiner called Blomefield Harbour, as a "testimony of respect to his valued friend, Sir T. W. Blomefield." Sad experience too soon showed how imperfectly they were provided for the necessities of their position. The dingeys (which in a brig would have been carried on board) were towed by the Pioneer, and broke adrift the first day. The Speedwell, meantime, was in a still worse plight, and the spare plank which she was towing having got entangled in some kelp, she narrowly escaped getting on shore, and was saved only by the loss of her anchor and the timber. Two attempts were made to get into Blomefield Harbour; the first time, the Pioneer got there; the second time, the Speedwell got safe out to sea. On each occasion the successful boat had to return for her consort, not knowing what evils might have befallen her. The third time of leaving Banner Cove the weather became so stormy, and the wind so contrary, that they were driven for refuge to Lennox Harbour, and beached the boats there on the 6th of January. The repairs were completed, and the boats floated again on the 18th; but as Lennox Harbour was too exposed for the boats to ride safely at anchor, they proceeded eastward to Spaniard Harbour. Here they found a beautiful cove for shelter, which they called Earnest Cove, and a river which they named Cook's River, within a fine harbour. But on the 1st of February a severe gale blew with violence into the harbour, the Pioneer was dashed upon a rock, and her bows driven in by the jagged root of a large tree which lay prostrate upon the beach. One section of the Pioneer was hauled up higher on the beach, and with the help of the tent converted into a sleeping apartment. It might now have been possible, had the weather been mild, to proceed to Woollya in the Speedwell, with seven hands on board, five of whom were men bred to the sea, taking with them part of their provisions; but having in one violent gale lost their landing boats, and the Pioneer itself in another, they felt that it would be useless to make any further attempt with their present means. Not being able to go to Button Island, where there was some hope of finding a friendly, English-speaking native, still less could they remain at Banner Cove, where the natives were liable to come in large force, and were hostile to their movements. They determined, therefore, to wait in Spaniard Harbour till the arrival of the relieving vessel, which they had reason to expect from England or from the Falklands. The possibility of a vessel not arriving did not occur apparently to any of the party. The result of their consultation is thus stated by Mr Williams:--

"Feb. 2, 1851.--How evident that we were not in a position to commence with such slight means so arduous an undertaking! But all this is well; the mission has been thereby begun, whereas, had we waited for more efficient means, it never probably would have been. We are now all agreed that nothing short of a brigantine or schooner of eighty or a hundred tons burden can answer our ends, and to procure this ultimately the captain has fully determined to use every effort. Our plan of action now is to 'rough it' through all the circumstances which it shall please God to permit to happen to us until the arrival of a vessel, and then to take with us some Fuegians, and go to the Falkland Islands, there to learn their language; and when we have acquired it, and got the necessary vessel, to come out again, and go amongst them.

"A short acquaintance with the natives confirmed the unfavourable report which such writers as Fitz Roy, King, and Darwin had given; and in the forefront of all their actions it was visible that when they were the weaker party, they were mild and submissive, but the instant they had the prospect of taking us at unawares, they became presuming and full of mischief."

It soon became impossible to alter this decision, for within a few days sickness commenced. Mr Williams was the first who was seized. His disorder began with a severe chill; but early in March symptoms of scurvy showed themselves, the result of the want of animal food, which was occasioned by the loss of their powder. John Badcock was the next who sickened.

One more voyage only they made to Banner Cove to fetch away some provisions which they had concealed there, and to put up notices to show where they were gone. Then having taken all the measures needful to insure their being found in Spaniard Harbour by any vessel searching for them in Banner Cove, they returned to their retreat on Saturday the 29th of March; from this time watching for the vessel which never came, with that hope deferred which would have made the heart sick, if it had not been that their faith was made to grow exceedingly, and that they were filled with, comfort in all their tribulations.

Project Canterbury