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 VI. The Missionary Schooner "Allen Gardiner," and the Falkland Missionary Station

WHEN the news of this calamity reached England the sensation it produced was very great. Much blame was cast on all who were in any way supposed to have occasioned it; some sarcasm was expended on the system of Christian missions; but great and general reverence was felt for the heroic courage and patient endurance manifested by the sufferers.

The mission now seemed to be at an end, and its supporters were crushed and dispirited, when Mr Despard published far end wide his prayerful, unflinching determination, "With God's help, the Mission shall be maintained;" and this resolve was followed up by much vigorous exertion. It was not long before some friends of missions were roused to a renewal of the work. In 1854 a schooner, called the Allen Gardiner, was launched at Dartmouth, and sailed from Bristol with a staff of missionaries for the purpose. It was just such a vessel as Captain Gardiner had often wished for; and the plan now attempted was what he had left in writing as consistent with his latest experience and advice. It was also identical with the advice tendered by the Admirals Fitz-Roy and Sulivan, who had had much acquaintance with the islands and their inhabitants--viz., to form a station on one of the Falkland Islands, and to bring thither some Fuegian lads, to teach them English, and to learn their language, and, till that preliminary work should be completed, to form no station on Tierra del Fuego.

The vessel was placed under the command of Captain Parker Snow, and sailed from Bristol on the 24th of October 1854, with Mr Garland Phillips as catechist, and Mr Ellis, surgeon, in charge of the projected station; and it was intended that a clergyman should speedily follow as general superintendent. Keppel Island, near the West Falkland, was selected for the mission station, and, by permission of the local government, taken possession of in the name of the Society on the 5th of February 1855.

A voyage was shortly afterwards made to Tierra del Fuego, and, to the delighted surprise of all on board, the same James Button, who came to England with Captain Fitz-Roy in 1830, was found living with his family on his native island. He had not lost his acquaintance with the English language, and was disposed to be very friendly; but Captain Snow did not think well at this time to invite any of the natives to Keppel, and after making them a few presents returned to the Falklands.

In the following year, the Rev. G. Pakenham Despard, honorary secretary of the Society, offered his services as superintendent of the Mission. He had a flourishing school at Bristol, which was the support of his largo family. This he relinquished to content himself with the narrow income of a missionary, and the straitened circumstances of a settler in a new colony, who is dependent on the stores he brings with him for every comfort, beyond those which may be procured by the labour of his hands.

He sailed with his family and two adopted boys, in the Hydaspes, from Plymouth, on June 2, 185G, and was accompanied by the Rev. John Furniss Ogle, M.A., vicar of Flamborough, Yorkshire, who had already been a munificent benefactor to the Society, by Mr Allen W. Gardiner, demy of Magdalen College, Oxford, the only son of the founder; and by Mr Charles Turpin, as missionaries; and by Mr W. Bartlett as manager of the Mission farm at Keppel. [Mr Ogle, after promoting the establishment of the mission by the donation of £500, and by his personal exertions, devoted his self-denying energies at a later period to the promotion of evangelical truth in Spain and Algeria, making his home at Oran. He was returning thither in the French steamer Borysthène, when it was wrecked on the 15th of December 1865. Pastor Laune of Oran, in announcing the sad intelligence of his death, bears this testimony to his character:--"He had neither the spirit, nor the heart, nor the tastes, nor the manners of this world. He was a Christian of whom, we were not worthy. He possessed the affection and the esteem of all who knew him at Oran."] They arrived safely at Stanley, on the East Falkland, on the 30th of August, but a serious disappointment awaited them. Captain Snow, who was in harbour with the Society's schooner, refused to convey the goods and stock to the Mission station, and Mr Despard was therefore obliged to charter the Victoria sloop for the purpose; and on his return from that trip, as the captain still refused to acknowledge the superintendent's authority, and protested against his plans, Mr Despard dismissed him from the command, and took possession of the vessel. Meantime, Messrs Ellis and Phillips, who had spent a solitary eight months at Keppel, while Captain Snow was at Stanley and elsewhere, were much cheered by the arrival of their brethren, and all set to work with renewed vigour to build houses, make fences, dig peat for winter fuel, and contribute to their own support by catching fish and birds for food, and seal for oil.

The following year and a half was spent by Mr Despard in a succession of necessary voyages, during which time he left his family at Stanley. He first sailed to Monte Video, to engage a new captain and crew, and spent Christmas at Keppel, and gives the following testimony to the young missionaries who were under his superintendence:--

"Keppel Island, Dec. 25, 1856.--Away for the first time on a Christmas Day from my dear family, but, I would say, not from my dearer Lord. Went ashore with captain, officers, and crew. We had service and sermon on Luke ii. 10, 11, and afterwards the communion. I was invited to dine with the brethren, and did so gladly. No regrets were felt--at least none were expressed--that we had not such variety and delicacy of viands, or such domestic comforts, as were 'being enjoyed by our friends at home; and if we were not hilarious, we were contentedly cheerful. I think we may augur well from this, and from the fact, that men unused to bodily hard labour are out at 6.30 every morning digging peat till breakfast time. Common labourers might be employed to do it. Yes; but when the work was done common labourers would not avail for missionaries, and their cost is nearly equal to these uncommon ones. It should be understood also, that the little evening spare time our brethren out here have is spent in reading Spanish, Hebrew, Greek, Latin," &c.

Another time he writes--"Cheered by an acknowledgment on the part of a workman of the sin of his past life, and of an earnest desire henceforth to live to Christ. Mr Gardiner has been the honoured instrument of bringing him to this hopeful state. J. E., the Basco, reads his Spanish Bible with Mr Gardiner, and the latter makes use of his recently-acquired knowledge of Spanish to reason with him, and open to him the Scriptures. This is certainly the only opportunity the poor man ever enjoyed of hearing God speak for Himself in His Word. The good God take note of this stray one. It is much for Mr Gardiner, in his efforts for these men, that his unvarying kindness and affability have won the good opinion of them all."

We pass over, for the sake of brevity, the account of Mr Despard's first voyage to Patagonia, of which he speaks under date Feb. 4, 1857, as "this land, which, has so long been in my mind, and certainly in my prayers." Of his first voyage to Tierra del Fuego he says,--"I have lived to realise a long-cherished wish. I have seen the last resting-place of our seven brethren, who died in faith and hope of a heavenly home, and have felt my spirit stirred in me to desire and to pray for similar devotedness and uncomplaining patience."

Some particulars of this visit are supplied by Mr Gardiner.

"Spaniard Harbour, April 16.--About 5 p.m. we ran into this harbour. We put off in the boat, the first mate and I taking two of the oars. The captain steered straight for the mouth of the cave. The waves break into it at high water, and the surf on the rock in a gale of wind must be truly awful. We landed a few yards off on the beach. With a lighted candle we walked on and on till we ascended into a gloomy chamber. There is the fireplace where poor Maidment's bones were found; beyond is a gloomy cavern; while in front is the breakwater, which the waves have broken in upon. I left the cavern, to search for the painted words, Psalm lxii. 5-8. Yes; there they were still, just outside the entrance, quite distinct and legible. Some pieces of the Pioneer mark the spot where she was stranded. The big tree, against which she was dashed, was there still, and the flagstaff, which has tumbled down.

"April 17.--We rowed to Cook's River, saw the remains of the Speedwell, and Mr Despard held our morning worship by the group of trees where we suppose Badcock to have been buried.

"April 19, Sunday.--Asked the captain for the gig, and landed alone to take a last look at Pioneer Cavern, and my father's grave. On the headstone is painted 'Captain Gardiner;' on a smaller one at the foot, 'H.M.S. Dido.'

"April 23.--Very heavy gale from the S.W. last night. It is still blowing hard, and the snow is settling deeper on the hills. When the hurricane squalls come down, they make the schooner dance like a child in a passion.

"April 25, Saturday.--Thank God, this truly awful gale is at length breaking up. It must have been a similar gale to this which poor Mr Williams so feelingly describes. The same hand which kept the Speedwell from dragging her anchors on that night was also present with us.

"April 27.--The storm came on again on Saturday evening in all its vehemence, and the night was indeed a fearful one. This harbour is unsheltered, and exposed to the whole drift of the ocean from S.E. and E. Our situation on Sunday morning was a very anxious one. A heavy sea came rolling into the harbour, the wind hauling more to the eastward. But we were not forsaken. A sudden break in the threatening clouds was followed by a perceptible improvement in the weather: so mercifully did the Lord 'stay His rough wind in the day of His east wind.' In a few hours the gale was entirely over.

"Banner Cove.--We got under way from Spaniard Harbour at seven o'clock on Monday morning, and anchored here at one on Wednesday morning, having accomplished thirty-two miles in forty hours. I went below, extremely thankful for such a snug berth as Banner Cove. After dinner, the captain and I pushed off in the gig, and rowed to the rock at the entrance, on which is painted quite legibly, 'Gone to Spaniard Harbour.' The other distressing words are now hardly traceable. The scenery of Banner Cove is beautiful. Every one on board is charmed with it."

After loading the schooner with poles from the woods, and visiting Blomefield and Lennox Harbours, where they had friendly interviews with the natives, they returned to the Falklands on the 16th of May.

Mr Despard still had to take two more voyages, one to Rio Janeiro, for building materials, &c., and another to Monte Video for a crew, the former crew having been unwilling to engage themselves for more than a single year. On this occasion he speaks most gratefully of the considerate kindness of the British consul, by whose means the usual fees wore remitted, and every help given him in consideration of the benevolent object to which the ship was devoted.

At last, in January 1858, he settled his family in Keppel Island, and remained with them a few months; the next voyages to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego being undertaken by Mr Gardiner and Mr Turpin. The voyage to Tierra del Fuego proved very interesting, though, a succession, of contrary winds and gales delayed them much, and it was midwinter before they approached Woollya, in Savarin Island, where they hoped to find James Button. On the 6th, Mr Gardiner writes:--"Our time is up on Wednesday, and we have had no fair wind. 'O Lord undertake for me, and send us prosperity at the last.'

"June 9, Woollya.--It was a regular winter morning, snow lying on the deck, and drifting into the sails and rigging, the wind fitful, howling, and gusty. About 8 A.M. it cleared a little, and we were soon running before a stiff southerly breeze for Woollya. The snow squalls were very frequent, and at times completely hid the land. About 2 P.M. we were abreast of Button Island, and ran for the cove at Woollya, where Captain Fitz-Roy landed Matthews. There were two canoes in the cove. One of the natives sang out as we came in, 'Hillo, hoy, hoy.' I asked him for Jemmy Button, and he pointed to the island.

"June 10.--One of the canoes left about 5 A.M. this morning, and returned about 11 A.M., with four more canoes from Button Island. They soon came alongside, and made us understand that Jemmy's daughter was there, but he was over at the island. I gave them all some presents, and showed them the things for Jemmy, which excited their curiosity, and very soon his daughter started away in quest of her father.

"June 11.--A lovely winter morning, the sun shining brightly upon the frosty ground, and the surrounding high land dazzling white with snow. About 9 A.M. four canoes were seen rounding the north point of Button Island, and coming across the sound. As soon as they were within hailing distance, I sang out, 'Jemmy Button,' when a man stood up in the foremost canoe, and answered, 'Yes, sir.' In a few minutes the identical man came up the ladder and shook hands with me; he said his girl, as he called his daughter, had been paddling half the night to find him, as he was 'long, long, way.' She looked quite exhausted, but appeared pleased with the presents I gave her, as a reward for her exertions. Jemmy came down into the cabin and partook of some coffee and bread and butter. He remembered Captain Fitz-Roy perfectly, seemed much pleased at Mr Bynoe's remembrance, and the useful carpenter's tools he had sent him. I went ashore with Jemmy, and helped him to cut some poles to repair his wigwam. There were two other natives cutting at the same place, and I was surprised at their dexterity with the very rude tools they had. It was a picturesque scene, eleven canoes at the edge of the beach, and the natives cutting wood, some repairing their wigwams with green branches, and others lighting their fires. Jemmy gave his own people a very good character. He gave me an account of a tragedy that happened, he says, not long since. A ship, with English, fell among the natives of another tribe, and were all killed. This was probably a shipwrecked crew in a boat, and, perhaps, may help to explain why shipwrecked sailors are so often picked up on the Falklands, and sometimes on Staten Island, but never from the islands of Tierra del Fuego.

"June 12.--A perfectly calm day. Jemmy came off about nine o'clock with his little boy. Both attended our prayers. He said he would come with us, and bring his wife and two children. To try if he were serious, I proposed to send his canoe on board this afternoon, to which he agreed. Accordingly, after dinner, he told those who were in his canoe to get out, and I took them on shore in the boat. When the canoe was hoisted up, without being injured, Jemmy said, 'I go 'way, wigwam sleep to-night, to-morrow bring wife, go 'way.' He leaves his presents on board. All his tribe are here, and are very civil, both on shore and alongside. The men appear to make the wigwams and the canoes, to cut wood for firing, and to go after seal or porpoises. The women paddle the canoes, do the fishing, and make the bark cups and baskets.

"June 13, Sunday.--Jemmy came off this morning, and fifteen canoes with him, probably thinking he was going to leave them. Before service, I told Jemmy to tell his people it was Sunday, and ask them to leave the vessel's side. He went to the gangway, and instead of reasoning with them in their own language, as I expected, said abruptly, 'You go 'way, church, by and by, no go to-day.' This had the desired effect, however, for they all went away. What a change of events the last week has brought about I It seems like a dream, to watch the Indian fires, shining like stars in the water, in the dark night, and to hear the occasional barking of the dogs, reminding us we are in the centre of an Indian village.

"June 15.--Got under way this morning with a light breeze. Jemmy's relations were all alongside to see him off. After a time the wind died away, and very reluctantly the captain had to return to our anchorage at 2 P.M. Two canoes of 'bad men,' as Jemmy called them, came across this evening, and tried to get things from the rest. Jemmy said, 'Bad men fight,' and it really looked very like it. However, after a time the hostile party went away, but both sides yelled for ever so long.

"June 16.--I am rather glad we had to put back to Woollya yesterday, as it gave Jemmy an opportunity of returning to his wigwam if his resolution were shaken. But they all stepped on board very contentedly. This morning we left for good."

Eight days after this they were at anchor off Keppel Island, and were warmly greeted by their friends.

On the arrival of the Fuegians Mr Despard writes:--"June 26, 1858.--Mr Gardiner will be in England as soon as this letter, and will give you a full account of his voyages. The last is, indeed, by far the most interesting; and the result of it made my heart sing for joy and hope- James Button, his wife and three children, living here! You will hear that others would have come if allowed. We shall set every ear and tongue to catch the Fuegian language in these six months, so that when Jemmy returns we may be able to say something in it, and I pray God fervently to open their hearts and give entrance to His truth."

Mrs Despard writes on the same occasion:--"June 23th.--Rejoice with me, for the Lord has seen fit to give an answer to the daily prayers addressed to Him, the Sovereign Disposer of all hearts, that He would be pleased to put it into the mind of some of those poor benighted Fuegians to trust themselves to our hands and come over to us here. This important event in our missionary life has just taken place. On Thursday last, soon after breakfast, the delightful cry rebounded through the house, 'The Allen Gardiner is coming in.' I ran quickly to the house door, from which we command a fine sea view, and there, truly, was the stout little craft, which has so bravely stood many a severe and stormy gale, rapidly scudding before the wind. Soon after, Captain Bunt and Mr Turpin came to Sulivan House, with the joyful news that James Button with his wife and three children were on board. Then arose a shout of joy and praise among us. It is wonderful how well James Button remembers his English. He seems quite at home with us all, and came up with his eldest child, a boy of eight or nine. I asked him Ms name, he answered 'Threeboys,' for what reason we cannot yet find out. This boy is apparently very quick, and has picked up many English words. We long to make them understand something of God, and of that Saviour who came down to save their souls; but it will be, of course, some time ere they can be made to understand it. We are doing our best to learn as many Fuegian words as we can, but this is difficult to accomplish, as these people do not like to speak their language before us, and converse with each other in a whisper."

The Fuegian family remained at the station till the month of November, when, according to promise, Mr Despar conducted them back to their own country in the Allen Gardiner, under Mr Fell, the new captain. Mrs Despar writes,--"My husband left us on the 16th, accompanied by Messrs Phillips and Turpin, and the Button family for Tierra del Fuego. I cannot tell you how we miss our late guests, now they are gone. During their stay here they behaved extremely well, never doing anything to offend or annoy us. As to Jemmy, his politeness was extreme, and I ever found him most grateful. For any little trifle I gave him, he would go and pick me a beautiful bouquet of wild flowers, or spear me some fish. He was always clean, He quickly recovered his English, and understood us better than we understood him. He knows that there is a God who has created all things. He also knows about our blessed Saviour. I said, 'Jemmy, will you come back to us?' He would not promise, but replied, 'Perhaps, by and by, me no tell now!' The Fuegians are very curious, and watch all we do; they are also very idle. When" the Buttons first came here they would not even fetch wood for their fire, although it was placed a few yards from their door. One day I said, 'James, God loves good men--good men no idle. God no love idle men.' He nodded in his peculiar way to show me he understood. A short time after he was hard at work."

Mr Despard returned to the mission station in due course, bringing with him three men and their wives, two boys, and a little child. He writes, under date of Jan. 23, 1859:--

"James Button and his family spent the winter and spring with us, and gained much in our esteem, and we secured his confidence. I took him back to his home, and with two catechists remained a month at the place. We constructed a house in the English fashion in their country, and had not the slightest difficulty in persuading three men, with their wives and two youths, to come hither with us.

"Oct. 4.--You see how long my letter has been on the stocks, nearly nine months. One matter of urgent business or another has prevented its launch till now. Those same Fuegians are now just returning to their own homo. They will leave us, we hope, to-morrow, and are greatly changed in manners. The two lads, Lucca-enges and Okokko-enges, are quite polite. 'If you please,' 'Thank you,' 'Good morning,' are ever heard in the right time and place. They give thanks at their meals, and pray at their bedside. Lucca is improving fast in writing. I could not but feel well-pleased to see the little brown boy under the instruction of my children. The carpenter tells me Lucca sawed some wood very well, and was much pleased with his hard work. Like a child, he thinks himself already a proficient, and says he is going to make a table and chair for his father. Baillett is loud in his praises of Okokko. The men are also much improved. They have behaved in a very orderly manner, very seldom missed coming to daily worship, and generally twice on Sunday. They are now decent in their habits, tidily dressed, and as far as our imperfect medium of communication goes, they have been taught the knowledge of God. I have got nearly a thousand words of Tekenica, but am still a long way from ability to make a grammar of it. I have discovered neither conjunction, preposition, mood, nor tense in it. No word has appeared for God, or Creator, or pray. They have a word for Spirit, and they are very uneasy at hearing it, for they say they shall see it if named. What a comfort do we enjoy in knowing that God is the author of language, and has appointed that all tongues shall declare His glory."

It was the 6th of October 1859 when Mr Phillips went on board with his charges, and sailed for Stanley, where they stayed a few days, and set sail for Woollya on the11th. Mr Despard's written instructions were as follows:--

"MY DEAR MR PHILLIPS,--I hereby intrust you with the entire direction of the missionary part of the expedition to Fuegia just commencing, and I pray God may give you wisdom, kindness, and courage from Jesus Christ for your work. I think it advisable you should proceed as rapidly as possible to Woollya, and stay there as much time as can be allowed, consistently with the return of the schooner to Stanley in time for the next mail. Should there be a very friendly spirit in Woollya I would try and spend two or three days there on shore in the house erected during my last visit there, and get a hand from the vessel to stop with you. The captain will furnish you with biscuits, &c., for encouragement to the natives, and I recommend you to cause a garden to be dug, and seeds to be sown, &c,

"Spend every day with the natives. Keep your notebook and pencil going..... I look to you to undertake the services in the Allen Gardiner, and would advise, when the weather allows, that you should have Sabbath morning and evening service on shore, that the natives may attend and be roused to inquiry.

"I have no doubt but that you and Captain Fell will, with the blessing of God, agree well together, and that he will render you every assistance you may reasonably require of Mm. May our Lord Jesus Christ be your strength and your shield, and bless your efforts with ample success.--Yours, &c. G. P. D."

After full time had been allowed for the visit, and no signs of the returning vessel were seen from day to day, Mr Despard became anxious for the safety of his friends, and went to Stanley as soon as possible to take measures for ascertaining the cause of their detention. The result was that Captain Smyley was despatched in the schooner Nancy to Woollya. The melancholy intelligence which he brought back is thus stated by Mr Despard:--

"Mr Phillips, Captain Fell, and the four seamen and two mates of the schooner have been massacred by the natives in Woollya. Let me pause, and weep, and pray, now that I have written these terrible words. Pray ye to the Lord not to lay this sin to their charge. Weep not for the dead, weep for the living. Weep not for the dead in Christ; weep for the mourning widows; weep for the mothers deprived of their sons, their support. God has tried us in the furnace of affliction. May His work be perfected! May the Lord of the harvest send out others to supply the room of those He has taken, and bow to contrition these poor sinners of the Gentiles that they may be prepared for His word."

A former mate of the Allen Gardiner wrote to the secretary on this occasion:--"God, for some wise purpose, permitted me to leave the Allen Gardiner at the close of her last voyage, yet I almost envy those who have been found worthy to bear a martyr's cross, and to wear a martyr's crown. Having witnessed in the walk of Captain Fell and Mr Phillips the fruit of the Spirit, I have a confident hope that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will place the crown upon their heads."

The following is a short account of the facts. The party reached Woollya on the 1st of November, utterly unsuspicious of the catastrophe which awaited them. The opinion had gained possession of the missionary party that, degraded and ignorant as the islanders were, they were not bloodthirsty. The missionaries continued in friendly intercourse with them for several days, during which time many canoes arrived from neighbouring islands, but still nothing that occurred appears to have caused alarm, so that on Sunday the 6th, the whole ship's company, with one exception, went on shore for public worship. This was the moment chosen for an attack; a rush was made upon them, and all were barbarously murdered; not a hand was raised for their defence, but Okokko was observed by the cook, who was left on board, running up and down the beach in great distress. It seems plain that a spirit of covetousness possessed the whole multitude, and that the presence of men of another and fiercer tribe gave occasion to this sudden attack. The survivor, seeing from the deck what was going forward, escaped in a boat to the shore, hid himself in the woods till hunger and cold drove him to the natives, by the first party of whom he was stripped and plundered; but subsequently, on his return to Woollya, he was treated with uniform kindness by the Button family till the arrival of Captain Smyley in the Nancy. The missionary schooner had been entirely ransacked and plundered, but it was not burnt or otherwise destroyed, and was eventually conveyed, by Captain Smyley, back to the Falkland Islands and refitted.

When Captain Smyley went a second time to Woollya, for the purpose of bringing away the wreck, Okokko was so earnest in his entreaties to be taken hack to his friends at Keppel, that Smyley was induced to accede to his request; and for a long time this young man and his wife Camilenna were the only Fuegian residents at the station. They proved to be most tractable and affectionate. Okokko made progress in reading and writing, besides working in the garden, and digging peat, and returned from work to find his table neatly laid and dinner prepared by Camilenna, who received daily instruction from Mrs Despard and her daughters in all sorts of housewifery, as well as reading and writing. Okokko said that Lucca and Pinoiensee wanted to come back, and that the women who had been at Keppel cried bitterly at the massacre. [A memoir of Mr Phillips has since been published by Wertheim and Mackintosh.]

About this time Mr Despard decided on bringing his family to England: the missionary farm and property were left under the care of William Bartlett, the natives being under the charge of Mr Bridges, a young man who had been adopted and brought up by Mr Despard, and who has proved himself in every way worthy of the trust reposed in him. His duty was to continue the instruction of Okokko and Camilenna, and, in the absence of a clergyman, to conduct daily and Sunday worship.

Mr and Mrs Despard and their family arrived in England early in 1862.

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