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 IX. The Establishment of Missionary Chaplaincies in South America

IT was in the year 1860, after the mission to Tierra del Fuego had been put into working order, while Mr Despard was residing at Keppel with several Fuegians under instruction, and the missionary schooner at his disposal, for further visits to the coasts of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, that an attempt was made to establish a mission among the Indians of Chili, and Mr Allen W. Gardiner was appointed by the committee as their first missionary to that country. He had now been more than a year and a half in England, had been admitted to holy orders by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, had married, and had devoted several months to the study of medicine.

He arrived at Valparaiso with his wife and child in July 1860, and intended, if possible, to settle at once in the Arau-canian territory; but being assured by those who knew the country that such a step was quite impracticable, he was induced to take up a position at Lota as chaplain to a little colony of our own countrymen, who were, for the most part, engaged in working a coal mine. His object in availing himself of this opening for ministerial work was not only the sore need which existed for its exercise, but the hope that ultimately it might lead to the formation of a missionary outpost or station among the neighbouring Araucanian tribes, when he should have won the confidence of Chilians and Indians, and dispelled the jealousy with which the latter regard all foreigners, and which the former might be expected to feel towards Protestant missionaries, seeing that the constitution of Chili tolerated no religion but the Roman Catholic Apostolic, and even at Valparaiso the Protestants held their worship under sufferance.

The following is Mr Gardiner's description of Lota:--"October 1800.--We are on a hill, prettily wooded down to the sea-shore. From our front windows we see the dark blue waters of the Pacific, and enjoy the magnificent sunsets. The back of the house looks down upon a snug little valley, with plenty of wood and water. Beyond is the hill of Villa Grande, where Caupolican and his braves lie. He was, I believe, a native of Lota. The ruins of the old Spanish fort are seen on the hill. The Indian road passes our house, but the visits of the Indians are seldom made. It is a ride of thirty miles to their grounds. This spot has been purchased by a wealthy Chilian, who has built the largest mole which exists in Chili. Ships of a thousand tons burden can load alongside, and consequently this small, wild, picturesque place is favoured with communications from England once a fortnight, and from Valparaiso once a week."

The Gardinera had not time to settle themselves in their new home before an alarm was given of an expected attack from the distant Indians on the Indians of the neighbourhood. Arauco and Lota were thought to be in so much danger that the authorities at Concepcion sent a ship to Valparaiso to report the critical state of affairs, and from thence the telegraph conveyed a message to the Chilian government at Santiago. In a very few days two steamers arrived at Arauco Bay with troops, where they found the settlers and friendly Indians making the best of their position in expectation of an attack, and so that danger was happily averted.

Two months after his arrival at Lota Mr Gardiner was able to report,--"The Sunday services held in our sitting-room are well attended, and about thirty children attend the Sunday-school." A beginning was thus made of church ministrations.

A school-room was built early in the following year through the kind assistance of English friends in Valparaiso.

The day-school was opened on the first week in March 1801 with eight pupils, and the numbers gradually increased till every child of a suitable age attended. After this, a visit from Mr Balfour, (of the firm of Balfour & Williamson, of Liverpool,) who was then resident at Valparaiso, was very encouraging and refreshing to Mr Gardiner. He has elsewhere said,--"Without Mr Balfour's assistance the school could not have been built."

The school and the church services under his sole charge now occupied so much of his time that he wrote urgently to the committee for help, in order that the study of the languages might not be retarded by the pressure of daily work. This pressure was increased by the establishment of a dispensary. Mr Coombe arrived in October, and thus in few words described his first impressions:--"I found Mr Gardiner holding a sphere of usefulness far beyond anything I had expected." Intelligence of the work at Lota had also reached Santiago, where there are a considerable number of English, one of whom visited Mr Gardiner, and tried to persuade him to remove to Santiago, where he would find a welcome, a sphere of ministerial work, and a competence.

The following year, 1862, a further advance was made. Mr Coombe took charge of the boys' school. The services were well attended. A preliminary visit was made to the Indians. An infant school was established by Mrs Gardiner, with the aid of a pupil teacher, and a Christian work was commenced at Puclioco, another mining village in Arauco Bay, about five miles distant.

Mr Coombe thus wrote in 1863:--"Our scholars continue regular in their attendance, always giving marked attention, and are making great progress. Two evenings of the week were employed in teaching the young men who ara engaged in the mines by day, a third is devoted to a Bible-class, and a fourth to a prayer-meeting, which is always well attended, and much enjoyed by the people. It is pleasant to know that they all date their various changes of mind to the effects of Mr Gardiner's ministry among them. He has long wished an agency to be started for carrying the gospel to the sailors who visit this port; but the multiplicity of engagements which we have hitherto had in the erection of the station has prevented our doing anything in that branch of missionary work. Often there are as many as twelve and more ships in the port, and many of them commanded by English-speaking German captains, with a good percentage of English and German sailors among the crews. We have frequently had three captains of vessels at the Sunday service during the past winter."

In the year 1864 an infant school was established at Puchoco; Mr Keller arrived as a second catechist, to help forward the Indian work; and Mr Gardiner, a second time, declined to remove from Lota to Santiago. The terrible catastrophe which had occurred in one of the churches on the 8th of the previous December, causing the death of two thousand persons, through the accidental kindling of all the festival decorations for the Feast of the Conception, called attention to the melancholy ignorance of the gospel, which existed among the Spanish-speaking population. A pressure was put upon the committee of the South American Missionary Society to send a clergyman at once to Santiago, and a suggestion was made that Mr Gardiner would be acceptable there. He, however, felt that he could not entertain this suggestion, because it would remove him from that Indian work on which his heart was set, and for which he had already, as he thought, secured a basis: accordingly he declined the offer, and remained at his post. In the same year the Roman Catholic bishop of Concepcion commenced proceedings to stop the Lota work, especially the dissemination of Protestant books and Bibles, contending that it was a violation of the national laws. It is not necessary to enter here into the controversy, which was settled in 1865 by the erasure of that clause in the constitution which tolerated no religion but the Roman Catholic.

Mr Gardiner thus writes on the subject:--"As it is often darkest just before sunrise, owing to the collection of mists and vapours in the lower air, so my half-year of greatest difficulty and opposition was from January to June of this year, (1865.)

"July 11.--Early in the morning a courier galloped into the courtyard of Sr. Saavedra's house, in which I was, with an express from Santiago, and it proved to be the news of religious toleration in Chili. As I returned home with the news, and saw the sun shining on the Pacific Ocean, I felt that the darkness had now passed, and that the true light might now shine in Chili. I remembered that on July the 11th, eleven years ago, I had stood by the banks of an English river to see an English schooner launched to carry the gospel-flag to South America, and such a victory, coming with the dawn of the same morning, seemed to speak of a light in the dark valley, a hope on the stormy sea, and a future race yet to be run and won by the South American Society. We are now the ministers of a district, and no longer only the masters of a village school."

Later in the same year he writes:--"The change in the Constitution of Chili, which enables us to read and write and speak freely on Protestant subjects, had hardly time to be perceptibly felt before the cause of civilisation, and with it the cause of evangelisation, has been temporarily embarrassed by the blockade of the Spaniards."

This embarrassment has now happily passed away; and the year, which began with a season of great sickness, and a controversial attack of unusual severity, called attention to the importance and efficiency of the Mission dispensary, and the great blessing which had attended the services and preaching in the Mission church, and the working of the Mission schools. But, while the church, school, and dispensary work at Lota made such gratifying progress, it was found that Lota was too distant from the Indian territory to form a suitable basis for a mission to the Araucanians. Mr Gardiner had again and again undertaken missionary journeys, and he had exchanged friendly visits with a powerful chief beyond the river Lebu, and this led to the formation of a station at Lebu for the more distant missionary work. But the enterprise required a scale of expenditure too great for the Society at that time to undertake. For the present, therefore, it has been abandoned, but not, we hope, for ever. There seems to be good reason for believing that the way is open for a mission to the interior, from Valdivia on the west, and from El Carmen on the east.

If we now turn to the ministerial side of the Lota station, we have before us the germ which, in 1864, developed into the larger proportions of a grand scheme for the supply of English chaplains to the various English settlers on both the east and the west coasts. The want was not supplied a day too soon. Thousands of our countrymen were scattered over the South American continent as sheep having no shepherd, and there was an increasing stream of immigration thither. It is true, that with the exception of British Guiana, England has no territorial possessions in that country; but her sons have gained, and are gradually multiplying, their influence by dint of enterprise and skill, and capital invested there. The spiritual destitution of the British immigrant in Peru, or Chili, or Brazil is not less worthy of attention than in British Guiana, or the Cape of Good Hope; but the favourable consideration of the Church at home is secured for the latter because the British flag waves over them, while the presence of another flag in the former countries has induced the Church to withhold her charities. To correct this state of things has been the aim of the South American Missionary Society. The founder of the Mission, Captain A. Gardiner, was alive to the duty of the Church in this respect, and he bequeathed to the committee of the Society admirable suggestions for meeting the necessities of the case. These suggestions were not without effect; and, during the time that the head-quarters of the Society were at Clifton, the directors of the work resolved to act upon them as far as possible. [They were removed to London at the close of the year 1865.] In 1861 a resolution to this effect was carried, and the immediate attention of the Rev. A. W. Gardiner to the wants of the British residents at Lota illustrated its force. Out of this grew the missionary chaplaincies of Panama and Callao, funds for the establishment of which were furnished through the liberality of British merchants, whose appreciation of the benefit of the Society's agency had been learned at Lota. In succession, chaplaincies have been established at the Chincha Islands, off the Peruvian coast, at Arica and Tacua in Peru; and on the rivers Uruguay and Plate on the eastern side. And surely it is not too much to hope that wherever English chaplains and English congregations have a local standing in South America, they will desire to extend the knowledge of the gospel to the regions beyond their own immediate neighbourhood. We look to them to link their efforts together in a grand effort to preach Christ to the heathens of the interior. We desire that the gospel may come to them, "not in word only, but also in power and in much assurance," and that from them may be "sounded out the Word of the Lord" in all South America.

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