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"The Apostle of the Indians of Guiana"
A Memoir of the Life and Labours of the Rev. W.H. Brett, B.D.
For Forty Years a Missionary in British Guiana

By the Rev. F.P.L. Josa
Rector of Holy Trinity, Essequibo

London: Wells, Gardner, Darton and Co., 1887.

Chapter XI.

Hackney--Mr. Duncan Campbell--Brett as a "Disciplinarian"--Present State of Hackney--Holy Trinity Parish--Creole Work--Work among the Chinese--Work among the Coolies--A Black Linguist--Great Gathering of Coolies--A Coolie Catechist--Rev. S. C. Hore--Present State of Coolie Work in the Parish--General Statistics.

IN the preceding pages the name of "Hackney" is mentioned. In this chapter, which we intend to devote to the work of Mr. Brett amongst the Creoles, the East Indians, and the Chinese, we must begin with his work among the Creoles of Hackney. This place is situated on the Lower Pomeroon, just between the two Indian stations of Cabacaburi and Waramuri. The church at Hackney is dedicated to St. Mary. We take the following from the Diary before referred to:--

"The establishment of the church in this district is due to the labours of Rev. J. H. Duke, who, amidst his arduous duties on the coast, found time occasionally to visit the river Pomeroon. As a matter of fact, of course, the negro apprenticed labourers on the estates in that district engaged his attention first of all; for though the aborigines, at that time quite heathen and uncivilised, excited his commisera tion, no opening appeared for a mission to them until the visit of Bishop Coleridge in 1839; while the negroes were perfectly accessible, and, like all their race at that period, extremely anxious to be instructed, baptized, and married. Mr. Duke accordingly resolved to place a catechist in their district, and fitted up a small house for his residence and as a place of instruction. The catechists in this district previous to my arrival were:--"W. Bunn (afterwards Rev. W. Bunn, who died at St. Lawrence's Chapelry, October 1846).

"J. Semper (who returned to Trinidad).

"F. Landroy (who removed to St John's parish, and in 1850 became catechist to the upper district).

"In 1840, the year of my arrival in the river, the station was vacant.

"The building which Mr. Duke had fitted up (then abandoned) was rapidly falling. I visited it in 1841, and found it a small place of three storeys, of which the middle was pewed off and had evidently been the chapel school."

As we have already seen, Mr. Smithet became a catechist to help Mr. Brett in this special work. He was succeeded by Mr. Duncan Campbell. In 1850, as all salaries were stopped, Mr. Campbell was compelled to become a planter in the neighbourhood.

"Notwithstanding (to his credit be it recorded) he continued to read prayers, teach Sunday-school, and perform all the Sabbath duties as before, without remuneration."

This Mission underwent several vicissitudes, but on the whole it was successful. Under date January 1858 Mr. Brett writes:--"I performed Divine Service at Hackney.
Baptisms (infants), 4; marriage, 1; communicants, 39.

After service I called the attention of the people--"1st. To the condition of the chapel, which was sinking on one side, the ground sill being rotten. This damage I requested the Hackney people to repair.

"2d. I set before them their desolate condition in having no resident teacher, being solely dependent for instructions on my visits at distant intervals, and begged them to subscribe funds to aid in erecting a cottage for a school master, towards which $50 had been conditionally granted by the Guiana Diocesan Church Society. Both these they promised to do."

That Mr. Brett was a disciplinarian as well as a man of his word the following extract will show. It is under date 2 of April 1858

"April 21st. I landed at Hackney at 5 P.M. to see if the chapel had been made safe for Divine Service on the morrow. Found that no attempt had been made to renew the blocks and rotten sills, though I had directed it to be done at my last visit, and Mr. Campbell had since offered to pay for the work.

"In consequence of this gross neglect I declared to the Hackney people my determination not to perform any religious service in that building till it should be made safe and decent, and forthwith sent word to the neighbouring estates that there would be no service next day. I then went to lodge at Caledonia.

"April 22d. Two couples who were to have been married this day came to me at Caledonia in great distress. I offered to marry them at Waramuri, but rigidly refused to perform any service at Hackney, in the existing condition of the chapel.

"At 3 P.M. I started for Waramuri in Company with Mr. Campbell. I left the district in a state of great excitement, but apparently their murmurings were directed at the Hackney people, and my decision, though severe, was regarded as necessary and wholesome. The two couples were married next day at Waramuri.

"April 26th.--Returned to Caledonia, and was glad to hear that the chapel had been blocked up and made safe temporarily.

"27th.--Divine Service; congregation, 150; Communicants, 23 ; offertory, $1 76c.; 1 baptism.

"After service I saw the chief men of the district, and told them that the chapel must have new squared blocks of Mora all round, and that the wood-ants must be exterminated. I recommended them to impose a day's labour or a day's pay on every man in the district, and held out for their imitation the example set by the Indians at the hill in removing the old chapel, and gratuitously supplying materials for the new.

"Left in the afternoon for the hill Mission, being very unwell with severe fever."

This mission-station has been daily growing in importance, owing to the steady settlement of Creoles and East Indians on the river, and during the tenure of office by the Rev. W. Heard a beautiful church has been built To see this church, with its well-appointed chancel, a cassocked and surpliced choir of really earnest Churchmen, and a most attentive congregation, is a sight to cheer the hearts of the most desponding.

With reference to what we may call the parochial work of the Rev. W. H. Brett, it may be said that everything that was done was done thoroughly and with the utmost regularity. The parish of Holy Trinity proper is about fifteen miles in length, although it extends to thousands of square miles. The parish boundaries are the Capoi Creek on the south, and it extends as far as the British possessions reach. The boundary of the colony on the side bordering on Venezuela is not as yet defined. The population consists of about 14,000, which may be roughly divided into two great nationalities, the Creoles or English- speaking people, chiefly descendants of the Old African slaves, and Asiatics, chiefly East Indians, with a sprinkling of Chinese. There are also a few European families, which may be counted on one's fingers.

When Mr. Brett arrived he found four churches, and to his regret he had to abandon one of them, the little church of St. Barnabas at "Exmouth," at the extreme north end of the parish. This step he considered necessary for two reasons--first, because the people had left the neighbourhood, and the wood-ants were devouring the building; and second, because his health did not permit him to undertake the charge of this station. A new church to replace this was built by the present rector in i886 about two miles beyond the former situation, in the midst of a population of some 400 people.

Mr. Brett confined his work to the parish church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, a very ugly building, which was added to at various times, with galleries that were a cause of constant concern to him and his vestry. The building has since been abandoned, and a very handsome church has been built in i886. Mr. Brett had also the charge of a chapel school, dedicated to St. Lawrence at Hampton Court. The other church in the parish, dedicated to St. Saviour, was served by a curate. The services which were carried on by Mr. Brett for his English-speaking people were as follows:--Every Sunday between 10 and 11 A.M. catechising and instructing chiefly the old people. Matins at eleven o'clock, and according to the ideas that prevailed in days gone by, the Holy Communion was administered after the eleven o'clock service on the first Sunday in the month. At three o'clock in the afternoon the chapel school was served in the same manner. There was also one week-day service at each church. There were four schools in the parish, supervised by the rector. He visited and taught the children in them with the utmost regularity. In addition to this he did all the usual work of an English parish priest. He was also president of the Board of Guardians, and had to administer the colonial funds for the maintenance of the poor of all denominations throughout the extensive parish.

When Mr. Brett first took over the parish there were a few coolies and Chinese, who went on continually in creasing, until now they form just one-half of the population. His missionary zeal led him to view the prospect with dismay. There were thousands in his parish speaking many languages for whom he felt he could do nothing. He began to study the situation, and he found it very embarrassing, the Chinese for one thing being a language that one must learn from youth, whilst the tongues spoken by the other nations were also difficult to acquire. Writing to a friend, he says that the difficulties consist in the Babel-like variety of tongues. It is that diversity which has rendered us all but powerless; but people in England hearing of Hindoo coolies here think all are of one speech."

In 1870 Mr. Brett succeeded in obtaining the services of a Chinese catechist, Chun-an-Sing, and in six years 44 adults and 10 children were admitted into the ark of Christ's Church through baptism. This work gave great pleasure to the missionary, as the Chinese, when they have once learned Christ, make model Christians. Writing to the Church Society under date December 31, 1877, he says:--"The number of Chinese adults and children baptized (24 in 5877) would have raised our total number of resident converts to one hundred or more, were the increase not checked continually by their emigration to other parts of the colony." The first Chinese catechist was drowned, and Peter Wong-ah-po, an excellent man, speaking English fairly well, was appointed. Peter, who is still in charge of the Mission, is a martyr to rheumatism; otherwise he does all that can be expected of him. Very few Chinese are now left in the parish, and these few are nearly all Christians. On the first of January 5887 there were on our books 7 Chinese Christians, 26 of whom were communicants. It should be here stated that when money was being collected for the building of the new parish church in Holy Trinity parish the Chinese gave most handsomely; several gave $5 (20s. 10d.) each, others gave as much as $15, and every year they contribute to the general funds of the church, as well as to special missionary objects. Friends in England will be gratified to hear that the archiepiscopal cross presented lately to Archbishop Benson was not given by Englishmen alone, but that some of the Christian coolies and Chinese in British Guiana were among the subscribers.

The work of Mr. Brett amongst the coolies, although of little importance, proved very interesting. Whilst he was engaged in looking for a suitable catechist a young black carpenter, residing in a village in the parish of Holy Trinity called Daniel's Town, presented himself one day to Mr. Brett and asked him for books in the NĂ¢gari character, to enable him to teach some of his coolie friends. "Surprised at this," Mr. Brett writes, "I tested his knowledge by means of my Hindostani Testament in Anglo-Roman, and he seemed well up in the tongue; telling me also with much correctness the words (compounds of Allah, &c., from the Arabic) which the Hindoos do not use--only the Mussulmans. He seemed just as well up in Tamil, reading off the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, &c., while I checked him from the Tamil Prayer-book in Anglo-Roman. Finally, he knew a good deal of Chinese, in more than one dialect, and had learnt the Greek alphabet and tried the Hebrew one." This black Mezzofanti was a phenomenon which Mr. Brett carefully watched. To begin with, he was not a Church man; and although Mr. Brett was much taken with him, yet he never employed him. He wrote to a friend--who was also much impressed with this brilliant genius--that "we have been unable to utilise the talents of this man on account of his moral irregularities."

The next thing Mr. Brett did was very wise. He selected what appeared to him a suitable young man, a Madras coolie, and sent him for a three years' training to a little college which the Bishop had been instrumental in establishing at Plantation Bel Air, in the neighbourhood of the chief city, Georgetown, doing in the meantime what he could himself. In 1876 the Rev. S. Coode Hore, the missionary in charge of the "Belair" Mission School, spent a few days in Trinity parish, and Mr. Brett invited him to address the coolies in his parish church. This was done, and on one occasion 635 adults and 73 children were gathered together to hear him. On another occasion Mr. Hore addressed 300 coolies from the manager's house at La Belle Alliance. Thus the work was kept, going. About this time Mr. Brett writes:--"There is now a greater desire among all other classes in my parish for their conversion than I ever knew before, and something like volunteer efforts I have lately seen among themselves. One young man, converted by reading some Christian tracts and one of the gospels in Devanagari characters, has been baptized; and judging from his heathen brethren, whom he brings to Divine worship, will shortly be, under God, the means of bringing others to the Saviour's fold." Later on Mr. Brett reported progress:--"The number of our Hindoo worshippers (catechumens, in truth, without a trained and duly authorised catechist) is still increasing."

In August 1878 the young man who had been sent to Belair to be trained was considered fit to take the supervision of the coolie work. Although he hailed from Madras, and his native tongue, therefore, was Tamil, yet he was able to speak, read, and write Hindi. After four months' work Mr. Brett wrote to the Church Society in December 1878:--"He has done his work very well; and though he has only been here four months, it is beginning to tell. Among our inquirers is a Hindu priest, an elderly man, who came to witness the baptism of a convert a few days ago. I saw him at church on the day of intercession, and two days after found him at school, among the little coolies, learning to spell in English. A copy in excellent text-hand, written on a slate, shows that he must also have paid attention to writing for some time past--a sign of the times. Visiting the estates' hospital forms a regular part of our catechists' work, and their visits there are well received by the sick coolies."

This is the last report written by Mr. Brett. In 1879 the veteran missionary retired on superannuation, and His Excellency the Governor, at the recommendation of the Bishop of Guiana, appointed the Rev. S. C. Hore, the coolie missionary, to the Rectory of Holy Trinity. The heart of the infirm pastor was gladdened at the thought that at last his long-cherished design of establishing a mission among the coolies, who by this time numbered upwards of 6000, would be carried into effect.

The newly appointed rector started a Hindi service on every Sunday afternoon, which was well attended. But, strange to say, the work received a check instead of an impetus. The catechist's mind became unhinged, the rector suffered from bad health, and in 1883 he resigned the benefice, and the few coolie Christians were scattered.

In 1884 the present rector was appointed. He also knew something of the languages of the coolies, and started a regular mission amongst them. In 1884 he succeeded in obtaining the services of a catechist, who, however, knew very little, and the rector himself began preaching on the estates. The young man who assisted the rector--a coolie baptized by himself--was sent to the mission-house at Belair for further training, and he is still there. Another catechist was in the meantime appointed, a man brought up in India, very earnest and, as far as man can judge, sincere. He has some ability, and in comparison with our coolies, a man of superior scholarship. In 1887 the rector was enabled to secure the services of another catechist, trained at the Belair institution. As he has been a very short time in the parish it is too early to speak of him. He appears earnest and sincere.

For coolie mission-work the parish has been divided into two districts. The upper district, consisting of two large blocks of estates, with its centre at Taymouth Manor, where the catechist resides; the other, with two large estates, having its centre at Anna Regina, the catechist residing at the Rectory.

An idea of the present state of this Mission may be gathered from the following figures, showing the work done during z886. There were held, specially for the coolies and Chinese, in churches, hospitals, and estates' yards (usually in the open air), by the rector and his catechists 555 services, and the number of persons addressed was 10,918. On the 1st of January 1887 there were 8i coolie and 74 Chinese Christians, 26 and 13 of them, respectively, being communicants. Nine adults were baptized during the year. Besides these there were 28 coolies in course of instruction, and the number is increasing daily. The parish has numerous schools, all of which are attended, more or less, by coolie children. It is believed that at no time have the prospects of the Kingdom of God been better in these parts than they are at the present moment; and we feel sure that if departed saints are permitted to see what is going on from their resting-place, our venerated founder of the Mission would rejoice at the present prospect of the work.

We will conclude this chapter by giving a few statistics connected with the "Creole" work of the parish. At the parish church during i886 there were held 45 services, the Holy Communion being celebrated 84 times, and 3557 communions were made. There were baptized 30 legitimate children and 65 illegitimate, the number of legitimate being the highest known. There were married 26 couples, the number of marriages having increased 100 per cent. during the last three years. The number of confirmations in the parish for the same year was, males 51, females 47 = 98. The Holy Communion for the sick was administered in 25 different houses to 140 sick persons and friends. The offertories alone for the same year amounted to $1,021 57c--the highest known. The same may be said of all the other churches and chapel schools in the parish. The work so well begun by that good and faithful servant, Mr. Brett, has been going forward and not back. There is a communicant roll of some 800 people, which testifies that there must be earnestness. The system of tickets for the communicants, adopted in nearly all parishes in the diocese, is so stringent, that any one who lives disorderly is pretty certainly debarred from approaching the Holy Altar. There is still a great blot in the parish and in the whole diocese concerning illegitimacy; but faithful work must improve our people. We must do our best and leave to God the rest.

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