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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 XIII.

Early Missions to Guiana--Rev. T. Youd--The Influence of Mr. Brett's Work in the Diocese--Orealla--The Demarara Missions--The Rev. A. Gwyther--The Essequibo Missions--Ven. Archdeacon Farrar--The Potaro Missions--The Rev. W. E. Pierce--The Rev. F. L. Quick--Mr. Brett's Works--Home Influence--A.S. Brett.

No efforts for the evangelisation of the aborigines in what is now called British Guiana were ever made by the Dutch. During their period of rule, however, the Moravians planted the first Christian mission on the river Berbice, which lasted from 1738 to 1763, when it was destroyed during the insurrection of the negro slaves. The first effort at evangelisation on the part of the Church of England was made in 1829 by the Church Missionary Society, at a place called "Bartica," on the great Essequibo river. Here a mission-station was established by Mr. T. Armstrong. His successor was the Rev. T. Youd, who, however, gave over the charge of the Mission to the Rev. J. H. Bernau, while he himself commenced another mission in the far-distant interior, on the shore of the lake Amuku, on the upper part of the Rupununi, from which post he was afterwards driven by the Brazilian soldiers. During his labours here Mr. Youd lost home, children, and wife--the latter being poisoned by an Indian sorceress. Mr. Youd became a martyr to the missionary cause himself dying from the effects of poison. [The life of Mr. Youd has been written by the Rev. Canon Veness in a book entitled, "Ten Years of Mission Life in British Guiana" (S. P. C. K.) We would recommend our readers to procure this book.] His work was apparently doomed to extinction, and his name is almost forgotten in the diocese; but he, though "unknown, is yet well known."

Several of our latest missions to the aborigines were in a great measure promoted by the zeal, success, and linguistic efforts of the Rev. W. H. Brett; and now from one end of the colony to the other there is an almost uninterrupted chain of mission-stations.

Thus in the extreme southern corner of our colony, on the river Corentyne, there is an interesting mission, which was established by the Rev. Canon Veness. In establishing this mission the Canon had recourse naturally for advice and help to the experienced pioneer of the Northern Rivers, and this mission was established in z866. As Mr. Veness had a large charge of Creoles, he of course could work only as a volunteer, and he paid visits to the Mission regularly once a quarter. His first need was a catechist, and in June i86 Mr. Brett thus wrote to Mr. Veness:--"I am rejoiced (under God) to see you arise to that work, saying it must be done, and would willingly help by any suggestion. Your first and great work is the man. Piety and zeal are more than other qualities and attainments." Then Mr. Brett asks the question, "Is there any habitation at Orealla which a teacher might for a time occupy? A logie would do at first for a chapel school." In another letter under date September of the same year he thus wrote:--" I hope you see land in your well-meant efforts for the Corentyne Indians, and may witness in a great degree their evangelisation--fruit that may abide--the revival of the all but extinguished embers of the good Moravians' fire (as you would call it); though it seems more like a rekindling of fresh materials, so long is it since the old flame died away. I send you a small additional trifle from the Pomeroon. $5 will not go far in itself, but when you can say that both in Dutch Guiana, and also near the borders of Venezuela there is deep sympathy felt with your efforts for a mission at Orealla, others nearer your scene of action will be, perhaps, led to identify the honour of good old Berbice with the work you have laid out, and which, as you said, mus1 under God, be done.'" In a postscript he adds:--"I have mentioned to Mrs. Brett and my little ones what good work you have contemplated. They have contributed among them $5 more. I enclose cheque for $10, payable to your order as before. Go on in your good work, and may God be with you, until you see many of the aborigines drawn unto Him."

Five years later, when the Mission was fully established, Mr. Brett showed the same interest in the work. He wrote to Mr. Veness under date June 23, 1871:--"The Arawâk and Acawoio versions have now arrived at the Depository from S. P. C. K, and I have put up 100 copies for your Mission at Orealla. . . . I think they may be the means of exciting some little interest among the people, the Arawâk of the Corentyne, and doing some spiritual good. . . . I have read with great interest the account you have given of your missionary progress. God will, I trust, continue to bless your efforts for His glory and the Indians' good. Few things would give me more pleasure than to visit your district. Perhaps God may permit some day, though the prospect be somewhat remote at present." This Mr. Brett did in February 1872, while the founder was at home on furlough; and in writing to Mr. Veness the next year he states:--"As regards your work, I must say that I was very much surprised as well as gratified at seeing such a substantial schoolhouse. I had no idea you had built a framed house at all. . . . The chapel also is a very serviceable one for a mission in its mere early stages." This mission is still progressing; and lately another mission has been established at Epira, higher up on the same river, by the Rev. C. D. Dance. On the Berbice river there are several places of worship, at which the Indians attend, but the only purely Indian station is at Cumaka. On the Mahaicony Creek there was a mission at one time of some importance, but it is now almost abandoned. On the river Demerara we have many stations, but the purely Indian ones are at Muritáro, eighty-seven miles from Georgetown, and at Eneyudah, 165 miles from town. In i868 Mr. Brett, accompanied by Archdeacon Jones, ascended the Demerara river for the purpose of establishing the latter Mission at the foot of the Great Falls. The account given of this and a subsequent visit paid by Mr. Brett is worthy of record:--

"We went, on that occasion, as far as Indians could be found on that river, spent in teaching them five days, and the result of the visit was to bring them down below the falls by hundreds. Mr. Couchman, who had been our pilot, then became their teacher. He instructed two young Acawoios, Taio and Jimbo, in the catechisms I had given him, and they taught the multitude of their country men. In that way they were being prepared for admission into the Church of Christ."

Seventeen months after that visit the chapel at Malali Rapids (about fifty miles below those falls) presented a spectacle which recalls the early days of the Christian Church.

The Bishop, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Butt, who had built that chapel when stationed there some years before, found nearly the whole of the Dernerara Acawoios there assembled to meet them. The sandy margin of the river was lined with wood-skins of all sizes, and the people who had come in them anxiously desired to be baptized.

After examination three hundred and eighty-six of various ages were admitted by that Holy Sacrament into the Church of Christ. The administration occupied two entire days. I was not present myself; but those who were have since told me of the striking spectacle then presented, described to me the throng of Indians, and the earnestness visible in their countenances as they knelt at the font, while the chapel floor streamed with the water which had flowed over them.

Four years later Mr. Brett again visited all the missions on the Demerara, on which occasion he saw another station newly established. He writes

"I was much surprised and gratified to find, about halfway down, a new mission, named Muritáro. It seemed to have sprung up spontaneously, since I was last there, under a young man of German extraction, named Lobertz. To him a number of Indians, from the wild and remote regions west of the Essequibo, had attached themselves. He was teaching them by means of our Acawoio books, though in a class of a hundred and fifty which I catechised there were but thirty pure Acawoios. . . . Yet they all understood the questions, and answered them correctly."

The missionary at present in charge of these stations is the Rev. A. Gwyther, who thus speaks of the debt the Church owes to Mr. Brett

"I consider Mr. Brett's catechisms, i.e., the two short ones on the Creed and the Sacraments, to have been in valuable in teaching the elementary and radical truths of Christianity. To this end their simplicity and brevity have mainly contributed; for the missionaries who have used them most have been the Indians themselves. It has been by no means uncommon for parties of from one to four or five persons just arrived from some far-off river or savannah, where they have had no teacher but a passing guest or a member of their own village who has been to one of our mission-stations, to apply to me for baptism, and at once say, without hesitation or mistake, the Apostle's Creed, Ten Commandments, and Mr. Brett's catechism. These catechisms will bear supplementing to, of course, an indefinite extent, but in my opinion there is in them but one sentence which needs altering. Those on the Holy Scriptures I have not found of so much general use; indeed I think it a very great pity that Mr. Brett did not bestow the time which they took him upon the translation of the Acts of the Apostles instead; this, in addition to his admirable translation of St. Matthew's Gospel, would have put into our hands almost all we absolutely require."

On the rivers Essequibo and Mazzaruni we have also important mission-stations in the neighbourhood of the scenes of the labours of Bernau and Youd. These missions were established, in Mr. Brett's opinion, at a very oppor tune time by the present Archdeacon of Berbice, the Rev. Canon Farrar, B.D., who at the time was chaplain of Her Majesty's Penal Settlement on the Massaruni. Three im portant missions were originated by him; the first at a very picturesque spot between the Massaruni and the Cuyuni, called St. Edwards, and two others (in '868 and 1870), called respectively "The Holy Name" and "St. Mary's," both on the Essequibo river. The venerable Archdeacon thus bears witness to the influence that Mr. Brett exercised over all the missionary work of the country. The Archdeacon writes, on the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 1887:--

"I can say most truthfully and with very great pleasure, as at least paying a debt of gratitude, that without Mr. Brett's translations the success of my work amongst the Indians in the Essequibo, Cuyuni, and Mazaruni rivers would have been literally the day of small things. It was, however, simply astonishing, for the Indians subscribed for mission and general Church purposes $10,000 in the annual tax of four logs of timber, given 'willingly' by each family. And the number added to the Church was almost Pentecostal.

"By means of Mr. Brett's translations my black catechist, M'Clagan, was able successfully to carry on the mission-work, and could keep the Indians attached to the Mission at a time when the temptation to stray was of the most powerful kind, and so highly are these translations still prized that they are being reprinted in the monthly number of our Guiana Churchman.

"I remember Mr. Brett himself being taken aback, as he approached the St. Edwards Mazaruni Mission, at the 'buzzing sound' of the Indians repeating his translations of Creed, &c., led by M'Clagan; and the late Rev. W. E. Pierce, at his first visit to Potaro, describes a similar surprise, only by some 1500 instead of 200; and Mr. Pierce almost uses Mr. Brett's words of surprise.

"Mr. Brett's name will be remembered as long as the Church of Guiana lasts; and it will shine brighter and brighter unto the dawn of the perfect day; for the souls that he has saved, and is still instrumental in turning to righteousness--for though dead he yet speaks through his translations--will be so many jewels in his crown, and will make it shine as so many stars for ever and ever."

We shall now give an account of the last outpost that the Church has set up in Guiana, which may be called the most important of all our missions. It is the Mission on the River Potaro, a tributary of the Essequibo. It was established at the earnest request of the Indians, especially the Patamunas, a race connected with the Acawoios, about 1876. The Mission was first visited by the Rev. C. D. Dance, who was then stationed on the Demerara River. After this Mr. Lobertz, a catechist, was sent; but the work grew to such dimensions that the Rev. W. E. Pierce, who about that time had been appointed to the charge of the missions established by Archdeacon Farrar, was deputed by the Bishop to the district to see what could be done. Mr. Pierce was astonished at what he saw; he saw a chapel which had been erected, and then, as he approached it, he heard "a buzzing sound, as of innumerable bees." That sound was an effect of the work of Mr. Brett. "Hundreds of men, women, and children were teaching or learning in their own tongue, and with the low voice common to Indians, the Lord's Prayer, Apostles' Creed, Ten Commandments, and even Biblical catechisms." At this station 1398 Indians of various nationalities were, after examination, baptized by Mr. Pierce in the river during that single visit! This reminds one of Pentecostal days, when nations were literally born in a day. When the aged and infirm missionary heard this news in his English home he thus wrote:--"Seldom has any portion of the Church's great mission-field seemed more ripe unto the harvest than that land which has so suddenly, and as it were spontaneously, stretched forth her hands unto God." The Mission very soon after this had to lament the death of Mr. Pierce, who was drowned, together with his wife and two children, whilst shooting one of the rapids on his way home.

The Mission has now (1887) a resident missionary, the Rev. F. L. Quick, and the work is so well established that it is believed it will rival in importance the Mission of the Pomeroon.

From all this the reader will see what great influence Mr. Brett's work exercised over the whole diocese. He was, however, of a most retiring disposition, and sought for no praise or popularity. He seemed to feel that any praise to himself was a slight to his Master, and he attributed all his success to the hand of God. He also exercised great influence through his charming books, some of which are standard works; and many have received great pleasure as well as information from his writings, while many of the missionaries that have succeeded Mr. Brett have been fired with zeal by means of them.

But his influence was not only felt in the mission-fields of Guiana, it was felt at home also. Mr. Brett and his devoted wife found time, among their other duties connected with the church, to educate their own children, and their children have done no discredit to their parents' training. The following letter is from his youngest son. This letter was written from Loughborough, November 13, j886, and will give some idea of the home training which must have been bestowed on the writer

"MY DEAR MOTHER,--Thanks for the 'Dawn of Day,' [Localised in the diocese of Guiana] now returned (containing account of the consecration of the new Holy Trinity Church). What a nice letter the Bishop wrote you, and how nice it is to hear of the universal respect in which father's memory is held, I might say revered, in Demerara!

"'Lives of great men all remind us we may make our lives sublime,
And departing leave behind us footprints in the sands of time.'

Deep and indelible are the footprints left by father. Ages may roll, and yet, when all things by time are altered, and men as individuals are forgotten, lost to sight, and recorded only in the musty pages of history, the work he did will live. Christianity will have been planted (and where planted it never dies) in the interior of Guiana, and all races of the future will profit, perhaps unconsciously, but still undeniably, by the life-work of the 'Apostle of our Indians' (so called by the Bishop). The fold of Christ has been, and will be, added to by the work. Civilisation has been spread where once was only ignorant barbarism. Our great country has been strengthened by the opening up of her colonies, and thus has work been done, lasting, everlasting work, by one too modest ever to take the position he earned on earth, but who must gain a just and enormous reward in heaven. Would God there were some like him!--more men to live as examples and to plant their 'footprints' deep in 'the sands of time.' But I wander from my reply to your letter. If you think well, please thank the Bishop for me for his very kind message to your sons, and tell him I wish with all my heart I had some one like him near me, to whom I feel I could appeal for help and advice in times of doubt or difficulty. Here I know no one to whom I can conscientiously go, no one who would take a deep, real interest in my affairs--Your ever-loving son,


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