"I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in rain: yet surely my judgment is with the. Lord, and my work with my God."--ISA. xlix. 4.
SUCH was the Patagonian Society's motto. It is also the title of the original history of the mission by the Rev. G. P. Despard, B.A., from which the information here furnished has been largely taken. As the narrative proceeds, its appropriateness will be abundantly apparent.
Having chartered a small sailing schooner, Captain Gardiner entered the Straits of Magellan in March, 1842. Failing to obtain the confidence of the natives on the north coast of Tierra del Fuego, he anchored in Gregory Bay. Here again his faith was tried: for although the said bay was understood to be one of the principal resorts of the natives, none were anywhere visible, and the only result of a more extended search was the discovery at a distance of eight miles inland of traces of a recent encampment. Proceeding next to Oazy harbour, about twenty miles westward, a party of Indians made their appearance and encamped to the number of about one hundred. One of them, a native of Monte Video, had resided twelve years in the country, and through him Captain Gardiner was enabled to explain his object. He was informed in reply that he might remain and build where he thought proper. This permission was shortly afterwards confirmed by Wissale, the principal chief, who had been absent for some eight months on a trading expedition in the interior, and now joined the party already named with about an equal number of followers. Among the latter was a North American Indian, named Isaac, who had been living for some years among the Patagonians, and had mastered their language, such as it was. As a medium of communication with the natives he proved of the greatest service.
Captain Gardiner was encouraged by the seemingly peaceable and friendly disposition of the chief and his people, and indulged the hope that his efforts to plant a Mission would be followed up by effective action on the part of the Church Missionary Society, or one of the other Missionary Societies. Accompanied by his family he made his way to England to urge the claims of this destitute field. His first approach was to the honoured Society just named. But, while warmly sympathizing with the object, the Committee of that Society, after earnest and careful consideration, came to the conclusion that they would not be justified in undertaking any additional responsibility, notwithstanding that Gardiner was prepared to guarantee the entire expense for the first three years, and £100 annually thereafter.
From none of the various sections of the Christian Church indeed did Gardiner receive encouragement. Each in turn, when applied to, pleaded inability to undertake a new mission. Moreover, a mission to such a people was at that time generally regarded as a forlorn hope. These discouragements, though doubtless keenly felt, seemed only to intensify the gallant officer's solicitude for the wretched objects for whose moral and spiritual welfare he yearned.
It was in these circumstances that the PATAGONIAN MISSIONARY SOCIETY, since named the SOUTH AMERICAN MISSIONARY SOCIETY, was founded, its headquarters at the outset being at Brighton, where Gardiner at the time resided. On July 4, 1844, the first meeting of the "Patagonian Mission" was held at Brighton, at the Rev. James Vaughan's; the honoured name of Captain Allen Gardiner appearing, as Secretary, after the Minutes recording that Meeting. The title-page of that first Minute Book is as follows:--
"Minutes and accounts, connected with the proceedings of the Brighton Missionary Association for Patagonia. Commenced July 4, 1844."
The Committee selected as their first catechist for Patagonia Mr. Robert Hunt, the master of an endowed school at Kendal. As there had already been a lengthened delay, it was thought better that Gardiner and Hunt should proceed forthwith to their field of labour, and trust to their being joined by an ordained clergyman as soon as the services of a suitable man could be secured.
Embarking in the brig Rosalie, the two Christian adventurers, in February, 1845, reached Oazy harbour "with three small huts--one for stores, one for cooking, and the third for sleeping; also with every necessary provision for their support for some months." Captain Gardiner was hopeful that a mission established at this harbour might become a centre of operations, "embracing more immediately the most Southern Patagonian tribes, but comprehending and aiming to supply the spiritual wants of the entire native population, from the southernmost inhabited spot of the New World to the Rio Negro and the independent tribes beyond," which then scoured and devastated the Pampas of Buenos Ayres. From the moment of landing, however, their position and prospects were anything but comfortable and encouraging. Wissale paid them frequent visits. But a marked change was very soon observable in his conduct, due chiefly, they had only too good reason to believe, to the presence and influence of a deserter and desperate character of the name of Cruz. The cupidity and duplicity, the jealous disposition, and sullen, ungovernable temper, too, of the chief, aggravated by adverse circumstances in his condition and that of his people, made it increasingly doubtful whether the missionaries would be able to "hold the fort." Their lives seemed to hang by a very slender thread.
The difficulties of the situation were greatly increased by the arrival of Padre Domingo, an Indian by birth, and Romish priest from Fort Bulnes, who was making every effort to extend his influence and that of his Church among the Patagonians. The ground, too, on which it was proposed to establish the mission was claimed by the Chilian Government, with the prospect that it might in turn be wrested from them by that of Buenos Ayres. To all this was added the fact that the Patagonians were a migratory race, with no settled habits, being dependent chiefly on the produce of the chase. In other respects, the field was very unfavourable. It had the negative characteristics of being without habitations, without water, without trees, without mountains, supporting merely a few dwarf plants and shrubs.
In view of all these circumstances, the place was judged unsuitable for a Protestant Mission, and it was therefore decided, though with much reluctance, to abandon Patagonia for the present. Accordingly, taking advantage in the following month of the arrival of an English barque from Valparaiso, the missionaries returned to England.
Their return was a great disappointment to the supporters of the mission. Some, even of the Committee, urged that the Society should be dissolved without further delay. But this proposal was overruled, in the belief that some other part of South America might afford greater facilities for commencing a mission.
As fuller information was desiderated previous to deciding in favour of any particular field, Captain Gardiner again volunteered his services. His offer was accepted; and Frederico Gonzalez, a young Spaniard, having been associated with him, the two sailed from Liverpool in the Plata, and reached Monte Video on November 24, 1845. Finding on their arrival there that the original plan of traversing the country from Buenos Ayres to the Indian locations near the slopes of the Cordilleras could not be carried out, in consequence of the hostile feelings existing towards British subjects in the Argentine provinces, they proceeded by sea to Valparaiso.
Similar difficulties having presented themselves on the western side of the Continent, they again took ship northwards to the port of Cobija in Bolivia. Accompanied by a guide they set out for the interior by way of the Atacama desert, which extends for nearly three hundred miles, and in which for more than a third of the way no fresh water was to be found. Nothing, it was said, even in Arabia, could surpass it in sterility. After a month's journeying they reached Tarija, the capital of a frontier province of the same name. From this point they made several exploratory journeys to Indian locations further in the interior. These extended over several months, during which Gonzalez and the guide were quite knocked up with fever and ague, and Gardiner himself was at length similarly attacked. The chiefs and people were on the whole friendly, but no encouragement to settle in their midst was given.
Though Gardiner and his associates were fit only for their beds, they traversed a further distance of sixty miles over mountains, strewed with rocks, in many places so steep and slippery that they were frequently obliged to dismount from their horses and walk. At San Luis, Gardiner was prostrated by dysentery, and six weeks elapsed ere he could resume his journey. When in some measure restored, he was encouraged to communicate with the President of the Republic, explaining the object of their visit to Bolivia, and at the same time petitioning the Government for permission to form a mission station in one of the frontier districts of the interior. No sooner did this request become known in Chuqui-saca, the capital, than it met with most decided opposition from the (Romish) ecclesiastical authorities, and in consequence was at once negatived by Congress. Nothing daunted, Gardiner made another attempt to secure the desired permission, the petition in this instance being more moderate in its terms. The better to insure success, he took it himself to the capital, where he saw several of the leading members of the Government, and had the satisfaction of receiving in reply a favourable response. Two conditions only were attached to the sanction given, namely, that the Society should confine their missionary efforts to the aborigines, and that the missionaries should abstain from any attempt to proselytize. Subject to these conditions, the Government of Bolivia engaged to protect them while within their territory, and not to hinder them in the prosecution of their work among the aborigines inhabiting the territories not actually subject to Bolivian jurisdiction.
A serious drawback to the selection of Bolivia as a field of missionary labour was the fact that the Republic was sadly hampered by the want of a suitable port. Chili, the Argentine Republic, Paraguay, and Brazil, hem it in on all sides.
When the necessary arrangements were concluded, and a spot had been selected for their residence, Captain Gardiner proceeded to the coast, and once more embarked for this country, which was reached on February 8, 1847. He had in view the twofold object of securing the services of a suitable missionary, and of getting, if possible, the Church Missionary Society to reconsider their former decision and to take over the management of the Patagonian Mission. His proposals to the Society were, after careful deliberation, again declined, on the ground that it was with difficulty the existing missions were maintained; that they had already decided against adopting missions in Northern India and Central America; and that they doubted the propriety of occupying a sphere of labour so remote from the coast as that proposed, and of pledging themselves to refrain from carrying on missionary work among the Roman Catholic inhabitants residing on the borders of the sphere of operations and within Bolivian territory.
Following on this decision, as Captain Gardiner and his friends felt that they could not give up the cause of Christ among the South Americans, a number of meetings were held in London, which had become the headquarters of the Society's home operations until 1850, when its business was transferred to Bristol. In 1865 the headquarters were removed permanently to London. The Committee having accepted the offer of another young Spaniard, Don Miguel Robles, he was sent out to join Gonzalez in Bolivia. The instructions addressed to him by Captain Gardiner, as Secretary, were full of most wise counsel, and breathed the very spirit of Christ.
A more important step was taken about the same time--the arranging for a missionary expedition to Tierra del Fuego. In furtherance of this Gardiner held numerous meetings throughout England, and laid himself out to raise the needful funds. When his efforts had been attended by a measure of success, he submitted his plans to the Committee. These embraced a party of four in the first instance, one of them being a ship's carpenter, with qualifications, also to undertake the duties of catechist; secondly, supplies sufficient for six months at least, two boats and a dingey, and two wigwams. It was arranged that the men selected should be accustomed to the sea as well as noted for their piety, and, if married, that their wives should not accompany them in the first instance, but be sent out afterwards at the Society's expense after the mission party had resided for a year at the station.
These proposals being approved, and Captain Gardiner's services to conduct the party to their field of labour having been accepted, he proceeded, to inquire for suitable agents, and otherwise to make all needful preliminary arrangements. Desirous of saving expense to the Society, he made application to the Admiralty to convey the party, including himself, in a Queen's ship, with the result that eventually the Clymene, a vessel of 450 tons, sailing from Cardiff to Valparaiso, was placed at their service. Staten Island, their intended destination, at the extreme east of Tierra del Fuego, was sighted on March 15, 1848. The attempt to land there, however, had to be abandoned on account of the tempestuous state of the weather.
Arranging with the Captain of the Clymene, they proceeded at once to Lennox Roads, where at the south-eastern extremity of Picton Island, at the entrance to Beagle Channel, they found a sheltered anchorage in a landlocked cove. As it promised to be a suitable site for the projected mission, Gardiner and his friends bivouacked for the night on shore, high in hope as regards the prosecution of the difficult work that lay before them. How it fared with them must be reserved for the next chapter.
One cannot but anew express admiration of the heroism and self-sacrificing devotion which the gallant leader of the expedition displayed. It is doubtful whether in the entire history of modern Christian Missions this, in any single instance, has ever been surpassed.
There are not wanting those who, rejoicing in their fancied superior intelligence and culture, decry men like Gardiner, who lead the van in attacking some citadel of the kingdom of darkness. Instead of doing so, it would be well for such unsympathetic critics if they possessed one tithe of the earnestness, and enthusiasm, and heroism, and love, and whole-hearted persistency by which missionary pioneers are enabled, not recklessly, but calmly and deliberately, and in the exercise of a heaven-implanted faith, to face dangers and surmount obstacles, in order that they may erect on foreign and unfriendly shores the standard of the Cross, and carry to the people living there that Gospel which alone is able to uplift and purify, and transform and ennoble them.