"Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, if abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."--JOHN xii. 24.
TWICE over, not a single grain merely, but seven grains in the one case and eight in the other--in all fifteen precious Christian lives--were buried in Fuégian soil. And from these buried seeds, seemingly dead, this striking utterance of Christ received ere long a remarkable fulfilment.
When Abraham dwelt in the land of Canaan, the Lord said unto him: "Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. . Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for unto thee will I give it." And although Abraham, even in his old age, possessed nought of the land save a grave, this was regarded by him as a sort of first instalment, an earnest of the faithfulness of the great Promiser, an assurance that in due time the promise would be fulfilled to its full extent.
In like manner, the South American Missionary Society, representing the Christian Church, had the promise, "Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." Beyond this promise, at the time of which we now write, the Society had not, in Tierra del Fuégo, one rood of ground or one convert from heathenism, only fifteen graves; but the precious dust committed to these was rightly regarded as the seed of future blessing. It is noteworthy in this connection that, in the mysterious providence of God, Gardiner had been called away without seeing any fruit of his thirteen years' toil on behalf of South America.
As the faith of the committee and the remaining members of the missionary staff did not "stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God," the work, though interrupted by the massacre at Woollya, was not abandoned. On the contrary, it was prosecuted on a larger scale and with greater energy than ever, and God honoured the faith of His servants, and granted them, and that speedily, the desired success, even among the savage tribes of Fuégia. The steps that led to this happy result may be briefly mentioned.
It has already been stated that Mr. Despard, with his family, arrived in England early in 1862. He had brought home with him the Allen Gardiner for repairs and enlargement. This secured for the vessel an increase both of efficiency and accommodation.
Still more important was the selection and appointment of a fresh missionary party, with the Rev. W. H. Stirling as superintendent of the mission--a man who, by his moral heroism and his unflagging Christian devotion in this exceptionally difficult and trying field for the long period of thirty-eight years proved himself in a high degree a worthy successor of the noble founder. Had a Medical Board existed in these early days, Mr. Stirling, in all probability, would not have passed, such was the delicate state of his health. He himself, on being remonstrated with for desiring to go, is reported to have replied, that if he had only three years to live, his wish would be to spend them where the Lord had most need of his services. Yet, in spite of such forebodings, he is still permitted to labour for the Master.
Another forward step was taken, or at least contemplated, about the same time, even the extension of the Society's operations to the South American Continent generally. This was an object on which Captain Allen Gardiner's heart had been strongly set, and one, it will be remembered, which the committee were, in 1847, reluctantly compelled to abandon, owing to the state of the Society's finances and to a change of Government in Bolivia. In a succeeding chapter some account will be given of the proceedings which resulted in the successful resumption of the work in the more northerly parts of the neglected Continent. Meantime, it may be well to continue the narrative of the Mission to Tierra del Fuégo.
The Allen Gardiner, with the new missionary party, left Bristol in August, 1862. On the way out to the Falklands some time was spent, and to good purpose, by Mr. Stirling at Monte Video and Buenos Ayres, as also in visiting the Rio Negro, which bounds Patagonia on the north, and the river Santa Cruz, further south. In consequence of these detentions, the vessel did not reach Keppel Island till January 30, 1863. The impressions made on Mr. Stirling's mind on arrival will he best told by the following extract from his journal:--
From the water the station does not bear a very prepossessing look--the houses are not grouped for effect; and, architecturally, are not imposing. The views from the land, on the contrary, are full of interest. The high lands of the Falklands, and the islands so thickly scattered, and so richly occupied with beetling rock and pinnacle, now glow with purple in the hazy prospect, or stand out sharp and clear under a cloudless sky, the ever-changing sea rolling grandly between.
On landing, we were met on the jetty by William Bartlett and Okokko. The latter's wife and two children were watching us from a little distance. The letters announcing our approach had never reached the station, but the possibility of such a thing did not occur to me, and I failed to introduce myself by name until Bartlett's difficulty was manifest on attempting to introduce me to his wife. Okokko surprised me by his good English, pleasant manners and joyous laugh. He and his family have had many advantages since 1859; but if in less than four years the results of education and kind treatment are so conspicuously good in their case, those who labour for the future benefit of these people have the utmost encouragement and rewards in store. . . . Okokko foretells the time when, he being old and his children grown up, the whole people of Tierra del Fuégo shah be taught to know God, and enjoy in peaceable habitations the fruits of Christian civilization. This is his own picture, and the time of the prophecy his own.
Perhaps I ought to have given an earlier place to the mention of Mr. Thomas Bridges. I am satisfied that he holds in his hands, and can use far better than any one else, the key of the Fuégian language. He has caught the verbal formations, and traced them through all their intricacies.
Mr. Stirling saw and readily acknowledged from the outset of his missionary career that he was entering upon other men's labours. The effect of the training in the case of Okokko especially was felt to be full of encouragement. It showed unmistakably that the uplifting of the degraded Fuégians was not such a hopeless affair as some at one time conceived it to be. The newly-arrived Missionary was quick to see that the blessed results which had been accomplished in one instance might, by faith and prayer and patience, in course of time be realized in the case of the entire race. His earnest desire accordingly was to reopen communication with the least possible delay with the islands of Tierra del Fuégo, all intercourse with them having ceased after the massacre of 1859. The Allen Gardiner sailed thither in March, 1863, calling at Banner Cove, Packsaddle Bay, and Woollya, the distance of Tierra del Fuégo from the Falklands being some 300 miles.
Okokko was one of those who accompanied Mr. Stirling. His presence was felt to be of the utmost importance, both as an interpreter and as being likely to promote friendly dealings with the natives. At Pack-saddle Bay confidence was established through his influence with the family of a man named Chingaline. Mr. Stirling thus tells what happened:--
Having overheard us singing at our morning prayer, they wished us to sing again, which we did, Okokko once leading, and then Mr. Bridges; and subsequently, on the shore when we landed, the man and his eldest son sat and listened, with the most evident pleasure, while we sang, "Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow" and "From Greenland's Icy Mountains." I desired Okokko and Mr. Bridges to make plain to this man the nature of our work, and our desire to teach and benefit his people. To this he attentively listened, and when we asked him if he would like his son to visit Keppel Island to be instructed, he was not long in talking to his boy about it before he gave his consent. The boy too was well pleased.
And now a word about the lad, whose age is perhaps fourteen, and his name Uroopatoosaloom. In height he is just over five feet, with black hair and full laughing eyes, a very pleasant expression, good features, and a mouth just large enough to display an enviable set of white teeth. Full of gentleness and good nature is this Fuégian lad, as far removed from a savage as I am. Not a man in the Allen Gardiner but likes him; not a man but has expressed surprise at his good qualities--his docility, his willingness to oblige, his quick accommodation to his new circumstances, his good looks and cleanly habits. The fact is, I went to Tierra del Fuégo screwed tight up in my prejudices, and desiring to exercise a very large charity towards a people belonging to the lowest portion of the human race. To my surprise, I found myself wondering at the evident resemblance to myself which these savages presented, and then unconsciously striving to convince myself that they must be worse than they seemed to be.
On leaving for Woollya, twenty miles distant, the father exhorted his son not to go ashore, but to remain on the vessel, as the natives there belonged to another tribe, and were not friendly with his people.
From the deck of the Allen Gardiner Okokko addressed with much energy the people in the canoes about the ship, explaining to them that the missionaries desired to teach them about God and Jesus Christ, and to improve their condition. It was the first attempt at anything like preaching in the Fuégian tongue, and by one of themselves Encouraged by the way in which the natives listened to his message, he, with his wife and family, went ashore on the Sunday. The day was spent in visiting the people in their wigwams, when in his own simple and earnest manner, he again told them of the object in view. The result was said to have been "eminently beneficial," the natives showing the utmost friendliness during the remainder of their stay at Woollya. Not only so, but the Fuégians who desired to visit the Mission-station were more than could be accommodated there. And yet, on returning to Keppel, Mr. Stirling wrote, "We have now, with Okokko and his family, eleven natives of Tierra del Fuégo under our training and care." Shortly afterwards three Patagonians, from Santa Cruz--a man about sixty, with his daughter and son--were brought by the Allen Gardiner to Keppel. They far excelled the Fuégians in appearance, and were evidently conscious of their superiority.
Nothing could be more different from all they had been accustomed to than the circumstances of their new position. The regularity of the hours of labour, of meals, and of the issuing o£ stores; the morning and evening services of religion, to which they were summoned by the sound of the bell; the appointed periods of instruction; the attention bestowed upon the gardens and the farm; the lameness of the animals about the station; the novelties of diet, and the large use o£ vegetables; the contrasts between the wigwam and the snug cottage; the differences of clothing, and the importance attached to cleanliness in every particular; these, and a hundred other matters utterly beyond the, range of their past experience, immediately arrested the observation of these strangers, and exercised a wonderful influence upon their imaginations. The new life was a series of surprises to them. Yet they fell in with its requirements easily.
It must have been no small satisfaction to witness first the blade, and then the ear, and to have the confident expectation of seeing ere long the full corn in the ear, in view especially of the peculiarly unfavourable nature of the soil.