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From Cape Horn to Panama
A Narrative of Missionary Enterprise among the Neglected Races
of South America, by the South American Missionary Society

By Robert Young

[London] South American Missionary Society, 1905.

Chapter VI. Opening of Mission Stations on the Islands

THE training enjoyed by the natives at Keppel Island, although simple, as it could not fail to be, was thorough, the basis of the Christian instruction being the English language.

There was a junior and a senior or more advanced class, the members of the latter being also employed for some hours daily in the extensive mission gardens and farm, in the herding of cattle and otherwise. In this way orderly habits and steady industry were cultivated, while such out-door occupations conduced to health, and fell in with the kind of life previously lived by the natives.

It was arranged early in 1864 that Okokko should return to Tierra del Fuégo, and there establish a home. His idea was that "Canulenna. his wife, was no longer to fish and wander in the canoe. Her position for the future was to resemble that of an English wife; she was to stay at home, take care of the children, and present to her people an example of domestic life." This was indeed a new departure. It was the turning of the tide--a step in the transition from savage to civilized life--and a striking testimony to the value of the instructions received from Mr. Despard, Mr. Bridges, and Mr. Stirling.

On arriving at Packsaddle Bay, wrote Mr. Stirling, a gloom was cast over the minds of the natives on board (of whom there were several beside Okokko and his family) by rumours of a fatal malady which, in the past summer, had carried off large numbers of the people. Every one of our party was said to have lost relations. T. Button had lost two brothers; Threeboys his father, and other relations. All Camilenna's relations had died; and Lucca, too, had lost uncles and cousins; Uroopa's father had become a widower, etc. An unaffected grief took possession of our lately happy company of natives; the saddest of all, perhaps, was Three-boys, whose father, James Button, was now reported to be dead. Poor Camilenna, too, had one long night of weeping, and Okokko's eyes in the morning looked swollen and heavy. Tom Button came to me more than once, saying, "Mr. Stirling, I very unhappy; by-and-by happy "; and his face bore traces of a saddened spirit.

The information received at Packsaddle Bay suggested the desirableness of proceeding at once to Woollya. This place was reached on March 7; and there too they were called to listen to similar mournful tidings of the dire effects of a malignant sickness, and to have the report of James Button's death confirmed. By the third or fourth day after the arrival of the Allen Gardiner, some forty canoes were reckoned at one time in the harbour. Among those who visited the ship was Jamesina, as Mr. Despard was wont to call James Button's wife. Her face was full of sorrow; and, pointing with her finger toward the sky, she gave Mr. Stirling to understand, by looks more than words, how great her grief was. As an evidence of the widespread and disastrous effects of the epidemic, the majority of the natives had the hair cut short on the crown of the head.

Manning the boat, Mr. Stirling and Mr. Bridges, under command of the Captain, proceeded to Button Island. They were guided by Okokko and Pinoiensce into a pleasant cove, which they considered suitable for their future dwelling. Mr. Stirling had also another special object in view, the selection of a site for a station. Although there was much to admire in the spot and the soil seemed good, the space available for the purposes of a settlement appeared to him to be too limited, and he therefore resolved to examine another locality. Two miles further on he found one superior in every respect--good ground, good wood, good water, good grass, there being also a lake surrounded with woods half a mile distant from the shore. He thought they could not do better than fix on this place for the residence of Okokko, though the Captain rather disliked it for anchorage, and because it was peculiarly exposed to htful hurricanes.

Returning by the boat to the Allen Gardiner, the chief officer reported favourably of the conduct of the natives during the day; and it was mentioned that Lucca had pointed out the exact spot where the dead bodies of the mission agents who fell in November, 1859, were lying. It was not two hundred yards from where the vessel lay at anchor. He added that Okokko and he had covered the bodies with large stones, lest the foxes should devour them. Okokko having corroborated Lucca's story, the boat was lowered, and they proceeded to the place. Scrambling over the broken rocks, traces of the martyrs came to light. Mr. Stirling wrote:--

The remains of Mr. Phillips and Captain Fell are unmistakable, and I have no doubt that six of the bodies of our beloved friends were placed entire where we sought them, that they were placed there in their clothes, and that, not even their pockets were rifled. In the afternoon of March it, I read the funeral service, partly in the ship and partly by the grave. . . The flag hung half-mast high and every token of reverent feeling was unaffectedly offered. The hymn beginning "When our heads are bowed with woe" concluded the solemn service, and the booming of the ship's two signal guns announced aloud that it was over.

Various incidents occurred while the Allen Gardiner remained in this neighbourhood, not the least important of which was the erection of a dwelling and goat house for Okokko at Woollya, close to the spot where the dilapidated hut stood. Previous to leaving, he was visited in his new dwelling. They found him engaged in cooking fish for the family breakfast. To save him from the necessity of returning to canoe life, he was provided with a supply of stores sufficient to keep him going until the expected return of the vessel seven months later. Mr. Stirling could not fail to be somewhat anxious as to the result of this experiment; but Okokko was in good spirits, and the missionaries hoped for the best, all the more that on parting he had, in a simple, earnest manner, asked Mr. Stirling to pray for him when left alone.

It being needful to make a selection of such of the natives as desired to go to Keppel Island, Mr. Stirling chose eight, exclusive of Lucca and Threeboys. He thus wrote:--

Our visit at Woollya closed on the morning of the 21st (March). We have been remarkably favoured by the weather; the natives, too, have been quiet and friendly in their conduct to us. We have had the satisfaction of interring the long-lost remains of our predecessors in this missionary work; we have by word and act endeavoured to set forth the mercies of God and the grace of Jesus Christ; we have been permitted to lay the foundations, as we hope, of a Christian civilization in these hitherto savage parts; and, notwithstanding the apparently small beginning, we have, as our knowledge of the work to be done increases, an increasing hopefulness of its ultimate success.

When in the following year the Allen Gardiner again visited Woollya, it was found that three natives, in a fit of jealousy, and some pretence of the invasion"of tribal rights as regards the particular spot occupied by the house and garden, had destroyed by fire all Okokko's property. His absence on a fishing expedition had been seized as a suitable opportunity for committing this act of wanton destruction. His distress at what had happened was very great, and he especially regretted the loss of his Bible and Prayer-book, and all the more that they were printed in the phonetic character and could riot easily be replaced. On inquiry, Mr. Stirling learned from one of the natives at Woollya that the gardens had been laid out and fenced in, and sown with potatoes and turnips; that the goats had been carefully tended, and that the original flock of seven had increased to upwards of twenty; that a serviceable, bridge had been thrown across a neighbouring stream; and, best of all, that Okokko had frequently spoken to the people about God, and heaven, and hell, and the sort of people that went to either of these places. He had been, in short, a witness for God among his fellow-countrymen.

As the Allen Gardiner was about to return to England, with Mr. Stirling on board, and a considerable time would probably elapse before another visit to Woollya would be paid, it seemed desirable that Okokko and his family should, in the altered circumstances, return along with the other natives to Keppel Island, for further instruction. This arrangement did not involve an abandonment of the settlement at Woollya. It was simply a measure whereby a little later on it might be reoccupied in more advantageous circumstances.

Leaving Okokko and his family, Lucca and Pinoiensee and their wives, and two other lads, under the care of Mr. Bridges, Mr. Stirling proceeded to England, taking with him four Fuégians--Threeboys, Uroopa, Jack, and Sisoy. They arrived in August, 1865. After a brief stay in Bristol, these lads were boarded with Mr. Heather, at Clarborough, near Retford. They could read the English Testament tolerably, write fairly in a copybook, mend their clothes, attend to cattle, and do farm and garden work in a small way. They attended a Bible-class, and showed no inferiority to English boys of the same class. The Bishop of Cork, referring to an address given by one of the lads at a public meeting over which he presided in that city, testified that "he is capable of attaining to our intellectuality, to our morality, and to our virtue." Nor was private prayer neglected.

During the sixteen months the Fuégian lads were in England "they won the esteem and regard of those who had the opportunity of seeing them from time to time--in church, at home, at work, at play, or in the house of a friend, their behaviour was good." They left this country in the Allen Gardiner in December, 1866, arriving at Monte Video in February. Uroopa's delicate constitution had suffered much from the tempestuous voyage. Referring to him, Mr. Stirling wrote from Monte Video--

His thoughts are much bent on heavenly things, and I am confident the subject he likes best is that which has most of Christ in it. At his own request he received the name of John in baptism, "because John was the name of the disciple whom Jesus loved." As he grew weaker one of the sailors remarked, "I wish I was as ready to die as that lad."

In another letter Mr. Stirling wrote:--

He had calmly distributed his few articles of property, making me his executor, and said, while doing so, in a tone which seemed full of sweetness, "If Jesus takes me." do this or that. To be with Jesus in the better land was his simple desire. The 23rd Psalm, which he had often repeated in England, furnished words expressive of his own experience.

Notwithstanding the most unremitting care and attention. Uroopa gradually declined, and on April 2, 1867, his spirit passed away, a day or two before the Allen Gardiner reached Keppel Island. His remains were laid in the Mission Cemetery.

In the month of June Mr. Stirling and Mr. Bridges, accompanied by Threeboys, visited Tierra del Fuégo. It fell to them to break the sad news of Uroopa's death to his father.

The father was at first angry and suspicious, but he came into the cabin and listened attentively to the account which Threeboys gave, that death carne to him not in terror, but in the peaceful and joyful hope of the resurrection to eternal life. The feelings of the poor man were apparently much soothed by what he heard, and he appeared satisfied when we gave over to him the greater portion of Uroopa's effects.

Up to this time Threeboys had been in good health. But just then he was struck with a mortal disease. Mr. Stirling resolved to go at once to Stanley for medical advice. The malady increased in the course of the voyage. This was very discouraging. On the other hand, the sufferer gave evidence of a great change in his character. The illness and death of Uroopa, and the faith winch brightened his latter days had much to do with the bringing about of this change. Death put an end to his great sufferings while still at sea, and he was buried at Stanley within three months after the funeral of his friend Uroopa. Mr. Stirling had no doubt that the Lord had drawn him to Himself with the cords of love, and added:--

In his delirium he talked or shouted for hours together sometimes. Yet nothing offensive escaped his lips, while frequently in his unconsciousness he would repeat the Lord's Prayer, or a line of a hymn, or a text, or a fragment of the Creed. One night, abruptly, but with a rich, deep, and most solemn tone, he exclaimed, "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty," and then stopped. The force and precision of the words never before seemed to me so marvellous, and I shall never forget the effect upon me. . . .

The youngest boy Sisoy was left with his father at Woollya, as he did not see his way to part with him again at that time; while Jack, who was an orphan, remained at Keppel. The reader will learn more of both of these lads as the narrative proceeds. Meantime, it has been felt to be a privilege to present the first fruits of the seed corn referred to in the opening paragraphs of a previous chapter.

Mr. Stirling earnestly desired to win the islands of Tierra del Fuégo for Christ. There was no royal way of accomplishing this. Such a result could only be secured by God's blessing on a course of prayerful and persistent labour; and this involved much hardship and no small amount of risk as regards his personal safety. But, in the exercise of faith, he heroically faced the danger. For, while fully recognizing the value of the training got by a few at Keppel Island, he saw clearly that if any decided impression was to be made upon the islands as a whole, it could only be by his gaining the confidence of the natives, as the result, not of an occasional visit, but of a lengthened sojourn among them. Hence the importance of establishing stations on the islands, so that from them the light might radiate to the remotest parts.

By way of experiment, a small settlement was commenced at Liwya, on Navarin Island, on the southern shore of Beagle Channel. Okokko, Lucca, Pinoia, and Sisoy, among others, were placed there. A log house was built for them, goats and sheep, as well as implements and seeds for the purposes of cultivation, being also provided.

Before leaving these natives, Mr. Stirling endeavoured to impress on them, in view of the kindness shown them at Keppel, the duty of showing kindness to others. To some of them he gave certificates of character, enclosed in a waterproof bag. On one, side of the card was written the name of the native and his character; while, on the other, strangers were requested to treat them with kindness, and not to throw stumbling blocks in their way--a not unnecessary precaution.

On again visiting the station several months later, Mr. Stirling thus remarks:--

We found our natives in possession of their rude homestead property and goats notwithstanding the severe trial of a most inclement winter.

He added:--

I am about to try a residence ashore, and for this purpose have ordered a wooden, house at Stanley--length, over twenty feet; height of wall, six feet six inches; breadth, ten feet. My motive for living ashore is to exercise a direct and constant influence over the natives, to show my confidence in them, to encourage a more general and regular disposition in them to adopt our ways and to listen to our instruction, and to get the children daily within the zone of Christian example and teaching.

Accordingly, in January, 1869, Mr. Stirling established himself at Ushuaia, opposite to Liwya, on the north shore of Beagle Channel. Okokko was left in sole charge at Liwya; the others willingly accompanied the devoted missionary, and became his bodyguard. The spot selected had a good harbour, plenty of wood and water, with land available for tillage and pasturage.

In 1899 George Despard Okokko was still living at Ushuaia. He was between fifty and sixty, the oldest Yahgan in Tierra del Fuégo. There were not more than three or four others anything like that age. He was the only survivor of the thirty-six who were baptized by Bishop Stirling at Ushuaia, and the only native living who had a grandson.

After a week's residence at Ushuaia, Mr. Stirling wrote:--

As I pace up and down at evening before my hut, I fancy myself a sentinel--God's sentinel, I trust--stationed at the southernmost outpost of His great army. A dim touch of heaven surprises the heart with joy, and I forget my loneliness in realizing the privilege of being permitted to stand here in Christ's name.

Bright and noble words, these! But will the reader pause for a moment before proceeding with the narrative, and consider how much they imply. Here is a man with high ministerial qualifications, and no small amount of culture, who would doubtless have filled with advantage important positions in his native land, but who, instead of being content to settle down there, or even at one or other of the more outstanding foreign mission stations, where his gifts would have been appreciated, prefers to occupy a miserable wooden hut on the bleak and unfriendly shores of Tierra del Fuégo--every other consideration giving place to the one overmastering desire to tell the degraded natives of God's love, and to lead them to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to the salvation of their souls! The reader can follow out this passing reflection for himself.

Mr. Stirling's hut not being sufficient for the stores he had brought with him, he portioned them among the more trustworthy of his native friends. He desired to foster in them the principle of responsibility, and he testified that each was faithful to his trust. The jealousy of the more lawless natives led to an attack on the others. Hearing the disturbance, Mr. Stirling appeared on the scene. The attacking party made off. He followed them to their wigwams and demanded an explanation, at the same time reproving them for their conduct. It had the desired effect. That same evening fifteen of the more friendly natives assembled in the hut to join in thanksgiving to God for His mercies.

Still, Mr. Stirling knew that stealing was with the natives an inveterate habit, and he therefore felt not a little anxious as regards the future. As the most likely plan of counteracting such tendencies, he decided to combine with a course of morning and evening instruction some systematic outdoor work for the purpose of laying out a complete settlement. Food was given to such as were willing to work. Cleanliness and tidiness were insisted on, and no one was allowed to enter the hut without giving a proper salutation. Violence or theft was punished by exclusion from the privileged hut for a period proportioned to the offence. One man was so enraged at his exclusion from the hut, in consequence of some offence committed, that he threatened to kill Mr. Stirling. But, said one, who was himself excluded for a less offence, "If you kill him, we'll kill you." Thus a beginning was made in the direction of law and order. For seven anxious months Mr. Stirling laboured at his humble indoor and outdoor tasks. At the end of that period, in August, 1869, the Allen Gardiner arrived, "bringing him an unexpected summons from England to return home for consecration as the first Bishop of the Falkland Islands. He embarked, as required, immediately, leaving for a time the friendly natives in sole charge of the half-formed station."

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