Project Canterbury

In the Bahamas

[By Addington Robert Peel Venables]

From Mission Life (periodical), Vol. III (1872), pp. 355-361.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006






[Footnote: * The visitation of the diocese was made in five trips from Nassau, viz.: 1. S. to Exuma, Long, and Ragged Islands. 2. E. to Eleuthera. 3. N. to Abaco, Grand Bahama, and Berry Islands. 4. W. to Andros. 5. to Rum Cay and Watling Islands. In this way the greater part of the diocese was visited within the year. The Bishop is now (May) on a six weeks cruise to the extreme south of his diocese.]

DURING January and February, 1871, I was kept in Nassau by the Diocesan Synod; but the second week in March found Mr. Capel+ [Footnote: + Chaplain, since returned to England.] and myself at Ragged Island, after a long and tedious journey, lengthened by calms and head-winds. Circumstances had hitherto prevented me from visiting this island, once so busy, but now, in common with the other salt islands, suffering from the depression of its staple commodity. Salt is their only produce, and that they are unable to sell; and were it not for the abundance of fish about their shores, I do not know how the inhabitants would live.# [Footnote: # The enormous duties levied on salt by the Government of the United States have almost paralysed the salt trade of the Bahamas.]

Ragged Island, March.--Occurrences in past years have led to the decay of our Mission to this island, and the church is in ruins; but through the energy of Mr. Ceruti, who had lately undertaken the office of honorary catechist, the Church was showing signs of renewed life. I found a Sunday-school of forty children, with five teachers. Fourteen communicated on the occasion of my visit, and eleven were confirmed. [355/356] I took measures towards rebuilding the church, and money, lumber, and provisions have been sent to the island for the purpose; but, unfortunately, the removal of Mr. Ceruti has thrown everything back.

This is one of the many instances of what is a weak point in our system, and a cause for continual anxiety--a Mission depending on a single man. When the man is removed the Mission fails. But in another way it is indirectly a source of strength. It is a strength because the precarious nature of our work, and the continual anxiety lest a moment should see its collapse, foster the spirit of faith which is our true strength. Moreover, it is under trying circumstances like these that individual energy is developed; whilst we have Missions failing because individuals on whom they depended have been withdrawn, we have, on the other hand, Missions springing into existence because individuals have come forward to take them up. I think, also, I may say that our anxieties on this head are every day becoming less. I am every day more and more encouraged by the increased number of volunteers to carry on Church work.

Exuma.--After a pleasant stay of a few days, we left Ragged Island for Exuma, experiencing the same light, flattering weather we had met with on our way up, until we were off Little Exuma, abreast of which we anchored for the night, with a very heavy sea running, from which we suffered some little damage. There was no landing with such a sea, and we held on for Great Harbour. On Friday, the 17th, we rode over to Steventon. The people here are all Baptists. The Church schoolroom is in course of erection, and in the meantime the Baptist chapel is used for that purpose, with an attendance of sixty-three children, and an average of forty Sunday scholars.

On the next day, Saturday, I held service at Steventon, examined the Church day-school, baptised five adults and eleven infants, administered Holy Communion and confirmed eleven. Rode back to the harbour in the afternoon. On the next day, Sunday, held service at the harbour, when twenty received Holy Communion and fourteen were confirmed. On the Monday we left for Little Exuma, where in the evening we held service, and I confirmed ten. The next morning six persons received Holy Communion--a seventh arriving too late.

Long Island.--After service we sailed for Alligator Bay, Long Island, where, on the next day, we held service, and seven persons were confirmed. I called together a meeting of the neighbouring settlements to decide upon the best spot for a school; and we fixed its future position. A site has been given me, and I hope the people will have their school up in the course of the year.

Next morning, 23rd of March, I took to my boat, and in her sailed to Mr. William Adderley's; there I confirmed his son, Mr. John Adderley--then on his deathbed--and administered Holy Communion. After [356/357] the service we rode to Mr. Charles Knowles's, at Glynton, where I held service, administering Holy Communion to eleven and confirming twelve, returning in the afternoon by boat to the schooner--a long and tiresome sail and row, made the longer by missing the channel. Arrangements have since been made for building a Church school at Glynton. Mr. Knowles has given the land. The lumber for the purpose has been sent him, and before long I hope the building will be up. The next day we returned to Nassau for Easter.

On Easter Sunday I confirmed twenty-four persons at St. Matthew's, Nassau; twenty-three had been confirmed in the same church only four months before.

Eleuthera.--Three weeks after Easter--on Wednesday, the 3rd of May--I sailed in H.M.S. "Minstrel" for Eleuthera; but I suppose that, like Sir Walter's minstrel, she must be "infirm and old," for we did not reach Governor's Harbour before Friday. Shortly after our arrival my own schooner came in, having left Nassau only that morning. On Saturday we held service (weather not permitting on Friday), and again on Sunday, when six were confirmed and the Holy Communion administered to sixteen. I found the Sunday-school increased in number. The opposition to the Church still exists here. Nine candidates for confirmation had been deterred from presenting themselves for that rite. But the trials the Church has to pass through in this settlement tend to purify her for her Lord! Nevertheless there is much that is encouraging. The 100 communicants, whom Mr. Hildyard found on his appoint-[357/358]ment to St. Patrick's, Eleuthera, have increased to 134; and, since my visit, Mr. Hildyard has started two fresh Missions in the island, which are full of promise.

Abaco.--On the 13th of June I sailed for Abaco. On the 14th held service at Green Turtle Cay. On the 15th sailed to Hope Town, where Mr. Philpot had established a Mission, under the energetic superintendence of Mr. Thompson, the lighthouse-keeper. Here I held service in the schoolroom, and confirmed sixteen. The Government has kindly granted a site here for a church, for the building of which preparations are being made. On the Saturday I returned to Great Harbour; and on the Sunday held service, and confirmed nineteen--fourteen males and five females. The difficulty of obtaining at this settlement a site for a church, which has for so long been contemplated, has at last been surmounted. One has been bought for _35--a lady, whose good works are well known in Nassau, supplying _30 of the purchase-money.

Grand Bahama.--On Monday, the 19th, we sailed with a very light wind for Grand Bahama. On the 22nd (Thursday) we held service at West End, confirmed eight, and administered Holy Communion. Lumber has been sent for the long-proposed church at this settlement, which I trust will soon be erected. From the West End we beat up that nasty southern shore of Bahama, which I seldom sail along without wishing myself well away; and on Sunday we held services at Eight-mile Rock, where I confirmed nine and administered the Holy Communion to fourteen. We have a good man in the catechist.

At High Rocks, in the same island, Mr. Marshall Cooper carries on a Sunday-school, in spite of difficulties; and between that place and Golden Grove, the church, the building of which has for some time been delayed, is now in hand.* [Footnote: * Grand Bahama is a large island, thickly wooded , but with a very scanty population.]

Berry Islands.--From Grand Bahama I sailed to Berry islands, where Mr. Taylor, a promising young catechist, is stationed. He has a trying Mission; for the population is so scattered over this extensive group of islands, that it is a difficult matter for clergymen or catechists to reach them. Mr. Taylor conducts two Church day-schools. I examined the children, but as yet they do not show any very high state of proficiency. On Sunday, 2nd July, I held service in the new church at Bullock's Harbour, and confirmed eight persons--four candidates were unavoidably absent--and administered Holy Communion. After service we beat up to Nassau.

The Sunday following, the 9th of July, I confirmed twenty-three persons in Christchurch Cathedral, Nassau; and on the next Sunday, twenty-four persons at St. Mary's.

Andros Island.--On Tuesday, the 1st of August, I was holding service at Fresh Creek, Andros Island, to which island Mr. Blair accompanied me [358/359] for school-inspection. On Wednesday, 2nd, warped out of the creek and sailed up to Bowen's Sound. Went ashore, and next day examined the Church day-school in the newly-erected building. Held service in the church, which was only a few days afterwards to fall by hurricane. Administered Holy Communion and confirmed thirteen persons. After service I was taken part of the way back to the schooner, in his boat, by poor Fox, who lost his life in the same gale which destroyed the church. Returned on the same day (Friday) to Fresh Creek; and on Sunday, the 6th, I consecrated the new church at Calabash Bay. That day was one of which I shall long look back with pleasure. The pretty church (the Rev. W. Sweeting, architect, to whom the building owes not only its design, but much hard work done upon it besides); the sweet singing, for which Fresh Creek has long been famous, and to which I doubt whether any church in Nassau comes up; the interest taken by the Church-people in the ceremony; their happy faces and the kind hospitality of certain of the inhabitants, who entertained our party between the services with a thoughtfulness and a courtesy highly appreciated by us--all this made it a very bright, happy day to us.

The next day (Monday the 7th) we sailed down to Mastic Point, stopping at Stanyard Creek, to examine the Church day-school and to hold service. The children, of whom there are fifty-one on the books, showed considerable proficiency for the short time they have been under the teaching of Mr. Edgecombe. The school and services are still held in his house, as the building in course of erection, to serve as church and school, is not yet finished. While at this settlement, I learnt a strange instance of credulity on the part of some of the inhabitants.

The buccaneers, who once infested these islands, are supposed to have buried treasure in different places, and it is said that it was their custom to kill a slave on the spot where the treasure was hid, that his spirit might be the guardian of what they there deposited. Shortly before my visit, a spirit, it is said, appeared to a girl, and described where a hidden treasure would be found, telling her that it (i.e., the spirit) could not rest until the treasure was removed. Accordingly, several persons dug away for some time, but, I need not tell you--found nothing.

We arrived in the evening at Mastic Point; but, as the whole population was going to a wake, we could not hold service until the next day. Here I learnt for the first time that it is customary at these wakes to put food outside the door for the dead person to eat. The next morning I examined the day-school in the new church. It appears to be making good progress. Afterwards service was held, Holy Communion was administered, and three persons were confirmed. The service was largely attended; but the new Mission has to contend against strong prejudices.

Leaving the same day (August 8th) we ran down to Nicoll's Town. [359/360] The church here was destroyed by the hurricane of 1866, and other circumstances since then have contributed to put things back. At length, however, the Mission is apparently recovering. Stones have been collected for a new church, which the people wish to build more substantially than the last, and before our next anniversary it will, I hope, be in use. On the evening of our arrival, we had a Missionary meeting, conducted by Mr. Fisher,* [Footnote: * Vicar of St. Agnes, Nassau.] and afterwards our party turned in into beds extemporised in the schoolroom, with Mr. Fisher's Missionary pictures hanging around--frightful enough to disturb the slumbers of a man with the quietest conscience. Next morning the Holy Communion was celebrated, and I preached to the people. There were none confirmed. After service, we returned to Fresh Creek, to pick up our schooner, and came back to Nassau.

On the 20th of August I confirmed thirty at St. Agnes, Nassau, and on the next day sailed for America.+ [Footnote: + During the months of August, September, and October, sailing is dangerous, on account of possible hurricane, and the vessels mostly remain in harbour.] In that country my only work for the Church was to collect money to rebuild the churches destroyed by the hurricane of August last.# [Footnote: # During his stay in the States, the Bishop attended the Convention of the Church in America at Baltimore, where he had the pleasure of meeting the Bishop of Lichfield, the Dean of Chester, and other clergy from England.]

Since my return in November, my visitations have not occupied a long time. The end of the month I started for Long Cay, but light baffling winds caused my return.

Rum Cay.--On the 13th of December I left in H.M.S. "Fly" for Rum Cay, arriving there the following afternoon. Mr. Fisher went ashore the same evening and held service. The next morning I went ashore early to administer the Holy Communion. I am sorry to say only five persons communicated. In the evening I again held service and confirmed nine. The Church in this island suffers much from dissentions of a private nature.

Watling's Island.--Got under way in the night, and arrived the next day at Watling's. The new church in the island is now used for service, though not quite completed. It was built by the joint efforts of Church people and Baptists:§ [Footnote: § See following paragraphs.] not, however, by very skilled hands, for part of [360/361] the walling has already fallen. Services were held on Sunday; Holy Communion was administered to thirteen six adults and five children were baptized, and fifteen confirmed. I am sorry to say I had to suspend several from Holy Communion on account of immorality. The Sunday-school I found fallen off in numbers, owing to the withdrawal of the Baptist children. I returned to spend Christmas in Nassau. This visit was the last in the year.

[Footnote above: § The circumstance to which the Bishop refers are rather singular. It appears that, after a former visit to this island, in which the Bishop had rebuked the people pretty sharply for their indifference, and had urged upon them the duty of building their church at once, nothing resulted, until a young girl of the island, impelled, as she said, from heaven, to speak to them upon various matters of spiritual concern, began to bid the people to live more devoutly, and to build the church according to the Bishop's instructions.

The tone of her instruction (although in all this the young girl is reputed to have acted without any apparent excitement) yet so influenced her neighbours, that the magistrate of the island, who had opposed the building of the church, wrote himself to the Bishop to say that they were all at work doing their utmost to carry it on, and that they would receive, as catechist, any one (white or coloured) whom he would send.]

We have to thank God for several outward marks of progress during the past year, such, for example, as--

I. The erection of two new churches in Andros and Watling Islands.

II. Twelve churches (most of them also intended as schoolrooms) are in various stages of progress at different stations in Eleuthera, Long Island, Ragged Island, Abaco, Exuma, Andros Island, and Arthur's Town.

III. Nine Church schools have also been established during 1871 in Andros Island, Exuma, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama, and New Providence.

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