Project Canterbury

Florence Buchanan
The Little Deaconess of the South Seas

By Emlyn Jones

New York: The Macmillan Co., 1921.
London: The Central Board of Missions, 1921.

Chapter VIII. More about Moa

THE progress made by the Moa children would indeed have been surprising, except that they had in the Deaconess a teacher of most remarkable talent. At the end of the first year the older boys and girls could read and spell in English and write a good round hand, while the Bishop testifies that in speaking of places and public people in Europe they showed a knowledge of geography and contemporary history that astounded him. The second year a "School magazine" was published monthly. It took the form of a double sheet of foolscap, at the top of the front page of which was a water-colour painting of flowers, a sea-scene, or such like, done by a different boy or girl each time. Several girls and boys in turn wrote paragraphs narrating any interesting events in the life of the community during the month. A copy of the magazine regularly travelled to England. A photograph of the choir boys in their Sunday lava-lavas is a speaking testimony to the results of the Deaconess's work with the lads, and her prayer from the very first was that some of these young boys should one day be trained as teachers and missionaries. Her prayer was answered with the opening of St. Paul's Native Training College at Moa on February 11, 1917. Gertrude Robson (late of the New Guinea Mission) after a visit to Moa wrote of the children "They are so bright and happy, so all pervading like the bush flowers after the wet season. At sunrise you hear them chirping and twittering round the [49/50] belfry like honey-suckers--a few minutes later their voices and laughter come to you mingled with the music of the waves on the beach. At morning prayers the children flock in silently to their places, boys on one side and girls on the other. After prayers the children stand till their elders have filed out, and then follow. When the big bell rings for school, the children who have been getting firewood, or sweeping up in front of their huts, come swiftly and gather round the school door. After school if the tide is low they go out on the reef armed with their little fish spears, and generally bring home good store of fish and strange looking sea-beasts for the evening kai-kai. They go far out on the reef their voices ringing out in one of their school songs, or sometimes a strange native melody. After evening prayer, the children play about the village till o'clock when a 'councillor' blows a blast on a big conch shell, and all fly to their grass huts, curl up on a mat and are soon asleep in spite of the mosquitoes. On Sundays the children bring fresh flowers and ginger lilies or paw-paw blossom to decorate the room for service. They know all the responses, say the creed, and sing the Venite beautifully."

Even when the holidays came the children hovered round "Teassher". We find her writing in Christmas week: "It is the third day of the holidays--and we are having what the children call 'Holiday school'. The first girl to arrive this afternoon exclaimed, 'Oh "Teassher," big snake,' and looking up I saw him curled round the rafter right over my head, such a big one, I cannot think how he came in unnoticed. I sent the child flying for a man, who came and speared him to the ground. The girls sit on the mats sewing, while the boys draw maps and paint at the table; we talk and laugh and enjoy lollies and biscuits at intervals. In the evenings they come for the word-making game, or we all sit out on the verandah and sing until bed-time bell rings in the village [50/51]--when they all scamper home." No wonder dark-skinned children so dearly loved the "Teassher," who first loved them.

By the end of 1909 a new school church had been built, and it was first used on Christmas Eve for a "Christmas tree". "Joe and Bob (the policeman) brought a tree from the bush, and as it was to be a surprise, Sonny (the head councillor) marked out a boundary line some distance from the school beyond which no foot dared trespass. It was a beautiful moonlit evening, and after prayers and Christmas carols round the belfry, the whole village filed into the schoolroom, and for the first time the children beheld a Christmas tree. It was laden with gifts and lighted with sixty wax candles. It was very touching to see the first effect on the younger children, most of whom fell on their knees with hands clasped and faces raised. There was a present for everybody, even to a red ribbon for 'Teassher's' pussy. Early Christmas morning I called at every house in the village leaving good wishes and a Christmas card. The councillors had proposed that the day should be kept as a quiet happy holiday, keeping the sports for Boxing Day. So we had a bright service in the morning; in the afternoon all came for tea and biscuits under the trees, and after dark I showed the Christmas lantern slides."

As the Government was now paying the salary for the school teacher at Moa, the Deaconess refunded the money for the purchase of the "Banzai," a small ketch for going backwards and forwards to Thursday Island with mails, produce, stores, etc. Joe was made Captain. After Christmas Deaconess went in it to Thursday Island for a brief holiday, and had a very trying experience of the monsoon tides on her return. "I never even felt sick," she wrote, "only the mountains of sea looked so awful, I felt we must go under, and I clutched tightly dear old Kaio's hand. Joe steered and seemed so far away, I thought I should like to go down with Kaio, [51/52] but the hatch was lashed, and I on top, and of course I was deluged every few minutes, but Kaio never let me go till we anchored."

Shortly after, the elements proved as fearful on land as at sea, for "Teassher" wrote that the wind storm was so frightful for a whole night, that she never went to bed, but, expecting a tragedy, was devising means of saving her lantern and slides; several families left their houses to seek safer quarters, and for days after, all the fish round the island disappeared.

Church festivals at St. Paul's were always well kept; we find recorded in the Parish Magazine of Thursday Island dated March, 1909, an account of the first St. Paul's Day at Moa. "The flag of the 'Francis Pritt' was flying while the dinghies plied back and forth taking passengers (from Thursday Island) abroad. The first to arrive on the beach was little Brian Jones (the Deaconess's godson) hand in hand with a big South Sea 'Boy'; excitement was writ large in his every gesture, and he informed inquifers that he was going to see 'Auntie Cannie at Moa'. Next came a crowd of merry native girls in service at Thursday Island, bright were their frocks, and broad their smiles. After them came a motley crowd of coloured boys. As the vicar pushed off in the last dinghy, he looked up to see on the jetty a South Sea 'Boy' in a very clean singlet and very new hat, evidently waiting for an invitation to Moa; this was heartily thrown back, and the 'Boy' dropped into the boat of a friendly New Guinea, who rowed him across to the 'Pritt'." There follows an account of next day's services, council meetings, marriages, and sports, finishing in the evening with Moa kai-kai and Moa mosquitoes. In spite of probable sea sickness and erratic tides, the little Deaconess had a number of distinguished visitors from time to time. In 1910 Archbishop Donaldson visited Moa, the extreme northerly point of his province of Queensland. He paid a high tribute to the evidences [52/53] of the Deaconess's good work at Moa, and after this visit, even more than formerly, the Deaconess always found in the Archbishop an understanding friend and wise counselor.

On Advent Sunday of 1913 all Moa was astir. There was to be a festival such as Moa had never seen. Today was to see the visible crowning of the Deaconess's work in Moa--the dedication of St Paul's Church, a beautiful building which glistened new and pearly white in the morning sun. From the first day of her coming amongst them, "Teassher" had spoken of the time when they should worship in their own church; she had taught the children to make beautiful necklaces of the tiny shells from the reef, and the scarlet and black giddi-giddi seeds from the bush. She had helped the women to overcome their natural indolence, and taught them to weave the big floor mats of native grasses. The men had toiled extra hours in their hot gardens to grow more pumpkins, and all this work of their hands was sold and the money saved month by month and year by year to build their church. The South Sea "Boys" from Thursday Island and contingents of natives from all the other islands had arrived in boats, bringing from each island a gift of money for the building, and to take their part in the festivities. Many booths had been erected with green branches from the bush, to serve the hundreds of visitors with shelter. The village scene was like a great kaleidoscope in motion, the women and girls all in white dresses with red ribbons in their hair, the men and boys in bright coloured lava-lavas. As the church bell rang, the visiting natives formed up into a guard of honour right round the church, while the Moa people formed a procession, at the end of which came the choir, cross-bearer, clergy and Bishop; thus they passed into the new church, singing:--

Christ is our corner stone
On Him alone we build
Until that day when all the blest
To endless rest are called away.

[54] But where is "Teassher?" She in whose heart the image of this church had been born, while yet there was none of it. Alas! could the curtain of distance have been raised that day, they would have seen their beloved "Teassher" in a Brisbane hospital preparing to enter that rest which remaineth for the saints, and at her bedside the clergyman who had first carried teacher ashore at Moa. Two years before the opening of Moa Church, a sorrowful procession of Moabites (as she used in fun to call them) had waded far into the sea to say farewell to "Teassher"! The Bishop "in a vain hope of saving a precious life" had ordered her away, hoping to place her where the, frail body might benefit by a doctor's skilled attention. All unwilling and wellnigh broken-hearted she obeyed implicitly, and after a short rest, her tireless spirit rising triumphant, she answered an urgent call to take charge of the Chinese Girls School Her great longing, however, to end her days among her "Dear Boys," whether on the mainland or in Melanesia, brought her back to Carpentaria. After some months of strenuous work at Port Darwin, she travelled to Brisbane for the 1913 Church Congress. Her last public act was to speak at the great meeting for girl during the Brisbane Congress, when her fellow-speakers were the Primate of Australia (Archbishop Wright) and her old friend the writer. Archbishop Donaldson spoke from the chair. It seemed as if the kind hand of Providence had led her back to Brisbane among her relations and many of her friends from all parts of Australia, some of whom she had not met for a number of years; it was but a few weeks after that she was struck down with a painful illness, to which she succumbed on December 30, 1913, at the age of fifty-two; truly of her we might say in the words of Ben Jonson:--

In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short, measures, life may perfect be.

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