Project Canterbury

Our Maoris

By Lady [Mary] Martin

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1884.

Transcribed by the Reverend Michael Blain, 2006.

Chapter XIII.

Melanesian mission, Kohimarama. 1861

[181] It may seem out of place here to tell of the beginning and growth of this Mission, and yet it is hardly possible not to refer to it, as the Maori and Melanesian scholars were for some years trained side by side, and in both we saw the power of the Christian religion displayed.

It was in the winter of 1840 that Bishop Selwyn made his first voyage to the Melanesian Islands. He had indeed gone on a cruise in H.M.S. Dido the year before, acting as naval chaplain, for the purpose, but her course lay more to the eastern than to the northern groups of the Pacific. He landed at several Mission stations in the Friendly and Samoan groups, where the Wesleyan and London missionaries had long been at work. He was received everywhere most cordially, and used to say that at parting he felt like a prima donna, for the school children crowded round him and threw flowers over him as he embarked. The Bishop also saw the work going on under the Presbyterian missionary at Anaiteum. [181/182] But he had no desire to enter into another man's labours, or to confound the minds of the native people by showing to them our unhappy divisions; more especially when the islands to the north lay unoccupied and in heathen darkness. He had been greatly pleased, while at Anaiteum, by his visit to the Sandal Wood Station of a certain Captain Padden. He saw that this man, by fair dealing and kindness, had succeeded in getting men from other islands to come and work for him, and to live at peace with one another; and at once felt that this same plan might be carried out for higher objects than commerce, and that boys from many islands might be gathered to a central school, and sent forth in time to be the evangelisers of their countrymen. He always used to speak of Captain Padden as "his teacher". On the 1st August 1849, he sailed from our bay, which was henceforth to be the scene of so many partings and joyful returns. It was a moonlight night when he left us and bade farewell to his brave wife. It did seem a venture of faith--the little schooner Undine, of twenty-one tons, was to carry him to unknown seas, among wild, barbarous people. He took with him Burney's "History of Discoveries in the South Seas", which proved most valuable to him, and his own patient study of navigation stood him in good stead. There were no proper charts of many of the groups, and the Bishop was the maker of [182/183] several, which were afterwards thankfully accepted by the Admiralty.

Months passed without any possibility of knowing how he had sped, when one night between ten and eleven we heard the firm, well-known step of our dear friend in the hall, and he appeared with a party of five boys from New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands. I was ill, and did not see them that night, but could hear their timid whispers of surprise and admiration at the first sight of an English house. A New Zealand youth from St. John's College, whom the Bishop had taken with him, carried them over to the kitchen, where the maids made much of them, and then they walked by moonlight to the College, and were awe-struck at the sight of cows and horses in the fields. They had never seen anything bigger than a pig before. One of the boys was a pleasant-looking lad from Lifu, entrusted to the Bishop by his old father and mother. He was about twelve years old, and became a great favourite with every one--the more so that he got a chill in the spring, and had inflammation of the lungs. His first step towards recovery began when some yams and cocoanuts were obtained for him, through the kindness of an old Wesleyan missionary, from a trading schooner. He was as particular about the cooking and toasting of the yams in thin slices as any fine lady could be over her dry toast.

[184] It was a pretty sight to see this delicate, bright-eyed child, lying wrapped up on the sofa in the study, with the Bishop's little son (now Bishop of Melanesia) perched beside him, showing off his toys and treasures. They were fast friends, and managed very soon to understand each other, and to amuse each other by the hour together, while the Bishop stood at his desk, engrossed in College accounts or letters, never disturbed by their prattle and bubbling fun, and ready with his skilful hands (for he was a born nurse) to arrange the pillows or to lift the little invalid when it was time for him to have food or medicine.

Every winter after this the Bishop went on his island voyage, and brought back his old scholars and new ones attracted by their accounts of New Zealand. We used to try to get the Bishop to tell the story of his adventures immediately after his return, while it was still fresh in his memory. He would tell the names of the many islands which he visited, and seem as familiar with them as a London curate is with his courts and alleys. He was greatly pleased, on his visit to the Isle of Pines, a small island south of New Caledonia, with the hospitality shown him by a kindly old couple there. It was like the story of Baucis and Philemon, for they brought forth of their best to do honour to their guest. They wore no clothes, but they had a store [184/185] of calico and blankets, which they brought out to make a bed for the stranger. They had a variety of miscellaneous articles--what the American traders call "notions", and which may include anything, from clothes-pin up to a Sam Slick clock--which they obtained by barter from traders. These were hung from the roof, and were much prized. A huge New Caledonian, introduced by the captain of a trading vessel as one "Bassett, a very respectable man for a savage", was most friendly, and took the Bishop round the harbour, and some way up a river in a canoe, manned by a wild but not unfriendly crew. They passed wooded hills and some fine cascades. The yam cultivations were carried up often to the top of these hills. He was much struck by the careful irrigation of the yam grounds, by means of troughs made of bamboo. Some of the yams measured from four to five feet in length. The Bishop landed at a populous village, and saw earthen cooking vessels, such as Captain Cook had described, mounted on three stones. He longed to bring several boys away, but only one was allowed to come. His grey-haired father placed him in the Bishop's hands. Then another time he went to the Island of Fate, where were Samoan teachers, who, having themselves become Christians, were desirous to carry the Gospel to others. Every year many such unknown martyrs died of illness or by the hands of the heathen. [185/186] Everywhere the new-comers met with a friendly welcome from the barbarous people.

On one voyage he brought back a dear little fellow, of ten or eleven, whom he found at the Island of Erromango, tending a sick and diseased sailor. His heart was stirred within him when he saw this heathen child ministering, "all for love and nothing for reward", to the miserable Lazarus, one of our many de-civilised waifs, who showed small gratitude. However, both the ministered to, and the he who ministered, found a blessing. The Bishop brought the poor sufferer to Auckland, to the Colonial Hospital, where he was carefully nursed till his death, and jolly, round-faced Umao was trained at St. John's College, and was baptised there. He used to be dressed in duck trousers and shirt, like a Jack tar, with a clasp knife fastened by a string around his neck. We had him in our house just before the third voyage for three days, and nursed him through a sharp attack of ague.

The whole party was about to embark when a furious north-east gale blew up with heavy rain, and the Bishop and his eleven lads were all weather-bound in our house. The boys were quartered in our kitchen. Our good old cook, a sergeant's widow, was not the least put out by this invasion of her domain. She pronounced them all to be very nice lads, and they repaid her petting by doing all the work for her that they could. Two of the party were Australians, [186/187] whom our Bishop had brought from Sydney. In spite of all that has been said and written about the impossibility of teaching the Australian blacks, these youths read and spoke English readily, and one had been apprenticed to a boot-maker, and brought a high testimonial from him as to skill and steadiness. It was a delightful bit of human nature that the Melanesians developed when they first saw these new-comers. Their verdict was, "No good, too black!" We had presented our little Umao, who lay shivering on the dining-room sofa by the fire, under many blankets, with a huge black cat. It bore the name of Bushranger, and, worthy thereof, it escaped the night before he sailed. Both were losers thereby. Umao wept bitterly, and had a fresh attack of ague in consequence, and Puss was hung some months after by a neighbour for stealing his pigeons.

Umao died of fever when about sixteen, and was buried at sea.

A year or two later Captain Erskine, of H.M.S. Havannah, brought from Sydney four Melanesian lads who he found adrift there, to be taken care of by the Bishop till he should return to the island whence they came. They were pleasant fellows, though more or less spoiled by the side of English life with which they had become familiar. The eldest of them was a Solomon islander, where in due time long after, the Melanesian Mission had a station. [187/188]

He was a quaint youth, and stood up for the glories of his own land in a very amusing way. No pictures of animals we could ever show him, lion, wolf, or crocodile, but he would gravely say, in his broken English, after a long, patient inspection, "Plenty such Lydia". Lydia was the name given by traders to his island. We used to tell him to find a wife on his return home and then bring her back to St John's to be taught and trained, but his answer was always, "No! no good clothes Lydia woman, no walk fast". Such was his philosophy of clothes. Meste was taken one day, with a party of Maori and English boys, to see a forest of pine-trees some miles off. He was struck with the height of these noble trees, and a week or two after, when affronted at some rebuke, he walked off, leaving word with his companions that he was going to the wood. Of course the alarm was great when at tea-time the lad was missing, as one night's exposure, even in the summer-time, would probably have caused his death. However, the truant's practical wisdom showed itself again. He walked five miles along a good road to our house, and I found him seated by a good fire in the kitchen, with all sorts of delicacies piled on his plate by our hospitable old cook. After his substantial meal was over we sent him back to the College, well wrapped up, in charge of a tall, strong Maori man. His five miles' walk back in the moon-light [188/189] cooled his wrath, and he never again talked of running away.

On the next return voyage the Bishop was asked to bring two Loyalty Island girls, that they too might get some training, and be examples to their country-women. The Captain of the Mission vessel was well used to cutting out and making blouses and trousers of white duck for the boys, but he did not feel qualified for the task of dressmaking. Our Bishop, however, was equal to the occasion. He could easily contrive petticoats; and then remembering something of the shape of old-fashioned capes, called canzous, he managed to make them a very respectable outfit for them. The only English words the lassies knew on coming on shore were "ready about", which they had heard the sailors use while beating against contrary winds, and they used them on all occasions. But they soon learned to chatter with the Bishop's little son, and amused us all by saying one evening as they came into the hall before the lamp was lit, "What, all in the dark? Hurrah!" These girls spent a month with us in the summer, and were most tractable, amusing companions. They had small, pretty hands, and when they washed up breakfast things their dainty fingers never let the cups slip or break, as our wild, noisy Maori girls would do. And they moved about in a quiet way, very unlike their Polynesian sisters. But then they had not half their fun and spirit. Once [189/190] only they went off the ground without leave, and I was clucking about the garden, like a hen after ducklings, when they came running down the slope from a kind neighbour's house, breathless and penitent, saying "Man, gooseberry", and surely that must be a sufficient excuse. They used to be very much puzzled at this gentleman's remaining unmarried, and said to us, "Man--money--house--no wife", as if the problem was too hard for them.

Our Bishop was once in great peril, as he himself owned. He was cruising off the Santa Cruz group, and sailed up what he believed to be a strait dividing two islands. He ran up with a fair breeze, only to find that he was in a "blind alley", for there was a reef running all across, and barring his exit. There was nothing to be done but to sail back again. Unhappily the wind fell light, and as the little schooner slowly made way, forty to fifty canoes, each manned by twenty or thirty strong-built natives, armed with huge bows and arrows, put off from the shore and gave chase. It needed but half-a-dozen such to make a Saint Sebastian of the Bishop. He made his crew sit down out of sight as much as possible, while, as old Odysseus might have done, stood at the helm. When the canoes drew near, to his great satisfaction he heard the cry from every voice of "to-ki, to-ki", the Polynesian word for an axe, and so found that they were bent [190/191] on friendly barter. He thought it too great a risk to allow the men to come on board, so he lowered a line at the stern, and attached to it various small gifts of fish-hooks, etc. One old man caught hold of this line, and made it fast to the prow of his canoe, that he might keep up with the Undine. The wind freshening, the line snapped. The poor old man wished honestly to restore this bit of property, and paddled with might and main to keep up with the vessel, and succeeded. Years after, the Bishop and Mr Patteson visited the main island, and met with a most friendly reception. They had the volume of Burney open before them, which contained the narrative of the old Spanish Admiral in the sixteenth century. They were delighted with the faithfulness of the descriptions. No change had been made in the habits of the people. There were the careful cultivations, with walls of coral lime dividing the holdings; the same rude looms in which the fine mats and scarves of Santa Cruz are woven. They saw, too, some remains still standing of the fort built by the Spaniards during the time of their occupation, which ended so fatally.

Once he found a party of men who had been blown out to sea in their canoe, and driven to a strange island. The Bishop managed to communicate enough with them to learn whence they had come, and took them all back in his vessel. The people came crowding [191/192] down to the shore' the wives, who had thought never to see their husbands again, uttering shrill cries of joy. The outcome was that he was presented with a testimonial in the shape of a large pig--a very acceptable present to those who had to live on salt junk and hard biscuit.

In 1859 we stayed at St. John's College, where Mr Patteson was in charge of a large party of Melanesian scholars, for three or four months. Some of the Loyalty islanders there, were very fine-looking young men; among these, conspicuously so, was John Cho, a chief of some position from Lifu. He was a noble-looking fellow, and very anxious for the improvement of his people. He was married, and had one boy. Others from the Solomon Islands were very wild-looking. They have a fashion of boring a hole in the lobe of the ear when very young. They insert plugs of larger and larger size into these holes, till a small tea-cup could be stuck in with ease. When the lads have no ear ornament (and anything is counted such, from a padlock, pipe, shark's tooth, &c, up to a huge bunch of sea birds' feathers), they loop up the thin, narrow base of the lobe over the upper ridge of the ear. These Solomon islanders were in build a great contrast to the well-knit, well-grown Loyalty Island men. They were short, thin-legged, thin-armed, spare, and slight. Some of them used to stick thin ornaments of wood or feathers into [192/193] their frizzy hair, till their heads looked like a pin-cushion. Their hair was often of a reddish tinge from continued use of coral lime as powder; their eyes were fierce and restless; and they stalked about with bows and arrows of a harmless sort in play-time, always keenly on the look-out to shoot small birds. There was nearly as much difference in the character of these several islanders as in their outer man. The two Polynesians from Mae--sleek, comfortable lads- were as sleepy and indolent as their speech was soft. They had a vowel termination for every word; while the Loyalty Island men strode up and down with a look of energy and determination which suited their speech, which has all our English consonants and a good many harsh sounds besides. The stealthy, thin-legged Solomon islanders were a light-fingered set, and managed to get iron bolts off the gates, and to secrete them in a way that would have baffled a detective. One of the party was a man about forty years of age. He had had an exceeding desire to come and see foreign parts, and the Bishop and Mr Patteson very unwillingly agreed to take him. As soon as he found himself on board ship, out of sight of land, he repented of his rashness, and became so wild and excited that he had to be kept under constant watch day and night, lest he should leap overboard. He recovered his wits on landing, but never took kindly to the new mode of life.

[194] Mrs Selwyn and I used to assist Mr Patteson and his two young helpers to the best of our powers. We overlooked the writing of the younger classes, copies being set for them in their several languages.

Once an apron was stolen from the kitchen. Nobody of course knew anything about it; so Mr Patteson set the classes the awful words, in Lifu, Bauro, Mae, and other languages--"Who stole cook's apron?" At the end of morning school we used to gather all, young and old, together, and teach them to sing, "We'll all march out in order". Nobody delighted in this more than poor old Arauna. He would bustle up to the head of the class, and beckon to us to begin, and then march out with edifying docility.

One evening Mr Patteson came back from Auckland, whither he had walked with a party of Loyalty Island lads, and told us a charming legend which the Lifu men had told him, on his asking the reason why the yams in their islands were so large and fine:--"One day a man named Larona appeared among them. He had a small piece of sugar-cane in his hand. The people asked him for some, and he went on dividing it among them, and it grew no less. Then some said: 'This is a great chief; let him be our king'. But others said: 'he is an evil spirit; we will kill him.' While they were talking, he disappeared. Another day he came, and he had a cocoa-nut in his hand. [194/195] The people asked him for some of it, and he went on dividing it among them, and yet it grew no less. Then some said: 'Let this man be our king.' But others said: 'No, he is an evil spirit; let us kill him.' So they caught him and put him into a large basket (with a narrow neck, used for catching fish) and let him sink into the sea. After a while they went to the basket to draw it up to see if he were dead. But it was full of fish, and they heard a voice from the cliff, laughing and crying out: 'Don't meddle with my fish.' When they looked up the man was standing on the cliff. Then some said: 'This is a great chief; let us make him our king.' But others said: 'No, he is an evil spirit; we must kill him.' So they ran and caught him, and dug a deep hole, and put him in, and covered in the ground over him. Then they planted a yam at the top. [Footnote: It is a custom among the Lifu people to plant a yam over the graves.] When the season for taking up yams came, they went to the place where they had buried him, and lo! the yam plant was exceedingly large and fine. As they began to dig it up, they heard a voice underground crying out: 'Why are you meddling with my yam?' So they took the earth away from the top of the hole, and there was the man alive and he came out. Then some of the people said: 'Let us [195/196] make him our king.' But others said: 'No, he is an evil spirit; we must kill him.' So they began to beat him with their clubs; and they hit him on one side, and hit him on the other, but they could not harm him--he only laughed. At last Larona said to them: 'If you really wish to kill me, go and get a reed, [Footnote: A sort of reed which grows by the seashore at Lifu.]
and touch me with it, and I shall die'. Then they went and got a reed, and as soon as they touched him he sank down to the ground and died, and his blood flowed out; and it is his blood which has made the island of Lifu fruitful unto this day."

One of the Lifu lads was ill in hospital during our stay, and was tenderly nursed by Mr Patteson. He had been baptised the year before, and had been very steady and consistent in his conduct ever since. He became very melancholy while ill, and we all supposed that he was home-sick. But one day he opened his grief to his loved teacher: "You know, Patteson, that before I ever came to you I was living like other heathen, and did many evil things. Then you came and taught us, and I believed what you taught, and after my baptism I put away all thoughts about my old habits. They were part of heathen life, and I did not trouble myself any more abut them. But now that I lie ill here, they come back to my mind, and I see how sinful sin is".

[197] A young lad from the same island had been brought years before to New Zealand by Bishop Selwyn. He was a bright-faced, merry lad, high-spirited, and careless about his health--so full was he of boyish fun. He caught cold one spring through some imprudence, and fell into a decline. He delighted when ill to lie and look at a picture of the Good Shepherd with the sheep around Him, and would whisper to himself: "Maori sheep, Lifu sheep, Bauro sheep". He was very fond of the Bishop, who nursed him as though he had been his own child. Apalé was baptised when he was lying sick. One day he turned to the Bishop with a shy smile on his face, and said in broken English, giving his old heathen father's name: "Chem father, Bishop father, God father". When he was dying he dictated a letter to Chem: "Alas! My father, farewell. Father, do not be angry--I came here to seek for good words. Mourn for me; come to New Zealand to see my grave." George Apalé's body was laid to rest in the St. John's Chapel churchyard, which slopes toward the sea. The funeral was at sunset. Just below a flock of sheep was grazing, which suggested many thoughts as this first fruits from Lifu was commended to God's care till the great Day. The old father and mother cried bitterly when the Mission vessel arrived in the winter without their boy, but no ill-will was shown, and other boys were [197/198] sent as before. We heard by those present that the Bishop went up to the poor old mother, and wiped the tears away that were streaming down her face.

After a while the headquarters of the Melanesian Mission were transferred to a warm, sheltered valley, close to the sea. St. John's College was found to be too bleak for the tropical frames, and through Miss Yonge's bounty substantial scoria buildings were erected out of the proceeds of the sale of her "Daisy Chain". The native name of the valley--Kohi-ma-ra-ma--was of good omen, for it meant "gathering in of light".

We went to stay, in 1861, in a little wooden, three-roomed cottage close by; the garden stretched to the shelly beach, and had large prickly pear trees as a hedge, and a few minutes' walk across fields brought us to the school-house and chapel, and the little quadrangle with is lawn and white paths and garden-beds, in which masses of scarlet geraniums blazed in the sun. It was a happy, peaceful place. At 7 a.m. the chapel bell rang, and all the party--the baptised and catechumens--assembled. "Now that the daylight fills the sky" was sung daily to Tallis's Ordinal, in Mota, the whole school joining heartily. By twelve o'clock, after school and work was over, the boys, fifty in all, would come rushing down to the beach--some to bask in the sun, some to fish [198/199] from the rocks, or to cook the shell-fish which they groped after in the mud over tiny fires, some to shoot up and down the calm blue water in a native canoe. One ugly little fellow from New Caledonia was always afloat on fine days. He had a tiny canoe, with two triangular sails and an outrigger, and he sat on a seat not much bigger than a dinner-plate, looking like an Indian Puck. His pretty toy skilled like a bird across the bay. Woe to the unfortunate Englishman who thought he could manage it! I saw one venture out on it, and in a few minutes the canoe was upset in deep water, and our clerical friend came swimming back to shore, amid the derisive cheers of the Melanesians.

While at Kohimarama, we used to see a good deal of a nice young couple from the Loyalty Islands. They had been married from our house some months before, and a very pretty wedding it was. We twined wreaths of fuchsia round Mary's glossy hair. She was not at all pretty, but a gentle child-wife she became to her tall, well-grown husband. When we saw her again she was in a decline. I was going one day with some little delicacy to her, to tempt her failing appetite, when I heard gentle laughing and whispering, and stopped at the doorway to see a charming sight. Harper, Mary's husband, had been up to Auckland by boat, and had bought a tiny "pork-pie" hat for his wife, and a gay ribbon. He [199/200] was on one knee beside her, making a table of the other, and the little wasted fingers were skilfully, though languidly, engaged trimming the hat. And then one of Mary's friends, at her request, got up and led me away to another room where their boxes were kept, and brought out, with much pride, four huge poke bonnets, Sunday's best, which had been given them long ago by some good women, members of the London Mission. There was a great amount of heavy, broad, mud-coloured ribbon. The girls evidently looked on them as great works of art and treasures, but never thought of putting them on. How odd their soft little, mousey faces would have looked within such mighty structures. Our cottage was close to the well, where every morning the boys came to draw water, and on Saturdays they washed their clothes close by. They were astir by five in the morning, and no sleep could one get after that. Each island seemed to have some unaccountable cry, or yet, or shrill trill of its own, and the laughter, and shrieks, and fun that went on made us laugh for sympathy.

They chattered, and clicked, and burred, and gave sharp sounds of inquiry or of surprise, and amid the marvellous din came peals of merry, boyish laughter.

We had a tea-drinking one evening, and the Mota boys sang monotonous songs with a pleasant, musical refrain. [200/201] They were telling abut the first arrival of the Mission ship, and of their wonder and alarm; how some of the old men thought that a great ancestor had come back to visit them. After tea the Bishop showed a magic lantern. It was not a very good one, but the yells and unearthly whistles and cries of surprise from the audience showed that they approved of it. The story of the old man, the boy, and the donkey, specially delighted them, and when the slide was exhibited with the donkey slung on a pole on the shoulders of man and boy, the fun grew "fast and furious". A scientific man has written that savages understand no more the meaning of a picture than a dog can. I wish he had been there to judge for himself. Once Bishop Patteson showed to a Mota man who had only lately joined the Mission a fine view of Oriel College, Oxford, through a stereoscope. The poor fellow was so overcome by the wonderful reality that he fainted away, and remained in a swoon for nearly half-an-hour. No doubt he thought there was witchcraft. The last entertainment on the evening of the tea-drinking was a fire balloon. The boys were frantic with excitement--they yelled, and rushed down the beach after it, and as it sailed majestically on over the sea, they took water like so many ducks.

Our next visit to Kohimarama was in the summer of 1862--just before the terrible time of sickness, [201/202] when so many Melanesians were attacked by dysentery. Poor fellows, one by one, they fell ill, and lay silent and patient; and soon we had to give up the quarters we were in to be used as a hospital--and there for weeks Bishop Patteson and Bishop Selwyn (who would walk three miles across the sandy flat at low tide after his day's work to help nurse the lads) used to minister with their own hands to the many sufferers, and perform every office of love through the long night-watches. Everything had to be done by the Mission party, even to the digging of the graves, and the carrying of the wasted bodies between them to their narrow bed. It was a rare freshening of these good men's spirits when they could read the words of hope and comfort over the graves of the Christian dead.

We had occupied a cottage belonging to the Mission, which was empty for a while. It was of the usual thin box type of wooden house, but it was two-stories, and over our head slept some seven or eight lads. I was not well at the time, and more easily disturbed by noise in consequence, and I had abundant opportunity of pondering over the blessings of peaceful civilisation. These boys never seemed to lay them down in peace and take their rest. Though there was no enemy to fear, the early habit of wakefulness was upon them. They would sleep for an hour or two, then all wake up and begin [202/203] to talk; then with wary steps down the ladder they came, first one, then another, to prowl around a bit in the clear summer night, and then there would come a time of sleep again, but soon broken; and so it went on all night till, between four and five, the whole party was astir, and the Babel of sounds began once more.

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