Project Canterbury

Progress of the Melanesian Mission.

By C. H. Brooke.

From Mission Life, Vol. IV (new series) (1873), pages 440-448.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007



ON the evening of All Saints' Day, Mr. Nobbs held a special service in his Church of All Saints, in memory of the five martyrs of the Mission, one of them his own dear son. The church, which is equal to any wooden structure of the kind in Auckland, was well lighted, the kerosine chandelier (the gift of a Portuguese whaling-master) being aided from below by a star-like array of candles, every family contributing its own light. The old gentleman, who, as your readers know, has a vein of the poetic in him (having written several good hymns), gave us an eloquent sermon, rugged, and a critic might say high flown, but masculine and powerful, and altogether sui generis. Whenever he ventures to leave his manuscript and extemporise, he is always, if quaint, forcible and much to the point. His son Sydney is now preparing for the ministry, at St. Augustine's College, Canterbury.

As on Advent Sunday of 1871, so again in 1872, our Christian year was happily inaugurated by the sealing of souls for Christ's service. Four Solomon Islanders--three from Ysabel, and one from Florida--came forward some weeks ago and asked to be baptized. Their names are Philip Telo, Samuel Devi, Moffat Rodi, and Patrick William Parapolo, of Florida. There is not a bright boy among them except, perhaps, Devi. On the contrary, they are, or rather were, dull; and Parapolo in addition was troubled with a very sulky temper, which reached a climax one day at Florida, when he ran away from me, cast off his clothes, and rejoined his heathen friends, with whom he was left for a year. When I returned to Florida, he begged with tears to be allowed to return to Norfolk Island. I gave him no encouragement, but at length his gentle, persevering violence took me by force. I examined him in reading, and was surprised: he had gained instead of losing ground, and I found out from Subasi that during my absence in Norfolk Island he had regularly studied his book in my house, and also that Takua had employed him as his own private tutor in letters. I shall not soon forget his joy on my telling him that he was going to Norfolk Island.

The sulkiness has entirely disappeared, and what was obstinacy has been softened into constancy. In a letter which he wrote to Canon Bromley, of Tasmania, whose people support him, he acknowledges that in old days he hated instruction, and could not bear reproof, but that now he loves those who teach him what it is so good for him to know, adding, with reference to his recent baptism, that he is so glad that his "heavenly Father has called him out into the light."


[442] It is the evident conversion of these lads which makes their case so interesting; they one and all are so perceptibly different from their former selves. They afford us the pleasure experienced in beholding a homely flower, but in the full perfection of its nature. Mr. Codrington, who has had them regularly in his class since they first declared their desire for baptism, expresses great satisfaction with their accurate knowledge and seemly conduct. I said he has had them regularly--but that would do him but poor justice; for he has had them, and they only too thankful to go, at all irregular spare times, after school at night, and on holidays; while they themselves scarcely allowed themselves sufficient recreation, and I have had to hunt Parapolo out away from his book. They also would come and ask very sensible questions, which is rather an achievement for a naturally shy people.

And now arises a sigh for the future; it is so difficult to prevent reaction, or rather its consequences. And here you can all help us with your prayers for these and all new-born souls, that they may grow in grace, and attain the full Christian stature.

On the Fourth Sunday in Advent, four more of our lads were received into Christ's Church. The event, interesting in itself, becomes more so from the fact that Stephen Ruha, Mikael Bauro, Maurice Oharangi, and Toswil Baewa, the quartette in question, are natives of San Cristoval, Solomon Islands, the home of Stephen Taroaniaro, and the sphere of Mr. Atkin's labours.

They have been prepared for baptism by the Rev. R. S. Jackson, who has done his best to supply Mr. Atkin's place, a task of no ordinary difficulty. It will be remembered that Mr. Jackson stayed for about ten days last winter at Wango, the station formerly occupied by Mr. Atkin. (See Mission Life, page 269.) We must confess that a visit to Wango is not encouraging; the few people who remain have already received an untoward bias from the constant succession of vessels--traders, whalers, and slavers--which have made the beautiful bay their habitual resort. Nothing can exceed their friendliness to us; but there is an apathy about them which has a very depressing effect upon an earnest, energetic evangelist. Nevertheless, we cannot believe that the spiritual prospects of this magnificent island are as poor as they outwardly appear. The innocent blood shed for the Gospel's sake has already confirmed wavering hearts in their allegiance to that Gospel, and must eventually bring forth much fruit. Joseph Wate, who is the leader of the San Cristoval party in Stephen Taroaniara's place, is now growing up into a useful, good, affectionate young man. He is a native of the south of Malanta, and will thus be able to exert a very wide influence.

To-day is Christmas Day: the height of summer with us, when the good cheer of the season enjoyed at home seems a little too solid for [442/443] such melting weather, and altogether too attractive to the flies. Imagine celebrating Christmas in sultry July; think of your food, various in kind, one in its outward coating of buzzing, flurrying flies. Flies in your ears, flies on your nose, flies on your head, flies sticking in the butter, flies drowned and drowning in the milk, or dragging out a clogged existence across the tablecloth, the sugar basin apparently a misnomer, every surface grain being fought for by two or three angry combatants, your sleep, your study, your leisure, invaded by the great army!

Yesterday was devoted to scrubbing, path cleaning, and chapel decorating; and every one worked heartily and well. The Rev., R. H. Codrington, our head (would he were Bishop!), but who is among us as he that serveth, rewarded, severally, our eighteen native teachers according to the amount of time sacrificed by each to their good work.

The east end of our temporary chapel was decorated by Mr. Codrington; the body and west end by myself, assisted by Alfred Lobu. Over the crimson curtain which drapes the walls of the chancel ran this inscription in the Mota tongue: "Ivavae me qete tanun wa we toga alo nina." (The Word became Man, and tabernacled with us.) A border of evergreens and bright flowers lighted up the dark background. The letters, of cotton-wool, were the present of a friend in Sydney, and are very effective.

Alfred and I clothed the body of the building with palm fronds, and over the west door we stretched a strip of crimson cloth, framed it with rolls of evergreens made by Charles Sapi and party, and illuminated the middle of our pane with I.H.S. in letters sprinkled with rice. The general effect is decidedly good.

The feast began with Holy Communion at 7 A.M., the Rev. R. H. Codrington celebrant, assisted by the Rev. Robert Pantutun, who read the Epistle. After breakfast we had half-an-hour's school on the great Fact of the Day, upon which the world's history hinges; and at ten o'clock, Morning Prayer, when our clergy (excepting myself, who played the harmonium) wore their surplices and sat in the chancel; Revs. R. H. Codrington, Robert Pantutun, Henry Tagalana, and Edward Wogale. [Rev. R. S. Jackson was absent in the Pitcairn settlement, helping Mr. Nobbs.] The Rev. C. Bice said prayers.

Service over, a pig was presented to the Melanesians, who went off in a body to a convenient spot near a good stream, there to cut up, cook, and eat it. Grace was said by the Rev. Edward Wogale. We have every reason to believe that the day was joyfully and reasonably celebrated by our lads, nothing, so far as we know, having occurred to mar the general harmony, and this among a party of 140 young people of many nations and languages, some but lately taken from [443/445]


the midst of heathenism. We know to our cost that there are one or two among them very difficult to manage, especially since our Bishop's death; but even these are conquered by the kindness, good fellowship, and love, peace, and good-will, which this heart-softening season draws forth. I know from chance expressions I hear, and especially from a native letter home which I have just read, that the hearts of these our fellow-sinners are drawn by the deep love of Him who lay in the manger at Bethlehem; but only so far as we act towards them in His Spirit. That is our difficulty, ever to keep alive the fire of love in our hearts amid weakness of body and monotony of life. With that we can do all things, without it we can do nothing. Unwearied kindness, unexacting love, unselfish sacrifice, are the only means by which these islanders can be won to the Gospel; and to have those means always at disposal is indeed a difficult task.

The first day of the feast was brought to a close by supper in hall, after Evening Prayer; and it was a comforting thought that it had been to us all not only a happy but a holy day.

March 15, 1873.

I send you a short account of our beings, doings, and sufferings here in Norfolk Island, during the now waning summer. I have to begin with suffering. Low fever soon turned our station into a hospital, and tending the sick took the place of schooling and out-door work; but, thanks be to God, we lost only one lad from this very dangerous disease. My little boy Tangi's death from gastric fever is, humanly speaking, unfortunate, as he comes from what I may call the Lavinia district, and is the joint pet of three men who, Sapibuana tells me, are very fond of him, and will be angry at his death. I recollect also that I was particularly uncivil to one of the three who remained shedding tears on deck after sundown, saying he could not bear to part from Tangi. These tears (to which too eager drops I have been made somewhat callous) were sincere; but the sight of this blubbering straggler, after so long and fatiguing a day's work, provoked irritation rather than compassion, especially as I have known paternal affection in its most fluid state dry up on the receipt of pipes and tobacco. Tangi's part of Florida has been very little visited by us, Pope's line affirming the rashness of fools and the superior caution of angels being verified in the respective movements of traders and of the Southern Cross. The advent of Messrs. Selwyn and Still, two amateur seamen, will, I hope, enable us to visit many interesting and advantageous places which are now passed by.

The return of the Southern Cross from her last trip found us recovered, or nearly so, from all sickness, but they reported several cases of dysentery on board. This malady, however, disappeared on change of air and diet. Mr. and Mrs. Palmer went up to Auckland for a [445/446] well-deserved holiday, and we fell into our usual order. One arrival from Mota, Harry Sitter, was suffering from acute rheumatism, and could not bear to be touched; he was carried up to S. Barnabas, little hope being publicly entertained of his recovery, but Mr. Codrington's wonderfully tender and persevering nursing, and, as we believe (being behind the age), earnest prayer, have so far prevailed that, after several months' wavering, and latterly apparent stagnation, he is now able to move about and write without any difficulty. The Bishop of Auckland confirmed him on his late visit, as he lay upon his bed.

Rumours having reached us of the spread of small-pox in the neighbouring colonies, everybody on the island was vaccinated, which circumstance (so wonderful is the unexpected connection of events) proved a boon to the hump-back whales in the neighbourhood; our Norfolk Islanders, who are dauntless on the deep, being obliged, inoffensively, their arms in slings, to watch with eager eyes their uncouth prey spouting and gamboling defiance in the deep. Vaccination was the worst that befel us after all.

The want of a spiritual head was again pressed upon us by the reappearance of a grumbling humour among our charge, confined really to one or two individuals, but influencing almost the whole party. I am sorry to say that Dudley Lankona was one of the
grumblers; and I am more than happy to add that the lad, who has been with me for about seven years, who has a very great deal of good in him, and whom I love, has since then repented, has become a communicant, and is gentle and orderly. Pride has still to be conquered, and we are about to administer, as a remedy, a course of responsibility, in order that he may perceive the many difficulties attending the position of ruler, and perhaps be reminded of the inconvenience of his own errors in having to deal with those of others. He is to be left at Florida for a year, and to try his hand at maintaining a little school, and speaking a word in season.

The Pitcairn community has lost one of its oldest and most intelligent members, Arthur Quintal, a fine, tall, spare, but very strong man, who built chimneys, sank wells, and manufactured tubs for his friends, till within a short time of his death. His stern, uncompromising religious life, and especially some of his later utterances, reminded one of the old prophets. One day I recollect being particularly struck with the solemnity of his manner, which with his very broad American accent, and his dis, da'at, and dem, was always quaint, and often ludicrous. He had ridden over to Mr. Nobbs's from the Cascades, and was sitting, gaunt, pale as ashes, and racked with cough, but still attempting to talk, and laughing, but with only the muscles of his face. His iron-grey hair he had forked all awry with his wandering fingers, and his grizzly, stubbly beard almost matched in colour [446/447] the huge erect collar of an old frieze military coat with which he endeavoured to keep out the cold. Death had already laid its axe at the root of the tree, but it had still some work before it.

Mr. Nobbs, who, his white head and beard notwithstanding, looked years younger than the gnarled and tough old veteran, who still fought manfully for life, exhorted his old friend to be prepared for the approaching end; upon which the latter, always nervously and mechanically smiling, and occasionally coughing, said, "Ah! Mr. Nobbs, you don't need to tell me da'at;" and he went on, shaking his head and gasping for breath--to the effect that he hadn't been such a fool as to leave "da'at to the last!" He was always very fond of arguing on various Bible texts, and was a tough matter-of-fact logician. His visits to S. Barnabas were always hailed with delight by the boys. Many a wild tale of lawless life used he to tell, apt gestures filling up the gaps between the rough-hewn words. He was a fine noble old man, of whom the community might well feel proud; and among whom he was conspicuous because of his industry, intelligence, and candour.

I cannot forbear to jot down at random and from memory the following odds and ends which have clung to my recollection. His father was a mutineer, and was murdered by his comrades at Pitcairn for stirring up their Tahitian blacks, and giving one of them a gun to shoot their masters with; who in their turn induced the Tahitian women to avenge them on their rebellious fellow-countrymen. Thus, what with lust, and murder, and revenge, this awful civil butchery was kept up, until at last John Adams found himself alone--but face to face with a rising generation entirely dependent upon him. We know how, overawed by a fearful thunderstorm and wondrous dream, he was "converted," and set about the education of his flock by means of one battered Bounty Prayer-Book which had long slumbered undisturbed in his sea-chest. It appears from what I have heard old Arthur say, that John was a trifle jealous of general education, and strove, for some time at least, to confine the knowledge of letters to his own set. Old Arthur asked to be taught and was
refused, but was determined to learn, to carry out which determination he resorted to many and various "dodges." He confesses that John's steady refusal rendered him rather sceptical as to the reality of his pretended knowledge, and so he tried him. How? In the following highly original manner. He got a pointed stick and a piece of paper, dipped the end of the stick in ink, and, imitating the attitude of John Adams when writing, wrote. The result was a wonderful sheet of chance caligraphy, innocent of system or design, the
writer having been animated by one idea, namely, to make his hieroglyphics as illegible as possible.

[448] "Now!" says he to John Adams, "if you can read writing, read this o' mine!" John was utterly incapable, and Quintal triumphed exceedingly. But sitting by, during reading-lessons, apparently otherwise engaged, though really all ear for every combination of sound and syllable, and the outcome of a few bribes which he administered to promising pupils, convinced him at length that there was something in it, and in the end he was admitted, with other lately excluded seekers after knowledge, to sit at the feet of the untutored tutor. The Bishop of Auckland paid the old man a visit between the morning and afternoon services of his Ordination Sunday in Norfolk Island.

Soon after Christmas the weather became strangely cold, and the Pitcairn community without exception took influenza. Mr. Nobbs was seriously ill, and altogether it was a dismal time. Our lads caught it, and so general was the coughing that we had to give up the musical part of our service. The dysentery reappeared at the same time, in a mild but very protracted form. A hospital was established, and Mr. Codrington became head nurse. One lad who was ill for about a month shrank literally to skin and bone, and turned a bilious yellow; how he lived is best known to himself; all he said was that he was not going to die, and he did not die, but is now walking about and gradually losing his shadowy appearance. It is now the middle of March, and Mr. Codrington has still two convalescent patients. The only white sufferer was our carpenter, Mr. Kendal. Although these visitations interrupt our school and regular work, yet they are sent for a purpose, and teach forcibly certain solemn truths that are apt to be forgotten in the dull routine of our ordinary life. They bind us and our charge more closely together, and afford the latter an opportunity of testing the truth and power of Christianity in those emergencies where everything else fails.

The Southern Cross is to leave Auckland for this place and the Islands on the 20th inst. Her trip to Auckland in the middle of the voyage, after leaving me at Florida, promises to be very interesting. She will convey the Rev. George Sarawia for his ordination as priest, and will embark the Revs. J. R. Selwyn, J. Still, and Mr. Bromley, nephew of the Bishop of Tasmania.

Project Canterbury