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Darkness and Light in the Pacific

By P.A. Micklem

Sydney: Australian Board of Missions, c. 1936.

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

Darkness and Light in the Pacific


The Rev. P. A. MICKLEM, D.D.

Melanesian Mission Vessel, "Southern Cross."

Darkness and Light in the Pacific


ST. JOHN x., 10: 'The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill and destroy: I came that they my have life, and may have it abundantly."

The Cathedral at Zanzibar, off the west coast of Africa, built under the skilled direction of Bishop Steere, stands on the site of the former Slave Market. Here at one time men, women and children, captured in village raids by Arab slave dealers, were inspected by would-be buyers and put up for sale, subsequently to be shipped to Arabia by their masters and owners. The slave trade passed, largely as a result of the appeal of Livingstone, who had seen it at work and its fell results, an appeal which led to the foundation of the University's Mission to Central Africa; and where slaves had been bought and sold arose the Church of God, and where formerly stood the whipping post was set up the Altar; where continually the Holy Sacrifice is pleaded for the redemption of Africa, and the bringing of her sons into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Darkness in the Pacific.

Not dissimilar is the story of the Pacific. Here again there came the thief with no purpose but to steal and to kill and to destroy. For some thirty years, from the middle of the last century onwards, the islands of the Pacific were regarded as mainly a source of cheap native labour to be employed for the benefit of the white man. The worst offenders in this unscrupulous exploitation of human life were the South American slave raiders. Mining activities, sugar and cotton plantations, the flourishing guano industry off the coast of Peru, all demanded in the early 'sixties of the last century an abundance of cheap labour. The demand was met by fleets of blackbirders sent out to raid the islands of the eastern and central Pacific, and to bring back shiploads of able-bodied natives. These Peruvian slavers set themselves the task of capturing 10,000 labourers from the islands, and they appear to have succeeded. To take one instance, in 1862 Easter Island had a population of upwards of 4000. The Peruvian raiders descended on the island, attracted the natives to the beach by the display of brightly coloured trinkets and baubles, closed in upon them with armed force and captured a thousand, whom they carried off to Peru. Here, from hardship, disease and the change of climate, they rapidly died, and when eventually under French and British pressure orders were given for their repatriation, the toll of life had been so heavy that, of the thousand captured, a bare fifteen survived to see their native island.

The Blackbirding Trade.

Meanwhile, by similar methods, if less devastating in result, the islands of the Western Pacific were raided for the benefit first of the cotton planters and later the sugar planters of the Queensland coast. Blackbirding in the 'sixties became a recognised and lucrative trade, carried on on behalf of the owners of sugar plantations and with the support of the Government. In April, 1867, an advertisement was published in Brisbane by Henry Ross Lewin, who described himself as having been engaged for many years in trade in the South Sea Islands, and declared that he would be "happy to receive orders for the importation of South Sea natives to work on the cotton and sugar plantations now rapidly springing up in this colony," and offering to supply "the best and most serviceable natives to be had amongst the islands" at "seven pounds each man." The story of the methods employed by Lewin and others of his kind in securing and transporting these "serviceable natives" has recently been told in a book, Slavers of the South Seas, which all should read who would know something of the nefarious blackbirding trade. The Solomons and the New Hebrides were the principal scenes of these slave-raids, partly because of their proximity to the Australian coast, and partly because their native inhabitants proved better labourers than the gentler and less aggressive Polynesians.

The methods of capturing the natives varied. They would come out, as they still do, in friendly fashion in their canoes, bringing them close under the ship's side. A weight would then be dropped from the ship on the canoe, and the occupants, thrown into the water, would be picked up by the ship's boats. Or the natives would be decoyed on board by the attraction of trade or gifts. The gifts would be displayed in the hold of the ship, and the natives would descend to see them. Whereupon the hatchways would be closed down, and the ship set sail. Or the ship would carry on board a hired native whose work it was to persuade the islanders to come on board; and once on board there was no escape. The Daphne (Lewin's ship) was fitted up like an African slave ship of the middle passage, with the one exception that the slaves were not manacled. It was a dangerous trade, often leading to reprisals on the part of the captured natives or their countrymen of the islands from which they came. Arrived at their destination, they were handed over to their future employers at so much a head, and, however kindly and humane the treatment which they received, their status was little more than that of slaves.

Methods of Capture.

Two examples of the methods and results of the blackbirding trade may be given, quoted from the book already referred to:--

"The owner of the Anna, of Melbourne, who, as already stated, had dismissed its master, Clarke, because he refused to kidnap natives for the Fiji plantations, evidently found a skipper who was less fastidious, according to a story told of a later blackbirding voyage. While recruiting natives for Fiji, the Anna went to Onatoa (Francis Island) in the Kingsmill Group. A great number of natives swarmed on board. For their benefit a cask of tobacco was placed on the main hatch, which was left uncovered. A seaman was stationed on the deck to throw plugs of tobacco from the barrel amongst the crowd of natives. Charmed by this openhanded generosity with one of the things they valued most, the natives pressed round the dispenser of tobacco. At the same time, as if by accident, the crew of the vessel closed round the milling mob of natives. At a signal from the captain, the crew rush in and half-pushed, half-threw the unsuspecting natives down into the hold. More than a hundred were thus entrapped. The Anna then sailed away with her blackbirds."

And again: "The Carl was kept under easy sail, and a number of canoes put off from Buka. The natives were lured alongside by the offer of attractive articles of barter. All was ready on board. Pieces of pig iron and small cannons tied to ropes were dropped over the side into the canoes, smashing the bottoms and sinking them. Boats had been lowered from the Carl, and fully manned. The crews now busied themselves in picking up the natives from the sinking canoes. If resistance was offered, the wretched Buka men were knocked on the head with oars, sling-shots, clubs, or anything else that lay handy. A great haul was made that day. Altogether 85 natives of Buka and Bougainville were seized while the Carl was off the islands. The kidnapped men were put down into the hold, already partly filled with the natives kidnapped earlier on the cruise. The hold was very crowded; there was just room for the natives to lie down."

The same writer sums up the ruthless depopulation of the islands which resulted from the trade. "So keen," he says, "did the demand of Kanaka labour become in the late 'sixties, that the more accessible and peaceful islands in the New Hebrides were almost stripped of young men. In February, 1868, eight missionaries stationed in the New Hebrides prayed for an inquiry into the doings of the recruiters there. They pointed out that Kanakas were being recruited not only for the Queensland sugar fields and for Fiji, but for pearl-diving in Torres Strait and for plantations in Tahiti and New Caledonia. In the preceding eight months, they stated, recruiting vessels had called eighteen times at the Island of Efate and had carried off 250 men from seven villages."

The Coming of Selwyn and Patteson.

But, across the track of the blackbirding thief who came to steal and to kill and to destroy, sailed also the representatives of Him Who came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly. For the Church of England in the West Pacific the track was blazed by George Augustus Selwyn, who in the 'forties of the last century, before indeed the blackbirding trade had developed, made a series of perilous voyages in his own schooner from New Zealand to the New Hebrides and other island groups. Selwyn indeed claimed the whole string of islands from the New Hebrides in the south to the Carolines in the north as within his diocese, and consequently as within the sphere of his own missionary responsibility. Like the blackbirders, he, too, brought boys from the islands, but, unlike the blackbirders, brought them with their own full consent and that of their people, and brought them not as the future slave employees of the white man, but to be trained in his college at Auckland, and later at Kohimarama, in the Bay of Islands, to be the future evangelists of their people.

Selwyn's work was taken up in 1854 by his friend and disciple, John Coleridge Patteson, who served for seven years as a missionary priest under Selwyn's immediate direction, and on St. Matthias' Day, February 24, 1861, was consecrated first Bishop of Melanesia, "to act as missionary Bishop among the western islands of the South Pacific Ocean." Patteson followed the lines laid down by Selwyn, visiting the islands as far north as the Solomons, making contact with their primitive and often savage peoples, and taking under his charge native boys for training in the native College, removed in due course from New Zealand to Norfolk Island, which from 1867 till 1919 was both the site of the central school and college of the Mission and the headquarters of the Bishop. For ten years, without once returning to his home, Bishop Patteson laboured to bring into the school of Christ the child peoples of his diocese; and on September 20, 1871, died a martyr's death at the hands of those whom he loved and served on the little atoll of Nukapu, in the Reef Islands, as a native act of revenge for the loss of some of their number through a blackbirding raid not long before.

But the death of Patteson did not end the work for which he had given his life. Rather it gave a fresh stimulus to missionary enterprise in the West Pacific. Such was the Christian form of retaliation for his death. A fresh leader in the enterprise was found in Bishop John Selwyn, son of the founder of the mission, who again was followed by Bishop Cecil Wilson, now Bishop of Bunbury. The little schooner, the Southern Cross, on which Patteson travelled, was the first of a series of vessels, not less than seven, called by that name--first the sailing vessel, then the steamer, and now the beautiful motor yacht--which is the present Bishop's home, and on which he travels from end to end of his vast diocese, embracing in its scope the New Hebrides in the south, the Solomons in the centre, and in the north the Territory of New Guinea, now administered under mandate by the Commonwealth Government.

A Native Ministry.

Think then of the rich harvest which has sprung from the seed sown by Selwyn and Patteson. From the first the aim has been the building up of the native Church, manned by its own clergy. By nothing can missionary enterprise be tested so fully as by the growth of a native priesthood and the faithful service which that priesthood renders. From the Training College until recently at Siota, on the Island of Gela, and now removed to Maka on Malaita, has issued a succession of men who are rendering loyal priestly service in the islands. The work which these native priests are doing is of the pastoral character to which we are accustomed in our own parishes. They have, in island after island, a scattered Christian congregation in their charge; and their task is to visit and minister to the members of their flock, to baptise and prepare for Confirmation, and, above all, to celebrate the Holy Mysteries and to lead the worship in the simple native Churches which everywhere stand in their setting of trees close by the beach, or in the interior of the island. The Churches are mainly native-built--low walls of coral cement and thatch roof, floor of gravel--and the Altar and reredos often enriched with the beautiful mother-of-pearl inlay, carried out by native hands with no little skill and artistry.

School and Hospital.

Then there are the schools, both for boys and girls, no longer now on Norfolk Island, but in the groups of islands from which the pupils come. If you visit Bunana, the girls' school in the Solomons, you will find a happy throng of some forty or fifty girls waiting to welcome you on the beach, and every one desiring to shake you by the hand; or at Maravovo, in Guadalcanar, the largest boys' school, the whole school, some 200 strong, will be drawn up in military formation, drum and fife band and all, and you will be received with military honours. From Maravovo, the elementary school, selected boys are sent to Pawa, in Ugi, for more advanced education; and from there again the most promising of them go to Siota or Maka to be trained as teachers, and perhaps as priests.

And side by side with the schools there is the medical work. The centre of this is Fauabu, on the coast of Malaita, where there stands a well-equipped hospital served by the missionary doctor and nurses. The Mission has been fortunate in securing the services of Dr. C. S. James, who has already had island experience, and is a devoted friend of the native. Dr. James' work is not confined to his central hospital. He has a launch at his disposal, and is constantly engaged in visiting other islands and stations, giving out-patient attention to the sick, selecting cases for the hospital, and supervising the work of the station dispensaries. It will readily be recognised that the work of healing is a necessary adjunct to the Mission. The tale of human suffering amongst the natives, through ignorance and neglect, is very great, and untold good can be done by the bringing to their service of the best fruits of Western medical science.

The Native Brotherhood.

But meanwhile the islands and their peoples are by no means yet wholly won for Christ, and there is still ample room for pioneer evangelistic work. For this purpose a weapon of wonderful effectiveness has been placed in the hands of the Mission in recent years, in the shape of the Native Brotherhood. Founded in 1927 by Ini Kopuria, its present head, the Retatasiu, to give it its native name, has its headquarters at Taboulia, in Guadalcanar, on land given for the purpose by Ini himself. Here the Brothers are trained for their work with the help of the veteran missionary, Dr. C. E. Fox, who himself lives the life of a Brother, and is known as Tasiu Charles. For a term of years at least the trained Brothers place themselves at the entire disposal of the Bishop, ready to serve wherever he may send them: and the work for which the Brothers are trained is that of breaking new ground in islands and districts as yet untouched by the Mission. They are sent out in little groups of three or four, plant themselves down in a certain prescribed area, build their own house, lay out their own garden, share the life of the people, and bring to them the rudiments of the Gospel of Christ, thus preparing the way for the later coming of the teacher and priest; and the Brotherhood as a whole has proved a revelation of the way in which trained native devotion can be drawn upon in winning for Christ and His Church those who have not yet heard His Name.

Thus the Melanesian Mission is brining to these island children that new source and spring of life which is found only in allegiance to Jesus Christ. In the world of to-day the peoples of the Pacific Islands cannot be left isolated and alone, to live their own lives in their own way. Their islands lie across the paths by which Western industry and commerce travel. Inevitably they are brought into touch with Western life and Western ways. Inevitably they are caught up in the great stream of world events. Under the impact of the European invader, planter, trader, Government officer, much change--some good and some evil--must take place in the old traditional order of the social and religious life of the people. Nor is there anything which can adequately take the place of that which is thus destroyed but the Christian Faith, the Christian Church, and the Christian way of life. It is the missionary's task, a task which is being splendidly fulfilled, to save and protect the islanders of the Western Pacific from the dangers to which they are exposed by contact with Western life, to break down and expel the dark fears and superstitions, the barbarous and cruel customs which are their natural heritage, and to call them into that fellowship in Jesus Christ in and through which they may have life, and may have it abundantly.


Published by the Australian Board of Missions, 14 Spring Street, Sydney [ca. 1936].

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