Project Canterbury


The Long Dark Island

C. L. Mountfort

Edited by
R. D. Mountfort


The Long Dark Island

The Desk Top Press

Wellington, New Zealand


Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2011

Online reproduction by kind permission of the editor, 2011.

ISBN 0-473-02330-X

The Long Dark Island by C. L. Mountfort

First published February 1994

© R. D. Mountfort 1994

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of The Desk Top Press.

Published by
The Desk Top Press, 4A Quetta Street, Wellington, New Zealand.


My father wrote this book which he called "The long dark island" or "Not many wise, not many mighty" during his retirement in the 1970's forty years after the time of most of the events he described. To help his memory he had letters he had written at the time to Elsie, his wife to be. The MS he left was one long document with no chapter divisions and sudden jumps from topic to topic. He had intended to revise it all himself, re-arranging it into chapters. The descriptions of his return visits in 1959 and 1967 were to be expanded and rewritten, and he once suggested that I do this. I prefer to present the book largely as he left it.

I have tried to keep close to what he wrote. The only considerable changes I have made are in the order of paragraphs to try to achieve some kind of chapter unity. Chapter headings are mine.

Two spelling difficulties. Over the years there has been much variation in spelling of place names. I have kept my father's spellings. What he called "Pidgeon" is another difficulty. He used a completely anglicized spelling, the accepted practice of his day. I have tried to find a compromise between this and what would now be used in the Solomons, which English readers would find almost unintelligible. E.g. what would now be written "smolfala samting" I have written as "small fella something", "Sista blong mi kolsap dae finis", as "sister blong me close up die finish".

R. D. Mountfort,
Wellington, New Zealand.
November 1993.



It was the last week in May 1926, and the steam yacht, "Southern Cross", had been steaming all day along the northern coast of Guadalcanal, going east. As we passed along the coast it had not seemed very inspiring, there had been no harbour which might have welcomed us in, and few signs of life, just an endless vista of tree-lined shore, with towering mountains in the background, dark and forbidding and in some places downright sinister. As the ship rounded Rere Point she ran into a heavy sea to which Pau Pau beach, a few miles further on, was fully exposed. That was one reason why a new station was to be opened there. Hitherto when there had been a white man on the island he had always had his headquarters near the western end, but the last man there had died on the job, and Pau Pau with the strong southeast trades sweeping in from the sea for six months of the year, was considered much healthier.

The "Southern Cross" was the very life-line of the Melanesian Mission. She normally made two trips a year from Auckland, each lasting between three and four months. Each Mission station in the New Hebrides and Solomons received at least one visit from her every trip, sometimes several. Everybody relied on her for food and news of home, and altogether she was a much loved ship. To brown and white alike she was "na akanina" - our ship.

The ship was an unusual one, and the man who controlled her destiny, and that of the whole Mission, was a remarkable one. He was John Mainwaring Stewart, fifth Bishop of Melanesia. He was a great man and a great and good bishop in every way. The whole staff was absolutely loyal to him, and he to them. We liked and respected him and had every trust in him. It would not, however, have been possible to find anywhere a man more unlike the popular idea of a parson. He brought to his life as a missionary a love of fun and humour. This did not always become apparent in his contacts in [1/2] civilisation but out in the islands, on his lonely station as a missionary, and later as bishop for nine years travelling round on the "Southern Cross", it was very evident.

At the time of this journey in "Southern Cross" along the coast of Guadalcanal he was growing old and was within a few years of the end of his time in the Pacific, but he still retained that exuberant sense of humour. One peculiarity acquired during his time on a lonely station was the habit of talking to himself in English in the midst of a people none of whom understood that language. You would hear him rumbling away in a deep voice about the people and things surrounding him, and these remarks were not always complimentary. To the casual onlooker he appeared to be a heavy smoker, at least fifty cigarettes a day. He did not smoke them right through, but would take two or three puffs at a cigarette and then throw it away. Invariably it would be picked up and smoked to the very end by a Melanesian lucky enough to be on hand. The Bishop was able to afford this extravagance because he had private means. Another little extravagance was his love for loaf sugar. Wherever he went he would try to have some on hand and into every cup of tea he would put two or three lumps.

Not the least of his endearing features, and the one most enjoyed by his staff, was his habit of giving its members a nickname, generally one expressive of their behaviour and habits. But nicknames were reserved for those he liked. As a member of staff said, "If he teases you it shows he likes you." He laughed more often at himself than at others.

With the Bishop on "Southern Cross" that day were several members of the staff, including the one who writes this record. I was to be put down at Pau Pau. If the Bishop was worried that day at the thought of putting down one so young and inexperienced, he did not show it. Perhaps his thoughts went back to many years before when he had been put down on the same island, only at the other end.

My possessions were not very great, three or four [2/3] loads. They constituted a difficulty that day as they had to be got safely through the breakers on to a very steep shingle beach. I had spent some time while at Siota making a good serviceable table with detachable legs, suitable for just such a landing as this. Under the table I had attached a lavatory seat of my own making, and with the legs and one or two other pieces of timber, endeavoured to camouflage the seat, hoping thereby to escape the eagle eyes of my fellows. When the passengers went on deck my belongings were just coming up from the hold into the glare of the tropical sunlight, and, alas, my subterfuge was all too evident, and I had to endure the remarks of interested spectators. Three or four chairs, a couple of camp beds, cases of medicines and groceries for at least six months, a few cases of kerosene (each case containing two four gallon tins), a tank with timber and roofing iron with which to build a catchment for water, clothes, books, camp oven, and even a small portable gramophone, all were unloaded into the plunging boats. Then it was our turn.

The Bishop came ashore with me, and all the other Europeans who were interested to see in what manner of place this new station was to be established. The visitors did not have long ashore, as the skipper was getting anxious with such a heavy sea running, and wanted to get clear of the coast before it got any worse. But there was time for a long line of villagers to form up for the solemn handshaking which was always the custom when new arrivals came off the ship. Then everybody took a quick look around the village, and presently I heard the Bishop say, "Oh you filthy little girl, quite the filthiest little girl I have ever seen, come and shake hands with your new vicar." So, ushered by the Bishop, there came towards me, very shyly, a tiny girl who from head to foot was a mass of oozing sores, caused by the disease of yaws. She held out what seemed like a tiny claw, damp with sweat, dirt and pus. So I took that clammy little hand in mine, and afterwards, I am ashamed to say, sought in vain for some place to wipe my hand without anyone seeing what I was doing. The [3/4] Bishop said quietly to me, "One of your first jobs will be to clean up the yaws from that child."

There was no formal service of institution as in more settled places, and there would not have been time for it anyhow, but presently the Bishop took me into the church, gave me his blessing, and the party from the ship left at once. Three blasts from the ship's whistle was always the goodbye signal when the ship left a station for the last time on that visit to the islands. I had heard that signal many times under different circumstances, but that day it had a special significance. I was alone to see what I could make of this new life with only the islanders for company.

I had better introduce myself properly ... "Archdeacon Tom Mix". But don't take that title or name too seriously, it was just part of the Bishop's fun. I had been a deacon for my first twelve months in the islands, and as we were warned by printed word and solemn exhortation against ever going out in the sun without cover for our heads and the back of our necks, and as I did not feel comfortable in the regulation pith helmet, I had a light stetson hat with three dents running up to a peak, and round my neck I wore a large red handkerchief. In this the Bishop saw, or pretended to see, some likeness to pictures on hoardings throughout New Zealand at that time advertising the famous film character. So Archdeacon Tom Mix I had become.

If anyone wonders what equipment I brought to this job, I had, first of all, the inventiveness and self-reliance of the average New Zealander which makes him tackle any job. Theologically I had four years' study, the first three at St John's College Auckland under Canon P. T. Williams, who many years before had himself been a missionary in Melanesia, and then another year studying on my own in the islands, preparatory to taking my final exam, for which I was given special per mission to sit in the islands. In addition I had been given teaching experience in two of the Mission schools, first at the great Pawa School under Dr Fox, and later at Siota. While at [4/5] Siota I had been given coaching and some practical experience in the treatment of tropical diseases. In all this I had come to know something of the Melanesian people, had learned to like and respect them, and to speak one of their languages and read another.


It was a tidy and pleasant place, this village of Pau Pau, but it was only small. It consisted of a straight row of about twenty houses facing the sea, and three or four chains back from it. My house was near the end of the row, while next to it, and much too close, as I was to discover later, came a community cookhouse used for the preparation of special feasts. Next to the cookhouse were two small and rather dilapidated dwelling houses, one occupied by a very old woman, and then more or less virgin bush. Opposite my house, and nearer the beach was the church. It was a good solid place made of the same leaf as the other buildings, but larger and more richly decorated, by far the best building in the village. The only other feature of the village worthy of mention was a magnificent flame tree quite close to the church.

My house was of very much the same construction as the others in the village, consisting of main posts supporting a ridge pole which in turn supported a simple thatched sago palm roof. But it stood higher than the others, except the church, and had a raised floor. This was good for ventilation but it was not an unmixed blessing, because the floor was made of native timbers tied with rattan thongs instead of being nailed. This was covered by split bamboos which made a surface which looked smooth but which sprang up and down when walked on. The building had one central room, about 18 ft. by 12 ft., with eaves extended beyond the walls back and front, making in the front a sitting-out verandah, and at the back a shady area for meat safe and wash place. The washroom was nothing but an empty space, innocent of the furnishings of an ordinary bathroom. I added a small zinc bath, much too small to bath in, and an empty meat tin to use as a scoop to pour water down my back, and that in lieu of a shower was the only concession to luxury. The meat safe I made from a kerosene case on its side with legs which stood in tins of water to discourage ants. I was speedily to discover [6/7] that we had every kind of ant, meat eaters, fruit eaters, and large ones that could give a nasty bite.

The house had one doorway in place of the double doorway all the other houses had, but unlike theirs mine had no door. This I felt was a little remiss of the people, as their houses could be fastened with good tight doors even if they were only made of leaf. The lack of a door left my person by night and my goods by day open to all and sundry. As I was to be away from home more than I was there it was not a good arrangement, but I never had unwanted visitors after my light went out, and I never missed a single article, although I came to suspect that the inside of my house was sometimes carefully examined by the curious.

The hours of daylight after the ship left were hectic. Only those who have had their possessions dumped on a beach through a heavy surf, and then carried up and dumped inside by people who had not the foggiest idea of what each package was for or how it would be used, can have any idea of the confusion. With rough handling several tins of kerosene had sprung leaks, and obviously the cases had to be opened, and each tin turned so the leak was uppermost. Then a bed and bedding had to be found, and what was more important, a mosquito net unpacked and erected before darkness set in. Also a lantern had to be unearthed and filled with kerosene.

Preparing food for an evening meal was another problem. My cookhouse was promised, but not erected yet. The posts for it were still growing in the bush. The cookboys were promised but had not turned up, and temporary ones had be to found and initiated. I was a bit unlucky there because the only boy I could find was a young man named Andemos who had a very bad and evil-smelling ulcer on his leg, a good kindly lad, but lacking in knowledge of domestic chores. Hitherto I had been dealing with schoolboys whose personal habits were strictly supervised and whose skins were clean.

Soon after dark the teacher, John Sara, rang the bell for Evensong, so I seized my lantern and went along. I was shown [7/8] what was to be my special seat when I was not officiating at a service. This was right at the back of the church between the two doors. I hung my lantern on a convenient nail, John Sara had another lantern, and there were two or three others in the church, so from the point of view of the locals the church was brilliantly lighted on that night. The place was full of dark-skinned people, most of them naked above the waist, men and boys sitting on my right, and women and girls on my left. The service was in the Gela language which I had learnt to read, but at that time could not understand. The tremendous thunder of the surf on the beach nearby, the unknown language and the singing to plaintive tunes in which the sopranos soared up and up to a shrill shriek, seemed to make it all strange and unreal, and to complete my feeling of absolute separation, not only from my fellows on the "Southern Cross", but from all my fellows everywhere.

After the service more people came to see me. They perched all along the edge of my verandah and in the dim light of my lantern, smoking, talking, looking. At last I was free to go to bed, but not to sleep because the whole place was stirred up and they sat in groups not far from my house, each group with its smoky little fire, the older people talking over the events of the day, and the youngsters sitting round in a group of their own singing their mournful dirge-like songs. It was the pattern of many nights to come, but that night it all seemed so strange.


The urgent task next day was to attack the disorder in my house and to make preparation for the erection of the shed with the iron roof and the tank so that I could have fresh water, as there was none in the village, only what could be carried in bamboo "bottles", about three inches across and a foot long, on the backs of the women. This was urgent. The man who had been in charge of the district before me had drunk the stream water without boiling it, and that and malaria had caused his death. That was one mistake I could avoid.

I found that everything had come ashore from the ship except the brackets for the guttering to run the water into the tank. Such a small omission for anyone living in civilisation, but so difficult under those circumstances. Finally it was overcome in the simplest of ways by making rough wooden ones. But I was too anxious to get that shed up and pushed myself too hard, and out of the building of it came the father and mother of a dose of malaria, which put me to bed for several days.

In malarial country like that the disease lay dormant in the human frame, and any over-exertion or exposure, or for that matter any excitement like the arrival of "Southern Cross" after one had been alone for six months or more could bring on a dose of fever, even though one had been most careful to take one's daily dose of quinine. The truth was that quinine was not a very effective drug. It could only check the disease not prevent it.

People have often asked me what exactly happens when you have a dose of malaria. It starts off with terrific depression, then comes the cold phase with intense and prolonged shivering, chattering of the teeth and shaking which extends gradually to the whole body. Sometimes this stage is accompanied by sickness and vomiting. Fortunately I was spared that. Intense heat follows the cold phase, the skin is dry and burning, sometimes one is terribly thirsty, and the [9/10] temperature goes up to 104 and even higher, the head aches horribly, and sometimes one is quite delirious. Then comes the sweating phase.

That happened one night, everything got wet, almost as though I had been out in the rain. I knew then that I was getting better. I crawled out of bed in the darkness and felt round for pyjamas and fresh bedding. In the morning although I was still very weak I was able to see to things that had to be done. I had had fever like that before, but that dose under those conditions taught me a lesson, not to overdo things.

I had been warned that when I got ill the people would leave me. I remember my cookboys coming round each morning, but there was nothing they could do, so they went away and doubtless enjoyed the unexpected holiday. My only other visitor was John Sara, but all I wanted was some water. I couldn't eat and could scarcely be bothered to drink, but I needed water because each time I came to I had to take the necessary drugs. I couldn't even be bothered to ask where the water came from. All I knew was that it could not have come out of the tank, as there had not been any rain. After a heavy bout of fever like that I often felt much better and could do my work, and if lucky could go quite a long time without another dose, but there always remained the threat of it so I learned to be careful.

A short time before I started my district work I had been told by somebody in authority that I must make a Will. This I had tried to shuffle out of. I think that I didn't want to be made to feel that I was joining a suicide club, and anyway, as I pointed out, many people had done district work for good long periods and were still alive and kicking. But authority was adamant. It was a rule, they said, that all District Men must make a Will, so one was drawn up for me and I signed on the dotted line, but I did it with my tongue in my cheek, for I had so little to leave. I do not think that the relative to whom I left my worldly wealth would have been very pleased to receive my few theological books, badly stained from the tropical [10/11] climate, plus my somewhat worn tropical kit, and whatever little money remained in my bank account.

A year or two later when I was in Sydney I went along to the AMP office to take out a life insurance. I was warmly welcomed as a prospective client until it was discovered that I was on my way back to the Solomons, and then they couldn't get rid of me quickly enough. Once again I argued against their decision which seemed to me to be absurd, even offering to pay a larger premium, but to no good. I was told that they knew all about those parts from ships' captains, etc, and under no conditions would they give me any cover.

There were only two interruptions to my first night's rest in the house. First it was the dogs. They set up a mournful howling about 2 a.m., first one, then another, then several, then some away in the distance. They kept at it for some time. That night I found it very disconcerting, but it was one of the things I was to grow quite accustomed to, it happened very often in the villages. The second interruption was more serious. It came a short time before daybreak. I was awakened by the whole floor heaving about in the most alarming fashion, then came loud grunting noises from underneath. A little party of village pigs had found the floor of the house a most convenient height on which to rub their itchy backs. I suppose that while nobody occupied the house it didn't matter very much, but I was certainly not prepared to share my residence with pigs, especially as it was contrary to the law to have them wandering round a village. The trouble was speedily put right the next day with a fence round the foundations of the house.

All went well until the first storm revealed still another defect in the house, for with the high winds and pelting rain spray was driven right across the house wetting everything. Here again the people came to my rescue and thatched the walls afresh, though it spoilt the house in one way, for hitherto it had been pleasantly cool with the gentle breezes drifting through. After the thatching I felt much more shut in.

One other drawback to my residence became evident when [11/12] the time came round for the first big feast. As I mentioned earlier the village community cookhouse was only a few feet from my verandah. Most of the time it did not matter very much, but when the women started cooking for the feast the heat was intense. Their big cooking oven was right inside the cookhouse. First they put down a layer of stones, then on top of it a layer of firewood, criss-crossed so that it would burn well, then another layer of stones and on top of that more firewood, and so on. When the fire was applied to the pile it burned up bright and clear and the stones were brought to a great heat. These hot stones were used in two ways - a stone would be seized in a long pair of bamboo tongs, thrust into a wooden bowl of water to clean it, then straight into a bowl of prepared pudding. With the application of two or three large stones the puddings, some of them in very large wooden containers would bubble and boil as though cooked over a fire. The other way of cooking was to wrap the food in special leaves, then insert the parcels of food among the hot stones over which they would sometimes splash water, I suppose to cool the stones down to the required heat, or perhaps to create steam. One way or another we had a very hot time for several days during the preparation for a feast. I never knew of any of the food being burnt or spoiled by these methods.

When the day of the actual feast came round the younger women would be resplendent in the family wealth in the form of rows and rows of dog and porpoise teeth round their necks. Very fine they looked too, with these rows of white teeth glistening against their dark skins. Another custom at the feasts at Pau Pau was for the young women when the feast was nearly over to grab handfuls of the sticky pudding and pelt each other with it - this part they thoroughly enjoyed. I noticed that the men in the place kept well in the background while this was going on, and I thought it best to take a leaf out of their book, as some of the lasses were good hefty girls, and threw to hit.


My next door neighbour was Bonski. He was one of the village leaders, and the man of business of the place. That meant that he was agent for the store at Rere Plantation about five miles away along the coast. I never saw his stock, nor do I think he could have had much in his house, but I suppose he would have obtained what was wanted for a would-be buyer. Prices at the local stores were too high for me, but the unfortunate Melanesians had no option but to deal there.

In his early days Bonski had been a head hunter. He told me the story of how he got a head. It wasn't very thrilling, and he didn't appear to me to have been very brave about it. It was a matter of creeping around until he finally got his victim at a disadvantage, then he rushed in and cut off his head. The glory of head-hunting seemed to have been in bringing home a head, rather than in the valour that secured it.

Some of the people told me a Melanesian joke about the head-hunting days. A war canoe had gone from our part of the island west to Marau, and each of the men aboard had secured a head with the exception of one who simply could not find a convenient victim. So he took a dog's head from Marau and, the complement of heads being complete, the canoe returned in triumph. The arrival of the canoe with a dog's head among the human ones was considered a most hilarious happening.

But the head-hunting days were over before I arrived on the scene except for poor old Bonski who, ordinarily the quietest and best behaved of men, on occasion when he had a fever and being quite delirious would imagine himself back in the old head-hunting days. In his delirium he would seize his spear or axe and go out to get another head. When I was at home I kept a close watch on Bonski and if I heard him start to shout would rush in and drug him heavily. After one such attack and drugging he confided in me, "Me sleep alsame me die", and I thought, "Yes, and I'll take jolly good care you sleep [13/14] alsame you die next time too."

It was when Bonski had fever that I started to feel the need of a door to my house. I was told by the people that when Bonski had an attack they all went into their houses and barred their doors against him. I had no door to fasten. It was then I asked my boys to make me one. It was flimsy enough when it was made, but at least I could fasten it on the inside. Although it would not have kept out a determined intruder, at least it would give me warning of his arrival. I felt much better behind that door.

It was at Pau Pau that I caused a mild excitement one morning. With my boys I had been cleaning out my house after unpacking my six-monthly supply of food. I sorted out the rubbish and gave it to the houseboys to burn. This they did, and suddenly there was a tremendous explosion. By mistake a full tin of food had got into the pile, and in the hot fire it exploded. Everyone came rushing around in great excitement.

On another occasion in the same village there was an explosion of a different kind. This time it was two women indulging in a most unladylike argument. They screamed and howled at each other in fury. When I enquired of my cookboys what all the noise was about I was told, "Two fella Mary im fight." I noticed on this occasion also the men had urgent business elsewhere - Melanesia was a man's world.


As soon as things were reasonably straight at headquarters I felt I must begin my travels. I decided to go east first, that being the shorter journey. All went well on the outward trip, pleasant people in all the villages who seemed glad to see me, and the weather was delightful. The first day out we came to a major river, the Simiu not far from Longo. It was no trouble at all, a fresh fast-running clean river flowing over stones. I thought ''Well, that's not too bad." The first night out I spent at Longo Village, a very large and flourishing place. The people were kindly, the Chief appeared friendly, they had a clever teacher in charge. The less said about the food the better, though, and the sleeping conditions were hard - a thin blanket on the floor of a Melanesian-made house is not much protection from the lumps and bumps. However I came to the conclusion that one could sleep on anything, after the first night. I went only as far as one other village on that trip, and that was Babasu.

The return trip was another matter altogether. The weather had broken and all the streams and rivers were swollen high, while walking along through rain and slush was most unpleasant. Finally I arrived back at Longo. That night it rained hard, but it was a little better by morning, so I told my boys to make ready for the final part of the journey. Then came the village teacher who said, "You cannot go today." I said, "I am going."

The teacher came back with the Chief who said, "You cannot go today, the river is running, I cannot allow you to go." I thought of how my food for the trip was finished, and thought too of my supplies at Pau Pau only a few hours away, with my own comfortable bed there, so I said once more, "I am going today."

When the Chief saw that I was determined he said, "I will send some men with you to help you across the river." So we started off. I noticed as we went out of the village that a [15/16] number of husky Melanesians joined our party without a word spoken. Presently we came to the river, and I realized that the Chief had been right and I wrong. The whole countryside seemed to be sliding down to the sea, and what had been such a pleasant river on the way out had become a raging torrent. Branches of trees, whole great forest trees, even large rocks, were all being carried along at the rate of a railway train, while the water was a mass of eddies and dangerous-looking currents.

One of the huskies came up to me and signed that I must climb on his back. He then proceeded to cross the river in a series of tremendous bounds, starting high up on the Longo side and allowing himself to be carried down by the current. It was the most hair-raising experience that I have ever had. Having got us all safely across, he and his companions returned as they had come, and left us to make our way along the coast, crossing en route several lesser rivers. I learned afterwards that several people had been lost in that river when it was in flood, some had been carried out to sea and never seen again. I learned my second lesson that day - not to treat lightly the big rivers of Guadalcanal, especially when they were in flood.

This first trip was really an experimental run, but I speedily built up a technique for my journeying. A day or two before the trip started I would spend in preparation. Lists had to be most carefully made, for once a trip started there was no going back for anything forgotten. Medicines and ointment had to be mixed, in some cases heated up, then everything put in its proper container for carrying. Weight and bulk had to be kept down to a minimum because it was not fair to ask a boy to carry even a small weight unnecessarily when it was sometimes a matter of going two hundred miles along rough tracks and through rivers. But I had to have two tins of drugs and medical supplies. A trip would be just about worthless without those. Just as important was my case containing the Communion Set with Bible and Prayer Book, and a minimum [16/17] of necessities for the services. My bedroll was an important item, one I could not do without in a malarial country. It consisted of a mosquito net, two light trade blankets, and a very small pillow, - the lot wrapped in a Melanesian mat more or less waterproof. Then there had to be food. I counted the days I reckoned to be away, then reduced the number by two or three, allowing a one pound tin of meat for each day, hoping for the extra days to secure some food or to be given a meal at a plantation. In addition I took a large tin of unsweetened biscuits of the small cabin bread variety, a little package of tea, and a very small one of salt. Luxuries like tinned butter, jam and sugar, or tinned milk, had no place in my travelling kit. The boys could rely on getting their food from the villages where we stayed, but just in case I always took some rice as emergency rations for them, and each had to carry his own small kit.

Once on the road I had to fit my life to the rhythm of the villages through which we passed. Nobody worked to the clock and I simply did not bother to carry a watch. In a village someone would blow a conch shell at the first appearance of daylight, around 6 a.m., and that would be the getting up signal. A short time after that the bell would go for church, and if it was Holy Communion it took me some time to make ready for that. Then would come breakfast. For me this consisted of tea made from water that had been boiled, but invariably allowed to go off the boil, with biscuit and any meat that could be saved from the night before. The keeping of the left-over meat was very chancy, because we had to avoid dogs that were always hungry and always on the hunt, and equally hungry rats. If neither of these took it there were still ants to contend with. So it happened that meat for breakfast was more often off than on.

After breakfast I would examine the school children. They were delightful, but for the most part not very advanced in their studies. Then the shout would go out, "Sore leg come up!" and then would come all the sick. After that we would [17/18] say our goodbyes and set out for the next stopping place, a distance between twelve and twenty miles. We did not stop for lunch as there would not be anything to eat or drink.

Arriving at my destination I would make myself at home in the resthouse, if any, and then go to the nearest water to swim and shave. It was impossible to shave in the morning as there was no water and no time. The evening shave had its problems too, as I carried one minute mirror and had to find something on which to prop it near the water. It generally ended by my standing in the river with the glass on the bank, but keeping a wary eye open for crocodiles. If my method of shaving was difficult, the boys' method was more so. They used two shells of a shellfish with the hinge still intact to pluck their whiskers. They needed no looking glass, and they didn't have to do it very often, but I would not have cared to emulate them.

Back in the village I had my main meal of the day - the tin of meat was opened, the biscuits laid out, and again there was tea. Sometimes for this meal there would be the addition of a yam or kumara cooked on hot stones by one of the old women of the place. How grateful I was to these good women. Their cooking was delicious and made a change in the deadly dull diet; but it was the exception rather than the rule, for often the village would be short of food and they always had to feed my carriers. I would reward with a stick of tobacco. After the meal there would be evening prayers and then I would sit and talk with any who came to me. Most times the teacher would have some difficulty to discuss, and there would be matters of general interest. Moving up and down the island all the time as we were, we would be carriers of news between the different parts. Then to bed and another similar day all over again next morning.

This routine was occasionally varied by a call at the bungalow of a European planter, and sometimes the invitation to a meal. How I enjoyed those meals! It was wonderful to sit at a table again, to have a white table cloth and properly cooked [18/19] food. When there was a white man in residence in a plantation I always gave him a call as one never knew what emergency there might be. I often found people ill or in some other trouble.

At my headquarters at Pau Pau I still followed much the same routine, but with bread instead of biscuit, and with the occasional vegetable from a garden, and there were luxuries like marmalade, and even a sweet, sometimes, to top off dinner. Also the routine would not be as demanding. Holy Communion would not be every day, and there would not normally be a school to examine.


The Head Teacher at Pau Pau, John Sara, and another, Harper Sasaka at Suagi were two grand men. Both had been trained at Norfolk Island, which meant that they had had a very good training indeed. They had been taken to Norfolk as youngsters and kept there with only short breaks home every two years until they were young men. Both were Gela men who had come to Guadalcanal years before in answer to the call of the Mission, and they had settled there with their families. Each was in charge of his end of the district, and in each case had attracted his own kind to the work, and other Gela men had come as village teachers. Each teacher received a very small payment from the Mission, but this pay was only nominal as they entered fully into the village life, had their own gardens and produced their own food. In addition they would make a little copra and share in all community projects. Their duties were to teach the people, especially the children, and to take morning and evening prayers in the village church. In the building of this church they would have a considerable share, probably being the chief movers and builders. Part of the duty of the senior teachers like John Sara and Harper Sasaka was to organize and keep the work of their own particular districts in touch with the District Priest, when there was one, and at other times act as liaison officers with the Mission.

Between the two ends of the district there were occasional tensions, which was not surprising when one considers how separate they had been in the old heathen days not so long before. Guadalcanal was the last of the main islands to accept Christianity. On one of my trips to the western end I had occasion to speak sternly to a rather showy young man, one of Harper Sasaka's sons. When I moved back to the eastern end where I had my headquarters I thought no more of the incident. But I heard later through the grapevine that next time I travelled west a letter was carried by one of my party from [20/21] John Sara to Harper Sasaka and he had written, "If you hunt the priest you will hunt me too." Evidently my smart friend had been making threats behind my back, and that was John Sara's way of dealing with the situation. No doubt rumour and counter-rumour lay behind that letter. But it goes to show how a small incident can be magnified on an island where there is already tension.

Strangely enough when I returned to Guadalcanal twenty-seven years later the first Melanesian I met on the beach after going ashore from the Burns Philp ship was that same man. He was by no means the up-and-coming young fellow he had been. A little later he was killed by a shark in an adventure in one of the rivers. I felt very sorry when I heard the news, for so was severed the only remaining link I had with a great family.

Travelling by foot, or as the Melanesians would say "by leg" was very tiring, as there were no roads and in many places no paths. Sometimes it was a case of walking mile after mile along the open beach. This meant that on the sloping beach one foot was always higher than the other, and in the heat and on a long day's tramping it could be most difficult. I wore only sandshoes - boots would have been too heavy and in them I could not have kept up with the boys who were bare-footed so we went along quite fast.

Most of my time on Guadalcanal was spent travelling going first east then west along one hundred miles of coastline, sometimes further. The rivers were a great nuisance as they were subject to flooding. No two rivers were alike to cross and each had to be dealt with in the way best suited to it. Sometimes we found a ford, in other rivers we had to go through deep water, and in others it was a case of going out to the bar and making the best job we could of crossing there. For each one I had to strip and sometimes there would be as many as a dozen to cross in one day. Changing so often became a great nuisance, but I found that going into rivers and then walking in wet clothes was a sure introduction to a dose of fever.

[22] On those walking trips there was a great variety of terrain and views, from the beauty of the long shady bush paths every now and then coming out to catch breath-taking glimpses of the mountains or of small islands off the coast, to plodding along an uninteresting shore with nothing to look at but rows of white-capped waves following one another in. As I went along there would be a headland away in the distance and I would hope that surely there would be something better after that. After that headland there would only be another stretch of equally uninteresting sandy beach and another headland away in the distance, and that in turn would give way to another and another.

Sometimes there were hours of plodding through the great plains where the grass stood six feet high and I constantly lost sight of even the man ahead, and the track we were following could not be seen, only felt with the feet. At the end of a walk like that I would come out as brown as a Melanesian from the dust on the grass. I remember one small village where I wondered why the people had chosen that particular spot. There seemed to be nothing to commend the site, no river or watering place that I could see, no trees and no gardens. Hospitality they offered there, though the best they had was very poor, just a little low hut to be shared with a large pig net. When it rained in the night everything got damp and the net within inches of my nose left me in no doubt that pigs had been there.

Dogs were a great nuisance on these trips. All the inhabited places and others too swarmed with dogs. On the edge of a village there would often be a pack, and they could be fierce as they were kept for pig hunting. They would attack strangers, especially white-skinned ones! I always carried a walking stick about four feet long with a fairly heavy top. When dogs attacked I used to aim at the head of the leader, and invariably found that one sure strong strike settled the argument, as the one I hit retreated howling lustily discouraging the others. Then someone belonging to the place would [22/23] hear the commotion and call the pack off. It was never a very happy introduction to a strange village, especially when I was not sure of the kind of reception from that place. However, the people never seemed to bear any malice about the treatment of their dogs.

That walking stick became a very necessary part of my equipment. Once, and only once, I made the mistake of being caught without it. It was in a friendly village where I was staying the night, and without thinking I strolled along one of the paths not noticing that I was getting further and further away from the village. Suddenly there were dogs all around and they were attacking me. It happened that I was in a fairly open space on the edge of the grass plains. There were no trees anywhere near and so nothing in the way of a branch with which to defend myself, and no stones either. I glanced hurriedly around and saw a piece of twisted root of the thick grass, grabbed it, and with that managed to drive them off. It looked very nasty for a moment.

Later I had a three-man canoe and our method of progress then was for me to walk with one or two boys while our gear was loaded into the centre of the canoe which was paddled by two boys. When we came to a difficult river the canoe came in and ferried us across, then went on to the next river. So we avoided the crocodiles and sharks as well as the deep rivers. This method was slow and when the sea was rough we could not use it at all.

During the latter part of my stay I had a binabina - a large thirteen-man canoe. This was paddled or sailed two men short to make room for the gear. In some ways it was the most comfortable way of travelling the island, but we had to keep close watch on the weather as storms came up very quickly especially in the Nor'west season, and it was not easy when we were caught out in a heavy blow. Then all we could do was to run for shelter behind some peninsula and hang on there until the storm lifted, or else land on the open beach with the full force of the storm behind us. This was a difficult manoeuvre [23/24] as each time we did it we risked our binabina, for such a frail craft could not be allowed to bump on the beach. We would come surging in with the sea behind us, then the paddlers nearest the beach had to jump out as soon as the water was shallow enough and hold the canoe so that the sea surged past without breaking over her. The rest of us would tumble out, get the gear, and everybody would get under the canoe and carry her up to safety. It was hopeless to try to move out while the storm lasted.

Another anxious time was when we had to launch our canoe over a reef during darkness. The canoe would be headed out to sea and as each of us came to the edge of the reef we had to clamber in. It was no place for a mistake either, as one moment we would be in water up to our knees and the next in very deep water indeed. It says much for the seamanship of the boat crew that we never came to grief.

Sailing the canoe in a heavy wind was also an exciting business. We had a square sail made of unbleached calico mounted on bamboo yards with a bamboo mast of about three inches diameter, stronger than it sounds. We could not beat up into the wind although we did manage to tack a little. When we were sailing the crew would still keep their paddles in the water, those on the lee side holding them rigid with the side of the canoe as a kind of a keel. Those on the windward side would cut the tops off inbreaking waves with their paddles thus keeping us from being swamped. It was very much a case of the whole crew working as a team. When the wind was unfavourable and we had to paddle, it was very hard work indeed as we had to keep at it for hour after hour. Here again the boys were very skilful. They had their own signals given by taps on the side of the canoe. They would change the tempo and length of the strokes according to the signals given.

It was during long days in the canoe that I envied the boys their betel nut. About the middle of the afternoon I would think how much I would like a cup of tea. The boys would take out their little bags and make up a chew of betel nut, [24/25] and go on refreshed. One time as we passed close by Longo when the big river was in flood we passed through the streams of fresh water pouring out from the river. Although we were well out to sea the steersman said something which I did not catch and immediately all the crew put their hands over the side and drank the water they ladled up.

Trips in the big canoe were much the fastest way of travelling the island and I was able to take a camp bed as well as a few extras. But it had its difficulties and drawbacks - for one thing I needed ten boys instead of five or six.

It was in the coastal villages that I had my most comfortable travelling quarters. There the people erected, as well as a church, a small house which was considered mine for as long as I was there. These houses were little one-roomed places with the usual springy floor and devoid of all furniture and comfort. Furthermore they were used for a variety of purposes during my absence, and it was sometimes best not to enquire too closely what they had been used for.

One village teacher who used my house for a schoolroom suffered from elephantiasis, a disease caused from the bite of a mosquito. Sometimes he would have to drag around with a huge leg, a great clumsy thing as thick as an elephant's, but at other times his leg would look almost normal, only it would leak from an open place in the heel. I had to spread my bed and sleep on that same floor.

Occasionally a house would have a raised platform for sleeping purposes and that was luxury indeed, except that I could never be sure who might have slept there the night before. At one large village the people had not got round to building me a house at all. They just made available one end of the large village guest house, and there I shared with all and sundry. It was unfortunate that in such a large village I had to stay for some time, up to a week. Life under these conditions could be very dull as the only time that I could deal with the people was early in the morning before they went to their gardens and after evening meal, and with nothing to read and [25/26] nowhere to go the hours could be very long.

Some of the resthouses were well separated from the village but close to the burying place of a former occupier. That would not be considered at all the right place for a villager or his family to live because there would always be the fear that the ghost of the former occupier might haunt the place, or at least it might be tapu in some way. But it was considered the right and proper place for the visiting missionary. When the Bishop went through my district he was much amused and said that one corner of my resthouse always stood with a post on the chest of a former occupant. I had many a quiet night and good sleep in those houses.

The village of Gaimali at the end of my district was close to a large river and there the people kept a bamboo raft so that travellers could be ferried across in comfort. As we came close to this village my cookboy said to me, "Man blong Gaimali im savvy stink in your hand." And so it was. The people took my hand, lifted it to their faces and made a kind of sniffing noise over it. It was supposed to be a kiss no doubt - something they had learned from somewhere. Actually I do not believe that Melanesians ever used the kiss as we know it. All I ever saw was a kind of nuzzling up to the one to whom they were showing affection, as a mother would with her baby.

Nights in the villages were often magical. Stars and moon shone brightly in the tropical sky and the whole place would be sheathed in silvery moonlight. Sometimes under the coconut palms all the ground would be covered with a coating of phosphorescence, every heap of stones, each coconut husk, and every stick and piece of timber - all would be aflame with a ghostly glow. But when morning came all the magic had gone - rather like Cinderella after the ball. Sometimes in those magical evenings fireflies would be darting about. I was told they were considered to be souls of the dead.


Wherever I went, at home in my headquarters, or moving about in different villages each day, the routine for the sick never altered. As soon as my breakfast was finished one of the cookboys would shout "Sore leg come up!" That was the signal for the sick of all ages and with any sort of illness to come trooping out to where I had set up my bush dispensary. Everybody who was sick was a "sore leg". There would be all the usual tropical diseases, with malaria in all its forms.

Everybody suffered malaria in those islands, not only expatriates. The use of the needle for this disease was just beginning outside of hospitals at that time, and I was thankful that I had been trained sufficiently to use it, though I did not like doing it. I never felt happy about using the needle and would try everything else first. I felt it was no job for an amateur. I had a strange case of a wild bush boy from a heathen village who absolutely refused to take any medicine whatsoever in the ordinary way, but was perfectly happy to allow me to give him a needle. Probably he believed that the white man's medicine was tapu to him.

Next to malaria I considered yaws my most difficult problem. Nearly everybody in the villages at that time suffered from it. It would start off in babyhood or a little later. The small Melanesian children were delightful little chocolate babies. Then a rash would start to show covering the whole of the body and presently lumps would start to erupt as in the case of the small girl at Pau Pau on the day of my arrival. The head around the nose and mouth would become affected, as well as the body generally, Flies would swarm around the little sufferer, and the whole appearance would be most repulsive. The terrible thing about it, it seemed to me, was that the parents regarded this state as inevitable, part of growing up. After a period this stage would pass and in about half the cases the skin would clear up again. In other cases although the body healed up there would remain one sore which did not go away. [27/28] This was almost always on the lower limbs and would gradually increase in size. Sometimes it would go on for years until part of a foot would be eaten away, or there would be an ulcer many inches long and an inch or two wide on the calf. The smell would be terrible, the wound would be massed with flies, and at first treatment masses of filth had to be washed away. To begin with we tried to heal these ulcers by cleansing, then application of special ointment each day. Slowly, very slowly, the patient would respond to this treatment and the ulcer would get smaller, until one day when the bandage came off it would be discovered that the whole thing had broken out again. I am afraid that the patient usually regarded this as inevitable, but the one giving the treatment would be in despair, and start all over again. However help was on the way. It was discovered that a course of injections of neoarsenobenzol would effect a cure - a "needle" as the people called it. It was wonderful, nothing short of miraculous. I found myself building up quite a reputation for cure by needle, so much so that the people came and demanded needles for almost everything. That of course was out of the question, but I did use the needle for stubborn cases of yaws and ulcers, and for malaria too, especially for young children.

A great part of the population had hookworm at that time, others had the skin disease scabies, and a large proportion had bakua. This was not serious, as tropical diseases went, but I had a kind of horror of it. The patient's skin would look dull and dirty and be covered with a kind of scale which was constantly flaking off. It was contagious and the thought of catching bakua was something I dreaded. Each member of the staff had his or her dislikes and fears. One loathed spiders, another had a fear of land crabs, mine was bakua.

Both bakua and scabies were treated by ointments. The ingredients came to me in bulk and I had to make them up from special recipes. When I treated a bakua patient I would slap on the ointment with a long flat stick and at the same time deliver a little lecture on the evils of not keeping one's [28/29] body clean. I think I may have been a little hard on some of them, for how was it possible for them to keep themselves clean when they lived and cooked and slept on the ground and so often their sleeping places had been occupied the night before by someone suffering from bakua or worse. The marvel was that on occasion they were able to turn out looking as spick and span as they did.

There were a number of lepers too, and for the most part they had to live among the other people. I gave the lepers what treatment I could when they came up with the other "sore legs". I felt I had to try to do something for them, but of course they could not be cured at that time, and certainly not in a bush dispensary such as mine. Strangely enough many of them responded to treatment and their general health improved. Tuberculosis was also prevalent and there were other diseases introduced by Europeans. Measles could be very serious as the people who contracted it would go and sit in the sea to cool off and many died as a result. Flu and ordinary colds were a great trouble too, and wherever I went I carried cough medicine which I also made up at home from ingredients supplied by the government. Unfortunately I had only one spoon for medical purposes, with no where to wash it in between. I knew it was all wrong but had no alternative, and anyhow their living habits were such that it would not have made any difference. It is hard to educate a whole population.

There were some terrible cases which filled me with misery. One such was a mother who brought her little baby to me and asked for a needle for it. I looked at the child and knew that there was nothing I could do, and so, very sadly, I shook my head. I have not forgotten the reproachful look she gave me and the way she cuddled the little one in her arms as though to say, "Well he won't do it, but I'll do my best for you." There were crippled people too - on hands or all-fours, or swinging crippled feet.

Malingerers too were a problem. In a malarial country one [29/30] could never be sure if they were really ill or not, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt. For them I had a special brew. Melanesians liked their medicine good and strong and if it tasted really nasty so much the better. I was ready to oblige. I could never go wrong with quinine and so for these patients the mixture was a good strong dose of quinine well mixed in a large pannikin of water to which had been added a large dose of epsom salts. They would swallow this down and feel that they really had had something. I never knew it to fail.

I myself scarcely ever finished a walking trip of two or three weeks without limping home with one or two ulcers on my legs. I would cross a river and in the water get a scratch without realizing it, and then on the bank afterwards suddenly feel a stab on my leg and look down to see a ring of flies with their heads in the break in the skin. It was enough to do the damage and an ulcer would break out in that place. Some of these sores could be extremely painful and very hard to cure, so I had a great deal of sympathy for the "sore legs" of Melanesia. Strangely enough these ulcers would resist treatment until I had a dose of fever and then heal up very quickly.

There would come to me sometimes among the "sore legs" a sufferer with a great stone bruise or boil on the foot. It generally happened to the women. Perhaps as the carriers of loads in Melanesia they were more vulnerable. The skin of a Melanesian's foot was thick and calloused and it was almost impossible to discover what the trouble really was. The only cure was to lance it and this was where the difficulty began because the good ladies would go to any extreme to prevent that happening. The only thing I could do was to sterilize everything ready, wrap the blade in a sheath of cotton wool so they could not see it, and then make a sudden incision. It was extraordinary the amount of pus that would come out - it would pour out. Unfortunately that was not always the end of the trouble. Sometimes as the swelling went down another equally hard lump would be visible at the top of the foot and the whole [30/31] miserable process had to be gone through again. However the final result was that the foot would heal up quite quickly and give no more trouble. It was the sort of case where I was quite sure that the people thought it the work of one of the devils that they so greatly feared. There always seemed to be a devil lurking in what I thought to be most unlikely places - in a stone or a root of a tree waiting to leap out and trouble an unwary person.

One day I was passing through Berande Plantation and as I stood on the high verandah with the manager we looked down to see my little group of carriers passing below. As one passed the manager said, "You know that man has been certified a leper, don't you?" He happened to be the man carrying my bundle of bedding. There was nothing else to do but to continue with him among my bearers and he finished the trip with us. Later on when we returned to my headquarters I saw him one day nursing his little child, and I could see the same strange markings on the child's body as on the father's.

After one of my trips I arrived back at headquarters to find that I had a rough place in the skin behind my ear. I immediately suspected bakua! I tried to see what was wrong using two mirrors and when that didn't work thought of asking somebody like John Sara, but was too ashamed after all the hard things I had said to some of the people about that disease. I decided to treat myself and hope for the best. I still didn't like to admit to myself that I had contracted bakua so first of all I used scabies ointment - which ruined a shirt. It did not get better and in desperation I tried the bakua ointment with the same result, another shirt ruined and no improvement. Then as I passed my medicine shelves I saw a packet of a simple preparation for sunburn and applied that. Very quickly it healed up and I was not troubled with it again. It was only sunburn after all.


Ngali was a delightful place, or so I thought when I first saw it. It was about three miles inland from Pau Pau on the banks of a very pleasant stream which ran over stones - an ideal site for a village. When I was at Pau Pau I used to enjoy the walk there and back along a wide clear track through pleasant bush. But I was aware that there was something not quite right about it. One day I went further and found it was quite a large village with little hamlets not unlike the first one for some considerable distance along the river, until I came to the last one of all. Here was a head house, a relic of the old days - but more than a relic because I found that it was occupied at nights by the young men of the village which meant that some of the old beliefs and practices were being perpetuated. The outside front gable of the house was decorated with the heads and bones of people who had been enemies - all no doubt with a history of war and fighting and the prowess of the local people. Nearby in carefully tended little plots surrounded by edges made of stones were the heads of some of the great men of those parts each preserved and given a measure of privacy in a miniature house set up on a post. This head house must have been a centre of a good deal of the superstition of the district and after discovering it I began to realize that not all the old practices were by any means dead. Later I was to discover that there were other head houses on the weather coast of the island.

A sufferer from yaws came to Pau Pau from Ngali. His was an advanced case as part of his foot had been eaten away. I treated him for months on end until at last he was cured. During this time he received instruction from John Sara and was judged fit to be appointed a junior teacher. When he returned to Ngali with members of his family he erected a small church house in the first hamlet. We dedicated the new house and he was able to train his own people and take daily prayers for all who wished to attend. So for a time there were two [32/33] special houses at Ngali - at one end the Christian church house, and at the other the head house. These two houses would continue in opposition a little longer and then gradually the heathen one would give place to the other. So Melanesia has been won, not always by spectacular movements but by the slow steady work of convinced Christians.

In Pau Pau one day there suddenly appeared two hundred bush people who had come a three day journey from their remote village. They were naked except for a G-string on some of the men. Short and sturdy in stature they had never seen the sea before. They had also never seen a white man before - and they came round pretending not to look, but were very interested nonetheless. So they viewed me and I viewed them, and my reaction was that I had seldom seen such primitive people before.

The story they told to those who were able to understand was that they had been ordered by the government to leave their homes and travel down to the coast and meet the District Commissioner there at Pau Pau. They hung about for two or three days, each day looking a bit more disconsolate, but nothing happened. Meanwhile they had brought on an emergency among the good people of Pau Pau, because according to native custom visitors had to be fed, and food at that time was very short, even before their coming. About the third day when there was still no news of the District Commissioner I sent off a couple of boys with a letter explaining the situation. A reply in due course said that he had not told them to come to Pau Pau and asked me to send them back to their own village. By this time I was feeling as miserable for them as they were for themselves. I said no word to them but sent off two of my boys in a canoe to Rere Plantation to bring back a whole sack of rice. I told the head man of the village to share the rice around so that all could have a good meal and then tell them to go back to their village. The people disappeared into the bush as silently as they had come. No word was spoken and not one of them came near me before leaving, [33/34] but long after I heard a message on the grapevine which made me realize that they were not unmindful of what I had done and in their own way were grateful. I was ever mindful of those bush people and on several occasions made trips to inland villages and it was always my intention to penetrate even further inland to find what was there.

One of the mysteries of the long dark island was the Vele Man, or more correctly the Vele Men, for there might be several at any one time. The Vele Man was reputed to have a certain bird that went along with him, and that particular bird call at night would start people wondering. One night we were fairly close to shore in our canoe when we heard that bird and immediately I heard one of the crew say, "The Vele Bird." At any time people were careful about how they moved away from their village alone, but when a Vele Man was reputed to be operating they would be very troubled and maintain a greater care and watchfulness. To be "looked at" by a Vele Man was fatal. His power or "mana" was contained in a little bag between four and five inches long. Within this bag there would be some very small article probably taken from a "tapu" place, and this article had to be renewed after a few weeks as the mana gradually faded.

The unfortunate person to be "veled" would be caught alone in the bush and would hear a hiss. Looking up he would see a strange man. It was never known who the Vele Man was. On the little finger of his left hand the vele bag would be swinging. The Vele Man would move round his victim showing him the vele bag. Presently the victim would fall to the ground and the Vele Man would force something into his mouth while he was unconscious. It could be a leaf from a tree, or a small stone, or even a small living creature. When the victim regained consciousness the Vele Man would say, "'Tomorrow when the sun reaches such and such a position you will die." Or he might be given a little longer to live. The victim would return to his village, his eyes looking red and inflamed, and would say, "The Vele Man has looked at me." He would lie [34/35] down, and there with twitching body would hover between consciousness and unconsciousness, and would almost certainly die at the set time unless he could be saved by a strong-minded white man whose mana was considered sometimes more powerful than that of the Vele Man. Even then it would be touch and go for the victim. The power of the Vele Man was considered useless against the white man. Where it had been tried it had been found not to work. What was this power? The reader will say that obviously it was the power of suggestion. I, who lived among it, would not be so dogmatic. There were strange and terrible powers at work among those people. They were real to them and that is what mattered.

On one occasion I had to walk alone and after dark along a bush track where a Vele Man was known to be operating. I had no fear of his magic, but was not sure whether hatred of one considered to be an enemy of all that he stood for might prompt the Vele Man to attack me physically. I went along that track with my lantern burning in my left hand and in my right hand a stick at the ready. As I neared my destination I had to keep my eye open for a break in the track where it branched, my only chance to catch sight of the cooking fires of the village I was making for. My chief fear was that I would miss this turn-off and keep on walking into the night. I had never before realized the number of slight movements there were in the bush on a still night. Eventually I found that village but I did not enjoy that walk much.

Very often I had to contend with the power of Witch Doctors and Medicine Men. Often I had evidence that my patients were being treated by these workers of native medicine. I suppose the people thought that it was wise to keep a foot in both camps, or perhaps their relatives insisted on it. One difference between us was that whereas my treatment was free there were charges for the native medicine, in some cases quite substantial. It was understandable that the medicine men and women did not always exactly love me.

Some of their treatments were just ludicrous. Once I was [35/36] called to go to a man in a hut. As I drew near I heard a hissing sound and when I entered I found one of the local medicine men using his mouth as a spray of what looked to me like betel nut. But some of the native medicines were undoubtedly effective, so I had to be careful what I said and did.

There were innumerable cases of people who claimed to have been possessed by a devil. The devils were very active and lurked in many inconvenient places. As a man stepped across the root of a tree, for instance, the devil belonging to that root would jump into his leg and cause a variety of ills from cramp to boils or worse. Almost anything could be responsible for harbouring a devil which could be waiting with malice to afflict the unwary and the careless. A society like this was a happy hunting ground for medicine men.

Dr Ivens, a missionary who was also an anthropologist of world fame, had been in charge of Ulawa for many years. I met him in Sydney when we were to travel to the Islands together. He shocked the good people in the Mission Office in Sydney by announcing in a very loud voice, "I am going to hell with Mountfort!" It was his way of saying that he was going to Marau at the eastern end of Guadalcanal to carry out an anthropological study of the people there. It was part of my district so in that sense he was going with me. One of the islands just off the mainland was the "hell" or departing place of the spirits of the people of those parts.

Once on our way home after a routine visit to Marau, as we passed that island one of the young men in the canoe had a very bad nose bleed. We were rolling about in the open sea, and in an open canoe without much freeboard there was not much one could do to help another in a different part of the canoe. It was very hot and even the water in the bottom of the canoe was warm. He stuffed his nostrils with coconut fibre which to some extent stopped the flow but as the blood was dripping through the fibre it did nothing to enhance his beauty. There was nothing we could do but carry on. He could not lie down and we had nothing cold to splash on his back. Next day [36/37] according to plan I sent the canoe on without me and I made the best way I could with a couple of boys, stopping for considerable periods at the most important villages on the way. When I finally arrived home it was to discover that this man had not recovered. I went along to his house to find him very ill. I gave him a quinine injection and then a second one when he still did not recover. When he recovered and it was all over this is the story he told me: "When we passed that island the devil belonging to that place got into my body and I could not get rid of him. When you came along and gave me one needle it made the devil kick like anything and when you gave me another needle that drove him out altogether.


The people of Pau Pau and their surroundings were delightful, but I began to feel that I was too far from the main centre of population, and after about a year I decided to move my headquarters to Tasiboko, the village that gave its name to the whole district, and where I felt I could be more in touch with things. I don't think the Pau Pau people were very pleased by the change, but I kept my establishment there going as a kind of sub-headquarters and gave them a fairly long visit as often as I could.

Tasiboko was a succession of villages spread out some distance along the coast and its people were more sophisticated than at Pau Pau. I was given a piece of land for my house nearer to the beach than where most of the people lived. One day the teacher, Barnabas Popoho, told me of the ancient history of the place. Near where my house stood had been the site of a famous tapu canoe house which was also used as a head house. At times the stench of the rotting heads had been so great that the people hurried past along the beach as fast as they could trying not to breathe the horrid smell. Nothing remained of the ancient building when I knew the place, but it was still considered to be in some way under ancient tapu. Although it was out of the question as a dwelling place for Melanesians it was considered admirably suited to my needs. I no longer had many visitors after dark as I had had in Pau Pau.

They built me a brand new house, another leaf structure not much larger than my Pau Pau one, but at least it had a proper door which hung on hinges and could be locked. If the house had a fault it was that they made too good a roof and the very thickness of the roof caused water to run down inside during heavy rain. This fault was cured by a man jumping vigorously on the roof to make the thatch lie down in place, and gradually it settled down and I had no more trouble.

I had been given a new wood-burning stove but no [38/39] provision had been made for installing it and I simply could not poke an iron chimney, likely to get very hot, up through a leaf roof. I finally overcame this difficulty by covering one end of the kitchen annex with a roof made from flattened biscuit tins and sealed with putty, not the most permanent of jobs, but it worked reasonably well. The bathroom at the other end of the annex looked more pretentious than the one at Pau Pau, but it had only the same little tin bath and meat tin with the addition of a shelf and a basin.

The people also built a very fine church on the landward side of my house. Unlike all the others in that part of Guadalcanal it had few elaborate decorations, but it was solid and good and could accommodate a large congregation.

Close by my house there remained a very ancient drum hewn out of a large tree. No doubt it had been used in connection with the head house but it was never used in my day. I never suggested moving it. Better I thought to leave old drums lie. The whole area was always kept spotlessly clean and tidy.

Round my house and close to it were some old trees, not very high and a bit straggly, but I was glad of them for Tasiboko was an exceedingly hot place. One day about mid-day when it was terribly hot I noticed a very old woman, not one I could recognise, begin to make piles of leaves and twigs around each tree and then light up the piles. I sent my cookboy to tell her to go away as it was too hot for fires. She went quietly enough after damping down her fires, but about midnight she came back and lit her fires again. I considered that if it was so important for her to have her fires I would let her get on with them, so this time I did not complain. Nobody belonging to the place said a word about this strange happening, and I thought it better not to enquire, but I felt quite sure that she was performing some rite or magic in connection with the place. If whatever it was did not on that occasion work out too well, she would always be able to blame my interference as the cause of the failure.

The policy of our Mission was not to interfere with ancient [39/40] practices unless they were found to be bad, and as I did not know anything bad about that one I took no action. For the same reason we did not interfere with native dress customs and for health reasons did not encourage European clothing among the people, and we encouraged native dancing and other forms of traditional entertainment.

Keeping myself in suitable food was a considerable problem. Several good women of my acquaintance had tried to give me instruction in the art of cooking, but I never became proficient. Added to that I had a series of cookboys who were for the most part totally ignorant of the art, and who added to my somewhat sketchy instructions many mistakes of their own. The simple matter of making tea became a major crisis. My instructions were that it must always be made with boiling water and so they boiled it for considerable periods, then more often than not, made tea when the water had cooled. This was a universal difficulty throughout the islands, both then and for many years afterwards.

Washing my clothes was always an issue between us. I liked my clothes washed in the zinc bath which I had provided, with soap and plenty of good fresh water. Their idea was to take the washing to the river bank when I was not looking and there rub it vigorously on stones, at the same time no doubt doing their own washing and using the soap allocated for the job to lather their own bodies.

At different times I had boys of varying intelligence and aptitude. During the whole of my stay at Tasiboko I had the same two - Big fella Cookie and Small fella Cookie. The first was large, phlegmatic and not very bright, the other small, quick and clever, but not very reliable. I was sent a rich fruit cake from New Zealand, a great prize even though in that climate it speedily started to go rancid. I was not very pleased to find my cookboys helping themselves to a piece every time I had some. That was one of the rare occasions when I administered punishment laid on with a stick. So enraged was I, and there was so much noise about the whole episode, that [40/41] the people came rushing in from the nearest houses to see what all the disturbance was about. As well, local authority and older villagers would administer a severe reprimand to the unfortunate boys for such behaviour.


Another culinary disaster was during the season for Chinese Cabbage when the people brought me small bunches. This was a great delicacy and a welcome change from tinned food. The first time I initiated my cookboys into cooking it I introduced then to Soda Bicarb, telling them to put in a pinch. The next time I had the cabbage it tasted horrible and then for the next several occasions, until I investigated and found them putting in a spoonful of soda to a small quantity of cabbage.

The making of bread was where we were reasonably successful. I always did the preliminary stages myself, the preparation of the yeast bottle, the measuring of the ingredients, the mixing and standing in a bowl and the kneading. The boys did the cooking, at Pau Pau in a camp oven, and later at Tasiboko in the stove. Even the camp oven bread was a great success, except on the occasions when I had to start a new yeast bottle after a trip away from home. I found that I had to go through the process of making yeast twice. If I failed to tip out the first bottle and then make it all up again in the same bottle my bread was a failure. It was very hard not to be in too much haste on occasions like that. But on the whole breadmaking was one of our successes.

One day I was returning from a solitary walk when in the distance I saw Small fella Cookie with several even smaller companions coming towards me along the path. I marvelled at this because although they had never heard about "mad dogs and Englishmen" it was a rule with them never to go out in the noonday sun at all willingly. As they drew nearer I saw that each carried a large stick. When we drew level the cookboy walked beside me and presently began a rambling account about how he had tried my "small fella something" and broken it. It was one of the two gramophone records suitable for [41/42] youngsters that I owned. I had never liked them and when I heard that one was broken I said it did not matter. If I had been more alert I would have realized that handling the record probably meant also playing the gramophone, and that would mean a considerable interference with my belongings. However I missed that point and when I said that it did not matter the cookboy said something quietly to the other boys and they all threw away their sticks and we continued on into the village in silence. Those sticks were evidently meant as a demonstration. Had I turned out difficult I don't know what they would have done - probably they would have run off howling into the bush.


I gained the greatest respect for the women of Guadalcanal. They worked hard and yet always appeared cheerful. They were the bearers of burdens and carried immense loads on their heads. About four o'clock in the afternoon you could see them coming back from the gardens in family groups with large baskets on their heads. The baskets would be full to overflowing with yams and kumara for the family food, with a heap of firewood and two or three bamboo ''bottles'' on top and often two or three coconuts tied at the side. The whole load would be perfectly balanced so that they never needed to raise a hand to it. With a load like that they would walk a distance of several miles. One thing it did for them, it made them stand straight and walk beautifully. It was fashionable to walk with a slight swinging of the hips which made their leaf skirts rustle and swing as they moved. Any girls in the family would be carrying similar though smaller baskets. The mother or one of the girls would be pulling along a smaller child.

The way the women carried these burdens always intrigued me. At first I wondered if they were fastened on in some way to a tight leaf ring on their heads and the basket on top. One day I tested this idea by touching the basket on the head of a woman I knew well. I found it was all just a matter of exact balance. Incidentally the woman was not amused. She darted me such a fierce look that I knew she was deeply offended and I never tried that experiment again.

Arriving back at the village the women would proceed to scrape the vegetables and prepare the food. The coconuts were cracked open and the flesh ground out for use in the cooking. The fire had to be attended to, the stones at the cooking place heated and the food wrapped in leaves and cooked on the hot stones. Most probably the whole family would have had their daily bathe at a stream on the way home.

What did the men carry? They carried very little - an axe [43/44] or a stick or possibly a spear, sometimes the baby of the family. This was the custom from the old days, not so long before, when the man had to be prepared to protect his family from possible attack.

Do not think that the men were loafers. They had to cut down great forest trees in preparation for their gardens out in the bush. They cut up firewood, climbed coconut palms for nuts, and engaged in house building, fishing and hunting. But their work was spasmodic and irregular, while the women's work went on every day.

The men of Guadalcanal were the ones with good looks, not the women. The younger men combed and limed their hair, changing it to a light fuzzy brown, and it was quite common for them to wear a red hibiscus in their hair. The women, on the other hand, cut their hair off, leaving what remained uncared for. On the whole island I saw only one girl who could have laid claim to beauty. She was the daughter of Harper Sasaka and had been a pupil at our Bungana School where she learned not only to grow her hair, but to care for it too. Also she had the looks that go with a clear skin and good health, and her training had given her a confidence beyond that of her fellows while she shared the vivacity of other members of her family.

My neighbour Bonski came to me one day in trouble. He said, "Sister blong me close up die finish." So I went with him to the small house near the edge of the village and there was the old lady whom I had often seen moving about performing her household chores. She had always seemed to me a quiet inoffensive old thing rather withdrawn from village life. As was usual she was lying on the ground on a slightly raised bed of small smooth stones on a rough native mat or two. She was obviously dying. There was the usual smoky little fire beside her. I did all I could for her, and afterwards stood with Bonski looking down at her. As I looked I was thinking, "How pathetic that this should be the end of such a fine old lady, that she should end her life in such sordid surroundings." But [44/45] I could not see that anything could be done to make her circumstances any better in a way that she could appreciate. I must have stood for some time just thinking. Suddenly she spoke in her native tongue and Bonski translated, "It's all right. I'm ready to go now." So she was. She died not so very much later, and I could not help thinking that it was one of the most peaceful and happiest deathbeds I had witnessed.

One day Ndikio came to Pau Pau. Exactly where she came from I could never discover for sure. When I asked her, she stuck out her chin in an easterly direction and reeled off a string of names that left me no wiser. She said she was Bonski's niece and she was visiting his family for a few days. She was a slight little thing anything from fourteen to twenty years old, but I could never tell the age of a Melanesian, and they never knew themselves. She had no claims to beauty but there was something about her, an air of dignity and a certain charm of manner. Her clothing and adornments did nothing to enhance her appearance, hair cut short, badly cut at that, a string of the very cheapest trade beads around her neck, and her dress a calico skirt from which many washings and the bright sunlight of the tropics had removed all trace of colour and pattern leaving it an ugly dull greyish pattern.

Most of the people used to visit me in the evening or early in the mornings before they went to their gardens, but Ndikio came to visit at all sorts of times and stayed and stayed. Always she came with a younger companion, and always she brought her bird. It was a brightly coloured little parrot such as could be seen in great numbers anywhere in the bush. It had one leg fastened to a hoop on the end of a stick for carrying. I have never liked animals or birds in captivity, but this was such a pretty thing that it immediately attracted my attention and interest, as did the way Ndikio fondled and petted it, crooning to it and putting morsels of food on her tongue so that the bird could eat it from there. To hear Ndikio say my name, "Eh Montiforti," in her soft voice and broken English was attractive too. But of conversation between us we had [45/46] very little as the words we shared in any language were so few. With her eyes, voice and hands she tried to attract my attention and succeeded up to a point, but I was a little puzzled by the whole performance, especially as I knew that it was not according to native custom for her to come like this while others were away working in their gardens. Had she been permanent in the village I would have sent her about her business smartly, but I always tried to make myself available to those who needed me, and for those two or three days I did not want to upset her or Bonski. Then she came out one morning and said, "I go now," and did with a few companions, and the bush swallowed them up. I never saw them again. Did she interest me? Well she entertained and amused me, and anyhow the lady had bakua.

A very curious state of affairs would come to light sometimes when I was travelling in the eastern end of the island. A man would come to me and say, "My wife angered me so much I took an oath against her that I would never again eat any of the food that she cooked." This oath would invariably be taken in the name of one of the ancient devils. From my point of view it constituted a difficulty. If I seemed to take it too seriously I was aiding and abetting the old heathen fear of devils, but something had to be done to break the oath and restore harmony. I would send for the man's wife and say to her, "Prepare some food and bring it to me tomorrow morning." I would say to the man, 'When your wife comes tomorrow morning you must come too." Next morning when they both stood before me I would say to the man, "Now take some of the food which your wife has cooked and eat it." He would do this as my mana was considered sufficient protection against any evil powers, and he would see he was not harmed. Then I would say, "Now don't be such a fool again!" I always felt I must add that last bit to show that I didn't think highly of what had happened. Sometimes the oath took a different form and had to be dealt with in a way that met the case.

This approach to the problem proved to be the right one [46/47] for after a few visits there were fewer and fewer of these cases. But the thought lingered on in a purged and very different form. James and his wife were a very dignified, kindly and responsible couple who lived in Pau Pau. James would have been a town councillor in any other society, at the very least. I had not visited Pau Pau for quite a long period and on the first night of my stay there James and his wife came after the service of Preparation for the Holy Communion and said, "Since you were here last time my wife and I have quarrelled and we feel we cannot come to Holy Communion tomorrow morning without first having told you all about it." In this simple way James and his wife put the matter right between themselves without any recourse to the old heathen oaths and ceremonies.


The construction of a house in a village, be it a church, rest house or villager's home, was always a matter of great importance. It invariably involved community labour. In ancient times the building of a canoe house would have been an impressive occasion, for a human victim would have been put into the hole before dropping in the main post. To omit this ceremony in such an important building would have been considered unlucky. I do not think that any survival of that old custom had been carried into the time about which I write, nevertheless memories of it must have remained in the minds of some of the builders.

The posts made of timber that would last in the ground had to be found in the bush, cut down and carried, sometimes considerable distances, to the site. Then vast quantities of sago palm leaf had to be collected, and sometimes paid for. This too would be brought to the site, and sewed on to ribs between five and six feet long. Next would come the digging of the holes and the erection of the posts, the placing of the ridge pole between the posts, then the corner posts and other horizontal bars, then straight branches, rafters, to carry the roof, and finally the sheets of sewn leaf would be tied in place. In a good house the ribs of leaf would be placed close together making a very thick thatch. Finally the walls would be constructed and covered either with pieces of flattened-out bamboo or sometimes by sheets of leaf left over from the roof. There would be two doorways in the front of the building quite close together, and for each opening there would be a good strong door made either of bamboo or leaf.

The inside of each living house would not be divided into rooms but would remain one large living space with a heap of stones for cooking purposes on one side, and on the other a row of slightly raised stone beds, each only a few inches above floor level, the floor being earth or small stones. In the house would be stored the family supply of wooden cooking pots and [48/49] all the fishing and hunting gear. The woman of the house might also possess a hand sewing machine of ancient design but still capable of doing fairly good work. Different members of the family might each possess a box with a lid that locked, and in this would be kept all their wealth - strings of native money, their best clothes, fish hooks, etc.

One did not look too closely into the hygiene of some of these houses. Hens and dogs strolled about at will and sometimes even pigs, though this was supposed to be forbidden, rats were numerous, and of course ants and other insect life abounded. Everything had to be done on the floor and under these conditions it was not possible to keep hands or cooking utensils very clean, while rules of health were so unknown as not to be worried about. Spitting on the floor was not an uncommon practice. A sick person was given treatment and nursing in the house and almost always there was a small fire kept going close by. Of chimney there was none, and smoke from fires just billowed up into the house finding its way out as best it might through doors or openings high in the walls. All the gear of the family would be crusted in smoke, and in some cases rolls of matting tied with string would become attractively marked when the string was removed.

At the evening meal each member of the family would be given a wooden bowl of food.1t would be eaten with the hands. Use of any cutlery would be quite the exception. That would be the only meal for the day, and if you kept something for the morning you were lucky, if not it was just too bad. However there was a solace for hungry people, tobacco or betel nut. Everybody who had tobacco smoked, and everybody chewed betel nut. A chew of betel nut was a more individual affair than a smoke for a pipe could be shared. Even with the betel nut I have seen a man put his chew down on the side of my verandah floor, and a moment later a child come along and pop it into his mouth.

Europeans were inclined to be critical of betel nut chewing and they would point out certain old men who chewed [49/50] themselves almost into a constant state of coma. The truth was that there were different kinds of chewing, and a mixture of the nut with green leaf and lime could be chewed to become an intoxicant, but in other cases it would be no more than a mild stimulant. I never once chewed the nut, but in times of tiredness and stress, I often longed for a cup of tea and had to carry on without, while my carriers would take out their little bags and be much helped. I think that what put Europeans against the chewing of the nut as much as anything was the stream of bright red liquid which the chewer spat out. The chewing turned their teeth a shiny black - according to some authorities good for the teeth. I heard of a young man who was not acceptable to the lady he was wishing to attract because his teeth were not black enough.

The villagers managed to keep themselves in food most of the time. Out in the gardens, generally some considerable distance from the village, they grew large quantities of yams, pana, kumara, and other edible roots. There were also good edible nuts on many trees, and of course the coconut. Each coastal village had its grove of coconuts. The sea sometimes produced food in abundance. There would be intense excitement in a village when a shoal of bonito was seen off the coast and the men would instantly prepare to go out in their canoes and later come back with some of these large fish. Occasionally there would be other fish too, and at certain seasons some of the rivers produced considerable quantities of a large whitebait. The diet would be varied by the lucky catching of a turtle. But food from the sea was at most times a rarity and not the rule. The ordinary villagers did not get enough meat and fish to have a balanced diet and their health suffered accordingly.

The tail of a crocodile was considered good eating by some people, and the iguana was also eaten. There were birds but these were hard to catch using native methods. There were a few old shotguns about but they were few and far between and some of them were in dangerous condition. Ammunition [50/51] was difficult to come by, but I occasionally managed to get a carton or two of cartridges, and there would always be someone only too eager to use them. Then I would reap the reward of a pigeon or two. The best shot I ever had was one-armed Sam. He could almost always be relied on to bring back something in the bag. Just how he managed to hold the clumsy gun to his shoulder and to shoot so straight was a mystery, but it was only one of the things that he could do better than most people.

The megapode was a strange bird. Not much larger than a barnyard hen, it laid an egg more than twice the size of a hen's egg. It left its egg deep in the sand or earth sometimes as deep as five or six feet, and left the heat of the sun to hatch it. The newborn chick then had to fight its way out as best it could. The Melanesians were well aware of the habits of these birds and although the birds were wild proceeded to farm them and secure their eggs. Not far from Tasiboko was a cleared space of deep sand about a chain wide and two or three chains long, on a higher level than the beach. This was kept clear of foliage and here megapodes laid their eggs. The villagers measured out plots within this area and marked them off carefully with sticks and stones. Within his own plot a man could burrow down, which he did head first digging with his hands until he came upon the eggs.

A village boy of about ten years old was digging in the approved manner. He was not skilful enough or else unlucky and the sand fell in on him and before he could be pulled out he died. As Barnabas Popoho explained to me the people saw the boy's legs sticking out of the hole, but instead of moving they were still so the people knew he was dead. This event aroused the sympathy of the village. They took this little dead boy, wrapped his body in the customary mat, and put him in a canoe which had the ends sawn off. So he was buried with the honour of a coffin, a rare event in those days for a Melanesian.

As well as megapode eggs there were hen eggs. The hens ran about in the village almost wild, but it would be a [51/52] cunning hen that laid her eggs where a Melanesian did not find them. On the whole both megapode and hen eggs were preferred with a chicken in them. The people would extract the chicken, put it on a stick and roast it before the open fire. When I tried to have eggs from village hens for breakfast they were either rotten or had a chicken inside.

Sometimes the villages were short of food, and at the end of the season would be down to very small kumara with which they would make "supsup" often adding the leaf of the edible hibiscus. The position could sometimes become very grim and then they would try to eke out with rice from the nearest plantation store or from the Chinese trading ships which came round occasionally, also buying, if they could afford it, some tinned meat and a little sugar or salt. But their money did not go far with the prices charged. There was no argument - take it or leave it. If the first comer found it too high priced for his limited resources the next person would take it and pay the price.

I was sometimes approached and asked if I could help out, and with a few of the deserving cases I sometimes helped a little, but I had to be careful not to have favourites, for if I helped one, in no time I was pestered with many visitors hoping to catch me in a good mood. But my resources were very limited both in money and in goods. At that time every member of staff received a very small stipend out of which we had to buy food, clothing, books, any luxuries we thought we could afford, and also pay the wages of our cookboys, and provide something for leave when it came around. There were few luxuries.

I used tobacco as payment for services rendered. A shilling or two in cash and two or three sticks of tobacco could work wonders. The tobacco was trade twist which came in cases of about 24lbs weight, with 26 sticks to the pound. It worked out that a stick of tobacco cost just over twopence, but to buy it at one of the stores would cost a shilling a stick. Greatly prized was the tobacco leaf which was wrapped around the [52/53] solid mass in the case. The people used to mix it with some of the twist. I think it made the mixture a little lighter, and anyway it made it go further. I always gave the leaf as an extra bonus. The only thing I liked about tobacco was its smell. Just how the people smoked and enjoyed it was a mystery to me, yet they all smoked it, men, women, - and children when they could get it. They smoked it in clay pipes which became stronger in flavour as they became more and more impregnated with nicotine, and the stems became shorter and shorter until there was sometimes hardly any stem left, and the bowl of the pipe would be right under the smoker's nose. I once tried some better class tobacco in a clay pipe and found it horrible.

Some of the people possessed hurricane lanterns, but the difficulty for them was to keep up a supply of kerosene. They would use all sorts of wiles to extract even a small bottle from my
supply, but I did not dare give it for I would have had a surge of people all asking for a little. I would have used up the whole of my six months' supply in a week or two.

Ripe fruit did not feature very much in the Melanesian menu. The pawpaw which we Europeans prized so much whenever we could get it was used by Melanesians only in its green form as a vegetable. For that reason I was seldom able to procure a pawpaw all the time I was on Guadalcanal, and I missed the fruit very much. Bananas and plantains were used similarly by the Melanesians. Even oranges were not so popular. We had a few orange trees at Pau Pau and in a few other places but I think that some of the children and I were the only ones who really enjoyed them. The skins never turned the bright attractive colour we know, but remained green slightly tinged with yellow. But they had the full flavour of the orange we know. There were limes too, greatly prized by the Europeans, but not thought much of by the Melanesians at that time. I do not think they really appreciated pineapples either, and for the most part grew them for sale to Europeans and Chinese. Hence I could procure them very easily in the [53/54] season, for marketing opportunities were so limited.

I once thought to make a welcome change to my diet by ordering a side of bacon from New Zealand. It arrived in a large case packed in coarse salt as a preservative. When the village people found that I had no use for the salt they simply swarmed round my house asking for some which they carried off in all sorts of containers ranging from wooden bowls to large leaves. I suppose the slight flavour of bacon was an added attraction. Normally when they wanted salt they waded out in the sea and collected salt water, not always the easiest way of flavouring a tasty dish.


Pigs have entered a good deal into this story. Keeping them and hunting wild ones were very important matters and they played an important part in many facets of village life. Originally pigs had roamed through villages at will but that had been stopped by the government. Tales were told of women who suckled little orphan pigs and although I never saw it happen I am quite sure the stories were true. Pigs were very important in exchanges between villages and even islands, while in the case of marriages they were included in the hospitality demanded of the bride's family. The bridegroom and his family had to find the brideprice and the bride's family had to provide the stipulated number of pigs for the feast. There was a good deal of competition between the two ends of the island in this matter of brideprice, one end having more girls than boys and the other more boys than girls. Various endeavours were made to interest authority in this matter. An appeal was made to the Government Officer who refused to rule on the situation. Then they came to see what I would have to say but I would not be drawn. It was too sticky for me. I pointed out that it was entirely a matter for their island customs. Some sort of compromise seemed to be reached and the brideprice towards the end of my time there was thirty monies i.e. strings of native money, with twenty monies for a widow. I could never discover the value for these monies in relation to our English money. Perhaps there was no way of comparing two such different money systems.

When pigs had to be transported any distance it was done by canoe. The pigs would be caught, held down and laced into a coconut frond. It would look like a very long basket when it was finished with the pig completely immobilized tightly laced into the frond with its head sticking out one end. Packed like this pigs could be kept for some time for trans-shipping. It must have been very uncomfortable for the unfortunate pig but Melanesians seemed to be quite insensitive to the [55/56] suffering of animals. I could never understand that, as in so many ways they were such a kindly people. When the time came for killing a pig this was done by tying its snout tightly so that the poor creature suffocated and died. It was quite impossible to get through to the people that they were doing wrong in treating an animal that way.

The hunting of wild pigs was another occupation which I never had the opportunity of seeing and did not much want to. They used home-made nets which were very strong, and fierce hunting dogs and spears.

In one of the villages, Koilotumaria, a place which I had a great deal to do with, there was an old chief who let it be known that he would be interested in becoming a Christian, but I was told that he could not do this until certain pigs had died. It seemed to me about the most unworthy reason for remaining a heathen that I had ever heard of so I went to interview him in his home. He was a fine old fellow, but it turned out to be exactly as stated, as long as those pigs lived he could not change from his heathen ways. I never could get to the bottom of that matter, although I tried very hard to understand it, and other people would not be drawn. When I questioned them they took the attitude that it was the business of the chief, and there it had to rest. I think they thought that he had some reason for his argument - in some ways pigs were linked with his religion, such as it was - and whether he had taken some oath or other I could not discover. He was adamant. I felt sorry about it. It was apparently one of those things that a European could not understand.

When as happened sometimes on grand occasions pigs were killed for eating and I was given my share, although I was hungry for fresh meat, I could never enjoy it. It always seemed fat and blubbery to me and I was never happy about the way the pig had been kept or the food it might have eaten. I suspected the pigs were scavengers and really unclean beasts, but probably in most cases I was wrong. Needless to say the meat was greatly prized by Melanesians.

[57] Rats were a great nuisance in some places, especially in villages near a river. Some of them grew to a large size. There were two varieties, the native of Guadalcanal and the other which had no doubt come from ships. It was not at all pleasant sleeping on or near the ground in some of the village houses as the rats would come nosing round during the night. I could only tuck in my mosquito net tightly round my bed and hope for the best. The rats also made the keeping of breakfast a great deal more chancy. On one occasion I wrapped a small piece of bread in a piece of calico and suspended it on a long string from the highest part of the roof. During the night I woke to see a rat climbing down that string. I beat it off but the next morning a considerable hole had been eaten in the calico and of course I lost my breakfast.

Insect life abounded, ants of every possible variety, spiders, from small brilliantly coloured and very pretty, to huge black ones of the tarantula variety. These big fellows would stay for hours in one spot, never moving, but take a stick and try to hit one and it would move like lightning. There were scorpions and millipedes. These latter were large and black and slow moving but they were unpleasant neighbours. Although harmless enough ordinarily, they could leave a nasty red weal wherever they touched if they crawled across any part of one's body during the night, as they exuded a kind of acid. Dogs too suffered from these creatures and if they stood on one the result would be a very sore foot. There were snakes of all sizes and centipedes. The centipede was much more dangerous than the snake. A centipede bite was something to dread as it meant twelve hours of very acute pain. For years after I returned to New Zealand I would find myself knocking the heel of my shoe smartly on the ground to make sure that there was no centipede in it. Not many of the snakes were poisonous. Most varieties would bite if annoyed but they had no poisonous fangs.

But by far the worst pest was the mosquito, particularly the anopheles because that variety carried malaria. It was [57/58] done by the female. She was small and grey in colour and she was a hunter. If there was a hole in the mosquito net she would always find it. She would go for one's ankles and wrists. After dark I always tried to put on a shirt with long sleeves, long trousers and two pairs of socks. The anopheles would bite through the mesh of one pair, but two pairs, even thin ones, kept them away.

There were a great number of small lizards everywhere. At Siota I had a mosquito-proof room for a while and I brought in one of these little creatures to deal with the fly and mosquito nuisance for me. After a while I thought it would be only fair to let it go free, so I opened the door, and immediately the lizard ran out across the verandah, came to the edge about six feet above the ground, and took one flying leap into the great world beyond, just in time for a foraging rooster to open its mouth and the lizard went right down its throat. Cats too found the lizards very palatable. There were very large lizards with heavy tails, iguanas. Some of the people found them good for eating I believe, but I never fancied them and was never offered any. Flying fox went into the pot for Melanesians too, sometimes.

The birds were exquisite, all colours, shapes and sizes, and in some places in large numbers. Coming suddenly out of the bush into an open space one day I surprised a scene of "nature red in tooth and claw". A huge bird of prey had suddenly flown in and perched high on the branch of an old tree. The bush which normally at that time of day would have been fairly quiet suddenly erupted into unbelievable noise. Every bird of every species was calling and shrieking in an endeavour to drive off the intruder. The noise was terrific.


The great festivals of Christmas and Easter were marked in dignified fashion by special services, considerable rejoicing, and sometimes in unexpected ways. I was at home in Tasiboko for Christmas 1927. On Christmas Eve I was awakened about midnight by very beautiful singing. It was a party of Gela people who had come across in large canoes just for the joy of the surprise visit. Having completed their carolling they remained until the next day to take part in our Christmas services and festivities, even though they were a long way from home, it was the North-west season, and anything could happen to the weather.

My Christmas dinner was the best that I could put on, just tinned food eaten in solitary splendour. Nobody in the village would have dreamed of sharing it with me - for one thing they would not have enjoyed my food, and for another they had their own native feast. There was not the slightest resentment or embarrassment at our separateness at meal times, in fact it was considered the right and customary way of doing things. At Siota, the headquarters of the Mission, everybody, work people, staff and students, went to the dining hall for meals, but our food was quite different and separate. Visiting members of the Melanesian Clergy would be invited to share a European meal, but one never felt they were happy about it. In the villages at feast times I would say Grace for them and perhaps watch the proceedings for a while, then retire to my own place, later to be brought a share of the good things. It was just that the eating customs and food of the Europeans and Melanesians were so different and both sides were equally polite in consideration for the other.

From my headquarters in Tasiboko I set off one evening in the binabina to go to Longo for the Easter Festival. It was an all-night trip, and as there was a good breeze off the mountains we rushed along very fast, the land breeze giving smooth water for the trip. But the breeze coming off the land was cold [59/60] and for me brought on ague fever. I shook so much that we could not go on and had to land on a small island off the coast. There the boys lit a huge fire and warmed me up.

Next day when we had reached journey's end and I was sitting in my rest house it happened that Barnabas Popoho, one of my party, suddenly had the idea to entertain a large number of the local people with the story of our journey. Barnabas was a clever man, something of a wag. He told with great gusto the story of my shakes the night before and how I shook the whole canoe. Then presently someone must have warned him that I was nearby. Suddenly there was a dreadful silence and in a short time Barnabas came in with nothing to say. I greeted him kindly as though nothing had happened and made no reference by word or look that I overheard what had been said. Presently he went away a very puzzled man, looking somewhat shattered.

We had come to Longo for this Easter festival because it was a large village with a biggish Church. After the service on Easter morning about mid-day we all met in the large open space in the middle of the village for a feast. The food had been prepared, some of it days before, and at the appointed time it was placed on the ground. It was in baskets and made a goodly show, for when placed side by side the array of baskets measured a yard wide by about a chain long. When everybody was assembled and Grace had been said there came out in front of the people some of the chief men who each went up to the baskets of food and chose and ate whatever he fancied, but just a small portion. I had never seen that happen at a feast before and puzzled whether it was to show the visitors that it was all good food, or some custom of Longo hospitality. I did not like to ask for fear of causing offence. After that little display, whatever it might have meant, all the people crowded round, each took a little basket, moved off with it a short distance and began to eat. A portion as usual was sent to me and I found it exceedingly satisfying.

In all Christian villages prayers were said twice daily by [60/61] the teacher. He would ring a bell first thing in the morning and again in the evening. There would be a simple psalm, Bible reading mostly from the New Testament, a hymn or two, and simple prayers. This went on even where there was no church, on board Mission ships, in plantations, in prison, in hospitals, in fact anywhere where a few Christian people were gathered together and where there was somebody with a prayer book who could read it, and sometimes even without a prayer book for Melanesians have good memories.

When we took up a church collection which we did only three times a year, for there was very little English money about, beside a little money there would be dog teeth and porpoise teeth in the collection dish. These teeth were easily saleable, five a shilling for porpoise teeth, and two a shilling for dog eye-teeth. As I passed from village to village I found a regular market for them as they were in great demand for making up of strings of native money.

Do not think that three collections a year was all that the people did for their Church. They spent much time in the building and care of their churches and of my rest houses. There was one of these in every village of any consequence. Also they helped their local teacher in many ways, fed church visitors like my boat crew and any others who travelled with me. The churches were always the finest buildings in the village and were embellished with a variety of inlaid mother-of-pearl work and other local decorations. It was a matter of honour for each village to have a good church, and any village that allowed the standard to fall was not much thought of. Often the only English thing about the church would be the bell and that was not easy or cheap to buy. Sometimes the bell came off a wrecked ship, but even then somebody must have salvaged it and doubtless had had to be paid.

Most of the men and some of the women of Guadalcanal spoke Gela as well as their own language and so Gela became the language of Church services throughout the Tasiboko District, and such religious books as they had - Prayer Book, New [61/62] Testament - were printed in Gela. Mota language was used in all our schools throughout the territory with English as a second language, but not many got very far with their English in those days. A Melanesian from any island would pick up Mota in a Mota-speaking school in about six weeks. A European missionary was lucky if he became proficient in six months, and some never mastered it to any degree. I spoke Mota to those who understood it, but took services in Gela. When I preached I spoke in Mota with an interpreter to put it into Gela or the language of the place. This was not easy for the interpreters who sometimes would be shy and mumble and stumble through somehow. On one occasion when I was familiar enough with the language the interpreter was using to get the general sense of what he was saying, I found he was getting it all wrong and making up something of his own. I stopped the proceedings and said to the interpreter, "Say what I am saying, not something of your own," and we got along better after that.

In the Marau District none of the people understood Mota or Gela. They had their own service book in the South Malaita language, but it made no difference to me as the teacher translated into their own language.

It was in all these situations that Pidjin was so useful to me. At least I could speak to them directly about everyday things and it gave me some inkling into their method of thought. My feelings about Pidjin were not shared by all my fellows by any means. It was the language of trade and on an island like Guadalcanal, with so many languages and dialects, was absolutely necessary. It was never used in Church matters.

When I had been about a month in Pawa School Dr Fox said to me, "Next Sunday evening I want you to preach to the school in Mota." I looked at him aghast! But he said, "It is quite easy. Prepare a sermon in English. I will translate it for you into Mota and then you can preach it." On the night I felt very hot and bothered, but managed to say my piece in Mota. What the boys thought of it I never knew. They were much [62/63] too polite to show in any way. No doubt later in the privacy of their bush houses they would let themselves go and give their own rendering of my efforts.


An account of Guadalcanal at this time would not be complete without mention of other facilities that were available to the people, and influences at work among them.

At Tulagi on the island of Gela was the seat of government for the whole territory with a Resident Commissioner in charge, while in each of the largest islands there was a District Commissioner with a small police force under his direction. On three small islands close to Tulagi were the two great trading firms, Burns Philp and Lever Bros., with a third, Carpenters, on the same island as government headquarters. Also there, were several Chinese stores. Connected with the latter were several small trading ships which went about from island to island, and there were several recruiting ships run by Europeans. The total European population would have been only about eighty all told, with a much smaller Chinese population. In Tulagi itself were the Courthouse, Prison, Post Office and Government Hospital with a permanent Resident Medical Officer and two trained Sisters. Although it was available to them the people of Guadalcanal looked with great suspicion on this hospital, and few could be persuaded to go to it. People were not normally sent there unless extremely ill and even then with the problem of transport a patient might wait days or even weeks before being able to travel to Tulagi.

At Maravovo at the north-west end of Guadalcanal we had one of our great central schools for boys. This had a very good reputation among Melanesians, but there were few boys attending from Guadalcanal. About two miles from the school there had been a Mission Hospital with its own doctor and staff, but at the time of which I write it had been closed for some years and the building occupied by the Mission Printing Press. At the school during my time there was a European staff of five, including the headmaster and his wife both of whom had had considerable medical training and experience. They were able to cater for the medical needs of the school in [64/65] a well equipped dispensary, but beyond giving attention to the people in the nearby villages they were not able to care for people from further afield, and the people of Tasiboko District were never sent there or had any contact with them.

At Visale a few miles to the east of Maravovo was the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Mission of the Solomons. There they had Fathers, Brothers and Sisters with a few centres of influence in other parts of the island, but although the leaders were very faithful the number of adherents must have been very disappointing to them. As far as I could tell the Roman Catholic Mission did not do much at all at that time for the physical health of its people. It was always interesting to me to see that although the men wore light tropical suits the Sisters were garbed in the black habit of their order, which must have been intolerably hot.

Scattered along the northern shore of the island were a few copra plantations. Most of them were beyond the western edge of my district and I visited only occasionally. They were owned for the most part by Lever Bros., or Burns Philp, though one or two were privately owned. My nearest European neighbour while I was at Pau Pau was Bill Gibson at Rere Plantation. He was a giant of a man who ran a very good plantation. He had a charming wife who spent part of her time in Sydney and they were both very good to me. Gibson had the reputation of being a hard man of business and kept the workers on his plantation under strict discipline.

Another charming couple who stayed only a short while were White Russians only recently emigrated. The woman contracted a terrible ulcer on her leg, and I don't think they were very happily situated. She had a sketchy knowledge of English. To beat a drum or ring a bell as a signal to the workers was called "making bello". One day when I was passing through the manager must have been thinking of something else when he beat the drum and didn't put much strength into it. I heard his wife say to him, "Darling, why did you make bello so tenderly today?"

[66] Some time later, a young man, son of one of the principal shareholders of Rere Plantation, came from Sydney to be shown something of the working of the plantation. He was very anxious to go inland and see a real native village. The manager asked me if I would take him. On the appointed day he left Rere in a rowing boat belonging to the place and I met him at the mouth of the river. We paddled up the river and he was able to take photographs of the very impressive bush scenery as we went. What I did not tell him was that this river ran for a mile or two almost parallel with the coast, and not more than a few chains from it. He was thrilled and delighted. Then came lunch time and I found that although we had brought plenty of food there was no tin opener, so I said quietly to one of my boys, "Run to the house and get a tin opener." He was able to do that very easily as we were not very far from Pau Pau. After lunch we went on until the boat could go no further and then walked to Ngali. He was thrilled at the wild bit of hinterland and with the photographs he was able to take. I had to do it this way as I felt he would not have been up to a long hard trip into the real back country.

A rather adventurous sub-manager came to Berande Plantation and he wanted to go inland for a good long trip, so we agreed to make up a party and go together. But when we got talking it over he made it quite plain that he would not venture inland unless he went armed with a rifle. I, on the other hand, was very definite that a missionary must never under any circumstances go armed, so our plans fell through and I had to be content with such journeys inland as I could arrange.

1927 was a troubled year. In February while I was away on leave in New Zealand a murderous attack took place on Government police officers at an inland place called Verakone on Guadalcanal. Seven Melanesian policemen were murdered while attempting to arrest a native.

After my return to my post there was a bad outbreak of violence in October 1927, this time on Malaita at Sinarango, [66/67] when two European officials, W.R. Bell, District Commissioner for Malaita, and a cadet, K.L. Lillies, were both murdered, along with a considerable number of the accompanying police force. These murders in the two main islands of the group caused great excitement at the time, and although they were local affairs and caused for the most part by misunderstanding, had wide repercussions. After the Malaita disturbance the Guadalcanal District Commissioner took a punitive expedition to Malaita and a number of arrests were made. The culprits were tried at Tulagi, some died in prison and there were a number of hangings. In the heat of the excitement a man-of-war was despatched from Australia.


The Melanesian Brotherhood was just beginning its work, in fact I saw its official beginning, as I took part in the service which launched it. It was at Siota that this step was taken, but a great deal of thought and work had gone into it. Ini Kopuria began it all. He had been educated at Pawa School and later joined the Police Force rising to the rank of Sergeant, top rank for a Melanesian in those days. Then he came to realize that he was not using his gifts to the best advantage. At some stage he had read the life of St Francis of Assisi, and then influenced by Doctor Fox and guided by the strong hand of Bishop Stewart had set about forming the Melanesian Brotherhood along similar lines to those used by St Francis in his.

To begin with there were seven members, ex-Pawa boys, and from a headquarters near Maravovo Village on Guadalcanal they set out for the back country where there were practically unknown villages of heathen people. The Brothers went out two by two and for the first few months travelled over the most difficult country into ungetatable villages, but met with no success. Then within a few months of my arrival at Tasiboko District they decided to move into the back country of that part of the island. Here they were received much better.

At the end of each three-monthly period they met me in some part of my district and there we had what they called a Vugatwale. It consisted of a Communion Service followed by a meeting of the whole band in which they discussed what had happened in great detail and made plans for the next period - the whole meeting being in the Mota language. I did not intervene in their plans very much.

Ini and I did several long trips together. Sometimes we had Brothers with us and sometimes just the two of us with my carriers. This arrangement suited us both - I had the general oversight of the whole district to see to, with the prospect [68/69] of widening my area of my work, and the Brothers were always on the lookout for new villages where they would be received. In this way we made some inland visits and a trip round the weather coast, and at one time or another covered a large part of the whole island. Ini was a delightful travelling companion, bright and smiling, always gay, though sometimes thoughtful and something of a mystic. He was a native of Guadalcanal and had a far greater knowledge of the island than any of his fellows.

We had our ups and downs. We spent one miserable night in Aola village. The Brothers slept round the edge of the house on the ground according to their custom, but for me was arranged a bed of honour, a large table in the centre of the house. It was as hard as anything I have ever slept on, with only a thin blanket between me and the table top. One of the Brothers had in his kit a Chinese clock which I suppose he had purchased on behalf of his family, for the Brothers had no money whatsoever. That wretched clock chimed every quarter of an hour through the whole of the night.

On the weather coast trip at one village out rushed a whole team of pig-hunting dogs. As usual I aimed my stick at the head of the leading dog, but somehow I missed and the momentum swung me and my stick round and I caught Ini a hefty blow on the leg. He gave a shout that caused the dogs to hesitate for a moment - just long enough for a second blow, and that time I did not miss.

On one of our journeys we came to a beautiful clear stream quite close to the present site of Honiara. As we waded through Ini started to tell the story of that place. "In the days of long ago the people of this place used to live for ever. When their bodies grew old and feeble they used to enter the water, the old body would be washed off and the person would emerge with a beautiful new child's body. Once there was a woman and her daughter and the time came for the old woman to change her body but she had not told her daughter anything about it. So she left her daughter, went down into the water, [69/70] her body was changed, and she rejoined her daughter. But the daughter thought she was a stranger and said to the woman, "Where is my mother?" The mother answered, "I am your mother." But the daughter would have none of it and said, "My mother is an old woman and you are young like me." The mother kept assuring her that she was indeed her mother and the daughter began to cry. She cried so much and kept at it so long and would not be comforted that the mother was in despair and went back to the stream and took her old body again. Her daughter was pacified, but after that the people of that place ceased to live forever.

I then said to Ini, "That was a good story Ini, but do the people along this coast all tell the same story?" Ini said that they had different stories. So I said, "Tell me the story of the people whose place we left this morning." Then Ini said, "The people there used to live for ever too, but they had a fruit which grew there and was tapu to all the people. All went well for a very long time until one day when it happened that all the old people went away at one time to work in the gardens leaving just the children alone in the village. Presently a stranger arrived, a very pleasant person indeed. He spoke to the children about many things and presently pointed to some of the fruit, and said, "This is very nice fruit. Take some of it and eat." But the children said, "That fruit is forbidden. It is tapu to us." But the stranger said, "It is good food. You will like it and may eat it." And so they did. By and by the adults came back to the village and found out what had happened, and they were sorry for from that time the people of that place ceased to live for ever."

You may wonder why I did not get Ini to tell me other stories of the places through which we passed, but I had no way of recording them, and I thought it best to make a job of two. Also the chance of two people walking side by side so that they could talk were so few, for mostly we had to go in single file along these bush tracks, and in the evenings there were other things to see to.

[71] On that same day and not far from the place of the first story we came to a most difficult part of our journey. Somebody must have decided to plant a new plantation or make a new garden and had felled great forest trees across the track for nearly half a mile. None of my people knew of any other track so we had to follow the one that had been covered up. The only possible way was to zigzag along passing from one tree trunk to another, but as some were low and some high this took some doing. There was not a breath of air in that confined space and as the sun was high the heat was terrific. I have never known half a mile seem so long and was very thankful when it was over. On the return we borrowed a binabina which took us past the tree cutting operation.


One morning as I was preparing to leave a village the teacher came up to me and said, ''You must bury this man before you go. He was the first Christian man to come here from Gela." I was a little surprised as it was an understood thing that the teachers mostly took the funerals, but I said, ''Very well. If that is what you want and the people wish I will take the funeral, so get the men to dig the hole quickly." With that he went away, but after a considerable delay I became impatient and enquired if they had things ready. "Not yet," they said. So I exhorted them to hurry, but still there seemed to be little action. On my next enquiry I was told that he had not died yet. By this time I was not only out of food but also out of patience and had far to go that day. So I said, ''When the time comes the teacher must take the funeral. I cannot wait."

Another time when I was right at the end of my district and time and food were both running out and I was heartily sick of the uninteresting diet and rough conditions, I turned back on the homeward journey as a great Nor-west blow started with terrific wind and rain. There were very few boys with me and I felt I had to push on in spite of the weather. The wind seemed to be getting worse and near the shore the coconut palms were leaning over as they do in a big wind, and some of the paths were already dangerous. I was passing through a long dreary stretch where there were no villages of any consequence and very few people. Just as I turned out from a bush track on to the beach, meeting the full force of the wind, away in the distance along the beach from which I had come I saw a Melanesian running with all his might to catch up with me. I thought, "Here's trouble. This must be a messenger with news. I may have to turn back." At last he came puffing heavily and when he could catch his breath he asked, "Have you no house to go to?" He meant it kindly. What I said doesn't matter now. I left him and pushed on.

[73] It was earthquake country. I sat one day in my rest house in Suagi Village and with me was a Melanesian with whose help I was trying to improve my Gela vocabulary. I wanted to get from him the word for "earthquake", but could not make him understand. Just at the critical moment came an earthquake. I said, "There, that is what I want to know. What is the name of that?" I thought he gave me rather a strange look and he certainly wasted no time in leaving. I am sure he thought I had done it on purpose. My company was no place for a good Melanesian.

I never got used to earthquakes - they are so unpredictable. I had already had good training in Ugi and Siota. At Ugi I noticed one strange thing. When an earthquake came at night there would be a moment's complete silence first. Our house was near the beach and normally there was a continual hiss and sighing as waves crossed the coral reef, but just before a quake that would cease and the silence would wake us - then would come the shake.

At Siota once, on a holiday, most of us had gone with the Bishop, who was very keen on picnics, some distance up the Boli Channel and had lunch on one of the inner reaches. Suddenly all the water in the Channel disappeared. It was most uncanny. Then came the jolt and a heavy one too. When we arrived back at Siota it was to discover that some of our tanks had been badly damaged in the quake, more or less folding like concertinas.

I was alone in the vestry of the Cathedral preparing for a service on the occasion of another shake. That part of the Cathedral had a floor of clean swept sand. Suddenly one foot jerked up and then the other as a wave in the earth passed below me. These jolts did surprisingly little damage to the Cathedral as the posts were deep in the ground and a building like that can sway and move without doing a great deal of harm, and there were few shelves from which anything could fall.

One source of thermal activity was at Savo, an island off [73/74] the north west coast of Guadalcanal and fairly close to it. There was another inland near the western end of the island. One night "Southern Cross" was steaming quietly along somewhere in the vicinity of Savo when suddenly the ship received a tremendous jolt. The skipper rushed up on deck thinking the ship had struck a rock, but he soon discovered that all we had hit had been a subterranean earthquake, or should we say "seaquake". At the same time there was a severe shock on shore.

My trip home on another occasion was very pleasant, but we had to go about it in a different way from usual. I had no carriers except my two cookboys, so at each village we enlisted some willing helpers. These turned out to be young girls for the most part. They carried very willingly, on their heads of course, and we went on our way with much laughter and talk. Fortunately the weather was good for the whole operation , and when we came to a river, if it was at all difficult, they would link hands and one of my big boys would link up with them, and they would cross the river with the boy battling the current. Arriving at my destination for the night my carriers would line up, each receiving some tobacco - a stick for the big girls and half for the small ones. It did not mean that they would smoke it all themselves as they did not own pipes, but they would borrow one and no doubt share the smoke with someone else. Anyhow they were delighted with the arrangement, and no doubt it made them feel grown up. They didn't regard the tobacco as payment - they had helped me so were sure that I would give them a present. The next morning they would make the return journey under the care of an older person. When I was ready to move on I enlisted another lot of carriers, and so on, right up the island.

Many of the rivers were infested with crocodiles, some more than others, and in some rivers the crocodiles had a reputation for ferocity. For those of us who were continually crossing rivers it paid to know something of the habits of the crocodiles in different rivers.

[75] In one river, right in the middle of my district a crocodile had attacked and upset a canoe in which two people were paddling. One had been eaten, the other got away. The men of that part were enraged at that and hunted and finally killed that crocodile. They then proceeded to cut it up and extract the remains of their dead companion. That river was a deep, wide, slow-flowing one where we always managed to get a canoe for our crossing. By the shore of another river not far away a man was nursing his little child when suddenly a crocodile flashed out of the water and took a snap at them. The man was too quick, however, and drew back, but not before his thigh was gashed and toothmarks scored the body of the child. I was in the vicinity when it happened and was called in to treat the injured.

On another occasion in that locality we came out of the bush to cross a river when we spied on the other bank a huge crocodile sleeping on the muddy bank. I took one look at that fellow and said to my boys, "I think we'll cross some other place." None disagreed with me. It was, I think, the largest crocodile I have ever seen, every inch of 12 feet long, and broad and heavy in proportion - a real old man crocodile. The thing that impressed me was the size of the brute's head - anyone of us would have made just a mouthful. Not far from Pau Pau, about two miles from the village, I had often come upon a crocodile sleeping upon a bank. He was a moderately-sized creature. Sometimes I would come quite close to him before he would wake and then there would be a flash and the huge body would be gone in a sudden dive. It was amazing how quick these great creatures could be.

Away at the far end of the island we had to cross a series of difficult river mouths with an evil reputation for crocodiles. My boss man on one occasion was one-armed Sam and as we were struggling through a most unpleasant part of the river where the mud was above our knees and the water on top of that, our movements were very slow. I looked at Sam when we were about halfway across and remembered how a shark [75/76] had taken one arm and thought how terrible it would be if a crocodile took the one good arm and said to him, "Sam if you think the river is too bad let's go back and get a canoe." Sam replied "It's all right. If a crocodile comes it is sure to take a brown-skinned man rather than a white one." I felt duly humbled, but actually I think the Melanesians really believed the crocodiles would always prefer a brown-skinned victim. I never put that theory to the test, however. So we floundered on, and either made enough noise to scare them away, or else there were none there that day. I think that if we crossed in a group we were fairly safe.

During the north west season the great force of wind and waves would bank up a solid bar across the mouth of some rivers, completely closing them for the time being. It was in a place like this that we noticed the marks of a large body having been dragged across the soft sand from the river to the sea. My boys explained the marks in this way, "The boss crocodile in that river took a hate against another crocodile and he had to get out, which he did by crawling across the strip of sand, swimming out to sea and then finding another river where he could live in peace." They also told me that when a crocodile was hungry he would make the noise of the creature he was hunting - a dog, pig or calf. This would bring the hunted creature within reach and so the crocodile would take its prey. Unless a crocodile was hungry it would not eat all its prey at once, but bury it in the mud and leave it for a while to ripen.

It was fairly common knowledge throughout the islands that there were "shark men". These men would go down to the water and call in a shark and sometimes send it off on errands. I was not aware of any shark men on Guadalcanal, but one of my Pau Pau men was reputed to be a crocodile man. He would swim with the crocodiles and they would not molest him. I never witnessed this strange happening, nor asked to be included in the party. Some of the time, as well as being my cookboy, this man was also, by virtue of his schooling a kind of head man for the trip.

[77] There were legends current of the "Little People", who it was said inhabited the inland part of the island. One name for them was Tutulangi. They were reputed to be less than four feet high, and supposed to love dancing by moonlight, and to be quite naked and living in mountain caves or up banyan trees. They were very mischievous, but not harmful to people. But if their habits were attractive, their appearance apparently was not, as they must have been very wild-looking with their long hair and small teeth, and with very long fingers and toes. They seem not to have had any arts or graces and although some people claimed to have seen them held as captives in certain villages, and others to have seen them as they travelled through the bush at night, I rather reluctantly have to state that as far as Guadalcanal was concerned these legends were purely apocryphal.

On the southern coast of the island, always known as the weather coast, the people lived a very isolated life cut off from the rest of the island by the great hills which in some places fell sheer into the sea. On that coast there were rough seas, and rivers which could up come in flood in half an hour when the big rains fell on the back country hills and mountains. There the unwary visitor could be marooned for days. The coast people had their own language and customs.

I made several trips round as far as I could get, but it was always difficult from start to finish. First I had to go to Marau and leave some of the boat crew and most of the supplies and walk round the coast. The going was rough and in certain places one had to go right out on to the shore, and to get round some of the promontories, wait for one wave to recede then dash as fast as possible before the next wave came thundering in. The paths were non-existent or very rough, broken by rushing mountain torrents. There were sudden great rain storms which would soak one to the skin, and in the villages there were tiny houses which could offer only very inadequate shelter for the night. On one trip I took off my shirt and put it under my hat in an endeavour to keep it dry, as I had nothing [77/78] else to put on, but I found the great drops of rain extraordinarily cold even in the tropics. That night we had a very miserable little hut lent to us, and in it was a bed for me consisting of a narrow platform four feet six inches long and far from clean. For real discomfort try sleeping under these conditions.

But my time was drawing to an end. I was having more fever than was good for me, and I was due to return to New Zealand. But even then things did not go quite right. I was ready to leave, but supplies of food were dwindling rapidly, the "Southern Cross" was late calling for me and I could hear no word of her. So when the opportunity came I locked the front door of my house at Tasiboko, left all my goods and chattels for the next man who would take my place, and got on to a trading cutter crossing to Tulagi which put me down at Bungana School. There I borrowed their rowing boat, sailed through Boli Passage and arrived at Siota. Two or three weeks later I caught the Burns Philp boat for Sydney.

I left with a heavy heart. I missed my friends very much and made up my mind that some day, somehow, I would return and finish the job to which I had put my hand.

[79] The Return –
Twenty-Seven Years Later


On 20th December 1955 we came to Honiara, new capital of the Western Pacific High Commission. There were two of us now, married and both ready to work.

It had been a wonderful trip from Sydney in a little old B.P. ship the "Muliama", seven hundred tons, a cargo carrier but with accommodation for seven passengers. Three other members of the Mission staff came with us, and the one other passenger, a Government official, must have felt somewhat out of things. He did not appear during the whole of the voyage. In Sydney a day or two before we sailed we thought we had better take a look at our ship and we went down to the wharf to see her. I spotted a reasonably attractive ship with B.P. markings and we thought we had found her, but it was the wrong name, and so we looked a little further. Then we saw appearing above the wharf the top of a B.P. funnel and two short masts. This was our ship. When we sailed a day or two later the only part of the ship on a level with the wharf was the bridge and that was where the gangway had to be put across. When the pilot ship came alongside she was almost as large as we were.

At Honiara eight or nine days later we were not very impressed. All we could see from the ship was a small scattered place sprawling over several steep ridges. On landing it was not much better. There was no wharf, only a jetty for launches and small craft. First came the custom sheds, then the business area consisting of two stores, a butcher's shop, two garages, a picture theatre, and further back all the government administration buildings. Everything was housed in old military huts adapted for the purpose for which they were being used. During the war the capital at Tulagi had been completely destroyed by bombing, and when government was able to function again another headquarters had to be found in a hurry and they took over the military installations in Honiara.

[81] Even the Cathedral which was to be the centre of our interests was just two large Quonset huts cunningly put together and suitably painted with wide verandahs and native posts. This supposedly temporary building was to serve Honiara and the whole diocese for getting on for twenty years, and very well it did it too, for it was not without its merits. It could accommodate a large congregation and it had space and dignity in its own rather unusual way. As most of the services were either early in the morning or late in the afternoon it did not matter that it had an unlined roof, and the open sides gave us plenty of ventilation, so that even on the rare occasions when we had a midday service the heat was bearable.

Outside the Cathedral as well as the bell we had an old Melanesian drum hollowed out from a huge tree trunk, rather like the one at Tasiboko. This drum was used regularly on Sunday mornings as a signal to the people of the place. I think the Melanesians would have probably preferred some more modern way of announcing a service, but I liked to do it once a day in the old way. It was not always easy to get drummers though. Between the drum and the Cathedral was a magnificent banyan tree. Its branches had an enormous span and on occasions we used the space for quite large gatherings. At certain times of the year it threw down root suckers common to that variety and had we left them they would have thickened into auxiliary trunks and we would have had the kind of tree among the branches of which the Swiss Family Robinson built their house. I was always careful to see that these suckers were removed.

The house we were to occupy was very good. It had a very large living room divided into dining and sitting areas. But it was the only Mission house in Honiara and so quite often we had to have it full to overflowing when missionaries from out-stations passed through or came to Honiara for medical or dental attention or for some other business. So we were to discover that we were seldom without guests and this created a real problem for us. We were to be fully occupied with our [81/82] different jobs and had to keep very strenuous hours but our visitors were away from their responsibilities and were more or less relaxed. So they did not fit in very well against the background of our lives. However there was no money for anything else so we did the best we could.

Soon after our arrival we were given an official welcome by members of the Cathedral Boys' Club. They turned on a very good afternoon tea and many songs. A favourite among them had a chorus which ended "Japanee, Ha Ha", a hint that the war was not forgotten. The songs went on while afternoon tea was being served by other members of the club and we could not help but be amused by the anxious faces which the performers kept directing at the rapidly diminishing supplies of good things.

Later on we were to discover China Town, a collection of some thirty or forty stores and shops, all of them made of old military huts of varying sizes. A little further on was the Government Hospital with all its wards and administrative buildings made from converted military huts. Before we left we were to see many of these buildings give place to good modern tropical buildings constructed of permanent materials.

The war had left many difficulties for the Solomons especially for Guadalcanal. Some of the fiercest fighting had taken place there or in the sea around. The Melanesians had their heroes in that struggle, but for the most part the population was left unscathed except for some of their villages and their gardens. The people went back into the bush and stayed there until hostilities ended. All along the Guadalcanal coast were left steel hulks that had been run ashore, some with the remains of their guns still on them. Ashore in some places in the bush were rusting stores of military supplies, and there were still wartime jeeps and other vehicles in use around Honiara. As well we were reminded of the war by the very buildings from which so much of the town had been constructed. Even Government House with its leaf roof had been [82/83] in use during the military occupation, I think, as a hospital for New Zealanders.

But we had grimmer reminders of the war than that. In some places there were notices forbidding access as there were dumps of old ammunition there. Worse than that there were explosions sometimes when people lit fires or in some way caused forgotten ammunition to explode. One evening a tremendous explosion rocked the place. The cause was an innocent grass fire. Another time a group of boys lit a fire in order to prepare food in what was supposed to be a perfectly safe area, but there was an explosion and one boy was killed. That tragedy struck very close to home as the victim was a boy from Tikopea who worked in the central Police station. He was well known to us, a charming boy with a large happy smile. While we were building the Bishop's house we unearthed at least three unexploded bombs and had some difficulty in getting them taken away and defused as the man who had the know-how did not have proper insurance cover.

The Melanesian population was crowded into a variety of buildings. Small houses were being built for families but there were more families than houses. Most of the population consisted of single men, or men who had had to leave their families in their home villages. Wherever there was a roof there were people crowded in. It was not good but that was all there was. It took time to assemble the materials for new houses and people kept coming. Somehow the people kept cheerful in spite of the living conditions. They seemed to be able to manage on so little. They slept on the ground or floor if there was one. Very often they cooked on an open fire under sheets of iron. Their food was rice, or root crops if they could procure them, with a tin or two of meat shared among a number of people. For ablutions there were a few streams or, luxury of luxuries, a shower where they never seemed to turn off the tap. Their lavatory was the open beach. Yet they turned up on Sundays looking spick and span in white shorts and shirts. As more and more houses were built more and more people crowded [83/84] into them. It wasn't only Europeans who had visitor problems. Wherever there was a Melanesian household they had visitors, and their laws of hospitality demanded that the visitors had to be housed and fed. The problems of Honiara were only beginning.


To carry on the work of the station which was several acres in extent I had a small team of six or seven work boys generally under the immediate supervision of a boss boy. They lived on the station in a leaf house and received rations in lieu of part of their pay. We found this way of doing things best as many others in Honiara were paid once a month and spent too much of their money too soon after pay day and then had not enough for food later in the month, but our workers were properly fed all the time. They appreciated it too and some of them stayed good long periods with us. But our work was constant and steady and after a period they longed for the less exacting life in their home villages and wanted to return there, but some came back for further periods of station work later.

John Biscuit was a very good boss boy and stayed with me for many months. He could turn his hand to carpentering, painting, and even a little plumbing, as well as ordinary station duties. But he had been a sailor and every now and then wanderlust seized him. One day he appeared with a Chinese boat owner and said, "I want to go with this man." I was not at all pleased and told him, "I want you to stay with me. I don't want you to go." John returned to work but that night he must have thought things out and next day he seized one of the large cutting knives and cut down a clump of banana palms. He knew, and I knew, that those particular palms were worthless while close by were other palms that were very valuable. But the writing was on the wall. I gave him the sack on the spot which was exactly what he wanted. However I soon found another Gela man, Silas Tehu, who served us well. John and I remained quite good friends on the occasions when he appeared in Honiara after that.

In Auckland not long before we sailed for the islands the new Bishop of Melanesia, who was staying with us, had said to me, "You will look after a few customs entries for us, won't [85/86] you." Rather doubtfully I replied, ''Well I suppose I will be able to attend to them if they are only a few, but I don't know the first thing about customs entries." He assured me that I would not have any difficulty, and there the matter dropped.

Bishop Alfred Hill was a very charming person, in his own home hospitable and a wonderful host. He was also a far sighted Bishop who did a great deal for Melanesians and their country. But he had a very limited knowledge of the ramifications of business affairs. Those "few entries" turned out to be very many. There were in fact all the goods to keep going the headquarters at Taroaniara where we had a considerable boat building plant, a printing press, and administrative headquarters, a hospital at Fauabu, half a dozen boarding schools, and every scrap of food and goods for the whole European staff, as each station and member of staff ordered individually.

Two B.P. ships called regularly, one once a month, the other every six weeks and there were other ships coming in between. I was the man on the spot so everything fell into my lap. When the entries had been passed by customs there was the business of getting all the goods out of the sheds and dispatching them on our own little ships to their destinations. None of my team of workers could read English well enough, so down to the customs shed I must go and there sort up the goods and send them on their several ways. I could never leave the workers to do one thing by themselves. The whole process was a full-time job for one man, and when all that was done I still had not started the job I had come there to do, the care of a considerable population, several thousand Melanesians and more than a sprinkling of Europeans and Chinese.

I got myself into a routine which gave Saturdays and Sundays and early mornings and evenings to my proper job, and from 8am to 5pm on weekdays I worked at business responsibilities. I managed to keep up the double job for two years until we went out on leave. When I came back there was another member of staff to take over my business duties. I still ran the station and had a great deal to do with people coming [86/87] in and out, but the other man ran the office, attended to the customs entries and dispatched the goods.

"Southern Cross 7" had been sold just before we came to Honiara and until some other shipping could be built we were left with two very small ships, "Mavis", an ocean-going launch of about 28 feet which had been acquired by Bishop Stewart some thirty years before, and "Tui", a thirty footer little better than an open boat with an engine amidships and stout canvas awnings. "Tui" came to us after the war from the Americans who handed her over as a replacement for another small boat of ours they had lost during the hostilities. Both vessels were very slow. The Bishop used "Mavis" for his trips from island to island. She carried him without any comfort or any attempt at "mod cons". "Tui" did the bulk of our cargo transporting although for some of our runs we were able to charter a larger trading ship.

Help was on the way. Brian Ayers, our engineer at Taroaniara had been working on "Patteson" a forty-five footer and a useful ocean-going ship. For years she had done all our work in the New Hebrides, but had sunk and become a total loss. Finally she was refloated and brought up to the Solomons. The people at Taroaniara did a wonderful job and she became our flagship for a few months. She became the Bishop's ship and in between his travels carried cargo.

Then came "Baddeley", all fifty-two feet of her, a real cargo carrier, a sturdy ship and a wonderful sea boat. She made the trip from Australia, where she had been built, under her own power with a full cargo of goods. She was used not only for cargo but for the Bishop on long trips to the outer islands. She had a cabin aft for passengers and other accommodation for her crew.

One other addition to our fleet came at the same time as the "Baddeley", the "Fauabu-Twomey", a gift from the Leprosy Trust Board. It came very largely as the result of the faith and foresight of one man, Mr Twomey of Christchurch, who led the society for many years. She was a fifty-six footer [87/88] and came from Auckland under her own power. About the same time two similar sister ships were given to the Roman Catholic Mission and the Methodist Mission. "Fauabu-Twomey" did general purpose mission work and leper work. On one occasion she came into Honiara with twenty-two lepers on board. She had made a considerable journey from the Reef Islands with all these people aboard and still had to complete her trip to Fauabu Hospital on Malaita. I went down to see how the passengers were faring but could not go aboard as she was anchored out from the wharf, but although they were very crowded on such a small ship with so little accommodation they all looked reasonably happy for people in their sad condition. I suppose they had the consolation of knowing that they were aboard a Mission ship and going to the hospital of a Mission they trusted.

Later "Southern Cross 8" arrived, also from Australia. She was to be the Bishop's ship, but not for long as after only a short spell of service she was wrecked at Maravovo in a bad north-west blow. This was a great tragedy.

The new "Southern Cross" which replaced No 8 was a bigger and better vessel although still in the class of small ships. She was 90 feet long with larger engines, and was built to be the Bishop's ship with accommodation for other passengers, but with no room for cargo which turned out to be a mistake. With all this improvement in our shipping "Tui" became redundant and was sold and used for trading purposes. "Mavis" was kept and used for short trips which was all she was really fit for.

To begin with we were as poorly served on land as we were by our shipping. All we had was a small 10 h.p. car which had seen better days. It was however a very important part of our equipment. There were roads stretching for about twenty miles in a westward direction and fifteen miles to the east. A car was a necessity as Honiara was a scattered place and I had to be able to move about quickly. People had to be met from planes that came in three times a month and from ships. Later we [88/89] were able to have first a truck and then other cars, one for the Bishop who had moved his headquarters out of Honiara, and a small station wagon for my use. The roads and conditions were tough on cars and the care of them was very important. Honiara at that stage did not boast very up to date garages.

We built the Bishop's new house in a new part of the town about two miles from the Cathedral. We had to cut out a good deal of standing bush for the site. I was careful to see that the house was in direct line with a valley that ran up into the hills as at night time a cool breeze came down that valley and made living conditions there very pleasant. About the same time we built several new European-type houses close to the Cathedral. The building of these places gave me some concern as it was difficult to procure timber or other building essentials. I had to draw up my own plans and specifications, and go out to the mill to order such timber as was available. They were having their own difficulties at the mill too with machinery for which there had been no proper maintenance, and bad working conditions especially during heavy rain. Often I had to wait some time. I procured the services of a Melanesian carpenter, James Umu from Gela, and he undertook to bring his own workmen. He was not at all used to working from a plan and for one of the first houses we nearly came to a disastrous end. I had stipulated an eight foot stud for the building, but after being called away for some hours to see to some other duty I discovered he had cut the studs eighteen inches short of the desired length. He looked at me and I looked at him and in between there were all sorts of dangerous eddies flashing about, but presently we both calmed down and the building proceeded with an eight foot stud. One fairly large house was constructed with left-over American timber, not second hand, but fourth and fifth hand. James was a clever man and his work improved as he went along.


My wife, a teacher by training and inclination, did her best between classes to cope with the constant influx of guests. Her principal work lay very much among the women and children of whom there were increasing numbers coming to Honiara all the time. She worked among the Chinese, teaching the children in school, and holding classes for adults. She also ran more advanced English classes for Government clerks and others who had been through our schools. These were very well attended and there were many discussions in English as part of the work which gave a considerable light into the thinking of the better educated Melanesians. For example a debate as whether or not it was better for Chinese and Melanesians to intermarry revealed some deep thinking on the part of class members.

My wife also took an active part in establishing the Guide Movement among Melanesian girls. She was the first Commissioner of Guides for the Solomons. At the same time her work lay not only among the women of Honiara but for the whole group of islands as she became the head of Mothers Union for that part of the Pacific. Mothers Union then and later became a power in the land. These responsibilities took her away from Honiara at times, but it was all of very great importance in helping Melanesian life in the islands.

My duties took me into a variety of positions not usually occupied by one in my situation. Early in our stay a Town Council was established in Honiara and I was appointed one of the members. We laboured valiantly to direct the growth of this ever increasing community. I served too on the Broadcasting Board for its initial term of office. I was of course Chaplain to the hospital, prison and asylum. I served on various health committees and at Kukum Teacher Training College where I took a weekly class during the first years of its existence. All these duties meant that I had a much wider sphere of influence than just among the residents of Honiara. [90/91] In addition we had a constant stream of visitors, Melanesian as well as European, and considerable numbers had to be accommodated on our station, sometimes for long periods. So although it was only on rare occasions that I could get away from Honiara I felt that I was doing something for the whole group and not least for the people of Guadalcanal.

Another duty was that I was on call at the Government Hospital twenty-four hours a day where sometimes there were many demands. At any time of the day or night the phone could go and a Melanesian voice would say, "Father, come quickly!" I would ask, "Which ward?" drop everything and go. At night I wouldn't stop to change but go as I was, down the steps into the car and away for the one mile dash to the hospital.

On one of my visits to the hospital I was asked to go to a woman and her child. On arrival I found that the child was dead, in fact had been dead before the mother arrived at hospital. The poor woman said she wanted to go home, would I take her. It was past midnight and raining hard and I had not the faintest idea where she lived, and so I was far from enthusiastic about it. However I said, "If Sister gives you permission I will take you." I hoped permission would not be forthcoming, but it was. So out she came with two small bundles, one containing her worldly possessions and the other her dead baby. Instead of directing to a part of town where people lived she took me to the very centre of the business area and there we had to climb down a steep bank in the dark until we came to a door to a disused storeroom connected with one of the garages. Evidently the husband had permission to occupy this room as a residence. The heavy rains had brought down a considerable amount of water from higher up in the town and when we entered and switched on an electric light it revealed a largish room with the concrete floor covered by about four inches of water through which we had to wade. A rack once used for storing bags of rice was a few inches above the water and on this several people were asleep. There were two [91/92] or three men, among them no doubt the husband, and two or three children one with a little white dog cuddled up to it, and on one end of the rack a few cooking pots. None of the people woke, not even the little dog. So we placed the two bundles on the rack, the woman lay down in an empty place, I switched off the light, shut the door and departed. In the morning that woman would have some explaining to do.

My regular visits to the prison were by no means the dreary affairs they might sound. It was not a place of cells, but a large open compound surrounded by high fences and barbed wire with a pleasant stream running through. But the security measures were very much what they would have been in a prison anywhere. The prisoners from all parts of the Solomons were a cheerful lot. During the week they could be seen quite often doing manual work around Honiara. There was no disgrace attached to a prison term in the Solomons, but people and prisoners took a philosophical view about it all. Besides the food was good and regular. One of my duties was to give those who wanted it Holy Communion. The service had to be very early on Sunday morning. I always allowed them to choose their own hymns and their choice invariably included "Do no sinful action". This pleased me very much although I don't think they realized the irony of it.

Helping us in the house we generally had two boys, but we found that for one reason or another they were constantly coming and going and occasionally we were down to one. Mostly they were very well behaved but we had one turbulent spirit. He had been a bulldozer driver which was not a very good training for our duties. When it came time to make bread he fissured us he knew all about it, but when the finished article appeared on the table we found that it contained the contents of a tin of meat hidden in its centre. Among his other accomplishments he had an eye for the ladies and when it was discovered that he gave a wolf whistle from the deanery kitchen window every time a girl passed along the road below he had to be severely checked. But the full disgrace [92/93] came when he attacked the other cookboy and fought him all over the kitchen floor. It was then that he had to be liquidated and we were left without a helper. Another of our cookboys assured us when he came, "Me savvy burnem bread and cookem calico" - to make toast and do the washing. With these rather slender qualifications to start with he turned out to be a very good boy.

After some of these excitements we were thankful to secure the services of Joy. She was a young Malaita woman married to one of the men who worked for the Government. We knew them both well and liked and admired them. Joy came for mornings only and was a great help, quiet and efficient she moved about the house and we knew we had found a treasure. But presently my wife had to go away for six weeks and I thought then that I would be left in the lurch because Malaita men have their own very strict rules about what it is proper for their women to do. But Joy continued to come and was just as efficient as before. The only trouble was that she could not make head or tail of my pyjamas. Each night I found them in a different place, hanging in the wardrobe, in a drawer, once or twice on the mattress with all the bedding on top of them. I didn't feel I wanted to make a long explanation so each night I had to search for my pyjamas. One night after my wife's return I had to go down to the compound in a hurry to settle a disturbance that had broken out, and went just as I was in my pyjamas which had a rather colourful pocket and collar. This created a great deal of interest and we had many questions afterwards about my strange clothes. Did I wear them only at night or were they for daytime wear too?

Two very good boys we had came from San Cristobal, Caspar and Daniel. They gave us long and faithful service. Caspar was a sobersides, son of a priest but a thoroughly reliable houseboy, but Daniel was as gay as Caspar was quiet. He had a lively sense of humour and enjoyed a practical joke. He was strong and a good worker, but when he left our employ it was to go to hospital where after a very few weeks he [93/94] died of T.B. Caspar returned to San Cristobal and some years later died of the same disease. Another good team was Andrew and Robert. They were from Ysabel, Andrew a bush boy and Robert a salt water boy. They too gave us long and faithful service until they came to the conclusion that they were not fitted for housework. Robert went off to the electricity department. Andrew went back to school for many years and studied to become a priest.


At Honiara Hospital the nursing had been done mostly by "dressers", as they were called, male nurses, under the control of a matron and one or two European sisters. We saw all that gradually change, and girls were trained as nurses although much of the work was still done by the dressers. The European staff was increased, though not by very much, as the policy was to put more responsibility on to the Melanesians themselves. The same thing was happening in the Police and in all Government departments. The idea was to bring Melanesians into a position where they could accept responsibility for their own country and their own church. As the years passed more and more Melanesians were being introduced into every part of life in Honiara, government, business, and church, and very well they responded, but their own good sense prevented them from going too fast. That process has continued and is continuing today, and some day we will see a Melanesian country controlled by Melanesians.

In the sphere of education there was a school for Melanesians under the headmastership of a Melanesian where I or a member of my staff went once a week for religious instruction which was all very much a part of their school work. There was also a school for European children and a school for all races run by Roman Catholic Sisters. A little later a Government Training College for teachers was to open up which took students from all over the group.

Sport played a great part in the lives of the people. Large crowds went along to watch the football matches held on Saturday afternoons. To begin with the number of teams was limited. We had one from our Mission, as did other Missions and the Public Works Department fielded a couple of teams. Competition was keen and the activity increased as the years passed. Wherever there were a few Melanesians and a ball they would practise passing, kicking, etc. There were also a few clubs started which to begin with had somewhat chequered [95/96] careers, but gradually developed into something more stable, as did the Scouts and Guides.

One of the delights for those who could afford it was the picture theatre which was a great thrill and ran to full houses. The walls were partly open and it never became unbearably hot. A back seat cost five shillings but fronts seats only one shilling, so that Melanesians very sensibly elected to sit in the front. Love scenes were not at all popular, fighting scenes were fully appreciated, but we the censors did not allow too much of that and we absolutely censored any brutality. The favourite picture was "Quo Vadis" and had to be brought back time and again. Just at the end of our time in the islands another theatre opened at Auki on Malaita.

The High Commissioner for the Western Pacific during the whole of our time in Honiara was Sir John Gutch. Sir John was a man of great influence. He and his wife were in the great tradition of the Colonial Service. They set an example and gave a lead that all others in the Government service were bound to respect and follow, and we considered ourselves fortunate indeed that our term in Honiara coincided with theirs. As well as their official duties they threw themselves into the social life of Honiara and the whole group. During their term of office and largely as a result of their care the Red Cross developed into a considerable organization, as did all other public and social endeavours. Much was done to establish a foundation upon which the future of the Solomons could expand, in fact immediate advance was hindered only by shortage of supplies and money. Somehow they found time to include us in many of the great occasions which were such an important part of their lives.

One of these highlights was the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh when he came in the "Britannia" officially representing the Queen. He landed with pomp and ceremony with a full dress naval landing party. The Melanesian population with the exception of a few V.I.Ps had arranged themselves on many vantage points at some distance from the centre of things. [96/97] For the actual landing the great crowd remained absolutely silent, their way of showing utmost respect for a great person and a great occasion. Later he had opportunities of getting closer to the people in Honiara and in outer parts of the Protectorate and he used these opportunities to the full asking searching questions and making observations. We met him at a bright luncheon party at Government House and faced our share of those questions backed up by the direct glance of those piercing blue eyes.

When we first arrived Melanesians were still by law prohibited from drinking intoxicating liquors with the exception of a few who were given a special licence. As in most tropical places the Europeans enjoyed their drink, for the most part a light lager beer. This position could not continue for long in a community where all were supposed to enjoy equal opportunities, so gradually the law was changed to give Melanesians drinking rights. I was sorry to see this happen as the Melanesians had their betel nut which in some ways was a substitute for alcohol, and I could see difficulties ahead, but I realized that the change had to come. As it turned out things did not prove as bad as might have been because for the most part Melanesians were wise about it, but of course not all.


There was no European in charge of Tasiboko District now. The whole island was under the care of Melanesian clergy. It was a great grief to me that I did not have the opportunity to visit any of my old district except the easternmost village of Gaimali when the river allowed us to get through by car or truck. Some of the people who had known me before came to Honiara from time to time, but there were not many left among the older ones. From what I saw at Gaimali and in villages in other parts the life of the people at grass roots was not so very different from what it had been in my time.

The health of the people was much better. Yaws was a thing of the past having succumbed at last to regular "needles", and malaria was much better under control, while serious cases were able to come to Honiara Hospital comparatively easily and quickly. One custom in sickness remained, however. When a patient came to hospital he did not come alone but brought many relations and friends with him. These people had to be housed and fed and they did not bring enough food with them to last beyond the first few days. To overcome part of this difficulty the visitors were put to work in the hospital grounds during the mornings, but their labours were only a token payment towards the cost of keeping them there. This was a deeply ingrained custom in Melanesian society.

The houses in the villages were much better too. Some had floors raised above the ground and many of the people had learnt to use a pillow instead of a piece of wood as in the old days. Food supplies were much more easily available and there was a greater variety.

The Brotherhood had grown with the years. From their headquarters at Tabalia about twenty miles west of Honiara they sent out households, not only to many parts of the Solomons but further afield to Fiji and New Guinea, so fulfilling the hopes of their founder Ini Kopuria and his adviser and mentor Bishop John Stewart.

[99] Maravovo was still a great school. It had been completely destroyed during the war but had been built up again and was flourishing. As well as the school it had a considerable copra plantation and large gardens in which experiments in new crops were being tried. My son Roger was in charge here and he carried on experiments he had started at Alangaula on Ugi. He was also running a training college for short stay courses for Mission teachers. The printing press had been moved to Taroaniara. Throughout the whole of the .Solomons we had schools catering for different standards. On the other hand there were no longer village schools in the principal places.

The Roman Catholics now had several schools on the island, of which at least one had reached a very good standard. Their work had grown with the years and was on very good lines. The Seventh Day Adventists also had a school and farm a few miles out of Honiara.

Gold had been discovered on Guadalcanal, but not at that time in very payable quantities, but prospecting was continually going on for gold and other minerals. Timber was being milled, but being exported as logs rather than as sawn timber. Rice was being grown in commercial quantities and there was an ever increasing quantity of copra being produced at a very much higher price than before. Research into other crops was taking place especially at Government experimental stations out of Honiara. In all this the intention was to enable the Melanesians themselves to exploit the increasing opportunities of their own good soil.

During the north-west season we still had our usual great storms, but whereas in the old days we had spoken of a bad Nor'wester they came to be called cyclones or hurricanes. I was sitting one evening listening to Radio Honiara in the days when it came on air for only an hour or two each evening and as I listened the announcer said, "A tropical cyclone will be over such and such longitude and latitude at a certain time." I suddenly jumped out of my chair and said, "That's us, and [99/100] the time is almost here." We lost no time in making preparations and sure enough it came. We got a torrential downpour, but the worst of the wind struck several miles west of us, and our station escaped damage except that a stream cascaded down the side of the hill and through our store doing considerable damage to food stored there. Our station at Tabalia came in for heavy wind and was considerably knocked about.

We had our share of tragedies. As we left Auckland en route for the Solomons we were told of a terrible murder of a Melanesian schoolboy by one of our European staff. This was to cast a gloom over the Mission for a long time. The culprit was kept in prison in Honiara pending trial and it fell to my lot to visit him at least twice a week for about five months. His trial was not the end of the trouble. Questions were asked in the English parliament and two high ranking officials were sent out to conduct an enquiry. He was found to be mentally unstable and removed to England where he served his prison sentence.

Some months later a Melanesian servant in Honiara suddenly lost control of himself and slashed his employer with a knife inflicting fatal wounds. He too was found to be suffering from mental trouble and was imprisoned in the asylum at Kukum near Honiara. I visited him regularly and found him living quietly amid surroundings not unduly restrictive, as he was kept not in a cell but in a compound with other inmates. He seemed to have settled down and be reasonably happy.

We still had cases of devil possession. A brother of the murdered schoolboy saw the ghost of his murdered brother in a dream and became haunted and sank down to near death. I went to bring him out in the "Patteson" and as we got further away from the school his mental and physical health began to improve until after some time he was cured. This was one of several cases that I dealt with personally in Honiara. It might appear strange that the cases occurred in the centre of European influence, but so it happened. By that time as far [100/101] as I could discover the Vele Man had ceased to function, although I am sure that some of the people still kept a wary eye open for him.

The skins of crocodiles had been found to be saleable and hunters had shot out most of the rivers but not quite all. One night a family lay sleeping on the beach not far from Honiara. When they awoke the baby was missing. The people were quite sure that it had been eaten by a crocodile.

My wife had always wanted to see a crocodile and sometimes I used to stop the car at Alligator Creek a few miles east of Honiara to see if a crocodile would pop its head out, but she never saw one. Then one day right in the heart of Honiara a baby crocodile about a foot long was found outside our office. I could not account for its presence there, but I suppose somebody must have brought it into Honiara hoping to find a buyer, but finding none for such an uncertain pet, just left it there. Unfortunately my wife was absent that day. It was not until we went to the zoo in Sydney that she saw two or three sunning themselves. She was not impressed.

But as the crocodiles disappeared the shark population increased. We had always had a shark nuisance but suddenly there appeared a new variety. They were large and black and they were hunters. Hitherto we had been able to swim and enjoy the water in that hot climate, but not after the arrival of these new sharks. Several people were taken, some dreadfully mauled and others killed. One shocking case was that of a young schoolboy who had come from Sydney just two days before to spend Christmas with his parents. He went for a swim with his sister and some other companions. A dark form brushed against the sister but he was taken and never seen again.

We had an engineer in Honiara for a few months to oversee the building of a new wharf. I was told that at the height of the shark scare he still went out for long swims by himself during the evenings. I asked him about it and he assured me that it was so. He said he had no fear of the sharks and he [101/102] was never attacked. I cannot account for this. I suppose that certain people have a scent that sharks do not like. Perhaps that was the real secret of the shark men who used to live in the islands. The shark scare was real enough. I heard of many cases up and down the coast. People still swam in other parts of the group, but not on the coast of Guadalcanal.

Once on a calm and delightful day as I was passing along the same coast in one of our small ships I looked towards the shore with its line of trees and coconut palms with a few houses showing through, and I thought to myself, "This is my country and these are my people." But it was not to be, New Zealand called me back. After completing our five year spell we sailed away on a B.P. ship, a much better ship than the one we had come on five years earlier. As the light was beginning to fail, away in the distance on Maravovo beach I could see the hulk of "Southern Cross 8" held fast in the sand, but from the distance looking just like a ship at anchor. So once again I left with a heavy heart. Perhaps it really was my country and they were truly my people.

[103] SEVEN YEARS LATER – 1967

This was to be a short spell of only three months relieving at the Cathedral.

We came by air this time, via Lae in New Guinea and flying down half the length of Guadalcanal in twenty minutes, several days' walking as it used to be. I was thrilled to look out and see places I knew so well.

Honiara as we passed through it in the minibus was a much improved place. The old army huts had given way to solid concrete buildings. The Secretariat instead of a collection of old army huts was now housed in a fine concrete building, two storied and all under one roof. Here and there a number of old huts remained.

The Cathedral was still the same old building growing shabby and in need of much repair work until the new cathedral for which plans had already been prepared could be built. The new hospital was very grand. China Town retained all its funny little old buildings while the hotel was in course of reconstruction. So Honiara remained a mixture of two styles of architecture. There were many more European style houses than we had seen twelve years earlier.

The people of Melanesia had altered too, a little more sophisticated, living in better houses, drawing better salaries, and accepting more responsibility. Perhaps the greatest difference was in some of the girls. They had office and shop jobs now, were well dressed, their hair was cared for and they looked most attractive. Their manners behind their desks and counters were those of their counterparts in any part of the world. I could not help but be amused to see them so poised and rather inclined to look down their noses at a mere mortal who came into their presence to claim attention for a few minutes. I wanted to say to them, "I knew your grandmothers all those years ago." But I didn't dare. I tried to keep the smile off my lips and out of my eyes, and stated my business when they deigned to attend to me.

[104] On the evening of my first full day there I had to go to the hospital and while waiting at the main entrance a Melanesian patient came towards me. We greeted each other in a friendly fashion and presently he explained what he was doing there. He was spending a few days at the hospital after visiting his home village before returning to the leprosarium at Tetere. Meeting that man made me feel at home. I said to myself, "I am back again. Here is a leper."

The people still came in their hundreds to every service, a better dressed crowd now, a large proportion wearing shoes. On great occasions they numbered two or three thousand. We had a simply wonderful service on Good Friday evening held outside the Cathedral attended by thousands from all denominations. The rain held off just long enough for the service taken by the leaders of the different denominations, Methodist, Roman Catholic and Anglican.

Soon after that service it poured with rain and there was to be little enough fair weather until we went away. It was the north-west season and we had to expect that. Every after-noon the thunder rumbled menacingly round the mountains and lasted well into the night. Just before we left a very bad storm brought everything to a standstill for several days. At the Cathedral site we lost a great many of our best trees, our electric and telephone lines were just a mass of junk on the ground. The water blew right across our house even though all the shutters were up and at the height of the storm we went to bed with water lying right across our room. The storm left behind a trail of destruction, huge trees across the roads and ships blown ashore. A school of ours at Najilagu was completely destroyed. On our property a strange result was a plague of large ants. They had been dislodged from their homes in the trees and they climbed up our legs and bit us hard. People came to church continually slapping their legs as they walked.

After the worst of the storm was over the headmaster of the destroyed school came to get supplies and arrange for [104/105] building materials. I said to him, "Tuesday is your day for Holy Communion. But can you receive us if we come?" His reply was, "Yes. Please come."

One of my young Melanesian assistants, Lesley Piva, volunteered to come with me. We found the whole place a sea of mud and every building down. In the centre of it all one large building although damaged and blown over had not collapsed completely. They had propped this up and even built a temporary vestry at one end. In it they had put the things out of their chapel. About 110 people crowded in and the full service went on as though nothing had happened. I wondered in how many other places in the world after a major disaster like that would a people, without sleeping quarters and cooking facilities and with their food supply destroyed, have the will to arrange for a service under those conditions.

That was my last full day in Melanesia. On my way home as I sat in the minibus being driven towards Honiara there was a magnificent view of the mountains. I sat gazing at them and thinking of many things. Lesley Piva with the intuition of the Melanesians said to me, ''You are thinking that tomorrow at this time you will not be able to see these mountains any more."

Yes, Lesley Piva, I was thinking that. And I was thinking of many things that happened long before you were born. I was thinking of all the people who did so much for this people and this island, of Bishop John Steward that leader of men, so gay and brave, of the teacher John Sara, such a worthy and reliable man, of Harper Sasaka that warrior for Jesus Christ. I was thinking of Ini Kopuria and his Brothers and of numbers of other people I had known, missionaries, traders and planters, each in their own way playing their part and doing the thing that was to help build the people of the Long Dark Island so that the present generation could enter into a new and better heritage ... a most goodly company of the good, the faithful and the true.

Next morning long before dawn we were ready for our [105/106] journey. As the minibus passed the Mission Office there was a stir under it. The driver stopped, took out a powerful torch and looked under the building. There were the dogs, their eyes reflecting the rays of the torch, the progeny of the ones that had caused me so much trouble years before.

The Long Dark Island
By C. L. Mountfort
ISBN 0-473-02330-X
Published by:
The Desk Top Press
4A Quetta Street – Wellington – NZ
Ph 04-479 7003 – Fax 04-479-1002

Project Canterbury