Project Canterbury




Education of People Steeped in Heathenism and Witchcraft.

Cannibals and Child Murderers.





Project Canterbury is thankful to the Ferguson Collection of the National Library of Australia for providing the text and giving permission for reproduction. The photographs, identical to those in the booklet, are from the Beattie collection of the Anglican Church of Melanesia archives in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2010

[photograph of Bishop Cecil Wood]


Photo by J.W. Beattie, Hobart.

"I'M sorry for you going to live amongst cannibals--savage South Sea Islanders!" were the doleful sayings of friends as the writer left Home to join the Melanesian Mission, and were to some extend the thoughts until he reached his work. The main truth about the "Savage South Sea Islands" is that the phrase is an alliteration. Most of us know the joys of meeting a group of school children who are expecting our coming and are prepared to welcome us as a friend. If we smile, they will laugh; if we laugh, they are uproarious; and if we are [1/2] serious, they are sympathetic. Well, that is my main impression of the Melanesian Christians; just children with all a child's charm in consequence, with the attractive power of affection, concerned in one's pleasures and sorrows, anxious to follow and to obey; children in their pleasures and prayers, me in their passions and their sins. Of course, there are big exceptions and such a statement as I have made was not possible twenty years ago. It is easy to draw a true picture of people as yet untouched by Christianity or civilisation, sunk in the very depths of degradation and vice, far down in the scale of humanity, treacherous, cannibals, head-hunters, enthralled to witchcraft and superstition. This is true, it is there, and forms a black picture, but my work has lain mostly among the Christians, and I can give only the main impression the Melanesian natives have made on me. It is good to feel of the picture, that as the years go on so do the black lines grow brighter.


These canoes vary in size from 12 to nearly 90 feet. They are plank built, sewn, with the seams caulked with native cement. They are good seaboats, fast and graceful in the water. War canoes, of which not many are built nowadays, may contain as many as sixty warriors.

The Forces at Work.

Wherever the white man goes, there, too goes Civilization of some sort. In times past primitive natives of Melanesia suffered from the intrusion of whites of a very undesirable type and character. The advent of a Commissioner, backed by a strong and efficient body of junior magistrates, has effected a revolution in the Solomons. The rights of the natives are carefully considered, and now, year by year, a better class of white man is coming down to the Group. All this has a very considerable effect in the conditions under which the natives, who are brought into contact with the white man, live. Then there are different religious bodies working in the various Groups, of whom the two most influential are the Church of England and the Presbyterian. Government works from above; the Church from within. The ordinary trader does not make the character of the native his particular concern; that and his belief are the reasons why the Church is there; so that it is fair to say that while there is considerable influence exerted by the presence of the white men, and while the Government has done, and is doing much, it is to the Churches that the elevation of the moral character is mainly due, while the Churches alone deal with his spiritual condition.

Methods of Work.

The whole work of the Melanesian Mission is well summed up in Bishop Selwyn's phrase, "A black net with white corks." The white corks are the white workers of the Mission, sustaining and upholding the native teachers. It has always been felt that the proper evangelising agencies are the natives themselves. To this end much time and labour are spent upon selected native youths who go through a long period of training and preparation, so that eventually they may go back, either to their own people or to districts hitherto untouched, in order to preach, to convent, and prepare for baptism their own people. An intelligent, likely youth, generally about twelve years old, is selected from a district school, and goes for four years to one of the three training schools. If we so wish, we could have the entire juvenile population of the villages to be trained as teachers. A year ago a [2/3] stowaway--a boy of fourteen years of age--was discovered o the Southern Cross, determined by hook or by crook to be a teacher. His history was interesting. As a baby he was captured by cannibals in a head-hunting raid, and was certain to be killed either as a sacrifice or for a cannibal feast. The members of a Christian village bought the child from his captors, in order to save his life. Latter he was stolen from the village, again to be killed, and it was with very great difficulty that he was rescued. With his history such a boy ought to make an interesting teacher, but if once stowaways are admitted as pupils, then there would be wholesale desertions from the villages; and so the weeping youngster was restored to his village. At each of the three smaller schools there are forty boys. Here their character and capacity can be tested, unpromising youths can be sent back, and others readily supplied to take their place. The training proceeds upon the lines of an English public school. Responsibility is given to the boys and they are trusted. The rules are as few as possible consistent with discipline. The goal of the school, the maintenance of a high tone, devotion to duty are left to the boys themselves. They must evoke their own atmosphere. Such a system as its dangers, but a wise, directing, unseen hand can help much, and the system has justified itself. It goes without saying that the whole tone of the school is devotional. Eventually these boys will be lay ministers of the Gospel, some of them may be raised to the diaconate, and their whole life will be given to spiritual work. So prayer is the base and the background in the training of the future teachers. It is good to note even the physical difference in the boy when his time comes for him to leave the school and proceed to Norfolk Island. As a new arrival he was ill-conditioned, stunted and thin through irregular meals and hours, with very elementary notions of cleanliness. He goes, well set up and plump, much taller, and careful as to his personal appearance. The regular hours and meals, good food and careful training have effected a great change in him.


Huts vary in appearance and make of build in different parts of Melanesia. The round houses are seen in the Reef Islands alone. They are thatched with sago palm, which, though it harbours vermin, snakes and scorpions, yet is cool and weatherproof.

Norfolk Island.

The work at Norfolk Island is the work of the smaller schools on a larger scale, with this difference, that, whereas the former training was mental and spiritual, here the preparation for teaching and the sense of a vocation are added. The school at Norfolk Island emphasises the work of the church as a peacemaker. There are gathered together boys from the North and the South, and between North and South, there existed a racial hatred, boys from neighbouring islands that before could never have met without fighting, and boys from adjacent villages that even now may be at war, yet these boys will pray, work, play, and sleep together in perfect friendliness. The school is the training headquarters and finishing school for the teachers: it is the heart which pulses out the invigorating forces through the whole Mission. Our scholar of twelve has changed into the man of twenty, he is sturdy and strong, educated, perhaps a fair athlete, devoted to his work and keenly missionary. Now comes the time that he is to [3/4] be taken to his work; he will call in the Mission ship the Southern Cross, and we will imagine him going back in his own village, one still heathen. The priest in charge of that district had visited and gained the confidence of the villagers. They are anxious to have a school established in their midst, and have made their preparations. Here let us leave for a moment, in order to see the work the white man has to do.


The large canoes are fitted with an outrigger and a counterpoise. In these the natives store their food for the voyages, and on a hearth of stone a fire is kept burning. The canoe is a dug-out, and in such a one as is shown in the picture. It is no uncommon thing for a party of natives to travel two hundred miles of open sea.

Work of White Missionaries.

It is already obvious that there are three different kinds of work in which the white men are engaged--the training work in the primary schools, the finishing work at Norfolk Island, and the travelling supervising work in the Islands themselves. We have dealt to some extent with the work in the schools; there remains to be explained the work in the Islands. In the Solomon Islands, the biggest and most thickly populated part of the Mission, there are eight itinerating priests. Each man has his house at the chief village in his district, and a boat to carry him about at his work. The average number of Christian villages that a man has under his care is twenty-seven, and the average mileage of coast is 175. At present the only means of getting about from place to place is a whaleboat, in which the traveller is exposed to the open sea and the burning sun. Under ordinary conditions the boat can be rowed no faster than three miles an hour; under adverse conditions the traveller is lucky if he does more than one mile in the course of an hour. Obviously these whaleboats are most uncomfortable, cumbersome, and slow means of progression. The enormous mileage, too, means that a man cannot visit each village as often as he would wish, so the Bishop asked the various dioceses in New Zealand if they would each give the Mission a boat fitted with an oil engine, and, through the generosity of sympathisers of the Mission, the Bishop is able to bring down three motorboats on this voyage of the Southern Cross, and it is hoped that two more will be bring down in 1914. The possession of these boats will mean more work done, much less nervous strain and bodily weariness, and a much better and closer supervision of the work. Twenty seven villages dotted over a coast line of 175 miles! And in each village there are classes to be taken, sacraments to be celebrated, sermons to be preached, interviews to be held, sick to be visited, and schools to be examined. It is no wonder that the priests welcome heartily these boats which will enable them to devote time to the villages which would otherwise be sent unprofitably when travelling. We are to imagine then that our teacher forms one of a band, working in one island, acting under the supervision of the while priest in charge of that district. His school is one of many (the reader will remember that their number is nearly 30) dotted along the coastline. The population of the villages varies considerably. There may be 300, in which case there are three resident teachers, or the number may be as low as 15, in which village, of course, there would be but the one teacher. As often as he can, the white priest will visit each village, and I have explained the work that he will do in the village; there remains to be noted that he must hear the report of the teacher, to sympathise with him in his difficulties, and to help him in his troubles. But this is the whole point of this article, the one to which I especially wish to draw attention, that for the most part of the year the native teacher is necessarily left to his own responsibility. He can do his work or [4/6]


This Island is one of many that have been built by the natives themselves. Each island is about 2 1/2 acres in extent, and contains on an average about 400 people. The Islands are built on sand cays generally about 200 yards from the shore, and are a sate stronghold against a sudden attack.


This building is an excellent example of a Christian church. It is built of bamboo and thatched with sago palm. It will hold about 120 people. In the foreground are the teachers and members of the village. It is noticeable how extravagantly and well executed are the decorations, which generally are done in excellent taste.


Inside the shrine are placed the skulls and some bones of dead chiefs. Such skulls are supposed to contain "mana," and natives will bring their sacrifices of yams, pigs, and in some cases human beings, deposit them at the foot of the shrine, and pray in the spirit of the dead men to grant their requests, which tag to anything from the prayer for a calm to the death of an enemy.

[4/6] neglect it as he wishes. There is nobody to blame him. Unless the Mission has a loyal and devoted body of teachers, there would be practically no work done in the various villages. It is the glory of the Melanesian Mission that taking into account the degree of intelligence that this race be capable of, she has working for her the best trained and educated and most devoted body of teachers in the world. It is no wonder that a visiting missionary who belongs to another denomination said, "There is no doubt that Melanesia is the most scientifically worked Mission in the South Seas."

The Work of the Teacher.

But we have left the native teacher a long time in his village before we have explained his work. The outside organisation is there in the shape of a school house; there is the spirit of readiness to do as the teacher shall direct, and there is also a keen though undefined desire for Christianity. He has to abolish and to build up, to expel and again to give. Here to his hand is a people, steeped in heathenism and witchcraft, for ever fighting, cannibals and child murderers without the knowledge of a God, and without any theory in life. They have no idea of ordering themselves, or of obeying orders. Yet they are not unpromising material. It sounds an unreal contrast, yet they are simple, can be affectionate, and what is more, can turn their faces from a vice and not look back. First, there comes the complete break. They must give up their heathen superstition, their cannibalism, warfare and other degrading practices. That they will do readily, for a native is always ashamed of, and will not willingly confess to, cannibalism, while they recognise that continual warfare and all that goes with it mean the degradation of the people. Then comes the gradual building up of Christianity. This is not the work of a year, or of ten; it is "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little," as the people gradually emerge from their old habits of thought and regulated lives to assimilate and manifest the truths of Christianity. Here we will leave him, simply and courageously doing the work of a Christian Missionary, lifting his [6/7] people from the slough, and pointing to the heights.

Summing up.

What, then, is the work of the Melanesian Mission? I have given no statistics, for figures are the last means by which one can judge the value of Christian work. Statistics are available, and show what a great and far reaching effect the Mission has upon the "Islands of the Sea." It is impossible to put into figures the changed conditions of life and thought; happiness and peace cannot be estimated in numbers. But the Melanesian Mission has meant, and is meaning, the vision of God to a people formerly ignorant of Him, the uplifting of a race, and the presence of "sweetness and light in a dark place."


The boys under preparation as teachers (see article) number 160 and the girls 30. The hall is also the main schoolroom.

Star Print--1456

Project Canterbury