Much to my satisfaction, Captain Buxton agreed, on hearing their story, to take them back to their own island. I do not mention the name of the island for reasons which will appear. It took us some days to beat up to it. It was a lovely spot, of volcanic formation, with lofty mountains in the centre, and in most parts clothed with the richest vegetation. Alea and her female attendants were by this time able to come on deck. Her astonishment at seeing her native island was very great, but her satisfaction was less than I expected. I asked Vihala the reason of this. "She expects to be sent again to her intended husband," he answered, in a melancholy tone. I suspected that Vihala loved his young cousin, nor was it surprising that he should do so. They were of the same faith, and pity for the sad condition to which she would be reduced if the wife of a heathen chief, would have made him wish to free her. We anchored the ship in a secure harbour, and at once sent Vihala and several natives on shore as a deputation to the chief, to inform him of the arrival of his daughter.
After some time, they returned with the announcement that the chief would receive us, and that his daughter would be welcome. We found him seated under a wide-spreading tree, on a bundle of mats, in great state, with numerous lesser chiefs and attendants standing on either side of him. His only clothing was a piece of native cloth wound round his body, and he looked every inch the savage. We expected Vihala to act as interpreter, but when we approached the chief, a person whom we supposed to be a native, though he had a rougher and more savage appearance than the rest, and had on as little clothing as they, advanced a few steps, and informed us in undoubted English, or rather Irish, that he had the honour of being the king's prime minister, and that it was his duty to perform that office. His name was Dan Hoolan (a runaway seaman, we found), and he had been fifteen years on the island, and was married and settled with a family.
After we had made our statement, poor Alea was allowed to approach her father, which she did in a humble posture, with fear and trembling. He manifested very little concern at seeing her, and directed her to be conducted to her mother's cottage. I was anxious to know how Alea and Vihala had become Christians, and asked Dan if he had taught them. "No, indeed, I have not," he answered drawing himself up. "I hope that I am too good a Catholic to teach them the sort of religion they know. There is a sort of old missionary fellow comes over here who has taught them, and he has left a native teacher here, who does nothing but abuse me because I do not make the king here lotu, and do not lotu myself, as they call it, and give up my wives, and make myself miserable." From this speech of Dan Hoolan's, I had no difficulty in understanding the state of the case. The wretched man would not give up his own sins, and, therefore, tried to keep the chief in heathen darkness. It would, however, be impolitic to quarrel with him, or, rather, wrong, because the so doing would have increased the difficulty of bringing him round. I should explain that the term lotu means becoming a nominal Christian.
"But I thought, friend Hoolan, you said that you were a Christian," I remarked quietly, looking fixedly at him.
"So I am inwardly, of course, mate," he answered, with a wink he could not suppress. "That is to say, a right raal Catholic, as my fathers were before me, with nothing of your missionary religion about me; but just on the outside, maybe, I'm a heathen, just for convenience sake, you'll understand."
I did not press the subject then, but being interested about poor Alea, I inquired if he could tell me how her father would treat her.
"Why, send her on to her husband, of course, mate," he answered, with the greatest unconcern; "it's the right thing to do."
"But the chief to whom she is to be given is a heathen and a cannibal, and old enough to be her grandfather," I remarked.
"Maybe, but it's the rule; we don't set much value or women in this part of the world," observed the prime minister; "I might have married her myself for that matter, but it would have brought on a war with the old chief for whom she is intended, so I did the right thing, do ye see, mate, and let it alone."
I now turned the subject, and asked what assistance he could give in refitting the ship and supplying fresh provisions. He was immediately in his element, and showed himself in worldly matters a shrewd, clever fellow. Everything now seemed to go on smoothly, and the repairs of the ship progressed rapidly, while we had no lack of fresh provisions. We soon discovered that another double canoe was fitting out to carry Alea to her intended husband. My heart bled for the poor girl, and I would have done anything to save her, I thought over all sorts of plans. They were, however, needless, for the next morning I heard that she had disappeared. No one knew where she had gone. At first I feared that her father had sent her off secretly; but Hoolan's rage and undisguised fears of the consequences which might occur when the old chief discovered that he had lost his bride, convinced me that such was not the case. I suspected that Vihala might have had something to do with it when I found that he had disappeared about the same time. We were at first suspected, but I convinced Hoolan that we had had nothing to do with the matter.
Several days passed, and not a clue was gained as to what had become of the young princess. One evening, when the men had knocked off work, as I was sitting under an awning on deck, I saw a large canoe entering the harbour. It struck me that it might contain the old chief come to claim his bride; so, as it was not my watch, I jumped into a boat and went on shore to see what would happen. As the canoe drew near, however, I saw that instead of her deck being crowded with tattooed, naked, and painted warriors, dancing, and shouting, and sounding conch-shells, all the people on board were well clothed, while in the after part stood a venerable-looking man with long white hair escaping from under his broad-brimmed hat, and by his side a young lady, both evidently Europeans. I at once naturally walked towards the part of the beach where they would land, and waited for them. No sooner did the canoe touch the shore than several natives from the crowd rushed forward, and lifting the strangers on their shoulders, bore them, with every demonstration of respect, to dry ground. I at once went forward and addressed them in English, and was warmly greeted in return. The old man said he came from a station about fifty miles off. The young lady was his daughter. They had come over on a periodical visit to the Christian converts of this island, and were much concerned to hear that Vihala and the young princess had disappeared.
"They should have abided the storm," the old man remarked. "I will go see this heathen chief, and try again if by God's grace his heart may be softened."
I undertook to get Pat Hoolan out of the way, as it was evident that all his influence was exerted to prevent his master from becoming a Christian. I had fortunately arranged to transact some business with him about this time; so, leaving the missionary addressing the people under a cocoa-nut tree, I hurried up to the king's village, and without much difficulty persuaded Hoolan to accompany me on board. I kept him there as long as I possibly could. Meanwhile the missionary sought out the chief, and found him willing to listen while he unfolded the story of the gospel. A long time the two conversed; and for the first time the benighted savage heard the message of salvation. Gradually the truth interested him, and he began to turn a more favourable ear to the missionary's exhortations than he had ever before done.
"Ah, would that I had Vihala with me," he would frequently exclaim to the missionary. "When you are gone he would instruct me further in the wonderful things I hear." But neither Vihala nor Alea were to be found. He had driven them forth, there could be no doubt, by resolving to unite his daughter to a heathen chief; and yet was Vihala free from blame in carrying off the young princess? The heathens said that they had committed suicide, and were drowned, but judging from Vihala's generally consistent character, I felt sure that that was not the case.
From the first I had felt myself drawn very much towards the venerable missionary. His gentleness, yet firmness of manner, his utter negation of self and devotedness to his Master's cause were very remarkable. His tender love for his daughter, too, was very beautiful. She returned it with the deepest affection and devotion. Accustomed as I had been to the endearments of a happy, well-ordered home, I was sensibly touched by it, and took every opportunity of being in their company. It may appear curious that three days had passed before I learned the name of the good old man. Everybody called him the missionary, spoke of him as the missionary,—thrice-honoured name! In the same way he knew me only as the mate. He had a house assigned to him by the chief, which, by being partitioned off into three chambers, was made tolerably habitable. I was one evening drinking tea there with him and his daughter, when I happened to mention my name.
"What! are you any relative to that devoted missionary, John Harvey?" he asked. When I told him that I was his brother, "Ah, that accounts for your having so friendly a feeling for missionaries," he observed.
"I learned to respect missionaries, and to see the importance of their work, long before my brother became one," I answered; and I then told him of my uncle's journal, which I promised to bring on shore to show him. He was evidently much interested, and made many inquiries about it.
"Does he mention the name of Joseph Bent?" he asked suddenly.
I remembered well several circumstances connected with that person.
"I am the very man," he exclaimed, grasping my hand. "Oh, how much do I owe to that excellent man! He saved my life; but he did far more,—he brought the truth before me,—he showed me my own vileness by nature; and thus, by his instrumentality brought by grace to trust in Jesus, has my soul been saved. Can one man owe a greater debt to another than I owe to him? I had begun to like you for your own sake, and for that of John Harvey I shall ever regard you as a son. Your uncle was an example of the good a true Christian layman can effect in his ordinary course in life. Those on board every ship in which he sailed benefited by his presence, not so much from what he said as from what he did, from his pure and bright example; for he was a man of few words under ordinary circumstances, though he could speak on occasion, and well. Many by his means were brought to know Jesus, and to serve and love him as their Lord and Master. When John Harvey left the sea and went to live on shore, he devoted his whole time to doing God's service, and great has long since been his reward."
This was indeed an interesting discovery. It was gratifying to me to hear the fine old man speak thus of my uncle, as I was sure the praise was not undeserved. As I looked at him, too, I felt how great is the power of grace. I saw before me the drowning youth snatched from the very jaws of death, and of eternal death, too, and allowed to spend a long life in making known to the heathen the inexhaustible riches of Christ. From that day I naturally looked on Mr Bent as an old friend, and was more than ever with him. Indeed, I confess that I was thus drawn into a more intimate acquaintance with his daughter Mary than would have been otherwise the case, and to discover and admire her many excellences.
The missionary was never idle during his visit to the island, and in a week after his arrival the king declared openly that he could no longer withstand the arguments he brought forward in support of his religion, and that he was resolved to lotu. Hoolan, who had been tipsy for some days, or as he called it, enjoying himself, was very indignant when he recovered and heard this, and hastily going to the king, advised him to wait till the arrival of some Roman Catholic priests, who were the proper persons to whom to lotu; but the king replied, that the advice of a man who had been making himself no better than a hog was not worth having; that he had heard what he was sure was true from the missionary, and that therefore he should become of the missionary's religion. To show his sincerity, he resolved to destroy his gods and burn their moraes, or temples. His great regret was that his daughter and Vihala were not present to see the work done. The missionary urged him to lose no time. It was impossible to say what a day might bring forth. It was not a thing to be done lightly. The missionary visited the king the evening before the ceremony, and many hours were passed in prayer and in reading the Scriptures.
The next morning the king, attended by some of his principal chiefs, and all those who had already professed Christianity, assembled at an early hour, armed with axes and clubs, and firebrands, and ropes, and proceeded to the principal morae, or temple. The heathens also assembled, and stood at a distance trembling, in the expectation that something dreadful would happen. As the king approached the morae, some of his own followers even drew back, and formed a knot at a distance. They had been taught that their gods were full of revenge and hatred, delighting in doing harm to mortals. As Mr Bent considered it to be most important that the natives should destroy their idols themselves, we also stood some way off watching proceedings. The king advanced, exclaiming, "Jehovah is the true God—these are but senseless blocks of wood. See!" As he uttered the last word he struck the principal idol a blow which brought it to the ground. He then rushed at another, several of his chiefs following his example, and in a few minutes every idol was overthrown. [See Note 1.] All the time it was interesting to watch the attitudes and gestures of the heathen, who were evidently under the expectation that fire would come down from heaven, or that the earth would open and destroy their impious chiefs. Their astonishment was proportionably great when nothing of the sort happened, and when the iconoclasts, fastening ropes round the senseless logs, dragged them ignominiously forth, while others of the king's followers applied their torches in all directions to the morae, and set it on fire. While the conflagration was at its height several of the idols were thrown into it, and speedily consumed; others were dragged down to the sea, where blocks of coral were fastened to them, and they were put on board canoes, ready to be carried into deep water and sunk; while the remainder we secured, to be sent home as trophies won by the soldiers of Christ. The king and the chiefs dragged them up to us, shouting as they did so, "The reign of Satan is at an end—the reign of Satan is at an end." So far I could agree with them that his kingdom was shaken to the foundation, as it always is where the free gospel is introduced.
Just at this juncture Hoolan, who had remained on board all night, came on shore. His astonishment gave way to rage, and walking up to the king, he shook his fist in his face, and asked him how he dared lotu to the missionaries, and not wait for the arrival of the Catholic priests whom he expected? The chief, accustomed to the eccentricities of his late prime minister, answered calmly:
"Because the reign of Satan is over. The missionaries told us news which we know to be good, and we have believed them. When the priests you speak of come, will they tell us better?"
Hoolan had nothing to say; he soon got calm again, and observed, as he turned on his heel, "Well, I only hope that you'll be after getting on as well under your new system as you did under mine, that's all."
The king made no reply. He steadily progressed in his knowledge of the Scriptures, and gave very hopeful signs that he was really converted. No men could be more scrupulous as to receiving converts in name as really converted than were all the missionaries I met; and I boldly declare that very many of the newly converted could give a better reason for the faith that was in them than can, alas! a very large number both of young and old with whom I have conversed on the subject in England. There still remained, however, a strong heathen party in the island, under the leadership of a warlike and fierce chief, who was very likely, we feared, to give the king a good deal of trouble. It was necessary, however, for Mr Bent to return to his station. He says that, although called by the natives a missionary, he was not employed by any society, but felt it a privilege to help on the good work, supporting himself by trading, and supplying necessaries to the ships that touched at the island where he had fixed his residence. On asking him about some of the places mentioned in old John Harvey's journal, he said he could tell me of wonderful works of God which he had either witnessed himself, or of which he had heard from those in whose reports he could place the fullest confidence. I need scarcely say how much I felt the idea of being parted from him and his daughter, and I bethought me that I would ask permission from the captain to carry them back in our largest boat. It was at once kindly granted, as a much safer mode of conveyance than a native canoe. I was very happy at being able to pay this last mark of attention to those I so much esteemed; and having made every arrangement I could think of for their comfort during our short voyage, I received them on board at the earliest dawn, in the hopes that we might reach the station before night fell. How true is the saying, "Man proposes, God disposes." Oh that men would therefore throw all their cares on the Lord, remembering alway that "He careth for us."
Note 1. In the early Missionary Reports wonderful narratives are given of the speedy destruction of idolatry in many of the islands. With too sanguine hopes, some of the missionaries spoke of these revolutions as the result of religious zeal, and even quoted the prophecy of "a nation being born in a day." A few years' experience taught them that in many instances the first profession of Christianity was due to various influences, and that the people with impetuous impulse followed the example of their chiefs. Not without prayerful labour and long patience did the missionaries at length obtain precious fruits of spiritual conversion from the good seed sown in these regions. The statement in our narrative only expresses what was often true as a historical fact. In "Brown's History of Missions," volume two, will be found some of the more remarkable instances of the sudden overthrow of idolatry.
The missionary and his daughter were on the beach attended by a number of natives, among whom was the chief, so lately a fierce heathen, now deeply affected at the thought of parting from his friend. As the boat drew near, they all knelt down and offered up prayers, reminding me forcibly of the departure of Paul the apostle from Miletus. It was a deeply interesting sight. In the centre was the venerable missionary with his silvery hair, his daughter kneeling by his side, while around were the king and other chiefs and people, with many women and children. My men without my orders lay on their oars till the prayers had ceased. We then pulled in, and my friends embarked, when the natives burst forth into a hymn, and as we rowed away from the land, we continued to hear it still growing fainter and fainter, till the sound was lost in the increasing distance. We then set our sails and glided swiftly and pleasantly over the sparkling waters. I felt very happy. I would not think of the separation to take place, and determined to enjoy the society of my friends to the utmost. This, perhaps, prevented me from observing as carefully as I might have done the signs of a change in the weather. I believe, however, that Mr Bent, who had more experience as a seaman in this ocean than I possessed, had perceived but he said nothing. The wind suddenly dropped, then it sprung up again, then once more dropped, and the boat scarcely moved through the water. At last it fell altogether, and the sun's rays struck down with intense violence. My men, however, willingly took to the oars, and we proceeded slowly on our course. Still the island was far away, and I lost all hopes of reaching it before dark, though I could not persuade myself that there was any danger to be apprehended. Mr Bent, however, more than once cast a look round the horizon, anxious more on his daughter's account than his own. We had lowered the sail, for it was useless keeping it set. Suddenly Mr Bent exclaimed, "Here it comes, round with her head, David." I looked up, and saw a foam-covered sea rolling towards us. I placed the boat's head so as to receive it, while the men pulled on steadily as before. The question was whether they would be able to continue so doing. The gale was coming from the west, and should it blow with the same fury for any length of time, we might be driven far away to the east without falling in with any land where shelter could be found. I was thankful that my friends were not on board a native canoe. It would have fared much worse with them. We had the means of finding our way, and might beat back when the weather moderated. Mary behaved with beautiful composure when the sea came seething and hissing up alongside us. "This is only one of the trials and dangers to which missionaries are exposed," she observed. "We should bear it patiently and trustfully."
"Trustfully!" How seldom employed, how still less frequently made a practical use of. That one word described much of her character.
The gale soon reached its height; the sea, lashed into fury, seemed one mass of foam, and broke over us so frequently that every instant I expected the boat to be swamped. Two men baling could scarcely keep her free. Our only chance was to run before it, for the strength of the crew no longer availed to keep our small craft's head to wind. The danger of getting her round was very great; should a sea strike her on the beam, it would have rolled her over helplessly. I gave exact orders what was to be done—one man to hoist the foresail, two to pull round with the starboard oars, the rest to spring aft so as to throw the greatest weight into the stern of the boat, thus allowing her head to come round more rapidly. I waited till a heavy sea had rolled past, and then before we had sunk to the hollow I gave the word. For the first time Mr Bent and his daughter turned pale. The boat flew round, and seemed to be climbing up the ascent towards the crest which had just hissed by, and then on we darted with the small patch of sail we could show to the gale.
On, on we went, the huge seas rolling up astern of us, and appearing as if they would come down and overwhelm us. During all my nautical career I had never been in an open boat exposed to such a gale, though frequently in a big ship, and even then I have felt the helplessness, the nothingness of man. Still more sensibly now was it brought before me—"He commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down to the depths; their soul is melted because of trouble. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses." The missionary was repeating those lines, which come so home to the Christian sailor's heart; and at his exhortation, we offered up our united supplications for protection in our sore distress. To the few solemn words which he spoke, the seamen listened earnestly. They knew that at any moment they might be summoned away. I felt an unusual calmness. I may say that I had no fear: I knew the danger, and yet I believed that we should be preserved.
On, on we drove, farther and farther to the east, our view now confined to the sides of the two seas, in the dark trough between which we floated, seemingly about to be swallowed up, and now lifted on the summit of a foam-crested billow to the tumultuous mountain masses of water which madly leaped and danced one beyond the other till lost in the line where the murky sky sunk over the seething caldron. We had an abundance of provisions on board, but for many hours anxiety prevented any one of us from wishing to partake of them, even the rough seamen seemed indifferent about the matter. At length, however, Mr Bent and I agreed that Mary ought to take some food, which, after a blessing had been asked for, she did, the rest of the party following her example.
We all felt wonderfully refreshed, and hope revived in the hearts of the most desponding. Still we could scarcely dare to conjecture by what means we should be saved. We could not conceal from ourselves that the gale might continue to blow for many days, and that we might be driven far away to the east, whence a long time would be occupied in returning, or that we might be thrown on one of the numberless coral reefs of those seas, or hurled against some rocky shore and be dashed to pieces, while we knew that any moment some cross sea might strike us and send us to the bottom. I have heard of people's hair turning grey in a single night. The anxiety I began to feel the moment I allowed myself to dwell on our too possible fate would quickly have turned my hair grey, and yet directly I turned my gaze upward, and put my trust in Him who said to the waves, "Peace, be still," all my anxious fears vanished, and hope came back strong as ever. The missionary all the time maintained the most perfect and beautiful equanimity, not speaking much, but occasionally offering a few words of encouragement to his daughter. She looked up in his face and smiled.
"I have no fear," she said, calmly. "We cannot be separated, dear father. Should the ocean overwhelm us, we shall together begin a joyful eternity. You have taught me that our Redeemer liveth. 'I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.'" This hope gave her courage when others would have shrieked with fear.
The gale continued, the boat driven before it. The night approached. Darkness came down on the face of the waters. Oh, the horrors of that night. The sea roared and hissed, and we knew that those mountain waves were following us as before, though the sight could scarcely distinguish the vast watery masses which, in the obscurity, seemed doubled in height. That a delicate girl should exist through the time appeared indeed surprising; yet, anxious as I was, I could discover no failing of strength or energy in her.
When the sun went down, the missionary had called on us all to join in prayer. At midnight he did so again, thereby comfort and consolation being brought to the souls, I believe, of all of us. He then offered to take the helm, to allow me a short sleep, which nature much required. The instant my hand was off the helm, I dropped down and was fast asleep, too soundly even to dream. I was awoke by a cry from the men, and starting up, I beheld a sight sufficient to alarm the stoutest heart. Before us in the direction the men were gazing, as we rose to the summit of a sea, appeared in the grey light of morning a long row of breakers unbroken apparently for miles, the sign of a coral reef. The sea, hurled against it, rose to a height so great in a wall of foaming water that it was impossible to see beyond whether there was land or not; indeed that was a matter of indifference I felt, as the boat must be dashed to pieces and overwhelmed the instant it reached those fearful breakers. These were the thoughts which flew rapidly through my mind as with the first impulse of waking I looked ahead. My next was to turn round, when I saw the venerable missionary standing up on the after seat gazing earnestly ahead, while his daughter clung to his legs in her anxiety lest he should be thrown overboard with the violent movement of the boat.
I could not help being struck, even at that moment, with the appearance of the old man, so calm and collected, and so earnest as he kept his eye fixed on some object ahead. "Courage, courage, friends! God will find us a way to escape," he cried out, at length. "An opening appears in the reef; yes, yes, the boat is heading in for it." As he spoke, I observed a dark spot in the wall of foam which an unpractised eye would not have discovered. As we rushed on towards the breakers, it increased in width till I felt assured that it was indeed an opening, and now beyond it appeared the tops of palm, pandanus, and other trees of those regions, giving us the assurance that we should find land and a haven where we might rest secure from the storm. Still, humanly speaking, our peril was fearful. The greatest skill and judgment were required to guide a boat in a direct course across the tumultuous sea on which we floated. But looking up at the calm countenance of the missionary, as he called me to his side, I had no doubt about the result. On we flew. On either side appeared those walls of foam; one narrow space alone was to be seen where the waves rushed in unbroken by the resistance of the reef. We mounted to the summit of a vast billow—it seemed as if it were about to hurl us on the reef. In another instant we must be struggling helplessly amid that foaming mass of water I heard a cry of despair from more than one of my men. But no, the boat's head again turned towards the opening, and gliding down the billow we dashed through it, and saw on either side a comparatively smooth lagoon extending between the reef and the shore. The sheet was immediately hauled aft, and we ran along parallel with the beach in search of a favourable place for landing. We could scarcely judge of the size of the island, but we supposed it to be about three miles in length, and a mile or two in width, but Mr Bent did not know its name nor the character of its inhabitants.
The question now arose as to whether they were the treacherous savages and cannibals most of the islanders of those seas were till the introduction among them of Christianity, and would attempt our destruction as soon as we landed, or whether they would receive us with kindness and hospitality. As yet we had seen neither houses nor people; but a smooth beach appearing, with a natural quay of rocks, we resolved to land. We stood in towards the shore, and soon found a calm dock, into which we ran the boat and secured her. With thankful hearts we stepped on the dry land, when the missionary exclaimed, "Let us, dear friends, return thanks to God for the merciful deliverance He has vouchsafed us." Following his example, we all knelt in prayer, bursting forth at the end in a hymn of thanksgiving. While we were thus engaged a sound made me look up, and I saw emerging from among the cocoa-nut trees a band of unclad Indians with long hair and beards, and armed with spears, and bows, and clubs. That they were still savage heathens there could be no doubt. However, as emerging from the wood they saw us kneeling, they stopped, apparently watching us with the greatest astonishment. Not till we rose from our knees did they again advance. Flourishing their weapons, however, with frightful gestures, they rushed towards us. Happily they did not shoot their arrows. Mr Bent called out to them, but so loud were their shrieks and cries that his voice was not heard. We had a couple of muskets and a fowling piece in the boat; but so completely wetted had they been, that I doubted if they would go off, even had there been time to get them. We waved our handkerchiefs and lifted up our hands, to show that we were unarmed, and desired their friendship; but they disregarded all our signs, and came rushing on. Our destruction appeared inevitable.
"It's hard lines to lose our lives by these savages, after escaping all the dangers of the seas," exclaimed one of my men near me.
"Friend, God knows what is best for us," said the missionary, calmly. "His will is never really hard, though we may think it so. Trust in Him."
Mary was clinging to her father's arm, ready to share his fate. I stood by her side, resolved to defend her to the last. The savages were close upon us, when another person appeared from the wood, flying at full speed towards us, shouting at the same time in a loud voice to the savages. He was fully clothed in native fashion, and at first I thought that he was a chief, till, as he came nearer, I recognised in him our missing friend Vihala, the Christian teacher. The natives stopped when they became aware of his approach, and, finding that we made no resistance, contented themselves with standing around us, till he, rushing through them, cast himself down at the feet of the missionary, sobbing with joy at again seeing him. He then turned round to the natives, telling them that we were their greatest friends, and had left our homes and come from a far-off land to do them good. He spoke in a manly, authoritative tone, and greatly to our relief the savages at once retired, watching us at a distance. Mary's first inquiry was for Alea, in whom she took a great interest. "She is here, and safe," answered Vihala; and he then briefly recounted the way in which they had been brought to the island.
When first escaping, their intention had been to visit Mr Bent, and to get him to intercede with Alea's father, and to try and conciliate the heathen chief to whom she was betrothed: but the small canoe in which they had embarked being driven out of its course, they were unable to find their way back, and finally reached this island. The weather had greatly moderated before they got near it, or their frail canoe would in all probability have been dashed to pieces on the reef. They found a passage similar to that by which we entered, and with fear and hesitation approached the beach. Still they had no choice; their water and food was expended, they were suffering from hunger and thirst, and their limbs were cramped and chilled, and they must land or perish. Their chief hope was that the island was not inhabited; for they knew too well the savage character of the people of most of the islands surrounding their own to have much hope of escaping without being either killed or made slaves. They had little doubt that there were inhabitants, from the fertile appearance of the country, and as their canoe touched the beach a number of savages darted out of the wood and surrounded them. They cried out that they had come with no evil intent, and that they had some news of great importance to announce to them. Notwithstanding this, the savages showed an inclination to maltreat them, and were proceeding to rifle their canoe, when another party appeared on the stage. Vihala at once saw that they were chiefs or people of consideration, and immediately thereupon cried out, and entreated that their lives might be spared. The chiefs, for such they were, came forward, and with some interest asked numerous questions in their native tongue, and soon there commenced a most affectionate rubbing of noses all round, and Vihala discovered with great satisfaction that the chiefs were his own relatives, who had left their native island some years previously, and were supposed to have been lost. Alea, as the daughter of the king, they treated with even more consideration than Vihala.
Most providential was the influence the young people were thereby enabled to gain over their savage countrymen; nor did they fail to endeavour immediately to exercise it for good. This was clearly one of God's ways of working, and one which has been more than once employed in Polynesia. They had glorious tidings to give,—to describe the new and beautiful religion brought to them by people from a far-off country, who had left their native land, their homes, and their families for love of their souls, in obedience to the loving, merciful God whom they served. Some listened, rejoicing in the news; others would not understand, and many turned aside altogether. A small band had, however, been taught by the Spirit to acknowledge Jesus as their Saviour, and they now welcomed heartily the missionary who had at first brought the glad news into that region. Vihala was able to repeat many of the words of truth, which were dropped as seeds in the hearts of the people. The conduct of Alea, even in her living in a different part of the island from Vihala, excited their curiosity and gained their attention. So admirable an example had they set, and assiduously had they laboured, that many of those who had become Christians were already well instructed in the faith, and could give a reason for the hope that was in them. Even the heathen party appeared to have no enmity towards them; when they heard that we were people of peace, and anxious only to do them good, they showed their friendly disposition by bringing us provisions, and in preparing a house for our reception under the direction of Vihala.
Alea was on the other side of the island when we arrived, so that we had been on shore some time before she appeared. The meeting between Mary and her was very affecting. She threw herself into Mary's arms, and sobbed aloud with joy, exclaiming, "Oh, my sister, my sister,—my more than sister,—my teacher, my mother, my soul's friend!—and have I found you again? Do I once more hear that dear voice,—do I once more kiss those sweet lips which have told me such holy truths? Ah me! I have gone through much pain and terror, and sorrow and suffering of the spirit, and I have done very wrong, I fear; but I think that I am forgiven, because that I am allowed once more to see you in this wonderful way."
Often have I since thought of the words uttered by that young unsophisticated child of nature, so lately a child of Satan, and the remarks made by the venerable missionary to me:—"'My soul's friend!' Do we, with all our learning, and knowledge, and religious privileges, thus measure the value of our friends? How many of our friends are our soul's friends? Oh, as we value our souls, let us try and find out and cling to those which are so. Do we value most the lips which tell us holy truths or those which speak to us pleasant words,—flattering words? Let us seek, my friend, those only whose lips ever speak to us holy truths,—who will tell us of our faults,—who will not flatter with their tongues."
I will not repeat more of his remarks, but I may mention that, like all faithful pastors of the Lord's flock, he never lost an opportunity of inculcating the truth, of exhorting of advising. He knew the value of a soul in his Master's sight. The chiefs assured us that our boat would be safe; so having unloaded her, we hauled her up on the beach, and left her in charge of some natives, with whom it was arranged my men should lodge till we were again able to put to sea. I took one of them with me well armed, as I was myself; for I own that I did not like altogether to trust the missionary and his daughter alone among the savages, the greater number of whom were still heathen in all their notions and customs.
A LOVING WELCOME.
We now set off with Alea and her friends through the woods to the other side of the island. The natives kept at a respectful distance, the children peeping at us out of the entrances to their huts or from behind the trees, we being the first white people they had ever seen. We reached at length the shore of a beautiful sandy bay, where in a grove of cocoa-nuts we found Vihala busily employed in forming divisions in a large native hut to suit our requirements. So assiduously had he and his Christian converts worked, that it was almost ready for our reception. The people began immediately to assemble round us, expecting that the missionary would address them, as Vihala had been accustomed to do, but he told them that we were weary from our long voyage and needed rest, as indeed we did. "No, no, my friend," said Mr Bent, "do not send the people away till we have bestowed on them some portion of the bread of life." On this, greatly fatigued though he was, the missionary spoke to them in plain and simple, yet in tender and glowing words, of the great love of God for a perishing world, which caused Him to send His only Son down on earth, that all who believe in Him should not perish, but have life everlasting. Many wept and cried out that they were sinners, and entreated that he would talk to them again of this matter as soon as he was able.
After an ample repast, provided by the natives, we retired to rest without fear, for we felt that we were watched over by One who never slumbers nor sleeps. I do not believe that I ever slept more soundly in my life.
The next morning the people again assembled to hear the missionary deliver his message, his glad tidings of great joy, and glad tidings indeed they were to many of those long-benighted beings. They had never dreamed of a God of love; their only notion of a superior power was one which inspired them with awe and terror. I have frequently observed that the unsophisticated minds of savages grasp the simple and glorious truths of the gospel with an avidity and a power of comprehension which would be surprising to those who have been accustomed week after week and year after year to set the same truths before those to whom they are familiar. As I heard Mr Bent and Vihala addressing the people, whose upturned eager earnest countenances I watched, my heart glowed within me, and I longed to be able also to spread the same glad tidings among a race so eager to receive them. Mary Bent was not idle either, for she had collected round her a number of young women and girls, to whom she was telling the same truths in a way calculated to fix them on their memories.
I deeply regretted that we could not remain on the island till some at least had been thoroughly instructed in the doctrines of Christianity, but it was clearly my duty to return as soon as I possibly could to my ship. "Find out what is right and do it, independent of all other considerations," was a maxim in which I had been instructed. Mr Bent, although more anxious to remain for some time longer even than I was, saw things in the same light I set to work, therefore, with my crew to prepare our boat for sea, so as to commence our return voyage directly the storm should cease and the sea become calm.
A week, however, elapsed before I considered that we might safely venture to put to sea. When the natives heard that we were about to take our departure, they entreated with tears that we would remain some time longer. Finding that they could not prevail, they then of their own accord begged that Vihala might be left with them. This was a sore trial to him, for Alea had been convinced that it was her duty at once to return to her father, and the separation was grievous to both. Still the path of duty seemed clearly marked out for them. There was no hesitation. Vihala felt that he could not abandon those who had been so lately taught to know the truth, and who so much needed further instruction. The young people consoled themselves that they might soon again meet to be united for ever. "Fear not, dearest," said Vihala. "Let us put our trust in God. We are doing our duty. He always protects those who do that." Still, though they thus bravely spoke, they were both deeply affected at parting.
A large multitude of the natives accompanied us to the beach, and earnest prayers were offered up for our safety. Mary and her friend were already in the boat, when there was a cry among the crowd, which opening in the centre, several men appeared dragging by ropes what looked like logs of wood. "Here, take these things," they shouted. "These were once our gods—we are ashamed of them; but they will serve to show the people of other lands that we are no longer what we were, trusting to blocks of wood and stone, but disciples of the true God, who made the heavens, and the earth, and all things therein. Take them— take them with you, or cart them into the sea, so that we may never behold them again." The boat was already fully loaded; but we could not refuse this request, so fixing one at the stern, and another at the bows, and some smaller idols under the seats, we, thus freighted, pulled out through the reef and made sail for the mission station.
The wind was light, and we could scarcely expect to accomplish the voyage within three days. As however the boat was large, we were able to fit up a small shelter, in which Mary and Alea could sleep with tolerable comfort while the weather was fine. The conversation of Mr Bent I found of unspeakable advantage. He and I kept watch and watch, though I insisted on keeping five to his three, not to run the risk of fatiguing him overmuch. I remember, during a midnight watch, feeling some uneasy sensations come over me with occasional shivering, but at the time thought little of it.
The second morning dawn had just broken, when I saw in the distance an object, which, as we neared it, proved to be a large double canoe. Where she could have come from, and what was the character of the people on board I could not tell, and this caused me no little anxiety. Still, without going much out of our course, it would be difficult to avoid them. I awoke Mr Bent, and we agreed to sail directly on, taking no notice of them, unless the people showed a friendly disposition. In a short time we got near enough to ascertain without doubt that she was crowded with heathen warriors, who were indulging themselves in every conceivable variety of violent gesticulation. We had too much reason to believe that they would attack us. Our men loaded the firearms, but I hoped that we might avoid having to fight for our lives. Providentially the wind was light. Under sail the canoe could beat us hollow, but we could pull faster than she could. I accordingly ordered the oars to be got out, so as to avoid her if necessary. Suddenly, however, as she got close to us down came her sail, and all the warriors prostrated themselves on the deck, where they remained as we glided by. Had we been alone we should have boarded them, but with Mary and Alea on board, we felt it more prudent to avoid them.
The wind soon again springing up, on we sailed, and as long as we could distinguish the people on the deck, they were seen still lying down as they were when we passed. The cause of this strange behaviour did not till then strike me, when my eye fell on the hideous idol in our bow, and I found many months afterwards that I was right in my conjectures, when I met with one of the men who had formed the crew of the canoe. He and his companions were among the most ferocious of the cannibals of the Pacific. On seeing us they had borne down upon us intending our destruction. When, however, they saw the two hideous idols stuck up at either end of the boat, they were impressed with the idea that some powerful gods were on a cruise, or about to visit some new country, and completely awestruck, they dared not examine us further. Thus were we delivered from another great danger. It was not till we were out of sight of the war-canoe, that Mary and Alea awaking, we told them of what had occurred. The Indian girl trembled, as well she might, for there was much reason to suppose that it belonged to the heathen chief to whom she was betrothed, and that had she been discovered she would have been carried away as a prisoner. Again a feeling of illness came over me, for which I could not account, but I exerted myself and succeeded in overcoming the sensation.
Our voyage continued prosperous though our progress was slow, and it was not till the morning of the fourth day that we sighted the high land above the missionary station. As we sailed in through an intricate passage, under the guidance of Mr Bent, we saw people collecting on the beach. He stood up and waved to them with his daughter resting on his arm. A minute passed, when it was evident that he was recognised, for there was an immediate hurrying to and fro—numbers rushing down to the beach from all quarters, clapping and stretching out their hands, and leaping, and dancing, with other demonstrative gesticulations; and as we got closer we could hear them shouting forth their welcomes, and then a song of gratitude and praise arose from the mouths of the many hundreds collected together. The reception was truly touching and gratifying. "Oh, how they love my father!" said Mary. Those words spoke volumes. I did not propose allowing myself more than an hour on shore, intending to start immediately for my ship.
Scarcely, however, had I walked ten paces than I tottered, and should have fallen had not Mr Bent and some of the natives caught me; and I found myself carried away to his house. My impression was that I was dying, and Mr Bent insisting that he would not allow me to undertake the voyage, I begged that my men would return to the ship. As the coxswain was a steady fellow, and the wind was fair, I had no anxiety as to their finding their way. The boat, therefore, immediately sailed, and I was left alone at the missionary station. I have ever felt that it was providential my illness seized me when it did, for had I embarked, I do not believe, humanly speaking, that I should have survived. I use the term providential, at the same time that I believe nothing happens to us which is not subject to God's providing care. For many days Mr Bent believed that my life hung by a thread, as the expression is, and it was owing, as far as human means were concerned, to his and his daughters watchful care that I recovered, and to his knowledge of medicine.
I do not wish to trouble the reader of this narrative with more than is seemly of my personal affairs, but I must briefly refer to what proved the happiest event of my life. After having seen so much of Mary Bent, I felt that no pain could be greater than that of having to part from her, and I found also to my joy that she had given me her affection. We at once told all to Mr Bent.
"My only regret, if I have one, David, is, that you are not a missionary," was his reply. "I had wished Mary to have become the helpmate of one entirely devoted to the glorious service of our Lord and Master."
"But, sir, surely without being set aside exclusively for the work of a missionary, I may labour not without effect in the Lord's vineyard," I answered, promptly, for I had often read and often felt how much might really be done by a Christian layman in the cause of Christ.
"True, true, David, and I pray God that you and many more like you may thus labour in whatever course of life you are called," answered the missionary. "I believe you, indeed I may say that I know you, to be (as far as one man can judge another) a true and sincere Christian, or no consideration would induce me to entrust my child to you. I do, however, give her to you with confidence that you will watch over her spiritual, as I am assured you will over her temporal welfare."
I will not repeat more that Mr Bent said to me on the occasion. The exhortation he then uttered I have repeated often to others. Husbands and wives, do you watch over each other's spiritual welfare? Are you each jealously watchful over every word and action which may lead the other into sin? With whom do you associate? In what sort of amusements do you indulge? What sort of places do you prefer to visit? In these matters your consciences do not accuse you. Very well. But do you pray together, and pray aright? Do you read the Scriptures together? Are you constantly pointing out to each other the heavenward way? Do you more earnestly desire each other's salvation than all the wealth the world can give, than all earthly blessings? Have you assured yourselves that you will meet together before the great white throne clothed in the bright robes of the Lamb? Surely those alone are truly happy and fitly matched who can answer yes, yes, in a joyful chorus, to such questions.
It would be profitable if I could repeat many of the remarks made to me from time to time by Mr Bent. "How sad it is that seamen are generally so ignorant of their awful responsibilities, and of the immeasurable amount of good they have it in their power to effect in the Christian cause during their visits to foreign lands," he one day observed to me. "Ay, alas! and to think of the immeasurable amount of harm they by their too general conduct produce. Thousands and thousands of professed Christian seamen are found every day in the year at seaports inhabited by heathens. Into what disrepute do they too generally bring Christianity, instead of exhibiting its beauty and excellence by the propriety and correctness of their lives—I will not say, as I could wish, by their purity and holiness.
"It is impossible to calculate the amount of harm nominally Christian seamen have produced among these islands of the Pacific. There have been bright exceptions, especially among the British ships of war happily commanded by Christian officers; Sir Everard Home, Captain Waldegrave, and others—names that will ever be honoured among the isles of the Pacific. Several masters of whalers and merchantmen also have come here and done credit to the Christian character; but the larger number, with their crews, have done incalculable mischief to the hapless natives, and when they have found their evil practices opposed by the missionaries of the gospel, they have wreaked their revenge by spreading on their return home reports intended to injure them, and to prevent the spread of Christianity among the isles of the Pacific. God ever protects those labouring earnestly in His cause; and although these reports have done little harm at home, they will have to render up a tremendous account for their own doings among the inhabitants of Polynesia. The missionaries and their supporters only desire that those at home should read their statements as well as the reports of their traducers, feeling assured that every impartial judge will pronounce a verdict in their favour. The missionaries to the Pacific desire that their fellow-men should approve their proceedings, not for their own sakes (for to their Master they joyfully and confidently commit their cause), but that their so glorious cause may not suffer, and may obtain the required support."
But to return to my narrative.
THE ROMANCE OF MISSIONS.
I have not described the mission station where I had spent the last few weeks. It was beautifully situated on gently rising ground backed by lofty hills wooded to their very summits. Here and there dark and rugged masses of rock might be seen peeping out from amid the trees and streams of sparkling water falling down their sides far away below into basins of foam, and then taking their course in rapid, bubbling rivulets towards the blue sea. The windows of the house, which were very large to admit a free current of air, and were shaded by a deep-roofed verandah, looked on one side up towards the hills, and on the other over the boundless ocean. The interior was a pattern of neatness. The furniture, though simple, was pretty and well made, with snowy white curtains to the windows and beds, and green blinds to keep out the glare of that hot clime. The verandah ran completely round the house, and a thick thatch of leaves formed a roof which effectually prevented the sun's rays from penetrating below. In front was a pretty flower-garden, and in the rear a well-stocked kitchen garden, producing in perfection all the native vegetables, fruits, and roots, as well as many from Europe. The islanders there saw even their own fruits and roots increased in size, and improved in flavour by careful culture. Near it was a cool grove of cocoa-nut palm and bread-fruit trees, through which a fresh current of trade wind was continually blowing.
The church, although built by the natives of wood—under the direction of course of Mr Bent—was a commodious and imposing edifice. The school-house was also a large and neat building. In its neighbourhood was a long street of cottages inhabited by natives, constructed after the plan of the teachers' dwellings—some of stone or rather rock coral, and others of wood—all having both flower and kitchen gardens, while round the settlement were extensive fields where the chief food for the support of the community was produced. Of the many missionary stations which I have visited, all are more or less like the one I have described. The missionaries have thus not only taught the natives of these wide-scattered islands the truths of the gospel, but by practically showing them the very great advantages which civilised men possess over savages, they have induced them to become industrious, and to learn those elementary arts by which alone their civilisation can be advanced and secured. However, it must be remembered that very few communities are so favourably placed that they can advance far in civilisation unless they have the means of exchanging the produce of their labour with that of other people, and on this account Mr Bent was very anxious to obtain another vessel in lieu of one which had been lost, so that he might enable the natives under his special charge to trade with other islanders, and might at the same time convey missionaries and teachers wherever they might desire to move.
I offered to assist in building such a craft—a schooner which could be easily handled—and afterwards to take command of her should the Golden Crown not return for me. In the event of her appearing, I hoped that still Captain Buxton would give me my discharge; but should he be unwilling to comply with my wish I purposed returning out to the island as soon as possible, that I might marry Mary Bent, and then commence the very important undertaking I had proposed.
That no time might be lost, we forthwith drew out the plan of our vessel. I was still unable to move about to assist Mr Bent; he, however, at once set the natives to work to cut down the necessary trees, and to prepare the timber. When we remembered how much that great and good missionary, Williams, had accomplished single-handed, we agreed that we ought not to be daunted by any difficulties which might occur. We had already an ample supply of tools, a carpenter's and a blacksmith's workshop, and several of the younger natives had become, if not perfectly skilled, at all events very fair artisans; indeed, fully capable of performing all the rougher work, both of wood and iron, which would be required. Indeed, I may say, that in a great degree they made up for their want of skill by their teachableness and anxiety to do their work in a satisfactory manner. They understood as clearly as we did the importance of the undertaking, both on account of the worldly advantage it might prove to them, and the benefit of a religious character the vessel might convey to others. The more I saw the work progressing as I lay helpless on my couch, and the more I thought of the benefit, not one alone, but a fleet of such vessels, might prove to the Pacific isles, the more eagerly I prayed for my recovery, that I might take my share in it. It was indeed a joyful day when at length I was able to go out and join the rest, even although only for a short time, in the work.
I had brought my uncle's journal with me that I might lend it to Mr Bent, as I felt sure that he would be interested in reading it. "The perusal of that manuscript has caused me tears of joy and thankfulness," he observed, as he returned it to me. "Wonderful, under God's providence, are the changes which have been wrought among the inhabitants of a large portion of Polynesia since the time of which he wrote. They have indeed truly been called from out of darkness into light; and even those who have not been converted, benefit by the light which shines among them. The description he gives of their spiritual condition and of the scenes which were constantly enacted among them is indeed most true. You see what they have become; you see order and civilisation prevailing among those who were considered the most savage and debased; places of worship, educated and enlightened ministers, well-regulated schools, a large proportion able to read the word of God in their own tongue; but you are not acquainted with the means by which this glorious change has been wrought—with what may be called 'the transition state' of Polynesia. One of the chief reasons why people at home are incredulous as to the present condition of these islands is, that they are ignorant of the events which have occurred, and of the nature of the instrumentality which has been employed. They say that man could not have done it, and, therefore, that it cannot have been done. They are right in saying that man could not have done it, but it has been done by the Holy Spirit of God working by means of human agency; weak things have indeed been employed to confound the strong."
I was seated with Mr Bent and his daughter at our evening meal—the labours of the day being over—enjoying the cool sea breeze, which blowing through the room afforded us that strength and refreshment which our frames, exhausted by the heat, greatly required. I assured him how thankful I should be to have the account he offered, confessing that except with respect to the islands at which we had touched, and where I could judge of the changed state of the people, I was still very ignorant of the condition of the principal part of the inhabitants of Polynesia. Indeed, I owned, that had I believed the accounts given in two works we had on board, I should have supposed that the inhabitants had rather suffered than benefited by the advent of missionaries among them, and that from being light-hearted, happy beings, they had become morose, discontented, and inhospitable. I mentioned Kotzebue's "Voyage round the World," in which work the author abuses the missionaries in unmeasured terms, and another by a Mr Beale, the surgeon of a South-Sea whaler, who, in a book full of valuable descriptions of whales, and the mode of catching them, loses no opportunity of showing his dislike to missionaries, and the principles they have inculcated on their native converts.
"Yes, indeed," said Mr Bent; "I might mention several other works of a similar character, which, I believe, have prevented many persons from supporting missions to these seas, or served as an excuse to them for not doing so; but I also have many works written by men of high standing, and thoroughly unprejudiced as witnesses, who do full justice to the labours of my missionary brethren, or rather, I would say, to the results which by their instrumentality have been produced. The Hon. Captain Keppel (now Admiral Yelverton), of HMS Meander, who visited these islands in 1850, will, I know, speak in favourable terms. Captain Erskine, of HMS Havannah, has done so in a very interesting work on the 'Islands of the Pacific' Captain Wilkes, of the United States navy, in his 'Voyages round the World,' speaks most favourably of the result of missionary enterprise; and so indeed do many other naval officers of both nations. I myself must be considered as an impartial witness to the magnitude of the work which has resulted from the labours of the agents of the various societies which have sent the gospel of peace to the islands of these seas. On being rescued from more than death by your uncle I was received back as a returned prodigal by my family, and was enabled to pursue a course of studies which would fit me for the work to which I had resolved to devote myself. My father, when he consented to my wishes, made the proviso, however, that I should not connect myself with any religious body for the purpose, or act as the agent of any missionary society, but that I should go forth by myself, relying on the funds which he would place at my disposal. While he lived he supported me liberally, enabling me to marry and to bring out a wife to be the sharer of my toils, and on his death he left me an income which has been sufficient, with that derived by my own labours, for all my wants. I have thus been able, by means of the little vessel I spoke of, to move about among the islands as I judged best, and often to render assistance to brother ministers of various denominations, whose work had become too great for their strength. I do not speak of the mode of proceeding I adopted, to induce others to follow in the same course, but simply to explain how it is that you find me unattached to any missionary society, and yet acquainted with the transactions of all those labouring in this part of the world. I propose, my young friend, that you may the more clearly understand the present spiritual condition of these Pacific isles, to give you a brief sketch of what I consider the four great prominent events which have taken place connected with them, and almost immediately, I may say, under my own eye—events of importance unspeakable, as marking the signal overthrow of Satan's power. First, the declaration by the king of Tahiti, one of the Georgian Islands, of his conviction of the truth of Christianity, and of his desire to become a servant of the true God, on the 12th June, 1812, just fifteen years after the arrival of the missionaries in that group, followed immediately by the open profession of several natives of Tahiti. The second event occurred in November, 1819, when King Rihoriho, of Hawaii, one of the Sandwich Islands, in one day breaking through the most revered of heathen customs, set fire to the temples, and destroyed the idols, a few months before the arrival of the missionaries, who were then on their way to attempt the conversion of his people. The third event occurred in 1829. It was the conversion of a powerful chief of the Friendly Islands, who afterwards became King George of Tonga. Some time before this, two Tahitian teachers connected with the London Missionary Society, on their way to Fiji had resided with Tubou, chief of Nukualofa. Under their influence and instruction Tubou gave up the Tonga gods, destroyed the spirit house, and erected a place for Christian worship, in which he and his people, to the number of two hundred and forty, assembled to listen to Divine truth in the Tahitian language, on the 4th of February, 1827. He was not, however, baptised till 1830. A fourth event, which appears still more wonderful to those who know the man than any I have before mentioned, was the conversion of the fierce and proud cannibal, King Thakombau, of Bau, the most powerful among the chiefs of Fiji, on the 30th April, 1854. He may, indeed, be considered the king of all Fiji, for all the other chiefs are either his vassals, or vassals to those who acknowledge him as their chief. Although a large number of the inhabitants of the group, of all ranks, had embraced Christianity before the king, yet his conversion more especially marked the triumph of the truth in Fiji, and proves the power of the gospel to change the heart of a man, however benighted, savage, and bloodthirsty he may have been.
"To these more prominently important events may be added the establishment of a church at Raratonga, in May, 1833, ten years after the landing of the first native teacher, which went on increasing till the entire population had been brought under Christian instruction.
"Still more important than the former events was the arrival of Messrs. Williams and Barff at Samoa, with a band of native teachers, in 1830, at the moment when Tamafaigna, a despot, who united the supreme spiritual with great political power, and whose boundless sway presented a most formidable barrier to the introduction of the gospel, had just been slain, and their cordial reception by Malietoa, a chief of an acute and inquiring mind and amiable disposition, who himself, with his sons, and their wives and children, soon afterwards renounced their superstitions, and destroyed the only idol found in Samoa. The population, when the missionaries landed, amounted to forty thousand, who, though not so cruel and bloodthirsty as that of other groups, were still sunk in the lowest depths of pagan ignorance and misery.
"I have watched too the partial establishment of Christianity among the native inhabitants of New Zealand, and its extension thence northward, as also from the east among the islands of Western Polynesia—the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, and the Loyalty and Britannia Islands. Still the great work is progressing. New labourers are appearing in the field. From all directions the heathen are crying out for instruction in the wonderful gospel, and more and more labourers are required to supply their urgent wants. A very remarkable feature in this great work is the mode in which it has been accomplished. The number of educated white men engaged in it has been comparatively very small. The most unexpected results, the greatest triumphs have been brought about through native agency. The natives of the Society Islands and Hervey group especially, instructed by English missionaries, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, have, with love in their hearts for their perishing brethren and a burning desire for their conversion, gone forth, braving all perils, some to the surrounding, others to far distant islands, and their language being similar, they have at once been able to address their heathen inhabitants. Many have died from sickness, others have been murdered by those they came to help, but the remainder have persevered till they have seen the cause of the gospel triumphant.
"Oh, Mr Harvey, I wish that others were impressed as I am with the awful thought that day after day thousands upon thousands of heathen are perishing in darkness and sin who might, did their Christian fellow-men use more exertion, have had the glorious gospel preached to them, and have been brought to see the light. I will illustrate the remarks I have made," said Mr Bent, "by examples as they occur to me, keeping, as much as my memory will allow, to the sequence of events."
To the testimonies referred to in the foregoing chapter may be added that given by Dr Seemann, in "Viti: An Account of a Government Mission to the Vitian or Fijian Islands in the years 1860-61." He was sent out by the English Government to ascertain the fitness of the group for the production of cotton. He was absent only thirteen months from England, and had time not only to sow the seed, but to pluck the cotton which it produced. Speaking of the missionaries to the group, he says: "It was all up-hill work; yet results have been attained to which no right-minded man can refuse admiration. According to the latest returns, the attendance on Christian worship in 1861 was 67,489, and there were 31,566 in the day-schools. For the supervision of this great work the Society had only eleven European missionaries and two schoolmasters, assisted by a large class of native agents who are themselves the fruits of mission toil, and some of whom, once degraded and cannibal heathens, are becoming valuable and accredited ministers of the gospel." Dr Seemann is a naturalist, and certainly is not prejudiced in favour of the Wesleyans, or of any other religious body. His evidence is therefore of more value. A description of the condition of Fiji as it was is sickening; and yet it is necessary to show the depth of depravity to which human nature can sink, and the glorious change which the gospel can work even in savages such as these. They were constantly at war with each other, and often fought for no other purpose than to procure people for their ovens. They have been known even to bake men alive. Often a town was attacked, and all the inhabitants, sometimes four or five hundred in number, were slaughtered. When the son of a great chief arrived at manhood, it was the custom to endue him with his toga virilis on the summit of a large heap of slaughtered enemies; and the whole population of a town was ruthlessly murdered for no other purpose than to form such a heap.
When a chief received a visit from a brother chieftain, if he had no captives ready to kill, he would kill some of his own slaves, or send out to catch some men, women, or children from a neighbouring island, or from among his own people. Indeed, no man, whatever his rank, was safe; and hundreds thus lost their lives every year, that the cannibal propensities of the chiefs might be gratified.
Infanticide was common among the chiefs as well as among the lower orders; and mothers, abandoning all natural affection, considered it no crime to kill their children. It was an ordinary matter for children to bury their aged parents alive; and fathers and mothers have been known to bury alive their grown-up sons who might complain of illness, or have become weary of life, stamping down on their graves with the greatest unconcern.
On the death of a chief his favourite wives were invariably strangled with him. Numerous slaves also were killed, to form his band of attendants to another world; and a great cannibal feast was also held. Human victims were offered to their obscene deities by their priests in their temples, groves, and high places. When a house was to be built for a chief, four live slaves were placed in deep holes to support the corner posts, when the earth was filled in on them, that their spirits might watch over the edifice. When a large canoe was to be launched victims were clubbed, or the canoe was drawn over their living bodies like the car of Juggernaut, crushing them to death. For the slightest offence a chief would club to death one of his wives, or any of his people, and feast afterwards on their bodies.
But enough has been said to show the character of the people of Fiji. They are, especially the chiefs, tall, handsome men; and though their skin is black, they have not the features of negroes. They are also very intelligent, active and energetic.
Dr Seemann says, page 77 of his work, "Until 1854, Bau, which is the name of the metropolis as well as of the ruling state, was opposed to the missionaries, and the ovens in which the bodies of human victims were baked scarcely ever got cold. Since then, however, a great change has taken place. The king and all his court have embraced Christianity; of the heathen temples, which by their pyramidical form gave such a peculiar local colouring to old pictures of the place, only the foundations remain; the sacred groves in the neighbourhood are cut down; and in the great square, where formerly cannibal feasts took place, a large church has been erected. Not without emotion did I land on this blood-stained soil, where probably greater iniquities were perpetrated than ever disgraced any other spot on earth. It was about eight o'clock in the evening; and, instead of the wild noise which greeted former visitors, family prayer was heard from nearly every house.
"To bring about such a change has indeed required no slight efforts, and many valuable lives had to be sacrificed; for although no missionary in Fiji has ever met with a violent death, yet the list of those who died in the midst of their labours is proportionately great. The Wesleyans, to whose disinterestedness the conversion of these degraded beings is due, have, as a society, expended 75,000 pounds on this object; and if the private donations of friends to individual missionaries and their families be added, the sum reaches to the respectable amount of 80,000 pounds."
Dr Seemann describes a visit to the island of Lakemba, hallowed as the spot on which the first Christian mission was established. Mr Fletcher, the resident missionary, conducted him and his companions through a grove of cocoa-nut palms and bread-fruit trees to his house, a commodious building, thatched with leaves, surrounded by a fence and broad-boarded verandah, the front of the house looking into a nice little flower-garden, the back into the courtyard.
The ladies gave them a hearty welcome, glad to look once more upon white faces, and to hear accounts from home. Though the thermometer ranged more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the thick thatch kept off the scorching rays, and there was a fresh current of trade wind blowing through the rooms. It was pleasing to see everything so scrupulously neat and clean; the beds and curtains as white as snow, and everywhere the greatest order prevailed.
"There are the elements of future civilisation,—models ready for imitation,—hallowed homes which no Romish priest can afford," observes the Doctor, "the yard well-stocked with ducks and fowls, pigs and goats,—the gardens replete with flowers, cotton shrubs twelve feet high, and bearing leaves, flowers, and fruit in all stages of development. These missionary stations are fulfilling all the objects of convents in their best days, and a great deal more; for their inmates are teaching a pure and simple faith in Jesus, which those of the convents did not."
Mr Fletcher showed them over the town, the first spot in Fiji where Christianity was triumphant and a printing-press was established, from which was issued an edition of the whole Bible in the language of the people, and several other works. There exist, indeed, two versions of the Bible in the language of Fiji. The church in the town is a substantial building, capable of holding three hundred people. There are some thirty other churches in the Lakemba district alone.
From Lakemba, occupying a week on the voyage, they proceeded to the island of Somosomo, till lately one of the strongholds of idolatry and cannibalism. Golea, the king, was a heathen, but his chief wife, Eleanor, was a Christian, and they believed a sincere one, judging from the almost frantic manner in which she endeavoured to obtain a Fijian Bible seen in their possession. She exhausted every argument to get it, and her joy was indescribable when her wishes were acceded to.
Dr Seemann writes: "If the Wesleyan Society had more funds at its disposal, so as to be able to send out a greater number of efficient teachers, a very few years would see the whole of Fiji Christianised, as all the real difficulties now in the way of the mission have been removed. On my representing the case in this light, his Majesty the King of Hanover was graciously pleased to subscribe his first gift of 100 pounds towards so desirable an object, at the same time expressing his admiration for the labours of the individual missionaries I named."
FROM DARKNESS TO DAYLIGHT.
"My dear young friend," said Mr Bent, addressing me, in continuation of the subject on which he had before been speaking, "we should never despair while God is with us of the success of our labours among the heathen. In my experience I have known numerous instances in which, when it appeared that profound darkness rested on the land, light has burst forth and spread far and wide around.
"I believe that thirteen years had passed after the Duff had made her most successful voyage to these seas in 1796, and landed a large body of missionaries at Tahiti, before one single acknowledged convert to Christianity was made. Still the diminished band of missionaries laboured on. They obeyed God's express command to preach the word to all creatures, and they knew that His word would not return to Him void. God works through human agency, and it must be confessed that many of these missionaries were not fitted by education for the work they had undertaken. It may be said with justice that therefore they did not succeed. Still they laboured on, teaching many the principles of Christianity although none turned to the truth.
"Pomare, the king of Tahiti, although he was friendly to the missionaries, for long remained as determined a heathen as any of his people. At length, however, attacked by his own subjects, he could not protect the missionaries, and the larger number were compelled to retire to the island of Huahine, where they hoped to be in safety. So little progress did they appear to be making even here in their undertaking, that, with one exception, the following year they left Huahine and retired to New South Wales, thus bringing the once promising mission to the Society Islands to a termination. I refer to this time to show you how necessary it is that missionaries should not under any circumstances despair of success. Nothing could be more hopeless than this mission now seemed. Pomare, although he befriended the missionaries, remained still seemingly as dark and determined a heathen as at first, and he had now indeed no longer the power of helping them. He had, however, received a considerable amount of instruction from them. He had acquired the arts of reading and writing his own language, and had learned the first principles of Christianity.
"The seed had not, as was supposed, been sown on stony ground, though it took long in growing up. Adversity caused Pomare to think. He had been told that Jehovah is a God of purity and holiness, and he began to reflect that the life he and his people led must be very distasteful to such a God, and might be the cause of the sufferings he was enduring. The Holy Spirit seemed to apply the truth, so that he at length comprehended the nature of sin, and especially felt his own great sinfulness. He, therefore, wrote letter after letter, entreating the missionaries to return. With joy they accepted his invitation. On their arrival, the king and several of his people professed their belief in the new religion; but a coalition of heathen chiefs being formed against them, some severe fighting took place. The heathens were defeated. Pomare treated them with great leniency, allowing no one to be injured, and even sending the body of a chief killed in battle back to his own people to be buried. So great was the effect of this conduct that the heathen party became anxious to know more of the new faith, and in a few months the idols of Tahiti were thrown to the ground. Although Pomare and some of his chiefs, as well as the lower orders, had embraced Christianity in spirit as well as in name, the mass of the people remained, as might have been expected, ignorant of its principles, and indulged in habits the very reverse of those it inculcates. Still the true faith went on taking root downwards and bearing fruit upwards. In 1817 a large number of missionaries arrived from England at Eimeo. Among them came two whose names are known far beyond their spheres of action—William Ellis and John Williams. The following year some of them removed to Huahine, the principal of the Leeward or Society group, and soon after John Williams and Mr L Threlkeld, invited by Tapa and other chiefs of Raiatea, settled in that island. Similar invitations were received from the chiefs of other large islands, while native teachers were sent to the smaller islands which were also occasionally visited by the missionaries. Thus in a few years the entire population of the Georgian and Society Islands had renounced idolatry, and were in general outwardly very strict in their religious observances. I say outwardly, because many of those who attended religious worship and refrained from all work and amusement on the sabbath, still continued in the practice of heathen vices. Yet I believe that at that very time the great mass of the people were not more ignorant of Christian truth, nor more vicious, than are too many communities of like size in so-called Christian Europe. We should judge of people who have lately been brought out of a savage state, not by a standard which we should wish them to attain, but by other people who have long been considered civilised Christians; and thus judging of the inhabitants of Tahiti and the neighbouring islands, I am certain that they will not lose by comparison with many of those who have claimed for centuries to be civilised, and whose religion has long been nominally Christian. I say this with confidence, but after all it is not saying much in their praise. One thing, however, is very clear. A few years ago they were ignorant barbarians, savage and debased, not knowing right from wrong. Now they abstain from their former cruel and sanguinary practices, they go about clothed and live in neat cottages, and industriously cultivate the ground; they can generally read and write their own language, and have learned many mechanical arts; they understand the principles of Christianity, attend Divine worship, and respect the sabbath, while undoubtedly some, and perhaps many, have been 'created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works,' and not a few have risked their lives, and laid them down for the gospel's sake. A large number of the native teachers who have gone forth among the savage tribes of the wide-scattered islands of the ocean to carry to them the glad tidings of salvation, have come from Tahiti and other parts of the Georgian and Society Archipelago.