Popular Pages

Share

James Chalmers of New Guinea
Pioneering in 1880


ALTHOUGH Chalmers had transferred his headquarters to Port Moresby, he had left teachers at Suau and several other stations at the extreme east end of the peninsula. Almost immediately after his return from the cruise in the Papuan Gulf, he set out on 15th January 1880 upon a round of visitation to the teachers and others in the south and east. After visiting East Cape and Teste Island, he met the five teachers located at stations in the China Straits, and held a conference with them at Dinner Island. This was "for the purpose of stimulating them as well as ourselves to increased earnestness, effort, and fidelity in the work which lies before us." He considered that such meetings were not unneeded, for white traders were already beginning to follow in the wake of the missionary, and these, by precept as well as by example, were urging the natives to prevent missionaries and teachers from settling amongst them, alleging that they were "no good," and would but rob them of their lands and their food.

In June he set off upon a second inland trip of six weeks’ duration. The route chosen was, for some distance, that traversed on the previous occasion; thereafter it followed a north-easterly course across the Owen Stanley Range, passing through the districts of Moroka, Sogeri, and Favere, striking there the head-waters of the Kemp-Welch River, and following that river to its mouth in Hood Bay. "Many wiseacres shook their heads when they heard of our determination, and a few New Guinea would-be travellers said it was madness, and could not be done." "But," adds Chalmers, "I never once felt the slightest misgiving as to the result."

The object of the tramp was, as usual, a missionary one: a search for suitable stations for missionary teachers.

The party consisted of Tamate, Mr. Beswick, Mr. Neville Chester, Ruatoka, native teacher at Port Moresby, and "Granny," a "true, brave old Motu woman," who had been one of the first to welcome the missionaries to New Guinea. had become in her widowhood Mrs. Lawes’ servant, and had proved herself an invaluable cook and interpreter in expeditions inland or along the coast. "Mile after mile," Mrs. Hunt has told us, "she would trudge unwearyingly, carrying her heavy ‘swag’ containing the pots and pans, always in a good humour, fearless in the extreme, and generally showing herself to be the best traveller of the party.".

The old difficulty as to portage occurred again "We used to envy the holiday travellers in Africa with two hundred or three hundred carriers. We should have explored New Guinea long ago but for the difficulty of carrying." When the mountains were reached, the party bad to face "difficult and, in some places, dangerous travelling. Going round the sides of rocks, with steep descents below, was anything but pleasant." They were "travelling through a terrible country, for hours at a time in streams, or ascending and descending mountain torrents."

When the valley of the Kemp-Welch was reached, trouble was not at an end. "On the right bank, more than fifty miles from the mouth, we made a rough raft, with a platform in the centre, and lashed our swags on the top so as to keep them dry. We were not long on board before we struck a snag, which did not seem to do much harm, and on we went a few more miles, when we found it impossible to guide or steer our unwieldy craft and keep her off snags in a part where the river was swift and deep. At one time it seemed like abandoning everything; but after some desperate efforts we got her away, and were sailing down with the current beautifully, and hoping to be in Kalo the next day. I was standing aft on one of the logs, enjoying the scenery in an afternoon’s sun, when lo! I was under water. Getting to the surface, I saw the raft dismantled a little way down, and its occupants still clinging to it. Those who could swim got round the broken raft and swam her ashore." From another pen we learn that, while Tamate and Mr. Chester soon reached the shore, "Granny "—"although an excellent swimmer— made a very slow progress. When she finally reached the shore, it was found that her progress had been impeded by the pots and pans, which she refused to let go, and which she brought in triumph to the shore." "It was a miserable plight," Tamate continues, "yet laughable. We landed everything, made large fires, and by midnight we went to sleep on the beach rolled in our blankets."

In May 1887 this trip still remained a record one—in respect of its length, at least. Tamate and his friends had attained the farthest inland point that had then been reached by any explorer; more than five hundred miles had been traversed, and more than forty thousand feet had been climbed.

On July 31st news reached Port Moresby that seven of the crew of a Chinese junk had been massacred at Aroma, and Chalmers went off at once to make sure that his teachers in the district had not shared the fate of the victims of this anti-foreign rising.

This satisfactorily accomplished, he proceeded in a row-boat to Manumanu on Redscar Bay, where the first party of native teachers for the mainland of New Guinea had been stationed by. Mr. Murray. It will be remembered that these were withdrawn on account of prevailing sickness and the death of several of the party. The old chief pled for the return of the teachers, but Tamate had to point out that the district was much too unhealthy for the foreigner, although the native seemed to be comparatively immune.

From Manumanu, the Aroa was ascended until the semi-civilised and fertile district of Kabadi was reached, a district comprising twelve villages. The principal chief was found to be "a fine, kindhearted, fatherly fellow." In the course of all his travels in New Guinea, Tamate never experienced so much kindness from natives as he did at Keveo, the head village of Kabadi. He was accommodated in the council-house, a fine large building, strongly built, and beautifully finished. The chief’s wife, "a clean, tidy body, with a terrible temper," superintended the cooking of the travellers’ meals, and proved an adept in the making of savoury dishes, "one, in particular, a pudding fit for any table." Cleanliness would seem to have been a characteristic of the Keveans, for the villages were swept every morning, and the houses were kept in good order. Tamate’s travelling bag—with pins, needles, thread, and scissors — was examined with great interest; but the natives would not look at the case containing barometer, thermometer, and compass; when some attempt was made to explain the uses of these instruments—" Shut it, shut it; put it away, now put it away; we shall all be sick!" they cried. A dog accompanying the party was greatly honoured. Getting to know that she was called Jess, the natives would shout, "Jess! Jess! maino ! maino ! maino!" Tamate was often asked to tell Jess that all Kabadi was maino (peace), and that she must frighten no one. From Keveo, Tamate made an extended inland journey on foot, with one of the chiefs for a guide. Much interesting country was explored; and thick scrub, long deep bogs, and perilous river crossings gave almost unpleasant variety to the routine of travel.

Altogether, Tamate found much in this district to suggest the advisability of an early return with teachers who should instruct the people in the way of truth.

Some weeks later, Tamate returned to Manumanu with the intention of ascending the Edith River and visiting the district of Doura, and thence advancing to the spurs on the western side of Mount Owen Stanley. But his friend, the chief of Manumanu, told him it would be madness to proceed, as the Koitabuans of Lokurukuna, a district on Redscar Bay, had gone up the day before with the object of exacting bloody revenge for the slaughter of several of their people by the Dourans, years before. That very morning several dead bodies of Dourans had floated past on the river, and Tamate judged it wise to defer his visit to Doura until a later date.

In the same year, 1880, starting from Kerepunu in a small rowboat, and accompanied by two native teachers and a Kerepunuan, Tamate pulled up the Hood Lagoon and a creek at the head of it, and then pushed on over the swamps towards the Macgillivray Range. After a climb of a thousand feet, he came upon the people of the Animarupu district, and found them in a miserable, famine-stricken condition, consequent upon a long dry season. The little children were scarcely able to crawl; men and women like skeletons lay about, unable to work; a few of the stronger women were employed in the gullys round about, digging for any kind of roots that they might be fortunate enough to find; many were stretched out in the houses, ill and unable to come out. To make matters worse, the Animarupuans were at enmity with the natives of Aroma, and were unable to venture into the plains in search of food; while those of the adjacent district of Quaipo lost no opportunity of harassing and slaughtering them. Too far from his base, Tamate could not give or promise the supplies of food that he might otherwise have procured for this starving people, but he was able to use his influence with the natives of Quaipo, and a peace was shortly concluded. Soon after his visit, rain fell in abundance, the sugar-cane shot up, and the famine was stayed. The Animarupuans had good cause to remember Tamate’s visit, for not only did he initiate negotiations for peace with Quaipo, but afterwards, when he became friendly with Koapena, chief of Aroma, he begged that his Animarupu friends might be let alone, and amicable intercourse between the two communities followed upon that.

Tamate, by personal investigation, had now familiarised himself with the whole coast-line of southeastern New Guinea, from East Cape to Bald Head; by the several inland tramps, of which we have given some account, he had made himself known to a goodly number of the inland natives; and doubtless his name and fame were known to many who had never seen his face. While he never made a subsequent journey without adding to his friends and to his fund of exact information concerning the Papuans, we may take it that in these first trips he had overcome what was probably the most dangerous and therefore the bravest work he was to undertake within that sphere of influence, and we may be permitted, henceforth, to pay less attention to details in describing the further excursions undertaken by him in prosecution of his arduous work of evangeising this extensive reach of country.

At this point in our narrative, therefore, we would adduce the testimony of a Government official, to the inestimable value of these earlier expeditions, in preparing the natives for the friendly reception of the blessings of civilisation as well as Christianity. "It is impossible," says this witness, "to exaggerate the difficulty of this pioneer work. Some of the communities were Papuan, others degenerate types of Malay and Polynesian origin; all lived in a perpetual state of inter-village warfare, and under a tyranny of superstition. The lack of any definite tribal organisation, and the manner in which the communities were scattered, rendered intercourse with them infinitely difficult. Moreover, in many places the abuses of the labour traffic, and the crimes of lawless traders, had taught the natives to fear the white man as they would the devil. Had Chalmers in his early expeditions shown fear, or engendered mistrust, the whole territory would probably have been closed to any but an armed force. Nor was his work ever really finished, for over and over again the wrongful act of some trader, or the foolish panic of some native teacher, would convert peaceful villages into centres of hostility, and the whole work of restoring confidence would have to be taken in hand again."


Return to Book Contents Page