THE early months of
1891 were occupied in the work of his
district, and Tamate was gratified to observe a gradual change coming over
the people. "They are not cowed, and do not give the appearance of being
so, but they are changed." Walking from Motumotu to Oiapu, for instance,
he was accompanied by a crowd of natives, all armed, and presenting a
formidable appearance; "but during the days we were together there was no
robbing of plantations, and never an ill word was said in any of the
villages we passed through. At our last open-air service at Oiapu—I was
going to Maiva in a canoe, they were going to Mekeo—I begged of them to
behave themselves, and said I hoped on my return to hear that they had
done so. Several spoke, saying that things were altogether changed, that
they had come along from Motumotu, and there was no robbing, and they
would continue so, and I am glad to say they did." "Don’t misunderstand
me," he adds, " they are not Christians, converts, nor catechumens."
In July Tamate left New Guinea on a
short visit to Queensland, and once more experienced the perils and
hardships of shipwreck. On the 24th the Harrier struck on a reef
off Cape Bedford, after nine o’clock at night. "She bumped fearfully, and,
a heavy sea running, she got fairly fast."
When it was evident that there was
no hope of saving the vessel, passengers and crew took to the boats. They
were about twenty-two miles from Cooktown, and were only saved from having
to row the whole way thither in open boats by being picked up by a passing
Tamate spent his fiftieth birthday
in Cooktown. "I am fifty to-day," he wrote, "and I honestly say I could
wish to take twenty-five off, and begin again the same work. My one desire
now is, stronger than in youth, to serve Him wherever He commands. Guess I
am older, but really not getting older. I love life as much, as ever;
steady work, rough work, pioneering or settled, a prank, a joke, a feast,
or famine, all comes well as of old. When with these young fellows at
Kerepunu and Port (Moresby), I was young as they were, and cannot think I
should tuck my mantle of age around me; guess I should get rid of it."
At Cooktown, too, Tamate
for-gathered with Dr. Bellyse Baildon, from whose pen we have a sketch of
the man and of the return to New Guinea.
"In shirt-sleeves rolled back. over
the elbow and pith helmet on his head, or bareheaded, with his dark
leonine locks setting off his noble face like a natural casque, he
looked—what he was— a born leader of men. I can never forget a riding
expedition we had, mostly a reckless gallop, when he headed us with the
(unconscious) air of a Commander-in-chief. For this bearer of the gospel
of peace was nothing if not a born fighter. To see the man in civilised
drawing-rooms was to see Samson shorn of his locks. He always looked out
of scale there, like a whale in a tank. He had just come from one of his
many hair-breadth escapes,—the total wreck of the mission vessel, the
Harrier,—but adventure and danger were the breath of the man’s
nostrils. A few hours before we cleared for Port Moresby, all Cooktown
said we should never leave that day. Our crew was known to be drinking
itself drunk in the grog-shops of Cooktown. But Tamate meant to go by that
tide, and go we did; the crew tumbling aboard as best they could, with
sufficient dregs of sobriety among them to get up sail and clear the
difficult harbour, and cast anchor outside before nightfall. One could not
help thinking of Ulysses and the swine of Circe.
"Once on the unruly sea, Tamate
seemed again to dilate, and he personated for us, in the little ship of
sixty-eight tons, a Vasco de Gama, a Cortez, or one of our own ‘Sea Dogs,’
Raleigh, or Drake going to singe King Philip’s beard. What a grand
buccaneer he would have made! Then in the hour of apparent danger, when we
were running over the reef and might have struck at any moment, what
absolute fearlessness, and yet what wise, almost tender, consideration for
those about him.
"Then what a reception at Port
Moresby, where he had been rumoured dead; how the canoes with the
stark-nude paddlers swarmed round the ship. It was like the return of a
king to his kingdom.
"And in still worse danger, when the
men of Movi-Avi (Moveave) swarmed about us, weapons in hand—a deadly
sign—he stood, in Tennyson’s fine image, ‘like a rock in the wave of a
stormy day.’ But four months before, only his eagle eye taking in the
situation at a glance, and his swift wresting of the club from the hands
of a chief, saved his wife and the whole party from instant massacre."
Of this trip to Queensland, Mrs.
Chalmers wrote at the time—"Tamate’s six weeks’ absence was a trying time
in all ways. You see he was only here a few days after our return, not
long enough to make his influence felt. How thankful I was to see him back
you cannot imagine, and what a tale of trial and danger he had to tell me.
In the public reports he makes little of it, but to me he has told all,
and I can only forget all the worries and hardships here, and be thankful
that our Father in His great love spared life, and sent my dear husband
back in safety. We expected him home in three weeks at the most, and what
the three extra weeks’ waiting was, without any news, and with the new
teachers all down with fever— one, as we thought, dying—is more than I can
"Ten years ago," Tamate wrote in September 1892, "when
little was known of the people west of Manumanu in Redscar Bay, I hoped,
if God spared my life, to introduce the gospel to all the districts as far
as Orokolo, and thought that the work might occupy a fair lifetime. We got
to Orokolo in January 1892, and now my desire has enlarged, and I hope yet
to carry the gospel to the Fly River, and to the westward. The plan I have
always adopted is to visit frequently, get thoroughly known by living with
the people, and, through interpreters, tell them the story of divine love,
and so prepare the way for teachers living with them. I place no teacher
where I have not first lived myself, and where I should be unwilling to
The foregoing words were penned by Tamate on his return
from an adventurous journey in the swampy district of Namau, where the
inhabitants were all cannibals or skull-hunters, and where no white man
had ever been seen before. The trip was accomplished in part in a
whale-boat and, for the rest, in native canoes. The sea risks were, as
usual, not inconsiderable, while the dangerous nature of the people
visited may be gathered from the fact that Tamate’s boatmen were over and
over again reduced to a condition of terror. "The flotilla opened, and we
passed out, my boys devoutly hoping I had made up my mind to return home.
On learning I had not, and that I meant to go right on, some got ill,
others glum, and one poor wretch simply sat down and cried. I suppose they
knew their own savage nature better than I did, and were frightened
In this cannibal land the question of provisioning,
too, was a somewhat complicated one. "The chief was away from home, but
the wife in charge had quantities of food cooked and sent to us; but not
one of my boys would touch it, saying it might have been cooked in pots
used for cooking human flesh, or prepared by hands unwashed since last
they rubbed themselves over with the juice from the dead bodies about. No
use arguing, eat they would not; and I confess I could not lead off, and
so give them an example."
This Namau expedition was full of incident, dangerous,
pathetic, or humorous, but it was entirely successful. Acquaintance was
made, for the first time, with several chiefs in this wild district, and
promise of an early return had been sought on every hand. It might be said
that Tamate was sustained by the sense of exultation. "Sleep! All chance
of it had gone. The present and future are with me. The gospel is being
preached all through Namau, and I saw the end of killing and cannibalism,
and another people won to Christ. My interpreter and Ipai were busy also,
the one asking questions and the other answering, with smokes.
Cock-crowing is near and I must sleep; so I get two hours or thereabouts.
By daylight I am up, quite refreshed, ready for a hard day."
Returning to Motumotu, Tamate rejoiced over the baptism
of eight natives at Toaripi, regretting only that there were no
women—"until the women are got for Christ, we cannot expect any real
living Church." In June of the same year he had secured a very fine tract
of country at Jokea and Oiapu, and he had projected the formation of a
college for the training of New Guineans for the work of teaching. He felt
that he still required an adequate supply of native teachers if he was to
continue to break ground towards the west. He was anxious, too, to secure
New Guineans, for these seemed to be able to live, and even thrive, in
localities in which the swamps reeked with malaria, a malaria that induced
dangerous if not deadly fever.
In the beginning of 1893, Tamate received timely aid in
the provision of a steam - launch— christened Miro (Peace)—to
enable him to overtake his visitation, with greater speed, with less
regard to weather conditions, and with a slight increase of comfort, if
whale-boats or native canoes may be said to have provided anything that
can be called comfort.
Tamate was at Thursday Island when the Miro
arrived on 5th January. "She came in through a real tropical downpour,
which, however, did not deter Mr. Chalmers from going on board at once. He
was at Thursday Island awaiting her arrival, and is delighted with her
general fitness for the work she has to do."
Anxious to prove the utility of his new boat, Tamate
set off on 12th January, visited the stations on the various islands in
Torres Straits, and then, after touching at Saguane, at the mouth of the
Fly River, crossed to Orokolo. Although the Miro met with " dirty
weather" in crossing the Gulf, she "did splendidly, taking very little
water on board." From Orokolo he journeyed eastwards, visiting station
after station in turn, until he reached Port Moresby on 23rd February.
This was the extreme limit of his district, and he immediately returned
along the coast until he arrived at his head-quarters at Motumotu. At
Jokea he was delighted to find that much progress had been made with the
construction of the new settlement. "A fine large bungalow and six
cottages were finished, and plantations connected with each cottage
cleared and planted."
At some stations Tamate found occasion to reprove the
teachers, at others he was called upon to examine catechumens, and
rejoiced to baptize a goodly number in the aggregate. This time he found a
number of women among the candidates for admission to the church. At
Motumotu he had "a great day," baptizing four men and one woman—the first
woman in the whole Elerna district. "She said to me the night before, when
leaving with her husband, ‘Tamate, I do love Jesus, and I do want always
to love Him.’"
There is little wonder that Tam-ate had a serious
illness after all this exposure and work at high pressure, and in his
sickness he missed the tender care of Mrs. Chalmers, whose health had
become so unsatisfactory that it had been deemed necessary to send her
back to Great Britain for a season.
We may mark time at this point by quoting from a
despatch by the Governor of New Guinea, addressed to the Colonial Office
about the date at which we have now arrived.
"Without expressing an opinion as to any inward change
produced by the mission on the members of this large tribe (at Kanaheri),
I have no hesitation in saying that their outward manner and conduct have
been much modified in the right direction by the labours of the Rev. James
Chalmers and his South Sea Islands teachers. We were kindly and
courteously received by these people, and I had every reason to be well
satisfied with them in all respects."
The time was approaching at which Tamate was entitled
to another furlough, when he intended to join Mrs. Chalmers in England. He
felt, however, that he could not return to Great Britain without visiting
the Fly River itself, and making some effort to open up friendly relations
with the savage tribes inhabiting the country through which it flowed.
Tamate was by no means the first to ascend the river.
In the course of the twenty years immediately preceding his visit, no
fewer than four expeditions had ascended the Fly River to a considerable
distance, but in every case the explorers had found the natives to be of a
hostile disposition, and had made no attempt to secure their friendship or
to explore either bank. As Tamate once said— " Steaming up a river and
steaming back is most unsatisfactory exploration, and all that is seen
from the deck of a vessel is not worth recording." It was left to him,
after all, to obtain the earliest reliable information in regard to the
immense and fertile region drained by the Fly and its tributaries.
The prospecting expedition was made in the Miro, and
Tamate was accompanied by a native teacher and two interpreters. At a very
short distance up stream he was able to land at a village where the people
"had never before seen white men, except at rifle range, and now they saw
and touched." "The noise and shouting was great, and to an excitable and
imaginative person it might have appeared that the hour of our doom had
come. We were, as always, unarmed, having only a walking-stick, which is
useful in going over native bridges and for long walks. Some of the men
were very evil-looking, and the women, who were gathered in the houses—the
few we, saw—were not at all prepossessing. A few of the men had been to
Sumai, and had obtained, in exchange for yams, taro, bows and arrows, old
filthy shirts, and they certainly looked fearful guys." After a short
service had been held, "there were some very suspicious movements—groups
consulting, men going to the houses, and a noise of arrows being handled,"
and Tam-ate deemed it wise to return to the Miro.
At the next stopping-place, "we soon had over one
hundred and fifty canoes around us, and on an average four men in each
canoe, and all shouting at their loudest. We could not keep them from
crowding on board, and at one time it was very uncomfortable, and they
seemed as if they meant to be unpleasant." But friends were made here and
at other places, and it was found that Tamate’s "fire canoe" was "peace
canoe," and that he himself was anxious to show himself friendly, and to
tell them that " the Great Spirit is love and loves them." In this
preliminary trip a short run sufficed, and the missionary returned to the
coast and shortly left for Great Britain, arriving there on 3rd July 1894.
Revisiting his native Inveraray, Tamate was received
with great enthusiasm, and this ancient and royal burgh was honoured in
conferring its freedom upon its lionhearted son. Wherever he went,
throughout the country, he won the hearts of those who were privileged to
hear him, and it has been claimed that no missionary of the nineteenth
century "made a deeper impress on the minds and hearts of the young pepple
of our churches and Sunday-schools."
Dr. Joseph Parker recalls an occasion on which Tamate
gave a missionary address in the City Temple; "I remember well," he says,
"one sentence that was spoken. He was in a great heat; the spiritual
fervour was contagious, the whole town seemed to be in a sacred
inflammation of the soul; said he, ‘Do let us have some backbone in our
Christianity.’ It is the last word of his that I remember. It is a word
that should be written all over the Christian Church."
We do not find that Tamate had so much to tell in 1894
of actual pioneering work, and—beyond a short speech at the Royal
Geographical Society, on an evening when Sir William MacGregor, Governor
of British New Guinea, was relating his experiences—he did not make any
contribution to the programmes of the Geographical Society or of the
Colonial institute. By this time, greatly to his satisfaction, New Guinea
had become the object of much patient scientific exploration and
investigation; it held the fortunate position of a British Crown Colony,
with an administrator of the best type; and his Society and the churches
had listened to his appeals for men and means, with the result that the
reports of at least six missionaries were now making known the claims of
But the interest aroused by the personality and
missionary appeals of Tamate, reawakened curiosity and interest in regard
to the work in which he had spent the best part of his life, and, as his
two previous volumes had gone out of print, he was constrained to
republish selections from them under the title Pioneer Life and Work in
New Guinea. There is little in this book that is not contained in the
two previous volumes, and it suffers, like them, from a lack of "editing,"
but the reader is rewarded in the glimpses it gives, at firsthand, of the
great missionary’s perilous and devoted service.
On 13th November 1895 Tamate sailed again for New