Chalmers of New Guinea
WITH some effort at chronological sequence, we have now traced the life-history of James Chalmers, from the day of his birth in an Argylishire cottage, in 1841, to that on which he laid down his life for the gospel of peace in far New Guinea, sixty years later. Notwithstanding the rapidity of the sketch, we believe that the reader will have formed already an approximate estimate of the work accomplished by Tam-ate, as well as a more or less distinct conception of the man himself—his appearance, his personality, his faith. It may be permitted to us, however, to devote a concluding chapter to a short summary of the results attained . by Tamate’s life of strenuous service, and to an attempt to fill in lines that may help to complete our portrait.
The splendid results of Tamate’s life-work may be classed broadly as scientific, imperial, and missionary. In the first instance, he added to the world’s exact knowledge of the Papuan land and the Papuan race—if he did not actually lay the foundation of that knowledge. In the second, he contributed, to an inestimable degree, towards the beginnings of friendly intercourse between the civilised world and the savages of New Guinea, and the institution of inter-tribal relations. These made the annexation of the island a comparatively easy matter, and, an equal boon to the Imperial Government and to the natives. In the third instance, his pioneer journeys opened up a coast-line of nearly one thousand miles, vast inland territories, and many scattered islands, and that for the express purpose—satisfactorily accomplished in many cases—of introducing the gospel of peace and the message of the love of God, and driving out the cruel and bloodthirsty terrorism of heathen ignorance and superstition.
Perusal of the narrative contained in the foregoing pages will have given the reader an acquaintance—sufficient for the purposes of the present sketch—with the general features of the geographical discoveries with which the name of James Chalmers will ever be associated, as well as with the great variety of peoples and tribes whom he was the first to locate and classify.
No small part of Tamate’s task was his pioneering work in the matter of languages. As early as 1885, after barely eight years in New Guinea, he was able to tell the Royal Colonial Institute that no fewer than eight distinct languages had been discovered by Mr. Lawes and himself, and that these had been found to comprehend many dialects. All the great continental scholars received with astonishment the communications which Tamate and his colleague were able to send home. In 1888 there was published a philological pamphlet of great practical value, entitled British New Guinea Vocabularies. This contained vocabularies of nine languages, spoken by tribes dwelling between Yule Island and the Aird River, and was compiled by Chalmers. Again, in 1897, he made a further contribution to exact philology in the communication of vocabularies of the Bugilai and Tagota dialects to the Proceedings of the Anthropological Institute. These vocabularies were after reprinted in pamphlet form. In the same year, too, he contributed to the Anthropological Institute important papers on "Toaripi" and "Anthropometrical Observations on some Natives of the Papuan Gulf."
Over and above making his own additions to the data of the sciences of geography, ethnology, and philology, Tamate was ever ready to assist scientific explorers, by his hospitality, by his advice, and by placing boats and other vessels at their disposal. We have seen how disappointed he was on hearing of the failure of the Age expedition. Mr. H. O. Forbes, Dr. A. C. Haddon, and others have placed on record their appreciation of his invaluable and ungrudging help. In point of fact, he welcomed to New Guinea all explorers whose mission was serious. "High mountains, dense bush, weary fetid swamps, hostile natives may lie in the way, yet to every traveller I say, Go on; your little adds to the muckle, and by and by the doors will be thrown open, and future travellers, entering by the doors you have opened, will laugh at your troubles, your narrow escapes, your difficulties; and will marvel at what they will suppose to be your highly-coloured narratives of danger."
Tamate’s researches were recognised by the Geographical Society of Germany, by numerous Australasian scientific bodies, and by the Royal Geographical Society, which presented its diploma, an honour held also by Dr. Living-stone.
We have already said that Tamate’s achievements in the interests of Empire—and of civilisation, we might add; but for his expressed dissatisfaction with the term—consisted in his having laid the foundations of a friendly understanding between many savage tribes formerly the victims of unceasing internecine warfare, and between the Papuans and the white races; as well as in his having given direct assistance to the officers of the Crown in the act of annexation, and in the initiatory stages of the establishment of British rule, law, and order. In the course of our narrative we have noted various occasions on which the beneficent results of peace were secured by his intervention. Treaties of peace were concluded at his instigation, with such frequency that a change was gradually effected in the habits of the people.
In his paper on "Toaripi," above referred to, Tamate told the Anthropological Society of a pedestrian expedition in which he had been accompanied by a friendly crowd of two hundred natives. "Between Jokea and Oiapu the sun was very hot and the sand very heavy, and we had several rests and smokes. At one of these rests, about midday, sitting beside me were a number of men from fifty to sixty years old, and they were comparing the present with the past. Thinking I was asleep they roused me, and said something to the following effect: ‘How different this journey is to all others, as formerly we simply robbed every cocoa-nut grove and yam plantation as we came along, and what we did not use we destroyed. But on this journey we have not even taken cocoa-nuts sufficient to assuage our thirst.’ They went to Mekeo, and returned home, and, I believe, had not a single difficulty in the whole journey, and did not commit any robbery. Such is the effect of mission work amongst them, although they are by no means Christians."
On the question of ‘Tamate’s services in securing peaceful intercourse between Papuans and white men, we may quote the testimony of Mr. Seymour Fort: "New Guinea is an unknown tropical corner of our Empire, and, from a commercial point of view, of comparatively little value; but the pioneer work done by James Chalmers in opening up communications with the natives, and thus rendering European exploitation possible, was emphatically imperial in character. As an explorer and pioneer, his name should stand high in the annals of our imperial history."
But, after all, missionary results were the true objective towards which Tamate worked, and his achievements for science and for the Empire were merely ancillary to these. He sought to know the land, that he, and others following him, might the more easily get at the people; he sought to know the people, that he might understand them and become their recognised friend, thereby finding opportunity to commend the gospel of peace to them; he worked for imperial ends because he believed that the Crown would protect the native from the unscrupulous trader and from the harpies who conducted the Kanaka labour traffic, both classes of men whose depredations had engendered a deep - rooted hatred of the white man, and made the people almost inaccessible to the preacher of the gospel of peace.
Passing over the missionary results of the probationary years in Rarotonga, we have now to estimate the work accomplished in New Guinea. Here we cannot have more authentic testimony than that of Dr. Lawes, who shared the burden of the early years with Tamate, and still holds the field at Port Moresby.
Dr. Lawes has told us that, of the one hundred and thirty stations now comprising the New Guinea Mission, nearly all owed their initiation to Tamate. What he secured, Dr. Lawes helped to retain; and, with acknowledgment of the valued assistance contributed by those who have joined the staff undress, and clothe ourselves in bathing costume; - a great shout; the enthusiasm and excitement reaches its height; the missionaries are bathing! What? missionaries ducking them, racing with them, diving with them, swimming under water with them! What next? A missionary dives some distance out, crawls along the bottom, catches hold of a pair of heels, and over the owner goes, alas! to be nearly drowned. Never mind who the owner was, or who the missionary was; but, in years to come, that bathing will be remembered."
With men, as with children, Tamate was ever ready to share in the joyous side of life’s intercourse. "A man-of-war sometimes came, and, whether it was in the captain’s cabin or in the wardroom of the officers, he was the popular man. I have seen on the Wolverene the Commodore of the Australian Fleet and Tamate dancing together a Highland fling. He was always the same, the most jovial and most merry in a group, but the truest, simplest, and most loving of men. . . . He threw himself into all innocent pleasures. You should have heard him describe his ride through London in a hansom cab, one of his delights." Here, again, we have the unimpeachable testimony of Dr. Lawes.
Possessed of a rich emotional nature, and no mean degree of magnetic power, Tamate was a hero to all who made his acquaintance, young or old.
But there was sterner stuff in the man’s personality as well. His noble courage was probably the attribute which first attracted the admiration of the savage. Moving with frank fearlessness among armed and menacing natives, he gained their respect, and on their respect he founded an influence that won the admiration of all who had the opportunity of witnessing its reality and its effect. His courage, too, never seemed to fail him when the slow strain of adverse circumstances would have broken many a seemingly strong man.
To courage, Tamate added a simple modesty that helped to preserve the self-respect of many smaller men with whom he was brought into contact. Towards fame, as fame, he was absolutely indifferent. His fine unselfishness was allied with his modesty. "Though he had been a smoker from his youth, whenever he was in houses where smoking was not approved, he could put his pipe away, and one would never imagine he was giving up anything." The smoker will best appreciate the force of our illustration.
But, as Mr. Fort has remarked, Tamate’s dominant characteristic was a large human sympathy for all sorts and conditions of men. We have seen how he managed to evoke all that was best in "Bully" Hayes, and other such rascals; how he was hail-fellow-well-met with sailors, diplomats, scientists, and other men, in all ranks of life; how he recognised the finer qualities of manhood in naked, painted, and cannibal savages, men of other races than his own; giving expression, in actual fact, to the hopeful desire—
"That man to man, the warld o’er,
In the external relations of the religious life, Tamate’s attitude was characterised by a large tolerance. Although he complained of the parasitic action of the Roman Catholics, who—seeking to reap where they had not sowed, and to gather where they had not strawed—settled in territories which he and his colleagues had opened up for the London Missionary Society, he was prepared to testify that they were "doing a grand work." "I can safely say for the missionaries of the London Missionary Society that we shall not be a party to the introduction of bigotry; for, I care not whether in Great Britain or New Guinea, it is odious; and where I can assist them (the Roman Catholic missionaries), or they can be of assistance to me, I shall give and accept." With a large faith in the inherent vitality of Christian truth, Tamate could say, with Paul, "Whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice."
After all, and above all, the driving power, that gave force and direction and persistence and success in Tamate’s personality and life, lay in his spirituality. The jots and tittles of the law, over which creeds differ and churches divide, were infinitesimal in his sight, if they were visible to him at all. His heart was filled with joy in believing himself one for whom Christ, in unsurpassable love, had died; and he burned to carry the glorious tidings of God’s love to the uttermost parts of the earth, in confident assurance that he was a missionary with a mission of peace and love, a mission laid upon him by God Himself. Yes, a missionary to all eternity. "There will be much visiting in heaven, and much work," he wrote to an old fellow-worker, in one of the last letters he ever penned. "I guess I shall have good mission work to do; great, brave work for Christ. He will have to find it, for I can be nothing else than a missionary."