Chalmers of New Guinea
WHEN Mr. and Mrs. Chalmers landed in Rarotonga on 20th May 1867, the island was not looking quite at its best. Two successive hurricanes, of phenomenal violence, had swept it from shore to shore in March 1866 and again in March 1867, wrecking houses and uprooting trees and plantations. But when allowance had been made for the devastation, they found that their future sphere of work was indeed one of the finest of the many coral islands of the Pacific. Vegetation of all descriptions grew everywhere with tropical profusion; while the hill country which formed the interior of the island afforded a picturesque background to the belt of fertile land upon the foreshore, and sheltered numerous valleys, idyllic in their sweet seclusion, and gently reminiscent of the glens of their native country.
Although, as we have seen, the Rarotongans had been a professedly Christian people for half a century, there was still abundant scope for the activities of the missionary. Civilisation had advanced to a certain point, but social evils cried for the guiding hand of a wise reformer. The men of the younger generation had no personal acquaintance with the horrors of the old heathen days; the blood of savages coursed in their veins, and hereditary instincts had led many of them to resent the restraints Imposed upon them, and to choose by preference a vagrom life in the bush. The code of laws instituted by. John Williams still existed, but the chiefs were disposed to disregard its limitations, and the law was fast threatening to become a dead letter. The following incident will serve as an illustration.
A native had been killed by a blow delivered by one of his companions in a drunken orgie. "On the afternoon of the day of the death," Chalmers wrote, "I received a note from the chief of the settlement to which the prisoner belonged, and where he was confined, to the following effect: ‘My missionary, on Monday come to the meeting of the whole land. Maroiva (the prisoner) will be hanged.’ On receiving such a note, I lost no time in having my horse saddled, and away at a quick trot to see the chief. I insisted on the man being publicly charged with intent to murder, and having a fair trial, and charged those who were indifferent to the administration of the laws against drunkenness as being partly to blame for. the man’s death.... I went to the trial. Witnesses were examined, and I must say I think the man had a fair trial. He was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment, which was afterwards changed to transportation."
In addition to the social evils referred to, drunkenness was a conspicuously prevalent vice; and, as we shall have occasion to notice farther on, a bad system of extended financial credit kept a large proportion of the population in a constant state of debt.
The prevailing condition of laxity in the moral life of the people could not but have its reflex influence upon the spirituality of the church members. Here, again, the younger generation showed the greater indifference; enjoying the advantages which Christianity had brought in its train, without having any very definite conception of the evil natures they had inherited, and of the struggle that is the life-portion of those who would overcome temptation and abstain from sin. Impurity and strong drink claimed their victims, and applicants for admission to church membership were few and far between.
Owing to the loss of all their worldly goods and their whole equipment in the wreck of the John Williams II. the young missionaries were glad to compound with Mr. Krause for the purchase of his furniture, and they settled down without delay in the mission house, which had fortunately been able to withstand the violence of the hurricane. "Oh, how glad we feel to be at last in our home and at our work," Mrs. Chalmers wrote; "the weariness, tedious delays, and accidents of the journey are all as a dream of the past in the home bliss."
Before Mr. Krause left for home he was able to take part in a most important "Committee meeting" of all the missionaries in the Hervey Islands. Many matters of the deepest interest to the churches and in regard to the work of the mission were discussed; and doubtless Mr. and Mrs. Chalmers benefited by this opportunity to acquaint themselves with the general position, as well as to avail themselves of the experience of those who had been much longer in the field.
At first they felt their isolation keenly. From the date at which they bade farewell to Mr. Krause and their missionary colleagues, they saw but one Christian of their own race until, nearly two years later, the John Williams III. made her first call on 17th June 1869. Thereafter they were at least kept in closer touch with their colleagues stationed upon the adjoining islands of the Hervey Group. They missed in their first years, too, the little library which they had brought with them from home and had lost with their other effects when the John Williams II. went down. But they ultimately found ample solace in their work.
It is impossible to attempt here anything like a chronological account of the schemes and operations, successes and failures, which make up the story of the ten years spent by Tamate at Rarotonga; but some account of his experiences is necessary to our appreciation of the development of talents and resources called forth during this first epoch of his life as a foreign missionary.
The chief burden of work laid upon Chalmers was that in connection with the Institution for the training of native teachers, established by John Williams in 1839. At the outset he had to face the task of converting the fiscal arrangements of the Institution from an aided basis to a self-supporting one. The Mission College in Samoa had already accomplished this, and the Directors of the Society had commissioned Chalmers to endeavour to effect the change at Rarotonga. The students were now to be fed and clothed at their own expense. Land was cleared and planted, and crops were raised. These supplied the necessary food and the wherewithal to purchase clothing and other necessaries of life. In a year or two the revolution was accomplished, but not without a severe and self-denying struggle on the part of the missionary and his wife.
In 1870 Chalmers was able to report of his students as follows:—"They are making progress in their studies, and I believe those at present in the Institution know more than any former students, arising from their having time for preparation. They are required to prepare for all the classes. They are good earnest men and women; not, I hope, mere moral characters, but men and women who know what faith in Christ the Crucified One means. Men and women who, having tasted of the water of life—who, experiencing the joy of believing, and the salvation of the soul— are anxious that others, especially those shrouded in heathen darkness, should be partakers of like blessings. They are anxious to carry the light of truth to dark lands. And although we may tremble to think that real and new advance on the kingdom of darkness is always attended with suffering, they, knowing it, are also anxious to go. The Father will baptize them for the hour of suffering."
From a report made to the Directors of the London Missionary Society in December 1874, we get a further glimpse of the Institution at Rarotonga, this time seeing the students in the routine. of training.
"The students plant their own food on the land belonging to the Society; and having also the use of one or two valleys of plantains from Makea, the head chief, they are well off for food.
"In class we teach arithmetic, geography, and grammar. We have Bible instruction daily; we also go over part of a theological lecture of Dr. Bogue’s. Dr. Bogue’s lectures were translated into Rarotongan by Mr. Buzacott. We have sermon-class twice a week, Tuesday and Friday. The students preach in turn on these days, and are criticised by the others. They also give me two sketches of sermons in the week, on texts given them. We have finished a commentary on the Prophets, from Jeremiah to Malachi, and another on the Epistles, from Galatians to the third chapter of the Apocalypse. We have also written a commentary on the Psalms, to the ninety-third. We have read in class, with explanations, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Leviticus was taken in connection with the Epistle to the Hebrews. We are now busy with our annual written examinations,—four hours, three days a week. In the beginning of 1875 we hope to go on with Ancient and Church History in addition to other classes. The senior students preach in turn on Wednesday mornings and Sabbath afternoons. The sketches of these sermons are first submitted to me, when suggestions are made to help, or the sketch may be set aside.
"We have no classes on Wednesdays. The students attend to their lands on that day, and I go to the mountains, or to one of the other settlements. A prayer-meeting on the mountain-top is refreshing. Soul and body get good on this day.
"The students are from this island, as well as the other islands of the Hervey Group and our out-stations. We all live in a brotherly manner, helping each other as best we can."
In July 1875 Chalmers was able to send the gratifying intelligence that the Institution had attained its complement—thirty-one students. Of these, twenty-eight were married men. In a later chapter we shall have to take further notice of these native teachers and their wives. But it may be noted here that these wives have often been as devoted missionaries as have their husbands. They, too, had their training, for Mrs. Chalmers employed three hours daily in conducting classes for their education in elementary knowledge and housewifely arts and crafts.
If Chalmers had not been an exact student in his own college days, he had certainly imbibed a profound respect for education, and had familiarised himself with the organisation of an educational institution. Conceiving the idea of what may be called a secondary education for native boys, he formed a High School, to which were drafted the more promising pupils in the village schools. In 1874 he was able to report an attendance of twenty-two boys, all making good progress. "They are taught reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and grammar. Twice a week they write out on their slates answers to questions on two chapters of the Bible. We have adopted the system of prizes with the boys, and we find it works well. The boy most frequently at the head of the class gets a prize of a shirt or pair of trousers." In 1875 there were twenty-eight boys in the school, and in 1876 fifty-nine. Of the fifty-nine, forty-nine were resident on the mission premises, and their oversight and daily wants must have added considerably to the burden already borne by Mr. and Mrs. Chalmers.
To complete the tale of educational work, we may record that Chalmers kept an eye upon the teaching in the village schools, and on the competitive examinations by which the results of that teaching were tested.
The mission possessed a valuable agency in its printing-press, and it was another of Chalmers’s duties to superintend its operations. An estimate of its output may be formed from his report for the year 1874. "During the year we have printed a reading-book and another edition of the geography; also a few small books, including a primer."
To give an idea of the varied routine of work which constituted the daily opportunity and the daily discipline during the years on Rarotonga, we may quote the following passage from Mr. Robson’s early biographical sketch of the missionary:— "Mr. Chalmers attended the
morning prayer-meeting in the church at daybreak—i.e. from half-past . five to six o’clock. Then breakfast between half-past six and seven, according to season. Immediately after, prayers were said in English, and then medicine was dispensed until eight o’clock. From eight to ten Mr. and Mrs. Chalmers had students and their wives in classes. Then Mrs. Chalmers was busy with household matters, and the missionary with his students, teaching them to build houses and make furniture, or in his study, until twelve, when dinner was served. After that a rest or little recreation until two, when they bathed and put on clean clothes. Mr. Chalmers went to superintend the printing-office until four o’clock tea. Then they went out to visit the sick, look up church members and others, also to inspect the students’ houses and see to any outdoor matters. At six the lamps were lighted, and there were prayers with servants in Rarotongan, after which prayers in English, then they would go to the study and prepare for further work until nine o’clock. By ten all had retired to rest."