Mr. and Mrs. Chalmers left Sydney on 20th
September 1877 and arrived at Somerset on the 30th. On 2nd October they
left Somerset, on board the Bertha, and, after visiting Darnley
Island and Murray Island, reached Yule Island on the 19th, and on the 21st
landed on the mainland of New Guinea at Boera, for Port Moresby, then the
most westerly of the stations on New Guinea proper. There they received
the hospitable welcome of Mr. and Mrs. Lawes, whose acquaintance they had
made ten years before, Mr. Lawes having been stationed at Niué at the time
of the wreck of the John Williams II.
Chalmers lost no time in getting into harness. Although
Port Moresby was not his ultimate destination—he having been commissioned
by the Directors of the Society to found a new branch of the mission
farther east—he set out at once with Mr. M’Farlane upon a short inland
trip of twenty-five or thirty miles into the hinterland of Port Moresby,
with a view to ascertaining whether a healthy situation could be found for
a station that would minister more directly to the needs of the inland
tribes. This excursion did not extend beyond three or four days, but it
afforded an opportunity to come into direct touch with naked savages to
whom a white man was more of an apparition than a fellow-creature. The
object of this tramp was not considered practicable. "The very mountainous
character of the country, and the sparse population scattered on the tops
of hills and mountains, many of the houses being built in the forks of
trees, convinced us that on the peninsula, as in the Papuan Gulf, the
population is mostly on the coast, where the large and numerous villages
have the stronger claims." Thus, Mr. M’Farlane.
A few days later, accompanied by Mr. Lawes and Mr.
M’Farlane, Chalmers set out upon a coasting trip towards the east, with a
view to visiting the existing stations, and prospecting for a suitable
locality for the new central station of which he was to make a working
base. Along the coast, as far at least as Kerepunu, the name of "Misi Lao"
was known to the natives, but when Tamate took a walk of nine miles inland
from Kaili he and his friends were the first white men ever seen by the
inhabitants of the village visited by them. Mr. Lawes was left at Kerepunu,
and the rest of the party sailed for Teste Island. This was found to be
about twenty miles from the mainland, and the idea of establishing the
projected station upon it was abandoned, Chalmers desiring "a position
more accessible to New Guinea."
The characteristics which differentiate the explorer
from the ordinary missionary were most marked in Tamate. He was not
content merely to proclaim his message to those who would listen. Each new
step supplied him with data from which he, and those who should follow
him, might arrive at an accurate and intimate knowledge of native life;
and no detail of the habits of the peoples he visited, of their social
customs, or of their physical environment, was considered unimportant. In
consequence, his journals teem with firsthand observations that have
contributed greatly to the sum of useful information in regard to the
geography, ethnography, and anthropology of the great dark land of New
Guinea. Here is one of his earliest memoranda of this nature. "I think
women are more respected here than they are in some other heathen lands.
They seem to keep fast hold of their own possessions. A man stole an
ornament belonging to his wife, and sold it for hoop-iron on board the
Bertha. When he went ashore, he was met on the beach by his spouse,
who had in the meantime missed her trinket; she assailed him with tongue,
stick, and stone, and demanded the hoop-iron." This incident occurred at
Moresby Island was next visited, but it, in turn, was
rejected as unsuitable for a central station. East Cape and Killerton
Island marked the eastern limit of this prospecting cruise. A return was
made to Moresby Island, and thence the Bertha carried the party to
South Cape. A landing was made on Suau or Stacey Island, off the Cape.
"About nine we went ashore near the anchorage. I
crossed the island to the village, but did not feel satisfied as to the
position. One of our guides to the village wore, as an armlet, the jawbone
of a man from the mainland he had killed and eaten; others strutted about
with human bones dangling from their hair and about their necks. It is
only the village Tepauri on the mainland with which they are unfriendly.
We returned to the boat and sailed along the coast. On turning a cape we
came to a pretty village on a well-wooded point. The people were friendly,
and led us to see the water, of which there is a good supply. This is the
spot for which we have been in search as a station for beginning work. We
can go anywhere from here, and are surrounded by villages. The mainland is
not more than a gunshot across. God has led us."
Besides its central and otherwise desirable position,
Suau possessed the additional attraction of being a place at which the
language of the people most nearly approximated that of the Teste
Islanders. A sailor had gathered a vocabulary of four hundred words of the
Teste Island language, and this was in the hands of the missionaries. It
was tried at East Cape without success, and to the natives there the
vocabularies of the Port Moresby natives and the Murray Islanders were
equally unintelligible. But, as we have said, at Suau the Teste Island
vocabulary proved a useful basis for intercourse.
The Rarotongan teachers who accompanied Tamate, their
wives and their goods, were at once landed. A spot for the mission house
was selected, and missionaries, teachers, and sailors from the two mission
vessels—the Bertha and the Mayri—set to work on its
erection. On 5th December 1877 the missionaries went ashore to reside, and
the Bertha left,—the Mayri remaining at their disposal.
Chalmers never tired of praising - the devotion, zeal,
and other missionary qualities of his Polynesian teachers; but he had
occasionally to run serious risks when they had failed to act with all the
patience and tact that their perilous position rendered imperative. An
instance of this occurred during the first days at Suau. An axe belonging
to one of the teachers had been stolen, and, during the search, the owner
of it "ran off for his gun, and came rushing over with it. I ordered him
to take it back, and in the evening told them it was only in New Guinea
that guns were used by missionaries. It was not so in any other mission I
knew of; and if we could not live amongst the natives without arms we had
better remain at home; and if I saw arms used again by them for anything
except birds, or the like, I should have the whole of them thrown into the
sea." Tamate himself never relied on anything more formidable than a stout
hazel walking-stick, throughout the whole of his—humanly making—dangerous
expeditions; and the stick was only used as an aid in walking, and in
balancing himself while crossing swamps and other places where the
foothold was insecure.
All this notwithstanding, an incident in which the
abuse of firearms played an important part came near to terminating the
Suau station, and perhaps the lives of the little missionary band. Some
natives had boarded the Mayri, and a misunderstanding
with the captain had arisen. This culminated
in a murderous assault upon the captain, who in self-defence shot his
assailant dead. Tamate required all the tact of which he was master. The
natives rose in arms and crowded into the village, and one who was
friendly advised flight. But "Mrs. Chalmers decidedly opposed our leaving.
God would protect us. The vessel was too small, and not provisioned, and
to leave would be losing our position as well as endangering Teste and
East Cape. We came here for Christ’s work, and He would protect us." So
they stayed, and even despatched the Mayri to Murray Island with
its wounded captain, leaving themselves without means of escape even if
they had occasion to change their minds.
By dint of friendly diplomacy and courageous
indifference, this storm was weathered, and the good graces of the natives
were regained. "I had an invitation to attend a cannibal feast at one of
the settlements. Some said it would consist of two men and a child, others
of five and a child.
The cannibal feast was held. Some of our friends
appeared with pieces of human flesh dangling from their necks and arms.
The child was spared for a future time, it being considered too small.
Amidst all the troubles Mrs. Chalmers was the only one who kept calm and