James Chalmers of New Guinea
The Angel of Death

THE decision to remove to Daru was principally dictated by a desire to secure a more healthy place of residence. Both Tamate and his wife had to go to Thursday Island in the summer of 1900 for the purpose of recruiting their health. In the case of Mrs. Chalmers, at least, this trip was ineffectual, and after a long illness this devoted woman succumbed at her post, dying on board the Niud, off Daru, on 25th October.

"She had been ill for fourteen weeks," Tamate wrote, "and had suffered much. During these weeks her faith strengthened, her love increased, and her desire to depart and be with Christ intensified. One of her last sayings was, ‘Jesus is near’; and again, ‘Jesus is very near.’ She was conscious nearly to the end. She prayed that she might be buried on Daru and not at Saguane, and her desire was granted.

"I feel at sea—a kind of wanderer. I return to the Fly River and to work. . . . Pray for me, that more of Christ be revealed in me and through me."

To another correspondent, Tamate wrote: "God bless and reward you for your kind consoling words. He has not erred; yet it is strange, and to be explained hereafter. We had dreamt of a little rest together in a cottage out of London somewhere, before we crossed the flood. We shall dream them no more, she waits on the other side as she said—’ I shall be waiting for you all.’ I like dreaming (dreams); never mind though they are never realised. Another dream was to visit China and Japan and cross America. Perhaps in the other life we may do it with ease. She was a grand, good, loving woman; a true, faithful, loving wife; a real devoted worker, and all for Christ. How anxious she ever was that the teachers should preach Christ more faithfully."

In declining an invitation to take a voyage, home at this time, the stricken missionary made excuse: "I fear I am too much attached to New Guinea. I am nearing the Bar, and might miss resting amidst old scenes, joys, and sorrows. No, I am in excellent health, only a stiffness of the legs at times, a great loneliness, and a gnawing pain at the heart-strings. I know it is well, and He never errs, and is never far off. I must, God sparing me, see this work through."

Tamate returned "to loneliness and to work." He had now established twenty-six preaching stations on the banks of the Fly River, and his desire was "to live long enough to see both banks of the Fly River occupied by the mission for a hundred miles up."

The removal to Daru was completed by the end of December. "We have a very good situation for a station—ten acres, about a mile from the village and harbour, and on a ridge between thirty and forty feet above sea-level. I think it will prove to be fairly healthy." In January 1901 Tamate reported further: "Houses are beginning to look shipshape, but there is long hard work before us. We are doing all on the cheapest possible lines, and hope withal to produce a station of credit, comfortable and healthy. . . . I am superintending five houses going up now. I hope before next Christmas to have all finished, and to be settled down in a comfortable station.

"I shall have to give more time to outside work this year, and arrange for further progress. I am well, and only troubled with stiffness in the legs, arising, no doubt, from the frequent wettings of past years."

In January Tamate penned from Daru a letter to the Christian Endeavourers of Great Britain. Several sentences in it are of biographical value in their accentuation of his warm faith, and his unabated missionary zeal and fire. "I am thankful for the Christian Endeavour movement amongst the young, and fell sure our blessed Master will be greatly honoured by it. I know the interest in Christ’s work in foreign lands has through it been greatly increased, and I pray your great gathering in Sheffield (the Annual Convention) may be so abundantly blessed that the interest may still more increase. When you rally, may it be with one heart, and all for Christ, His Cross, and His Crown. I wish I were there to see that youthful rally, and help cheer the grand old gospel flag. May every heart unite in one prayer, ‘The whole wide world for Jesus.’ Youth! I envy you, and yet I feel young as ever in the face of the foe."

In March bereavement and work shared Tamate’s mind and heart, as he wrote to a friend in Scotland:

"Eh, John, He does all things well, and never errs; but it is sair, sair, sair, and the gnawing at the heart-strings, and the missing the voice, the touch, the look, are all here; He is near, and will heal, and will guide continually. Next week I hope to have my new whale-boat in the water, and if the Directors grant the light-draught, flat-bottomed vessel, we should, with God’s blessing, be able to do much more in the Fly River."

Tamate had been greatly cheered in the arrival of the Rev. Oliver Fellows Tomkins in 1900 to share the burden of his large district with him. Throughout Mrs. Chalmers’s last illness, Mr. Tomkins had been "a great help and a great comfort." "No son could have treated me more kindly than he did." In the accession of this young colleague, Tamate saw reasons for hoping that he might have more time for return to his pioneer work.

The annual committee meeting of the New Guinea missionaries was held at Daru in March, and at that meeting Tamate planned a visit to the district of the Aird River. As Dr. Lawes has said, "the Aird River was one of the few places on the coast where his personality and, probably, his name were unknown. It was some eighty miles from the nearest mission district on the east, and perhaps sixty miles from his own station on the Fly River. It was one of the gaps in our chain of stations which we were all anxious to see filled."

Accompanied by Mr. Tomkins, Tamate arrived at the Aird River on board the Niué on Sunday 7th April. The last entry in the diary of the younger missionary supplies some account of the first communings with the cannibals of this district.

"In the afternoon we were having a short service with the crew, when about twenty canoes were seen approaching. . . . They hesitated as they got nearer to us, till we were able to assure them that we meant peace. Gradually one or two of the more daring ones came closer, and then alongside, till at last one ventured on board. Then, in a very few minutes, we were surrounded by canoes, and our vessel was covered with them. On this, our first visit, we were able to do really nothing more than establish friendly relations with the people. They stayed on board about three hours, examining everything, from the ship’s rigging to our shirt buttons. They tried hard to persuade us to come ashore in their canoes, but we preferred to spend the night afloat, and promised we would visit their village in the morning."

That visit was paid, and the crew of the Niué never again saw their missionaries or the twelve native Christians who accompanied them. What really happened was only ascertained month later, when his Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony visited the Aird River with a punitive expedition, and got the whole story from a captured prisoner. This we may quote from an account supplied by the Rev. A. E. Hunt, who accompanied the Lieu tenant-Governor :— "The Njué anchored off Risk Point on April 7, and a crowd of natives came off. As it was near sunset Tamate gave them some presents, and made signs that they were to go away and the next day he would visit them ashore. At daylight the next morning, a great crowd of natives came off and

crowded the vessel in every part. They refused to leave, and in order to induce them to do so Tamate gave Bob, the captain, orders to give them presents. Still they refused to move, and then Tamate said he would go ashore with them, and he told Tomkins to remain on board. The latter declined, and went ashore with Tamate, followed by a large number of canoes. When they got ashore, the whole party were massacred and their heads cut off. The boat was smashed up, and the clothing, etc., distributed. All the bodies were distributed and eaten, Tomkins being eaten at the village of Dopima (where they were all killed), and the body of Tamate being taken to Turotere. His Excellency informs me that the fighting chief of Turotere was the man who killed Tamate. No remains of the bodies could be found, though we searched diligently for them, but we found Tamate’s hat, and pieces of the smashed boat."

Thus, swiftly and suddenly, Tam-ate and his comrades were released from toil, and from the heavy responsibilities that had been weighing upon the heart of the lionhearted messenger of peace. Tamate died in New Guinea and for New Guinea, and it is hardly possible to believe that he would have willed otherwise. Only a week or two before, he had written to a friend, "Time shortens, and I have much to do. How grand it would be to sit down in the midst of work and just hear the Master say, ‘Your part finished, come!’"

Various reasons for the massacre have been suggested, but most, if not all, are purely speculative. It has been said that Tamate was rash in landing as he did; but, if the foregoing pages have fulfilled their purpose with any clearness, we believe that the reader will be prepared to agree with the Rev. H. M. Dauncey when he says that Tamate "had done, the same thing many times before, and nothing had been heard of it. If he had got away this time, it would simply have meant another name added to the list of villages he had visited."

The news of Tamate’s martyrdom was the cause of world-wide grief and lamentation. On Rarotonga and in New Guinea there was awakened in the hearts of many of the native teachers a great desire that they should be allowed to give themselves to the completion of that work on the Aird River which had been Tamate’s last.

Ruatoka of Port Moresby, Tamate’s faithful companion in much of his earlier work in New Guinea, wrote to one of the missionaries: "I have wept much. My father Tamate’s body I shall not see again, but his spirit we shall certainly see in heaven, if we are strong to do the work of God thoroughly and all the time, till our time (on earth) shall finish. Hear my wish. It is a great wish. The remainder of my strength I would spend in the place where Tamate and Mr. Tomkins were killed. In that village I would live. In that place where they killed men, Jesus Christ’s name and His word I would teach to the people, that they may become Jesus’s children. My wish is just this. You know it. I have spoken."

When the first report of the massacre reached Great Britain, Dr. Joseph Parker gave voice to the thoughts of thousands of his fellow-countrymen whose privilege it had been to know and love Tamate, when he said, "I cannot believe it. I do not want to believe it. Such a mystery of Providence makes it hard for our strained faith to recover itself. Yet Jesus was murdered. Paul was murdered. Many missionaries have been murdered. When I think of that side of the case, I cannot but feel that our honoured and noble-minded friend has joined a great assembly. James Chalmers was one of the truly great missionaries of the world. He was, in all respects, a noble and loyal character."

Return to Book Contents Page