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Good Words 1860
Missionary Sketches


Tahiti, as visited by the ship "Duff."

Amongst the multitude of sounds that greeted the ears of the sojourners on the bosom and along the banks of the Thames, as they awoke on the 10th of August 1798, was the usual "Yo! Heave! Oh!" of a sturdy crew, stamping round the capstan of a goodly ship. So far the scene was common and commonplace enough. But no sooner was the anchor at the bows of the good ship, than there was run up to the mizen top-gallant-mast head, and shaken out to the autumnal breeze, a strange flag, emblazoned with '' three doves argent, on a purple field, bearing olive-branches in their bills;" and while the crews of the vessels that thronged the river gazed in silent wonder, and while crowds of friends on shore waved a tearful and a prayerful farewell, a full hundred manly voices burst out in notes of psalmody; and in the silence of the clear still morning were heard the words of a well-known hymn,—

"Jesus, at Thy command
"We launch into the

On that day the good ship Duff cleared out from the port of London, to proceed on her first Missionary voyage. Her destination was the South Sea and its Islands, to which public attention had been strongly directed by the narratives of Captain Cook and other voyagers; and perhaps as much, or more, by the fact that these islands and their commerce had been made the means, in the hands of infamous swindlers, of bringing worldly ruin upon thousands and tens of thousands of families. In the history of human villany, and of human simplicity and cupidity hasting to be rich, and falling into a snare, there is perhaps no blacker chapter than that which records the rise and progress and bursting of the "South Sea bubble." Yet it was probably this, at least in part, that concentrated the attention of the newly-formed Missionary Society upon these islands, and led to their being selected as the scene of a great missionary experiment; and, as has just been stated, as the destination of the first Missionary voyage.

It is difficult for us now to realise the interest that attached in those days to the sailing of the Duff. It was not only the first time that a ship had been fitted out for the express purpose of conveying the messengers and the message of the gospel to heathen lands; but it was the first time that Englishmen had left their native shores, under their country's flag, for the avowed purpose of making known the gospel to the heathen. The missionary spirit was not, indeed, so widely diffused then as it is now, but perhaps it was deeper and stronger in the hearts of some then, than it is in those of almost any in our day. It partook of the character of a first love, and was neither chastened by experience, nor sicklied over by disappointment. Doubtless, then, there were many of those who then gazed on the flag of the Duff as she dropped down the river, and many more in the cottage-homes and in the lordly halls of England, when they heard the tidings of her departure, who entered with intense earnestness into the spirit of the poet's prayer,—

"Heaven speed the canvass, gallantly unfurl'd
To furnish and accommodate a world,
To give the pole the produce of the sun,
And knit the unsocial climates into one.!
Soft airs and gentle hearings of the wave
Impel the fleet whose errand is to save,
To succour wasted regions, and replace
The smile of opulence on sorrow's face!
Let nothing adverse, nothing unforeseen.
Impede the bark that ploughs the deep serene,
Charged with a freight transcending in its worth
The gems of India, nature's rarest birth,
That flies, like Gabriel on his Lord's commands,
The herald of God's love to Pagan lands!"

While the vessel is making her way slowly down the crowded river, let us step on board, and introduce you, dear reader, to those of her inmates with whom we happen to have some acquaintance. And here, on his own quarter-deck, stands Captain James Wilson, as thorough a man, as thorough a sailor, and as thorough a Christian as we hope to know. "Your servant, Captain! Somewhat different is your position to-day, treading the quarterdeck of that fine ship, commanding that fine crew, and entrusted with so high a commission, from that in which we first formed your acquaintance, when you were swimming rivers abounding with alligators, and dragging your torn limbs through Indian jungles." "Ay! and what is still more matter of thankfulness, my character is at least as different as my position. Since then I can say with humble gratitude, that, through God's rich grace, 'all old things have passed away, and all things have become new.' Yea, I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus." And now, while the good skipper goes to attend to the many duties that devolve upon him, let us give you a short sketch of his previous history.

James Wilson, the youngest of the nineteen children of the captain of a Newcastle trader, was born in the year 1760. In due time he went to sea, but in some way or other we find him, we know not exactly in what capacity, fighting in the battles of Bunker's Hill and Long Island, in the American war. On his return from America, he was engaged as mate of an East Indiaman; and when he reached Bengal, he quitted his ship and entered into the more lucrative and more exciting country service. Here he rendered excellent service to his country, by carrying stores to the British troops, who, under the command of Sir Eyre Coote, were hemmed in by Hyder Ali's army, while supplies were cut off by sea by the French fleet. Through this fleet he had run his vessel repeatedly, and saved the army from perishing by famine, arriving on one occasion when the Commissariat stores were reduced to forty-five bags of rice! But at last he was captured by the French, and carried prisoner to Cuddalore, which was then in their possession. By them he was honourably treated, and allowed to go at large on his parole; but not long after, Hyder Ali prevailed upon the French Admiral Sufferein, by means of a bribe of three lakhs of rupees, to make over to him his prisoners at Cuddalore; a transaction that has for ever branded the name of a brave and skilful admiral with merited ignominy. When Wilson heard of the transaction, he resolved to escape at any risk, rather than fall into Hyder's hands. His parole had not been given to Hyder, and to him he was under no obligation. He therefore made up his mind to jump from the rampart of the fort into the river. In carrying this resolution into effect, he miscalculated the distance, and leaping full forty feet, he alighted not in the water, but on the bank. Almost stunned by the shock, he rolled into the river. He then returned to the foot of the wall, and called upon his native servant boy to drop himself into his arms. He then took him upon his back and swam across the river. In the same way he swam three other branches of the river during the night, but a fourth, in which a strong tide was running, was too much for his exhausted strength. He was therefore, after three fruitless attempts, obliged to part with his servant, whom he sent back with a recommendation to a fellow-prisoner to take such care of him as he could. Even freed from this encumbrance, however, he was unable to stem the tide, and was cast ashore on the side of the river from which he had started. Looking round him, he saw a canoe lying on the beach, and while he was endeavouring to launch it, its owners appeared, and though at first enraged at his attempt to steal their property, they were prevailed upon to ferry him across. Thus four rivers were crossed; but the fifth and broadest was still before him. This he reached before daybreak, scarcely thinking it possible that he could cross it; yet, knowing what was the only and dire alternative, he nerved himself for the exploit, and through the good hand upon him of that God whom yet he thought not of, he succeeded. He now proceeded along the bank of the river to the sea-coast, which he had no sooner reached than he perceived a body of Hyder's cavalry, who immediately surrounded him, stripped him naked, tied his hands behind his back, fastened a rope to him, and dragged him back to Cuddalore. And now began a course of torture which was perhaps never exceeded in its barbarity. We cannot pollute the pages of Good Words with the sickening details. Suffice it to say that of 153 prisoners, 122 died under the treatment to which they were subjected, and that Captain Wilson, although his treatment was, on account of his attempt to escape, more severe if possible than that of the others, was one of the 31 who survived it. At last, after Wilson had endured this treatment for twenty weary months, Sir Eyre Coote brought Hyder Ali to terms, and had the satisfaction of liberating these wretched victims of his tyranny. Although all this time Wilson had no fear of God before his eyes, yet he had so much of the indomitable courage of a manly Englishman, that he would not purchase liberation from his probably unparalleled, and certainly unsurpassable sufferings, at the price of becoming a renegade from the religion which he regarded as that of his country, although it was not in any proper sense his own. All honour to him for his fortitude! He was as yet far from the kingdom of heaven; but it was something, and not little, that even then his heart was that of the hero, and. not that of the craven.

Being thus set free from bondage, and his iron constitution having carried him, with God's blessing, through the severe and dangerous diseases that were the natural result of the sufferings to which he had been subjected, he returned to his former employment, and, by a few successful voyages, he realised a moderate competence, with which he determined to return to England. While residing in Hampshire, he was at first a professed infidel, and was fond of arguing against Christianity.

But various influences were brought to bear upon him, which, being accompanied with God's blessing, resulted not only in his conviction of the truth of Christianity, but also in the thorough conversion of his soul to God. Knowing what he was before he became a Christian, we need scarcely ask what kind of a Christian he became. All the ardour that had made him so prompt and so vigorous in action, the stern resolution that had carried him through almost unparalleled sufferings, were not lessened by the change, but sanctified, and consecrated to high and holy purposes. When the project of a Missionary voyage was started, he soon volunteered to conduct it; and thus, dear reader, we find him in command of the good ship, and entrusted with large powers from the directors, to act almost at his discretion in the location of the missionaries and the foundation of the mission.

His chief officer was his nephew, Mr William Wilson,, who was also worthy of serving in so noble an enterprise, and from whose journal the account of the voyage is mainly compiled. [A Missionary Voyage to the Southern Pacific Ocean, performed in the years 1798-7-8, in the ship Duff, commanded by Captain James Wilson, compiled from Journals of the Officers and Missionaries, and illustrated with Maps, Charts, and Views, drawn by Mr William Wilson, and engraved by the most eminent artists, &c. &c 4to. London, 1799.] The crew, twenty in number, were all picked men, who professed "a wish to be instrumental in so good a service, and a hope that they might get benefit and edification to their own souls.''

The missionaries who embarked at Blackwall were thirty in number, with six women and three children. Of the missionaries, four are characterised as ordained ministers, one as a surgeon, and the others as tradesmen of various kinds, as carpenters, shoemakers, weavers, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, hatters, coopers, and butchers. And this indicates to us distinctly the character that the mission was intended to assume. It is evident that the design was a modified form of colonisation,—the system introduced, and in many cases most successfully prosecuted, by those heroes in the missionary army, the United Brethren, or Moravians, with whom we shall probably have occasion to make our readers better acquainted as we proceed with this series of sketches. This idea seems to have escaped the usually keen notice of Br Brown, [History of the Propagation of Christianity among the Heathen since the Reformation. By the Rev. William Brown, M.D. 3 vols. 8vo. Edinburgh, 1854. A work of great value and interest.] who complains that the missionaries were not men of a higher class and better education. ''It is painful to read over the list of the missionaries, and of their previous occupations. Four of them were ordained before going out; but we do not know that any, even of these, were educated for the ministry, unless, perhaps, Mr Lewis." It is evident that Br Brown regards this as a main cause of the disasters which subsequently befell, and to which we shall have to advert before closing this sketch. Now, we have no desire to undervalue education and training; but in judging of the qualifications of these missionary pioneers in the South Seas, we ought to keep distinctly in view the design to which the directors evidently had respect in their selection. And it is unfortunate for the argument which is clearly involved in Br Brown's statements, that Mr Lewis, who was probably the best educated amongst the party, was not one of those who "turned out" best.

In looking over the list, we find one who has no Christian name given, and no age stated, but is entered merely as "Hudden, butcher," and his wife as "Mrs Hudden, wife of ------. Hudden."

Knowing how often ships' butchers were, and are, negroes, or persons of colour, we think it very likely that Hudden was of this class. However this may have been, this pair were left behind at Portsmouth, as is shewn by the following entry in the published journal:—"Mrs Hudden being affected by the sea, as most of us had been at first, fell into such a dejection of mind as engaged us to send her on shore at her request. Her husband went with her, though reluctantly; a man of a meek and quiet spirit, and might have been a useful member of our community; but the directors thought it by no means right to separate man and wife." The party was further diminished at Ports-'jnouth by the death of one of the three children, who had been brought on board in the last stage of consumption.

The only other noticeable circumstance that strikes us in looking over the list of missionaries, is, that the Rev. John Eyre was aged 28, while his wife Elizabeth had attained the ripe age of 64 years!

On the 16th August, the Duff anchored at Spit-head, and was detained, waiting for convoy and a fair wind, until the 25th September. On that day she sailed, and by six o'clock in the evening the Land's End was in sight, and long before next morning was left far behind. The tumbling in the Bay of Biscay and the usual sea-sickness were soon over. The good ship kept way with the fleet under her topsails, whilst all the other vessels, except the men-of-war, were crowding all sail. With such a ship, with good weather, and good health, and with bright hopes of success in their great enterprise,' it need not be said that the time of the voyagers passed pleasantly. The journals, for days and weeks together, indicate nought but steady progress, with occasional statements of the employments of the missionaries, and of the religious services held on board. After touching at Green Island, (one of the Cape de Verde groupe,) and at Rio Janeiro, it was Captain Wilson's intention to proceed westward round Cape Horn; but after battling for some time with foul winds and head seas, he was obliged to give up the attempt, and made up his mind to proceed eastward round the Cape of Good Hope. "Ninety-seven days had now passed since we left Bio Janeiro, and except one vessel which we met with a week after our departure, we had not in all this time seen either ship or shore, and had sailed, by our log, 13,820 miles, a greater distance, probably, than was ever before run without touching at any place for refreshment, or seeing land." At last, on the 6th of March 1797, after a six months' flight from London, the Duff folded her tired wings in Matavai Bay, off the coast of Otaheite, (now more commonly written Tahiti,) the chief of the Society Islands.

Here there were found two Europeans, deserters, or, according to their own account, the survivors of the crew of a wrecked ship, who had been naturalised among the islanders. Though they were both Swedes, they spoke tolerably good English, and were perfectly acquainted with the native language. It was therefore considered that they would be of great use as interpreters ; and in this capacity they no doubt did some service; but, probably, in the long run, they did far more harm than good to the mission. The natives were delighted at the prospect of having the missionaries settled amongst them, their delight being, of course, in good measure, the result of ignorance. They knew that the arrival of a ship amongst them was a harvest, in which they reaped crops of hatchets, looking-glasses, old shirts, coats with epaulettes, and gay calico gowns; and they conceived that the continuance of white men amongst them would be a virtual prolongation of this harvest, and an extension of it over the whole year. The king therefore willingly ceded a piece of land to the missionaries, on which, with the aid of the Duff's crew, they erected a dwelling, somewhat in barrack fashion. All the negotiations with the king and chiefs were conducted by Captain Wilson, one of the Swedes acting as interpreter.

The first missionary service held on the shore of this island must occupy a place in our sketch. "At ten o'clock we called the natives together under the cover of some shady trees near our house ; and a long form being placed, Pomarre was requested to seat himself on it with the brethren, the rest of the natives standing or sitting in a circle round us. Mr Cover then addressed them from the words of St John, 'God so loved the world,' &c, the Swede interpreting sentence by sentence as he spoke. The Otaheitians were silent, and solemnly attentive. After service, Pomarre took brother Cover by the hand, and pronounced the word of approbation, ' My ty, my ty.' Being asked if he had understood what was said, he re-replied, ' There were no such things before in Otaheite, and they were not to be learned at once; but that he would wait the coming of God.' Desiring to know if he might be permitted to attend again, he was told, yes."

Some time was occupied in establishing the missionaries, eighteen in number, with five women and two children, who had been selected for this island, and in a short trip to Eimeo, a neighbouring island, undertaken that it might be ascertained how the natives would comport themselves towards the missionaries in the absence of the ship. The result having been satisfactory, the Duff proceeded to the Friendly Islands, and after visiting an uninhabited island called Palmerston's Island, she arrived at Tongataboo, one of the chief of that groupe. Here also were found two deserters, an Englishman and an Irishman, who were employed as interpreters, but afterwards proved as gall and wormwood to the missionaries. Here also the missionaries were well received, and ten of them being left here, the Duff again spread her wings for the Marquesas groupe, having now only two missionaries to locate. The reception here was of the same character with that in the other islands; but one of the missionaries became faint-hearted, and could not be prevailed upon to remain. The other, Mr Crook, a young man of twenty-two, was therefore left alone, greatly to the disappointment of Captain Wilson, and of all interested.

And now, while the Duff returns to Otaheite, we must give, in a very few sentences, an idea of the subsequent history of the missionaries, for whose conveyance she had undertaken this voyage.

The early history of the Otaheitian mission was one of disaster and disgrace. In consequence of some outrages committed upon them by the natives, which do not appear to have been of a very heinous character, eleven of them, with four women and four children, left the island, and abandoned the missionary enterprise. They were not all of such a character that their loss was any evil to the mission. Of the seven who remained, two learned the manners of the heathen, and were seduced into their evil ways. God forbid that we should be apologists for licentiousness, But, ye readers of Good Words, in censuring the sin of these men, remember that the temptations to which they were exposed were of no ordinary kind. One of them, Broomhall, not only fell into immorality, but openly renounced Christianity. Long after, this miserable apostate appeared in India, and formed an acquaintance with the missionaries at Serampore. There were grounds for trembling hope that he was at last brought to sincere contrition for his great offences; and who that knows how God's ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts, can doubt that the blood of Jesus, if sought in humble faith, and applied by Divine grace, even at the eleventh hour, could cleanse away even so deep-dyed guilt as his? The gospel has prevailed in Tahiti; although for a time the hopes of the friends of the mission seemed to be utterly blasted. And it is satisfactory to know that some of the passengers by the Duff remained steadfast to the last, and were permitted to see the first-fruits of that harvest for which they had sown the precious seed with so many bitter tears.

At Tongataboo the mission was, in like manner, cradled in the storm. Four of the missionaries were killed in a civil war—not apparently as missionaries, but as being supposed, rightly or wrongly, to be partisans. One of the survivors openly apostatised; and some years after, the island having been desolated by war, the others returned to England.

The mission to the Marquesas was, in the first instance, equally abortive. Mr Crook having gone on board a ship that visited his island, was overtaken by a storm: the ship slipped her cable, and stood out to sea. He was put on shore on another island; there he struggled, manfully and Christianly, for a time. He afterwards embraced an opportunity of returning to England, not because his zeal was cooled, but with the view of representing the condition of the Marquesas, and returning with reinforcements. He afterwards returned to Tahiti, and laboured diligently and faithfully there. Reader! it is honourable to you if in your heart you can give honour to this brave man, this man of strong mind, strong heart, strong will, above all, strong faith! Let those who feel disposed to taunt the missionary cause with the fall of its Broomhalls, and its Lewises, and its Veesons, look at the other side of the picture too, and augur well of a cause which can point to such representatives as this William Crook. Yet this man, who displayed a heroism which many a leader of a forlorn hope might envy, had been brought up as a valet, had been one of the class whom men contemptuously call flunkeys.

And now we have only to state that the Duff proceeded to Canton, and thence to England, where she arrived on the 11th of July 1798; that Captain Wilson retired, and lived in London, enjoying in no small measure the peace of God which passeth all understanding, until 1814, when he entered into the joy of his Lord. The Duff started on her second Missionary voyage in December 1798, under the command of Captain Robson, and with Mr William Wilson still as chief officer. At first her voyage was peaceful and prosperous, but when near Rio Janeiro she was taken by the Bonaparte. She was sent as a prize to Monte Video, and there sold; and here we lose sight of our old friend, who appears no more within the field of our missionary camera. Her passengers were transferred to the Bonaparte ; and after great trials and privations, which, of course, they bore in accordance with their several natures and tempers, they were set at liberty at Monte Video. After some delay, they obtained a passage in a small brig bound for Rio Janeiro ; but before they reached that port they were captured a second time, and after many most romantic adventures, and many most real distresses, they were at last set at liberty at Lisbon, whence they soon returned to England.

And now, kind reader, who mayest have accompanied us through this too lengthy sketch, we take our leave of thee by asking thee to ponder well the great fact that it elucidates, that in this great Missionary work God is the great Worker, to whom belongeth of right all the glory and the praise, while to the human agents belong shame and confusion of face, because of ''negligences and ignorances," of shortcomings and innumerable offences.

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