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Oceania - The Narrative of John Williams

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What follows is an extract from A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands with remarks upon the natural history of the islands, origin, languages, traditions and usages of the inhabitants by the Reverend John Williams of the London Missionary Society, published by John Snow, London, 1840.  

Chapter I

A Mission to the isles of the Pacific resolved upon - the voyages of Captains Wallace and Cook - the hand of divine providence recognized - The importance of the Mission - the Duff's first voyage - Account of Captain Wilson - the Capture of the Duff - Discouraging State of the Mission - extraordinary circumstances under which success commences.

The venerable fathers and founders of the London Missionary Society, after having aroused the attention of the Christian public to the important duty of extending the knowledge and blessings of the Gospel, proceeded to the consideration of the very important and difficult question, "in what part of the world they should commence their work of mercy?" The late excellent Dr. Haweis, Rector of All Saint Aldwinkle, and Chaplain to the late Countess of Huntington, who was one of the founders of the Society, the father of the South Sea Mission, and among its most liberal supporters, was requested to prepare a "Memorial" upon the subject, which was delivered at Surrey Chapel. In the course of his address, he says, "the field before us is immense! O that we could enter at a thousand gates! - that every limb were a tongue, and every tongue a trumpet, to spread the joyful sound! Where so considerable a part of the habitable globe on every side calls for our efforts, and, like the man of Mecedonia, cries, 'Come over and help us,' it is not a little difficult to decide at what part to begin." The learned and venerable doctor then proceeded, with all the warmth of his ardent and cultivated mind, in a lucid and masterly style, to draw a comparison between the climates, the means of support, the government, the language, and the religion of heathen countries; and concluded that, of all the "dark places of the earth," the South Sea Island presented the fewest difficulties and the fairest prospects of success. The result of Dr. Haweis's able advocacy was a unanimous resolution, on the part of the directors and friends, to commence their mission among the numerous and far-distant islands of the Southern Ocean; and, with the exception of the estimate of the population of Tahiti, I am astonished at the general correctness of his information.

Those great and good men appear to have had the pleasing impression that they were acting under the guidance of the spirit of God; for one of their number, in his almost prophetic discourse, after having enumerated the various difficulties that had been overcome and the numerous faculties that had been unexpectedly afforded, says, "thus the providence of God, in an unusual manner, seems to conspire with the spirit of God; everything favours, nothing impedes the design." Subsequent events, I think, evidently confirm the correctness of this impression, for, the very commencement of the mission to the present day, the leadings of Divine Providence have been remarkably developed, and the interpositions of the Redeemer's power both frequent and striking. The discovery of so many beautiful islands just before that wonderful period, when, amidst the throes of kingdoms, and the convulsions of the civilized world, a gracious influence was simultaneously shed in so surprisingly a way on the minds of thousands British Christians cannot fail to convince every thinking person that the undertaking was of God. So great was the liberality, that, in a short time, ten thousand pounds were subscribed; and such an amazing spirit of prayer was diffused, as clearly indicated that the spirit of God was at work, and that some mighty movement was about to take place for the wider extension of the Redeemer's kingdom.

It was not until the year 1767, that Captain Wallace, commander of his Majesty's ship Dolphin when crossing the comparatively untraversed waters of the Southern Pacific Ocean, discovered the splendoured island of Tahiti, which has since occupied so prominent a place in the annals of Missionary enterprise. Little did its discoverer think when hoisting the broad pennant on the Tahitian shores, and taking possession of the island in the name of its sovereign, King George III., that in a few short years the Missionary, sent by the liberality and sustained by the prayers of British Christians, would follow in its track, search for the lovely spot he has discovered, unfurl another banner, and take possession of that and other islands in the name of the King of Kings. This has been effected under the guidance of Him.

"Who plants his footsteps in the sea;"

for the providence of God has evidently conspired with the Spirit of God in the accomplishment of this great work.

A year or two after the voyage of Captain Wallace, Tahiti was visited by that truly great man Captain Cook, whose name I never mention but with feelings of veneration and regret. His objects were purely scientific. His first voyage was undertaken to observe the transit of the planet Venus, the Royal Society having represented to King George III. that important services would be rendered to the interests of science by the appointment of properly qualified individuals to observe that phenomenon. The second was in search of a southern continent which, at that time, was a favourite object of geographical speculation. The third and last was to endeavour to find a passage from the Pacific into the Atlantic Ocean. By the important discoveries made by these successive voyages, a new world was opened to the view of all Europe; for beside New Holland and New Guinea, almost innumerable islands were found to exist, bestudding the bosom of the vast Pacific with their beauties.   

The wonderful accounts published respecting these newly-discovered regions very naturally excited unprecedented and almost universal interest.  The climate was represented as almost salubrious: the cold of winter was never known, and the heat of the tropical country was alleviated by breezes from the ocean. The scenery of the islands was represented as most enchanting: their production was most wonderful: and the manners and customs of the inhabitants as altogether novel and peculiar. The universal interest excited by these representations is, therefore, not a matter of wonder. The mind of the late Countess Huntingdon was deeply affected by the account of the inhabitants of these interesting islands, and she was anxiously desirous that the Gospel, with all its attendant blessings, might be conveyed to them. I believe her dying charge to her beloved chaplain, Dr. Haweis, was, never to lose sight of this object.

While we respect the enterprising spirit of the philosophers at whose instigation the voyages were undertaken, as well as admire the daring and adventurous energy and skill of those individuals by whom they were performed, we recognise the hand of One who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working; and movements of whose providence have ever been subservient to the triumphs of his Gospel; and who, by all this work of preparation, just at this particular time, was showing clearly to his people that it was his intention that those far distant islanders should be visited by the Gospel; that there be interesting experiment of its power to ameliorate the condition oaf an ignorant, barbarous and demoralized race should achieve, its moral energy should be demonstrated; that present and succeeding ages should see that the Gospel alone was "mighty to the pulling down of strongholds;" and that there was, at least, one means by which uncivilized nations might be constrained to bless, rather than execrate, the day when civilized men first landed on their shores. To what else can be attribute such a confluence of new and  unparalleled circumstances just at this period?

Notwithstanding all that has been effected in the Tahitian and Society Islands, in transforming their barbarous, indolent, and idolatrous inhabitants into a comparatively civilized, industrious, and  Christian people, I never considered this group alone as worthy the lives and labours of the number of Missionaries who have been employed there. It is only by viewing the Tahitian mission as a fountain from whence the streams of salvation are to flow to the numerous islands now professedly Christian, there are, within a comparatively small distance, many large and extensive groups of which little is known. Among these are the Fiji, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Solomon's Archipelago, New Britain, New Ireland, and, above all, the immense island of New Guinea. This island is said to be 1300 miles in length, and, in some parts, about 300 in breadth. It is reported to be a most beautiful island, rich in all the productions of a tropical climate, inhabited by several millions of immortal beings, suffering all the terrific miseries of a barbarous stage, and dying without a knowledge of God, or the Gospel of his Son. The Fiji is an extensive group, said to comprise from 100 to 200 islands, which vary in size from five to 500 miles in circumference 0 all teeming with inhabitants, in the most degraded and wretched state of barbarism.

These various islands and clusters are inhabited by distinct tribes, diverse from each other in appearance and habits; but principally by those of the Negro race. They are men of immense stature, with black complexion, spreading noses, and crisped hair; decidedly distinct from those inhabiting all the islands to the eastward, who are distinguished by their light copper colour, Malay countenance, and straight hair. I sincerely hope that the London, or some other Missionary Society, or the Societies unitedly, will adopt some effective measures, by which these extensive and inviting fields may be brought under moral culture. It will, no doubt be attended with much danger, as some of the inhabitants are cannibals of the worst character; others of ferocious habits and cruel practices, using poisoned arrows, and poisoning the very good they bring to sell, and even the water which is taken from their shores; whilst others are mild in their manner, and kind in their treatment of strangers. The adventurous trader, however, braves all these dangers; and shall the devoted Missionary of the Cross, whose object infinitely surpasses in importance that of the merchant, and who professes to be influenced by morals of a higher order, be afraid to face them?

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