The Origins of British Influence the Missionaries, 1836–45
Of the three missionary societies that influenced Samoa, the London Missionary Society is far the most important. Although two years before the arrival in 1830 of Williams, the L.M.S. missionary, Tongan converts of the Wesleyan Society had made their way to Samoa, the Wesleyans never won as great an influence. In 1835 a Wesleyan missionary was stationed in Samoa, but in the succeeding years the home committees wisely agreed to divide their spheres of work so as to avoid overlap. The Wesleyans withdrew to Fiji and Tonga. In 1857 their renewal of work among Samoans caused not a little bitter feeling among London Missionary Society workers, who very naturally deplored the manifest confusion to the native of rival sects as similar and yet as far removed as the two Societies. The London Missionary Society, however, never lost their large following, and Wesleyans and Roman Catholics won a proportion each of about 8 per cent of the population.
The Roman Catholics, who landed in 1845, occasioned the alarm of the Protestant teachers. Their fears of French aggression, however, proved groundless. That the Samoans, with their love of pageantry and ceremony, did not flock in greater numbers to this Church is remarkable, and speaks for the strong hold that the London Society missionaries had obtained upon the minds of the people. The work of the Catholics has been praised as most beneficial and quite unpolitical.1
The hold of the London Missionary Society
converts was due to the untiring zeal of the first missionaries. The legend of John Williams and his works still lives among the people. What he established is handed down from pastor to pastor as unalterable religious custom. That three short visits should have left so lasting an impression is witness to his impelling personality. The rapid and excellent translation of the Bible into Samoan (1835–45) by all the missionaries, guided by the Rev. Messrs. Pratt and Turner, further accelerated the work of conversion. The founding of a teachers' seminary at Malua, 1844, for the training of native pastors and teachers further consolidated their evangelizing work.
The importance of the early London Missionary Society missionaries in moulding the history of colonization in the Pacific in general, and Samoa in particular, is sufficient to warrant a closer examination of the history, ideals, and sacrifices of these devoted servants, and the effects of their service.
The establishment of the London Missionary Society1 was immediately due to Dr. Haweis, chaplain to Lady Huntingdon, who was eminently favourable to mission work. The publication of the Evangelical Magazine in 1792 brought clergy and laymen of like sympathies into touch with each other. Meetings of evangelical ministers were convened in London on September 21, 23 and 24, 1795, largely through Dr. Haweis' instrumentality, and the formation of the London Missionary Society was the outcome. It was Protestant and undenominational, but the later formation of denominational societies2 tended to leave within it only the Congregationalists.
To Dr. Haweis also is due the initial suggestion of the South Seas as a field of endeavour.1 "The reading of the voyages to the South Seas," he said, "and especially to Otaheite, had led my thoughts earnestly to desire that, while Lady Huntingdon was striving to send missionaries to America, she should make some effort to send some to Otaheite and the southern islands." Further, he considered that "of all the dark places of the earth, the South Sea Islands presented the fewest difficulties, and the fairest prospects of success."2 Upon his advocacy it was determined that the South Seas should be the first field of missionary enterprise. The narratives of the great navigators to the Pacific Ocean—Wallis, Cook, Carteret, Bougainville—and the mysterious disappearance of La Pérouse had familiarized the educated classes in England with the romantic charm of the islands of Tahiti, Hawaii, and others, and of the intelligent savages that inhabited them. Indeed, the information about these islands, coming at a time of religious revival, seemed to indicate the hand of God in revealing this field for missionary work. As one preacher3 said, "Thus the providence of God, in an unusual manner, seems to conspire with the Spirit of God; everything favours, nothing impedes the design." Williams, who quoted this in his book, elaborated this theme. "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 surprising a way on the minds of thousands of British Christians, cannot fail to convince every thinking person that the undertaking was of God."4 The special reference to British Christians implies further that God was guiding a favoured people into the path He revealed.
The choice might seem to us curious in view of the immense distance to traverse and the full scope for Christian work that offered much nearer home. Distance was in itself no setback. Filled with the first flush of courage and enthusiasm, many offered regardless of, and perhaps, too, somewhat ignorant of, the extent of the isolation the work involved. The very distance was a challenge which no true follower of Christ might refuse, the ferocity of the natives an inducement. The reputed intelligence of the natives made it the more deplorable that they should have fallen to brutal and obscene practices. Yet the more hideous their depravity, the more urgent was the need to lose no moment in bringing to them the means of salvation. Not merely was it to be a message to save the soul, but the missionary was also to teach useful arts and crafts and all the blessings of civilization, from arithmetic to plastering houses.
The missionary spirit represents a fusion of evangelical revival with laisser-faire theory. It was the individual that was important, but he must be given the opportunity to save himself. "The responsibility of believing, if there be any, rests with the individual told; the responsibility of telling him rests with the Christian Church."1 Consequently, the Evangelical Revival "intensified the worth of the individual, and to snatch even one brand from the burning became a dominant impulse."2
For some the sacrifice was too great. The romantic call of the islands, of work for humanity and God, lost its glamour in the face of the stern reality. The devotion that could override the bitter sacrifices of those first years was indeed great. The voyage might take three months to a year, with dangers of shipwreck, piracy, or disease, and the certainty of acute discomfort in the cramped accommodation. That was, however, the least. Worse was the utter estrangement
and isolation. Often letters would not be received for years at a time. The occasional chance of a visiting man-of-war or whaler was the only means of communication. Situated in a strange land, unwelcome and unsuccessful, labouring in a hot and enervating climate, and teaching in a strange language, it is little wonder that the heart failed one and another, and that disappointed and broken in health some turned back. This makes all the more admirable the obdurate courage and faith of those that remained. Of the first party of thirty1
that left in 1797 for Tahiti
and Tongataboo, the majority failed in their mission. In Tongataboo three were killed and the other seven left before 1799. Of the Tahiti
mission, eleven left the following year, 1798, in the Nautilus
, one left the Society to live with a native woman and was subsequently murdered, another was expelled for ceasing to believe in the immortality of the soul. The four who remained in Tahiti
made a little headway among the natives between 1802–8, but there were no converts to Christianity. In 1808 they were driven to Eimeo by the outbreak of civil war in Tahiti
. Their devotion was, however, rewarded at last. In 1813 the deposed high chief, Pomare, became Christian, and in 1816 he regained power. By 1819 the Christian kingdom of Tahiti
was well established, and laws were promulgated under missionary guidance.2 Tahiti
became the starting-point for further ventures. News of the success of the mission at Tahiti
reverberated through Christian churches at home, and gave an impetus to further mission work in the Antipodes.
The British missionaries, in the first place, did not seek to prepare the way for the extension of the Empire. Their work was begun at a time when colonies were at a discount
after the War of American Independence. Rather they sought to guide natives into forming themselves into autonomous states with laws based on the Christian commandments and with life ordered according to the enlightenments of British civilization. In New Zealand the missionaries opposed annexation, perhaps "for the very human reason that it would tend to detract from the position of influence, almost of power, which they themselves held with the natives."1
They deplored the advent of traders and settlers in that they furnished the natives with unworthy examples of life and conduct. They sold firearms and spirits and diminished accordingly the missionary influence, which was so big a factor in the rightful ordering of a Christian kingdom. The power exercised by missionaries over chiefs was sometimes very great. One native king, of the Island of Apemama in the Kingsmill group, would not allow a missionary in his kingdom, lest he should be bewitched by him and lose his power in a short time.2
Nevertheless, the missionary ideal of autonomous native kingdoms was rudely shaken by their experiences in Tahiti. The Roman Catholic missionaries preferred sowing in land ploughed by others to ploughing. Supported by the guns of French warships they intruded into the Tahitian kingdom. This incident, culminating in expulsion of the missionary ex-Consul Pritchard, further showed the pathetic helplessness of autonomous native rulers. Embittered by this first rebuff they preached in Samoa warnings against Catholics.3 The appeals of native chiefs for annexation to Great Britain that followed4 are due, even if not directly so, to missionary influence.
The London Missionary Society
missionaries spread from
their first station, Tahiti
, to the surrounding islands. In 1808 attempts were made at converting Huahine and Eimeo—the latter successfully. Further missions went to Raiatea (1818), Borabora
and [unclear: Aitutaki]
(1823), and Samoa (1830). Later on, missions were extended to the New Hebrides
(1840–59), Loyalty Islands, Niué, and New Guinea
The extension of work after 1816 is largely due to the unbounded energy, persistence, and courage of John Williams, a missionary whose name after a hundred years is remembered by natives and revered. As a somewhat mundane young man he had embarked upon the career of ironmonger, but a sudden conversion turned his heart toward God, and led him to offer his services as a missionary. From the first moment he never looked back. In 1816, at the age of twenty, he was ordained, and left with his newly married wife for the South Seas. He plunged whole-heartedly into the mission field, and by his enthusiasm and devotion carried all before him. He was, above all, an adventurous pioneer. The unremitting toil of monotonous years of labour and self-sacrifice on the same island had no appeal to him. He gave himself whole-heartedly but impatiently. After a few months at Raiatea He cried out, "I cannot content myself within the narrow limits of a single reef." Unable to prosecute his plans in fresh islands for lack of means of transport when he was at Rarotonga, he turned his carpentering skill to account, and constructed a ship with the help of another missionary and the natives. It was in this ship, the Messenger of Peace, a vessel of some sixty tons, rigged with native rope and native mats for sails, that he ventured across eighteen hundred miles of ocean to Tonga1 and the Navigator Islands.
He was amply rewarded in Samoa by a very favourable reception. The Samoans, reputed to be so ferocious, received
him with every courtesy. This, one writer suggests,1
was due to the lucky chance that Williams had with him an exiled Samoan, who created a favourable impression by his knowledge of the correct language used to chiefs. "John Williams," he says, "apparently was the first white man ever to approach Samoans with a qualified talking man—and as a consequence, the first ever to appear among them in a manner befitting the great according to their ideas of decorum."2
Williams attributed his success to the advantageous moment of his arrival, shortly after the death of a particularly powerful and wicked chief, and before anyone had arisen to take his place—a clear example of Divine providence. Williams is frank in his account of the impression made by his material possessions upon the natives. The Samoan whom Williams had brought back asked permission to speak to the people from the boat first. "Can the religion of these 'papalangis' be anything but wise and good?" he said. "Let us look at them and then look at ourselves; their heads are covered, while ours are exposed to the heat of the sun and the wet of the rain; their bodies are clothed all over with beautiful cloth, while we have nothing but a bandage of leaves around our waists: they have clothes upon their very feet, while ours are like dogs; and then look at their axes, their scissors, and their other property; how rich they are." "They all," adds Williams, "appeared to understand and appreciate this reasoning, and gazed on us with interest and surprise."3
Williams asked to be allowed to leave Rarotongan teachers in safety. On his return a year later he was begged at every point at which he touched to leave teachers. So promising was Samoa, and so anxious did the natives seem for further instruction, that the London Missionary Society
decided to send out a party of six missionaries to the Navigator Islands.
Accordingly, in 1835 two missionaries, Messrs. Wilson and Platt, prepared the way for the newcomers on the islands. The new arrivals were stationed two on Upolu, two on Savaii
, and two on Tutuila. The numbers were increased in 1839 to eleven, and in 1842 to fifteen. Ellis estimated 40,000 Christians out of a population of 60,000 in 1844.1
This is almost certainly an exaggeration,2
but it is, none the less, indicative of the rapid spread of Christianity.
Samoa thus in a few years sprang to importance in missionary circles. In 1837, when John Williams returned from a visit to England, he envisaged the Navigator Islands as the ideal centre from which to attack the problem of Christianizing the Western Pacific, and particularly Melanesia. It was indeed in an excellent position for this object. Samoa lies north of Tonga and Fiji and south of the Ellice and Gilbert groups. To the east were the partially converted groups of the Society—Leeward, Hervey, and Marquesas Islands and others; and to the west lay the as yet unattempted islands of Melanesia, among them the New Hebrides, the Solomons, New Britain, and New Guinea. It was to Samoa, therefore, that Williams returned, and it was from thence he left on his fatal missionary journey in 1839 to the New Hebrides where he was killed and eaten in Erromanga. Later, missionaries were sent out on tours, and between 1839 and 1862 there were no less than fifteen of these missionary voyages to the wilder islands.3 The task was hard and severely handicapped by the subversive influence of traders, who often undid the work of missionaries by their brutal treatment of natives.
Two other factors contributed to the selection of Samoa
as a missionary centre. The conversion of Samoa had presented no obstacles in its early days. The natives, as Williams says, drank in the words of the missionary "with outstretched necks and gaping mouths."1
They welcomed teachers and treated them well. In the second place, Samoa grew in importance as Tahiti
came under Catholic influence and French protection. The ex-Consul Pritchard, cast upon the mercy of the British Foreign Office without even bag or baggage, was appointed as Consul to Samoa. As the seat of a consulate the islands were before the notice of the Foreign Office, and men-of-war were commissioned to visit the islands from time to time.
Though during the first ten years the spread of Christianity was rapid, it was for that very reason somewhat superficial. The revival meetings at Tutuila were accompanied by the wailing of sinners and interrupted by converts fainting with emotion.2
Such hysterical fervour could not, and did not, last. The real meaning of much of the teaching was often lost on the natives. An outbreak of war in 1847 occasioned the profound disappointment of many missionaries, though they confessed that it would winnow the chaff from the hay.3
Pritchard, the son of the Missionary-Consul of Tahiti
, throws light on the nature of their Christianity. The natives stopped war on the Saturday that they might forage and cook food on that day and leave the Sabbath to be a day of rest from secular work.4
But the same natives entered Apia harbour in eighteen great war canoes. "On the bow of each canoe was a warrior, whose blackened face and oiled body glistened in the morning sun, shouting vociferously and whirling his club over his head…. At his feet lay the head of a man he had slain…. The canoes moved
slowly round the harbour, to display their bleeding trophies…."1
All the same, many became true and self-sacrificing Christians, and it was the native Samoan teachers who converted the Ellice
and Gilbert Islands
and Savage Island. The missionary college at Malua, founded in 1844, trained native teachers and pastors for work in Samoa and the other islands. In time of war the college pursued its peaceful life unmolested and unreduced in numbers, and to this day it is a flourishing and beneficent institution. Its success is partly due to the fact that, situated in Samoa as it is, the training of native teachers involves no removal to foreign climates and foreign conditions—one of the great disadvantages of Bishop Selwyn's College in Auckland
, New Zealand, which was established in connection with the Melanesian Mission.
There is of necessity much that one can nowadays criticize in the light of nearly a century of experience. The benefits of civilization—clothes, bonnets, plaster houses—have been proved unhygienic, or else merely ludicrous and ugly. We may prefer the untutored charm of savage custom in seeing it distilled, as it is now, by many years of enforced law and order. Yet no one would deny the brutality of many customs existing before the advent of the white man, and in their destruction the bloom of naïve simplicity has been rubbed off. The blame for this does not attach to the missionaries. The harsh contact with white men had already begun. Rather do they deserve unstinted thanks for preserving the native races from annihilation. It was they who pleaded the cause of the native race, who acted as intermediaries, who saved natives from being duped by traders. The protection and welfare of the native races was an entirely new idea arising from the same movement that sent missionaries abroad. An acknowledgment of the work was made by the Select Committee of 1837 commissioned to report upon
aboriginal tribes. The Committee included at least two distinguished statesmen, W. E. Gladstone
and Sir George Grey
Their report upon the effects of European contact with aboriginals was universally damning of all except missionaries. "It is not too much to say, that the intercourse of Europeans in general, without any exception in favour of the subjects of Great Britain, has been, unless when attended by missionary exertions, a source of many calamities to uncivilized nations. Too often their territory has been usurped, property seized … and the spread of civilization impeded."2
Renegade sailors and escaped convicts also terrorized native communities, and the Committee reports of these in Samoa, "Our hearts bleed for the poor Samoa people. They are a very mild, inoffensive race, very easy of access."3
The Committee further pointed out that the root of the trouble was the control of the British subject in these distant seas. "British merchants, seamen, convicts, etc., are able to commit crimes with impunity in the South Sea Islands because we regard them as foreign states."4
This problem of the control of British subjects was to be troublesome for many years to come. The impotence of the natives to protect themselves was a temptation to the trader to exploit, to the Powers to annex. The report foreshadows this problem. "Great Britain will not, it is to be hoped, ever exert her power to destroy the political rights of these comparatively feeble and defenceless people: yet it cannot be denied that their national independence cannot be consulted without some immediate injury to their social welfare."5
In this endeavour to preserve the natives, and the autonomy of native states, the missionary was acknowledged to be the best supporter. "To protect, assist and
countenance these gratuitous and invaluable agents is amongst the most urgent duties of the Governors of our Colonies."1
That this was realized by some at least of them is shown by the advice of Normanby to Hobson on his departure to New Zealand in 1839, "to afford them the utmost encouragement, protection and support, and to give them pecuniary aid."2
Yet, besides the negative work of mitigating the evil effects of others, missionaries' work had the positive and acknowledged effect of stimulating trade. Many of the missionaries were themselves artisans. Of the thirty that left in 1797 only four were ordained clergymen. They hoped to teach the use of European implements and they encouraged natives to prepare the products of their islands for traders.3
The stimulation of trade was a recognized and lauded by-product of their work, though it was clearly only a by-product. When Williams in 1837 wished to raise money for the purchase of a missionary vessel to take the place of his romantic island-made craft, it was to the City he turned. He applied to the Honourable the Court of Common Council of the City of London, and "so convincing was his statement of the advantages of missionary labour to British commerce (on which ground only the Common Council could in their corporate capacity entertain such an application) that the grant was made with scarcely a dissentient voice."4
The mission stations alone ensured a small but steady market, but the natives soon hastened to demand the strange new goods. "Demand for British Hardware!" so runs a paragraph in the Missionary Magazine.
"The Gospel not only supplies the means of spiritual renovation, and opens the way to eternal happiness, but is likewise eminently favourable to
the cause of social improvement … numbers of natives display uncommon eagerness to obtain articles of British manufacture."1
Besides teaching crafts, the missionaries zealously determined to clothe the natives in the respectable garments of the English middle classes, and among the prime articles of import (until about 1870) were cotton prints,2
shirts and trousers, shoes and stockings, and—particularly popular—umbrellas. Bonnets, astonishing parodies of early nineteenth-century feminine headgear, were usually manufactured of island materials,3
and were, and are to this day, the churchgoers' substitute for the gay garlands of flowers that clothe the head on weekdays. Indeed, the wearing of clothes and bonnets,4
the building of plaster houses,5
were regarded as visible signs of grace—though in Samoa missionaries were less successful than in other islands in implanting foreign ways. An idea, however, of the joy and pride with which natives adopted European clothing may be had from an account by Wilkes
in 1839 of an influential Samoan lady going to church. "She endeavoured to display on her person the greater part, if not all, that she had thus acquired. These consisted of a red calico gown, four or five petticoats of different colours, woollen socks, green slippers, cap and bonnet, a large plaid blanket shawl, and a pair of polar gloves, the whole surmounted by a flaming red silk umbrella, and this with a thermometer of 87°!"
The harmless trade in hardware and prints was in course of time supplemented by less scrupulous people with spirits and gunpowder—more will be said in a later chapter of the growth of import and export trade Here it enough to
point out the part of the missionary in creating a market. His teaching was such to inspire and promote industry and application to crafts and husbandry, a lesson very distasteful to the indolent islanders. The ideal of labour, and of private property, was strongly put to the communistic native. To eradicate his communism, partially the cause of his idleness, was a task the has face missionaries down to the present day. Undoubtedly this division of property is partly at the root of the laziness of these people. The attraction of an income vanishes when it ceases to be private, and as late as 1891 R. L. Stevenson
tells of his servant girl, who was bereft of her respectable serving garments every time she went to visit her communistic relatives.1
In such a state of society the eventual plan was for those who wanted produce to produce it themselves by buying land and importing labour. Even in the first plantations the missionaries set an example, that of the Malua Institute.2
Consequent upon missionary work was the anglicizing of the islands. Though innocent of, and often opposed to, plans of annexation, their work end teaching predisposed the natives to favour English people and English ways. The natives learned to speak English, wear English clothes, and imitate English customs and habits. They were told much about Queen Victoria and her wise rule, and of British justice and judicial procedure.3
The missionaries came primarily as Christians, but they were also enthusiastic Britons.4
They reflected the optimism and self-assurance of the middle-class England
of the time. English civilization was to them altogether desirable. They could do no better than build another England in the South Seas. It is hardly
to be wondered that the Samoans throughout the century looked to England and Englishmen for aid.
Williams ends his narrative of missionary enterprise with an appeal not only to the Christian but also to the philosopher1 and statesman. "Apart entirely from the value of Christianity," he says, "no enlightened statesman can regard labours which secure such results … with indifference, new havens are found in the Antipodes for our fleets, new channels are opened for our commerce, and the friends of our country are everywhere multiplied."2
It was, therefore, through the missionaries that Samoa became known to English people; and when the ex-Consul Pritchard was expelled from Tahiti it was to Samoa that he was commissioned.