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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 1

The Lakemba Mission

The Lakemba Mission.

Extract of a Letter from the Rev. John Polglase, dated Lakemba, Feejee, April 23d, 1855.

I send you an extract from my journal of a visit to the Thithia and Vanuambalavu branches of this Circuit; but it may be proper first to state, that my object, at this time, in going was not so much a visitation of the classes,—for this is not practicable in a Circuit so extensive as Lakemba, with only one Missionary, as it would necessitate his spending too much time away from the Station, and must, therefore, to a great extent, be left with the Native Assistant Missionaries,—as to acquaint myself with the general state of the work, and to inspect the characters and qualifications of the officers employed for carrying it on, being persuaded that if these are right-hearted, and possess the requisite ability, the probability is, that the work, under the Divine blessing, will go on.


March 21st, 1855.—I sailed in the Mission canoe for Nayau, fifteen miles distant from Lakemba, and arrived at noon.

Travelling in Feejee is very inconvenient to any but natives, because a person is obliged either to take provisions with him, and apparatus with which to prepare them, or to submit to native fare, which is frequently not cooked in the most cleanly manner, nor does it always present the most tempting aspect when served up. There is no domestic comfort for the Missionary while visiting the out-islands; and he must either encumber himself with bedding, saucepans, plates, knives and forks, and a variety of other articles, or take native accommodation in every respect. A banana-leaf for his plate, one mat serving the threefold purpose of a seat, table, couch; if he has the luxury of a fowl, he has to separate its parts with his fingers; and, after he has dined, the husk of a cocoanut, or a banana-stalk, serves him instead of water and towel. The means of transport are none of the best. It is trying to a person accustomed to a temperate climate, to sit on a native canoe, under a tropical sun, day after day, until his complexion becomes so changed by the influence of the solar rays, that his friends would scarcely recognise him at first sight. There is also the danger of sailing, for any considerable distance, in so frail a bark. In fine weather it is not very objectionable; but, when stormy, it is far from safe.

In the afternoon I preached, and then met the resident Teachers, in order to get the information I required respecting the state of the work of God. On my return from the chapel, I was pleased at hearing the sound of prayer and thanksgiving going up to the God of families from almost every house. This is a part of religion even with those who have only its form.

22d.—I was fully occupied in meeting the office-bearers, and in examining candidates. And as these duties—in page 23 connexion with questioning and instructing candidates for baptism, &c., in those places where there were any whom the Native Assistant Missionaries or Teachers thought proper to recommend to my attention—occupied the principal part of my time in every town I visited, I give, once for all, a brief statement of my proceedings. I examined a Local Preacher on trial; his account of the state of his heart was satisfactory; but his knowledge of our doctrines was not sufficiently intimate to warrant his being fully received. Two men, who had been recommended for trial, were then called in, examined, and, having acquitted themselves creditably, were received. The Leaders then assembled were questioned as to the state of their hearts, and also as to that of their classes, together with their mode of treating, or rather instructing, the individuals under their care, and such remarks were then addressed to them as the circumstances appeared to require. Two of them, being on trial, were interrogated more particularly respecting their knowledge of the plan of salvation, and, having given satisfactory answers, were received as accredited Leaders. Three others, who had been recommended for trial, were then called in, and, having given satisfactory evidence of being saved through faith from the guilt and power of sin, and having also displayed, from the answers they gave to questions proposed, a pretty accurate knowledge of God's method of saving sinners, were accepted. In the afternoon I met the school Teachers, heard them read a portion of Scripture, and questioned them on its principal subjects. They could all read well, but were not adepts at answering questions. We want more efficient agents to instruct them.

23d.—Fastday. I conducted the prayer-meeting in the morning, and then sailed for Thithia, twenty miles from Nayau, and in a direct line from Lakemba. The sun was hot, and, the wind being light, it was three o'clock before we arrived. Moses Mamafainoa, whom you now know by name, was waiting on the beach to receive me, having heard of my coming on the preceding day. After a walk of a mile and a half over a sandy beach, I arrived at the town in which he resides. On entering his house, I was introduced to the principal Chief of the place, and was greeted by as many natives as could well enter, with a shake of the hand in a most Methodistic manner. After which I sat for a quarter of an hour, and received the salutations of those who were outside waiting for an opportunity of manifesting the pleasure they felt on my arrival. They entered the house in a stooping posture,—the Feejeean mode of showing respect,—advanced towards me, shook my hand cordially, and retired in the same manner as they had entered. I had a dinner served up, consisting of two fine fowls and some yam; and, after having partaken of a portion, had the drum beat to assemble the people to the prayer-meeting, which was well attended, and conducted by Moses. After the close of the meeting, I took a walk on the beach, to enjoy my own meditations and the evening breeze.

26th.—Noon. Having finished the duties requiring my attention in this part of the island, which is under the immediate care of Moses, the statistics of which, for the sake of brevity, I omit, I prepared to leave for the residence of the other Teacher. While thus engaged, several people were seen approaching the house, laden with provisions, which were placed at my disposal, and consisted of several baskets of cooked yams, a pot of fish-soup, five or six bunches of bananas, four bundles of sugar-cane, and three baked pigs. This was not the first time that there had been an abundance of such things presented to us during our stay in this place. Indeed, this is where the Feejeean generally errs, and I have frequently been grieved at seeing so much provided; the consequence of which frequently is, that a great deal of these creatures of Divine Providence are thrown away as useless.

After a long and tiresome walk over sand, rocks, and through long grass, I arrived at the house of the Teacher, under whose care are placed two of the towns on this island. I soon obtained a draught of the delicious cocoanut, and page 24 felt much refreshed. Our canoe not having arrived, for it had to beat its way outside the reef, I was unable to get a change of clothes, and had, therefore, to sit at work till eight o'clock p.m. in my wet apparel.

27th.—Thankful that I felt no effects from want of dry clothes, I sailed with a fresh breeze for Mango, an island in the Vanuambalavu group, lying forty-six miles north-north-west from Lakemba, where we arrived in the afternoon. The town lies some distance from the landing-place, and the island being elevated around the coast, and depressed at the centre, so that there is no view of the sea from the interior, we were almost about to enter the town before the people were aware of our arrival. To this place a Teacher has been sent since the District-Meeting, and the work of the Lord has prospered in his band. In the evening I met and examined nine candidates for baptism, who not only gave evidence of an acquaintance with the first principles of the doctrine of Christ; but some of them were living in the possession of the faith which brings pardon and peace to the soul.

28th.—I assembled the people in the chapel, gave a short address on the fall and redemption of man, explained the nature of baptism, and administered the ordinance to those whom I had met the preceding evening, and also to some children, after having explained to the patents their duty with respect to their offspring. All present appeared deeply interested in the service, and, I hope, were profited. At twelve o'clock we again set sail, and steered for Kanathea, at which place we have a hired Local Preacher. The wind being fair, and the island easy of access, it being high-tide, we arrived in three hours. A Somosomo Chief took passage with us, with whom I had some conversation on the subject of Christianity. He is quite favourably disposed to the lotu; and if all the Chiefs at Somosomo were so well disposed as himself, I believe we might send Teachers at once. He promised, on his part, to use his influence with them, and I engaged, on mine, to send them Teachers as soon as it was evident that they really desired instruction. The people at Kanathea have embraced the form of Christianity, and have just completed a commodious chapel, entirely at their own expense, at the opening of which I preached in the afternoon. It can scarcely be said that there is a Society formed here, as there are not more than one or two members. The attendance at the opening of the chapel was good. My text was Luke xviii. 9—14; and I think that I never saw people listen more attentively to the word of life. May it be received into good and honest hearts, and bring forth fruit to perfection! On retiring from the chapel, I spoke to the principal Chief, together with some others, and exhorted them to rest in nothing short of the power of religion.

On this island the flies almost dispute possession with the natives; I think in no other place have I seen them so numerous. They are a constant source of annoyance to all, and especially to a stranger, in whatever way he may be employed. I think, however, if the natives kept their houses, and the ground in front of them, cleaner, they would not have so many of these persevering little tormentors.

29th.—I sailed for Vanuambalavu, and arrived at the principal town in the Lomaloma division of the island, and in which Matthias Vave, the Native Assistant Missionary, who has charge of this branch of the Circuit, resides. It being afternoon, and as I was desirous of redeeming time, I met Matthias as soon as possible, obtained the information I required respecting the state of the work of God, and of other matters requiring my attention, and made my arrangements for the prosecution of what lay before me. In the evening I took a walk in the town, and had pointed out to me the scene of the late massacre, to which reference is made in the Report for 1854.

30th.—I went with Matthias to Mualevu, the principal town in the Yaro division of the island. Our path lay along the beach, which for the most part was sandy; and considering the heat of the day, our walk would have been very fatiguing, were it not that there were large trees growing along the page 25 shore, which, extending their branches, clad in unfading green, towards the sea, afforded us a cooling shade. During my residence in Feejee, I have more fully felt the force and beauty of such passages as Isai. xxv. 4, than I ever did in England. In such a land as this, "a shadow from the heat" is sought by all. Arrived at the place, and having rested a short time, I began to pursue the object of my visit. During the day I took a walk through the town, and, on my return, was introduced to the Tui Mavana, which is the title of the principal Chief of the place. He was seated under a large tree, his body partially covered with native cloth (nyatu); his hair and beard were white, and there was something venerable in his appearance. Since the war of last year, he has become professedly Christian, but is not yet married. I was pleased, however, while in the chapel examining some candidates for baptism, to receive a message from him, expressive of his desire to be married that day, together with several persons of note; but, as this subject had not been previously communicated to the Teachers, and there being nothing definite known with respect to the ladies whom these persons wished to select for their wives, I was under the necessity of sending him word that, as we required time to deliberate on such an important subject, their nuptials could not be solemnized that day, but must be left for Matthias to arrange at a subsequent period. I, however, gave him to understand, that it afforded me great pleasure to know that he was desirous of assuming, in Christian form, such a relation. On returning to the house of the Teacher stationed in this town, I was presented with a stone of an oval shape, weighing perhaps thirty-six pounds, which was stated to have been worshipped as a god, and had a temple dedicated to it. When the people wanted rain, they anointed this stone with oil, supposing that the fruitful shower would, by this means, be produced; but it was not stated that it succeeded. My walk back to the town left in the morning was rather a trying one, as I had to walk over sand and rocks bare-footed, as it was then high-water. We arrived at sunset.

Sunday, April 1st.—I conducted Divine service in the morning. The chapel was crowded, and several remained outside. I baptized thirteen adults, whom I had met the preceding day, together with several children; after which I preached from Mark xvi. 15, 16, and was much pleased, notwithstanding the length of the service, that the interest was kept up to the last; and many appeared deeply affected In the afternoon I preached again, and administered the sacrament of the Lord's supper to the members of Society.

Through fear of extending this communication to an unpardonable length, I omit the particulars connected with my visit to the three remaining islands, namely, Thukombia, Munia, and Tuvutha, and will only state, that at twelve o'clock on the night of the 6th instant, we sailed from Tuvutha for Lakemba. The moon shone clearly, but some parts of the heavens were enveloped in clouds. A part of the night was spent in sleep, and a part in gazing at the heavens, the expanse of ocean, and our frail bark; and I was often amused while listening to the natives cheering each other in the performance of their duties. The man holding the sheet-rope would encourage the one at the steer-oar, and the man looking out a-head would stimulate the one baling out the water,—for it must be borne in mind that one, at least, is almost constantly employed in this way in a canoe,—and thus we glided smoothly onwards. At length day appeared, and we found ourselves near Lakemba. The wind having headed us, we had to beat to the landing-place, and arrived at one o'clock p.m., thankful to our heavenly Father for having preserved us during our cruise.

A remark or two may properly close this letter:—
1.The state of the work in the islands visited is encouraging. In very few cases had it been necessary to resort to disciplinary measures. The schools, both infant and adult, were reported well of. At Thithia, even the aged and blind go to hear the word of God read; and at Vanuambalavu, several young page 26 men, whom I baptized, are making rapid improvement, and will probably soon be appointed as Local Preachers or Class-Leaders, such persons being much needed there.
2.The plan of managing this important and extensive Circuit, by the aid of Native Assistant Missionaries, succeeds well. They are men of God, zealous and happy in their work; and the Teachers, of whom they have the oversight,—subject, of course, to the constant inspection of the Missionary,—they regard as brethren, and rule them in a spirit of love.
3.It is my firm conviction, as well as that of Mr. Lyth, with whom I frequently conversed on the subject, during the year I was under his superintendence, that this Circuit should be kept entire,—that is, that these men should not be removed from this Circuit,—where the work is comparatively in an advanced state, and a systematic plan of operations introduced, to other parts where there are comparatively few members, and where, consequently, the plans as adopted here cannot yet be carried out,—unless there are other persons found capable of taking their places.