THE BRINK OF A GREAT ADVENTURE
IT was not until 1851 that the Rev. W. F. Taylor, the first missionary, reached Tristan da Cunha. He sailed for it in November, and arrived the following February after a difficult voyage. The ship bringing him cruised in the vicinity of the island for a week, but fogs hid it from sight, and the captain nearly gave up the quest when luckily Mr. Taylor himself sighted the distant peak above the clouds and a new course was set and the missionary duly landed. He remained until 1856, teaching school and holding service in Mr. Glass's biggest room (16 feet by 12) and living in true apostolic poverty, often with insufficient food and clothing. It was under such conditions that the first bishop to visit the island, Bishop Gray, of Cape Town, found him living in 1856. The Bishop confirmed thirty-two persons, and examined the school children, whom he found "well instructed in the three R's and in the Church Catechism"; but after remaining for a fortnight there he pronounced the island "unsuitable for human habitation owing to the poverty of its natural resources" and advised the emigration of the people to Cape Colony. Twenty-five islanders shortly before had left its inhospitable shores for the United States, and now some forty more departed, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Taylor, for a new settlement at Riversdale and Mossel Bay, in Cape Colony, where they throve and did well. Those islanders who have left Tristan have generally made good, and we met some of these people in South Africa ourselves, and were struck by the fact that they had overcome so many disabilities by industry and good conduct.
The second clergyman to live at Tristan was the Rev. E. Dodgson, brother of "Lewis Carroll," the well-known author of Alice in Wonderland. He arrived in 1880 and landed in safety, but the vessel which brought him suffered almost immediate shipwreck, and he lost all his books and almost all his stores and clothing. Most curiously the tiny stone font that he had with him was washed up intact, and is now in the little church we built ourselves, "St. Mary the Virgin, Tristan da Cunha." Our baby boy was baptized in it.
Mr. Dodgson remained until 1884, when for reasons of health he returned to the Cape. He did not then design to revisit Tristan, but he was scarcely gone a year before the worst disaster recorded in the island history befell. Fifteen islanders put off in rough weather to try and intercept a sailing ship named the West Riding. They were driven by the great need of provisions to tempt the seas. Their boat was a new one to which they were not used, and it is probable it capsized or filled in a sudden squall and all its crew were drowned. Tristan thus became an island of widows and children. All the male adults save four perished, and one of these was crazy and giving trouble. When Mr. Dodgson heard of the accident he determined to return to the island. It was supposed that the people were almost starving, and H.M.S. Thalia was sent with relief stores, and in this ship Mr. Dodgson returned. He remained in charge as missionary-schoolmaster until 1889, when ill health again compelled him to leave. This time ten persons left with him.
The next missionary was my husband's immediate predecessor, the Rev. J. G. Barrow, who came out accompanied by his wife and a maidservant in 1906 and remained until 1909. A somewhat remarkable circumstance in this connection was that in the year 1821 the ship Blendon Hall, East Indiaman, was wrecked on Inaccessible Island during a dense fog. The passengers and crew managed to get ashore on spars and fragments of the vessel. Little food was saved, and for months the people lived on sea-birds' eggs. Some sailors tried to get to Tristan on a raft, but were lost at sea in the attempt. At length some of the men got across, and Glass and the Tristanites rescued the remainder in their small boats. Among the rescued passengers was a little girl of four years of age, destined to become Mr. Barrow's mother in after years. Gratitude for the kindness of these islanders moved her son to go out and minister to their descendants. Some twelve years after Mr. Barrow left, viz. in February 1921, there appeared in The Times and The Guardian an appeal for a missionary and schoolmaster to go out to the island of Tristan da Cunha. The appeal was signed by Mr. Douglas M. Gane, a London solicitor, of Gray's Inn, who is much interested in the island, having visited it formerly in the days of the sailing ships. As the founder of the Tristan da Cunha Fund he has been in close touch with the islanders for many years, and he had then recently received letters from the people containing urgent requests for a missionary, as the children were being left to grow up in ignorance and the island was without any kind of religious ministration.
Tristan da Cunha! What does the name convey to the average person? My husband and I first heard of the island when we read the appeal. At the time he was curate-in-charge at Alexton, Leicester, and he immediately wrote asking for further particulars and stating that under certain circumstances he would be willing to go out with his wife for three years, the period suggested. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, to which Mr. Rogers was referred by Mr. Gane, is the Society which had been instrumental in sending out the previous missionaries, and in due course they gladly accepted my husband's offer and he was told to prepare.
Tristan da Cunha is in many ways one of the most difficult places in the world to reach, and mails are exceedingly irregular owing to the uncertainty of communications. Sometimes a mail reaches the island only once in three years. There is no regular line of shipping visiting it. It has no trade and no manufacture, and there is no harbour or safe shelter for ships except in fine weather. Mr. Gane's efforts to get us a passage were unceasing, but we had to endure a whole year's waiting before the means came. A passage on a Japanese vessel, the Tacoma Maru, of the Osaka Shosen Kaisha Line, was at length arranged through the kind offices of Messrs. M. Samuel, Ltd., the Company's London agents, and by special favour of the Imperial Japanese Government, which allowed the mail steamer to depart from its course and land us at Tristan.
The long period of waiting was not wasted time, however, for there was much to do to make our mission fruitful. We were greatly assisted by the newspaper Press, and we received kindly sympathy from the Royal Family. My husband received a very gracious letter from the King to be read to the islanders on our arrival. It came through Mr. Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, and it expressed His Majesty's hope that the people would give heed to my husband's instructions and it assured them of the King's interest in their welfare.
We travelled to the Cape by the Union Castle liner Kinfauns Castle, and waited in Cape Town a few days, during which time we were hospitably and kindly entertained by the Archbishop of Cape Town at Bishop's Court, Claremont. During our stay we were presented with a small wireless set at a public meeting presided over by the Mayor and the Archbishop in the St. George's Cathedral Rooms. It was hoped by this means to break the almost complete isolation of life at Tristan da Cunha.
We took with us 150 packets of stores for the island intended to be of service in church, school and household, and the gathering of these was quite a piece of work in itself. We had to take with us grocery supplies for a year, as we could expect to find none on the island, and these we knew we should have to share with the people to a large extent.
We left Cape Town feeling rather depressed, in spite of our kindly welcome and send-off in South Africa, for we knew that, should the weather be rough on our arrival, we might not be able to land, and then we should be carried on to South America, and that would be the end of our adventure. Weather is a most uncertain feature at Tristan da Cunha, and the steamer could not afford a long delay on our account, though the Company had very kindly promised to wait a couple of days. The Japanese commander, Captain Kamaiashi, was courtesy itself, and did everything to make us comfortable on our week's voyage to the island. This was the first Japanese ship which had ever called there, and we found it curious to be surrounded by a Japanese crew and to hear all speaking Japanese about us. Meals were served for us in English fashion, as the efforts we made to feed ourselves with chop-sticks afforded our Japanese friends much amusement; but we were able to partake of tea in pretty little Japanese cups and enjoy Japanese sweetmeats and cakes. We reached Tristan da Cunha on April 1, 1922, early in the morning of what proved to be a very rainy day, but I must reserve my first impressions of the island and its people for another chapter.