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About the period in question, a fatal epidemic prevailed throughout the whole Archipelago, and swept off many of the people. The missionaries continued their labours, and the effects of the pestilence gradually disappeared ; but it was remarked in 1829, when they were visited by a deputation from Otaheite, that although the industry of the inhabitants and their advancement in civilisation were gratifying, their progress in learning was but small, and the ignorance or stupidity of the children discouraging. Less attention, too, was paid to the teachers than formerly; and a considerable agitation prevailed, owing to the unpopular nature of some laws transmitted by King Pomare, and the want of decision in the persons vested with local authority.*
• This island, it is remarked in the text, derived some celebrity from being the temporary retreat of the mutineers who seized the Bounty. The verses composed by Lord Byron in reference to the unfortunate Fletcher Christian and his companions in guilt are well known, and have been frequently quoted ; still, being not only beautiful in themselves, but appropriate to the occasion, we hesitate not to transcribe a small portion. The poem from which the extract is made is entitled, “ The Island, or Christian and his Comrades."
Young hearts, which languish'd for some sunny isle,
Rurutoo, another member of the same group, is worthy of a place in the annals of missionary labours, as being the scene of a great triumph gained by the spirit of truth and civilisation over error and barbarism. This island was discovered by Captain Cook, who describes it under the native appellation of Oheteroa, and is situated in lat. 22° 27' S. and long. 150° 47' W. It is clearly of volcanic origin, presenting a mountainous surface, beautifully diversified, with a stripe of land along the beach, which is protected by a continuous reef of coral. The conversion of the inhabitants is ascribed to a contagious disease with which they were visited in the year 1820. Their number being reduced by its ravages to about two hundred, Anura, a young chief, resolved to seek a prolongation of life by betaking himself to sea, in which determination he was joined by some others. After sundry adventures, they landed at Raiatea, where they were kindly received by the inhabitants ; under whose direction they soon afterwards visited the dwellings of the missionaries, the native Christians, the chapel, and schools. When sufficiently instructed, they farther pro
Such was the country which these strangers yearn'd
ceeded to renounce their own superstitions, to take part in public worship, and finally to make an open profession of the gospel.
They were now seized with a strong desire to communicate to their countrymen the valuable knowledge which they themselves had just received ; and as an English ship happened to arrive, the captain generously consented to give them a passage to Rurutoo. Two native believers, with their wives, were, at the request of Anura, selected to accompany them; and accordingly, in July 1821, they all embarked for his paternal island, which they reached after a voyage of three days. At their debarkation, the Raiatean teachers, ignorant that they had touched consecrated ground, performed a christian rite which the inhabitants firmly believed would be punished by a visible manifestation of wrath on the part of the divinities; but finding that the sacrilege was allowed to pass unrevenged, they readily yielded to the suggestion that their gods, having no power, were no longer worthy of the costly oblations presented by their votaries. Anura set the example of dismissing his idol, of which he made a present to the captain who had conveyed him and his party from Raiatea. Having invited the whole population to meet him, the zealous chief began his address by relating to them the principal incidents of his late voyage, alluding to their apprehension, " that he had been eaten by the evil spirit in the depths of the sea.” He assured them that, on the contrary, God had led him by a way which he knew not, to a land where teachers dwelt, and where the divine word grew and flourished; and that he had returned to them for the purpose of communicating the compassion of Jehovah, the name of the Son of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit in enlightening their hearts. To this address the king and the leaders of the people replied, “ we will receive the Word of Life, and let every thing made by our hands as an object of worship be totally destroyed in the fire.” The multitude there, as in all other parts of the world, easily susceptible of a prevailing impulse, and not averse to change, with reason, or without it, instantly hurled their images from the places they had so long occupied, burnt to the ground three of their sacred dwellings, and, on the same day, proceeded in a body to the demolition of their temples.*
After remaining about a month in Rurutoo, the boatmen from Raiatea returned home, having their little vessel loaded with the rejected idols; a token of success which was received with great thankfulness and satisfaction by the christian community in the former island. A meeting was held in the large chapel to communicate the delightful tidings to the people at large, and to offer praise to God for the triumph with which he had graciously crowned the first effort in that quarter to extend the knowledge of his name. The building was lighted up with ten chandeliers made of wood neatly turned ; cocoa-nut shells were substituted for lamps. The middle chandelier held eighteen lights, twelve in the lower circle and six in the upper; the others held ten and twelve each. When lighted up, they presented to the natives a most brilliant appearance, which called forth expressions of astonishment and pleasure. In the course of the evening the degraded idols were exhibited from the pulpit, one of which, in particular, the national god of Rurutoo, excited considerable interest, being esteemed by his ignorant devotees as the ancestor of their tribe, the patriarch by whom their island was originally peopled. Tamatoa, the king, addressed the meeting, encouraging his subjects to persevere in their good work. he exclaimed, “continue to give our oil and arrow-root to God, that the blind may see and the deaf hear.”+
Polynesian Researches, vol. iii. p. 399. + About this period the missionaries, who feared that they had become a burden to the society at home, began to induce the islanders among whom they laboured to contribute somewhat towards supporting the funds. The ship Hope, which conveyed Anura to his own island, had on board eighty tons of cocoa-nut oil, an offering from the Christians of Otaheite. George the Fourth, upon being informed of this circumstance, gave orders that the duty should
be remitted, which enhanced the value of the property £400. The total amount, therefore,
6 Let us,"
In 1822, when the island was visited by a missionary, it was found that many of the Rurutooans had learned to read, and some to write ; and as a proof of their pacific habits, the railing round the table in front of the pulpit was composed of the handles of spears, no longer required for their original use.
After the lapse of two years, Mr Ellis again set foot amongst them, travelled across their mountains from one station to another, and conversed freely with the inhabitants, not a few of whom were living in comfortable dwellings, and wearing decent clothing. Industry, activity, and cheerfulness were every where manifest, and the general improvement steadily advancing. In 1829, when Mr Williams inspected their affairs, he was called to perform the pleasing duty of opening a new church, sixty feet long and forty wide, and found that on both sides of the island education had been so well received that there was scarcely an adult who could not read.*
The only other island we shall mention as belonging to this cluster is Rimatara, situated westward of Toobouai, and a little farther north. Its circumference does not exceed twenty miles; and though more elevated than those of the coral formation, it does not rise to any great height above the level of the ocean. Being protected by a reef, the land on the seaside is valuable; the hills are clothed with trees and shrubs; while the valleys yield the fruits common to that region of the earth. The population is estimated at three hundred; and they are described as a quiet gentle race, who find a regular occupation in the simplest employments of agriculture and fishing. They seem not to be chargeable with the immoralities which stain the character of their neighbours
thus conveyed to the directors in London was about £1800. The policy of such demands on the industry and piety of the converts may be doubted, as not unlikely to excite the suspicion of mercenary views in their teachers. Such donations elsewhere have been regarded as the basis of a commercial intercourse which reflected no favourable light on the christian cause.Williams' Missionary Enterprises, p. 38.
Polynesian Researches, vol. iii. p. 404.