1858 - Marsden, J. B. Memoirs of the Life and Labours of the Rev. Samuel Marsden - APPENDIX II, p 311-326

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  1858 - Marsden, J. B. Memoirs of the Life and Labours of the Rev. Samuel Marsden - APPENDIX II, p 311-326
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State and Prospects of the Protestant Mission at Tahiti under the French Protectorate.

AT the period of Mr. Marsden's decease, the Tahitian mission, over which he had watched with parental solicitude from its infancy, presented an aspect even more cheering than that of New Zealand. Idolatry had fallen; its idols were utterly abolished; they had found their way to the most ignoble uses, or to the museums of the curious, or those of the various missionary societies in Great Britain. So complete was their destruction that natives of Tahiti have actually visited the museum of the London Missionary Society within the last few years, and there seen, for the first time in their lives, a Tahitian idol. But a dark cloud already skirted the horizon, and the infant church was soon to pass through the purifying furnace of a long, relentless, wearying, and even bitter persecution.

The revolution of 1830 had placed Louis Philippe on the throne of Prance. During the earlier years of his reign, the church of Rome was deprived of much of that power and dignity which if had enjoyed under the elder Bourbons. As to any hold on the affections of the people of France, this it seldom boasted,--certainly not within the last hundred years. Yet the crafty king of the French was not unwilling to give to his restless priesthood the opportunities both of employment and renown in foreign parts; especially if in doing so he could extend his own power, and add a wreath to that national glory so dear to Frenchmen.

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The priests were therefore instructed to direct their attention to the South Sea Islands. Animated partly by hatred to England, they succeeded in effecting a settlement in the Society Islands. The first of them who arrived there, called Columban (though his original name was Murphy), came in rather strange guise. "He was clad like a man before the mast, smoked a short pipe, and at first was mistaken for what he appeared to be. He had an old English passport, and among other pious tricks, endeavoured to make use of the lion and the unicorn, to prove to the natives that he was sent by the king of Great Britain." 1 Two others, Caret and Laval, arrived soon afterwards. The law of the island forbade foreigners to reside without obtaining the sanction of the queen. The priests, accordingly, when their arrival became known, were ordered to depart. They refused; comparing the Protestant missionaries to Simon Magus, and claiming for themselves the exclusive right to instruct the Tahitian people. After some delay, however, they left, and went to the Gambier Islands. Captain Lord E. Russell, then with his ship of war at the island, publicly declared, that "if the priests had remained in the country, anarchy and confusion, disastrous to the island, would have inevitably ensued," This was in December, 1836.

In September, 1837, M. Montpellier, accompanied by Murphy-Columban, arrived at Tahiti. He was followed in 1838 by Captain Du Petit Thouars in the frigate Venus, who made no secret in avowing to our English officers that he was looking out for a suitable island on which to hoist the French flag for the purpose, he added, of forming a penal settlement.

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Returning to Paris, Thouars was raised to the rank of rear-admiral, and sent back to the Pacific with his flag in La Reine Blanche on a secret expedition. He seized on two of the Marquesas Islands, built a fort on each, and garrisoned them with four hundred men. He now wrote home, demanding thrice that number of troops and four ships of war for the maintenance of his conquest; but he had further objects in view. False representations had probably been made to the French government with regard to the removal of Caret and Laval; and Captain Du Petit Thouars was instructed to demand satisfaction at Tahiti for injuries done to French subjects. A desire of conquest no doubt inflamed Guizot the French minister--alas! that a Protestant should thus have tarnished his fame--as well as his royal master; but hatred of Protestantism had its full share in these nefarious proceedings.

One M. Henicy, who accompanied the Antoine French frigate to Tahiti, in the summer of 1839, thus writes of the English missionaries: "Ferocious oppressors, shameless monopolizers, trafficking in the word of God, they have procured for themselves a concert of curses. Their ministers are found to be vile impostors." Caret, Murphy, and the other priests now returned to Tahiti. A French consul was appointed, a worthless, profligate man; he professed, however, to be a zealous friend of the true faith, anxious for missionary labourers to convert the deluded Tahitian Protestants. Very little progress, however, could be made in this spiritual work; the natives obstinately preferred sermons to masses, and possessed so little taste as to reject pictures and rosaries while they still read their Bibles. It was

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evident that efforts of a more strenuous kind, though such as the church of Rome is never unwilling to resort to when persuasion fails, must be tried. And now it was announced that the island was placed under the protection of France; to this arrangement, it was pretended, the chiefs of Tahiti and the queen herself had consented; nay, that they had solicited the protection of France. This unblushing falsehood was immediately exposed, and we now know, from queen Pomare herself, that all the proceedings in this disgraceful affair had their origin in fraud and treachery. They were chiefly carried out by the French consul, who is accused of having, under false pretences, prevailed on certain chiefs of the island to affix their signatures, in the name of the queen, to a document, the object of which was to induce the king of the French to take Tahiti under his protection, the pretence being grounded on a false statement, which accused some native chiefs, and the representatives of other nations, of bad conduct and various crimes. When the queen was apprised of this document, she called a council of her chiefs, with an assembled multitude of natives and foreigners; and, in the presence of the British, French, and American consuls, denied all knowledge of it, as also did the chiefs themselves who signed it. They declared that the French consul brought it to them in the night, and that they put their names to it without knowing what it contained. The governor, being one of the persons imposed upon, wrote to the British consul, Mr. Cunningham, declaring that the parties subscribing did not know what were the contents of the letter which the French consul brought them to sign, and that they affixed their names to it, so to speak, in the dark. The translator also affirmed that it must

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have been written by some person not a Tahitian; its idiom being foreign, its orthography bad, words misapplied, and the handwriting even foreign.

But the most convincing evidence of the forgery was the declaration of two of the chiefs who signed the document, Tati and Ulami, to the following effect: "That all men may know, We, who have signed our names hereunto, clearly and solemnly make known and declare, as upon oath, that the Trench consul did wholly dictate and write the letter, said to be written by the queen Pomare and her governors, requesting protection of the king of the French. Through fear we signed it. It was in his own house, and in the night time, that the document was signed by us. And we signed it also because he said, If you will sign your names to this, I will give you one thousand dollars each when the French admiral's ship returns to Tahiti.

This disgraceful plot was carried on in the absence of the queen. She was no sooner made acquainted with it, than she addressed a short and dignified protest and remonstrance to the queen of Great Britain, the president of the United States, and the king of the French. Few diplomatic notes are more worthy of a place in history than that which was addressed to Louis Philippe.

"Peace be to you. I make a communication to you, and this is its nature,--

"During my absence from my own country a few of my people, entirely without my knowledge or authority, wrote a letter to you, soliciting your assistance. I disavow any knowledge of that document. Health to you.
(Signed) "POMARE."

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But the French consul proceeded to form a provisional government of three persons, placing himself at the head of it as consul-commissary of the king. The triumvirate behaved with the greatest insolence, not only to the poor queen, but even to the British flag. Captain Sir T. Thompson, with the Talbot, lay in the harbour. The queen arrived and hoisted the Tahitian flag, which the Talbot saluted. A letter from the consul-commissary and the two French officials with whom he was associated was addressed as a protest to the gallant captain, "holding him responsible to the king of the French, his government and nation, for the consequences of such disrespect, and for a measure so hostile towards France." Sir Thomas knew his duty too well to answer the affront, or in any way to notice it; but he could only look on with silent sorrow and disgust, he had no power to interfere. The queen also received an insolent letter from the consul; he even forced himself into her presence, and behaved in a rude and disrespectful manner. "He said to me," she writes, in a letter to the captain of the Talbot, "shaking his head at me, throwing about his arms, and staring fiercely at me, 'Order your men to hoist the new flags, and that the new government be respected.' I protested against this conduct, and told him I had nothing more to say to him." Bereft of other hope, the insulted and greatly injured Pomare wrote a most touching and pathetic letter to queen Victoria. It was published in the newspapers, and went to the heart of every man and woman in Britain who had a heart to feel for dignity and virtue in distress, "Have compassion on me in my present trouble, in my affliction and great helplessness. Do not cast me away; assist me quickly,

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my friend. I run to you for refuge, to be covered under your great shadow, the same as afforded to my fathers by your fathers, who are now dead, and whose kingdoms have descended to us." She explains how her signature was obtained. "Taraipa (governor of Tahiti) said to me, 'Pomare, write your name under this document (the French deed of protection); if you don't sign your name you must pay a fine of 10,000 dollars, 5000 to-morrow and 5000 the following day; and should the first payment be delayed beyond two o'clock the first day, hostilities will be commenced, and your country taken from you. On account of this threat," says the queen, "against my will I signed my name. I was compelled to sign it, and because I was afraid; for the British and American subjects residing in my country in case of hostilities would have been indiscriminately massacred. No regard would have been paid to parties."

There was no exaggeration in this pathetic statement; it is confirmed by a letter--one of the last he ever wrote--from John Williams, the martyr missionary, who called at Tahiti, March 1839, on his last fatal voyage to the New Hebrides. "You will doubtless see by the papers the cruel and oppressive conduct of the French. A sixty-gun frigate has been sent here to chastise the queen and people of Tahiti for not receiving the Roman Catholic priests; and the captain demanded 2000 dollars (10,000?) to be paid in twenty-four hours, or threatened to carry devastation and death to every island in the queen's dominion. Mr. Pritchard and some merchants here paid the money and saved the lives of the people. The French would only hear one side of the question, but demanded four things within twenty-four hours: 2000

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dollars (10,000), a letter of apology to the French king, a salute of twenty-one guns, and the hoisting of the French flag."

In short, the island became a French dependency, and the poor queen was left with the mere shadow of her former sovereignty. And so it remains to this day. A strong feeling of indignation was aroused in England. Missionary meetings, particularly a noble one at Leeds, were held, pledging themselves to do all in their power to induce our government to exert its legitimate influence with the government of France to restore to the queen of Tahiti her just independence, and to all classes of her subjects their civil rights and religious freedom. But the English government was either infatuated or afraid. Lord Aberdeen, secretary of state for colonial affairs, stated in the House of Lords that, "although he was not sufficiently informed of the precise grounds upon which the French government had acted, or of the complaints made against the authorities in those islands which had led to the convention; yet he had no apprehension as to the establishment of the French in those seas, nor that our commercial or political interests would be affected by it." He stated that "he had received the most unqualified assurance that every degree of protection and encouragement would he afforded to the British missionaries residing in those islands; that in granting the protectorship to the French king, it had been stipulated that all the places of worship at present existing would receive protection, and that the fullest liberty would be given to the missionaries to exercise their functions." And he concluded by saying, "that he reposed the fullest confidence, not only in the king of the French himself,

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but in the minister, who at this moment was the principal adviser of that monarch." But a righteous God looked on. This king was driven from his throne, and died an exile in England; while his minister, M. Guizot, who sacrificed his Protestantism to his ambition in this matter, after escaping with difficulty in 1848, from a mob who would have torn him to pieces, saw himself compelled to give up for ever all hope of recovering power in France.

From that time to the present all political power and influence has centred in the French governors, who have been sent out from Europe, and their subordinate officers. Pomare still lives, revered by her people, but without being able to exercise any one independent act of sovereignty; and the native chiefs and governors who formerly took a prominent part in all public affairs, and in their respective districts possessed great influence, are without a vestige of authority, except in those instances in which they have been induced to accept office under the French governor. In 1842, a treaty, so called, was framed, which did indeed provide for "the freedom of religious worship, and especially that the English missionaries shall continue in their labours without molestation." "The same shall apply," says its fifth article, "to every other form of worship: no one shall be molested or constrained in his belief." But this treaty was probably intended only to cajole those whom it could not intimidate, and in practice it is a mere dead letter. The treaty itself is brief and informal, and evidently drawn up in haste, or perhaps with a view, from the absence of precision in its language, to provide for its more easy violation. Yet if the language in which it is couched conveys any meaning

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the treaty provides that the people of the island, and the English missionaries in the prosecution of their labours amongst them, shall continue to enjoy unrestricted religious liberty. Now it might be urged, and with some plausibility, by the French authorities in Tahiti, that the people are still allowed, as heretofore, to attend their public worship, and to retain their Bibles and Christian books. They might even maintain, that although a number of Romish priests, with a bishop at their head, have been thrust upon the island, no Protestant missionary has been expelled by the act of the authorities. The substantial truth of these statements cannot be denied, and yet there is abundant evidence that the clauses of the treaty guaranteeing the religious liberty of the islanders and the missionaries have, for every practical purpose, been palpably and grossly violated. The places of worship have not indeed been closed, but the English missionaries have, from time to time, been placed under such severe restrictions that four of their number, finding themselves entirely debarred from the free exercise of their ministry, left the island in 1852. There are at present but two missionaries remaining. One of these is solely engaged in the operations of the press, but without permission to preach to the people; and the other--far advanced in age--is merely permitted, by a kind of sufferance, to remain at his post, and to minister to his own flock, though prohibited from extending his labours to other districts. So far as the churches and congregations scattered over the island are still supplied with the means of religious instruction, it is by the agency of natives, many of whom were formerly trained to the work by the missionaries. But these native preachers are subject to

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the constant inspection and interference of the authorities, and they hold their offices solely by sufferance. It will thus be seen, that although the English missionaries have not been forcibly ejected from the island, the object aimed at by the French authorities has, through the artful policy they have adopted, been effectually attained. The missionaries have been silenced, disowned, and cast aside.

In pursuance of the same cautious and subtle policy, the French rulers have not ventured to excite or irritate the people by sanctioning any hasty measures for enforcing conformity to the Roman Catholic faith; still they have encouraged the formation of elementary schools, in which the young people are taught by priests appointed by the government, and everything is done to give undue importance to these schools, so that the pupils taught in them may, at the periodical examinations, appear to more advantage than those under native masters.

Notwithstanding the prevalence of a system so calculated to ensnare and mystify the minds of a simple unsuspicious people, it is a most remarkable and gratifying fact that instances of apostasy to Romanism have been exceedingly rare, and that the bulk of the people continue stedfast in their attachment to the pure Scriptural truths taught them by the missionaries. To account for this it should be borne in mind that the churches and congregations still assemble as heretofore for Divine worship under native pastors, some of whom are known to be pious, devoted, and well qualified men. Then again, through the active and efficient agency of the Rev. W. Howe, who, though prohibited from preaching, still remains in charge of the mission press at Papeete, the native pastors and people have

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been well supplied with religious books. And it is further to be noted that the natives generally are amply provided with copies of the sacred Scriptures in their own language, which will no doubt, in the good providence of God, prove an effectual safeguard against popish error and superstition. In the year 1847, five thousand copies of the entire Tahitian Bible, revised by the Rev. Messrs Rowe and Joseph, and generously provided by the British and Foreign Bible Society, were sent out in the missionary ship John Williams for circulation in Tahiti and the other islands of the Society group; and again, in 1852, three thousand copies of the New Testament were despatched to Tahiti, chiefly for the use of schools.

In proof that the social and political troubles of the island have not had the effect of diminishing the number of its Christian population, the following most satisfactory statement, furnished by Mr. Howe, dated 11th July, 1856, may be adduced.

"I have been comparing the number of persons in church fellowship at the present time with the numbers respectively before the establishment of the French protectorate, and at the period when it had become fully established. In 1842, there were about one thousand six hundred and eighty church members in Tahiti and Eimeo. In 1851, when the island of Tahiti was supplied by three foreign missionaries, and the students in the seminary, the report of the Society stated the number of church members to be upwards of one thousand six hundred, which is probably equal to that of 1842. Almost ever since that period the districts have been entirely supplied by native pastors only, with the exception of Bunaauia; and there are at the present time upwards of one thousand six hun-

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dred members on the two islands, and many are now seeking admission. It must also be borne in mind that during the interval between 1851 and the present time, the population of the two islands has been reduced by epidemic disease and removals at least one thousand, a large proportion of whom were church members from middle to old age, so that the present number in fellowship is comprised of the strength and pride of the nation, and the proportion of communicants to the population is greater than it has ever been."

Of the kind of annoyance to which the missionaries are exposed, and of the influences which are brought to bear against them, the reader will be able to judge after perusing the account of a prosecution lately instituted by the Romish bishop against the Rev. Mr. Howe. In the autumn of 1855, the Roman Catholic bishop having issued a catechism in which the doctrines and superstitions of Popery were dogmatically stated, and Protestantism as grossly misrepresented, Mr. Howe felt constrained, by a sense of Christian fidelity, to publish in reply a firm but temperate refutation. For this publication a criminal action was commenced against him by the bishop; but so vexatious and unfounded were the charges that the legal officer of the government, on whom it devolved to prosecute, though urged by the governor, declined to bring the case into court, for which he was suspended from his office; and when at length the case was carried before the proper tribunal, the charges against our missionary were dismissed. But the bishop, notwithstanding his signal discomfiture, was not to be diverted from his object; he determined to renew the contest, in the hope that by a change of tactics his

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ultimate object might be secured. The criminal prosecution already described was brought to a termination in December. On the following 15th of March, Mr. Howe received notice that his inveterate opponent had entered a civil action against him; and although the charges brought forward were essentially the same, they were put into such a shape, and contained statements so grossly exaggerated, that in order to meet them Mr. Howe was compelled to remodel his reply.

After various delays, the trial at length commenced, in the court of First Instance, on the 28th April, 1856, and in proof of the malevolence by which the bishop was actuated, it may be stated that he demanded 30,000 francs damages, the suppression of the Tatara-taa, 2 and that Mr. Howe should pay all the expenses of the courts, and also for 2000 copies of the judgment for distribution.

The following is a summary of the proceedings, which excited the liveliest interest in the island, both among the natives and the foreign residents.

"My pleadings," writes Mr. Howe, "were so successful that the court declared itself incompetent to judge the case, and fined his lordship 100 francs, and condemned him to all the expenses of that court and those of the preceding chambers.

"The judgment was read on the 3rd of May. On the 10th I received notice that the bishop had appealed to the Imperial Tribunal, and demanded that the previous judgment should be rescinded.

"This tribunal met on the 16th, when I objected to one of the judges, giving as my reasons that an

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intimacy existed between him and the bishop, which rendered his sitting as a judge in the case illegal. My objection was sustained by the court.

"On the 17th, I objected to his lordship's advocate, as being under the sentence of banishment for political offences, and by which he had forfeited his civil rights. This was also sustained by the court.

"On the 26th, the bishop himself appeared to plead his own cause, and he likewise objected to one of the judges, but his objection was overruled. Suffice it to say, that after having made several unsuccessful attempts to prove my defence unsound, the bishop beat a retreat, and said that if I would consent to submit my cause to arbitration he would withdraw the action. I demanded that his cause, to which this is an answer, should be submitted to the same test, and he consented.

"The court then retired, and on its return announced its judgment to be, that the decisions of the previous courts were sustained, and that the bishop should pay all the expenses of this appeal, as well as the expenses of the previous courts. By this step his lordship cannot appeal again, either to the administration here, or to the Court of Cassation in France."

It is gratifying to learn, that through this long and painful affair, our missionary not only had the countenance of the British and American consuls, and the fervent prayers of the native converts, both in public and private, but that even the French officers, greatly to their honour, openly expressed their sympathy.

In order more fully to appreciate the result of this protracted contest, it should be borne in mind that the real point at issue was, whether the cause of Protestant Christianity, as represented by Mr. Howe,

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should be permitted to hold a footing in the island; that Mr. Howe stood alone, unsustained, excepting by a stedfast confidence in the justice of his cause, and the generous aid and sympathy of friends, French, English, and native, who rallied round him in the time of need; that his potent adversary could reasonably calculate on the countenance and encouragement of the authorities, who, as Frenchmen and Roman Catholics, would naturally be disposed to favour the interests of their own church, and to repress what they had been taught to regard as heresy. But in the providence of God, the presiding judges of the French tribunals before which the cause was heard magnanimously regardless of all prejudices on the score of nationality or religion, delivered a judgment which, while completely exculpating the accused, reflected the highest honour upon their own discernment, impartiality, and justice. While, therefore we devoutly recognise the hand of God so conspicuously manifest in overruling and directing this trial, or rather series of trials, to so merciful an issue, we would add the expression of our hope and belief that so long as the cause of Protestant Christianity is represented in Tahiti by men like-minded with Mr. Howe, and so long as the courts of justice on the island are presided over by men who, without fear or favour, dispense their judgments in accordance with the principles of truth and equity, the light of the gospel, which has for so many years made glad the hills and valleys of Tahiti, can never be extinguished.


1   Wilkes's Tahiti, etc.
2   The native name of the publication issued by Mr. Howe, in refutation of the bishop's catechism; which the latter charged to be libellous.

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