Page images
PDF
EPUB

NAVAL HOSPITALITY. 5

tion on the whole party by having come. Never were there such hospitable people. I have had a good deal of spoiling in the course of my life, but I never had it in such perfection as now. Every creature on board is so cordial, that it would be quite impossible not to feel so in return. I think my French is improving ! I can now distinguish the Brétons from the Provençals, and both from the Parisians. The officers are a pleasant, well-informed set, who have travelled with their eyes open, and their relations with their fine old captain are those of cordial sons with a father. It would be difficult for any one accustomed to the rigid stiffness of the British navy to understand such a condition. Even the frank kindliness with which sub-officers and men are addressed, sounds to me as unusual as it is pleasant. Life on this ship seems that of a happy family, with the filial and paternal affections unusually well developed, and M. Aube is generally the centre of a cheery group, chatting unreservedly on whatever topic may arise. At least two of the officers are daily invited to breakfast, and two others to dinner in the captain's little cabin, all coming in their turn, And six or eight generally come in to evening tea, a ceremony which, I suspect, has been instituted specially out of deference to my supposed English habits. Besides the bishop and myself, M. Pinart is also the captain's guest, and I find him pleasant and very ready to impart his information, which, as you know, is considerable, on all scientific matters. The others have little jokes at his expense, and declare that he is more of a Yankee than a Frenchman. I can only say the combination is good. The feeding is excellent, beginning with early chocolate. Breakfast is at 9 o'clock, and ends with coffee and liqueurs, especially most delicious Chartreuse, which some of us in an irreverent whisper call “La meilleure oeuvre des moines.” Dinner, with similar ending, is at 5 o'clock, and tea at 8. Antoine has orders to give me luncheon at 1, with due respect to English habits; but I find this quite superfluous; so that ceremony falls through. By the by, tell A. that his champagne-cup produced quite a sensation. It was generally set down as being de l'hydromel, and the greatest curiosity prevails concerning its ingredients, which I, unfortunately, am not able to satisfy.

We are now about 250 miles east of Fiji, and sighted land this afternoon; we have just anchored off Tonga, which certainly compares unfavourably with our beautiful Fijian isles. This is the dullest, flattest land I have yet seen—a low shore, fringed with long lines of cocoa-palm, which, seen from the sea, are singularly monotonous. The king's town, Nukualofa, consists of a long row of more or less ugly villas, stores, and barracks, built of wood and painted white: one is bright green. The houses are roofed with zinc or shingle, and the general effect is that of a new English watering - place. King George's palace is a rather handsome wooden building like a hotel, and is reserved for his guests. The Government offices occupy another wooden building, and just beyond them is the printing-office, in which a few books, a magazine, and an almanac, are printed in the native tongue. A large Wesleyan church, painted white, and with a very small steeple, stands on a green hill on the site of an old fortification, and close to it is the house of Mr Baker, Wesleyan missionary.

About a mile and a half along the shore is another village called Maofanga, where there is another Wesleyan church, but it is chiefly a Roman Catholic settlement; and near a neat thatched chapel of the true Tongan type, I see a long pleasant-looking bungalow, which I am told is a convent, the home of a society of French Sisters. To-morrow morning I hope to go ashore and see everything.

Saturday Night,
IN MY CELL, CoNvent of THE IMMACULATE
CoNCEPTION, MAoEANGA.

You see my experiences are rapidly enlarging. I have to-day made my very first acquaintance with conventual life, and am greatly interested by it, and by the exceedingly ladylike kind women who, at a hint from the bishop, invited me to stay with them as long as the ship is in harbour, and have given me this clean, tidy wee room, which, though not luxurious, is some degrees

A FRENCH CONVENT. 7

more so than their own simple cells. I have a table, a chair, and a tiny bedstead. There are only four Sisters. The eldest, Sister Anna, is a very old lady, but most courteous and friendly. Soeur Marie des Anges is a cosy middle-aged woman, who has lately come from the convent at Samoa to take care of Soeur Marie des Cinq Plaies, a sweet, pretty young woman, with a terrible cough, and evidently fast dying of consumption. The fourth sister, Soeur Marie-Jésu, is Irish. All are most gentle and kind, and seem deeply interested in their schools and the care of a large number of nice-looking women and children. I think myself most fortunate in having been invited to stay here, instead of finding quarters in the ugly, pretentious town of foreign houses, which, whatever advantages they may possess, are quite opposed to all our predilections in favour of native architecture. The surroundings here are calm and quiet. Through a frame of tall palms, with ever-waving fronds, we look to the blue harbour, where the friendly big ship lies mirrored—a ship which, to these good Sisters, is a link to that dear home-land, la belle France, which they do so love, but to which they have bidden a long farewell, in devotion to their mission-work in these far isles. The schoolroom is under the same roof, and full of bright intelligent girls. At sunset there were vespers in the church close by, and, as the delicate sister was ordered to stay at home, and do her part by ringing the Angelus, we sat together and listened to the singing, which was very good, the Tongan rendering of Canticles and harmonised Litanies being excellent. The harmonium is played by Père Lamaze, who is a good musician. Another father, a fine old Bréton priest, is the architect of a handsome wooden church now in process of erection. (When the Seignelay touched at the Wallis Isles on their way to Fiji, the bishop consecrated a really very fine new church there; and as the Roman Catholic Mission in those isles is very strong, there seem to have been wonderful rejoicings on the occasion. Among the offerings of the people were 150 pigs, which are being gradually consumed by the crew.) This morning, soon after breakfast, Captain Aube landed me, in charge of M. Berryer and M. Pinart, to explore the hideous town. The shore-reef is so wide that at low tide there is a broad expanse of slimy mud and sharp coral; so it was with some difficulty that we effected a landing, just below the king's house, whence floated the flag of Tonga, which is red, with a white cross on one corner. King George has a guard of two hundred men, some of whom are arrayed in scarlet, and a detachment of these were on duty, expecting a formal visit from the captain and the bishop, -which, however, did not come off till the afternoon, when there was much saluting—twenty-one guns fired from the ship, and twenty-one returned. We naturally made for the highest point of this very flat town— namely, the Wesleyan church, which, though it only stands about fifty feet above the sea, commands a good bird's-eye view of its surroundings—thatched roofs just seen through luxuriant bread-fruit trees, cocoa-palms, and large-leaved bananas, with scarlet hybiscus and rosy oleanders to give an occasional touch of colour. Close to the church is the grave of the commander of an English man-of-war, who, forty years ago, allowed his valour to overcome his discretion, and himself led an armed force to assist the present King George in asserting his claim to the throne. In charging a stockade he and several of his men were killed, and an English gun was captured, which still lies at the village of Bea, about four miles from here. Another very sad memory clings to this place—namely, that of the barbarous massacre in the year 1799 of three of the very first missionaries who ever landed in the South Pacific. A party of ten men were sent to Tonga in 1796 by the London Mission, and for three years they contrived to hold their ground, till, on the breaking out of a civil war, three of their number were murdered, and the others were compelled to fly, and conceal themselves as best they could. On this occasion, as on almost every other when the lives of Christian teachers have been sacrificed, the action of the savages was distinctly due to the influence of wicked white men. The culprit at Tonga was an escaped English convict, who, having won the ear of the king, persuaded him that these men

HOUSES IN TONGA. 9

were wizards, and that an epidemic, which was then raging, was due to their malignant sorceries. So, at the bidding of this scoundrel, the poor savages murdered their true friends.

That any should have escaped was due to the most providential and unlooked-for arrival of a ship captured in the Spanish war and brought to Tahiti-whence a member of that mission undertook to navigate her to New South Wales, on condition she might call at Tongatabu, to see how it fared with his brethren in the Friendly Isles. Thus happily were the survivors rescued, and the mission abandoned, till the Wesleyans ventured to reoccupy the dangerous ground, with what success we well know, seeing that to the aid given by their Tongan converts was due much of their wonderful progress in Fiji. On the green hill of Nukualofa are the graves of those early martyrs, shadowed by dark, mournful casuarina trees.

Leaving the church, on the little grassy hill, we descended to the dead level, and passed long rows of thatched houses embowered in flowering shrubs, with banana and pine-apple gardens. These are the homes of the mission students and their families, all very tidy, and with well-kept grass paths and green lawn all round.

All the native houses here are oval in form, having both ends rounded. They have the same deep thatch as the Fijian houses, generally of reeds or wild sugar-cane. The walls are of plaited cocoa-palm leaves or reeds interlaced. The houses have no stone foundation to raise them above the damp earth, and in many of the poorer huts the floors are merely strewn with dried grass instead of having neat mats, such as the poorest Fijian would possess. Only in the wealthier houses did we see coarse mats, made of pandanus. In the majority, however, there is an inner room screened off to form a separate sleeping corner; and we noticed that the Tongan pillow closely resembles that of Fiji, being merely a bit of bamboo supported by two legs. The cooking is generally done in a hut by itself, built over an oven in the ground; but a good many ovens are al fresco, and the daily yams, or the pig of high festivals, are baked quite in public.

« PreviousContinue »