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The Maiden Voyage of the
Melanesian Mission's Steamer, The Southern Cross


The information on this Web site was extracted from a letter written by Captain W. Sinker, R.N.R. to L.P. Robin, Secretary for the Melanesian Mission, Westminster, in July 1904. The steamer, the Southern Cross was built in 1903 by Messrs. Sir W. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co. at Newcastle-on-Tyne. She was launched on the 11th February, 1903; solemnly dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the East India Dock in the Thames on the 23rd May, and left England on the 25th May 1903. The following is an extract of Captain W. Sinker's letter about the inaugural voyage of the Southern Cross:

The Southern Cross left Norfolk Island at 4.00 p.m. on September 17th 1903 for the islands with the first place of call being Vila (Sandwich Island, New Hebrides). They went there to get a little more coal, and also to arrange about having some ready for their return south. The coaling arrangements of Vila were reported as being somewhat primitive. They only had a small punt holding 18 tons, so it took nearly three days to get 46 tons on board

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About noon on September 24th 1903, they left for Raga (New Hebrides) where the teachers needed to be paid. Paying of teachers was regarded as a big business which would have been much easier and simpler if they could be paid in money. Unfortunately, in most of the island that would be impossible, since they would be unable to use it, as there are not any traders from whom they could buy.

They started from the south end of Raga and worked up the coast. Mr. Edgell was away on sick leave, so Mr. Godden paid his teachers, assisted by J. Palmer, while Mr. O'Ferrall bought yams for the ship. The second place was Ranwadi, where it was found a Plymouth brother has established himself, and one or two teachers had left their posts and gone over to him so their pay was brought back. Then they proceeded to Varewerev where there was a small church built by a labourer returned from Queensland.

The next stop was at Steep Cliff Bay where the Captain and Mr. Davies went ashore. Somehow they have landed at the wrong place, so Mr. Godden took the boat round to the right landing, whilst Davies and the Captain walked over through the bush escorted by a few dozen natives. It was very hot and they had a steep cliff to climb. The Captain and Mr. Davies were concerned as to whether or not the native wanted to eat them however as they found out afterwards the natives were all Christians.

Melanesia Map

Click on the above for a detailed 1904 map of Melanesia

The Captain observed that you had to shake hands with all the natives and quite often he remarked in quite uncomplimentary manner as he smiled and shook hands. However, the natives did the same thing and talked amongst themselves and smiled.

The next stop was at Small Harbour and they arrived at the North end where Mr. Edgell had a house. The Captain went ashore and shook hands with what seemed like about 2,000 people. After Evensong they turned in and had a good sleep although the Captain dreamt that he had been chased up a coconut tree by three natives. Before the dream finished however, he was roused by a voice telling him it was time to get up.

The first part of this trip was noticed as not being very interesting because Mr. Edgell was away on sick leave and paying teachers seemed to be a business that no one liked. From Raga they went to the first point of Maewo and from there to Narovarova and thence to Opa, where Mr. Godden was landed with all his goods and chattels amongst them being the material for building a house. They then dipped the ensign, blew three blasts on the whistle to bid Mr. Godden goodbye and then steamed across to Lakareri, on Maewo where everybody had a good bath in a watering hole.

The next day they went on to Merlav, where they landed J. Palmer with all his stalls and a brand new boat before proceeding to Mota. They arrived at Mota at night and fired a rocket to draw attention, hoping to find Mr. Adams on the move, but he had been having fever and was not about. He was taken on board and Mr. Davies landed who was to stay there for four days while the ship called at other places.

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They then proceeded to Vureas, where they anchored and got Mr. O'Ferrall's gear and house landed. The Captain went ashore in a native canoe which nearly capsized several times. From Vureas they went to Koru on Gawa Island, and paid the teachers. They then went on to Lakona. Just as they got to Peru, a boat was seen in the distant which turned out to be J. Palmer chasing the Southern Cross. He had left a lot of things on board by mistake, so he had set out from Merlav to catch up and fortunately he knew there they were bound for. It was a courageous effort as he had been in the boat for two nights and a day. He had eight natives as crew and they took turn and turn about.

From Lakona, they proceeded to Black Beach where Adams baptised about six babies. From there they went to Losolav and they gave J. Palmer a lift within four miles of Merig and then said goodbye once more. They then proceeded to Mota where they found Mr. Davies still alive, only eaten somewhat by fleas and mosquitoes. From there they proceeded to Port Patterson (Vanualava) and anchored there that night. The next day they went over to Ara, paying teachers again, then to Metrig and Pek (Vanualava), Rova and Dives Bay (Ureparapara). All the teachers have now been paid with only the Torres left to do as the Solomons had been done on the previous voyage.

They picked up a man at Mota who had to go back to Torres and when they got near the Southern Island (Toga) he ran amok rushing around the decks and jumped overboard. He then climbed back on board and he was sent ashore. It was then heard however that there had been a lot of bad feeling between this island and the next one where this man came from and that his own people might think he was stolen and fighting might come out of it. It was decided to get him back on board so Clement Maru, Adams, and the Captain with the boat's crew went after him, quietened him down and took him back on board.

They then proceeded to Loh. There had been a lot of trouble at this place as some French labour vessel had come in two or three days before and had taken off eleven of their people. Whether they had gone willingly or not is unsure but the people on the island were rather put out about it. They then proceeded to Tegua and finished paying the teachers for that trip.

It was interesting to note the different things that different groups of islands go in for as regards pay. Some are mostly for tobacco, others cloth, or knives, fish hooks, lines, hats, axes, hatchets, soap, lamps, matches, pipes, etc. etc.

They then set off to the Solomons, and made for Pamua, on San Cristoval, where they picked up Mr. Wilson and then straight to Ulawa to drop Clement Maru and his family and a boy or two. From there they went right to the other side of San Cristoval to a place called Cape Jackson. The Bishop had been there before, and the chief had said he would like to have a school there and it was hoped that this could be arranged. The people were quite heathen, men and women all naked; the chief a villainous old chap who was understood to be still a cannibal. However, the neighbouring chief did not want to part from his old ways so nothing definite was done.  At 5.00 p.m. they started off again to Wango Bay, and thence to Heuru, where they anchored for the night, and landed Mr. Wilson in the morning.

The Captain commented that he always felt sorry for the missionaries when he had to land them because he knew that they really must feel so awfully lonely knowing that they would not see the Southern Cross again for such a long time. It was not so bad when they were travelling north because they were looked up again on the return trip. Still, he thought it must be hard for them watching the ship steaming away from them with their letters for their relatives and friends in England and elsewhere. The Captain ventured the view that he thought home friends should remember when writing to the missionaries how their letters and newspapers are longed for, and look forward to for months and that they should therefore write long, cheery and interesting letters; with all papers and magazines too being highly appreciated.

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Jane Resture
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 26th January 2009)