Missionary zeal

Many yachtsmen hoist a fir tree up the mast at Christmas and in common with folk ashore few brandish symbols about Christianity itself. Whether it’s God or Mammon for you this Christmas, let me recommend a fascinating fireside read.

American yachtsman William Albert Robinson sailed round the world in Svaap, a 32ft bermudian ketch, and wrote one of the best sea stories of all time, Deep Water And Shoal, which was first published in 1932.

In the book he described with astonishment and growing disgust the behaviour of missionaries he came across in the South Sea Islands of the New Hebrides, Solomons and New Guinea. He revealed how islanders were bribed into conversion with tobacco, and trinkets. On one island they were then bribed again to change from Catholic converts to Protestant ones and then back again.

On another island the wealth of the mission was hard to believe. They had hard cash coming in from copra plantations, sawmills, and brickworks ’employing’ converts. In New Guinea it was so blatant that the men of God were obliged by the government to register their missions as businesses. They did and called them Mission of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ Ltd and Catholic Mission of the Holy Ghost Ltd.

Mission teachers kept concubines others were pederasts, some charged extortionate fees for baptisms. At one leper colony over Christmas, the sufferers were given a small amount of cash by the mission to scrape together some festivities for their benighted children. Knowing this was the practice a rival missionary from another island arrived and threatened the lepers with the fires of hell unless they handed over their pittance for the ‘ building of a new church’

‘You are lepers,’ he told them, ‘your death will come sooner and be more painful if you do not give all to the cause.’ He left them with nothing. In yet another location a missionary dressed up as Jesus Christ and appeared off the island on a schooner. The natives were told that Jesus had come for sacks of copra. The ship left loaded to the gunnels.

Have a Happy Christmas.