Thus, in an incredibly short space of time, was the whole system of idolatry, with its bloody human sacrifices, overthrown in the Hervey Isles; and how marvellous was the change wrought in every respect, has been described by Lord Byron, Commander of H.M.S. Blonde, when he accidentally found himself in the group,—and, recognising it as one of those discovered by Captain Cook, approached land with extreme caution, but was welcomed by noble-looking men, dressed in cotton shirts and very fine mats, who produced written documents from the London Mission Society, qualifying them to act as teachers, and then took him ashore to a neat village with a good school and a crowded church.
From that time forward, the Hervey Islanders have not only been true to their own profession, but have proved zealous missionaries in carrying the Gospel to other isles. Their theological college has already sent forth about 150 trained men as teachers. About 50 of these are at the present moment scattered among various remote isles of the Pacific, some of which are still cannibal. Six of the most zealous and determined men have gone, accompanied by their brave missionary wives, to face the unknown perils that await them in New Guinea—where, doubtless, their work will bear good fruit, and prove the first step in opening up that vast island to the commerce of the civilised world.
The very first missionary effort of the Hervey Islanders was
- Alas! the fate of the majority has already been sealed. In the spring of
"In the south island—i.e., Inniskea, off the coast of Mayo—in the house of a man named Monigan, a stone idol, called in the Irish Neevougi, has been, from time immemorial, religiously preserved and worshipped. This god resembles in appearance a thick roll of home-spun flannel, which arises from the custom of dedicating a dress of that material to it whenever its aid is sought; this is sewn on by an old woman, its priestess, whose peculiar care it is. Of the early history of this idol no authentic information can be procured, but its power is believed to be immense. They pray to it in time of sickness; it is invoked when a storm is desired to dash some hapless ship upon their coast; and again, the exercise of its power is solicited in calming the angry waves to admit of fishing or visiting the mainland."
It scarcely seems possible, does it, to realise that our own ancestors were as gross idolaters as any South Sea Islanders? Yet in the majority of these isles the present generation have never seen an idol of any sort; and should they ever visit our museums, they would gaze on the gods of their own fathers as wonderingly as we do on those of the early Britons.