Oscar Michelsen [1844-1936] was a Norwegian pioneer missionary in the islands of the New Hebrides (now Vanuata) in the Pacific Ocean. In this book he tells the story of his work there, which led to the transformation of the islands.
The venerable author of this book has asked me to write a few words of preface for it; and if I do so, it is with the most profound feeling of inadequacy for the task.
I was the junior lieutenant of H.M.S. Dart when, in 1890, we were sent to make a hydrographic survey of the Shepherd Group, New Hebrides, and of the adjacent waters-then almost unknown to mariners.
Tongoa was our headquarters for a few months while the Survey proceeded, and during that time all of us, from Captain Frederick in command down to the last rating in the ship, came to know and to love Mr. Michelsen.
He had then been for a few years working among the natives of the Group, who, before he began, were described in the Admiralty Sailing Directions as being “dangerous cannibals.” At the time of our arrival, his influence among them during even so short a period had been such that all had “taken the Book,” and had begun to be civilized people. We man-of-war’s men found that we could go fearlessly among them entirely unarmed, even far into the bush, and up the mountains of such large islands as Epi and Emae, to set up our theodolites on their summits; and that we were able to camp ( as I myself did) for weeks at a time on Tongariki, without the least fear of treacherous attack.
This state of affairs had been brought about, as I say, entirely by Oscar Michelsen; and it was through his pluck, his tact, and his personality that the way was made easy for us in the Dart to carry out our work.
It was thanks to him that the charts were easily produced which have permitted vessels of all sizes and classes to navigate those dangerous waters without fear, and thus bring about, through connection with the outside world, the condition of civilization, trade, and prosperity, to which the islanders have now reached.
I say nothing of Christianity itself, which he, first of white men, brought to this region, as I am not competent to do so, and in any case it is out of my province. But anyone, even the greatest sneerer at missionary work (and there are, unfortunately, many ignorant people who do sneer still) who visited the New Hebrides in 1890 must have been struck by the marvellous difference between the natives of the Christian and of the heathen islands-all of them men of the same race.
In the first-named, one landed among smiles, and to the outstretched hand of peace and friendship; and one found the same even in the hill villages, far inland.
In the heathen islands only a few miles distant one was met with scowls, blackened faces, and muskets; while the treacherous club was ever ready to fall from behind on the skull of any white man who should be sufficiently venturesome to move even a few hundred yards along the dark bush-track in from the beach.
All honour, then, to the pioneers of “peace, goodwill towards men” – and now let me stand aside and allow one of the most successful among them to tell the story of fifty years of this thrilling work for the good of mankind.
BOYLE T. SOMERVILLE, C.M.G.Pages ix-xi