[From Manx Recollections, 1893]
WHO, alas! has not heard the story of the Patagonian Mission? It was in 1851 that Britain rang with the tale, and sorrow was felt and tears shed for the fate of the noble Captain Allen Gardiner, R.N., and his martyr band. Previous to the enterprise, Captain Gardiner had on a survey expedition been deeply moved at seeing the miserable state of the Patagoniansa people so low in human degradation that Darwin pronounced them incapable of being civilised. Captain Gardiner, however, resolved that he for one, by the grace of God, would make the attempt not only to civilise but Christianise this unhappy people. He returned to England, but on announcing his project met with little encouragement. Finally he came to the Isle of Man; and in Douglas, in Athol Street Schoolhouse, held his first missionary meeting before starting on his hazardous journey, the same building where St. George's Sunday-schools were and are held. At this, meeting there were conspicuously present two who were heart and soul with Captain Gardiner in his enterprisethese were Mrs. Elliott and her son Willie.
We can only conjecture the nature of the speaker's appeal on that occasion, when bringing before his audience the burning need of helping those beings of their own flesh and blood, who were, nevertheless, in their persons and habits, little removed from the brute creation.
Willie Elliott sat intently listeninghis great eyes open and flashing with the fire of an earnestness and sympathy that welled up in response to every word Captain Gardiner uttered, whilst his young heart beat loud and fast as the particulars of the intended expedition were unfolded by the zealous pioneer. He was himself, Captain Gardiner said, ready to die, if need be, in the attempt to start this Mission in the dark miserable region of Tierra del Fuego the Land of Fire.
The meeting over, up rushed the youthful Willie to the speaker, panting with enthusiasm, and regardless of all observers. "I would like a card, Captain Gardiner, please, to collect for your Mission," he said, extending his little hand, trembling with emotion. Every heart was moved at the sight, and many a person present took a collecting-card who had no thought of so doing until impelled by the eager impetuosity and Christ-like example of the boy. Sweet child, what were thy mother's thoughtswhat her intense feeling, when she saw theeher heart's lovebreaking through all restraint, and braving all eyes to win a golden opportunity of doing something in the name and for the love of the Redeemer of men! Eleanor Elliott had truly the reward that night, when she beheld her young son step on to the platform, anxiously tendering his request, of a mother's many prayers and sacred yearnings. Ah! dear mother, hadst thou known what so soon was to befall thee and thy darling, thou wouldst have clasped him to thy breast there and then with the convulsive energy of a last clasp of mortal love! But in mercy the future was veiled from thine eyes. Willie Elliott's was the first South American Missionary collecting-card given to any one by Captain Allen Gardiner.
The missionary party left England in September 1850, and what befell them afterwards is now a matter of history, familiar to many. It may not, however, be out of place to mention a few details of the tragic story, as the event and its results were of such painfully thrilling interest to the subject of this memoir; and as the South American Missionary Societythe outcome of the fatal enterprise was a Society for which she laboured as long as health and strength allowed her.
On the 5th December, Captain Gardiner and his party reached Picton Island. Here they had a disheartening encounter with the natives, who looked more inclined to murder them than to listen to their words of Divine mercy. They embarked on their ship again, and set sail for the opposite shore, on the south-west of Tierra del Fuego. Here they had no more success than formerly with the natives; also they lost one of their boats, which was run upon the rocks, the other they hauled on shore, and converted into a sort of dormitory. Soon scurvy broke out amongst the party. In April their provisions ran very short, and as sickness increased there was a great difficulty in getting more food. Everything in the shape of birds, fish, a fox, and even vermin that came in their way they ate. For months they lived on mussels, until the brave Captain Gardiner could eat them no longer, though he managed to drink mussel and limpet broth. One and another of the band were stricken down with illness, and yet in the midst of all this distress and semi-starvation the figures of Gardiner and his friend Maidment might have been seen by their dying comrades kneeling on the shore thanking God for His loving-kindness and mercy towards them. Finally, all were gone but Gardiner and Maidment, and of the two Gardiner was the weaker and apparently the nearer death. Maidment, however, died first, though he waited upon his fellow-sufferer almost as long as his own life lasted.
From Captain Gardiner's diary, written on that desolate shore as his life was wasting away, several most touching entries are given in the history of the Mission, circulated for the benefit of the South American Society. They all breathe a spirit of noble heroism and of most affecting Christian resignation under privations and sufferings of a most distressing kind.
Such was the pitiful end of those noble men who were left to their fate in the far-off region of Tierra del Fuego. Why the stores they expected never reached them it is useless now to inquire. They died as thousands of martyrs have died, their blood proving in the order of God the seed of the Church. They died, but the cause did not die. No, the heart of Christian England was stirred to sympathise in the work, and other devoted men were found to take up the mantle of the noble Gardiner, and start forth better equipped and better prepared in every way to prosecute the Patagonian Mission. Years of faithful service since then have redeemed the character of the Patagonians; and to his astonishment Darwin looked before he died upon specimens of that race so changedphysically, mentally, and spirituallyso humanised, in fact that henceforth he not only pronounced his belief in the regeneration of the people, but became a subscriber to the South American Missionary Society during the remainder of his life.
1851 was not only a memorable year to Mrs. Elliott on account of the tragic conclusion of the life of the noble Captain Allen Gardiner, and the young Willie's early efforts on behalf of the Patagonian Mission, but this year also brought to a close the life of a great man who was very dear to her heart. It is not likely that she ever saw him; but he was a congenial spirit with whom she took sweet counsel in his many literary works, and whose life, as she had from time to time accounts of it, influenced in a great measure her own. This kindred soul was Neander Johann August Wilhelmcommonly called "Neander." Neander, it is well known, was by far the greatest of ecclesiastical historians. He was born in Guttingen in 1789 of Jewish parentage. In 1806 he renounced Judaism, and was baptized a Christian, taking the name of "Neander" (Gr. neos, new; aner, a man). His original name was David Mendel. His celebrity as a lecturer was almost world-wide, and students from the most distant Protestant countries flocked to his instruction. It is asserted that all great German preachers have in some form or other imbihed the influence of the teaching of Neander. What, however, above all so irresistibly appealed to the appreciation of Mrs. Elliott, and other of his numberless admirers, was his unbounded benevolence. All the proceeds of his numerous literary productions he bestowed in charity, or towards the extension of the knowledge of Christ. He was also a man of a most lovely and lovable disposition. Profoundly had Mrs. Elliott studied many of his theological works; his thoughts and noble aspirations possessed her mind, and be came incorporated with her spirit as part of herself. Another reason, too, why he was so dear to her heart was that, to use her own words, he belonged to "princely Israel's hallowed race." "They shall prosper," she would say, "that love Jerusalem." When the announcement came of Neander's death, it was as if a familiar hand had been withdrawn from her own. With a weight of regret resting upon her, but at the same time with a holy joy of thanksgiving that one so meet for the mansions of everlasting day had been called to bask for evermore in the beams of ineffable love, she penned the following lines
ON THE DEATH OF JOHN NEANDER, an illustrious German scholar, formerly a Jew, named David Mendel, but afterwards baptized as John Neander on his conversion to Christianity, because the Gospel of St. John had been to him the word of life, and Neander means new man.
"Let us make ready to go home,"
Neander said on his death day,
When the tired soul would flee away
To rest, because the hour was come.
To rest among the blessed dead
Until the dawn of morning light,
"Now let us go to sleep,good-night,"
With dying voice Neander said.
And then his spirit passed away
In sleep that deepened into death,
Calm as a sleeping infant's breath,
Calm as the death of summer day.
An offspring he of Israel's line,
Of princely Israel's hallowed race,
But born again of heavenly grace,
And sealed with sacramental sign.
The dew of that baptismal wave
Upon his spirit still abode,
"He died to self, he lived to God,"
So spake they of him at his grave.
The loving heart is dead and chill,
The hand that gave can give no more;
But still the mind of richest lore
The noble mind, endureth still.
Engraved in many a shining word,
His thoughts of wisdom yet endure,
Of holy wisdom, high and pure,
Breathing the truth of Christ his Lord.
Calm was his spirit's parting breath,
Serene his soul in days of strife
A peaceful death, a lovely life,
Blest are such souls in life and death.
Little Willie fully entered into the feelings of his mother when she told him her friend Neander was no more. Nor was the dear boy slow either to state his approval of the verses his mother had written. He was himself a born poet, his soul was full of the fire of genius, and his large eye was like an orb where every impassioned and imaginative impulse of his being was mirrored in eloquent and serene beauty. In a word, Willie was his mother's second self, and each month, not to speak of each year, seemed to see him expanding in wisdom, knowledge, and grace. Most of his mother's favourite authors he dipped into, and sought to find something in them within the grasp of the appreciation of his young intelligence. They would sit for hours mother and son conversing on the Word of God; they would walk together in the beautiful country lanes or beside the silver sea, discussing sweet themes of poetry; and the boy and his parent lived as in a holy dream. Their feet trod the earth, but their spirits dwelt in regions beyond the ken of ordinary beings. The two were a well-known and interesting picture to Douglas spectators. The very sight of them, with their chaste illumined countenances, did the beholders good; and profound was the love felt for both by many and many a sympathetic heart. Rich and poor inwardly blessed them as they passed by. That the mother entertained high hopes for her elder son no one doubted; but ah, how little did they know the magnitude of those hopes! With her idealising nature and glowing soul, she took in a sweep of vision of her son's future excellences impossible for any to imagine. Her whole being in its every pulsation was a perpetual theme of grateful adoration for the gift of this boy.
Little Philip was just as dear to the mother's heart, but he was a simple little fellow, not so far denoting any specially marked traits of character or signs of capacity.