On the 6th of November, 1873, Glaud Rodger and Charles Wesley Wandell sailed from San Francisco on a mission to Australasia, on the barque "Domingo." Both were experienced missionaries. Rodger had preached for many years in his native land, Scotland, and later in England, and Wandell was a missionary in Nauvoo days and had been once to Australia for the Utah Church, but on his return from that mission he had visited Salt Lake City, became disappointed and left the church, only to join the Reorganization shortly before his appointment to Australia. By revelation he was called to the office of seventy, even before his baptism.
"We cast off from the pier at Stuart Street wharf at three o'clock in the afternoon, and at sunset were outside the Golden Gate and upon the bosom of the broad Pacific," says Wandell.
The weather was fine, and the little ship made an average of one hundred and sixty miles a day. They saw the North Star gradually drop from sight and watched with eagerness for the appearance of the Southern Cross that would herald their approach to the part of the world they longed to revisit. Wandell had with him some hymnbooks, the Lute of Zion, Fresh Laurels, and the Sabbath-School Bell. From these he spent much time selecting hymns for use in Australia. It was pleasant work, and he enjoyed it.
Early on the morning of the third of December, they crossed the equator. That very day a leak that had appeared in the ship's bow became so bad that they had to shorten sail to keep the ship from plunging. The captain went below to examine, found the apron split and a stream of water coming in. He administered first aid with oakum and nailed a piece of board over it to keep it there but concluded it was unsafe to proceed on their way. So they bore up for Tahiti, a little over a thousand miles away, making the island by the 13th of December.
Here the missionaries visited Queen Pomare and amused themselves by watching the natives eating strange fruits, and Wandell busied himself by finding all he could about the history of the islands. On Friday, December 19, as the two missionaries took a stroll on the Queen's Road outside of town they were accosted by two men. These natives could not speak a word of English, but the missionaries made known as well as they could that they were ministers bound for Sydney. The excitement of the two natives became greater at this word, and they clung to them, talking and gesturing, using over and over the word Parato (Pratt-Addison Pratt). Frightened at their persistence and unable to understand them, the missionaries got away from them as quickly as they could.
As they went on they met the road overseer, who spoke good English, and he told them there was a settlement of "Mormons" at Tiona (Tahitian for Zion), five miles west of town. And the ship was to sail the next day! Too late now to do anything! They fell back on the Latter Day Saint missionary's last court of resort--they prayed about it. The ship was detained until Christmas day, six days longer.
Early the next morning (the 20th and Saturday) they started before breakfast for Tiona. They stopped at the house of a man designated as a Mormon, and after having been given a drink of coconut milk, they were guided to Tiona and met David Brown, the principal man in the little colony, who spoke "sailor English." Brown had been a sailor. He was an East Indian by birth but learned to speak English on board a whaler. He had been converted by the natives, having been on the island only ten years.
The little settlement of Saints at Tiona was all excitement. Meeting was announced at three o'clock, and the glad Saints greeted each other with "Te Atua speaks again" (God reveals himself once more), while they prepared chicken breadfruit, and coconuts for their guests.
The history of the church since the missionaries had been ordered from the islands was the theme of the aftemoon's discourse, and particularly the coming of Young Joseph, all of which the Tahitian Saints accepted without question. In the evening the Saints gathered in the room of the missionary pair and sang the familiar old hymns of Zion, "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning," and others, all in Tahitian. The whole day following was spent in church services. Fifty-one were baptized, confirmed and reordained.
From the Saints the missionaries learned of the persecutions of the island brethren. At the time the missionaries were forced to leave the islands (May 15, 1852), there were between fifteen hundred and two thousand Saints scattered over about twenty islands. All meetings were prohibited, even family worship. At the time Addison Pratt and others left the islands, there were a great many of the Anaa brethren in prison in Tahiti and thirtyeight confined in Anaa. Their crime was that they had held meetings after being forbidden by the authorities. Singing, reading, or even praying was prohibited. Some were whipped so severely they had to go to the hospital for treatment.
Not only the Latter Day Saint missionaries, but all Protestant missionaries, were included in this prohibition. The Saints in Tahiti were forced to work on Queen Pomare's Road. Six of the native brethren lost their lives at the time of this persecution.
In spite of all these persecutions, the teaching of the missionaries had not been forgotten, and the branch at Tiona was kept intact all through the years they waited, watching each ship that touched at the harbor of Papeete for tidings of the church and of Parato, who had left them so long ago.
The time passed quickly now until Christmas Day, the time to go. That day is well described by Wandell:
We finished our writing, met with the Saints at the meetinghouse, and then tried to get away, but a feast was preparing, and there was no letting us off before that was over. So at eleven o'clock in the forenoon we sat down to the feast under the grateful shade of a patriarchal breadfruit tree. A raised platform was fixed for Brother Rodger and me, upon which was set for our use boiled breadfruit, raw bananas, coconut milk, fried chicken, scrambled eggs, etc., all of which was laid upon a tablecloth of spotless purity.
Our table was at the head of an oblong circle, some thirty feet across, covered with tara (taro) leaves (a large, broad leaf), which gave it the look of green carpeting. Around the edge of this circle the feast was set; the center of the circle being graced by a canoeshaped wooden vessel which held a barbecued hog.
However, before we had time to compose ourselves for the work in hand, a difficulty arose in the shape of several dogs, chickens and a pig, which incontinently broke through this charming circle of friendly Saints, and made a splendid charge on the edibles around them! But in all such contests man will come off victorious; so one brother whipped off his bandana, festooned it around one of the pig's forefeet, led him outside to a sapling, and there triumphantly tied him! The dogs and chickens were also finally got outside, and a patrol established to keep them there. So, order was restored and then, after lifting the voice in thanksgiving to the great Author of all our mercies, we set to in good earnest to do the amplest justice to what was before us.
Brother Rodger and myself were told that we could help ourselves to such as was set particularly for us, or we could call for anything in the feast. In order to show them that we entered heartily into their arrangements and felt to be one with them, we immediately called for some of the pig in the canoe. We were rewarded by a general smile of gratification, and the first cut of the pig.
The feast proceeded. It was wonderfully strange to us; all the circumstances conspired to make it so. We had started in good faith for Australia, and here we were at Tiona, in Polynesia! Why should the good barque "Domingo" spring a leak in fine weather, and in that particular part of the ocean which necessarily made Tahiti our only available refuge? Was it not one of those special providences which occasionally occur to keep us in remembrance of the unceasing watch care which Jehovah has for the cause of Zion? And who are these whose fine open countenances show the kindly spirit within? They are Latter Day Saints; not all of them old-timers, for it is probable that not more than a half a dozen of them ever heard Addison Pratt or any white elder. They have come into the church through the labor of the native elders since Brother Pratt was compelled by the French to abandon this mission.
The greater part of the Saints have now for the first time heard the voices of efders from America; and how their trusting hearts are drawn to ours! We are to them almost as though we had come from the courts of heaven! . . . At parting they embraced and kissed us. . . hung upon our necks and wept like children ....That we could remain unmoved amid such a scene was impossible. Indeed, we were quite overcome, and found it necessary to get away as soon as we consistently could. Brother Reipu had been selected to see us safe on board; but he was so overcome by his feelings that a less sensitive brother had to take his place. One sister followed us for fully a half mile; then kissing our hands, returned weeping towards Tiona.
On Christmas Day, the "Domingo" "hove up her anchor and stood out to sea," and the missionaries looked forward to the next adventure in the mission that so far had such an unexpected and auspicious beginning.
In spite of that auspicious beginning, it was June 17, 1878, before a missionary, William Nelson, sailed from San Francisco for the South Sea Islands, and he was a volunteer, using his own money for the enterprise. He was ordained an elder the day he sailed, and his experience as a missionary was slight, but he was zealous and willing. His arrival on July 23, 1878, was a joyous occasion for the native Saints. But he found the government would not permit him to stay without special papers, and he was forced to return the next year. Nothing daunted, he secured papers, returned and stayed for several years.
But at length the mission received sufficient notice to have sent them Thomas W. Smith and his wife, Helen, who sailed for the islands on the "Tropic Bird" on October 1, 1884. From that time until now, the South Sea Island Mission has been provided with help from America and has grown steadily. Several of the South Sea Island brethren have visited the States-Metuaore, Paia, Horahitu, and Mervin. One boy spent years in college in Lamoni; a child adopted by the Lakes visited America with them, but upon their return died and was buried in his native land. Two of the young ladies were trained at the Independence Sanitarium and became graduate nurses.
On the islands lies buried a brave young missionary, Charles Lake, who knowing he could not live, chose to die at the post of duty; also Clara Kellogg Ellis, who laid down her life in those faraway islands in the service of her fellow men. These are enshrined in the hearts of true Latter Day Saints, even those who never saw them, as they remember that greater love than this hath no man."
*Te Atua, Tahitian for "God."