One happy event of this time was the establishing of the Hawaiian Mission. In 1889, upon a business trip to the States, Gilbert J. Waller, a Honolulu businessman of English birth, became interested in the gospel and was baptized in Oakland, California. He immediately began to agitate the question of a mission to the islands. Elder Albert Haws1 had been appointed to that mission at the Conference of 1890, but no one was chosen to accompany him, and as a suitable person could not be found, he undertook the work alone, leaving San Francisco, September 19 on the ship "Australia." On the same ship he found two other Latter Day Saints from California, Brother and Sister C. H. Luther.
As the Reorganized Church was practically unknown on the Islands, great difficulty was experienced at first in securing a place in which meetings could be held, the people generally being opposed to anything connected with Mormonism. The efforts to secure any church building, meetinghouse, or school in which to hold services were unavailing, and it was very apparent from the start that the work would meet with strong opposition from the different religious bodies established here, prominent among which were the Roman Catholics, the Episcopalians, and the so-called "Missionary Party," the representative on these Islands of the Calvinistic or Presbyterian faith. This powerful religious body, which owed its birth to the labors of the New England missionaries who, nearly a century ago, came to these Islands from the far-off shores of New England and here planted their faith, exercised at this time, and had done so for years back, a mighty influence over the native Hawaiians. In fact, the ruler of this Island Kingdom and the government itself were largely under its control.
Those in charge of the Utah church, which has a large following on the Islands amongst the Hawaiians, the work having been established here about a half century ago [this was written in 1901] when Elder G. Q. Cannon and others visited these Islands and labored in the interest of their church also proved unfriendly, refusing to permit Elder Haws to preach in their house of worship, and endeavoring to prejudice the natives against the Reorganization.
With such opposition arrayed against them at the start, the few who were desirous of establishing the work here realized the need of divine guidance and aid which was sought for and obtained. Indeed, to them it seemed apparent that the Master had been providing for emergencies by bringing one of their number to a knowledge of the work, who was possessed of some means and who was willing to use the same when necessary for the establishment of the work. As no place could be obtained free for the holding of meetings, it was necessary to rent a hall for the purpose, funds for which and other exigencies were provided.2
The first meeting for prayer and Communion was held at the room of Elder Haws on Beretania Street, and those present were Albert Haws, Mr. and Mrs. Luther, and Gilbert J. Waller. The succeeding meetings were held in the law office of a Hawaiian lawyer by the name of Kaulukou. This man was not a professor of any kind of religion but freely offered the use of his office evenings for a Bible class, which was held several nights a week. This first meeting place of the church was at the corner of King and Bethel Streets. Here on February 1, 1890, Elder Haws preached his first sermon, much to the pleasure of the congregation, who were mostly Hawaiians. Some prayer services were also held at the homes of those who were interested during this time, but at length it seemed advisable to procure a larger place of meeting, and one of the halls of the Odd Fellows Lodge was rented for one month at a cost of fifteen dollars.
One of the advantages enjoyed by the Hawaiian Mission was the splendid literary support afforded the missionary. This work was made possible by the financial support of Gilbert J. Waller. Almost immediately two tracts were printed in Hawaiian. Another advantage enjoyed by the Hawaiian Mission was the early inclusion among the membership of a man who was an able interpreter, Joseph M. Poepoe who eventually became an elder. He was a man of outstanding ability, prominent in government affairs, and rendered invaluable service not only as an interpreter but as a translator. The Doctrine and Covenants and Book of Mormon were early made available to the Saints in their native tongue, as well as other articles and tracts. After Joseph M. Poepoe passed on, other able men took his place as interpreter and occasional translator, among whom may be mentioned Isaac N. Harbottle and James Puuohau. The work, growing slowly at first, has progressed through the years in a very satisfactory manner. Missionaries have been kept there constantly since 1890, but it is no disparagement to the work of any of them to say that the reputation of Gilbert J. Waller for honesty, integrity, and good citizenship has done more for the church in Hawaii than anything else. Endowed with those qualities that distinguished him as one of nature's noblemen, he gave a wonderful demonstration of what a Latter Day Saint businessman can do for the church, when he combines good citizenship and unimpeachable integrity with his religious zeal.
In the Society Island Mission the work went steadily forward during these years, being greatly facilitated by the use of the gospel boat. Apostle Thomas W. Smith was the first to mention having a boat of our own, when in 1886, after spending one and one half years, he wrote, "What is needed here is a small schooner, belonging to the church, but I have no hope of receiving gifts from America for that purpose."
Elder Smith undervalued the interest of his American brethren, or perhaps we should say sisters. When in 1891 Elder Devore, then in the islands, renewed the subject, Mrs. Marietta Walker and James Caffall took up the matter and made it an interesting objective. Bishop Kelley supported the move, and the Herald editors were with him. A subscription list was opened in the "Mother's Home Column," of which Marietta Walker was editor. Assisted by her niece, Lucy Lyons Resseguie, Mrs. Walker collected and published a book of poems, which she named Afterglow. The money derived went into the fund for the gospel boat. The Sunday school took it up, and many a middleaged man or woman of today thinks back upon the pleasure derived from pennies, not spent for candy, but put into a special bank to be sent to Bishop Kelley to help buy the gospel boat. There was hardly a child in the church who did not feel a personal interest in the "Evanelia." All rejoiced when, in less than three years, three thousand dollars had been collected (mostly in very small amounts), and "our boat" could be purchased. Bishop Kelley went to San Francisco in person to secure the boat. How fortunate it was then that Joseph F. Burton, the missionary, had been Captain Burton for so many years. They decided to build a boat. Nothing but the best material went into her making. Everything about her furnishings were the special gifts of friends and Sunday schools throughout the country.
Captain Burton volunteered to take her across the sea to the Islands. Captain Burton and his wife, a young missionary named Hubert Case and his bride (who was Alice Montague, daughter of an old missionary, George Montague), and the crew, Jeptha Scott, mate, and Frederick Nieman and William McGrath, sailors, made up the seven passengers aboard. On September 14, 1894, she was launched at San Francisco with an American Flag flying proudly above her, and the ceremony was celebrated in true sailor fashion, but on September 22 the Saints had their own little dedicatory service of singing and prayer, and the next day she sailed away to the Islands where three missionaries and two thousand Saints eagerly waited her coming.
They had named her "Evanelia," the Polynesian name for Gospel Ship. The "Evanelia" was the great interest of the Saints at that time and their chiefest anxiety. Zealous Saints even named their baby girls Evanelia. On November 30, after thirty-five days at sea, she rode triumphantly into harbor at Papeete, and Elder Gilbert and Metuaore were first on board to congratulate Captain Burton and admire the little gospel boat.
Bishop Kelley had warned the people who used the boat against loading her with merchandise, and for awhile his advice was heeded. The little boat went to and fro in service of the church, but at length temptation became too great and the money to be derived from carrying cargo too seductive, and she was put into the merchant trade. On July 26, 1896, overloaded, she sank in a calm sea.
A few years later another tragedy, the tidal wave of January, 1903, hampered the work in the South Sea Islands. The missionaries on the Islands then were Joseph F. Burton and Emma, his wife, a wonderful missionary pair justly revered by the church, and J. W. Gilbert and wife. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph F. Burton were at Papeete, but Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert were at Hikueru and passed through the worst of the storm. In a coconut tree they found shelter from the rising water, but the wind, after lashing the tree furiously, finally felled it, and they were forced, wading waist deep in water, to find another refuge. Finally they climbed into the high stump of another tree and managed to cling there until morning, when the receding waters revealed a scene of horror. Everywhere were dead and dying, and they could see sharks devouring the bodies of many of their dead in the sea. Nothing but sorrow and suffering were to be seen anywhere. There was almost no food or drinking water on the entire island. Of the sixty-six sailboats in the harbor, all but one or two were destroyed. No one had shelter or clothing. It was then that Elder Gilbert, rising to the occasion, as the leader of a thousand thirsty people, started in primitive fashion to distill water for drinking purposes from sea water. Had it not been for his ingenuity and thoughtfulness, many more might have perished in a still more horrible manner. The loss of the church in the islands was very great. More than five hundred perished in the storm.
The island Saints recovered from this calamity, as they had many another. They were accustomed to adversity, particularly in the earlier years of the work, when they were proscribed and vigorously persecuted by the government of the Islands (French) and yet, refused stanchly to renounce their faith. They are among the most generous, faithful, and kindly adherents of the church. The Society Island Mission has always maintained a small force of missionaries there; and a record of the names and the work accomplished by each of this small army of noble men and women who have freely sacrificed their life and time in this difficult mission would make a book in itself. Their names are held in grateful remembrance by those whom they served.
A mission was opened in the Isle of Pines, but abandoned after several years because of financial stringency and lack of missionaries. Even in the short time during which the gospel was preached there, a lasting imprint was made upon the history of the church.
1 A son of Peter Haws, well known in Nauvoo in the early days of the
2 Church History, Volume 4, pages 661, 662.