1870: Levuka missionaries divide market by race: Methodists get Fijians; Anglicans, Solomon Islanders and mixed-race

Levuka Days of a Parson in Polynesia By C. W. Whonsbon-Aston London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1937 recorded the history of the Anglican Church work in Levuka. Early on, it appeared an agreement was made between competing missions to divide parish markets by race: Methodists got the Fijians; and the Anglicans, took the Solomon Islanders and mixed-race community, and Anglican Europeans. The Catholic mission did not appear to do a deal, and focussed on Fijians. The decision to leave Fijians to Catholic and Methodist missions did not prove a good decision for the Anglicans, as by 1937, it had abandoned its mission, as general population, small planter presence, and copra-trade fell.

History of the Anglican mission in Levuka: “The Church’s story in Levuka begins with the tale of an Irishman from County Wexford. There is no reason, as it is of a good Irishman, that we should not start at the end and pay a pilgrim’s visit to his grave, a grave full of romance, the last resting place of William E. Floyd, “the Apostle of the Anglican Communion to the Western Pacific” and pioneer priest to the scattered English people of Polynesia.

Letters of Gordon-Cumming: Miss Constance Gordon-Cumming describes the place in another connection: “At rest . . . under the shadow of a great boulder of red rock, on a headland overlooking the sea, with palms and wild citron trees and tall reedy grass all round–a most lovely spot, especially at sunrise, when the sun comes up out of the sea, or in the moonlight.” A great place to lie, on a Pacific hillslope above the sea.

Church of the Holy Redeemer: In the town of Levuka, on the shores of a pretty little bay, stands his great memorial, the Church of the Holy Redeemer, one of the most beautiful consecrated buildings in the South Seas in its setting of green lawns, hibiscus, frangipani and waving palms, with the everlasting green of the steep volcanic hills as a background and a low rock wall in front, reminiscent of the stone fences of old Ireland, his birthplace.

Irish Missionary from the Australia Goldfields: William Floyd was born in County Wexford, was educated at Beaufield Collegiate School, Enniscorthy, and went to Australia, where his people settled at Emerald Hill. He was ordained by Bishop Perry, of Melbourne, and, after a successful ministry in the goldfields, left for the romantic kingdom of Cakabau, overlord of Fiji, in 1868.

Started as a cotton-grower in 1870: He first settled as a cotton-grower at Dreketi River until on November 15, 1870, he landed in the old capital, Levuka, and began his great life’s work. Here were gathered together a strange body of white men, barristers and solicitors, doctors and merchants, sailors and adventurers, with, of course, the ubiquitous publican; most of them turbulent spirits banded together for mutual protection in the land whose royal head was the once bloodthirsty cannibal, now trying an extraordinary experiment in government under the guidance of a retired naval officer. This was the opportunity for the Church of England to help her own. It is a commentary on his work that, whenever the old hands discuss these days in relation to things moral or social, two names seem always to be linked together in admiration for their work among the Europeans–Père Breheret of the Marists and William Floyd.

Division of the missions:” Difficulties of a twofold character immediately arose. The Wesleyan missionaries had been at work among the Fijians with conspicuous success since 1835. With amazing courage and determination they had stormed the portals of cannibal chiefs and demanded an entrance for Christ the King. They had had their martyrs: so, too, had the Marists given Père Pierre Chanel in blessed martyrdom. They had translated portions of the Bible and part of the Book of Common Prayer as well, and felt that they had richly earned the privilege of alone preaching the evangelical truths for which they stood.

Catholics target Fijians: They had previously refused the request made for the holding of some form of European service “on the ground that their services were for the Fijians; that the whites came to Fiji on their own responsibility, and must therefore abide the consequence.” Floyd’s reports to the S.P.G. speak of this “determined opposition” to his work and plans, but he carried his point and later relations were of “a thoroughly friendly character.” Later an understanding was arrived at and an agreement signed by which the Church undertook not to enter into the field among the Fijians. Naturally some Fijians in later years might think differently, but any leakage to the Anglican Church would not be encouraged unduly. This has proved a fairly useful arrangement and has been honourably kept by our communion, so that our ranks have been augmented only by a few chiefs of high standing, whose contact with the outer world has given them a new outlook.


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