Wednesday, August 13, 2014
This post is written by Museum Guide Racheal McConnell.
If you have ever been down to the "Mission" valley and taken in the surrounds it can almost pass as a rustic scene straight from a Jane Austin novel, even after more than a century this peaceful valley still maintains an English rural feel. It is in this setting 120 years ago this month that the tiny body of John Selwyn Malegi was laid to rest in the Mission cemetery. However, John's story begins long before he was even born….
In 1867 Norfolk Island became the training centre and College of the Melanesian Mission, contrary to what certain modern authors portray, these Melanesians came from wide and far, willingly and openly, some with whole families, some already betrothed, and all young and excited by this 'new' education and way of life.A few thousand miles from Norfolk Island sits a group of Islands called the Santa Cruz group, part of the Solomon Islands the name bares testimony to those Spaniards who discovered them in the great scramble for the Pacific. These Islands had a fearsome and unpredictable reputation, for years these Islands became the hunting grounds for raiders, smugglers, head hunters and "black birders" of all races and background, looking to kidnap cheap labour to sell to cane farmers and plantation owners. This resulted in the Islanders becoming very weary of foreign ships and carrying out "revenge" killings such as the martyrdom of the Bishop of Melanesia John C. Patterson himself in 1871, killed in revenge on Nakapu, Santa Cruz. The Mission fiercely fought the Blackbirders and slave trade and doubled the efforts to gain a foothold amongst this most hostile group of Islands.
Nelua lies only 20 miles from Nakapu, it is here that John's Story really begins. John Malegi's parents were both from Nelua, and in 1893 Fanny Malegi arrived on Norfolk Island with her son little Johnnie. This was not Fanny's first time on Norfolk. She had trained here earlier on as a teacher, helper and worker. She and her husband returned to Nelua and set up a school, curious youngsters flocked to it in defiance of the "barbaric" old customs; this created a hostile and dangerous situation for John’s parents. As a result Fanny’s husband was killed and her school destroyed, bravely Fanny held her ground, but in the end for the sake of her only son she returned to the safety of Norfolk Island.
Julia Farr, god-daughter and cousin of Bishop Patterson was a nurse/worker at the Mission and it is to her we give thanks for this account. As a nurse Julia had to attend to "Little Johnnies" feet everyday. Johnnie suffered from a tropical foot disease that prevented him from walking and he spent most of his time "scuttling about on his haunches" or being carried about by everyone, everywhere. This created a deep friendship between Fanny and Julia and Johnnie became everyone’s 'pet' or as Julia says "so full of pretty ways… always calling to skul (kiss) me" or calling Julia and the girls for a walk or a play. Fanny assisted Julia in many daily rounds, the ladies worked hard and the tasks required were often thankless and praise was rarely given, from chaperoning, arrowroot making, and firewood collecting to all night nursing and having to hold classes first thing the next day.
At 11 am on the 21st of August Julia and Fanny noticed Johnnie was 'maro' sulky. The girls sat round laughing at Johnnie’s grave little face trying to get a laugh or a smile; instead he quietly buried his head against Julia, whom only that morning had played happily with him. The matriarchal, dominant yet liberal Elizabeth Colenso agreed with Julia that something was indeed wrong. Dr Metcalfe was called and feared Johnnie had "Congestion of the lungs". Mrs Colenso ordered he be placed in a hot bath and dosed regularly with Aconite. Torn between duty and love Julia had to dash off and attend to another very ill, dying boy Isaac Tuba, as well as attend her other duties. She returned at 9 to find Johnnie convulsing and vomiting violently. All through the night the nurses and the Dr tried everything Victorian medicine could offer; Mustard plasters, Linseed poultices and a lot of patience and prayer. Fanny never left his side. By 2:20 am the next morning Johnnies pulse became feeble and his temperature dropped. Julia at once placed him on a stretcher with hot bottles around him but then she writes "15 minutes later the 'wild' eyes took a natural look, the teeth unclenched and with one small sigh he 'fell asleep' so very literally no one believed it”, she goes on "it looked more like life than death and again and again we looked for signs" The frantic search for life was shattered by the broken cries of Fanny "we Paso.. We Paso" he's gone…he's gone. Fanny sat crumpled holding her boy, stroking him and talking to his lifeless body in Santa Cruz, Julia records this terrible scene; "…her grief is terrible, not noisy just heartbreaking" Eventually they dressed his body in a white night dress with a cross of pure white azaleas across his tiny folded hands. As dawn broke not a dry eye was left that day on the Mission. He was laid to rest on a cold, sunny afternoon at 2p.m on 22nd August 1894. Poor Fanny who had lost her only son, decided to return home to Nelua. We only get one last glimpse of Fanny, she writes to Julia a year later in June showing how this brave woman continued on despite losing everything She writes " the enemy wish to kill us but I do not fear them... I have not forgotten John and everyday I remember and cry for him, maybe I will not forget till death."
When the Mission left in 1920, Johnnies history all but disappeared along side it. We don’t hear from Fanny again and it is assumed she is buried on Nelua, oceans from the body of her beloved John. Now after 120 years exactly this Friday 22nd August we can re-unite mother and son in our minds and remember those that lived, loved and died here so far away from their homes.
The day after Johnnie was laid to rest Isaac Tuba lost his fight with Bright’s disease, as he was being buried along side Johnnie the same hymn floated from that scenic valley to the tops of the pine trees: "O' Lords stay now thine hand, death itself is just a relief- a beginning not an end."