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We never hear of a great catastrophe without seeing, or fancying that we see, how it might have been averted. And it is a relief from the sharpness of sorrow to be allowed to criticise the conduct of others, and to point out the simple precautions which ought to have been adopted. In concluding the foregoing narrative, many will feel that this entire mission was sadly mismanaged. They will condemn the initial blunder which induced seven men, divided betwixt two little boats, to venture into seas so wild, and among savages so treacherous; and in such an expedition they will say that a strong ship, ably manned, was the true economy. They will lament the over-sanguine calculation which, for an imprisonment of uncertain duration, provided supplies so very limited; and they will allege that it was not prudent generalship, but a foolhardy trust in the chapter of accidents, which, for its commissariat, drew on the uncaught fish and fowl of Fuegia, and the unpurchased beef of Montevideo. They will lift up their hands at the successive fatalities which left the ammunition on ship-board, which lost the fishing-nets, and which, the very first day they were used, let the dingies go adrift. They will point out expedients which might from time to time have been tried with advantage; and, with the precedent of long voyages in whale-boats and wherries, they will wonder why the adventurers did not seek to escape in their launches to some more friendly shore. And, in the fair distribution of reproof, they will blame the directors who allowed their agents to depart so scantily provided, and who permitted nine months instead of six to elapse betwixt the sailing of the Ocean Queen and the despatch of additional supplies.
We do not deprecate discussion, and we are assured that the community eventually gains much from the freedom with which the proceedings of associations and official personages are reviewed by the organs of public opinion. And it is only candid to add that we have felt in full force some of the regrets which have been expressed in regard to this Patagonian Mission. But it ought to be remembered that the scanty equipment of the expedition was necessitated by the want of funds. None knew better than Captain Gardiner the desirableness of a large sloop or brig; but as this was utterly unattainable, he resolved to do his best with such launches as the Society could afford. And although an ample supply of provisions would have been a great security, the boats could scarcely carry more; and believing that in the directors at home, in correspondents at Montevideo, and in the produce of the islands, he had three strings to his bow, the leader of the enterprise again yielded to his too chivalrous anxiety to spare the funds of a Society whose treasury was low, and whose friends were few. On the other hand, to account for the disasters of Banner Cove and Lennox Harbour, we would need to exchange places with the devoted band, and imagine ourselves an inexperienced crew of seven persons, two of them mere landsmen, divided betwixt two vessels, contending with ceaseless tempests, drenched in rain, pierced with cold, disheartened by hunger and disease, and only left the wretched choice betwixt a coast swarming with cannibals, and “ desolate places,” the domain of frost and hunger. And to account for the delay in forwarding supplies, we would need to exchange places with the office-bearers, and repeat the desperate search for a conveyance made by men whose freight was no inducement to ships of any value, and who had not the means wherewith to charter a vessel of their own.
But from all disputes about secondary causes, and from vain speculations about contingencies which cannot now be realised, the Christian will raise his thoughts to that “ determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” which ordained the
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result, and which overlooked none of the intervening incidents; and, in a world which owes everything to the vicarious principle on which it is administered, he will try to ascertain the lessons taught by the sufferings and the self-sacrifice of these missionary-martyrs.
To every devout reader there must be confirmation and encouragement in such a narrative as the one now concluded. Seldom have we met with a more striking example of “ comfort in the wilderness ;” and, after perusing the experience of Mr Williams, no Christian need fear that his circumstances will be ever so forlorn, but that the Heavenly Comforter can still inspire him with a “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Illumed by an immortal prospect, the dreary cabin becomes
none other than the gate of heaven;" and, cheered by a celestial Visitor, the long hours of an Antarctic night are never counted. Without a crust of bread, the spirit is regaled with “ food such as angels eat;” and, in a disease depressing beyond most others, hope and exultation are the predominant emotions.
And far from repenting their own rashness,-farther still from “ charging God foolishly,”—they congratulate their lot, on being counted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake; and when, in their little hospital, the first death takes place, the good soldier asks his feeble comrade to join him in a hymn.
Nor is it a small matter to find that the Saviour
has still disciples who are willing not only to suffer, but to die for his sake. Last century produced no martyrs : but there is again faith in the earth; and the convicts of Tuscany, the thousand exiles of Madeira, the slaughtered hundreds of Madagascar, “ the martyr of Erromanga,” and the protoevangelists of Fuegia, all shew that there are many to whom Christ is so precious, that they are prepared to follow him to prison and to death.
But, besides their lesson of self-devotion, have not these good confessors left to the Church a legacy of duty ? Have not their writings, so remarkably preserved, come back from the ends of the earth, as a cry to go over and help these poor degraded Indians ?
With the precedents of New Zealand and the South Sea Isles, there is nothing in the treachery, the barbarism, nor even in the cannibalism of these Araucanians, to make a Christian philanthropist despair; whilst, in their position as à possible inlet to the vast Indian populations of the mainland, there is a powerful inducement to early and untiring effort.
Nor should we omit a subordinate and selfish reason for attempting to evangelise these islanders and their Patagonian neighbours. Within the last five years the Straits of Magellan and the ocean highway round Cape Horn have been traversed by an unprecedented amount of shipping ; and, as long as this continues the main route to San Fran