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Pictonians in Foreign Fields
The Presbyterian Church in Nova Scotia was the first
of all the British Colonies to establish a mission in a foreign
land; and the Rev. John Geddie was its first missionary. To Mr.
Geddie belongs the honor of originating such a mission. It was
largely through his efforts that the Foreign Mission Board was
organized. He went out from Pictou in 1846 to the New Hebrides, the
chosen field of his labors. He was one year and seven months in
reaching his destination. For twenty-four years he labored there.
After his death a memorial tablet was erected on the island on which
were engraved these significant words: "When he landed, in 1848,
there were no Christians here; and when he left in 1872, there were
no heathen."The story of the first foreign mission enterprise of
the Presbyterians of Canada is of deep interest.
The pioneer missionary, Dr. Geddie, was born in the quiet old Scotch
town of Banff, Scotland, on the 10th day of April, 1815. When about
a year old his parents removed with him to Pictou, N. S. His father
being a clockmaker, of small earnings, the young lad could not get
much assistance from him. Like many of the world's best men, he had
to work his own way. At twenty-two he was licensed to preach. He
entertained the hope that the Presbyterian Church in Nova Scotia, of
which he was a member, would found a foreign mission of her own, and
send forth and support her own foreign missionary. But the Church
was not ready. In 1838, he accepted a call to Cavendish and New
London, Prince Edward Island, and was ordained there. Two years
before this he had married Charlotte, daughter of Dr. Alexander
McDonald, Antigonish, who proved faithful companion and helper. He
entered upon his work with ardor; but he did not forget his darling
purpose while engrossed in his labors at Cavendish. His letters to
the local papers and the Presbyterian Banner attracted attention and
were read widely. He organized a missionary society in his own
church, and induced other congregations to do the same in theirs. He
won many of the people; the Presbytery of Prince Edward Island, and
finally, the Synod of Nova Scotia to his views.
In July, 1843, the year of the disruption in Scotland, an overture
was introduced for the first time in Synod to undertake foreign
mission work. At the next meeting of Synod, held in Pictou, July 11,
1844, it was resolved by a vote of 20 to 14 to appoint a Board of
Foreign Missions. The Board consisted of Revs. John Keir, R. S.
Patterson, Robert Douglass, William McGregor, John Geddie, John C.
Sinclair, James Bayne, James Waddell, John McCurdy and John I.
Baxter. Several elders were added. The first meeting was held at the
close of Synod in Pictou, John Keir, convener, James Waddell,
recording Secretary, and John Geddie, corresponding Secretary. A
year later, Revs. David Roy and George Christie, with John W.
Dawson, (afterward Sir John W., principal of McGill University) were
added to the Board. Dr. Dawson was a life long friend of Dr. Geddie
and his mission.
The Board reported progress to the Synod of 1845. By a majority of
one the Synod authorized them to select a field and appoint a
missionary. The Board met September 24, 1845; and, after prayerful
consideration, chose the South Sea Islands as their field, and Rev.
John Geddie as their missionary. Thus, nearly seventy years ago, the
foreign mission work of the Church first took definite shape. It
will be easily seen that the year was a marked one in the history of
Canadian Presbyterianism. With a Synod composed of only twenty
ministers, fifteen elders and five-thousand members; a treasury
which had only $1000, and a motion to send a missionary carried with
the bare majority of one, they launched the enterprise! No wonder
there was much apprehension as to its future. In all the succeeding
years that historic act has given energy and courage to the
Presbyterians of the Maritime Provinces, and inspired the rest of
the country to imitate their example. That enterprise with its one
missionary has developed into missions in Trinidad, Central India,
Formosa, China and Korea. In 1845, the Church was able to raise a
foreign mission fund of only $1000. Today, the Church is raising
about $310,000 to sustain its missions, and has 146 missionaries in
The designation services of Mr. and Mrs. Geddie took place in Prince
St. Church, Pictou, November 3, 1846. Soon afterwards they started
for their field of labor. Think of traveling 113 miles by coach to
Halifax! Think of 8 days tossing on the sea from Halifax to Boston!
Think of one hundred and seventy days from Boston to Honolulu, when
for three weeks their little brig battled for life with tremendous
storms at the Cape, and then, the voyage from Honolulu to Samoa
occupying 38 days! They had sailed over 19,000 miles. At Samoa, they
were detained for eight months. There Dr. and Mrs. Geddie left their
eldest child as they could not take it to live among cannibals.
Already they had had a taste of trial and hardship in their family.
Dr. Geddie had left behind him an aged and devoted mother. Did these
things quell his ardor or hinder his efforts? On the contrary, they
stimulated him to push forward to reach the place of his chosen life
work. On the thirteenth day of July, 1848, he sighted Aneityum. On
the following day he first set foot on its soil.
The voyage, it will be seen, occupied one year and seven months. We
can form no conception of the toil and weariness and danger involved
in such a long, stormy, and dangerous voyage. Now, the New Hebrides
can be reached from Pictou, in less than three months, in the
enjoyment of comforts and luxuries, besides speed and safety, to
which our first missionary was a complete stranger. He was just as
truly the "Apostle of the New Hebrides" as Paul was the "Apostle of
the Gentiles." Here Mr. Geddie began his work among a people of the
lowest type. Before many years the entire system of heathenism gave
way. Churches were built, schools established, children trained and
godly homes erected. Aneityum became a centre from which light
radiated to the other islands. It became a crown of glory in the
history of missionary endeavor.
In 1865, Dr. Geddie with his wife paid a visit to Nova Scotia, their
only visit. They were the first "returned missionaries" ever
welcomed by the Presbyterian churches in Canada. Dr. Geddie told the
story of his work with a simplicity and pathos that could not be
surpassed. The people never tired of his thrilling tale. He returned
and continued his labors for six other years, till, December 14,
1872, when, at Geelong, Australia, he passed to his reward, at the
age of fifty-eight the pioneer missionary of the Presbyterian Church
in Canada the founder of the first Canadian Mission to the heathen
in a foreign land.
Nova Scotia has many heroes and heroines on her roll of honor. Among
these, Dr. Geddie and his devoted wife deserve a foremost place.
Mrs. Geddie is still living at Melbourne, Australia, retaining her
faculties and her interest in the work. She may fittingly be called
the mother of the Mission, for she rocked the cradle of the first
born Nova Scotia Mission. Mrs. Geddie has two daughters, wives of
missionaries in the New Hebrides: Mrs. Neilson, wife of Rev. Thos.
Neilson, of Tanna, whom she had taken with her, a child in arms,
when she left Nova Scotia; and Mrs. MacDonald, wife of Rev. D.
MacDonald of Efate. Her youngest daughter, Mrs. C. G. Harrington of
Halifax, died recently.
Pictonians at Home and Abroad, 1914