Telescopic Philanthropy

The unsigned feature article on the front page of the paper, in its criticsm of spending large amounts of money on foreign natives when the money could be put to better use at home, cites the case of William Parker Snow against the South American Missionary Society. “Ramsden” was Robert John Ramsden, one of the Society's trustees.

If charity, as the old proverb says, “should begin at home,” should not that still wider form of charity implied in the diffusion of the beneficent truths of Christianity into the minds and hearts of the people begin at home also? Why should missions be sent to the remotest corners of the earth—to Patagonia and Terra del Fuego—when there is barbarism as fierce, vice as deplorable, and ignorance as dense in the purlieus of Bethnal-green and Limehouse? Why should the naked savage, ten thousand miles away, claim the care that can be more cheaply as well as more effectually employed upon the half-clad savage in the back slums of London? These questions have been often asked. Satire and remonstrance have alike been brought into requisition to induce good old ladies and pious young ones, and the ministers of the gospel whose eloquence extracts the annual subscriptions and church and chapel door donations from their pockets, to lay down the evangelical telescope and ply the microscope instead. It cannot be said that either such remonstrances or such ridicule have been altogether in vain. Home missions have increased in popularity and usefulness, and foreign missions, though still flourishing, have ceased to monopolise the good wishes or the guineas of zealous Christians. Those who desire to see what an expenditure of time, money, energy and philanthropy but too often takes place without any other results than utter failure, not always unaccompanied by the suffering and misery of those who are employed in the cause, in consequence of the romantic fondness of people with good intentions for the christianisation of savages, have but to read the report of the recent law case of Snow against Ramsden. A deplorable case it is; but if the publicity given to it shall divert a single guinea from Patagonia, Terra del Fuego, or “Borri-a-boulah-gah,” and send it to fertilise the moral and spiritual wastes of our own country, the record will not altogether be useless to the cause of civilisation.

We have no desire to discuss the merits of the case as between the plaintiff and the defendants. We wish merely to show from the statements made at the trial itself, and from some other circumstances connected with it that have come to our knowledge, how little the good people of England who subscribe to missions for the evangelisation of savages know about the business they undertake, and how utterly they throw away their cash and their good intentions, both of which might find such abundant scope for beneficial activity under their very noses.

The Patagonians are a fine and stalwart race, of far above the average mental capacity of the aborigines of South America. The mission dispatched several years ago under Captain Allan [sic, Allen] Gardiner, of the Royal Navy, to convert them to Christianity, failed miserably. The gallant Captain and his comrades in the enterprise, having been expelled by the Fuegians, were literally starved to death on an inhospitable coast, where they were left without adequate provisions, or any means of obtaining them. Undeterred by this failure, another expedition was planned shortly afterwards, of which a Mr. Parker Snow was appointed the captain. A small schooner, having been built for the purpose, and named the Allan Gardiner, after the unhappy martyr of the first expedition, set sail for the Falkland Islands. The captain's instructions were to find two natives named Billy [sic, Jemmy] Button and Cassimoora [sic, York Minster?], who had been in England, and to bring them to the Falkland Islands, the proposed head-quarters of the mission, where these two men, and such others as they could induce to follow them, were to be instructed in Christian doctrine, with the view of being afterwards made instrumental in the conversion of their countrymen. But the Fuegians are of a far lower type of humanity than the Patagonians;—a savage as well as an abject race, who, ignorant of the use of implements, hollow out the trunks of trees by means of fire to make their rude canoes, and who live in such habitual semi-starvation that, when a whale is stranded on the shore, they crawl into the carcass to eat the raw flesh and entrails, and are but too often reduced to cannibalism in its most disgusting forms. A Fuegian who had helped to eat the body of his grandmother was asked why he did not kill his dog instead of the old woman? “Dog catch otter,” was the reply; “old woman no can.” To civilise this race the Allan Gardiner, as we are informed, took out materials for commencing a settlement and building houses; and a vessel of war, the Dido, afterwards brought out such a number of ploughs and other agricultural implements as virtually to incumber the ship; Captain Gardiner's first expedition having favoured the natives with large quantities of tracts in the English language. Whether the tracts were sown broadcast in Terra del Fuego we are not informed; nor do we know, supposing even that they were left among the natives, to what uses they were applied. Captain Snow and his party were not better received by the natives than their predecessors had been. The captain and the missionaries, who certainly by their own account were not sufficiently imbued with the Christian spirit to love each other, then turned their thoughts to the Falkland Islands. The missionaries and some other promoters of the scheme who were on board complained of the captain “because he did not pray enough,” although there were public prayers three times a day; but neither captain nor missionaries, who thought so much of the efficacy of prayer, thought it worth their while to make themselves acquainted with the laws and ordinances of the Falkland Islands. The consequence was that when they arrived at Stanley, the capital of the islands, they found themselves in collision with the Governor, Mr. Rennie. That gentleman on reaching the Falkland Islands, in the winter of 1848, found a considerable number of South American Gauchos—many of them half-caste Indians—in a state of actual starvation, and destitute of employment, food, or shelter. Indeed, he feared that some of them had actually died from cold and want before he was fully aware of their misery. On inquiry he learnt that these unfortunates had been brought to the islands by some extensive cattle-farmers, who required their services for the capturing and management of the wild cattle of the islands during the summer; but, having no employment for them in the winter, they had been discharged totally unprovided to get through the winter as best they could, and he was obliged to support them from the scanty colonial funds. As a repetition of this state of things could not be permitted he submitted an “Alien” ordinance to the Legislative Council with provisions to the following effect:—That no shipmaster or settler should be allowed to land or leave on the islands any alien without entering into a bond of security to the amount of £20 that the alien should be re-exported or maintained free of charge on the colony. This ordinance passed ths Council unanimously, and was confirmed by her Majesty's Government without alteration.

Prior to their interview with Mr. Rennie, and to their reception of this—to them utterly unexpected—information, the captain and missionaries had been cruising for nearly two months about the western portions of the Falkland Islands, and had, in fact, landed with a view of settling two men on Keppel Island, with materials to erect houses and stores, and a very limited supply of provisions. As Keppel Island is totally uninhabited, nearly one hundred and fifty miles from Stanley, without any communication with the human race except the remote chance that a vessel engaged in the seal fishery may visit it once, or at the utmost twice, in the year, Governor Rennie very humanely and properly urged upon Captain Snow the necessity of sending adequate supplies to the two men he had left behind, and indicated—as we think very wisely—that if he failed to do so he might, in case either of the men died of neglect and starvation, be held guilty of manslaughter. Nor was this all. The Governor—whose philanthropy was quite as great as theirs, and whose wisdom was infinitely greater—asked how the natives whom it was proposed to bring to the Falkland Islands were to be procured? One of the missionaries replied, “I suppose we must buy them from the chiefs.” The Governor, as in duty bound, after this naive admission, cautioned them in the strongest terms to be careful under such circumstances that they did not subject themselves to a charge of kidnapping—if not of something worse—if they brought away any of these miserable savages without their own consent. These accumulated difficulties—every one of which ought to have been foreseen and provided against if the leaders, and promoters of the enterprise had had any sufficient knowledge of practical business—were fatal to the scheme. Although Captain Snow afterwards returned to Terra del Fuego and found “Billy Button,” that highly respectable savage absolutely refused to come away, or to be christianised any further. What became of the men left on Keppel Island we are not told; but the expedition speedily afterwards came to a natural though ignominous end. Captain Snow was dismissed by the representative of his employers, and found his way to England, to sue the mission for breach of contract. As we said before, we do not enter into the case as between Captain Snow and his employers. We only allude to the subject at all to show the benevolent persons who burn with zeal to christianise the world how much easier and simpler it would be if they would give their guineas to christianise their fellow-countrymen. Half the money uselessly squandered in Patagonia and Terra del Fuego might have borne the Gospel truth to a thousand “City Arabs” in London, and aided them to bear the hardships of a severe winter. What is wanted is the philanthropic microscope to look at the misery which is at our feet, and not the telescope that has so wide a range as to be unable to discover any fitting objects nearer than Patagonia.