Life in Hawaii, by Titus Coan
Copyright ©1882, 1997 (electronic edition by Edward J. Coan)

Chapter V.

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Mrs. Coanís School for Girls Common Schools--Medical Work The Sailorsí Church Sunday Work Visits of Foreign Vessels The U. S. Exploring Expedition.

IN the year 1838, Mrs. Coan opened a boarding school for native girls. This was to be self-supporting in part, but to receive such aid in labor, food, kapas, mats, etc., as parents and friends chose to render.

As soon as the plan was made known to the church and people they rallied cheerfully, went into the woods, hauled down timber by hand, and with great promptness erected and thatched a comfortable building on our premises. A floor was laid over about one fourth of the building, on which was placed a table, and a few chairs for the teacher and visitors.

On each side of the remaining three-fourths of the house was a row of little open cells, partitioned from each other by mats, and furnished with beds of straw or dried grass, and with mats and kapas for coverings. In the space between these rows of compartments was a plain table, with seats, bowls, spoons, etc., for the pupils. The number of little girls in the school was twenty, their ages from seven to ten years. Arrangements were made with the people living in and near the town, that they should bring in weekly supplies of food and fish for the girls. Taro, potatoes, bananas, and fish were then abundant and cheap, and the people provided willingly. At length they set apart a parcel of ground and appointed each monthly concert day as a time when they would cultivate that ground and thus supply the food necessary for the school.

Little gifts of money were sometimes made by strangers who came to Hilo, by officers of whale ships and men-of-war; or a piece of print or brown cotton was given, and thus the real wants of the school were supplied. No application to the A. B. C. F. M., or to any Board, or to an individual was ever made for help. Mrs. Coan toiled faithfully from day to day, in spite of pressing family cares, teaching her charges the rudiments of necessary book knowledge, and of singing, sewing, washing and ironing, gardening, and other things. Most of the girls became members of the Hilo church, and we had hope that all were the children of God. The school was sustained about eight years, and sent out a company of girls, who, for the most part, did honor to their instructions, and who were distinguished among their companions for neatness, skill, industry, and piety. As domestic cares increased and her strength was weakened, the faithful teacher at length felt compelled to give up her charge.

For a time I had the supervision of the common schools, numbering not less than fifty, and containing about 2,000 pupils. My duties were to furnish them with books, slates, and pencils; to visit them on my tours, to attend their examinations, and make a tabular record of numbers, readers, writers, etc. For want of writing-paper or a full supply of slates, the children would prepare square pieces of the green banana-leaf, and with a wooden style or slate-pencil form letters and thus learn to write.

At the central station and on all my tours I was thronged with the sick and afflicted multitudes, or their friends, begging for remedies for almost all kinds of diseases. So numerous were the applications for medicines, and so varied and sad were the spectacles of disease, that it became a task for the skill and the whole time of a well-read and experienced physician. I had a fair collection of medical books, and these were consulted as much as was possible in connection with my other labors, but my regret was that I could not visit the sick as I wished, or pay them the attention they needed.

When at last, in 1849, a good physician, Charles H. Wetmore, was sent to our relief, my heart rejoiced. I immediately resigned my medical functions, turned over my medicine-chest and drugs to him, and blessed the Lord that I was not doomed to wander "forty years in the wilderness of powders and pills." This kind and faithful doctor with his excellent wife have been our nearest neighbors ever since their arrival.

I was also greatly relieved of the care of the common schools by Mr. and Mrs. Abner Wilcox, lay missionaries, who came to us as teachers and remained in Hilo several years.

Previous to our arrival, when whale-ships and other vessels were in the harbor of Hilo, the officers and crews received kind attentions from the missionaries at this station. The Reverends Joseph Goodrich, Jonathan Green, Sheldon Dibble, and D. B. Lyman, and their wives, had entertained many of these sons of the deep, given them reading-matter, and sought to promote their spiritual interests.

We were at once ready to help in this important work. Masters, officers, and sailors were made welcome to our house; books and tracts were provided for them to take to sea, and a religious service was held for them every Sunday afternoon.

For many years this service was held in one of the houses of the missionaries. Finally, we fitted up the old stone-building, our first home, for a bethel, and added a library of about 200 volumes, with periodicals.

My regular services on the Sabbath were: a Sunday-school at 9 A.M.; preaching at 10:30; at 12 M. a meeting for inquirers; at 1 P.M. preaching; and at 3 P.M. preaching in English to seamen, and English-speaking residents and visitors. When ships were in port we often had a full house, and not a few hearers professed a determination to forsake all sin and to live godly lives. Of some we afterward learned, either by their own letters or otherwise, that they had kept their vows and united with Christian churches, and that some had become ministers of the Gospel.

Several masters and officers gave up Sabbath whaling, and instead held religious meetings with their men on the Lordís day.

Very precious friendships were formed with many of these seamen, which friendships continue to this day. We have found noble specimens, not only of generosity and fine natural talent among this class of men, but also many choice Christians.

Not a few national ships have visited Hilo, from the tender or schooner up to the sloop-of-war, the frigate and the great seventy-four-gun line-of-battle ship, as the Collingwood and Ohio.

The largest of these ships represented the United States of America, the next Great Britain, then France, Russia, Germany, and Denmark. We have had more than seventy-five of these war-ships of different nationalities in our harbor, and of all classes of vessels about 4,000. The approximate number of seamen who have visited Hilo during our residence here we put at 40,000.

In this labor for seamen I have been led to correspond with the American Bible, Tract, Peace, Temperance, and Seamenís Friend Societies, and have obtained Bibles and tracts in the English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Danish, and Chinese languages; which with many thousands of tracts have been distributed among these vessels. Some of this "bread cast upon the waters" has been found again according to the promise.

In 1840, Charles Wilkes, commander of the United States Exploring Expedition, arrived in Hilo bay in the flag-ship Vincennes. Here with an admirable corps of scientists he spent three months in explorations, measurements, observations, etc. Parties of officers and scientific gentlemen were detailed to visit different parts of the island, some to ascend the mountains, and some to survey the shore, making collections, drawings, and observations in all the branches of the natural history of the Islands. The commander called for 300 young and vigorous men to take him, with the materials of a wooden house and all the apparatus of a large observatory, with food, fuel, water, beds, etc., to the summit of Mauna Loa, where he and his attendants were to spend twenty or thirty days in taking observations.

Other parties required large numbers of men to carry baggage, instruments, etc., and to act as guides and assistants in making surveys and collecting a large amount of specimens.

Parties of natives thus employed needed to be recruited often on account of fatigue and exhaustion, and for the lack of shoes and warm clothing to endure the hard travel and the rains, cold, and snows of the mountains. Some died of cold. It is supposed that about one thousand of our strongest men were brought into this service, and with small pay, during these three months. Some parties of men were required to travel and work on Sunday as on other days. All this had a demoralizing effect upon the poor natives. They had been accustomed to rest from all physical toil, and to worship on the Lordís day. Our congregations were much reduced in numbers. There was no little murmuring among the people at this new state of things, and for years the moral tone of the church and community could not be fully restored to its cheerful and normal state.

This was a trial of faith, and a fan to winnow the church, but most of our Christians stood fast, and although it checked the progress of the revival, the loss to the church was less than might have been feared.

The visit of the expedition to Hilo afforded us an opportunity to form an acquaintance with many worthy gentlemen , several of whom we met again in the United States in I870Ė1. Among these we met and received as a very welcome guest the then youthful James D. Dana, one of the scientific corps, now so distinguished in various departments of natural science, and honored as a Christian philosopher. The friendship then formed has been increased by years and can never wane.


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