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LETTERS

ON

THE NICOBAR ISLANDS,

THEIR NATURAL PRODUCTIONS,

AND

_The Manners, Customs, and Superstitions of the_

NATIVES;

With an Account of an Attempt made by

THE CHURCH OF THE UNITED BRETHREN,

TO CONVERT THEM TO

CHRISTIANITY.


Addressed by

_THE REV. JOHN GOTTFRIED HAENSEL,_

(_The only surviving Missionary_)


TO

THE REV. C. I. LATROBE.


_LONDON_:

PRINTED FOR THE EDITOR, NO. 10, NEVIL'S COURT, FETTER LANE,
BY W. McDOWALL, PEMBERTON ROW.

AND SOLD BY

HATCHARD, 190, PICCADILLY; L. B. SEELEY, 169, FLEET STREET;
JOHN LE FEBVRE, CHAPEL PLACE, NEVIL'S COURT;
BINNS AND HAZARD, CHEAP STREET, BATH;
AND MARTIN KEENE, DUBLIN,

1812.




TO

_William Wilberforce, Esq. M.P._

&c. &c. &c.


DEAR SIR,

Your obliging inquiries concerning the attempt made by the Church of
the United Brethren, to establish a mission in the Nicobar Islands, I
have not been able hitherto to answer as fully as I wished, the
documents in my possession being few and unconnected, and a reference
to Crantz's History of the Brethren, p. 504 and 614, furnishing but a
short notice of the commencement of that undertaking. The difficulty
attending our correspondence with our Brethren on the Continent, has
likewise so much increased, that I cannot expect to be soon supplied
with more detailed accounts from our archives; and the continuation of
Crantz's History, in which a concise report of the progress of the
mission is inserted, is not translated into English. I was glad
therefore unexpectedly to meet with an opportunity of conversing with
John Gottfried Haensel, a missionary from St. Thomas in the West
Indies, who was formerly employed in the Nicobar mission, and resided
for seven years in the island of Nancauwery. This worthy veteran has
spent eighteen years in the East, and seventeen in the West Indies, and
altogether thirty-eight years in the service of the Brethren's
missions; yet by God's blessing, after suffering numberless hardships
and dangerous illnesses, at the age of sixty-three he remains a most
active, cheerful, and zealous labourer in the Lord's vineyard.

In the course of our frequent conversations on various subjects,
relating to the occurrences of his past life, he interspersed so many
curious and interesting particulars concerning his residence in the
Nicobar Islands; that I could not help requesting him to commit them to
writing, as they might occur to his recollection. This he very
obligingly consented to do; and though, by my particular desire, he did
not study to make out a complete history, the labour and formality of
which might have suppressed, in a great degree, the liveliness of his
manner, but left the arrangement of the subjects to me; yet I am of
opinion, that you will read what he has written with pleasure, and
esteem these fragments worthy of preservation. Many of your questions
will be pretty satisfactorily answered by them, and I have therefore
translated them for your perusal. They exhibit a degree of patience and
perseverance in the prosecution of missionary labours, in hope against
hope, such as has hardly been exceeded in our Greenland and North
American missions, with the history of which you are acquainted.

The mission of the United Brethren in the Nicobar Islands, was
undertaken in the year 1758. A person of high rank at the court of
Denmark, having intimated to the directors of the Brethren's missions,
that it would give particular pleasure to the King, if some of their
missionaries would settle on the Nicobar Islands, and endeavour to
instruct the inhabitants in the principles of the Christian religion;
they resolved to comply with his Majesty's wishes.

A commercial establishment had been formed on these islands in 1756,
when the name of Frederic's Islands was given to them; but the first
attempt miscarried, and almost all the colonists sent thither from
Tranquebar, soon died. The Brethren, however, were not discouraged.
After some negociation with the Danish Asiatic company, having obtained
an edict, granting them necessary privileges to preach the gospel to
the heathen, and to maintain their own church-discipline and worship,
they agreed to begin the work, and several Brethren offered themselves
for this service. The names of the first missionaries were George John
Stahlman, Adam Gottlieb Voelcker, and Christopher Butler. They arrived
July 2, 1760, at Tranquebar, and were received by the Governor and all
the inhabitants, with much cordiality.

As an establishment on the coast of Coromandel, was found indispensably
necessary to support the new mission, they bought a piece of ground,
about a mile from Tranquebar, built a house, with out-houses and
work-shops, and maintained themselves by their several trades. This
settlement was called _The Brethren's Garden_.

A second company followed them in the same year. According to
directions given by the Brethren in Europe, they carefully avoided all
interference with the worthy Lutheran missionaries residing at
Tranquebar, by whose pious exertions many Malabars had been converted
to Christianity.

The Danish East India company, not being able to renew their settlement
in the Nicobar islands as soon as was expected, offers were made to the
Brethren by the English Governor of Bengal, to settle on the Ganges;
but they resolved to wait with patience for an opportunity to prosecute
their first plan, and obtain the original aim of their mission to the
East Indies. This presented itself in 1768, when the Danish government
formed a new establishment in the Nicobar islands. Six Brethren were
immediately ready to go thither. They settled on Nancauwery.

In 1769, several officers of the company, with a party of soldiers and
black servants, arrived from Tranquebar, and brought with them a
considerable quantity of merchandize. But they died so fast, that in
1771 only two European soldiers, and four Malabar servants survived.
This second failure deterred the company from repeating their attempt,
and the project of establishing a factory in the Nicobar islands was
abandoned. The four Brethren residing there were charged with the sale
of the remaining goods, and experienced no small inconvenience and
trouble from this commission.

In 1773, however, a vessel was sent from Tranquebar, which relieved
them, by taking back the articles of trade left on hand, and bringing
them the provisions they wanted.

As the means of thus supplying the missionaries with the necessaries of
life, by uncertain communications with Tranquebar, were too precarious,
the Brethren resolved to venture upon annually chartering a vessel for
that purpose. Mr. Holford, an English gentleman, residing at
Tranquebar, rendered them herein the most essential service. He joined
them in fitting out a small ship, which arrived in 1775, with
provisions, &c. at Nancauwery, and returned with the produce of the
country; the sale of which, however, by no means repaid the expence
attending the outfit. Mr. Holford, nevertheless, did not lose his
courage. Another vessel was fitted out, and sailed in 1776, but having
missed the entrance into the Nicobar islands, after long combating
contrary winds and currents, she was obliged to cast anchor near
Junkceylon, where she deposited her cargo. A third vessel had meanwhile
set out for Nicobar, but was equally unsuccessful. Thus the
difficulties attending the support of the settlement increasing, this
and other causes, mentioned in the course of the following letters,
occasioned the final abandonment of the mission in 1787.

You will however perceive, that Mr. Haensel expresses an opinion
concerning future attempts to preach the gospel to the natives of the
Nicobar islands, which is by no means discouraging.

With the sincerest esteem and gratitude for the many proofs you have
given of your kind notice of the labours of the Church of the United
Brethren among heathen nations,

I remain ever,

Dear Sir,

Your most obliged,

and most faithful friend

and servant,

_C. I. Latrobe._

LONDON, _May_ 12, 1812.




LETTERS

ON

THE NICOBAR ISLANDS.




LETTER I.


As you have desired me to repeat, in writing, the substance of our
conversations respecting the Nicobar Islands, and the mission of the
Brethren, begun there in 1758, in which I was employed from the year
1779, till the attempt was relinquished in 1787; I will endeavour, as
far as my recollection will enable me, to satisfy your wishes.

The Nicobar Islands are situated at the entrance of the Bay of Bengal,
in 8 N. latitude, and 94 20" E. longitude, north of Sumatra.
Nancauwery is one of the southernmost, and forms, with _Comarty_[1] to
the north, a commodious harbour, sheltered to the eastward by a long,
but narrow island, called _Tricut_, flat, and abounding in cocoa trees;
and to the westward, by _Katsoll_, which is larger. Ships may ride here
very safely.

[1] See Asiatic Researches, Vol. II. 344, III. 292, IV. 132, 328.
Rennel's Memoir, p. 40. Comarty is called Sampieri, in Mr.
Haensel's MSS. and Sombrero in a French chart.

On the north-west point of Nancauwery, behind a low hill, and
contiguous to the best landing-place, on a sandy beach, lay the
missionary-settlement of the United Brethren, called by the natives,
_Tripjet_, or the dwelling of friends, where I arrived in January 1779,
in company of Brother Wangeman. On our passage hither we were driven by
contrary winds to Queda, on the Malay coast. Here we immediately
inquired for Captain Light, having often heard at Tranquebar, that he
was well disposed towards the Brethren and their missions, of which he
had received some account from Dr. Betschler. We were soon conducted to
his dwelling, where we met with a most cordial reception. Being here
without any other recommendation, his friendship and kindness proved
most gratifying and useful to us.



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