Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "The Accidental Ethnographer." (Coming Soon)
Click below for other posts from Ocean and Isle:
|[a] Strait tips RF|
|[b] Passage RF|
He wrote about it all, and he took pictures. The former is not without problem; the latter is easily his legacy. It is all a fascinating picture of an American abroad in a peculiarly resonant time in American history—from the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 to the end of World War I. This series will grow as my research does, but let's get started with Geil's own words—a little from each of his published books.
And, indeed, even these lines are complicated and wince-inducing. If you don't think so, just look at the end of the "poem." It is not enough to call it a different era. We need to challenge it and understand it.
Landmark No. 1.—Creation of Thursday Island, unrecorded—Omne ignotum pro
magnifico—probably the same as the sun, moon, and stars.
Landmark No. 2.—The visit of the sons of God to the daughters of men—also
beyond historical computation, an insoluble problem.
Landmark No. 3.—Luis Vaez de Torres, A.D. 1606.
Landmark No. 4.—Captain Cook, A.D. 1770. As the Act was being thought out
and passed which levied a duty on tea, and lost to Great Britain the American
colonies, Cook was annexing Australia and these Islands, thus compensating
somewhat for Britain's loss through the tea duty.
Landmark No. 5.—Voyages of the "Fly" and the "Rattlesnake." This brings us
down to modern days. The island is composed of two cannon-crowned hills,
and three other small mountains, with plenty of rocks, but little soil. According
the recent census, Thursday Island has now a population of 1,600 odd; this is
literally true, for there are no two alike. It is probably the most cosmopolitan
population for the number of its inhabitants that one could find on this planet.
This feature of the island has been celebrated by a poet unknown, in the
"Up in regions equatorial,
Blest with scenery pictorial,
Pursuits mainly piscatorial,
Lies an island known to fame.
Pearling lives and pearling thrives there,
Colored races live in hives there,
White men only risk their lives there.
Thursday Island is its name.
"Every race it opes its gates to,
Every country it relates to,
Key to Hell and Torres Straits too,
Through a speck upon the map.
What though whites first trod upon it!
What though Anglo-Saxons won it!
Chows and Cingalese now run it,
Aided by the wily Jap."
|[c] Multiple RF|
A conglomeration surely; but it pretty accurately represents the heterogeneous population of Thursday Island. In addition to 1,600 odd, there must be reckoned 2,032 men of all colors engaged on the floating pearl stations, for the "floating system" is now in use. In former years there were frequent returns of the pearl-shelling boats to the island to unload shells and pearls. But now months elapse between visits, while in some cases only once a year do the fleets return. This means that these workmen of various nationalities and religions, faiths, and no faith at all, are entirely cut off from opportunities of attending religious services. At Christmas time these fleets all come to Thursday Island and are paid off. And is it any wonder that with 16,000 pounds sterling of their money going into the hands of the liquor shops and so forth, there should be riot, bloodshed, and murder! In all the realm of commercial operations in a fully civilized and properly governed region are there to be found men who have greater need for missionary work than these same divers, slug hunters, and pearl shell sorters?
|[d] Heterogeneous RF|
|[e] Grit RF|
It was on account of the strategic position and the calling port of great steamship lines, joined to the ready need of the archipelago for Christian effort that the newly-made bishop of the year-old diocese of Carpentaria decided to make this his headquarters. And the facts previously mentioned regarding the character of the population and need of the island commend the wisdom of the bishop's choice.
Roman Catholic missions are not prosperous. With characteristic worldly wisdom they have the best site on which is erected their little wooden church, and they have a good building to accommodate the priests and sisters. When when I asked the head priest for the number of communicants, his reply was that the shifting nature of the population makes anything in the way of statistics misleading. The Sisters' school of sixty pupils is prosperous, but aside from this there is little to show for the work of the well-manned mission in Thursday Island.
|[f] Strategic RF|
In concluding this chapter, let me enforce that here are being solved problems of great interest to the whole Christian church, and questions are arising here which will have their counterpart in most mission fields during the next quarter century. Too recently begun is the work for purposes of forming an opinion concerning the wisdom of the present methods employed, but as the white population remains largely untouched by the plans now in vogue, it might not be amiss to suggest a more vigorous policy, having in mind the immediate conversion of the English-speaking portion of the community. If New Guinea and Northern Queensland develop into thickly settled white communities, then in the future Thursday Island is likely to become a second Hong Kong. But whether such commercial importance or not attaches to Thursday Island, the strategic position for military and religious operations must continue.
|[g] Alien RF|