Published as an HTML document by John Higgins, June 1997

An Aberdeen graduate as pioneer in Fiji

by J Malcolm Bulloch

from the Aberdeen University Review, June 1921

The first white person born in the Fiji Islands was the daughter of an Aberdeen graduate, the Rev. David Cargill, while his wife was the first white woman to set foot on the islands (in 1835), and “of all the mission family was the first that ‘fell asleep in Jesus’ in those distant regions of the earth.” That would be interesting at any time and in any connection, but it is peculiarly interesting to Aberdeen people, not merely because Cargill was educated there, but because Aberdeen has long had very close associations with Fiji, both administratively and, long before its formal cession to us in 1874, commercially. The late Lord Stanmore, son of ‘Athenian Aberdeen’;, was governor from 1875 to 1880 and has left a record of his rule in his privately printed ‘Letters and Notes written during disturbances in the Highlands (known as “Devil Country”) of the Viti Levu, Fiji, 1876’, a remarkably indiscreet polemic on colonial administration running into 860 pages. Then Sir William Lamond Allardyce, now Governor of Tasmania, spent the first fifteen years (1889-1904) of his official career in Fiji, and the tradition was maintained by his brother Kenneth. It was through the latter that I first came on the track of Cargill, for Mr. Allardyce introduced me to Mr. A.B. Brewster, for many years connected with Fiji, who on settling down in Torquay the other year found himself the neighbour of one of Cargill’s grand-daughters. The lady knew next to nothing of her Cargill ancestors, but after a great deal of trouble I have been able to piece the story together.

David Cargill was the younger son of James Cargill, banker of Brechin, by his wife Grace Mary Cameron. The banker sent both his boys to be educated at Aberdeen. James (1802-1861) became a dominie—he was famous for his handwriting and a skilled composer—and became the father of Mr. Alexander Cargill J.P., actuary of the Edinburgh Savings Bank and author of several books. David, who was born on the 20th of June 1809, entered King’s College in 1826 and duly took his degree there in 1830. He seems to have attended St Clement’s Church, Footdee, and may have had relations there for the parish had several seafaring men of the name at that time. At any rate, in his Bajan year he made the acquaintance of one of the parishioners there, Margaret Smith who was exactly his own age. She was the second daughter of John Smith Esq. of Aberdeen, who had died leaving a widow of six-and-twenty with three daughters. Cargill in his biography of his wife tells us that “the circle in which her parents moved was respectable”, and that she was brought up religiously by her mother who “sat” under the Rev. Dr. John Thomson (1757-1838), and was still “a sojourner in the vale of tears” in 1841. The eldest daughter, Ann, “exchanged mortality for life in the eighteenth year of her age”.

Margaret also attended Dr. Kidd’s kirk and, during the Methodist revival conducted by the Rev. Robert Nicholson, joined the Wesleyans at the suggestion, I believe, of Cargill, who saw in her an ideal helpmate in the mission field which he had decided to enter. He married her on the 6th of September 1832, and she was “literally torn from her mother’s arms” a few hours after the ceremony, for he had to run up to London to be examined by the Wesleyan Mission Board. He was formally accepted on the 27th of September, and the young couple sailed from Gravesend, 22nd October 1832, on board the good ship Caroline for Tonga in the Friendly Islands.

After a voyage of twenty-one weeks, they landed at Port Jackson on 19th March 1833, reaching Tonga only on 24th January 1834. Cargill laboured there until 8th October 1835, collaborating with a fellow-missionary named Cross on a translation of a portion of the gospel of St Matthew which was published at Tonga. There is no copy of it in the magnificent collection of the British and Foreign Bible Society, which, however, possesses Cargill’s translation of St Mark published at the Mission Press at Lakemba in 1839.

On 12th October 1835 four days after leaving Vavou, Cargill reached the island of Lakemba, Mrs. Cargill being the first white woman to touch Fijian soil. A few weeks later, on 5th December 1835, her third child Augusta Cameron Cargill was born at Lakemba, being the first child born of European parents on the islands. She was named Lakemba by the king of the islands. The Cargills had a hard time. Thus when their fifth child Mary was born on 20th July 1838, Cargill tells us he had to do everything even to “exerting his ingenuity in adjusting the habiliments of the lovely infant”. A sixth child was born, Ann Smith Cargill, at Zoar, Rewa, on 27th May 1840 and died almost immediately of convulsions on 1st June. That, on top of an attack of dysentery, finished the poor lady who died the next day, as an inscription on a stone in the island still records:

Sacred to the memory of Margaret, the beloved wife of the Rev.D.Cargill, A.M., Wesleyan missionary. She fell asleep at Zoar, Rewa, on the 2nd of June 1840 in the 31st year of her age. She was the mother of six children and possessed in an eminent degree “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit”. Her life was useful and her death lamented. “The memory of the just is blessed.”
The dust of her infant daughter, Ann Smith, is deposited by her aside.
“Novissima autem inimica destruitur mors.”

It is not only, however, to Cargill himself that we have to go for a tribute to the lady from Fittie. The Rev. James Calvert in his Fiji and the Fijians, first published in 1858, tells us that she was “a woman of rare and excellent spirit, filled with devoted love and warmly attached to the Mission work. Her memory is blessed in Fiji. In that dark wild land and among those savage people the winning greatness and piety of the missionary’s wife are yet borne in mind, and the remembrance still seems to recommend the religion which adorned her with such loveliness.”

Cargill was heart-broken. He left Fiji with his four little girls, arriving at Hobart on 2nd September 1840. He consoled himself on the voyage by writing a life of his spouse, convinced that while “literary biography is apt to occasion forgetfulness to God and admiration of man, the design of religious biography is to instruct us to adore the Creator and to set the affections on things above and not on things of the earth.” The volume, with a preface date London 13th November 1841, is entitled:

Memoir of Mrs. Margaret Cargill,
wife of the Rev. David Cargill, A.M., Wesleyan missionary;
including notices of the progress of Christianity in Tonga and Feejee.
By her husband.
(London, John Mason 1841) Printed in Hoxton: 8vo, pp XIX and 390 with three illustrations including one of Mrs. Cargill’s grave.

The volume, which, I am told, is regarded as a ‘Methodist Classic’, has become rare, though I have little doubt it was to be found knocking about the book barrows of Farringdon Street but a few years ago. Intensely pious though it be, it is written in the curiously inhuman style of the eighteenth century divines, with passages that reminds one of Blair’s lugubrious Grave. But it is valuable for the insight it gives into the native Fijian customs of the time, not of course because Cargill was in any sense an anthropologist in the modern sense, but because his tense Christianity was profoundly shocked by the heathenism which surrounded him and which told severely on the sensibilities of his consort, who wrote to her mother that Feejee, as they spelt it then, was “a land of darkness and superstition where men delight in cruelty and bloodshed.” This side of it is naturally more fully set forth in Cargill’s reports to his society printed in the Wesleyan Missionary Notices which, like much of old missionary literature, foolishly despised by the ordinary reader, is very interesting. Sir J.G. Frazer does not seem to know Cargill’s work at all, for I find no reference to it in the elaborate bibliography in The Golden Bough.

During his much-needed furlough at home, in which he is said to have revisited Aberdeen, Cargill lived at 6 Myddleton Square, Islington. He was anything but idle, for he not only delivered a long speech at the annual meeting of the Wesleyan Missionary Society in Exeter Hall on 3rd May 1841 (it is fully reported in the Wesleyan Missionary Society Notices for 1841) but he spent some time in writing a pamphlet entitled:

A refutation of Chevalier Dillon’s slanderous attacks on the Wesleyan Missionaries in the Friendly Islands in a letter to the General Secretaries of the Wesleyan Missionary Society.
By the Rev. David Cargill, A.M., for several years one of the Society’s missionaries in the Friendly Islands and Feejee.
(London: printed by James Nichols, 1842; 8vo. pp. 40).

Peter Dillon (1795-1849) was a remarkably interesting character, though he was wholly omitted from the first edition of the Dictionary of National Biography and very inadequately done in the first supplement. An Irishman by birth though of uncertain descent, he spent several years as a sandalwood trader in the South Pacific in the days when vessels had to be heavily armed to guard against attacks by the natives. But fame did not come to him until 1825 when he sailed under Chilean colours from Valparaiso as captain and part-owner of the St Patrick to New Zealand to load spars for Calcutta. At the island of Tucopia he met an old shipmate, a Prussian named Martin Buchert, who had been living among the natives for thirteen years and who gave him news of native stories that, long years before, two French ships had been wrecked on the Santa Cruz island of Vanikoro.

Dillon had a bright young sailor with him named George Bayly—his fascinating Sea Life Sixty Years Ago appeared in 1885—who bought from a lascar in Buchert’s employment a silver sword hilt. It had belonged to the ill-fated Comte Jean François Galaup de la Perous, the leader of the ill-fated French expedition to the South Seas (1785-1788). This discovery resulted in Dillon’s leading the expedition on the H.E.I.C ship Research which definitely ascertained the fate of the Frenchmen. On going to France with the relics in 1829 he was created a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and got an annuity of 4,000 francs from Charles X. Dillon’s Narrative of his voyage of discovery, published in 1829 and afterwards translated into French, is a very fascinating book. At first Dillon was very favourable to missionaries. Indeed in 1814 he had charge of an expedition from the English Church Missionary Society—for he seems to have been a Protestant—to establish missionaries in New Zealand, which he had first visited in 1809. But he also had an eye on trade, for in 1832 he wrote a letter “on the advantages to be derived from the establishment of well-conducted commercial settlements in New Zealand”. Cargill met him in 1837 in Fiji, where Dillon had been nearly killed by the natives in 1813, by the natives who murdered his friend Charles Savage, notorious in early Fijian history. I am told that the natives still recall that fight, and speak of “Pita” as they call him to this day.

In course of time, however, Dillon changed his point of view about missionaries, probably, as has been suggested, because they were beginning to teach the natives not to be fobbed off with the trash which traders gave them for their merchandise. In any case he issued a pamphlet in December 1841—it is not in the British Museum and I have not seen it—in which he made a violent attack on missionaries at Tongatabu, where Cargill had begun his career, and especially on a Mr. Thomas at Vavou. He declared that massacre was instigated by the Wesleyan missionaries and that he “could fill a quarto volume with truths concerning the barbarities resorted to by missionaries in the South Seas during the last 25 years.” Among other things Dillon said that Thomas had been instrumental in packing off Cargill to Fiji. Dillon’s attack must have been a godsend to Cargill, if only by way of diverting his attention from his grief over his wife, for hardly was the ink dry on his preface to her memoirs when he sat down in his rooms in Myddleton Square and dashed off his spirited reply to the Chevalier in the pamphlet just described.

But Cargill sought other distractions. He dated his preface to the memoirs of his Margaret on 13th November 1841. But with four little children on his hands and the mision field ahead of him again, he felt he must have a helpmate and so on 27th November 1841 he married Miss Augusta Bicknell, with whose origins I am unacquainted. He was, however, far from forgetting Margaret, for on the second anniversary of her death, 2nd June 1842, when he was at sea, he wrote in his diary, “Two years have elapsed since my M. became an inhabitant of another world. May the mantle of her meek and quiet spirit fall on me and on our children.” And the next day he enters: “The anniversary of the funeral of M. and Ann Smith (her infant child). Are they among the number of my guardian angels? May I live to meet them in the Paradise of God.”

Cargill had not long to wait. In 1842 he was appointed to superintend a training institute at Tonga and sailed from Blackwall on 1st May 1842 on board the Haidee with his wife and three of his little girls, Jane, Margaret and Mary—I do not know what happened to the fourth, Augusta. He kept a diary of this voyage, now in the possession of his grand-daughter, Mrs. Marshall of Jersey. It is written in the same solemn style as his memoirs of his wife and is therefore curiously interesting in its intense seriousness. It was not a happy voyage for he had no peace to read or write. He tried to read Lady Huntingdon’s biography, but found it “a heterogeneous mass of erroneous statements, wilful misrepresentations, bad grammar, equally bad composition, and strange typographical errors.” Not only did it get on his nerves, but so did his fellow-passengers, and it is clear he got badly on theirs, and he took no trouble to conceal the fact. Thus when Haidee was crossing the line a bucket of water was surreptitiously emptied one evening from the mizzen mast on the back of Cargill, who solemnly writes: “That the captain (Marshall) and his officers knew nothing of such gross impudence, I fully believe, and that the person who poured the water may have mistaken me for another individual, possible though by no means probable. But such conduct is not to be wondered at when we reflect that several persons who sail with us on this vessel appear not to know how to value or treat a minister of the Gospel. The conduct of any person towards a minister of Christ is a species of spiritual thermometer by which his knowledge and experience may be ascertained with tolerable accuracy. The heathen Feejeeans are capable of teaching politeness to many British Christians, who emulate practical heathens in indifference about sacred things and in rudeness of manners.”

But even the Captain got tired of the prayer meetings and sermons—Cargill preached no fewer than twelve written discourses on the voyage—and stopped attending these services. One Sunday in July when the Haidee had been nearly three months out, the skipper bluntly told Cargill that “to preach the necessity of coming to God though it may be applicable to the Feejeeans or very bad people was quite unnecessary on his ship, for that he and his sailors are all very good, and that he has as good a chance to get to heaven as any person in the vessel.” On the following Sunday the Captain and his friends were not present. During part of the service they were talking and laughing on deck “with most irreverent thoughtlessness.” On Saturday night he and his associates “were singing songs, stamping, hurrying, and making such noises, although they would perhaps call them shouting, yet resembled no earthly sound I ever heard. Can the Author of Evil assist his votaries in giving vent to these feelings which are earthly, sensual, devilish? They continued this amusement until within a few minutes of twelve o’clock, and then adjourned to stamp on the deck over the heads of some of the more sedate passengers. In the afternoon I preached in our own cabin on these words, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

On the evening of 11th August in Lat. 38° 20' S. and Long. 93° 12' E. Mrs Cargill was prematurely delivered of a son. “I should esteem it one of the greatest honours that could be conferred on him and me,” wrote the happy father, “were the great Head of the Church to make him a useful Methodist preacher.” As a matter of fact, David—as he was christened at Hobart where the Haidee landed on 29th August—became a policeman in the Indian service, dying at Mirzapur on 22nd January 1884.

While staying at Hobart, Cargill preached on several occasions at Melville Street Chapel, the oldest Methodist chapel in the town, a valedictory service to him being held there on 14th December 1842. According to the Sydney Sun (20 October 1920) he preached a “terrible long sermon”, after which he announced “We will sing only the first verse and the last”. At which a stern voice responded: “No, we won’t. You have charge of the pulpit, but I have charge of the choir.” This was from Mr Chapman, the leader of the choir, and at his signal the choir rose and sang the hymn from beginning to end.

Cargill set foot once again in Vavou on 21st February 1843. On 29th March he preached twice in Tonguese and once in English. Within a month he was dead, succumbing to smallpox on 25th April.

Cargill’s story does not end here, for his work has been carried on variously by his descendants. How interested he would have been in the services of two of his great-grandsons during the Great War in Baghdad and the Holy Land, and in the fact that his daughter Mary, who was born in Fiji, married a Free Church minister, the Rev, W.E.Wilkie Brown (she died in Inverness only a few years ago) and that one of her sons and a daughter are missionaries in India, and that a grandson was present at the capture of Jerusalem.

Cargill’s son David (1842-1884) of the Indian Police married as his second wife a niece of the great John Nicholson. One of his grandsons, William Macandrew Marshall of the 37th Dogras, was such a brilliant Arabic scholar that he was selected by General Maude to read his proclamation at the entry into Baghdad. He was afterwards appointed political agent at Nijif, the shrine of Ali the great Shiah saint, where he was assassinated by a fanatic, while his brother Douglas of the Lancashire Fusiliers fell at Gallipoli in 1915. I may say that Cargill’s descendants are inclined to trace their linguistic faculty, which is of a high order, to their missionary ancestor. Another of Cargill’s great-grandsons, and a cousin of these officers, Major C.R.S.Pitman D.S.O., served at GHQ at Carmel. His father, Mr. Charles Edward Pitman C.I.E. of Torquay who married Lucy Maude Cargill, was formerly Director-General of Indian Telegraphs and served in the Kabul-Kandahar force. He has recently written a history of the Pitman family, who have intermarried with the Gordons of Newtimber, descendants of the Gordons of Braco, Banff.

Altogether David Cargill had no reason to be disappointed with his descendants. He and they are all worth remembering in the journal of this university.

(J. Malcolm Bulloch, June, 1921.)