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The Evening Star TUESDAY, MAY 21, 1889., Issue 7912, 21 May 1889
The Evening Star TUESDAY, MAY 21, 1889.
Mr Shirley Baker appears to be carrying matters with a Persecution high hand at Tonga, It at Tonga, will be remembered that
somewhere about two years ago Sir Charles Mitchell went there in H.M.S. Diamond and held a judicial inquiry into alleged religious persecutions, of which complaints had been received. The inquiry extended over three weeks, and a vast array of witnesses—more than a hundred—were examined before him at the British Consulate, His report to the Secretary for the Colonies sustained the allegations that the Wesleyan Church had suffered cruel and malicious persecution, and that the person mainly responsible for such persecution was Mr Shirley Baker, the so-called Premier, and de facto ruler of Tonga. Sir Charles intimated to King George that the evidence was amply sufficient to justify him in removing Mr Baker from the group, “ as being a British “ subject whose presence was dangerous “to the peace and good order of “Tonga.” A promise, however, was given by the King “ that persecution “ should cease, that an amnesty should “be proclaimed, and that rights of “ free worship should be conceded to “the harassed Wesleyans”; and Mr Baker was unfortunately allowed to remain, conditionally on his future good behaviour. We now learn, with surprise and indignation, that none of these promises have been kept by the King, over whom Mr Baker exercises his baleful influence, and that the persecutions of the Wesleyans are continued with yet greater cruelty than before the inquiry was made. Two laws have been enacted of a most intolerant character. By the “ Conventicles Act ” the Wesleyans are forbidden to Hold any religious service in a town where they have less than six “ hereditary townsmen” as adherents. Under its provisions a congregation of twenty-nine persons were fined 24d0l each, with the alternative of four months’ hard labor, for the offence of holding a religious service when less than six “ hereditary townsmen ’’ were in
attendance. Family worship even [ is forbidden to Wesleyan households; and by another law no Wesleyan congregation may assemble until the “ Free Church ” services, held under Mr Baker’s auspices, are over. These laws are not mere menaces. They are rigidly enforced; and when other means of compelling the unhappy Wesleyans to join his church have failed, the tongan law of military service is brought into operation, and the offenders are drafted for seven years’ service. We learn from a contemporary that the Rev. George Brown, the Commissioner from the Wesleyan Church to Tonga, is at present at Melbourne, and that the tale he tells is one “ which Englishmen are not accustomed to hear “with unquickened pulse. It is a “tale,” says our contemporary, “of “justice abused, of freedom denied, of “ men and women beaten and exiled “ for no other crime than refusing to “ violate their own consciences.” Two of the Tongan exiles, victims of Mr Baker’s tyranny, are with Mr Brown, and they more than confirm the charges against the Tongan “ Premier.” Mr Baker’s conduct is a disgrace to the Christianity of which he claims to be a teacher, and will be infinitely dishonoring to the British nation if this unworthy person is suffered to continue his course of persecution ; if, in fact, he is not forthwith removed from the scene of his infamous misdeeds. Why the High Commissioner of the Western Pacific has not taken action before now in this matter seems to be inexplicable. It is to be hoped that for his own sake, and the sake of the national honor, he will act promptly now that the Australian community has been aroused to the wretched state of affairs existing at Tonga. It is significant that the Roman Catholic part of the population is not interfered with. The reason for this is that the French authorities have warned Mr Baker to let the Catholics alone, “ Why,” it may well be asked, “ does not England protect the Protestants in the same effectual manner as Franco protects the Catholics ?” That such is not the case is cruelly apparent, and we arc told that one result is that “not a few Wesleyans” have joined the Catholic Church for the sake of securing protection. The wrong that is being done is intensified by the fact that the chief persecutor is himself a British subject, and as such is amenable for his actions to the Queen’s representative in the Pacific. “ Is it to be tolerated,” asks our contemporary, “ that an Englishman shall “ keep the flames of religious hatred “burning in Tonga, and teach this “ race, struggling out of savagery into “ Christian civilisation, all the evil arts “of persecution?” We venture to say that in the whole history of British enterprise there is no parallel to this treatment of a peaceful people by one who is professedly a teacher of the Gospel of peace, love, and charity. And if Sir John Thurston continues to neglect his very obvious duty in this matter, an appeal will have to be made to the power whence he derives his authority.
The Evening Star TUESDAY, MAY 21, 1889., Issue 7912, 21 May 1889
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