His Days and His Ways
A Continuation of the Book as a Biography
CHAPTER FORTY-ONE: Round the World (1895-6).
In 1894 there did not appear to be anything in existence that would be likely to cause brother Roberts to make a journey round the world, visiting and encouraging the brethren in many countries. But there was; and it was a matter almost as untoward in external appearance as the selling of Joseph to the Ishmaelites who took him down to Egypt; or the famine which afterwards took the whole family of Jacob thither.
A certain brother was approached by a certain swindler who shall be nameless, and became convinced that he had in his possession a scheme of manufacturing unbreakable glass (!), which scheme, when it should be properly developed, would produce wealth by comparison with which that promised by the Electric Sugar Refining Company would be small! The brother, knowing brother Roberts’ earnest desire to make good the losses he had unwittingly helped to cause, innocently enough introduced this man to him. The man found an easy prey, illustrating only too sadly well the soundness of the judgment “of one of the first phrenologists of the day,” recorded by our author himself (chap. 33): -- “You have no faculty for contriving bargains” !
The bubble soon burst, and the story of the imposture is told with singular frankness in The Christadelphain for January, 1895. One or two other ventures about this time, in which there was no fraud –only unwisdom and mismanagement –proved almost as disastrous as the broken glass; and very serious financial embarrassment was the result. And instead of helping others out of the ditch, friends had to come to the rescue of the would-be rescuer! It was a dismal time, and another great humiliation for brother Roberts; but it afforded a striking measure of the love and esteem in which he was held for his work’s sake, and opened the way for a useful and final phase of that work.
A severe illness naturally followed the strain of these unhappy experiences; the doctor wondering at first at the spectacle of an apparently perfectly healthy man in a state of utter collapse. When he knew the history of the case he understood it perfectly, and told his patient that the only cure for him –or, at least, the best cure –would be a long sea voyage. Usually such a piece of advice is like telling a poor man to go to the Mediterranean Riviera for a change, without giving him a cheque to cover the expenses. But if he should by any means happen to have a lot of friends in the Riviera who love him sufficiently to provide the cheque –why, then all is well. That is about how this matter worked out. The Australasian brethren, hearing of the trouble, and of the prescription, jumped at the chance of providing the medicine. An announcement on the cover of The Christadelphian (April, 1895) met with immediate response; in fact, a cable from Sydney (invitation and paid passage) came almost as soon as the magazine reached that city. In a very short time a journey round the world was arranged; which, on being turned into history, occupied almost exactly a year –“21st August, 1895-19th August, 1896.”
The interesting record of the sayings and doings of this year will be found in The Christadelphian (October, 1895, and onward). It was afterwards published in book form under the title A Diary of a Voyage to Australia, New Zealand and Other Lands, making a volume of about 200 quarto pages. It has been out of print for some years.
The itinerary was as follows: -- From London to Albany and Adelaide in the ss.Oruba. via the Suez Canal, touching at Naples and Colombo. From Adelaide over land to Ballarat, Bendigo, Inglewood and Melbourne. From Melbourne to Beechworth, Albury and Sydney. From Sydney to Newcastle and Toowoomba, Ipswich, Gympie, Brisbane and Rockhampton. From Brisbane by sea to Sydney. From Sydney to New Zealand (Auckland). From Auckland to Stratford, Wanganui, Woodville, Dannevirk, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch, Timaru, Inchclutha, Dunedin and Invercargill. From Invercargill to Tasmania (Hobart). From Hobart to Launceston. From Launceston to Melbourne. From Melbourne further visits to Adelaide, Ballarat, Daylesford, Beechworth, Albury and Sydney. From Syndey to the Fiji Islands, and thence to the Sandwich Islands (Honolulu) and Victoria, B.C. From Victoria over land to Toronot, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Boston. From Boston to Liverpool and Birmingham.
The opening paragraphs of the Diary may be quoted here: --
“Sunday, August 18th. –My last Sunday before sailing. It was the last thing in the world I should have thought of, this making a voyage to the other side of the world. Very rough circumstances have coerced me.”
“I depart with considerable reluctance, but with the confidence, which an enlightened view of life inspires, that all circumstances, even the undesirable and untoward, contribute their part to the evolution of divine ends –whether with a man or a nation.”
And so it turned out. To start with, he had a two-berth cabin. “I made the acquaintance (he says) of my room-mate, who I was glad to find was not a Roman Catholic priest, or a clergyman, or a rake, but a young Australian farmer from Toowoomba, Queensland, who had been on a visit to ‘the old country.’ I rather like him. He seems the sort of man that might receive the truth.”
As a matter of fact, he turned out to be a most congenial companion, and did receive the truth, in the possession of which he still rejoices. With his help, brother Roberts managed to liven things up a bit, and get a hearing for the truth. There was an amusing little debate with a theosophist, and there were one or two lectures on board.
As to the details of his long journey, it is manifestly impossible to allude to them here. Suffice it to say that there was the usual mixture of testifying to the truth in lectures, letters and private conversations, interspersed here and there with controversy, and that “earnest contention for the faith” which can never be absent in this mortal sphere. And there was, or course, always the opportunity in the Sunday meetings for the Breaking of Bread for that brotherly “speaking unto men to edification, exhortation and comfort” which the apostle Paul calls “prophesying” (I Cor. 14:3), and in which our deceased brother was so faithful a “prophet.” So out of the blunders and misfortunes of 1894 God brought much good in the years following, and many to this day are very thankful for the help and encouragement then received.
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