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Allen Gardiner Commemorated

Category Articles
Date February 4, 2002

ALLEN GARDINER COMMEMORATED

They were the first Protestant missionaries to attempt to make Christ known to the indigenous people of South America.

In Faith Cook’s “Singing in the Fire” (Banner of Truth) the heroic story of Captain Allen Gardiner is recorded, as one of fourteen biographical sketches. It is the most accessible record of that brave missionary. A party of seven men, led by Gardiner, died of starvation on a remote beach known as Spaniard’s Harbour on Bahia Aguirre, in the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego, 150 years ago.

They were the first Protestant missionaries to attempt to make Christ known to the indigenous people of South America and they lost their lives in the attempt.

This autumn, through the kindness of the Southern command of the Argentine Navy, seven visitors left the small port of Ushuaja on a stormy six-hour journey to the historic beach. They were all linked with the South American Missionary Society (SAMS) which Allen Gardiner started in 1844, when it was called the Patagonian Missionary Society. They went to put up a commemorative plaque to him and his companions in a cave on the beach.

“We set off at 6.00 on an Argentine Navy Fast Assault boat,” writes SAMS General Secretary, Bishop David Evans. “It carried a crew of 37 men, two large guns and two Zodiac landing craft. The journey eastwards along the Beagle channel out into the South Atlantic Ocean took six hours.”

As they entered the bay, the wind picked up to 45 knots and a landing looked almost impossible. However one dinghy achieved it, in spite of the weather but radioed back the warning that the entrance to the cave was under water.

The Captain then allowed Bishop David Evans, Bishop Kenneth Clarke from SAMS Ireland and Bishop Maurice Sinclair of N. Argentina to be taken in the other boat, having all first put on survival suits.

“We made it and were dragged along into the entrance of the quite spacious cave by two sailors in wet suits,” continues Bishop Evans. “The navy had provided a bricklayer to anchor the plaque inside the cave. We then all gathered together and read the Great Commission from Matthew 28 in Spanish, which finishes, ‘to the end of the world’. It was overwhelming to be actually in the cave and there were tears on our faces, We observed a moment of silence, then the three of us prayed.

“The Captain meanwhile had authorised Tom Prichard, SAMS USA, Denis Johnston, SAMS Ireland, Michael Lawrence, CMS New Zealand and our photographer to make a shorter second journey. So in all seven of us visited the cave, representing SAMS Ireland, GB, USA, New Zealand and the fruits of the work in South America, through the ex Primate of the South American Province, Maurice Sinclair.

The Society’s latest magazine celebrates the 150th anniversary and the full story of the final expedition has been published as a short leaflet – both available from Mission Education, SAMS, 12 Fox Hill, Birmingham, B29 4AG.

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