Te Evanelia: The Church's Gospel Boat

By Pamela Price

Te Evanelia by Virginia Brown

Te Evanelia, by Virginia Brown

This painting is of the Church's "gospel boat," Te Evanelia, in Papeete Harbor in Tahiti. The Church in the Society Islands grew both numerically and spiritually during its use for the purposes of the Kingdom.

The inspiring account of the Evanelia, the Church's tiny "gospel boat" which was launched over a century ago, is a historical event worthy of preserving. The history of the Evanelia which follows is taken from the writings of Inez Smith Davis, daughter of Church historian Heman C. Smith and Vida E. Smith, author of The Young People's History, volume one and volume two. Inez worked in the office of the Church historian, during which time she gathered material for her well-known book, The Story of the Church (see Saints' Herald, September 15, l963, page 33). Inez wrote of the Evanelia:

Apostle Thomas W. Smith was the first to mention having a boat of our own, when in l886, after spending one and one half years [in the Society Islands], he wrote, "What is needed here is a small schooner, belonging to the church, but I have no hope of receiving gifts from America for that purpose."

Elder Smith undervalued the interest of his American brethren, or perhaps we should say sisters. When in l891 Elder Devore, then in the islands, renewed the subject, Mrs. Marietta Walker and [Apostle] James Caffall took up the matter and made it an interesting objective. Bishop Kelley supported the move, and the Herald editors were with him. A subscription list was opened in the "Mother's Home Column," of which Marietta Walker was editor. Assisted by her niece, Lucy Lyons Resseguie, Mrs. Walker collected and published a book of poems, which she named Afterglow. The money derived went into the fund for the gospel boat.

The Sunday school [Sunday schools throughout the Church] took it up, and many a middle-aged man or woman of today thinks back upon the pleasure derived from pennies, not spent for candy, but put into a special bank to be sent to Bishop Kelley to help buy the gospel boat. There was hardly a child in the church who did not feel a personal interest in the "Evanelia." All rejoiced when, in less than three years, three thousand dollars had been collected (mostly in very small amounts), and "our boat" could be purchased. Bishop Kelley went to San Francisco in person to secure the boat. How fortunate it was then that Joseph F. Burton, the missionary, had been Captain Burton for so many years. They decided to build a boat. Nothing but the best material went into her making. Everything about her furnishings were the special gifts of friends and Sunday schools throughout the country.

Captain Burton volunteered to take her across the sea to the Islands. Captain Burton and his wife [Emma], a young missionary named Hubert Case and his bride (who was Alice Montague, daughter of an old missionary, George Montague), and the crew, Jeptha Scott, mate, and Frederick Nieman and William McGrath, sailors, made up the seven passengers aboard. On September 14, 1894, she was launched at San Francisco with an American Flag flying proudly above her, and the ceremony was celebrated in true sailor fashion, but on September 22 the Saints had their own little dedicatory service of singing and prayer, and the next day she sailed away to the Islands where three missionaries and two thousand Saints eagerly waited her coming.

They had named her "Evanelia," the Polynesian name for Gospel Ship. The "Evanelia" was the great interest of the Saints at that time and their chiefest anxiety. . . . On November 30, after thirty-five days at sea, she rode triumphantly into harbor at Papeete, and Elder Gilbert and Metuaore were first on board to congratulate Captain Burton and admire the little gospel boat. (Inez Smith Davis, The Story of the Church, pp. 564-566)

The ship was described as follows:

The Evanelia was schooner rigged, was thirty-seven feet, length of keel; fifteen feet beam; six feet depth; eighteen and ninety-eight hundredths tons. (Autumn Leaves 22:306)

No short article could do justice to the beautiful story of the Evanelia, and all that was accomplished by and for those who sacrificed to build, sail, and travel on the little boat for the cause of Christ and the Church. Neither can the spiritual growth which it brought to the natives of the Society Islands be measured. But one thing is certain, the Church grew numerically and spiritually during the time the boat was being used for the purposes of the Kingdom. Unfortunately, the Evanelia sank after serving for missionary work in the Society Islands for less than two years, due to being overloaded with merchandise. Inez Smith Davis recorded:

Bishop Kelley had warned the people who used the boat against loading her with merchandise, and for awhile his advice was heeded. The little boat went to and fro in service of the church, but at length temptation became too great and the money to be derived from carrying cargo too seductive, and she was put into the merchant trade. On July 26, l896, overloaded, she sank in a calm sea. (The Story of the Church, p. 566)

For further information about the Evanelia, see Emma Burton, Beatrice Witherspoon, pp. 312-360; Emma Burton, Autumn Leaves 22:146-153; 215-221; 259-265; 303-306; and F. Edward Butterworth, Roots of the Reorganization, pp. 161-171.

Prints of this painting are available in various sizes for purchase at the Restoration Bookstore or from our online store.

(Vision 18 [December 1994]: 6,7)