Allen Francis Gardiner: Founder of SAMS

How do you measure success? By most standards the efforts of the Victorian Royal Navy Captain and missionary Allen Gardiner to evangelize indigenous peoples of South America was a miserable failure. 

His last unsuccessful missionary journey (1850-1851) was an attempt to reach the Yaghans of Tierra del Fuego who were then known as a violent people. Gardiner was accompanied by only 3 Cornish fishermen, a doctor, a ship-carpenter and a catechist. From a base in the Falkland Islands they were landed at Picton Island with enough supplies for 6 months. A combination of mistakes, logistical problems, dreadful weather and Yaghan hostility led to the disease and death of the whole party. No replenishment supplies arrived due to lack of a ship. One by one they died of starvation. Gardiner was the last to die. He wrote his final diary entry on 6 September 1851.

When the group of bodies were found a few weeks later, Gardiner's diary was in his hand. It includes the words, "let not this mission fail". Well it did. And yet, it didn't. His diary also includes this prayer
"Grant O Lord, that we may be instrumental in commencing this great and blessed work; but should Thou see fit in Thy providence to hedge up our way, and that we should even languish and die here, I beseech Thee to raise up others and to send forth labourers into this harvest. Let it be seen, for the manifestation of Thy Glory and Grace that nothing is too hard for Thee..."
Gardiner's Patagonian Mission Society became (as he wished) the South American Mission Society (SAMS), now united with CMS. The CMS website has these words about Gardiner's prayer that other labourers would be sent out:

The work of the Society in the subsequent 160 years and the growth of the Anglican Churches of South America are God’s answer to the prayer. Gardiner had many failures in his life, but his solid, resolute faith is an inspiration and he merits his place in the Anglican Calendar as one of the heroes of God’s Kingdom.

Failure? Some sow. Others reap.

If you want to know more about Gardiner as seen by Victorian biographers you can read Marsh and Stirling's biography here. 


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