A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Br Lawrence Hampton sm

Br Lawrence Hampton sm 18/1/1920-29/10/2015

Br Lawrence Hampton sm

What follows is a eulogy delivered by Br Bill Archer sm at Sacred Heart Church Addington, on 4th November 2015.

I am honoured to share a few words and memories of Br Lawrence Hampton sm. Mainly his Bougainville days. I was there from 1963 to 1989, Lawrence from 1950 to 1989, 40 years. His last year was scary as the rebellion worsened.

When Lawrence arrived on  Bougainville in 1950, our Marists had already been returning since 1946 after the end of WWII. They had been rebuilding the destroyed missions with scavenged and bush materials.

Lawrence arrived at the coastal orphanage at Mamaregu run by the SMSM Sisters who were living in leaf huts; then walked with guides and carriers through the bush and rivers inland to Sovele mission, to help Fr Jim Moore from USA rebuild the station. Fr Moore was a very skilled man, very knowledgeable. He would have taught Lawrence a lot about bridge building, sawmilling, building and mechanics in 6 short months.

In fact, Lawrence wrote “I thought I had few talents of importance. Not so!” Because while in New Zealand he had learnt skills from his father, a blacksmith, how to work with stone and timber, then farm work at Highden Novitiate, cooking at Greenmeadows seminary, and also managed the Mission vineyard for a year. Lawrence was very talented indeed!

On the Avon, Lawrence had coxed rowing. Now Bishop Wade wanted him to take charge of the recently acquired boat, the St Joseph, an ex WWII crash rescue launch. It had two worn out GM diesels, and Lawrence had to install two new ones of a different make, without a workshop or slipway. Some men doing salvage work came to his aid in this heavy work. They had a barge, a winch, and a floating workshop.

WWII Crash Rescue Launch

WWII Crash Rescue Launch

The St Joseph became invaluable and Lawrence took Bishop Wade all around the Diocese on it and out to the atolls, laden with cargo and passengers. It became the Bishop’s second home. Eventually they added bigger boats, the St Thomas, and much later a steel boat, the St Leo.

Then Lawrence retired to the shore, becoming a plantation manager and a builder, and even a catechist at Tunuru.

Lawrence was always able to get experienced men to help him in his new appointments. Fr Moore at Sovele, the salvage men at Torokina and Buka to help install the boat engines, the Sacred Heart Brothers at Vunapope Mission near Rabaul, from the buildings at the copper mine, and Rex Blow, a nearby plantation manager, and Br Michael Brosnan, who had managed Tearouki Plantation before him.

Lawrence was a good learner and worker. He reckoned he was “always under pressure.” The small ships were invaluable in the days before better roads and airstrips, the nearly 30 mission stations were supplied by our 5 mission boats and sick people and students were carried to the schools and health centres.

The larger vessel, the St Thomas, travelled about 320 kms to Rabaul on New Britain every month through the open sea, taking our copra and cocoa and hospital patients. Lawrence scoured the town for supplies and knew everyone there. He returned laden with cement and building materials and everything else it seemed. He was our lifeline. He had trained a good crew from the Carterets atoll, which is now threatened by rising sea and tidal surges. He was for the Atolls of Carterets, Nissan and Pinepel, a lifeline too.

At the same time Br Chanel Dixon sm in the South Solomons, Br Paul OP in Western Solomons and Br Freytus MSC in New Ireland provided the same services on their boats. All the time at sea Lawrence kept up his prayers faithfully and we rejoiced when the boat was back at HQ at Tsiroge or Kieta, when he turned up in his soutane to join us in our Mass and prayers. These were precious moments ashore for him and for us, his Marist community.

Later he renovated the chapel at Tsiroge and proudly put up its name at the entrance “St Joseph the Worker” our SM Brothers’ patron, with Mary.

Lawrence had to be a stern boss on the ships and the plantation. The lives of everyone depended on people being loyal and honest in their jobs and it required a lot of patience. Becoming frustrated did not help at all.

Lawrence was a good cook and host for all who travelled with him.

My first year on Bougainville one of my jobs, as well as building, was to control the central radio transmitter and contact the mission stations and boats twice a day, so I had close contact with Lawrence. On the airwaves I encouraged him through some scary and stormy moments.

After Lawrence had been about 39 years in  Bougainville, in 1988 a rebellion broke out. It was because of pollution, environmental damage and social problems caused by the copper and gold mines. The Papua New Guinea Government put a blockade all around the province. Because of lack of medicines, some had to leave, including Lawrence. He had to steal away at night to the Solomons and on to Sydney. There the Aussies looked after him. He led a quieter life, gardening, golfing and his artwork. For the first time in 40 years he was not under pressure. He was now 70 years old.

Br Lawrence Hampton sm RIP

Br Lawrence Hampton sm RIP

Here in Christchurch at Lawrence’s 90th birthday, Bishop Henk Kronenberg had come down from  Bougainville to celebrate with and thank Lawrence for his 40 years of faithful work in his Diocese. Bishop Kronenberg told me “after the Brothers had left I realised how much I had depended on them. You asked for something, they did it.” That is Lawrence alright!

A few years ago Fr John Bosco Baremes sm from the Carterets atoll came down here to Christchurch especially to thank and to meet up again with Lawrence. He is now Bishop of Vanuatu.

Some of Lawrence’s buildings were burnt down during the rebellion. No more small ships are required to service the mission. The steel memorial chapel built for the US Marines is rusting away in the salt air near Torokina beach.

Brother Lawrence lives on in the hearts and memories of many people there. He has won the hearts of many people here in New Zealand; the Marists and especially his nephew and nieces and their families.

Lawrence said to me a couple of times over the last 5 years that I had spent far more time with the Bougainville people than he had ever had the chance to do because in his type of work he was “always under pressure.”

Especially in my last ten years on  Bougainville I was in pastoral ministry, at funerals and sing-sings and feasts, and just sitting around sharing stories. Lawrence envied this.

Well, in the last few years back in New Zealand Lawrence has had a chance to spend time with you good people and his family, to sit around and talk and play golf, and to share his vegetables and his paintings with you. Thank you for accepting him so well into your families and lives. Possibly the last few years have been the most fulfilling and happy ones of his life, all 95 of them.

May he now rest in peace with Bob and Dot, Peter and Anne and Leo and Joan.

Bon voyage, Lawrence. Sail to our father in Heaven with all your family and friends who have gone before you. They are waiting for you at St Peter’s wharf. 

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