A Complete Failure

Written by Anthony Douglas on 03 March 2018.

I have a book - The Book of Heroic Failures - which recounts stories of people who have found magnificently hamfisted ways to stuff up in some field of endeavour. It’s funny, but the truth is, their failures are neither heroic nor truly magnificent.

Allen GardinerAllen Gardiner is another story. Born at the end of the 18th century, he joined the Royal Navy and distinguished himself swiftly and rose through the ranks to command a ship in his early thirties. And then it was all downhill from there. The Navy no longer wanted him. His wife died after a decade of marriage.

Gardiner decided to try his hand at mission work. From 1834 to 1838, he sought to establish churches amongst the Zulus, but none of them succeeded. Undeterred, he moved his efforts to Chile for the next five years, but again found his labours stymied.

He decided to focus on reaching the people of Patagonia, but was unable to persuade any mission agency to support him - so he started his own in 1844. The first missionary sent out returned home unsuccessful after a year. Meanwhile, Gardiner sailed to Bolivia but failed again here too.

Finally, Gardiner went to Patagonia himself in 1850, with six companions. Conditions were terrible, and their supply ship failed to turn up with more provisions. All seven of them starved to death.

Gardiner was a heroic, magnificent failure. His mission agency? The South American Mission Society, which would go on to send missionaries all over the continent.

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