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         BISHOP PATTESON        
           FIRST BISHOP OF MELANESIA         

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John "Coley" Patteson was an Englishman who responded to the call to work as a missionary in Melanesia. This deeply interesting story is one of the courage and resolution of the human spirit in addition to being a valuable historical record. The primary reference for the material on this site is the book "Bishop Patteson" an undated publication by Jessie Page, published in London by S.W. Partridge and Co. .... Jane Resture


John Coleridge Patteson was born into an upper class English Christian family. His father, Mr. Justice Patteson, was a lawyer of no mean repute who was raised to the position of judge in the year 1830 and wherever he travelled on circuit, he gained respect and made many friends.

To the very end of his days, his boy loved him with unfailing loyalty, and was always ready to acknowledge, with heartfelt thankfulness, how much of what was best in him was due to that honoured parent whose name he bore. From him he inherited that sturdy backbone of principle, that straightforward brave manhood which, as we shall see, stood him in good stead in the history of his school life and the heroism of his later years.

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John Coleridge Patteson.

Yet, to complete the character of Patteson, it needed another influence, and that was supplied by his mother's gentle love. It is so true to human nature that it will cause no surprise to add that the boy partook largely of his mother's mind was like her, and between the two were those infinitely strong link of mutual love and confidence which many waters cannot quench nor fire consume.

She came of a famous ancestry, her maiden name of Frances Duke Coleridge, and her line was distinguished by the poet and philosopher, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. To the future Bishop, she gave her family name, and amongst those who knew him best, not only as a boy but afterwards as an adult he was known as "Coley".

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There were two other strong influences that directed the heart of the boy in the direction of Christian Mission. One of these was Bishop George Augustus Selwyn, the newly consecrated Bishop of New Zealand.

The other was the Reverend Samuel Wilberforce, then Archdeacon of Surrey, afterwards to take his place as one of the ablest prelates of the Church.

Patteson attended Eton College and for some time Lady Patteson had been ailing. Suddenly graver symptoms summoned hastily the judge to her bedside. Coley and his brother were fetched from Eton and Coley was heartbroken at the news. Lady Patteson called her family to her bed to say farewell caressing and blessing her sobbing boys. Then, throwing her arms round the neck of her husband, she thanked him for bringing them to receive her last embrace and shortly afterwards passed gently into that sleep with which God closes the eyes of his beloved.

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In 1845 Patteson entered Balliol College, and came at once into contact with that remarkable quickening of religious thought which will mark an epoch in the history of the Church of England. The withdrawal of John Henry Newman from her pale had transferred at once the greatest mind and one of the noblest natures from the University to the Church of Rome. For years, the shock of that succession was felt amongst the students, and the conflicts of opinion upon doctrinal points continued to wage.

Patteson was stimulated by all the self-examination and developed a clearer assurance of duty. He made friends out of the worthy society of earnest minds; some of those who survived him have recorded Patteson affectionate and interesting memories. One of these is the testimony of Professor Shairp of which the following is an extract. "Patteson as he was at Oxford comes back to me as the representative of the very best kind of Etonian, with much good that he had got from Eton, with something better not to be got at Eton or any other school.....We did not know, probably he did not know himself, the fire of devotion that lay within him, but that was soon to kindle and make him what he afterwards became".

After three years at Oxford, having secured a second class in Literae humaniores, he set out for a much needed holiday on the continent. Patteson travelled through France and Germany where he found his French and German to be of practical use when he left for a time the English shores. When Patteson was at Venice, he received a letter from his father to say that he had decided to resign his judicial duty. He had been a judge for twenty-two years and at his age of sixty-two he still had plenty of years ahead of him as a judge and the prospect of his going from the court was a regret to all.

Patteson returning from his journeys became a Fellow of Murton College, Oxford and threw himself with zeal into the movement for reforming the University which at that time was in progress. The time approached however when Patteson had to leave the towers and spires of Oxford behind and therefore with redoubtable zeal, he worked away at his books in his room at Murton College. At this time however, a providential door opened, by which Patteson was able at once to taste the sweets of real parish work.

Within the parish of Ottery St. Mary lies the village of Alfington; and the Church, parsonage and premises were a gift of the Coleridge family, and it was intended that Patteson should one day occupy the pulpit. In the meantime, however, Reverend Henry Gardiner who was labouring in the parish was struck down with a severe illness. In 1853, Patteson arrived to nurse him, and at the same time to assist on carrying on the work in his absence. Both duties he discharged with faithfulness. Patteson was ordained on the 14th September 1853 and in the parish of Alfington, he tasted some of the joys and sorrows of the ministerial office. In August, 1854 Bishop Selwyn with his noble wife, returned again to New Zealand to give an account of his stewardship.

The development of the Church in Melanesia was greatly hindered by the endless subdivisions of dialects and he therefore devised a plan to induce the native use to leave their island homes and undergo a course of instruction to fit them for Christian work among their fellows on their return. In a quest for help, Bishop Selwyn revisited England again and approached Patteson for help.

At Blackwall Dock, the new mission schooner the Southern Cross was being constructed for the special work of Melanesia Patteson spent some days, in preparing his requisites for the voyage, in London and it was not until the 25th March that he was finally able to say "Goodbye".

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New Zealand village.

On the deck of the Duke of Portland which was to bear him away, Patteson parted with his uncle and brother James and was soon on his voyage. Two things made Patteson busy on the way; first, he attempted to master the Maori language; and secondly, he studied the practice of navigation. In the former, Patteson was most successful and in the latter he showed an equal proficiency, entering in the minutest detail with the same zest as if he had been the stroke oar in the University boats.

At last, they arrived in Auckland, which he described in one of his letters as a small seaside town, composed chiefly of roughly built houses, among which the churches stood out with a look that much reminded him of home. He finds out that his work will lie at the college in the neighbourhood of Auckland, where he is a resident clergyman, and after he had been there a little time he hopes to go on his first cruise with the Bishop. At present, however, it is essential that he should master the language, and this he will do chiefly by constant contact with the Maoris at St. John's.

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Patteson's house at St. John's College, Auckland, New Zealand.

His daily intercourse with the natives drew him into deeper sympathy with them. In teaching them the truths of Scripture and Christian doctrine, he found them apt scholars, ready with questions which showed their intelligent interest in the subject in hand. His great gifts in language made him very popular and he was so thorough in studying the niceties of the dialect, so patient in acquiring every chance, word or expression which might qualify him more completely for preaching, they begged him to stay when he was about to leave on his visit to the islands.

With intense anticipation, he waited for the approaching day when he should sail with the Bishop to cruise among the isles of Melanesia. That moment came at last in May of 1856 when Patteson had reached his 29th year. The trim little schooner Southern Cross waited for them and the party went on board on Ascension Day, the 1st of May. The passengers included Bishop Selwyn and his devoted wife, Mr. Harper, a son of the future Bishop of Lyttelton, Patteson and five men to act as crew.

When the Southern Cross reached Aneityum in July, it was to visit the excellent work which two noble missionaries, Messrs. Gettie and Inglis, had carried out for some years under the auspices of the Scottish Presbyterian Missionary Society. The ship sailed again, passing Erromanga, the scene of the martyrdom of John Williams, and arrived at Fate - an island of very evil repute, as the natives were cannibals and had already murdered their Samoan teacher. Landing here was out of the question, but from the canoes that surrounded the ship, they took two fellows to accompany them on the cruise.

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Shortly afterwards, they came in sight of the magnificent ranges of mountains which rise 4,000 feet on the island of San Spirito. The aspect of these beautiful tropical gems of the ocean greatly pleased the eye of the new missionary. To Patteson, whose mind was quick to appreciate the artistic beauty of such a scene, the glow of pleasure which flushed him would pale down as the stern reality of the shadow, the crouching sin-fiend, demanded the upmost heroism of his soul. 

Amid the wild solitude of the dark continent Livingstone found that the white man in the guide of the Arab slave-trader had preceded him, and step by step the intrepid explorer had to battle with this natural enemy of the coloured race. It was this vile traffic which blighted those African villages, and forced from this noble heart the dying prayer that others might help "to heal this open sore of the world".

In like manner, Patteson was forestalled by the same vicious influence, and eventually paid the forfeit of his life in his endeavours, in his Master's name, to win the wronged confidence of the Melanesians.

The distrust engendered among the natives made the visits of the missionaries to these islands very perilous and on many occasions Patteson barely escaped with his life. The Southern Cross reached Guadalcanal and immediately a number of natives leapt into the sea and swam towards it bringing yams and other produce for barter in their hands. The absence of arms showed that their intentions were friendly and a number of them were allowed to come on deck. They seemed to have been a rather aristocratic race and were adorned with fantastic arrangements of shells, frontlet, girdles, bracelets extending far up the arm; and although not tattooed like the other islanders, they had branded their skin in a peculiar fashion. Fortunately the boys from Bauro could talk a little to these fellows, and two young men were persuaded to remain with the ship.

The Solomon Island Group, which next claimed the missionaries' attention, is associated with Spanish history of three centuries ago. Alvaro de Mendana had, in the course of a cruise of discovery in 1567, lighted upon these isles and after some conflicts with the natives began to establish a colony on Santa Cruz. Difficulties, however soon developed, the old chief Malope was murdered by the Spaniards, the leader of the expedition soon followed; and finally his wife with what was left of the colonists departed. The Southern Cross passed on, and arrived at last at Negone at the beginning of September. On this island, the Melanesian Mission had already made a beginning of settlement work. Mr. Nihill after living on the island with his wife for two years had passed away in the midst of his labours, and Mrs. Nihill returned to New Zealand. The people had become deeply attached to their missionary, and the native teachers whom he had instructed in the doctrines of the faith were bravely carrying on the work.

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Returning to Norfolk Island, they had an opportunity for some rest; Patteson employing it in part in writing letters to his relatives at home. After recounting the incidence of this his first voyage, after visiting 66 islands and landing 81 times, he assured his family that all the locals were most friendly and delightful with only two arrows having been shot at us and only one coming near thus ended Patteson's first voyage. It was full of meaning to him, in reaching him with experience, and inflaming him with an increasing devotedness to his work. He was not in such good health as when he started; an inflamed leg had given him much uneasiness, and he was glad to return to St. John's College at Auckland with his new consignment of native youths to train and teach for Christ.

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Once more the Southern Cross set her sails to the breeze and carrying Bishop Selwyn and Patteson steered for the group of islands of the New Hebrides. Many of the places had been already visited by the Bishop before, and Selwyn eagerly sought for the chiefs who had promised well in the past. Reaching the island of New Caledonia, a large and important place upon which the French had recently formed the colony, a visit was made to basset, the chief of Yenen, who had already years before asked very earnestly for an English missionary.

The presence of the French in the island of New Caledonia introduced a new element into the difficulties in the way of the Melanesian missions. They had not only established themselves on the larger islands, but claimed the right to interfere with the natives of the Loyalty Group adjacent. The Romish priests were imported into the midst of these people and, backed up with men-of-war afloat and the soldiers ashore, they endeavoured to make converts by coercion. It has been seen that wherever Bishop Selwyn and Patteson travelled on their missionary work, they found themselves in cordial sympathy with the labours of other Protestant Christians; but the Roman Catholic Mission would have no fellowship with them and persisted in opposing them everywhere.

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The delicacy of the youths who had been gathered for training at St. John's College, became again a pressing question, and necessitated the establishment of a school in one of the islands which should be sufficiently sheltered for winter residence. Lifu was decided upon, and Patteson remained here over three weeks, teaching his class of 25 young fellows. The next incidence to be noted was the establishment of the headquarters of the mission at Kohimarama, a small bay on the New Zealand coast about two miles from Auckland. From thence Patteson, accompanied by Mr. Dudley, Mr. Kerr, Reverend B. E. Ashwell, and a number of native scholars sailed on a cruise about the islands. They came in sight of Erromanga and were entertained by the Scottish missionaries Reverend Mr. Gordon. After joining in prayer, Mr. Gordon accompanied his visitors, under the midnight moon, to the spot on the beach where John Williams was murdered and related how it occurred. Bishop Selwyn with the Samoan teacher, was the first to visit the isle after this dreadful occurrence.

Just about this time, Patteson says in one of his letters, "My father writes, my tutor says 'There must be a Melanesian Bishop soon, and that you will be the man,' a sentence which amuses not a little."

But those who had watched his career and his splendid grip upon the work were convinced that he was the man when the time should come. Already the question was being mooted at home, the mission had made such strides that the need of more effective organisations and larger support was pressing on the minds of the friends in England. Anyway, whatever his future status in the work should be, Patteson had fully decided to stand by Melanesia. His heart was there, and the spell of its claims had quite overcome any lingering desire to return to his native land.            

On 26th March 1860, five years to the day from the date of his leaving home, Patteson has to witness the death of one of his most faithful converts. The native youth had come from Nagone, and had been named at his baptism George Selwyn Simeona but the delicacy of his longs had succumbed to the New Zealand winter and he passed away. Just off the coast of New Zealand was a dangerous show of rock, known as the Hen and Chickens, and this place was destined to see the loss of that brave little schooner, the Southern Cross. The loss of the old vessel was keenly felt; as she had carried them through their missionary wonderings in fair weather and foul. Bishop Selwyn had to obtain another vessel, the Zillah, which seems to have proved unsatisfactory.

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The wreck of the Southern Cross.

That perennial enemy of the faithful missionary in tropical latitudes, ill-health, began to lay aside the workers. Mr. Dudley, fell ill with sunstroke on the arrival of the Zillah at Auckland, and for a time needed careful attention. It was now the duty of Patterson to nurse his sick brother, and at the same time perform a like office for several of his native pupils on board. Mr. Dudley recovered, and has placed on record how tenderly Patteson watched over his patients. One of the sufferers however died on the voyage and was buried at sea.

In 1861, Patteson had served six years under the guidance and supervision of Bishop Selwyn who had for some time past left him wholly responsible. At St. Paul's Church, Auckland, Patteson became the first Bishop of Melanesia. His formal installation took place in the little chapel of St. Andrew's College, Kohimarama, in the presence of all his boys; and afterwards there were suitable rejoicings of an English character, the new Bishop and his young fellows dining together of roast beef and plum pudding in the College Hall.

The news of his consecration had reached home, and filled the household at Feniton with a thrill of satisfaction when the hour of family prayer drew on, although increasing weakness had compelled him to depute this duty to his daughters, Judge Patteson insisted for once upon leading their devotion himself.

Patteson's own health was beginning to lose ground, and he gladly accepted the offer of Captain Hume of HMS Cordelia to go for a cruise among the islands of his diocese. The voyage comprised a visit to the Solomon Group; the island of Ysabel, nearly 120 in length, having their own special attention.

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Special attention was given by Bishop Patteson to the work of translating into the different languages, a task for which he had a special aptitude. With restored health, Bishop Patteson, waiting the rebuilding of a new vessel, settled down again to his congenial labour of instructing and shaping the intelligence of his interesting pupils. In the fall of the year 1862, the Bishop started on a cruise in the Sea Breeze among the islands comprise in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and the Solomon Groups. The inhabitants of the important island of Santa Cruz had an evil repute for acts of cannibalism and murder; but the Bishop eagerly seized upon the advantage of landing at many places, and making himself known to numbers of the natives where his face and hitherto had been unknown. When he reached the New Hebrides, the Sea Breeze touched at several places where six years ago he had made acquaintance with the natives for the first time.

In March of 1863, there was a great rejoicing at the Melanesian College in consequence of the arrival from England of the new missionary ship, the Southern Cross. She seemed to have admirable seagoing qualities, and was destined to become one of the greatest service in the work. Unfortunately however, an epidemic of dysentery fell on the young Melanesians and the Hall of the College had to be transformed into a hospital. Death after death occurred, and it was the hand of the Bishop who prepared the bodies for the grave, and afterwards carried them out for burial.

The following February Patteson boarded a mail steamer going to Sydney due to the necessity for a complete change and a rest. When Patteson returned to his work, his strength was renewed, and he gladly rejoined his old companions; but it was evident that he had overtaxed himself in those previous years of work. After a short stay at his college, Patteson started again in the Southern Cross for a cruise among the islands. It was on this cruise that Patteson was lucky not to lose his life along with Pearce who had been killed by a native arrow.

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In the summer of 1865, the Bishop visited Mota again, and works hard to carry out his cherished idea of founding on the island a Christian village. During his visit to the Solomon Islands, the Bishop and his party landed at Bauro, and made their first acquaintance with the curious tree houses of the natives. It appeared that, some years previously there had been a war between the Ysabel Islanders and another tribe; and as an act of vengeance the inhabitants of this district were almost killed to a man the few who had managed to hide began to build their houses in the taller trees ascending thereto by long ladders sometimes sixty feet off the ground.

After careful consultation, the headquarters of the mission were removed to Norfolk Island, and soon the establishment was sufficient to house a hundred Melanesians. On the transfer of St. Andrew's to this place, a new name was resolved upon, and henceforth the Norfolk Island building was known as St. Barnabas' Mission School.

The year 1870, is marked by the serious illness of Bishop Patteson, which compelled him to take an interval of complete rest. He returned on the Southern Cross to Auckland where a great change was noticed in his appearance with a loss of vital power, a different look on his face, and his hair was also turning grey. After a time he returned to Norfolk Island and for a time he was engaged in translating into the various languages and it was here we had the last glimpse of the good Bishop in the midst of his people. .

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When the sun rose on the morning of the 20th September, 1871, the Southern Cross was by the Bishop's orders headed for Nukapu. In due time, the ship stood off the reef and several canoes filled with natives were seen cruising about. Taking with them a few presents, the Bishop and his party got into a boat and pulled towards the island. Although the people recognized him, there was a strangeness in their manner. To disarm any suspicions they might have, the Bishop went into one of their canoes. The canoes were now dragged over the reef into the deep lagoon, and the friends of the Bishop saw him land and then disappear in the crowd. With intense anxiety they waited his return. A shower of arrows followed with cries of vengeance. The shaft flew with fatal accuracy and the boat with difficulty was pulled back to the ship filled with wounded men. Mr. Atkins, who had been dangerously stuck on the shoulder insisted at once on returning to look after the Bishop

The native boys and two sailors quickly volunteered to accompany him; and at last as the tide rose their boat was able to cross the reef. Two canoes were being rowed to meet them; one shortly went back leaving the other to float forward. In it was apparently a heap, and at first one of the sailors thinking it might be a man in ambush, prepared his pistol.

But it carried not the living but the dead.

With breaking hearts and trembling hands, they lifted out the body of Patteson. It was wrapped carefully in a native mat, and upon the breast was placed a spray of native palm with five mysterious knots tied in leaves; and when they unwrapped them, beneath the spray of palm were five wounds. The explanation of this was that the Bishop had been killed in expiation of the outrage on five natives who had died at the hands of the white men.

The next day, with breaking hearts, the little company committed the body to the deep, to lie until that great day when the sea as well as the land shall restore her dead at the Almighty summons.


The practice of the missionary vessels as they visited each island of persuading the young men who came out to visit them to come with them to be trained as missionaries must surely have influenced the locals to believe that the missionary's vessel and the blackbirder's vessel had something in common. Certainly, if these young men who were taken away without any consultation with their family and who may not return would certainly have convinced the locals that they were dealing with another blackbirder.

It is particularly sad that after the death of Bishop Patteson that the English war vessel Rosario proceeded to Santa Cruz with the object of making inquiries about the death of Bishop Patteson. It appears however that when a boat was lowered at Nukapu with the flag of truce, the crowd of natives only understood the visit as one of vengeance for the murdered Englishman, and sent a volley of arrows at the boat, killing at once a sergeant of marines. The result was that the men of the Rosario opened fire on the natives killing many of them. This is certainly not what Bishop Patteson would have wanted. He was a man of peace and forgiveness and no doubt prayed at his death for mercy on his murderers. 


St. Barnabas' Chapel, Norfolk Island, consecrated in 1880. This memorial to Bishop Patteson was designed by Sir J. G. Jackson and built by the Melanesian Mission boys with help from the islanders. 

*     *     *

Bishop Patteson And The Blackbirders

Hugh Childers, First Lord of the Admiralty had budgetary matters uppermost in his mind: the new technologies were expensive and one had to get the best returns when deploying one's ships. Unfortunately, the two Ango-Saxon communities most expensive to service were at the 'bottom of the world' - in Australia and Chile - and for years money had been poured into what Frederick Walpole, father of our midshipman, termed the 'ugliest hole on the coast'. The politics of Walparaiso were likewise pretty nasty - although no one would ever admit it, what with British expatriates (not to mention British trade) depending on solidarity with the locals. Even slavery was looked upon benignly: The Honourable Fred, part of a squadron sent to south America and the Pacific in the 1840s, held forth on the subject in print:

The jolly, fat laughing face of the slaves give the lie to our philanthropists' stories; if liberty can better their condition, they will be happy indeed. Not that for one minute any man of sense can advocate Slavery, but it is only time that can reform the abuse; the majority of the present race of slaves are unworthy of freedom: they would hardly go back to their country if the offer were made to them ... Most of the residents here agree in saying that the slaves are generally well-treated; in common sense it must be so.

Although general abolition came into effect in 1808 and made all slave-trading illegal, British subjects continued to shelter under foreign flags. The Act of 1811 made it punishable by 14 years' transportation. In 1824 it was declared an act of piracy (and a capital crime in areas under Admiralty jurisdiction). In 1837 this was softened somewhat to transportation for life. For a British officer, party to the European maritime conventions that followed in 1841 and committed to the apprehension of all offenders, the following apologia for slavery comes as rather unexpected:

Englishmen, who, of course, are not permitted to own slaves, though to their shame be it said, they often do, hire them of the natives: they are compelled to this, as no free man will perform the dirtier mental offices ... It seems impossible that any decree of State or Senate can make that degraded, sensual, unintellectual thing, a man, in all his might and majesty. No doubt we are all partly guilty of making him the animal he is, but being so, it is too late to alter him. Africa will produce slaves, will war within herself, and traffic in her children.

Such reasoning was a useful training in sophistry, dare one say, for someone who later followed an undistinguished career in politics.

When it came to the labour trade in the Pacific 20 years later, anything smacking of slavery was pounced on by public watchdogs. Politicians - sooner or later - generally followed suit. In America slavery had split a nation and caused a bloody civil war (1861-1865): the North proclaiming the right of a man to freedom, the south a man's right to keep property bound to him by law. South Sea Islands began to produce the cotton no longer forthcoming from the American southern States. They were not Imperial possessions but, as the planters often cam from Britain or Australia, this augmented British trade and proved a definite advantage. On the downside, however, influential liberals and their rumblings of 'slaves' and 'slavery' brought the island trade into general debate. This unfortunately included the colony of Queensland - where it had become common practice to use the islanders (or Kanakas) as labour on sugar cane plantations.

The Act 'to Regulate and Control the introduction and Treatment of Polynesian Laborers' of 4 March 1868 concerned that very colony. this was all very well but the actual recruiters were not always British subjects, neither did transgressions take place on soil where the Act had force. Had the offenders been the dropouts common in the islands they could have been dealt with quietly - for did they not betray decent standards, and who would make a fuss? As Captain Simpson remarked when the Blanche called at Ponape in June 1872:Thee are several white men living on the island, who have at different times deserted from whalers, which formerly used to resort in great numbers to this island; some of these men have acquired land in the island, but the majority of them live with the natives, and can barely be distinguished from them by their mode of life.'

Unfortunately, planters with a veneer of respectability - or indeed, at the very core of island society - colluded in the cynical exploitation of a people never quite able to match the tricks employed against them. James L.A. Hope's In Quest of Coolies (first published in 1870) gives details fo the rules and regulations obtaining in Queensland, which had little or no effect on men whose bases were in the New Hebrides or Fiji. 'Coolie quests' in foreign waters did not exercise official minds unduly: marginal problems, after all, belonged ont he margin. Let the navy police the seas on which Australia's exports made their way to Europe (with sugar and cotton presumably part of the cargo); let the Australia Squadron provide the maternal links so vial to the colonists' sense of well-being. Above all, let it refrain from meddling in external affairs.

Junior officers tended to have rather more determination. In the matter of the schooner owned by the infamous Ross Lewin, action was immediate - if futile:

It happened however, that H.M.S. Rosario was lying at Levuka and the attention of her captain, Gorge Palmer, was at once directed to the Daphne and her cargo. by training and tradition the men of the royal Navy wee deadly enemies of slavers. Captain Palmer saw no reason to draw a distinction between the slavers who carried African negroes to America or Asia and slavers who carried slaves from the New Hebrides or the Banks group to Fiji. So he boarded the Daphne and examined her with care.

What Palmer found led to the schooner's arrest, but given the nature of the 1868 Act it proved impossible to bring the owners to justice. All Palmer's indignation earned him was a rap across the knuckles from the Governor of Queensland when the latter expressed displeasure to the colonial Office over Palmer's correspondence with the Aborigines' Protection Society.

in which he certainly insinuates, if he does not positively state, that the Government of Queensland are conniving at violence and treachery practised on the natives. If such is his meaning, and I confess I can attach no other to his letter, I have no hesitation in saying that I believe it to be a most unfounded and unwarranted statement, and one which I feel sure in cooler moments he would be glad to retract.

Things were already turning in Captain Palmer's favour when, in September 1871, the missionary Bishop of Melanesia met his death on a lonely island in the New Hebrides. The visit to Nukapu was singularly ill-advised, although - in exchanging his mitre for a martyr's crown - Bishop Patteson passed on a sense of mission hitherto lacking in the British Government. Shortly before, a labour vessel (most probably the Carl, the drew of which not only kidnapped but murdered scores of natives in the area) had arrived 'actually painted so as to resemble' Patteson's mission schooner, the Southern Cross. When John Coleridge Patteson appeared in his turn, the natives were ready. Rejoicing at his welcome ('the Nukapu natives had never shown themselves so friendly floating in an abandoned canoe rolled up in native matting, 'still warm', the skull 'dreadfully battered'. 'the features of the deceased Bishop' (and this can have been of little consolation to those who mourned him) 'still retained their accustomed placid smile'.

Dreadful Massacre

Public outpourings of grief were matched only by the baying for the blood of those responsible. In this, the good burghers of Melbourne were well to the fore:


The Petition of Your Majesty's faithful subjects, the citizens of Melbourne, in public meeting assembled, Humbly showeth:

THAT your petitioners desire to bring under the notice of Your majesty the means now adopted by certain of Your Majesty's subjects to procure from the islands off the Pacific labourers for the Queensland and Fiji plantations.

That your petitioners believe that these means are commonly lawless and cruel and productive of much misery to the islanders, and, moreover, through exciting jealousy and desire of retaliation in the minds of the natives, they involve in great danger both missionaries and lawful traders, and, further, that they reflect disgrace upon the British name. 

That in the opinion of your petitioners, while it belongs to the authorities in Queensland and Fiji to do all in their power to secure humane and just treatment of the islanders, imperial intervention is needed to prevent British subjects from entrapping or forcibly abducing ignorant and comparatively defenceless savages for labour in the plantations.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray Your Majesty to take such steps as to Your Majesty may seem expedient for putting an end to the evils to which your petitioners have referred.

And your petitioners will ever pray.
For and on behalf of the petitioners.
O. FENNICK, Mayor.
E.G. FITZIBBON, Town Clerk.

The Pacific Islanders Protection Act of 1872 quickly followed. Momentarily buoyed by higher principles, colonial governors even accepted the one of 'user pays':

IN returning the Despatch from the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated 27th June last, enclosing a copy of the Act to suppress the crime of kidnapping in the south Seas, Mr. Francis (the Chief Secretary for Victoria) desires to inform his Excellency that the Government of this colony will be prepared, equally with the other Colonial Governments interested in the matter, to defray the expense of any prosecutions are undertaken with its concurrence.

AMONG THE PAPERS  of Dr Hedley Ralph Marston in the National Library of Australia can be found various items concerning the island labour-trade: an early paperback of Becke's 1913 story Bully Hayes, Buccaneer, articles from Smith's Weekly on Dr Murray's Carl, the beginnings of Marston's biography of his old friend Professeor Archibald Watson, and allied memorabilia. Taken with the log of the Carl and photocopies of the published British Parliamentary Papers of 1872-74 they provide fascinating and unusual insight into the labour-trading era. contrary to general perception of such documents, the Parliamentary Papers make absorbing reading. In June 1873, following the trial of kidnappers in both Sydney and Melbourne and when revelations about villainy on the high seas were a common occurrence, the House of commons ordered the publication of

COPIES or EXTRACTS 'of any COMMUNICATIONS of IMPORTANCE respecting OUTRAGES committed upon NATIVES  of the SOUTH SEA ISLANDS which may have been received from the Governors of any of the Australasian Colonies, from the Senior Naval Officers commanding in Australia and China, or from her Majesty's Consuls in the Pacific, since the last issue of Papers upon this subject.

Examination of the same shows how much easier naval action had become. Where before intervention a la Palmer was deemed interference, an officer's indignation now had official backing as remote consuls and normally reticent captains united in an impassioned onslaught on the loathsome practice of kidnapping.

The story of one outrage carried out at an unnamed South Sea Island 'by the crew of a vessel baring the Tahitian flag, but commanded by an Englishman', was - for that very reason - deemed 'likely to prove a much exaggerated one'. (Englishmen, by definition of their 'Englishness', could hardly be involved and, whereas to natives all white men looked the same, for British officialdom it was nationality that counted.) Given the evidence, such touching faith in the English character may not be all that misplaced. Dr Murray, owner of the Carl, was an Irishman, Dowden the mate an American. Joseph Byrne, who inspired the Peruvian authorities to prey upon the Polynesians, was another Irishman. Ross Lewin, formerly of the RN and who was killed by the men of Tanna, was (presumably) British, if not (necessarily) English. Ben Pease was American, the infamous Benjamin Boyd a lowland Scot. William 'Bully' Hayes hailed from Cleveland, Ohio, while Watson, Scottish by nature of his antecedents, was the son of a well-to-do part-Indian Victorian squatter nicknamed 'King of the Upper Murray'.   

There appears to be little, if any, evidence of Hayes's involvement in kidnapping (his specially being the stealing of ships) and he may well have been a victim of the odium affecting anyone remotely connected with the labour trade. On the other hand, Professor Watson, Hedley Marston's venerable friend, had undeniable links with what is popularly termed 'blackbirding'. There is a multiplicity of books and [papers written on the Pacific Island labour trade, yet none, I would venture, reveals the cynicism of the practice to quite the same extent as Archie Watson's log. Watson arrived in Fiji in 1871, aged 21, to oversee his father's land holdings in the islands. A year later he was a fugitive from justice, wanted on charges of kidnapping. Here are edited extracts of the journal he kept on board the Carl between January and May 1872; the incidents all occurred in the month of February as the brig sailed through the Kingsmill Islands towards the Carolines:

Saturday 3rd 6 am. Land in sight from mast head on weather bow. Braced up and stood for it. Anchored about 2.1/2 miles from shore after having sailed round a reef known on the Charts as the 'Nautilus Shoal'. Natives came off. In most beautiful canoes, made of planks sewed together with sinnet (braided cordage). Traded freely, mats, sinnet, baskets, shells, endage, & for tobacco no other trade of use. They make their own pipes of hardwood, and are stark named except the women who wear a short grass 'liku'. boat went ashore and brought off a woman and a man to look after her.

Sunday 4th got under weigh and stood in 1.1/2 miles closer. let go on 7 fathoms. A great many canoes came off. Many natives remained aboard ruing the day trading for tobacco. 1 good mat for a small piece of villanous tobacco ... Bought several copper bolts from natives and had the puggery (scarf) taken off my hat while on my head - 8 men 4 women.

Monday 5th Several canoes which had apparently been fishing all night came alongside to sell fish, of which they had a great quantity (flying fish). After buying what they had prevailed on 5 men and a boy to remain aboard ...

Thursday 15th Close to a small island (Mulgrave's). tremendous tide up. Several most wonderful canoes came off full of men and women ... some of the men were tattooed all over the body. 10 very fine guys of stays to the mast of each canoe. Very fine coloured mats round the loins of several. The others had immense likus of stained 'vau'. they wear their hair which is straight and fine tied in a knot on top of their head. 6 men 1 boy and 1 woman remained on board by the request of the Dr.

Thursday 29th A Little rain. Hove to off McAskills Island (Pingelap). boat went ashore and got some coconuts very cheap for tobacco. One white man was on the island and he said there had been an attack made on some natives by a schooner 2 days before who had either killed or taken one away. Girls very shy in consequence.

For words like 'request' and 'prevailed upon', one should substitute words like 'false promises', 'enticed aboard', 'seized' and 'fastened': the Reverend Edward Doane, a missionary, had no qualms in doing so in his own version of he same events written from Ponape Island in the Carolines. For 'very shy' he might have used something like 'frightened witless'.

SURPRISINGLY, WATSON'S INCRIMINATING LOG remained safe and secret during the years of exile in Europe (throughout his tenure of the Chair of Anatomy at the University of Adelaide it lay buried in the museum crypt). Others who played a more honourable part in the blackbirding saga tended to go public early: Captain Palmer wrote Kidnapping in the south Seas about his trials with the Daphne in 1871; Albert Markham, former shipmate of Charles James Norcock on the Blanche, published his account of meeting with the Carl in 1873. Once the 'Kidnapping Act' was in operation, the Royal Navy steamed into action - fired up with crusading zeal and the force of the written word. Now that the Carl was out of action, who better to start with than William 'Bully' Hayes?

'We are off to the islands at last,' Midshipman Walpole wrote in great excitement:

We left yesterday. We are going in search of a notorious kidnapper and pirate named Captain Hayes who has for a long time been the dread of the small trading vessels about the islands.

The prospect of prize-money or finding 'a store of plunder' lay before the youngster's eyes as he penned a sketch of the balding one-eared Hayes (no wonder the brigand escaped them):

We have got descriptions of them also (from) a detective who knows him. He is six foot two high and broad in proportion. He is covered with hair has both ears cut off and a great gash across the face so that we shall have no difficulty in identifying him if we catch him.

Accounts of the American's misdeed likewise improved with the telling:

If we catch him he will be hung and a great many of his crew too as they are almost all murderers and people who have run from the law. Captain was a slave captain on the west coast of Africa before he came here but he made it too hot for him there and went to New Zealand where he chartered a ship to carry a cargo. got a cargo of other people's goods to take to Sydney. Instead of taking them there he went to California and sold the cargo and the ship whose charter he had not paid and bought a small schooner which he used for kidnapping. He lost that and another one. He has now got a brig which he uses for kidnapping. He also boards merchantmen and plunders, one of them resisting a little while ago he shot three of her crew.

For Walpole the thrill of the chase was everything, but senior officers took the matter of retribution more seriously. The dedicated Captain Douglas of HMS Cossack would have made an example of Archibald Watson but his target ran away; when it came to investigating 'kidnapping, and skull-hunting amount the south Sea Islands', Captain Simpson of the Blanche was equally zealous. Midshipman robin Walpole did not comment on the labour trade as such, nor did he invoke pictures of pathetic - or, indeed, 'jolly laughing' - slaves but, like Walpole's father, his commanding officer suggested that a properly regulated labour trade might be beneficial (especially for those who would be labouring): 

The general result of my observations is, that during this year (1872) there has been no labour trade or kidnapping amongst either the Solomon, Caroline, or Marshall Groups, that during previous years there has been a large and most iniquitous kidnapping trade going on among the Solomon Islands, and to a certain extent among the Caroline Islands, but that few natives have at any time been taken from the Marshall group. I have also great doubts if the natives of any of these islands go willingly, except occasionally as part crew, with a captain they know well. The above, however, does not refer to the Gilbert Group, where there has been, and continues to be an extensive labour and kidnapping trade carried on by Fijian vessels. Large numbers of natives of these islands evidently go willingly, but many cases of kidnapping are also reported. could this be suppressed, and the trade properly regulated? I am of opinion that great advantage, both to the natives of these islands and to those to which they emigrate, would be the result, for this group of islands (Gilbert) is at the same time the most barren and unproductive, and the most thickly populated of any in the Pacific. they are a fine healthy race, but infanticide is reported to be common amongst them to check the increase of the population, for which there is no adequate room.

Trading vessels, meanwhile, continued to ply their way through the islands, and the islanders continued to take revenge. For those ordered to protect natives at the expense of Europeans it proved a touch confusing: sometimes mixed signals from Whitehall brought singular results - and, sometimes, British justice seemed hardly just at all. 

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