Bishop John Coleridge Patteson

Patteson Portrait, Lambeth Palace
Patteson Portrait, Lambeth Palace

In 1855, John Coleridge Patteson answered Bishop Selwyn’s call for volunteers to go the South Pacific to preach the Gospel. He soon founded a school for the education of native Christian workers and, being adept at languages, he learned twenty-three of the languages spoken in the Polynesian and Melanesian Islands of the South Pacific.

Over the years the training college has moved from New Zealand out to the islands and is now known as Bishop Patteson Theological College, Kohimarama. Currently situated on Guadalcanal there are plans for a new site nearer Honiara.

After John Coleridge Patteson was consecrated Bishop of Melanesia in 1861, Edwin Nobbs and Fisher Young from Norfolk Island became the first Christian martyrs for Melanesia. They were killed at Graciosa Bay in 1864 after being attacked by islanders with poisoned arrows. The slave-trade was technically illegal in the South Pacific at that time, but the laws were only laxly enforced and in fact slave-raiding was a flourishing business. Patteson was actively engaged in the effort to stamp it out. However after slave-raiders had attacked the island of Nakapu, in the Santa Cruz group, Patteson and several companions visited the area in September 1871. They were assumed to be connected with the raiders and, after Patteson went ashore on his own to try and establish peace, his body was floated back to his ship with five hatchet wounds in the chest, one for each native who had been killed in the earlier raid. The death of Bishop Patteson caused an uproar back in England, and stimulated the British government to take firm measures to stamp out slavery and the slave trade in its Pacific territories. It was also the seed of a strong and vigorous Church in Melanesia today.

Soon after this tragic event the first Melanesian was ordained priest. His name was George Sarawia from Mota Island, New Hebrides (Vanuatu).