George Augustus Selwyn was born in Hampshire and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained to the ministry in 1833 and was appointed Bishop of New Zealand in 1841. He sailed for New Zealand on the ‘Tomatin’ in December that year.
In 1848 Bishop Selwyn, acting as temporary chaplain of HMS Dido, visited the islands of Melanesia with the aim of establishing a mission there.
Following Bishop Selwyn’s visit, five Melanesians were brought for training at St. John’s College Auckland. This became the beginnings of the Melanesian Mission with the first Melanesian baptism taking place in 1852.
Two years later at Selwyn’s recommendation, Melanesia was created a separate diocese from New Zealand and the schooner the ‘Southern Cross’ was given to him by friends of the mission in the UK.
John Coleridge Patteson
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).
Many people have served the Church of Melanesia over the years. One such person was Charles Elliot Fox. Born in Stalbridge, Dorset, England in 1878, he was educated in New Zealand and graduated from the University of New Zealand in 1901. In 1902 he received a degree in theology from St John’s College in Auckland and joined the staff of the Melanesian Mission in 1903. He was ordained the same year. During more than seventy years of service as a missionary and teacher, Fox lived and worked in many of the islands of the Solomon chain, in the Banks and Torres, and in New Hebrides.
Ini Kopuria formed the Melanesian Brotherhood in 1925, a religious order established along the lines of the Franciscans. This is now the largest Anglican religious order in the world with over four hundred confessed Brothers and many Novices.
In 1963 the first two Melanesian Bishops were consecrated: Dudley Tuti and Leonard Alufurai. Twelve years later Church of Melanesia was inaugurated as its own Province and Norman Palmer was consecrated as the first Melanesian Archbishop.