John Patteson (bishop)

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John Coleridge Patteson
Bishoppatterson.jpg
John Coleridge Patteson
Bishop and Martyr
Born 1 April 1827
England
Died 20 September 1871
Nukapu,
Solomon Islands
Honored in
Anglican Communion
Feast 20 September

John Coleridge Patteson (1 April 1827 – 20 September 1871) was an English Anglican bishop and martyr. He studied at Oxford University and did more study of languages in Germany, becoming ordained as a priest in England in 1854.

A missionary to the South Seas from 1855, Patteson became an accomplished linguist, learning 23 of the islands' more than 1,000 languages. In 1861, he was selected as the first Bishop of Melanesia. Patteson was killed by natives on Nukapu, in the Solomon Islands. He is commemorated in the Church of England on 20 September.

Early life[edit]

He was the elder son of Sir John Patteson the judge, by his second wife, Frances Duke Coleridge. She was a niece of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.[1] Patteson was brought up at Feniton Court, where his family resided, so as to be near the home of his mother's relatives at Ottery St Mary. After three years at The King's School, Ottery St Mary, Patteson was placed in 1838 at Eton College, under his uncle, the Rev. Edward Coleridge, son-in-law of John Keate, once headmaster there.

Patteson studied there till 1845. From 1845 to 1848 he was a commoner of Balliol College, Oxford, under Dr. Richard Jenkyns. He was not interested in academic studies, and obtained a second-class degree. What was more important was that he became friends for life with Benjamin Jowett, Max Müller, John Campbell Shairp, Edwin Palmer. James Riddell, James John Hornby, and Charles Savile Roundell.

After taking his degree in October 1849, Patteson travelled in Switzerland and Italy, learned German at Dresden, and devoted himself to the study of Hebrew and Arabic. Languages were to be a lifelong interest.[1] Returning to Oxford in 1852, he became Fellow of Merton College, and spent the year 1852–3 in the college, where there had been recent reform.[2]

Ordination[edit]

On 25 September 1853, he was ordained as deacon and curate of Alphington, Devon, and on 24 September 1854 was ordained priest at Exeter Cathedral.[3] On a visit in the summer of 1854, George Augustus Selwyn, the first Bishop of New Zealand, recruited Patteson as a missionary to the South Seas. Patteson left England with the bishop in March 1855, and landed at Auckland in May.[2]

Missionary work[edit]

Patteson arrived at Auckland in May 1855. For five years he toured the islands on the ship Southern Cross,[1] visiting the indigenous peoples and teaching them about Christianity. He ran the Melanesian Mission's summer school at Kohimarama, Auckland. He also founded a college for boys on Norfolk Island.

On 24 February 1861 at Auckland, he was consecrated first Bishop of Melanesia. It was not an easy calling: the islands were scattered over 1,800 miles of ocean. He was not always welcomed, particularly since the native peoples were subject to abuses at the hands of blackbirders. These essentially impressed men as labourers, transporting them away under harsh conditions. Usually Patteson's gentle, quiet manner reassured the indigenous peoples, but not always. Once when he and his assistants were about to leave Santa Cruz, they were shot at with arrows. Patteson's assistants were wounded, and the arrows turned out to be poisoned, since both ultimately died from the wounds.[4]

A brilliant linguist, Patteson eventually spoke 23 of the more than 1,000 Melanesian languages. He printed grammars and vocabularies and translated some gospels into the Mota language.[3]

Patteson was described as tall and athletic, with a grave and gentle face. In the islands he went barefoot, wearing only shirt and trousers, the latter tucked up above his knees. Following the example of Bishop Selwyn, when Patteson came to an island where he did not know the people and where they might be hostile, he used to swim ashore wearing a top hat. He had filled it with presents for the people. He quickly made friends, learnt the villagers' names, and enough of their language to use when he came again.[5]

Patteson's goal was to take boys from local communities, educate them in western Christian culture at his mission school, and return them to their villages to help lead the next generation. He had difficulty persuading local people to allow their young men to depart, sometimes for years, for this purpose. Patteson never tried to make the Melanesians British but thought he was equipping them for the contemporary world. His most brilliant scholar, Edward Wogala, wrote of him: "He did not live apart, he was always friends with us and did not despise in the least a single one of us." Well liked by many, his name is still handed down from father to son, and in 1961, young Melanesians were still being named for him at baptism.[5]

In March 1864 Patteson visited Australia. In Sydney he addressed a large meeting of British colonists, who pledged systematic support of the Melanesian Mission. Patteson devoted his private fortune to the mission, including money inherited from his father, and income from his Merton College fellowship. In 1867 he moved the Melanesian Mission to Norfolk Island, where it was called St Barnabas. In that milder climate, the school could continue in the winter months. Native foods, such as yams, could be grown so the students would feel more at home.[3]

Death[edit]

The years of the slave trade in the late nineteenth century created problems for Patteson and other missionaries. Numerous British ships, known as blackbirders, sailed to the islands to recruit, often by deception and force, labourers to work on plantations in Australia or Fiji, under extremely harsh conditions. Sometimes ship captains ordered crews to cut off the heads of resisters, selling the heads at other islands and entering into the headhunter cultures.[5] The slave-trade was technically illegal in the South Pacific at that time, and the traders called the natives indentured workers. Laws for their protection and return to their home islands were rarely enforced; the men were severely treated and many died; thousands of others were abandoned in the work islands.[6]

Patteson worked with the colonial government to suppress the blackbirders and their trade.[6] His task was made harder when traders from Australia began to visit the islands, keen to get men to go and work on their sugar plantations. Usually they kept the law and agreed proper terms of employment: but some simply kidnapped the islanders and carried them off in what became known as “snatch-snatch” boats.[4]

On 20 September 1871, Patteson was killed on the island of Nukapu in the Solomon Islands, where he had landed alone. At the time, it was thought that natives killed him as revenge for the abduction of five men by illegal blackbirders a few days before, who had also killed one man.[7] The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica asserts that Patteson was mistaken for a blackbirder. His body was found floating at sea, placed in "a canoe, covered with a palm fibre matting, and a palm-branch in his hand."

But, two Norwegian historians (Thorgeir Kolshus and Even Hovdhaugen, 2010) have examined the evidence in light of current interpretations related to agency and meanings given by the indigenous people. They have reviewed mission documents, as well as oral histories collected by ethnographers. They suggest that women, especially Niuvai, the wife of the paramount chief, played a more prominent role in the events. They led resistance to having their sons taken away to the distant mission school. Kolshus and Hovdhaugen argue that the natives may not have completely distinguished between the blackbirders and the missionaries, as both took young people away from the communities.[7]

Alternatively, Kolshus and Hovdhaugen also suggest that Patteson had upset the local hierarchy by giving gifts without due regard for precedence, and by cultivating support among women in the community. This was contrary to patriarchal norms. The men considered him a threat to their social order and killed him.[7]

Legacy[edit]

As Bishop Patteson’s death was associated with native resistance to the abuses of the blackbirders, the British government took measures to stamp out the slave trade in its Pacific territories.[4] His death became a cause celebre in England; it increased interest both in missionary work and in improvement of the working conditions of labourers in Melanesia.

The Aborigines' Protection Society took up the cause, resulting in a well-orchestrated campaign in the British Parliament from William McArthur for the annexation of Fiji to abolish slavery. Britain annexed Fiji in 1874 and extended its empire.[8]

  • Patteson is celebrated in Anglican churches for his saintly life and as a martyr; he is commemorated with a Lesser Festival on 20 September.
  • A bas-relief memorial by Thomas Woolner was installed in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford. The portrait portrays him surrounded by palm leaves, with an image below of him lying in the canoe, as described above.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Biographies[edit]

  • Martyr of the Islands: The Life and Death of John Coleridge Patteson, by Sir John Gutch
  • Life of John Coleridge Patteson by Charlotte Mary Yonge
  • Clive Hodges: Cobbold & Kin: Life Stories from an East Anglian Family (Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 2014) ISBN. 9781843839545

General[edit]

Attribution

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Patteson, John Coleridge". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

Anglican Communion titles
New diocese Bishop of Melanesia
1861–1871
Succeeded by
John Selwyn