John Patteson (bishop)
|John Coleridge Patteson|
John Coleridge Patteson
|Bishop and Martyr|
|Born||1 April 1827
|Died||20 September 1871
|Honored in||Anglican Communion|
He was elder son of Sir John Patteson the judge, by his second wife, Frances Duke Coleridge, niece of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He 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 remained 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; but he was brought into contact with Benjamin Jowett, Max Müller, John Campbell Shairp, Edwin Palmer. James Riddell, James John Hornby, and Charles Savile Roundell, who became his lifelong friends. After taking his degree in October 1849 he travelled in Switzerland and Italy, learned German at Dresden, and devoted himself to Hebrew and Arabic. 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. After taking his BA degree, he travelled in Europe and studied German, Hebrew and Arabic. Languages were to be a lifelong interest.
On 25 September 1853 he was made deacon and curate of Alphington, Devon, and on 24 September 1854 was ordained priest at Exeter Cathedral. On a visit in the summer of 1854, George Augustus Selwyn, the first Bishop of New Zealand, persuaded Patteson to become a missionary to the South Seas. Patteson left England with the bishop in March 1855, and landed at Auckland in May.
In March 1855 Patteson sailed in the Duke of Portland and arrived at Auckland in July. For five years he toured the islands on the ship Southern Cross, and 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, and he was not always welcomed. Usually his gentle, quiet manner reassured them, but not always. Once when he and his assistants were about to leave Santa Cruz, they were attacked and both assistants, despite Coley’s best attempts to nurse them, died from the wounds they received from the poisoned arrows.
A brilliant linguist, he later spoke twenty-three of the many Melanesian languages: he printed grammars and vocabularies and translated some gospels into the Mota dialect.
In person he was tall and athletic, with a grave, and gentle face. Europeans thought him serious; his Melanesians said he could be full of fun. In the islands he went barefoot, wearing only shirt and trousers, the latter tucked up above his knees. Following the example of Selwyn, when he 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 in which were presents for the people and it may have startled them to see a tall white man wearing only a black top hat, emerging from the surf; but in no time he had made friends, learnt their names and enough of their language to use it when he came again.
Patteson's aim was to take boys from local communities, educate them in western Christian culture and return them to their communities. Persuading local people to allow their young men to depart – sometimes for years – was his principal problem. Patteson never tried to make the Melanesians British. 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." And so he won all their hearts and his name is still handed down from father to son and scores of young Melanesians are still given it at Baptism.
In March 1864 Patteson visited Australia. In Sydney he addressed a large meeting which pledged systematic support of the Melanesian Mission. Patteson devoted to the mission his private fortune which included money inherited from his father, and income from his Merton College fellowship. In 1867 the Melanesian Mission moved to Norfolk Island where it was called St Barnabas. In the milder climate the school could not only continue in the winter months but native foods such as yams could be grown.
Everything went well until the years of the slave trade when numbers of British ships sailed there and took the islanders by force to work in Australia or Fiji, sinking their canoes and seizing the people in the water, or cutting off their heads and selling their heads to headhunters of other islands to enrich their collections; for this was done by Australian and New Zealand ship captains. The slave-trade was technically illegal in the South Pacific at that time, but the laws were rarely enforced and in fact slave-raiding was a flourishing business. Patteson was actively engaged in the effort to stamp it out. His task was made even 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.
On 20 September 1871 he was murdered on the island of Nukapu in the Solomon Islands, where he had landed alone. The explanation of his death at the time was that natives killed him as revenge for the abduction of some natives by illegal labour recruiters months earlier. These recruiters, known as "blackbirders", were considered to be virtually slave traders by members of the mission, as they enticed or abducted youths to work on plantations.
Two Norwegian historians (Thorgeir Kolshus and Even Hovdhaugen, 2010) who have examined the evidence, say that there were various stories at the time and later about his death. One was that he was killed by a man whose relative had been abducted, others were that the killing was sanctioned by the men in the community. 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.
The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica asserts that the death was a tragic error:
The traders engaged in the nefarious traffic in Kanaka labour for Fiji and Queensland had taken to [im]personating missionaries in order to facilitate their kidnapping; Patteson was mistaken for one of these and killed. His murderers evidently found out their mistake and repented of it, for the bishop's body was found at sea floating in a canoe, covered with a palm fibre matting, and a palm-branch in his hand. He is thus represented in the bas-relief erected in Merton College to his memory.
An alternative theory, suggested by Kolshus and Hovdhaugen, was that Patteson had upset the local hierarchy among the natives by giving gifts without due regard for precedence and by cultivating support among women in the community, contrary to patriarchal norms. They saw him as a threat to their social order.
Bishop Patteson’s death shocked the British government into taking measures to stamp out the slave trade in its Pacific territories. His death became a cause celebre in England and increased interest both in missionary work and in improvement of the working conditions in Melanesia. Disorder and forced labour in the islands was taken up as a cause by the Aborigines' Protection Society, resulting in a well-orchestrated campaign in the British Parliament from William McArthur for the annexation of Fiji to remove slavery. Fiji was annexed in 1874.
His life is celebrated in the Church of England and other Anglican churches as a saintly one, and he is commemorated with a Lesser Festival on 20 September. There is a memorial to him in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford by Thomas Woolner, which depicts his portrait surrounded by fronds, beneath which he is shown lying in the canoe, as described above.
- "John Coleridge Patteson", Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
- "Patteson, John Coleridge". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Rutledge, Martha, "John Coleridge Patteson", Australian Dictionary of Biography
- "The Story of John Coleridge Patteson", Ottery St. Mary Parish Church
- Fox, Rev. Dr. C.E., "On The Occasion Of The Centenary Of The Consecration Of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson", February 24, 1961
- Kiefer, James, "Biographical Sketches of Memorable Christians of the Past"
- Thorgeir Kolshus and Even Hovdhaugen, "Reassessing the death of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson", Journal of Pacific History, Dec 2010.
- http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/52887186 Launceston Examiner Proposed Annexation of Fiji 21 June 1873
- 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
- Bishop Patteson the first bishop of Melanesia
- Coleridge Patteson memorial, Oxford
- Documents by and about Patteson from Project Canterbury
- Life by Charlotte Yonge
- Biographical entry from Volume V20, Page 937 of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
- The Death of Bishop Patteson
- Coleridge Patteson memorial, Oxford
- Drummond, Rev. H.N., Bishop Patteson, Pioneer and Martyr, Ralph & Brown, Parkstone, Dorset, 1930
|Anglican Communion titles|
|New diocese||Bishop of Melanesia