The Life of John Coleridge Patteson
The Voyage And First Year. 1855-1856.
When the See of New Zealand was first formed, Archbishop Howley committed to the
care of the first Bishop the multitudinous islands scattered in the South Pacific. The
technical bounds of the diocese were not defined; but matters were to a certain degree
simplified by Bishop Selwyn's resolution only to deal with totally heathen isles, and
whatever superiority the authorised chief pastor might rightfully claim, not to confuse the
minds of the heathen by the sight of variations among Christians, and thus never to
preach in any place already occupied by Missions, a resolution from which he only once
departed, in the case of a group apparently relinquished by its first teachers. This cut off
all the properly called Polynesian isles, whose inhabitants are of the Malay type, and had
been the objects of care to the London Mission, ever since the time of John Williams;
also the Fiji Islands; and a few which had been taken in hand by a Scottish Presbyterian
Mission; but the groups which seem to form the third fringe round the north-eastern curve
of Australia, the New Hebrides, Banks Islands, and Solomon Isles, were almost entirely
open ground, with their population called Melanesian or Black Islanders, from their
having much of the Negro in their composition and complexion. These were regarded as
less quick but more steady than the Polynesian race, with somewhat the same difference
of character as there is between the Teuton and the Kelt. The reputation of cannibalism
hung about many of the islands, and there was no doubt of boats' crews having been lost
among them, but in most cases there had been outrage to provoke reprisals.
These islands had as yet been little visited, except by Captain Cook, their first discoverer,
and isolated Spanish exploring expeditions; but of late whalers and sandal wood traders,
both English and American, had been finding their way among them, and too often acting
as irresponsible adventurous men of a low class are apt to do towards those whom they
regard as an inferior race.
Mission work had hardly reached this region. It was in attempting it that John Williams
had met his death at Erromango, one of the New Hebrides; but one of his best institutions
had been a school in one of the Samoan or Navigators' Islands, in which were educated
young men of the native races to be sent to the isles to prepare the way for white men.
Very nobly had these Samoan pupils carried out his intentions, braving dislike, disease
and death in the islands to which they were appointed, and having the more to endure
because they came without the prestige of a white man. Moreover, the language was no
easier to them than to him, as their native speech is entirely different from the
Melanesian; which is besides broken into such an extraordinary number of different
dialects, varying from one village to another in an island not twenty miles long, that a
missionary declared that the people must have come straight from the Tower of Babel,
and gone on dividing their speech ever since. Just at the time of the formation of the See
of New Zealand, the excitement caused at home by Williams's death had subsided, and
the London Mission's funds were at so low an ebb that, so far from extending their work,
they had been obliged to let some of it fall into abeyance.