Project Canterbury








Ormond Burton


Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of Melanesia, 2006

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[1] Prologue

(Before the curtain rises Eton boys, some in cricket flannels, others in Eton suit, are seen congregating in front of it. Coley Patteson comes in, bat in hand, after making a very fine knock against M.C.C.)

1st Boy: Good old Coley.

2nd Boy: Great knock, old chap.

3rd Boy: Well played, Coley.

Lilywhite: Mr. Patteson, I should like to bowl you at Lord's ground and it would be different.

Patteson: Oh, of course, Mr. Lilywhite. I know you would have me out directly there.

Chorus: Good knock. Cooley--Well played, Sir--Three cheers for Coley--Hurrah for Coley--Played, Sir--Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah.

(The curtain rises to disclose the corner of a pew in the Windsor parish church. Coley Patteson is seen full face. The organ ceases playing a missionary hymn. The voice of Bishop Selwyn is heard.)

Selwyn: In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. In the 50th chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah and at the 5th verse: Thine heart shall be enlarged, because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee. My brethren! I am being sent out to the most distant part of the World, there to found a province of the Church of England. I pray that all of us who are concerned in this great work may have the spirit to preach the Gospel and the strength to arise and build the temple of the Lord. May we also have our cathedral church in which we may sing the Lord's song with a voice of melody. And may God grant that from that central reservoir we may pour forth streams of living water to feed the sheep whom God has given to our care. There may the young be taught and the servant of Christ trained up for his ministry: there may the books of the holy fathers of the Church minister to the godly learning of every succeeding generation; there may the elders of the Church sit in council for the public good, and there may the ordinances of daily prayer and weekly communion shadow forth the unwearied service of the angels of God; there, too, may the hungry be fed, and the naked clothed and the sick healed; and above all, there may the poor have the Gospel preached to them.

(Patteson stands tense, his face shining, thrilled to the depths of his soul by the words of the preacher. The organ begins to play softly. The [1/2] lights go out slowly. There is darkness and utter stillness for some moments. A Melanesian drum begins to beat and accompanies the pageant scenes interpreting the emotions underlying each. The light strengthens again and reveals a clearing in the bush on one of the Melanesian islands.

1. The drumming becomes light and sensual. Girls in grass cloaks and skirts invite passing men and go lightly off with them among the trees.

2. The drumming is mournful. Women come in with babies and leave them exposed to die. One kills her child to save it from suffering and goes out crying.

3. The drums are hard and cruel but on a subdued note and with an undercurrent of wailing. Old and sick are driven by armed men into the bush.

4. A war party enters and shoots inward. They dance a war dance and then charge across the stage, returning with captives and human heads. The captives are insulted and it is obvious that they are to be killed and eaten. The drums beat fiercely and cruelly to work the warriors into a paroxysm of reckless ferocity.

5. A gunshot is heard. Natives enter terrified with one of their number wounded. They are in a state of terror and of fierce anger and are trying to muster resolution enough to ambush the terrible white traders. The drums incite them to attack but fade out in fear.

6. The darkness falls. Sick and old come out and congregate round a little fire. They are cold and afraid. An eerie sound comes from the darkness. They grovel in terror and the drums wail with horror and fear for the dread demons are abroad.)



To the islands of darkness came a son of the light;
For Selwyn of new Zealand, in the Undine of twenty tons,
Rejoicing in the vastness of a diocese, his by error,
Came to the dark shores with the word of salvation;
And by the power of love and courage,
And by the certainty within him,
Made everywhere safe landings;
And proclaimed to the sons of darkness
The glorious freedoms of the children of light.
And with him came the Eton boy,
Who in eighteen forty one had listened intent,
And had then gone to his first communion.
His heart broken by the love of God in Christ,
His soul on fire for those who sat
[3] In the spiritual darkness, and the terrors of unknowing,
On green islands, palmfronded, in sundrenched seas.

In the year eighteen hundred and sixty-one
John Coleridge Patteson was consecrated
First Bishop of Melanesia; gentle as a woman
But with the fearlessness of a man,
One who was simple and humble,
(Though chosen as a Fellow of Balliol),
Who drew out the good in all men
By the charm of his sympathy and kindness;
By the sweetness of his winning presence,
By his calm and unerring judgment.
The music of his voice, the gentleness of his ways,
And the holiness that clothed him like a garment.

So that no life should be risked but his own,
For prudence sake he swam alone,
Through dangerous surf, to the island beaches
Lined with excited cannibals and headhunters;
And walked unafraid among the warriors.
For the friendship that glowed within him
Overcame the fear that was their heritage;
And which the brutality of sandalwood traders,
And the ruthlessness of blackbirders,
Had made a thing so dangerous and so murderous.
Sleeping in the clubhouses of the men;
Moving with friendly charm among the women,
Endearing himself to the children
Who marveled at his strange clothing,
And thought perhaps he was not a man
For his feet seemed like hard stones;
He walked on the coral beaches
And under the green fronded palmtrees
Like the Lord Christ in Galilee
To preach deliverance to the captives
And the restoring of sight to the blind.

Everywhere he told the story of the love of God,
How Jesus came down from the Father in Heaven,
And died on the cross for the love of men,
Rising again with power so that the heavenly life
Might become the gift of God to believing men.
Though at the first there were no converts,
The power of the demons began to weaken.
[4] The evil traditions of the ancestors
Were broken; and on the island of Mota
Men walked without weapons and without fear.
Year after year the boys and the girls
Sailed in the Southern Cross to Kohimaramara,
And there in the summer school at Mission Bay,
Learned order, and cleanliness, and useful crafts;
Learned to read, and to write, and to sit,
Clothed and with quiet minds
At the feet of Christ, Our Lord.

Some there were who quickly found the way,
For Simeona, dying far from his home,
Rejoiced in his spirit that heaven
Was no further from the shores of New Zealand
Than from sunwashed Nengone.


Act 1. Kohimaramara

(The curtain rises to reveal the front half of the stage. This is laid out in gardens with a white square of shells towards one side in front of which is the Bishop's own room. At one side is a carpentry bench while at the other there is a small printing press. Girls are sweeping, tidying and working at domestic tasks and in the garden. Boys are digging and carpentering. There is a general air of well ordered work being done with great cheerfulness and in a very happy spirit. Bishop Patteson enters from the right with Mr. Pritt. It is evident that he is very greatly loved. He speaks to Mr. Pritt and then goes round with a word of encouragement to all.)

Bishop: Ah, Sarawia! When you go back to Vanua Lava you will build not only a school and a house as you did last year but the church with the altar for the Holy Service. . . . Harper, this garden is well dug. You are like the man sowing the good seed in the good ground. . . . Keep Mary always in the sun so that her cough does not grow. . . . Buro! You must press the earth in round those seedlings. Look I will show you. (He kneels down and works for a moment alongside the boy.) There that is right. You are doing it well now. . . . (As he comes near to the printing press Wadrokal and his bright-eyed ten-year-old wife take off a pull.)

Wife: See, see, Bishop! The Gospel in Nengone words.

Bishop: Well done, my children! There are the very words of life for your people.

(He goes into his room taking the pull with him. A bell rings and all in orderly fashion put down the tools and troop off to the school room.)

[5] Scene 2

(The curtain rises on the Bishop's own room.

The Bishop is seen standing by his tall writing desk. He is deep in though over the M.S. From the bed a little murmur of Bishop, Bishop. He crosses at once and we see a small restless figure therein.)

Bishop: It is alright, Taroana, I have come back again. Now drink this and I will smooth your bed and then you will go to sleep again.

(The little boy comforted is asleep again before he turns away. He turns over his lexicons and then reads softly and meditatively.)

"A new commandment give I unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you."

(Tagalana comes in very quietly and squats down tone side of the Bishop.)

Bishop (quietly to himself): That will be 'Maros.'

Tagalana: I think, Bishop, it should be 'Tape.'

Bishop: Yes, you are right. 'Tape' is the better word.

Tagalana: The words are like a warm light to me, and you make the light a fire because you live them for us. Did you sleep on the boards last night while Taroana slept in your bed with the best rug over him?

Bishop (somewhat apologetically): He is so little and so lonely for the people of his island. Don't you remember how frightened you were when you first came aboard the Southern Cross, stark naked and savage? And how that first night at prayers you would have jumped overboard only you could not find your way on deck?

Tagalana: Yes, Bishop! And for a long time I would have gone back again to the devils if it had not been that you were so kind to me . . . just as you are to all of us. You were like a signpost showing us the way. Now I know the truth about the Lord Jesus in my heart. How it came I cannot tell, but I think it was when I knelt with the book from which Bishop Selwyn read when you were made bishop. My heart was very warm then.

Bishop: I shall never forget. Your face was shining as you held that book--a living lectern. Tagalana! You must carry the light of the gospel to Aroa, holding it up for your people to read as you held the service book for Bishop Selwyn.

Tagalana: The light will shine in the darkness. At the first a man's heart is so dark that he cannot seethe cobwebs and the dirt. When a little light shines in he sees the filthiness and he begins to have shame. When the full light comes through he is able to see all the evil. At one [5/6] time I thought it good to kill a man and take his head--but now it seems worse to me to be angry than it was at that time to commit murder.

Bishop: Tagalana, you must always pray and love. Watch all things that you do. Examine yourself. Look forward to the time when you will be confirmed and take, for yourself, that thing so holy and so wonderful, the supper of the Lord. Kneel my son and let us pray. (He puts his hands on the head of Tagalana.) O God, Our Father. We pray that in the following of the Lord Jesus we may learn obedience in his school of suffering and having within us always the indwelling of the Holy Spirit our hearts may be filled with love for all men especially for those who live in the islands of the seas. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.


(The Bishop turns again to his work. Tagalana stays very quietly for a while. After a moment he rises, goes over to little Taroana and covers him up again. From the school comes the singing in a Melanesian dialect of "Can We Whose Souls are Lighted."

O sul me toga loloqong
We ilo o valawar
O sul metoga lo matea
We rongotag o esu.)


Scene 3

(The wall has been lifted to show the interior of the dining hall which has been transformed into a hospital. Sick boys in bunk beds are everywhere. The Bishop is seen going from bed to bed with cups of milk and opium pills. Joe Atkin is helping him. He comes to the bed of Taroaniara.)

Bishop: You look better, Taroaniara.

Taro: Yes, Bishop. The pains are not such big pains and I have slept.

Bishop: Thank God, my boy! You will be safe now and tomorrow we shall send you out to the Southern Cross to get better. Take two more of these pills. And now let us pray. "O Lord whose compassions fail not and whose mercies are new every morning we give Thee hearty thanks that it hath pleased Thee to give to this our brother both relief from pain and renewed health; continue, we beseech Thee, in him the good work that Thou hast begun; that daily increasing in bodily strength, and humbly rejoicing in Thy goodness, he may so order his life and conversation as always to think to do such things as shall please Thee; though Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen. . . . And now my son, you will sleep until the sunshine comes and we can row you out to our new fine ship.

[7] (He passes on to a little lad who is very restless and who has been groaning and tossing in delirium. He sponges limbs and face and covers him carefully and then says softly over him:--)

Bishop: O Lord Jesus Christ . . . Give Thy blessing to this child and in Thine own time deliver him from his bodily pain that he may live to serve Thee all his days. Amen.

(The lad quietens and falls into a sleep. In the next bed Woleg is lying very sick. The bedding is disarranged and soiled. The Bishop calls quietly to Joe Atkin.)

Bishop: Joe, come over here and help me. We shall have to change everything.

(With Joe's help he throws off the dirty bedclothes; sponges the patient and covers him with clean things. He gives the lad a drink.)

Bishop: Now, Woleg, swallow these with the milk.

Woleg: Some prayers for me, too, Bishop.

Bishop: O Almighty God, who are the Giver of all health, may this thy servant be healed of his infirmities, give thanks unto Thee in Thy Holy Church; though Jesus Christ Our Lord.

(As they pass on Atkin speaks.)

Atkin: Do you think he will get better, Sir?

Bishop: I think so. He is strong and has much faith. I have already buried two dear lads. I feel I could not bear to lose more.

Atkin: Come here quickly, Sir. Nguna looks very strange. He has wrapped himself so queerly in his blanket.

Bishop (uncovering his face): Poor lad. He has gone. "Almighty God receive him unto those heavenly habitations where the souls of them that sleep in the Lord Jesus, enjoy perpetual rest and felicity. Amen."

(He covers the boy's face.)

Atkin: Come quickly, Sir. Paraskloi is in convulsions.

(The Bishop turns.) It is no use. He is dying and will not last more than an hour. Poor boy! Poor boy! He knows his catechism. I am sure he has real faith in the Saviour. I shall baptise him. Wrap him in this shroud while I make ready.

(Atkin works on the boy and carries him through into the chapel. In a few minutes the Bishop reappears robed and carrying water. From the chapel offstage he is heard reading the word of the Baptismal order for those of riper years.)

Bishop: Sanctify this water to the mystical washing away of sin and grant that Paraskloi, now to be baptised therein, may receive the fulness of Thy grace and ever remain in the number of Thy faithful and elect [7/8] children; through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen. Paraskloi, I baptise thee in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. We receive Paraskloi into the congregation of Christ's flock and do sign him with the sign of the Cross.

(After which he proceeds direct to the commendatory prayer.)

Go forth upon thy journey from this world, O Christian soul, in the name of God the Father Almighty who created thee. Amen. In the name of the Holy Ghost who strengthens Thee. Amen.

(There is deep sadness, utter weariness and a very holy triumph all mingled, as he and Atkin come back on stage.)

Bishop: There is no more that you can do, Joe. You must sleep. You have been on duty now for twelve hours without a moment of rest..

Atkin: But, Sir, you have been here for eighteen and that day after day.

Bishop: I shall stay until Archdeacon Lloyd comes. I think I hear his horse now.

(Sounds are heard from without. It is not the Archdeacon who enters but Bishop Selwyn. With his coming there is a reinforcement of strength and health, of faith and certainty.)

Selwyn: Coley, how is it with yourself and the children. I was at Te Awamutu when the word reached me of this trouble. I have come as fast as I could travel but could not get a horse until I reached Papakura about midnight.

Bishop: Nearly all have been very ill. Until yesterday four had died. Nguna and Paraskloi went tonight. I baptised Paraskloi when he was dying. I think Sosama will die also.

Selwyn: My poor fellow, you are utterly worn out. You must have done nobly. I shall take over from you now. Joe, help Bishop Patteson to bed, and go yourself. Archdeacon Lloyd is coming on behind me more slowly. You can trust me to care for your sick.



Kohimaramara was too cold for the Melanesians,
And the way opened for the mission to transfer
To Norfolk Island, where the children of the mutineers
Sold them land for the new College of St. Barnabas,
Which rose quickly in this place of quiet.
And here, season after season,
[9] The Southern Cross brought the scholars,
From all the islands of the mission group,
To the school of charity and the feet of Christ.
Here was the perfect equality of white and black
With no divisions of higher and lower work,
For English and Melanesian toiled together
In the dairy, and at the labours of the farm,
A fellow of Wadham and the Bishop himself
With their own hands doing the humblest tasks.
For the work of the Melanesian mission
Was not to make its children British
But to show in the acts of everyday life
The humility and gentleness of Christ.
The black men from Santa Cruz and the Solomons,
From the New Hebrides and New Britain,
Were taught that it was they themselves
And not any wonderful white race
Who were called to evangelise the island peoples;
They were the instruments chosen by God Himself
To bear to their own peoples the word of salvation.
The love of Christ constraining him,
The Bishop, throughout these years was busy,
With the manifold works of evangelisation.
In all the great cities of Australia
He kindled the fervour of multitudes,
And in the parishes and synods of New Zealand.
On numberless islands he made landings
And everywhere friendship made friends,
Year by year the scholars grew in knowledge
Of Holy Scripture and the doctrine of the Church.
Year by year they were warmed by the fire
Of Christ in the soul of the Bishop,
And in the hearts of the devoted men
Pritt and Atkin, Tilly, the sea captain,
Palmer, Codrington, Brooke and Bice;
Until through the working of the Holy Spirit
The flame was kindled in them also
And they came forward for the washing of baptism.
The hands, that had been defiled
With the shed blood of their neighbour,
Took the Holy Bread of the Sacrifice of Christ,
And the Cleansing Blood shed for sinful men.
And some there were inwardly moved
To the work of the sacred ministry.
And one of these George Sarawia
[10] The Bishop ordained deacon in Christ's Church.
Everywhere throughout the islands
The baptised people were drawing together
Into the congregations of the Church;
And George Sarawia founded a Christian village
To be the pattern of the new life.
But the greed of hard and selfish men
Organised the infamous labour trade
Which cajoled and kidnapped ignorant islanders;
And carried them far from their home
To the plantations of Fiji and Queensland;
Spreading fear and hatred through the islands
Where Selwyn and Patteson, fearless and unarmed,
Had won men to themselves by goodwill and trust.
The Blackbirders in the "snatch snatch" boats,
And the infamous purchasers of human heads,
Roused again the pagan thirst for revenge,
And in 1864 Fisher Young and Edwin Nobbs
Became the first martyrs of the Melanesian Church.
And now for years the wheat and the tares
Grew side by side; the white fire of Christ
Was deluged with the cruelties and sufferings of men;
But it could not be quenched for always
His grace kindled afresh the failing flame.
In1871 as they sailed toward Nukapu
The Bishop taught daily from the Book of Acts;
And the very day of the last landing
He spoke very strongly on the death of St. Stephen.


Act 2. Nukapu

(The island of Nukapu can be seen in the near distance from the deck of the Southern Cross. A coral reef lies between the ship and the beach which is fringed with coconut palms. Native houses are visible among the palm trees. The Bishop is standing with the ship's officers, his chaplains and the native teachers, watching native canoes which are not visible to the audience.)

Atkin: It is strange, Sir, that they do not come out to us.

Bishop: Perhaps our tacking in this breeze has puzzled them. Please lower the boat. I shall row over to them.

Atkin, Taroniara, Minipa and Nonono go over the bulwarks into the boat. The Bishop goes over last and calls back to Brooke as he goes, "Tell the Captain I may have to go ashore."

[11] (Brooke and the others stand looking in the direction the boat has gone--passing a glass from hand to hand.)

Jacobs: I don't like it. Listen to that drum on the shore.

(The drum is heard defiantly. Through the act it is heard from time to time.)

Bongard: The canoes have paddled alongside the boat. There seems to be a good deal of palaver going on. The Bishop has gone on board a canoe by himself. The others are all staying in the boat.

Brooke: That looks as though all is well. Yes, they are taking him over the reef into the lagoon. They have landed. They have all gone up into a house.

Jacobs: Joe Atkin is keeping the boat just off the reef. Those canoes are circling about strangely. Why don't they land? They know Joe cannot get the boat across for hours yet.

(Suddenly there is a mad booming of drums from the shore and a fierce sudden shouting. Cries are heard;--"This for New Zealand man." "This for Bauro man." "This for Mota man.")

Bongard: Look, Sir, the men in the canoes are shooting. Stephen is down. James, too, I think.

Jacobs: Mr. Atkin has got her head round. They are rowing hard. They will make it, though. The canoes will not dare to close in on them now. Man the ladder, Mr. Bongard.

(Atkin is helped up with an arrow through his shoulder.)

Atkin: We are all hurt, Captain.

(One by one the men are helped up. Atkin is sitting on a skylight with a couple of others getting the arrow out.)

Jacobs: What happened to the Bishop?

Atkin: I don't know. I thought all was well when they took him on board the canoe. I am afraid, though, that the yell which was the signal of the attack upon us, meant that they have killed him. Get this arrow out of my shoulder and I will take the boat in again. Joseph and Charles and Sapi will you come with me? Good boys. Bring a beaker of water. We shall have to wait for the tide to get us over the reef.

Bongard: I'll come, too, Mr. Atkin.

(Stephen Taroniara is carried on board at this moment very badly wounded.)

Stephen: The Bishop and I.

(Atkin, his shoulder bandaged, leads the new party over the bulwarks. The splash of the oars is heard as they pull off towards the reef. The others follow them eagerly.)

[12] Jacobs: They have made it. They are across into the lagoon. Seem to be two canoes making for them. Small ones, paddled by women, I think. One seems empty. The other has cast it off and is making for the shore. Mr. Atkin has reached it. He is taking something on to his boat. I am afraid it is bad. They are rowing back. Canoes are putting out--no, no, not in pursuit--they are picking up the abandoned canoe. Here they come. Stand by the falls, men; we will hoist her straight in. What news, Mr. Atkin?

Atkin: The Body. (His voice is that of a priest at the celebration of Holy Communion, deeply moved.)

(There is great silence. This is broken only by the beating of the drum from the distant shore. The fierceness has gone out of it. It is now a wailing. The curtain goes down as they are lifting the Bishop's body on to the deck.)



So died John Coleridge Patteson,
First Bishop of Melanesia,
By the hands of those men
For whom he would gladly have died.
Slain by them in heathen reprisal
For five of their fellows
Kidnapped by the Blackbirders.
And in the course of some days
There followed him Joseph Atkin
And Stephen Taronaira dying of wounds.
And, as always in her story
When the Church has taken the Cross
And in love and suffering
Has followed in the footsteps of Christ,
The blood of the martyrs,
Poured out on the stony ground
Of horror and hatred and fear,
Has brought a glad harvest of lovely things;
The fruits of the Spirit--joy and peace
Which spring in the beauty of holiness
Wherever the noble army of the martyrs,
With the love of God blazing like fire in their hearts
With compassion and forgiveness in their souls,
Follow in the red prints of the feet of Christ.

[back cover]
Printed by Levin Printing Works Ltd., N.Z.

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