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Entries on "John Coleridge Patteson" [pages 450-451] and "George Augustus Selwyn" [pages 550-551]

From S.L. Ollard and Gordon Crosse, eds., A Dictionary of English Church History.

London, A.R. Mowbray and Co., Ltd. 1912.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2008

[450] PATTESON, John Coleridge (1827-1871), Bishop of Melanesia, was son of a Justice of the King's Bench; his mother was one of the remarkable Coleridge family. At Eton, where he was more noted for purity of character than for ability, he became Captain of the Eleven. His mind turned early towards a missionary vocation. At Oxford he became a Fellow of Merton College, and then went to Dresden to learn Hebrew. There he formed a lifelong friendship with Max Müller, and found that he had an unusual faculty for learning and speaking languages. With this further sense of qualification for missionary work he became curate of Alfington, near his father's house in Devonshire. In 1854 Bishop Selwyn (q.v.) came to England. He had asked Lady Patteson for Coleridge as a boy, and now gave him an invitation, which Patteson without reserve accepted. Never was a more complete surrender. The old judge gave up the stay of his old age, the son gave up home, friends, the art and music that he loved, determined never to return. By the indulgence of his college he retained his Fellowship. He accompanied Selwyn to New Zealand, with the intention that he should take special charge of the Melanesians. In the first year he visited the New Hebrides. He loved the natives as soon as he knew them, and declared that he would not change his life with them for any other. They being now taught in their own tongues expanded with delight; and moving down with him to the sunny beach at Kohimarama they formed the nucleus of the native teaching body who were, it was hoped, to evangelise the islands. The place of Bishop Patteson in history is not fixed by enterprise or wise plans, though these were not wanting, but by his extraordinary command of native languages, and his power of living with young savages, understanding them, and drawing them upwards by his personal influence. The Melanesian portion of the Pacific, with its multitude of islands, is divided by a strange multiplicity of languages. Patteson, before he died, could speak in about thirty; with five or six he was thoroughly conversant; he spoke all these like a native, but he did not live to print or write much of what he knew. It is hard to conceive how the Melanesian Mission could have advanced without him.

His fitness for the charge of Melanesia being proved he was consecrated Bishop of the Mission on St. Matthias's Day, 1861, by the bishops of New Zealand, acting without patent or other authority than that inherent in their episcopate. He soon had a new vessel, the Southern Cross, and a few young men in training, and thought the time had come to appeal for assistance in Australia. This, he did in 1864 with persuasive and pathetic eloquence.

In the next island voyage his boat was attacked, and two young Pitcairners killed by arrow wounds--a lasting grief to the bishop. In the next year he spent some time at Mota, establishing the first of the native schools with which he hoped to furnish all the groups. But now the distance of New Zealand from the Melanesian Islands, the cold of the winter, the constant occupation of the bishop in matters apart from his mission, made it necessary to move the headquarters to Norfolk Island, the only place available. There, when not in the islands, the last years of his life were spent, with his room opening into the chapel, in freest intercourse with expanding native minds, reading Hebrew and theology with the young clergy, discussing principles and methods of missionary and linguistic work, and in the nursing of the sick. This happy life was interrupted by sickness; and then came his last voyage. The troubles of the labour trade had begun--a scourge to the islands and a serious danger to the mission. In 1871 the bishop spent some time at Mota, baptizing many natives. It was on the little island of Nukapu that his [450/51] life was taken by natives enraged by the kidnapping of five of their number by a labour vessel from Fiji. One of the mission clergy, Joseph Atkin, and a native teacher were killed by arrows. The bishop's body was restored, with five wounds, covered with a palm leaf in which five knots were tied. It was sunk in the sea as the vessel hung off the island in a calm, and the near volcano sounded like funeral guns.

Miss Yonge (q.v.), in her Memoir, has made Bishop Patteson's life and work widely known. What he gave to English people in example can be understood; to those who lived with him he seemed to move on holy ground; the first generation of Melanesians who heard the Gospel had in him their pattern of a Christian. [R. H. C.]

C. M. Yonge, Life; personal recollections.

[550] SELWYN, George Augustus (1809-78), founder and organiser of the province of New Zealand and of the Melanesian Mission, was I educated at Eton and Cambridge, where he was Second Classic. He returned to Eton as private tutor, and became Curate of Windsor. His great natural gifts, his cultivated powers of mind and body, his religious fervour, seemed already to mark him out for some great career. The call came in 1841 to be the first Bishop of New Zealand, and was at once obeyed. The bishopric was established by the Crown in the early days of the colony; Letters Patent conveyed legal powers, and extended the diocese far into the Northern Pacific. A letter from Archbishop Howley, in terms which were never forgotten and singularly fulfilled, bade him regard his see as 'the central point of a system extending its influence in all directions, a fountain diffusing the streams of salvation over the islands and coasts of the Pacific.' New Zealand had been opened for colonisation by missions of the C.M.S. The bishop arrived to find the natives mostly Christians of the English Church. The colonists, not half so numerous as the natives, scattered, of many sects, had no Church organisation. The [550/551] bishop, who learned Maori on his voyage, took the Native Church as his first care, and kept his love for it to the last. His next care was to visit the English in their widely separated towns and settlements, journeying on foot, fording and swimming rivers, sailing along uninhabited coasts. In less than a year after his arrival he had surveyed his diocese, and had formed his plans of education and of synodical constitution. He founded his College of St. John for the religious and industrial education of both races, with a view to the supply of clergy and citizens alike. This he called the 'key and pivot' of his work. His plans for synods, with admission of faithful laity, much on the American model, did not from the first lack support among the colonists. A synod of bishops and clergy met in 1844, 'the first in the Church of England since the silencing of Convocation.' A second met in 1847. In 1850 the six bishops of Australasia met in Sydney, and recommended a synodical constitution with lay representation.

Selwyn was now able to turn to the islands of the Pacific. Having ascertained that his field must be Melanesia, he began in 1849 his admirable work among those untouched islands. Persuaded that every man, however savage, was able and even likely to receive the Gospel if presented, and that every one who should receive it would be able and willing in some measure to impart it, he sought from the first to find teachers of the heathen among themselves, to 'catch men in a black net with white corks.' Risking no life but his own, landing alone on many a dangerous beach, he sought and found among crowds of savages, the boys whom he would teach to be the teachers of their people, and, with a strange success, he brought them to his college.

The grant of self-government to the colony gave the opportunity to the Church. The bishop visited England, and made clear the way for the division of his diocese, the organisation of the province, the establishment of the Melanesian diocese. As a result the Church in New Zealand was soon at work with a system of trusts and co-ordinated synods. In 1859 the First General Synod was attended by five bishops, with clerical and lay representatives. But the progress of the Church, and of religion, was for ten years sadly hindered by a native war. The bishop ministered equally on both aides; the natives were in revolt against English rule and religion; the colonists were angry with the friends of the natives. But in this time of unpopularity the bishop was really making himself better known to both races. This was shown when both bade him farewell, when, much against his will, he had become Bishop of Lichfield; it was then shown that twenty-six years of labour among them were understood and valued.

Bishop Selwyn accepted translation to Lichfield in 1867, where he laboured abundantly and fruitfully. Twice he visited the sister Church in the United States. He had to grieve for the death of Bishop Patteson (q.v.), to rejoice over the consecration of his own son to take the vacant place. Bishop Selwyn belongs to New Zealand; but it should be remembered that the grass of the Cathedral Close at Lichfield was long worn by the feet of the black-country people who visited his grave. [R. H. C.]

G. H. Curteis, Life; personal recollections.

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