Project Canterbury

Extracts from Letters

By John Coleridge Patteson

From Occasional Papers from St. Augustine's College, No. 70 (April 8, 1863), pages 2-4.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2008


St. Andrew's College,
Kohi-marama, New Zealand;
. 18th, 1862.

My dear Warden,

[I trust that the day may come when some of your students may find their way into Melanesia. Several islands are already ripe for missionaries, but this work is so peculiar--the climate, the multiplicity of languages and dialects, the need of an aptitude for a sea life, &c., render it so unlike any other; that it is perhaps almost necessary, certainly it is very desirable, that no man should definitively be pledged to it until he has had some opportunity of seeing the nature of the employment and testifying his qualification. But of this we may, I trust, write to each other in time to come. Any man really in earnest, and disposed by God's grace to give himself unconditionally to his service would find, no doubt, some useful employment among us, where all and everything must be taught from the beginning.] [From an earlier letter.]

You wish to know something of our Mission College. I have but a few minutes in which to write, and you will I am sure, excuse this hasty sketch of our life in New Zealand during the summer months.

We have Prayers at a quarter to six in the morning and at a quarter to seven. The catechumens are present at the former; the young men and boys who as yet know not how to pray, but for whom we pray in their hearing, at the latter. We breakfast all together at six. Morning school is from seven to half past eight; industrial work from nine to ten; teaching the native and other teachers from ten to twelve; noon-day Prayers at twelve, the Clergy only being present. At half past twelve we dine altogether. Afternoon school is from two to three; tea at half past five or six, according to then season; evening Prayers at half past six and a quarter to seven; night school from seven to eight. Bed time for the majority is at eight; from eight to ten teachers and catechumens sit at work with me, writing or reading with me.

This is our plan, worked out with divers modifications: sickness of one or more of the lads, interruptions, from other [2/3] causes--not I am glad to say very frequent--being called to attend trustee and committee meetings, &c., interfere a good deal with the regularity of this plan: but on the whole it is worked out pretty well: the real burden of the work is taken by my good friends, who work with a will indeed. Three clergymen are with me, Revs. L. Pritt, B. T. Dudley, T. Kerr, and five Pitcairn Islanders, worthy young fellows, from whom I look for good assistance. A New Zealander is one of my teachers, and several natives of the islands are already competent teachers to their own people. I break up the general school into many classes, necessarily, for our fifty-one Melanesians from twenty-four islands speak twenty-three languages, though after a while those who have been with us a long while learn the dialect or language which we make the most prominent of that particular cluster of islands from which they may be brought; e.g., all the Banks' Islanders from eight islands are chiefly taught in the dialect of Mota. Mr. Pritt and Mr. Dudley are responsible for this section of the school. I take my share of their religious instruction only. Mr. Kerr again is responsible, with the help of the New Zealand teacher, for another division. The Solomon Islanders and the oi polloi who speak new and innumerable dialects I work, as best I may, with the help of the Pitcairn Islanders. You may judge how we need your help, if your Charter permits you to give it. Now after an unusually long and (D. G.) successful voyage do we see the many openings made by the Providence of God in very many islands.

I omitted to say we have five married couples, or rather couples living together: they occupy a cottage apart from the College buildings. All the husbands are old scholars, and we have great hopes of them all. I trust by God's great goodness to baptize not less than six natives of the Bank's Islands, and perhaps one Solomon Islander before many weeks. My experience leads me to speak unhesitatingly as to the (almost) necessity of teaching these people in their own languages. Not only is English spelling really fatal to their acquiring a useful knowledge of the language, but the English mode of thought itself requires a previous education. We can learn their language in a tenth part of the time in which they can learn ours. And as for their knowing English so as to make an intelligent use of books, I think it very, very unlikely.

I need not say that, as the Melanesians live entirely among [3/4] us, my little room is scarcely ever without almost as many at it will hold, and Mr. Pritt's and Mr. Dudley's and Mr. Kerr's just as open as mine to all comers. It is this which more than anything else wins the love of the islanders. We live together just as one family, and indeed after six in the morning to ten in the evening are scarcely ever without them about us. This would not be equally feasible in the climate of England, and with the different circumstances of English society, I am well aware. But you wish to know how our days are spent, and so it is best, I think, to tell you all about it.

You will have received, I hope (probably in September), a report of this mission. The difficulty I find is, to write with a sufficient amount of detail to convey correct notions of our life and work without becoming very tedious; again, I cannot write anecdotes, &c., about our voyages, except to my own brother and sisters. The plain truth is, that it is writing all about what the Providence of God enables us to see and do, and it is scarcely safe for us to write about such things, as we might easily be misunderstood by others.

But yet I find that I must do so more than it has been our practice to do, and much more than I wish to do; but it seems necessary for the purpose of conveying information.

J. C. PATTESON, Missionary Bishop.

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