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An Account of the Visit of Bishop Patteson to Brisbane, 1864

From the Moreton Bay Courier [Brisbane], April 9, 1864

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


A MEETING was held in St. John's School-house, yesterday afternoon, at half-past four o'clock, to hear the Right Rev. Bishop Patteson give an account of the mission in which he is engaged in the Islands of the Pacific lying to the north-east of Queensland. The chair was occupied by His Excellency the Governor, who was accompanied by Lady Bowen. There were a great many ladies and gentlemen present; in fact the room could not comfortably have accommodated a larger number. We noticed on the platform His Honor Chief Justice Cockle, the hon. Colonel O'Connell, the hon. R. G. W. Herbert, the hon. T. De Lacy Moffatt, and other gentlemen.

Prayer having been offered up by the Rev. Mr. BLISS,

His EXCELLENCY rose and introduced Bishop Patteson to the meeting. He said that when he parted many years ago from his right reverend friend on the banks of the Isis, he little thought he would meet him on the banks of the Brisbane. At a recent meeting of the Bible Society in England, the Bishop of Oxford had used language which appeared to him (the chairman) to be very appropriate to the present occasion. It was as follows:--"Do not let any man for an instant suppose that I undervalue that inestimable boon--the Bible. That book is the light of our paths; the guide of our footsteps; it is the sword of the Spirit; it is the Word of God. If you want to repel an invader would you send 10,000 swords without 10,000 hands to wield them? I trow not. If the Bible is the 'sword of the Spirit,' you must send hands to wield that sword. Above all, you must send men who have been drilled to the work. So it is with our soldiers and volunteers; and God be praised for it. We put good arms in trained hands. Nor is this enough. There must be the Queen's commission for the officers--the Queen's authority for the training. So it should be in our Christian army. There must be the sword of the Spirit in trained hands; and there must be the commission of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords." He thought that for the purposes they had met together than afternoon nothing which could be said by a layman would be nearly so interesting or so profitable as that which they would hear from the Right Rev. Bishop Patteson, who he would introduce to the meeting.

Bishop PATTESON rose, and after thanking the ladies and gentlemen present for attending at so short a notice, said that when he told them that he had been drilled for the work by Bishop Selwyn of New Zealand, he had no doubt they would listen to his description of the mission in which he was engaged, and believe that what he told them was the result of some experience. The various groups of islands to which he applied the term Melanesian was situated to the east and north-eastward of Queensland. The temperature was very high, and the heat was excessive. The climate was generally so unhealthy that it was impossible, with due regard to the economy of life, permanently to reside among them. The languages spoken by the natives were almost innumerable. In seventy islands, there were no less than 100 different dialects, each of which was totally distinct from the other. There was a great difference in that respect between the islands of the Eastern Pacific and those situated in the West Pacific. In the former, where many Wesleyan missions were established, although there were many different dialects, the whole of them had a foundation in one common language. The climate, also, was much healthier; altogether, the circumstances were so different, that it was necessary to adopt another plan in the western than that resorted to in the islands of the eastern portion of the Pacific. He knew one island in which no less than half a dozen languages were spoken. The plan which he generally adopted in order to obtain intercourse with the natives, was to introduce himself as well as he could on the various islands, induce some of the natives to go with him to New Zealand, do all he could to learn their language, and endeavor by that means to establish a footing on the island. He had generally found that plan, the conception of which was due to Bishop Selwyn--with the exception of some few modifications--to be attended with great success. The question then came, how he managed to introduce himself in the first instance. Simply that as the mission schooner sailed by the islands--which generally were dotted from valley to hill top with luxuriant verdure, and were really beautiful to look at, though very unhealthy to live upon--they would see a number of natives, from fifty to five hundred, assembled upon the beach, all of whom were beings to whom he considered it to be his duty to impart the truths of the Gospel. Well, a boat would be lowered away, and rowed to within a mile and a half of the land, nearer than which distance it was not wise at first to approach, when he could swim or wade ashore. He always found the best defence was to go among the natives defenceless. They would, perhaps, ask the reason why one unarmed man should come among them, but it was very unlikely they would fear him. He believed that all quarrels arose from one or both of the parties being afraid; but if there was no cause for fear on either side he did not consider there was any danger--certainly there was not half the risk which they were generally led to believe attended any attempt to communicate with the natives. The plan adopted by the sandal-wood gatherers was a bad one, and eminently calculated to produce suspicion on both sides. They generally went with a boat full of armed men, and handed a piece of calico or whatever else they desired to give in exchange for something expected from the natives at the end of an oar, and perhaps received a yam in return by the same process. He was strongly of opinion that if confidence was engendered in them they would show their best. His idea was that if he loved them why should they not love him. They were naturally very suspicious, and if persons went to them suspiciously they saw it at once, and acted accordingly. The proper way was to go among them with confidence, and any danger which might exist was thereby lessened considerably. He had been among them for eight years, and that was the result of his experience. The year before last he had visited no less than forty islands, and had landed on the island of Santa Cruz, which was generally believed to be peopled by the wildest savages in the whole Pacific Ocean--at all events, he had landed, and was allowed to come and go perfectly unmolested. He considered that the Melanesian mission was really as much the mission of the people of Queensland as it was his; and he had only hesitated in coming before them with an anomalous plan. As he before stated, it was useless to attempt a permanent location among the islands. His duty lay in getting a number of the natives together, and with them learn the various languages, living in a healthier climate. He had 200 scholars in New Zealand, and among them was one lad who he had had for three years, and of whom he expected much. It was a blessed sight to see his afternoon class, presided over by Mr. Pritt, one of his most valued assistants. The assiduity and attention displayed by the members of his classes was remarkable, and showed that they possessed in an eminent degree the ability and willingness to learn the blessed truths which it was sought to impart to them. The fifth of the whole number would be in his room at all hours, from five o'clock in the morning until after ten o'clock at night, and he did not even think it necessary to turn them out. One of the means which he considered highly calculated to lead to success was to teach them habits of self-respect as well as of industry; there must be no line of demarcation observable between the white and the black men. He never asked them to do what he was not prepared to do himself. He breakfasted with them at five in the morning, and dined a half-past twelve; and at certain times cleaned his boots and shoes, in order that they might not imagine that in his estimation they occupied an inferior position. He did not ask them to dine in the hall while he had his dinner in the parlour, as that was not the proper way to get and maintain a hold of their hearts. (Hear, hear.) He had slept in a place on one of the islands where to sleep in safety was the great desideratum--comfort being out of the question; there were there twenty-seven skulls on the ridge pole. Trusting oneself among them fearlessly was the first element of success; and to secure their confidence entirely they must be treated with kindness and generosity. Many failures were chronicled of attempts made to christianize the natives, and whenever he heard of any one particularly he would ask plainly the cause of failure. Were the natives treated precisely as the persons who had failed would treat their own English children? The probable reply would be in the negative, and the cause of failure was apparent. He hoped he had in his previous remarks made it clear to the meeting that a great difference existed between the islands in the Eastern and those in the Western Pacific. The climate of the Eastern islands was healthy, and although many dialects were spoken they were all cognate to a common language. In the Western Pacific the reverse was the case, the climate was unhealthy, and philologically speaking there was no comparison whatever. The plan he would adopt would be to obtain from, say thirty islands, the types of languages, and select ten spots, each of which could be regarded as a sort of centre, from whence scholars might proceed to all parts of the Archipelgao [sic]. That scheme was all very well, but to carry it out he would require ten clergymen, and means to support them. The right reverend gentleman went on to argue that the Melanesians were not at all deficient in intellectual capacity, illustrating his argument by referring to a native lad named Edmund Barratta, who was a member of a class to which he (the speaker) had given a Bible lesson, "That the kingdom of heaven was like unto a ---." He had stopped short at that, and was absent from home for some time. On his return he looked at the manner in which the lessons had been done, and was particularly struck with the manner in which Barratta had tested the subject. He had first of all asked how God could be a king before the creation of the world with nothing outside--with nothing to govern. The lad had solved it by assuming that there was no past or future with God--everything to him was present--that, in fact, he governed by anticipation. That boy had been only two years with him. He had received letters from many of them since he had been away, and it was almost matter of surprise to him that they exhibited so much intelligence as they did in the style of writing, narrating events which had occurred since his absence in a remarkably clear and concise manner. He (the Bishop) had taken a boy named George Passifa from one of the islands, and went back with him some months afterwards; but the boy evinced no desire whatever to stay at home, on the contrary he was determined to return to New Zealand. He could adduce many other examples to prove that the Melanesians were not deficient in intellectual capacity or moral earnestness when they were treated properly. They had a latent capacity for becoming all that Christians should be, and as such it was the duty of every earnest Christian to do that was possible to reclaim them. The speaker then went on to detail the plan, the adoption of which he believed to be most successful in educating them--trying to find out what the teacher had in common with his pupil; and endeavoring to fix the meaning of any peculiarly difficult word by finding the symbol of a class of associations which could be easily recognised and understood. There was nothing so dangerous to the missionary and the natives than to make the latter accept the Divine message brought them merely from love to the missionary. He could not but reiterate his opinion that in many cases the failures which had occurred were the fault of the missionary and not of the heathen. He would appeal to the meeting, if they thought the plans he had detailed to them were reasonable, to assist him as well as they could. At all events let them do their best, try something, and not say that nothing could be done. One thing was very desirable; that they should have some place nearer than New Zealand to convey sick people, and those whom it was necessary to educate. He might mention that he had known Mr. Herbert, the Colonial Secretary, at Eton and Oxford, and had every reason to believe that that gentleman would assist in such a cause. He thought than an acre or two of land at Port Curtis to be used as a sort of sanatorium would be of incalculable benefit, inasmuch as a voyage from the islands to New Zealand occupied some six or seven weeks, while Port Curtis could be reached in a week. But for the fact that Bishop Selwyn, of New Zealand, had commenced the plan at present adopted there was a possibility that the spot on which he stood would have been the head-quarters of the mission. However, he hoped that a school would shortly be established at Port Curtis. Next to the aborigines in their own colony, the heathen inhabitants of the islands were most entitled to the assistance and consideration of the Christian people of Queensland. The speaker proceeded to detail how a chief of one of the islands, one of his own friends, had been shot by the captain of a trading vessel, most ruthlessly, and concluded amid much applause, by expressing his willingness to answer any questions which might be put to him with reference to the mission.

No questions being asked,

The Hon. Colonel O'CONNELL rose to propose a resolution which he believed was nothing but a matter of form, and he much misinterpreted the feeling of the meeting if it was not cordially accepted. They must all remember--all revere that Divine admonition, "Go ye out to all nations, teaching and baptising in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." The exertions of the right reverend prelate who had addressed them were calculated not only to Christianise the islands, but to put an end to the great recklessness of human life which prevailed. The resolution he had to move was as follows:--

That the thanks of this meeting be offered to the Right Rev. Bishop Patteson, for the interesting account he has given of his mission, and that a committee, composed of his Honor the Chief Justice, the Hon. Colonel O'Connell, the Hon. the Colonial Secretary, and the Rev. J. Bliss, be appointed to receive subscriptions in aid of the branch station in Queensland, with power to add to their number.

The Hon. R. G. W. HERBERT said he had a peculiar pleasure in seconding the resolution. In common with all of them, he could not but feel much gratified at the able and modest manner in which Bishop Patteson had addressed the meeting. There could be little doubt in any of their minds that an excellent man had been chosen to lead the van in such an excellent cause. It was only usual whenever support was required for any particular object that one or two questions should be asked. In this instance the question might be asked, have we done enough at home. They could all remember what was said about eighteen hundred years ago, "It is not meet to take children's bread to cast it unto dogs," and the answer which was received that "Dogs could eat what fell from their master's table." It was possible for them to do quite enough for the Church in Queensland, and yet be able to make provision in the manner which had been suggested. The hon. gentleman then proceeded to refer to the great ability possessed by Bishop Patteson to perform the work he had set his heart upon; and concluded by stating that the question of ameliorating the condition of the aborigines of Queensland had long been a vexed one from the fact that there was a difficulty in knowing how to commence; but that it was quite probable the experience of Bishop Patteson would enable him to suggest a way of commencing, which would eventually lead to a satisfactory completion.

The resolution was put and passed.

On the motion of the hon. T. DE LACY MOFFATT, his Excellency the Governor left the chair, which was taken by his Honor the Chief Justice.

A vote of thanks to his Excellency was proposed by Mr. MOFFATT, seconded by Bishop PATTESON, and carried unanimously.

His EXCELLENCY, after acknowledging the vote of thanks, read a letter from Bishop Tufnell, expressing his sympathy with the object of the meeting, and his great regret that sickness prevented him from attending.

The proceedings of the meeting were closed with prayer.

A collection was made at the door, and a considerable sum was realised.

Bishop Patteson preached in the evening at Wickham Terrace Church to a large congregation.


Project Canterbury thanks the Records and Archives Centre of the Diocese of Brisbane for providing a copy of the original of this transcription.

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