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Death of the Rev. George Sarawia

Auckland: The Island Voyage and Report, 1902, pp. 56-57.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2012

WE are sad to have to record the death of the Rev. George Sarawia, at his home in Mota, on August 11th last, a few days before the Bishop and his party reached there. George was the first native of the Banks Islands to join Bishop Patteson. He himself has described how in fear and trembling he was induced to go on board the "Southern Cross" when she for the first time anchored in Port Patteson in 1857; but the kindness of Bishop Selwyn and Mr. Patteson soon reassured him, and on returning on shore he told his friends that these were good and kind-hearted men. In the following year he was one of the twelve scholars, speaking five different dialects, who formed Bishop Patteson's winter school at Lifu for four months. From that time, with only one very short interval, he has been one of the Mission party. For a short time he stayed at home at Vanua Lava, where he began teaching on his own account, and some of the more intelligent of his school were taken by Bishop Patteson to the Kohimarama School. He was amongst the first scholars taken to that school, where he soon became one of the most promising pupils, and a favourite one of the Bishop's. He was baptised on the Feast of the Epiphany, 1863, with five other candidates, one only of whom is now living. He was ordained deacon by Bishop Patteson in 1868, and priest by Bishop Cowie in 1872.

He was a native of Vanua Lava, but was related to a section of the Mota people, and was practically a Mota man. In 1869 Bishop Patteson, wishing to form a Christian settlement at Mota on some land he had purchased for the purpose, placed three or four Christian families there under the charge of George Sarawia. Here the [56/57] Christians could attend their services and have school without interruption from the heathen or from heathen customs. The Christian community was an object lesson for the heathen, and the good influence soon spread to other villages and the neighbouring islands. George, although a young man, soon gained great influence amongst the people, and was always sent for to stay quarrels and settle disputes. He was energetic as a young man, and earnest in spreading the Gospel in the neighbouring islands. He made the tour of Vanua Lava, walking all round the island, visiting each village and talking to the people about the Christian religion, so that afterwards he was able to introduce the European missionary to the people and help in starting schools there. He did good work also of like kind at Gaua and Lakona, where he began work amongst a people none too friendly; also at Motalava, in all which places he did much to open up the way for other teachers to begin their work, and in supervising and strengthening them when once begun, so that his influence for good was great all through the group. He had a great love and affection for Bishop Patteson and for Archdeacon Dudley, his first teachers. The news of Bishop Patteson's death was a great blow to the young Church at Mota, some thinking that the work would come to an end; but George encouraged them and kept them together by his assurance that God would not leave them alone, but would send others to continue His work. As he grew older he was less energetic, perhaps, and greatly through his natural modesty did not exercise all the power and authority the people were ready to yield to him. He never realised how much the people looked up to him and respected him for his real goodness and purity of life. His was a lovely Christian character, formed very much from the teaching and example of Bishop Patteson. He was full of simple faith and love, a simple-minded and earnest Christian. He was a thorough gentleman, thoughtful for others, hospitable, and kind. He made himself beloved and honoured by those who knew him well, and was looked upon as a very dear friend. "Dear old George" was the title by which he was known amongst his white friends.

He, with the help of the Mota people, had just completed, the erection of a nice stone church, which was awaiting consecration by the Bishop. He was buried just outside the walls of this church, in a spot he had himself chosen as his last resting-place. Mota will miss greatly his good influence, and it will never be the same without his loving and kindly presence. He has done a good work; his life has been well spent in the service of his Master, whom he loved, and who has called him to his eternal rest.

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