Project Canterbury

Bishop Patteson
An address, prepared for parochial use in 1874.

By the Rt. Rev. R. W. B. Elliot, D.D.
Missionary Bishop of Western Texas.

New York, Thomas Whittaker, n.d. 24 pp.

The writer is indebted for most of the facts and quotations in this address to the admirable life of Bishop Patteson, by Miss C. M. Yonge.

IN September, 1871, the heart of the Anglican communion throughout the world was stirred by the announcement of the murder of the Right Rev. John Coleridge Patteson, D.D., Missionary Bishop of Melanesia.

Living in another hemisphere, doing his work among strange tribes, and in islands whose names are to us unfamiliar, it has been only little by little that, in this country, we have become acquainted with the history of the apostolic man who, going as the messenger of God to the remote regions of the South Pacific, has been the means of propagating among the heathen the Holy Scriptures, and of preparing for generations yet unborn that polity of peace, love, and reconciliation having as its central truth God manifest in the flesh.

John Coleridge Patteson was the son of one judge, Sir John Patteson, and nephew of another, Sir John Taylor Coleridge; both men eminent for their legal attainments and purity of character. His mother was a niece of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet who has made the name of Coleridge a household word in English literature.

Bishop Patteson was therefore the grand-nephew of the author of "Christabel" and the "Ancient Mariner," and it seems like trifling with the sanctity of a British classic when he writes to his sister to send him Uncle Sam's "Biographia Literaria" and "Literary Remains."

It is nearly forty years ago that, during the public games at Eton, one of the boys, pressing into the very van of the hurly-burly, was thrown between the wheels of the royal carriage, and only rescued from serious damage by the young queen herself, who gave him her hand and pulled him up out of danger. That boy was Coleridge Patteson, cast there by that wholesome love of sport which gave him the physique for his labors in the South Seas.

You will pardon me if I pause to remark that the subject of this sketch, and his future leader, Bishop Selwyn, stand out as types of a new order of clerical development. They are specimens of what Canon Kingsley calls "muscular Christianity" uniting intellectual discipline and deep spiritual experience with thorough physical training. No school of men with exactly their characteristics has before appeared in the Church. Our critics have never allowed us to forget the era of the foxhunting parsons, and yet I think something might be said for these same hunting parsons. They were honest and manly, at all events, as far as possible from any thing like cant, and hence more lovable than those who immediately preceded them, with their forced Scripture phraseology, and affectation of long names and long faces. But in our time, girding herself for vast missionary enterprises, the Church has produced a new type of ecclesiastic, by grafting the earnestness of the best Puritans upon the manliness of the best high Tory clerics; and all of this with an utter absence of any thing like mannerism or pretence.

The men who have built up the missions of the Church of England in the last quarter of a century have found it possible and advantageous to unite every physical accomplishment with those spiritual graces which adorn the Christian life. They are models upon which our young men can with great profit form themselves.

We left Coleridge Patteson at Eton; and after being considered particularly strong in Latin verses, and one of the best cricketers of his time, he was by this, says his biographer, growing into the regular tastes of the refined, fastidious Eton boy; wrote of the cut of his first tail coat that " this is really an important thing;" and so we mark this transition as it forebodes Oxford, where, ere long, he was established, and passing through the university with merit, after studying law for a time, gave it up, that he might take orders in the Established Church, a position for which he was admirably fitted by his purity and spirituality, as well as the call which he felt had come to him. So, on Sunday, September 14th, 1843, John Coleridge Patteson received the diaconate at the hands of the venerable Bishop Philpotts, in Exeter Cathedral, and from the excellence of his examination was selected to read the Gospel. He was at once appointed to the curacy of Alfington, a small chapel freshly built upon the outskirts of Ottery, St. Mary, Devonshire.

Here we find the future bishop and martyr in the sacred ministry. In the midst of a large circle of friends and relatives; supported by all the good-will of family influence, in a country where, above all others, such influence is especially valuable; in an English home, full of Christian cheerfulness, brightness, and love, such as might have been a snare to many in withholding them from the higher call--such a summons was coming, and, when it came, found the young priest ready to exchange comfort for duty, England for Melanesia; for he remembered who it was that said, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself."

We will now turn from this refined English home to another and distant quarter of the globe.

When one surveys Oceanica, it is with mixed feelings of wonder and repugnance; wonder, arising from the strange life of nature, in its fern-like forests, its coral islands, its calm seas, its wonderful witness to past and present volcanic action; and repugnance, caused by the cruelty of the races that people it. An impression fixed in the memory by the cruel fate of the many voyagers who have suffered at their hands during the century that has intervened between the murder of Captain Cook and that of Bishop Patteson.

In his "Cosmos," Baron Humboldt points out the elevatory movement which, extending from the Southern Hemisphere, has been instrumental in bringing to the surface the ridges upon which these islands are founded; and to a combination of the all-powerful central fires of the earth with the minute zoophytes is due the appearance of the groups of islands to which we are calling attention.

In these regions, where nature has been so lavish in its provisions for man, lived a benighted, treacherous, yet warlike race. In 1809, Captain Berry, of the ship Edinburgh Castle, after witnessing the murder of a number of wrecked English colonists who, relying upon the promises of the natives, ventured among them, writes in his journal: "Let no man trust a New Zealander." And says a writer upon this subject: "It is worthy of remark that in this great division of the globe--equal in extent to Europe--there is no quadruped larger than the kangaroo, none of a ferocious character, and in many islands none at all. Man only is an animal of prey, and, more unnatural than lynx, leopard or hyena, devours his own species, in countries, too, where nature has done every thing for his comfort and subsistence."

From this distant field, in the year 1854, there came upon a visit to England that remarkable man, the Right Rev. George Augustus Selwyn, at that time primate of New Zealand, since transferred to the bishopric of Lichfield, England, but who can point to the ten dioceses, built up and nourished during the twenty-five years of his episcopate in the-South Seas, as the most complete success that has attended missionary effort in our century.

Bishop Selwyn, telling the story of the rise and progress of the Church in those seas--the voyages from island to island, the foundation of schools and colleges--called forth an outburst of zeal in England that furnished him the men and the means to perfect his plans for church extension.

Coleridge Patteson, the curate of the chapel at Alfington, then twenty-seven years of age, quickly offered himself, and was especially acceptable on account of his youth, and from having of late developed a talent for languages, "which afterwards became so prominent as almost to amount to a gift of tongues"--no small recommendation for one who was to preach among races whose dialects differ in every group of islands.

A friend writes: "Coleridge Patteson with his whole soul offered himself to the work under Bishop Selwyn. And his father, an aged man, though well knowing that there was little chance of their ever meeting on earth again, "gave up his first-born son to his Master's service with the fullest and most cheerful faith, even enjoining on all concerned not to let him think himself called on to come back to visit his father."

There was to be no looking back from the time he put his hand to the plough; and when he turned his face towards the South Pacific, England passed forever out of his life. Henceforth he was consecrated to the evangelization of those barbarians who, "by the long wash of Australasian seas," dwell in far-off Melanesia. And there, after seventeen years of expatriation--years devoted to his holy labors; years employed in translating for the heathen the words of the most holy Jesus, the Son of God; in disseminating these words through Melanesia, Polynesia, and Malaysia--he was further summoned, when Bishop of Melanesia, to add to all other sacrifices that also of life, dying by their hands for whom he had given up father, and brethren, and sisters, and kindred, and home, and country. "And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house or parents, or brethren, or wife or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting."

That was an exciting period when, accompanying Bishop Selwyn, Coleridge Patteson turned his back upon England.

Let us regard it from an ecclesiastical point of view. The Crimean War was the engrossing subject. France and England, the representatives of the Roman and Anglican churches, had lately allied themselves with Turkey, a Moslem power, a nation of Oriental apostates, who, to use Lamartine's words, "with no affiliation with our civilization or modes of life, have simply been camped in Europe since 1453," and this to make war upon Russia, the representative of the venerable Eastern Church.

Much as I love England I cannot resist the comparison between the results of her conquests in the Crimea upon the one hand and in New Zealand upon the other.

No great stir was made over the missionaries who were setting sail for their far-off field. A few faithful ones accompanied them to the ship; that was all. The nation was discussing the balance of power, the Alma, Inkerman, the charge of the Light Brigade; but quietly there slipped away from the shores of Old England a little company whose conquests will remain when the siege of Sebastopol will be quite forgotten.

Blood was shed, treasure expended, homes made desolate, army supplies rotted in the ships, and men rotted in the trenches for the want of them. And for what? All this red drama was acted out and drifted into history twenty years ago, and the question in foreign politics which is still agitating the England of to-day is: Can the Russian advance in Central Asia be halted? Her statesmen and soldiers are asking each other whether they shall defend the passes of the Hindoo Koosh or await their gigantic antagonist upon the banks of the Indus. May this fearful contest be long postponed; but when it comes, as I fear it must, may the Almighty give the victory to the countrymen of Coleridge Patteson--to the men of our lineage, our language, and our religion!

But while the world was watching the magnificence of the fleets and armies gathered in the East, a humble missionary was preparing for conquest. He was enrolled for a campaign of seventeen years, equipped to fight a strong man armed in the very seat of his power, "girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and the helmet of salvation; bearing the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God;" destined to triumphs great, lasting, and beneficent--triumphs seen wherever in those dusky communities the laws of the kingdom of the blessed Jesus are substituted for the savage and licentious misrule of heathenism; victories witnessed in the gentler demeanor, the wider sympathies, the enlightened consciences, of whole races of men.

Bishop Selwyn had made New Zealand the centre of operations, his system being to make an annual voyage in the spring among the islands to the northward--that is, towards the equator--and bring back with him in his yacht, the Southern Cross, the most promising youths who could be procured, instruct them during the summer at the mission, and return them in the autumn to their homes; because it was found that the temperature of New Zealand, being about the same latitude south of the equator that we are here north of it, [Georgia, United States of America] was too cold during the winter for the inhabitants of those tropical islands, which are within ten degrees of the line.

For the education of these children "St. Andrew's College was founded at Kohimarama, New Zealand. It was, more properly speaking, a great farm, where, while learning Christianity, they also learned civilization, agriculture, the care of cattle, cooking, printing, and the like."

The whole secret of success in the New Zealand, and particularly in the Melanesian, mission, consisted in the perfect devotion of the missionaries to the people. They learned their language that they might think as they thought in their own idioms; they lived in the same houses as the boys, ate among them, slept among them, made them their children; they ran in and out of Coleridge Patteson's study at will, looked at his books, used his pens and stationery, pursued him with questions, and he encountered it all for Christ's sake. What wonder that they loved and revered him! One at a distance, who has heard of him, writes: "I tremble very much to write to you, because does an ant know how to speak to a cow? We at Mengone would not speak to a great man like you."

His custom was to rise at 5.30, and see every thing put in readiness for breakfast at 7, which was had in the hall all together; 7.30, chapel; from 8 until 9.30, school; from 9.30 to 12.30, industrial work; at 12.45, a short service in the chapel; I P.M., dinner; from 2 to 4, classes in Greek literature and classics; 5, tea; 6.30, evening chapel; and from 7 till 10 was taken up with evening school and catechetical instruction. "Such, for fifteen years, was the life of Coleridge Patteson; the summer spent in laboring and in teaching and Christianizing the scholars; the winter, in carrying them home in the yacht, renewing old acquaintances, touching at new isles and then coming back to the old ones, to gather up old scholars and new." Besides these voyages, beset with dangers from the inhabitants of inimical islands, these labors at home to instruct in civilization as he says in a letter to a friend: " In the midst of much other business, trying to put together skeleton grammars of some of these four or five and twenty dialects--of which thirteen are done."

In 1861, after seven years' trial, and in his thirty-fourth year, John Coleridge Patteson was consecrated Missionary Bishop of Melanesia, a diocese scattered over 1800 miles of ocean--one border producing the flora of the temperate zone, and the other extremity rich in the rank forms of vegetable life found in tropical lowlands.

His father, then very near his death, wrote to him, "My right reverend and well-beloved son, how I thank God that it has pleased Him to save my life until I heard of the actual fact of your being ordained and consecrated. . . . May it please Him to prolong your life very many years, and to enable you to fulfil all those purposes for which you have been consecrated, and that you may see the fruit of your labor of love before He calls you to His rest in heaven! But if not, may you have laid such foundations for the spread of God's Word throughout the countries committed to your charge, that when it pleases God to summon you hence you may have a perfect consciousness of having devoted all your time and labor, and, so far as you are concerned, to have advanced all the works as fast and as securely as it seemed fit to your great assister, the Holy Spirit, that they should be advanced!" This was ten years before Bishop Patteson's death; and I think we can say to-day, surveying the field, that the petition of this patriarch, who, like Jacob of old, worshipped leaning upon his staff, has in every particular been granted.

But Europeans made the life of Bishop Patteson more arduous; indeed, I believe we owe to them the irritation which resulted in his murder. There is a sort of coolie trade carried on in those seas for the purpose of supplying laborers to the larger and more flourishing colonies, and these traders, not content with agreements carried out in good faith, supplement their legitimate traffic by kidnapping and abduction. The natives call these "catch-catch" ships, and when resistance is made they become "kill-kill" ships. A fierce spirit of vengeance against the whites had thus been roused, and its latest expression had been found in the death of the very man who was, of all others, most opposed to

this wickedness. His death furnished a protest which Great Britain could not receive in silence, and Parliament has undertaken to suppress this lawlessness. So literally he died for his people.

The chances of a violent death were therefore included in all his calculations; and while he was beyond bravado he did not allow such a contingency to interfere with his work.

There was, however, an occurrence in the year 1864 which cast a gloom over his remaining days. He arrived off the island of Santa Cruz on the 25th of August of that year, and was rowed in by four of his scholars--most of them young men studying for the ministry, who had been his companions for years, and, he says, almost as children to him.

The bishop landed alone, and after a time returning, waded to the reef, beyond which his boat, surrounded by natives in their canoes, was waiting. A few vigorous strokes--for he was an expert swimmer as well as a good sailor--brought him to the boat; and no sooner was he there than the barbarians began firing their arrows, pointed with bone and poisoned; and before they reached the yacht three of the young men had been seriously wounded. Imagine him, therefore, in those unfrequented seas, endeavoring to act as surgeon, navigating the vessel, as well as caring for the sick, and furthermore called upon to see two of his chosen helpers, young men educated by his own care, in his own house, die of lock-jaw.

He wrote of it: "God had been very good to me; their very truthfulness, and purity, and gentleness, and self-denial, and real simple faith made them very dear to me, and are now my best and truest comforts. Their patient endurance of great suffering--for it is an agonizing death to die--their simple trust in God through Christ, shone brightly through it all. 'I am very glad,' said Fisher, 'that I was doing my duty; tell my father so, and he will be glad.' I need not say I nursed him day and night with love and reverence. The last night at I A.M., when I lay in my clothes, by his side, he said faintly (his body being then rigid as a bar of iron), 'Kiss me, bishop.' Then came the last terrible struggle, and he fell asleep."

If our blessed Lord Himself could be exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, what wonder that such a bereavement terminating in such a scene should sadden the life of this His faithful disciple!

It was in the summer of 1870 that his seventeen years of labor bore especially glorious fruit. At Mota a wonderful harvest was reaped. The whole island seemed to be making a movement towards Christianity, and the bishop administered baptism to more than two hundred of its inhabitants--ninety-seven of them at one service--while the whole of the already Christianized population looked on as witnesses. This was his concluding service for the benefit of his flock.

There is a mystery that hangs about the last hours of this holy man.

On the 20th of September, 1871, at midday, he entered a native canoe to be taken ashore on the island of Nukapu, one of the Santa Cruz group. His boat's crew "could see the bishop land on the beach, and there lost sight of him." Half an hour later the natives began firing their poisoned arrows, wounding the Rev. Joseph Atkin in the shoulder, while Stephen, a Melanesian deacon, received six arrows in his chest; with these wounded ones the crew finally succeeded in reaching the yacht. Both of these men died at sea a few days later of lockjaw.

As Stephen lay in the boat on his way to the ship, "We, too, bishop," said the poor fellow--meaning that they shared the same fate.

Unless some heathen shall come forth as a second Saul of Tarsus, to tell how he stood by while, like a second Stephen, they put this faithful bishop to death, we shall never know what took place upon that island. What was his bearing, what his concluding words, what his comfort in suffering in the cause of Christ, are committed to the keeping of that hour when such a confession shall be made by a converted murderer, or else to that grander occasion when the martyr shall stand in all humility before the throne of his Maker. Of one thing we may rest assured--that as a Christian and a bishop he met his fate with the calm resignation of a true servant of God; that as an Anglo-Saxon he bore himself with the sedate courage of a race which, whatever its failings, has never been afraid to look death in the face.

Later in the day two canoes were seen coming out from the land, one towed by the other; that was cast off, and, "with a heap in the middle of it," but otherwise untenanted, floated out in the afternoon upon the calm sea. As the sailors came up with it, and lifted the bundle, wrapped in matting, into their boat, there was shouting along the shore. They rowed out to the yacht, and two words passed --"The body." Then it was lifted up and laid across the skylight, rolled in the native mat, which was secured at the head and feet. The placid smile was still on the face. There was a palm leaf fastened over the breast, and when the mat was opened there were five wounds--no more.

And so he lay like a martyr of the foretime in all the majesty of a good confession, the poor heathen little knowing with what symbolism they had prepared him for burial. For the dead man's Master had received in His own body five wounds, "and the palm branches are tokens of victory which those bear who stand forever by the crystal sea."

Mysterious are the ways of God. While the world was shaken with wars and rumors of wars, while nations rose and fell, "yea, while the kings of the earth have gathered and gone by together," in all modesty, a soul with much of the power and spirit of St. Paul, has been laboring in those secluded regions, "in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils by the sea, in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, besides those things which are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches;"--there is no exaggeration in applying these words to Bishop Patteson.

Such a life, such labors, such a death, make us proud of our race and hopeful of our age. Such fruit as this comes not from an exhausted stock or honeycombed Christianity. And when Bishop Selwyn called the other day for men to fill the empty places in Melanesia, saying he wanted the best, there were young men found who, like Coleridge Patteson, were ready to give up father and mother, and brethren, and home and country, for the kingdom of God's sake.

And great as has been her loss, the Church mourns not her bereavement with the inconsolable sorrow of Rachel, refusing to be comforted. But it is rather with the chastened grief that befits the Bride of Christ that she has committed the body of her son to the ocean, his soul to God, his memory to the good of every creed and of every country, waiting in confidence the hour when the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; happy meanwhile in the knowledge that he has done his work, and done it well; ready to cry, "I would not give my dead son for any living son in Christendom;" for "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

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