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Stephen Taroniaro

Native Catechist of the Melanesian Mission

From Mission Life, Vol. III (new series) (1872), pages 221-222.

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



THE name of Stephen Taroniaro [Taroaniara] has appeared in every list of the Island scholars for many years past. He was a native of San Cristoval, and first came away with the Bishop in 1864. He was then about eighteen years of age, and already married. On his return home after his first visit to New Zealand, his friends did their utmost to prevent him from going away a second time, and for a time he was induced to keep out of the Bishop's way when he landed. Alluding to this thus missing Taroniaro and another promising scholar from the same island, the Bishop writes, in 1866:--

"Poor fellows! it is hard for them, no doubt, when they know so little, to make others know at all the good reasons that exist for their going again to stay with the only persons who can teach them what is good for them to know; yet it is a great disappointment to us, who perhaps expected too much when we looked forward to their returning with us again, after only six weeks' holiday on their own island."

The following year Taroniaro again went with the Bishop. Writing of him during the visit, the Bishop says:--

"He had always been a steady and well-conducted lad--or rather young man, for he was already married when he first came to us--but the typhoid sickness of the early part of 1868 produced a very marked change in him. He was not very well, but recovered slowly. It was at this time that he spoke to me about himself, his thoughts and feelings, as he had never done before. I well recollect one conversation. 'Everything seems new. You say what you have said before, but the words seem to have a new meaning. I heard that before, but it seems now to have a new power. I don't think I could ever wish to think the old thoughts and to lead the old life. What is it?' 'I think you know what it is, what power alone can change the thoughts and wishes of the heart.' 'I think,' he said, slowly, with great earnestness, 'it must be the work of the Holy Spirit. And I feel sure that it is, and I thank God for it.'"

Shortly after this, in July, 1868, Taroniaro was baptized by the name of Stephen, and in the following January he was confirmed, and admitted to Holy Communion in the following March.

"He was confirmed," writes the Bishop, "and admitted to Holy Communion rather sooner than is usually our practice, because we all felt that there was an unusual amount of earnestness and steadfastness in him."

[222] On this occasion Taroniaro was absent from his home for a much longer time than usual, nearly two years--the removal of the Mission to Norfolk Island, and the typhoid sickness which broke out subsequently, having prevented the usual visits to the islands being paid. When he returned, he found that his people had supposed him to be dead, and the father of his wife had given her to a man in a neighbouring village. His little daughter, however, was still living with his own friends.

After a time, as there was not hope of his recovering his former wife, Stephen provided himself with a young fiancée, who, with the approval of the Bishop, was taken to Norfolk Island to be instructed previous to her marriage, which took place early in 1871.

On May 30, 1871, soon after his marriage, Stephen started again for Ysabel with Mr. Atkin and about thirty boys. Landing on the 19th of June, they remained, keeping school and teaching the natives, until the 23rd of August, when the Bishop called for them in the "Southern Cross."

When the boat was attacked at Nukapu, Stephen was one of three natives who, with Mr. Atkin, formed the crew. From the fact of his being pierced by no fewer than six arrows, it would seem as if he, possibly as being the most conspicuous of the natives in the boat, was the special object of attack. From the first there was little hope of his recovery. On the Sunday following he partook of the Holy Communion, receiving it from the hands of his fellow-sufferer, Mr. Atkin. In the next few days he suffered great pain, and finally sank on the 27th of September, just a week after the Bishop, and only a few hours after Mr. Atkin.

Next to George Sarawia there was perhaps no one of his native scholars of whom the Bishop had better hope for the future. He had for some time been looking forward to the time when he should admit him to Holy Orders, and wrote of him, only a short time before his death; "He is indeed a thoroughly staunch, good young man, a great comfort to us all."

At Norfolk Island his loss would be especially felt. He had always been the leader of a large party of boys from his own island, and had exercised a very great influence for good amongst them.

Stephen's widow and child are still at the Mission-station, where, it is needless to say, they will always have a welcome home.

Long will the memory of Stephen Taroniaro--"Taro" as we ever familiarly called him--be held in honour amongst all connected with the Melanesian Mission, and through many an island will the story be told of how, in death as in life, he was associated with the Apostle and Evangelist of Melanesia.

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