Reassessing the death of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson
THE FIRST BISHOP OF MELANESIA, JOHN COLERIDGE PATTESON OF THE ANGLICAN
Melanesian Mission, was killed 20 September 1871 on Nukapu, an islet in
what today is the Vaeakau district of the Temotu province of the Solomon Islands.
Next to John Williams of the London Missionary Society (LMS), he figures as the
most prominent martyr in the Christianisation of the Western Pacific. The stories
of his life and death occupy a central position in the popular religious mythology
of the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and in the history of the Anglican Church.
From the outset, Patteson's killing has been interpreted as an act of revenge
for the kidnapping of five men from Nukapu by labour recruiters or
'blackbirders' only days before the bishop landed. But we challenge this
interpretation. By combining readings of various mission sources with an analysis of
contemporary narratives recorded during linguistic fieldwork on Nukapu and
other islands in Temotu, we offer two other, and more likely, explanations for the killing.