Journal article Open Access

Reassessing the death of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson

Kolshus, Thorgeir; Hovdhaugen*, Even

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.
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