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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Page, Rodger Clarence George (1878–1965)

by Carl Bridge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Rodger Clarence George Page (1878-1965), missionary, was born on 17 October 1878 at Grafton, New South Wales, fourth of eleven children of Charles Page, blacksmith and coachbuilder, and his wife Mary Johanna Hadden, née Cox. Educated at Grafton Public School he was his father's bookkeeper before training for the Methodist ministry in Sydney in 1905. After serving at Murrurundi and Quirindi he volunteered for overseas service and was sent to Tonga in 1908.

As chairman of the Tonga district of the Methodist Church, Page worked for reconciliation with the Tongan Free Church established after the Wesleyan Church split in 1885. He won the confidence of his parishioners after arguing their cause with the British in 1910 and working ceaselessly on relief work after hurricanes and in the influenza epidemic of 1918. A natural diplomat, he was soon on excellent terms with Jabez Watkin, president of the Free Church. Queen Salote, who came to the throne in 1918, was married to a Wesleyan chief and soon determined to reunite the churches. Page played the crucial role in negotiations for union in 1924. Though Watkin reneged and formed a splinter group, most of his followers reverted to the Wesleyans.

Page was the principal architect of the special relationship the Australian Methodist Church developed with the Tongan state and people. President of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in 1925-46, he was both royal chaplain and one of Queen Salote's most trusted political advisers. He strengthened theological and teacher training at the Free Wesleyan Tupou College, and was a moving spirit behind the government scholarships to Newington College, Sydney, from 1929 and in the growth of Queen Salote College for girls.

Fellow missionary A. Harold Wood described Page as 'a man's man, jovial, friendly. A winsome raconteur'. Like his famous younger brother Earle, he had a distinctive gurgling laugh. Essentially practical, he developed the estate of 750 acres (304 ha) for Tupou College at Toloa, planting much of it with his own hands. Though of tough physical frame he was 'the worst sailor in the Pacific' and always became ill on any of the craft that he constantly had to use for his work. He preached in 'stirring idiomatic Tongan' and had a deep and obvious love of the Tongan people, often weeping when he administered the sacraments. Nevertheless, he ran the business operations of the Church with firm efficiency.

Page had married Hannah Morrison (d.1939) on 28 February 1912; they had one son. After retirement to Sydney in 1946 Page returned the following year to officiate at the dual wedding of Queen Salote's sons and briefly in 1950. He died on 2 July 1965 and his ashes were taken to Tonga to be interred in his wife's grave. Queen Salote, though terminally ill, had herself 'driven slowly around the cemetery' and directed that the royal word telio be inscribed on his gravestone—a singular distinction.

Select Bibliography

  • A. H. Wood, Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church, vol 1 (Melb, 1975?)
  • C. W. Forman, The Island Churches of the South Pacific (NY, 1982)
  • Missionary Review, Apr 1946
  • K. M. Pukola, The Role of Rodger Page in the History of Tonga Between the World Wars (B.Litt. thesis, Australian National University, 1986)
  • Rodger Page letters, 1922-26 (Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, Australian National University, and microfilms, reel 85, State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Carl Bridge, 'Page, Rodger Clarence George (1878–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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