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Francis Hume Lyall (Frank) Paton (1870–1938)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

Francis Hume Lyall (Frank) Paton (1870-1938), Presbyterian missionary and theologian, was born on 26 August 1870 on the island of Aniwa in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), third son of Rev. John Gibson Paton and his second wife Margaret, née Whitecross. Frank grew up in the shadow of his famous and controversial father and wished to emulate him. He attended Scotch College, Melbourne, and received his theological education at Ormond College and the University of Glasgow. He graduated from the University of Melbourne (M.A., 1892) and from St Andrews (B.D., 1896). He also received some training at Bonn where the loss of a close friend in 1889 inspired his first publication, George L. F. Macfadyen, M.A.: A 'Faithful Student'. Soon afterwards he was invited to go to the New Hebrides as the first missionary provided by the John G. Paton Mission Fund, raised from voluntary contributions forwarded by readers of his father's autobiography.

On 19 February 1896 at the Lutheran Church, Germantown, Geelong, Paton married Clara Sophie, sister of Rev. Johannes Heyer. They served at Lenakel on the west coast of Tanna from 1896 until 1902 when Paton's health broke down. Paton described those years in Lomai of Lenakel (London, 1903), republished in 1908 as The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Hebrides. In 1898-1902 he published several translations, including the New Testament, and compiled an English/Lenakel dictionary.

In 1902 Paton was appointed organizing secretary of the board of missions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. The work proved too arduous for him and in 1904 he became Presbyterian minister at Dunolly. In 1907, following an operation and his recovery, he was appointed foreign mission secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, a position which he held until 1925. As the Paton representative he put great energy into his new role, taking over the leadership of the personal movement which had formed around his father (d.1907). He travelled extensively through Australia, Britain and the mission fields. His visits to Japan and Korea, reported in a series of pamphlets, were particularly significant in promoting interest in the Japanese Christian leader Kagawa, and in replacing the New Hebrides with Korea as the main theatre of Victorian Presbyterian missionary activity.

Retaining a close interest in Pacific affairs, Paton took a more moderate line than his father on issues such as the labour trade and French influence, in Quarterly Jottings from the New Hebrides, the magazine of the Paton mission fund, and in several pamphlets. He led the campaign to end the Anglo-French condominium, organizing in 1923 a petition of 40,000 signatures to the Australian government. His popular history of missions, The Kingdom in the Pacific, was published in 1913. No doubt inspired by the example of his own mother, Paton was one of the first missionary apologists to publicly recognize the 'unspeakably heroic' service of women in the mission field. He also promoted the Australian Inland Mission.

Paton served overseas as a chaplain with the Australian Imperial Force in 1918-19. In 1922-23 he was moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. He was an active promoter of the laymen's missionary movement and the student volunteer movement, publishing The Message of the Student Movement, The Supreme Quest (1934) and contributions to church manuals and periodicals.

Paton was essentially a popularizer, putting into practice or promoting the ideas of his father and particular Evangelical heroes, among them D. L. Moody, Henry Drummond and John R. Mott. The quality of 'discipleship' was particularly evident in the books and articles which he published while mission secretary. John G. Paton: Later Years and Farewell (London, 1910) (written with A. K. Langridge), was a pious testimonial to his father, while Patteson of Melanesia (London [1930]) was confessedly hagiographic.

In 1925-36 Paton served as minister of Deepdene Presbyterian church while remaining a director of the mission fund. He died on 28 September 1938 at Deepdene and was buried in Burwood cemetery. His wife, two sons and three daughters survived him. His eldest son was legal scholar Sir George Whitecross Paton, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne. Other family members to give distinguished service to the Presbyterian church and mission field included his brothers Robert, Frederick James, M.B.E., and James; his son John Kennedy and daughter Clara Margaret; his nephews John Gillam and Wilfred.

Select Bibliography

  • A. K. Langridge, The Conquest of Cannibal Tanna (Lond, 1934?)
  • J. Mackenzie, Rev. Frank H.L. Paton, M.A., B.D.: An Apostle of Love (Melb, 1938)
  • J. Guiart, Un Siecle et Demi de Contacts Culturels a Tanna (Paris, 1956)
  • Messenger (Presbyterian, Victoria and Tasmania), 7 Oct 1938
  • Quarterly Jottings from the New Hebrides, 183, Jan 1939
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1 Mar 1926, 29 Sept, 1 Oct 1938.

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Paton, Francis Hume Lyall (Frank) (1870–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


26 August, 1870
Aniwa, Vanuatu


28 September, 1938 (aged 68)
Deepdene, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.