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John Coleridge Patteson (1827–1871)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

John Coleridge Patteson (1827-1871), by unknown photographer

John Coleridge Patteson (1827-1871), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 2 - 52044

John Coleridge Patteson (1827-1871), Anglican bishop, was born on 1 April 1827 in London, elder son of Sir John Patteson, judge, and his second wife Frances Duke, daughter of James Coleridge of Ottery St Mary and niece of the poet. Brought up near his mother's relations, he began his education at Ottery St Mary. 'Coley' went to Eton in 1838-45 and Balliol College, Oxford (B.A., 1848; M.A., 1853; D.D., 1861). He had played cricket for Eton but refused to play for Oxford. After graduation he travelled in Europe and studied German, Hebrew and Arabic. Returning to Oxford, he was a fellow of Merton College in 1852-71. On 25 September 1853 he was made deacon and curate of Alphington, Devon, and on 24 September 1854 was ordained priest at Exeter Cathedral, but agreed to accompany Bishop G. A. Selwyn to New Zealand as a missionary.

In March 1855 Patteson sailed in the Duke of Portland and arrived at Auckland in July. For five years he sailed in the schooner Southern Cross on annual cruises among the islands and ran the mission's summer school at Kohimarama, Auckland. On 24 February 1861 at Auckland he was consecrated first bishop of Melanesia. A brilliant linguist, he later spoke twenty-three of the many Melanesian languages: finding them in groups, he printed grammars and vocabularies and translated some gospels into the Mota dialect. Each year he spent some months on Mota in the New Hebrides.

In March 1864 Patteson visited Australia. In Sydney he addressed a large meeting which pledged systematic support of the Melanesian Mission; the Anglican Churches agreed to meet the annual expenses of the Southern Cross. Patteson's gentleness made a deep impression and he became friendly with the families of Sir Alfred Stephen and T. S. Mort. In Brisbane Patteson conferred with Governor Bowen about moving the mission school to Curtis Island. Patteson devoted to the mission his private fortune which included money inherited from his father, and income from his Merton College fellowship. The mission also received support from the Eton Melanesian Society and his cousin Charlotte Yonge donated the proceeds from her novel The Daisy Chain. In 1865 Patteson again visited Sydney and the governor, Sir John Young, offered him a grant on Norfolk Island for his headquarters. Funds were raised by friends of the mission to buy more land. In 1867 the Melanesian Mission moved to Norfolk Island where it was called St Barnabas. In the milder climate the school could not only continue in the winter months but native foods such as yams could be grown. Patteson started bringing girls to the school to provide wives for his scholars. Dynamic and practical, he taught his scholars to speak English, play cricket and tend livestock.

The visits to the islands were becoming yearly more dangerous. In 1869 he wrote to Lady Stephen: 'the vessels which have been taking away S. Sea islanders for the Fiji & Queensland labour market have in some cases to my knowledge acted in a very sad miserable way. I have a good deal of moral, not perhaps strictly legal, evidence of treachery, violence etc. The effect is … to embitter the islanders against any white man whom they do not as yet know well to be their friend'. Patteson noted the depopulation of many islands and that unscrupulous traders used his name to entice natives aboard their ships. In July 1870 he told Bowen that 'it is the regulation rather than the suppression of the employment of native labourers that I advocate'. In an official memorandum he advocated the licensing of a few ships to transport the islanders; all others were to be treated as pirates and confiscated summarily when caught, and frigates were to cruise constantly among the islands. In January 1871 he made another appeal for imperial legislation on Pacific Island labour.

In April Patteson sailed to the islands in the Southern Cross. On 20 September he landed alone on Nukapu near Santa Cruz where he was clubbed to death in retribution for a recent outrage by blackbirders. In a canoe his body was taken to the Southern Cross and was buried at sea. Despite the plea of missionaries at Norfolk Island for no retribution Captain Markham of H.M.S. Rosario fired at and killed some natives.

The Melanesian Mission continued to expand on Patteson's foundations while his life was a lasting inspiration to the Anglican Church in Australasia. Patteson's death led to the imperial Kidnapping Acts of 1872 and 1875 along the lines he had suggested.

Select Bibliography

  • C. M. Yonge, Life of John Coleridge Patteson, 2nd ed (Lond, 1874)
  • W. E. Gladstone, Gleanings of Past Years, 1843-78, vol 2 (Lond, 1879)
  • J. Gutch, Martyr of the Islands (Lond, 1971)
  • Sydney Mail, 2 Apr 1864
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Oct 1865, 25 Mar, 6, 7, 15 Nov 1871
  • D. L. Hilliard: Protestant Missions in the Solomon Islands 1849-1942 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1966)
  • P. Corris, Passage, Port and Plantation … Solomon Islands Labour Migration, 1870-1914 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1970)
  • J. C. Patteson papers in the Selwyn papers (Selwyn College, Cambridge, microfilm copy at Australian National University)
  • Stephen papers MS777 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/552, 565.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Patteson, John Coleridge (1827–1871)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Coleridge Patteson (1827-1871), by unknown photographer

John Coleridge Patteson (1827-1871), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 2 - 52044

Life Summary [details]


1 April, 1827
London, Middlesex, England


20 September, 1871 (aged 44)
Nukapu, Santa Cruz Islands, Solomon Islands

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