Papua New Guinea

Administrative / Biographical History

In 1870 with increasing French influence in New Caledonia it was felt that the London Missionary Society should expand its activities to Papua New Guinea, despite the fact that the climate was seen as harsh and the locals were viewed as 'savages'. Samuel Macfarlane set off on a fact-finding mission from North Queensland, Australia, with eight indigenous pastors and students. In June 1871 they landed at Hood Point, and discovered that the vast number of dialects were spoken, and which were to cause problems for the establishment of the Papua missions. Darnley Island in the Torres Straits was initially used as the base, and indigenous teachers were left at various places to start work. The LMS was the only Society able to provide both missionaries and indigenous teachers from various Polynesian islands. In 1873 Port Moresby was discovered and a mission established. By 1874 Macfarlane supervised work in North Guinea, Rev William Lawes was at Port Moresby, and work was also carried out in the Torres Straits Islands. The Torres Straits mission was to lastuntil 1915 when the Anglicans took over. Lawes, the senior missionary in the area, became the first permanent white resident of the New Guinea mainland, and indeed the late 19th and early 20th century was the pioneer period for the mission in Papua New Guinea. A steamer, The Ellengowan donated by a Miss Baxter was used to carry out a great deal of missionary work.

Between 1877 and 1889 Murray Island in the Torres Straits was used as an LMS base, and the Papuan Gulf Native College was established to train indigenous teachers. Despite having the support of various chiefs, a number of these teachers were killed, and at times the missionaries were in danger. In 1884 South East Papua New Guinea became a British Protectorate, and the missionaries were involved in organising the administration. By 1891 Kwato was the centre of the Eastern mission. Work in Papua was divided with the Methodist Missionary Society of Australia and the Anglican Australian Board of Missions; the LMS served the southern coastline and stations inland from the coast. By 1895 there were a number of LMS mission stations in Papua;

Western or Gulf mission (including Murray Island and Jokea, which was established in 1894), Elema, Delena (established 1892), Port Moresby (established 1874), Vatorata, Kerepunu (established 1887), and Kwato (established 1891). In 1901 James Chalmers and Oliver Tomkins were killed by members of the Goaribari people, which led in part to a severe response by the Governing administration.

The LMS undertaking in Papua was extensive in terms of area to be covered, and mission resources were limited. As well as the transfer of responsibility for the Torres Straits Islands to the Anglicans in 1915, in 1928 the Kwato property was finally transferred to the Kwato Extension Association. This was a body founded by the missionary Charles Abel, which carried on industrial work independently from the mission.

Work continued in the LMS mission field and by 1938 there were 7000 communicants, 10,000 scholars, 82 ordained pastors, and 50 teachers. There was also the growth of an indigenous Papuan ministry, which meant less reliance on teachers from the South Seas missions. During the Second World War, many missionaries were evacuated from the island, and much of the coastal area was under Japanese military control. There were far reaching social, economic and political changes after the War such as increased transport links to the interior, a growing European expatriate population and a shift in population from the countryside to the towns. From 1946, Australia administered Papua New Guinea as one unit, with self-government coming in 1973 and Independence in 1975. The Church and the role of missions also changed in these post-war years, and the LMS instituted the New Advance programme. Also the LMS began to work with other churches in the area such as the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand and the Presbyterian Church in Australia. By 1962 the work of the LMS became an autonomous church named Papua Eklesia, while the United Church in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands was inaugurated in 1968.


Material is arranged into the following classes: Incoming correspondence (1872-1927); Incoming/outgoing correspondence (1928-1970); Journals (1871-1901); Reports (1882-1970); Subject files (1935-1967); Odds; Photographs, Maps.

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Archivist's Note


Related Material

See also South Seas/South Pacific and Australia sections, as they may have relevant materials.

Australia Incoming Correspondence, (from the field to LMS HQ), has references to activities in the South Sea Islands. The establishment and administration of the Papua mission is recorded in the South Seas Committee Minutes (see Home Regional Committee Minutes).