Melanesian Mission Archive

Scope and Content

Records, 1848-1984, of the Melanesian Mission, including minute books; correspondence, journals and diaries of pioneer missionaries including R H Codrington and J C Patteson; correspondence of more recent missionaries; logs relating to the Mission vessels including the first 'Southern Cross' log book, 1855. Material relating to the Church of Melanesia includes the proceedings of the Provincial Synod from its inception in 1975, conference reports, and lists of missionaries from the Mission's beginnings to the 1920s. Printed materials include the Southern Cross Log, 1895-1954, 1963-1973, and Annual Reports, 1864-1939 (1917 and 1923 missing). There are also a large number of photographs and manuscript maps of the Diocese of the Melanesian Mission dating from 1875 onwards.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Melanesian Mission was founded in 1849 by the then Bishop of New Zealand, George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878), to evangelise the Melanesian islands of the South West Pacific Ocean (i.e. the Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz and Northern New Hebrides Islands), which formed part of his diocese. In 1850 the Australian Board of Missions was formed and the Australian and New Zealand Colonies formally adopted the Melanesian Mission. In January 1854, Bishop Selwyn used a visit to England to plead the cause of the Mission. He obtained the gift of a mission ship, which was named the 'Southern Cross'. The ship and its successors were to become the visible link between the remote parts of the diocese, carrying the Bishop on his biannual circuits and transporting missionaries, trainees, stores and medical supplies to their destinations.

From its foundation, Selwyn intended the work of the Melanesian Mission to be conducted by Indigenous teachers and an Indigenous ministry. In his own words, the 'white corks are only to float the black net'. The work was threefold: evangelistic, educational and medical. Trained 'Native Brothers' undertook pioneer evangelistic work. Under vows renewed yearly, they volunteered to visit unexplored areas and win a footing for teachers to follow. European clergy and lay-workers also engaged in the first stages of work in certain areas. Education was the key to evangelisation. In addition to village and district schools there was a system of 'Central Schools' for native children who reached the required standard. These were run by European missionaries and assisted by native teachers. After training and testing, these children were set apart for the teaching of religion in their local communities or on other islands. The Mission also had a college at Siota, Solomon Islands, for training ordination candidates. Medical work in Melanesia truly began in 1888 with the addition of a missionary doctor, Dr. H. P. Welchman. The main medical centre of the Mission was the Hospital of the Epiphany at Fauabu, on the Island of Mala, with a series of smaller hospitals in the districts and village dispensaries run by local women. Care was also provided for lepers and, with the help of the Mother's Union in England, centres were established to give classes on health and hygiene to Melanesian women.

Initially the Melanesian Mission was funded with special grants and by private donors. Subsequent sources of funding included an endowment bequeathed by Bishop Patteson; proceeds from Miss Charlotte Yonge's book 'the Daisy Chain'; contributions from England in the form of donations, legacies, subscriptions, special appeal funds and the sale of the mission magazine, the Southern Cross Log; and contributions from New Zealand and Australia.

In 1855, John Coleridge Patteson (1827-1871) joined the Melanesian Mission. He was consecrated as Bishop of the newly formed diocese of Melanesia in 1861. Patteson's efforts were concentrated on the Northern New Hebrides, Banks and Solomon Groups, including Santa Cruz and Swallow Isles. In 1867 he secured the transfer of the training college and headquarters of the mission from New Zealand to St. Barnabas, Norfolk Island. He also reduced to writing several of the Melanesian languages, preparing grammatical studies and translations of parts of the New Testament. In 1869 Patteson began the native ministry with the ordination of George Sarawia. In 1871, Patteson was killed by 'natives at Nukapu', Santa Cruz Group, probably in response to the recent forced removal of islanders by labour traffickers. His death encouraged the regulation of the labour trade in the South Pacific.

On the death of Patteson, Rev. R. H. Codrington declined the bishopric but continued the Mission with the support of the Bishops of New Zealand and Australia. Subsequent Bishops of Melanesia included the son of the founder, John Richardson Selwyn (1877-1892); Cecil Wilson (1894-1911); Cecil J. Wood (1912-1918); John Manwaring Steward (1919-1928); Frederick Molyneux (1928-1932); Walter Hubert Baddeley (1932-1947); S.G. Caulton (1948-1954); and Bishop A. T. Hill (1954-).

By 1899, the staff of the Mission included the Bishop, Archdeacon, 9 white priests, 2 native priests, 9 native deacons, 420 native teachers, 6 white women workers and 12,000 Christians.

In 1910 the first conference of Mission staff was held in the Islands, and the second in 1916. At this time the decision was made to adopt English as the language to be used in Mission Schools in place of Mota, a change which took effect in 1928. On 6 August 1919, for the first time, a special Synod composed of European and native clergy was called to propose a successor to Bishop Wood from its own members. They elected John Manwaring Steward. In October 1921, at St. Luke's Church, Siota, the first Synod of the Missionary Diocese of Melanesia was constituted. Bishop Steward issued his primary charge, which was printed at the Mission Press, Norfolk Island. His charge laid down that the manner of rule in a diocese is that of a Bishop and his priests together; that native clergy should have the same position in Diocesan Councils as the missionary clergy; that the Synod should not meet less than once in 7 years; and he gave definite regulations as to the powers of the synod and its relations with the Bishop.

In 1920, the Mission headquarters moved to Siota, on the Island of Florida in the Solomons. In 1925 Rev. F. M. Molyneux was consecrated as the first Assistant Bishop, and the Native Brotherhood was founded, led by Ini Kopuria. In 1929, two Sisters from the Community of the Cross were brought to Melanesia to work amongst the women and girls of the Islands. In 1926 the Diocese of Melanesia was extended to include the Mandated Territory, which included North New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and the northern islands of the Solomon Group, and preliminary visits were made to discuss the possibility of opening up new work there. From 1929, New Britain in the Mandated Territory was also opened up and developed, assisted by the work of the Native Brotherhood.

The Japanese invasion in early 1942 involved the Mission in New Britain and the Solomon Island areas. The Mission experienced a great deal of damage to stations and buildings; however, the native church survived and assisted with the care of wounded Allied troops. Bishop Baddeley began the work of reconstruction after the War.

In 1963, Rev. Dudley Tuti and Rev. Leonard Alufurai became the first Melanesian priests to be consecrated as Assistant Bishops of Melanesia by the Archbishop of New Zealand. In January 1973, at the diocesan conference held in Honiara, Solomon Islands, it was agreed to set up an autonomous Province of Melanesia (formerly an Associated Missionary Diocese of the Church of the Province of New Zealand) with its own constitution. On 12 January 1975, with the permission of the General Synod of the Church of the Province of New Zealand, the Church of Melanesia was thus inaugurated as an autonomous province.

In 1999, the 150th anniversary of the Church of Melanesia was celebrated in Honiara, Solomon Islands. The Church's Archbishop, Ellison Pogo, vowed that the Church would continue to uphold the founder's vision for the Melanesian Mission. The Church of Melanesia is now widely involved in many development and social projects. It has a fleet of ships, operates a shipyard and a commercial printing press.

Further reading: D Hilliard, God's Gentlemen. A History of the Melanesian Mission, 1849-1942 (University of Queensland Press, 1978); E S Armstrong, History of the Melanesian Mission (London, 1900); S W Artless, The Story of the Melanesian Mission (Church Army Press, Oxford, revised 1965).


The collection has been arranged into 8 main sections: minute books (1872-1973); material relating to pioneer missionaries (19th century); Melanesian Missionary correspondence (modern); logs and correspondence relating to Mission vessels; Church of Melanesia; printed materials; photographs. Correspondence from missionaries has been arranged alphabetically. Other material has been arranged chronologically.

Access Information

Material under 30 years old is closed.


Acquisition Information

Transferred to SOAS in December 1990, and held on permanent loan from the Melanesian Mission.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished handlist.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the Melanesian Mission, 15 Covell Close, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP33 2HU.

Related Material

The School of Oriental and African Studies holds papers of David Lloyd Francis, a missionary in Melanesia (Ref: MS 380563), and papers of the Rt Rev Derek Alec Rawcliffe relating to Melanesia (Ref: PP MS 61).