Monday, May 22, 2017

Antique Letter from Missionary John G. Paton

Missionary John G. Paton & his Family
I have in my possession two antique letters from Missionary to the New Hebrides, John G. Paton. I
have transcribed them and photographed them below, and here is a little background on them:

Missionary John G. Paton (24 May 1824 - 28 January 1907), led a truly inspiring Christian life. As a young man, in the mid-1800's, he journeyed with his young wife to the New Hebrides Islands (now known as Vanuatu) to share the Gospel with the natives there. He did not know their language, the terrain was dangerous, and the inhabitants were cannibals. On top of all of that, what little contact there had previously been between Europeans and the natives of New Hebrides had been unfriendly. So, upon reaching the islands, Mr. Paton found that he was quite unwelcome. It was not long before his wife and newborn son died of illness. Although suffering in extreme grief, Paton set out to learn the local language, and to teach the locals the love of Christ. He returned home and married a second wife, bringing her back to the mission field with him. Over the years, there were at least 50 attempts on his life - some of which involved stories of miraculous protection by Angels, tornadoes extinguishing fires, or being chased by cannibals through the woods -cannibals who had expressed their intention to have him for dinner!  But, through persevering, he learned the language of the native people, and gradually taught them the Gospel. He also taught them other practical skills that would make their lives better in a temporal sense. By the end of his life, he had made a huge impression on the Islands, bringing many thousands to Christ, and additionally ridding many of tendencies toward cannibalism and animosity toward one another, as well as bringing them education. His life is well worth reading. 

Here is a very short summary

And here is his full length autobiography

Orthodox and Catholic Children grow up reading the lives of Saints, and often develop strong a strong admiration for those Saints - an admiration that is both stronger and more beneficial than that admiration that secular children have for sports or music heroes. Protestant Children, in a similar way, grow up reading the tales of Missionaries.

When my Mother was a child, her parents observed the Lord's Day very solemnly, attending Church School and Worship in the morning, having a family dinner, then resting in the afternoon. In the event that my Mother was unable to nap when her parents did, she was permitted to read a book - as long as it was a Missionary story or some other devout reading. 

As a result of this observation of the Lord's Day when she was a child, my Mother developed a very strong love and admiration for Missionary John G. Paton. She loved reading the exciting stories of his adventures, as well as his inspiring stories of Faith & Faithfulness.

Knowing her fondness for him, one of the members of her congregation had some letters that had been handwritten by him, and passed them on to my Mother. I believe that the Miss Wilson of the letters was a distant relative of both my Mother and Mr. Paton - but I am not certain of that. Mr. Paton was of the same denomination - Scotch Covenanter - as my Mother. These letters are now more than 100 years old. They are on yellowed paper, in an older style of cursive handwriting.

In order to preserve them, I decided to type them up and offer them for anyone who wanted to access their content. In some instances, I was unable to read the script, and in those places I put a closed bracket []. My apologies for any mistakes in transcription - I did my best to read the writing accurately.

Here is the 1896 Letter:

John G. Paton 1896 Letter, Page 1

John G. Paton 1896 Letter, Page 2

Here is the text of the first letter, from 1896:

74 Princess St., Kew, Victoria

Australia 30 July 1896

Dear Miss Wilson,

Thanks for your kind letter of April the 18th which I find awaiting me here on my return from the New Hebrides Islands. Thanks also for writing of poor Roirdan who in the downward grade seems to have reached its lowest steps. He is likely at least to get prison quarters now for a longer period than at Buffalo – I do pity him & hope the Lord will have mercy on him. I would like now to hear the end of it. A letter along with yours comes to me saying the lady who befriended him at Buffalo now suffers great sorrow at having been so deceived by him. I have heard nothing before of him since his abuse of me and my work in his lecture at Pittsburg.

I am so glad to hear that your dear sisters & Miss Wiggins are able to undertake such a trip, which health permitting will no doubt be a great pleasure to them. May they enjoy it & return in health and happiness – Send them all my best wishes when you write. I suppose there is no hope of them returning to Australia. I wish they would. What a joyful welcome we would give them – also Mrs. Paton and Miriam love.

I am glad to hear that Dr. & Mrs. Alli[] and their dear children are all in good health, best wishes to all when you see them. But we are very sorry to hear of dear Dr. Johnston’s sick turn. I hope he is better long ago and able for all his usual work – I have just and an interesting letter from his brother at Geneva College.

You will all be glad to hear that our work goes on triumphantly on the islands – This last year has been the most successful we have ever had. 1120 savages renounced idolatry last year and embraced the Gospel of Jesus & have placed themselves more Christian instruction.

We will this year have 23 white missionaries on the New Hebrides. Five new missionaries placed this year. Four there & one on the way out – we have 271 native teachers now & about 10,000 attending school – 2082 church members & on one island in ten months 200 adults baptized & admitted to the Church & often 200 in a candidates Bible class preparing for baptism on the same island & many more turning to the worship of God.

My son Frank & his young wife had a far more pleasant reception from the Tanna savages the we expected, as many of them did not want a missionary. They are placed on the west side of Tanna in a new station among 4000 cannibals who are all without clothing & of whose language as yet we know nothing. Every man was armed with his rifle. A hard field to begin with, but they built on no other man’s foundation & the precious promise of “Lo I am with you always” is their sure guarantee for safety & success – We have had a letter from Frank today he is going on with the building of his house & so far all are kindly with them, but keep away on the Sabbath, from some superstitious fear we think, when he can speak to them in their own language this will pass away we trust – And then of the young missionaries[] a vacant station on the east side of Tanna, but till the natives become Christians they will not I fear be able to visit each other except once a year at the mission synod. They are by sea so far away from each other & the island savages make it too dangerous to attempt crossing the island till they are changed to enlightened of the gospel – One of the others [] Santo & the fourth Dr. Sandiland either Malikula or Santo as most open – Dr. Agnes who is on his way out is not yet appointed to any station or island.

Mrs. Paton has not been so well of late but seems to be getting better. She & Miriam write in Kindest regards & loving remembrances of you all – With best wishes & the Dr also, I remain, with thanks yours faithfully

John G. Paton

We have very cool fresh weather here just now. 

Here is the 1905 Letter:

John G. Paton 1905 Letter, Page 1

John G. Paton 1905 Letter, Page 2
John G. Paton 1905 Letter, Page 3
John G. Paton 1905 Letter, Page 4

And here is the text of the second letter, dated 1905

74 Princess St. Kew, Victoria,

Australia, 10 April 1905

Dear Miss Wilson,

We are so pleased to get your kind letter, but very sorry to hear of the suffering & death of your dear sister & also of Dr. Johnston’s, a sore trial to you all & specially to dear Miss S. Wiggins. I hope she & you two have been sustained by much of Christ’s presence & the assured consciousness that they have been called to be forever with the Lord in the glory & joys of Heaven, where we hope all to meet again at our Saviours call – I have not heard from dear Dr. & Mrs. Allis for a long time, & had not heard of the death of dear Mrs. Wiggins till to day your letter informs me of it & of the Doctors. I am glad my last note reached you before her death & I praise the Lord that you two dear aunts are with dear Miss Susie. What a help & comfort you must be to her & to her Mother to leave her in the care of Jesus & you two. May each of you enjoy his richest blessings with all the consolations of the gospel for time & for eternity till we meet again in Heaven.

I praise the Lord to hear that Miss Wiggins is able to study medicine & enjoys it. I hope & pray that God will give her health & strength & perseverance with success under his blessing to go through her course with joy & give her all needed skill & [] to make her a help & blessing to very many while he spares her.

I am also glad to hear that your dear Brother in Allegheny & his family are all well & that his eldest daughter is an M.A. & that her sister is also taking great pleasure in her education & hopes all the family will be led to follow her example and become highly educated & be more & more an honour & joy to their parents & to you all in Christ’s service.

Dear Dr. & Mrs. Sommerville wrote to me about Dr. [] George’s death in China & I am glad to hear that Drs. Kate & Jean Mc Burney are there now also in the good work. I also remember Mr. Coleman who is now preparing for mission work – the Lord bless him & them all & give them many souls for their hire.

The Dr. regularly sends me “olive leaves” which tells me much about your church’s missions work.

I am sorry to inform you that just now my dear wife is very unwell, in the care of a Dr. & a trainee nurse confined to bed with weakness, sleeplessness & inability to take & retain food, but the Dr. & Nurse say they think she is a little better today, we hope & pray that she may soon recover health again. I am about my usual. As also are all our children at present. We have now 7 grandsons, all healthy active little fellows – I am now nearly 87 years of age & yet by God’s blessing for at least two months I was able to address a meeting almost daily & thru almost every Sabbath, they gave [] for the mission of over £165, & so keep the work going.

Our mission work prospers but the French oppression & the cruelty of the natives threatened annexation of our Islands give us much concern just now, we leave all to Jesus & press on with [] in our Master’s work – With every loving good wish from us to you thru Yours J.G.Paton

P.S. If you see Dr. & Mrs Allis you tell them how we are & give them & also your brother & all his our best wishes, Yours in Jesus

John G. Paton

 And, finally, the envelope:

Front of Envelope from John G. Paton

Back of Envelope from John G. Paton

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  1. Hi, I am visiting from Literary Musing Monday. What a treasure! I've read Paton's biography and his wife's Letters From the South Seas - some of my favorite missionaries.

    1. So delighted to have you visit! Glad you enjoyed them : )
      The Paton story is truly inspiring & wonderful!

      Thanks so much for your kind words.

  2. Wow! So neat! Thanks for sharing with us at Love to Learn.

  3. What a treasure you have found! I've shared John's story with children numerous times and also read his bio. John Piper shares his story at Desiring God's Website as well.

  4. What a treasure. I'm not sure if I've read about this particular missionary before, but I just can't imagine living among cannibals and not even knowing their language. What amazing work God did through this missionary and his family. Thanks for sharing at the #LMMLinkup!

  5. what a wonderful treasure one to be cherished. Good for you
    come see us at


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