Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Pacific Missionary George Brown 1835-1917

Pacific Missionary George Brown 1835-1917: Wesleyan Methodist Church

Margaret Reeson
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ANU Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Pacific Missionary George Brown 1835-1917
    Book Description:

    George Brown (1835-1917) was many things during his long life; leader in the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Australasia, explorer, linguist, political activist, apologist for the missionary enterprise, amateur anthropologist, writer, constant traveller, collector of artefacts, photographer and stirrer. He saw himself, at heart, as a missionary. The islands of the Pacific Ocean were the scene of his endeavours, with extended periods lived in Samoa and the New Britain region of today’s Papua New Guinea, followed by repeated visits to Tonga, Fiji, the Milne Bay region of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. It could be argued that while he was a missionary in the Pacific region he was not a pacific missionary. Brown gained unwanted notoriety for involvement in a violent confrontation at one point in his career, and live+Y3d through conflict in many contexts but he also frequently worked as a peace maker. Policies he helped shape on issues such as church union, indigenous leadership, representation by lay people and a wider role for women continue to influence Uniting Church in Australia and churches in the Pacific region. His name is still remembered with honour in several parts of the Pacific. Brown’s marriage to Sarah Lydia Wallis, daughter of pioneer missionaries to New Zealand, was long and rich. Each strengthened the other and they stand side by side in this account.

    eISBN: 978-1-921862-98-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Maps
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-x)
  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  7. Prologue
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    The sun has set. The colours of the ocean have dimmed from blue and jade glitter to a silky gleam by faint moonlight. Two stand at the ship’s rail. Below them a whale boat nudges the side of the vessel, loaded high with boxes and crates, everything they own. He has said all along that they don’t need it all. She has clung to her things, her last link with home.

    Nothing is familiar. The voices of the men in the whaleboat below speak a language they do not understand. They do not recognise the perfume that drifts from the...

  8. 1. ‘The farthest place from England’ North Island, New Zealand 1860
    (pp. 1-22)

    The young Englishman arrived unheralded. He had an urgent question. In the wintry dawn the family watched him gliding across the beaten copper waters of the wide Whaingaroa Harbour in a Māori canoe. He walked up the slope to the mission house, unkempt, shaking river sand from his clothes and speckled with insect bites. The watching family was not offended, even if a little startled. Any traveller from Auckland, they knew, would have been on the track for most of a week, sleeping in the open, paddling in canoes on harbour and rivers, and tramping through rain-soaked bush and fern....

  9. 2. ‘Alone yet not alone’ Samoa 1860–1864
    (pp. 23-38)

    The twelve Samoan oarsmen were singing and the small light across the water began to draw closer. The ship John Wesley was gone. The overloaded whaleboat strained towards the shore with George and Lydia Brown, cramped, uncomfortable and excited, staring across the dark waters to the island of Manono. It was 30 October 1860. The sun had set hours earlier and now they were nearly home.

    Their new colleagues Martin and Sarah Anne Dyson were delighted to welcome them. For many months they had waited in vain for a promised co-worker. The four of them talked late into the night...

  10. 3. ‘With aching hearts…’ Samoa 1865–1868
    (pp. 39-50)

    Hurricane winds and storms of controversy shook the early months of 1865. Writing in his journal after the annual Watch Night service, George Brown reflected that he was ‘more determined to live nearer to God than I have yet done. I felt very conscious of many shortcomings during the past year … I want to advance in piety and holiness of life and also in wisdom.’¹ It may have been just a pious note, but he was going to need holiness and wisdom.

    Although Martin Dyson had applied for a transfer away from Samoa, he was still there and having...

  11. 4. ‘A great waste of men and money’ Samoa 1868–1874
    (pp. 51-66)

    The workmen came to George Brown, spades in hand. They had struck rock, they said, and were giving up their attempt to dig a well for fresh water. It was one more frustration to add to months of trouble. The community was ripped to shreds over tribal warfare, the fine mission property at Satupa’itea had been abandoned, and there was continuing tension between missionary societies. He had been separated from his family for months while he built a new house for them at another location, Saleaula in the north-east of the island of Savai’i. They were often ill. To add...

  12. 5. ‘We are all in God’s hands…’ Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji 1874–1875
    (pp. 67-80)

    The brand new journal was a sign. George Brown’s old journal had declined into blank pages. For months he had thought that there was nothing worth recording. Now he was ready for a fresh start. The opening entries were bald and brief: ‘27 June 1874 Saturday Wesley arrived at Saleaula late in the evening.’ ‘1 July Wed Left Samoa about 10 am.’ Nothing more. At the time he was too busy, too emotionally exhausted and too focused on the future to record the tears, gifts and speeches of appreciation and farewell from their Samoan and missionary friends. The mission ship,...

  13. 6. ‘I see no reason to die of fear’ New Britain, New Ireland, Duke of York Islands June 1875–August 1876
    (pp. 81-94)

    There was now time to think. Brown had agreed that he would escort a party of island teachers to the New Mission, settle them there, and leave with the ship. This had seemed perfectly reasonable from the perspective of Sydney. Now he was beginning to have his doubts. As the mission ship John Wesley began to trace the familiar arc from Fiji to Samoa, there was one delay after another. In Samoa to recruit more helpers, Brown revisited places and people he had thought only a year earlier that he had left forever. Sitting in his old study at Saleaula,...

  14. 7. ‘If God had called me to that work Lydia dared not hinder’ Sydney, Auckland, Fiji, Samoa, New Britain, Duke of York Islands 1876—1878
    (pp. 95-106)

    For forty days at sea George Brown allowed himself a rare time of rest. Landing in Sydney on 10 October 1876, he knew once more the sense of disconnection and alienation as he entered the remembered environment of tall stone buildings, horse-drawn carriages, a railway and fashionably dressed crowds. The Mission Board welcomed Brown, and the visiting Tongan minister, the Reverend Eroni Fotofili. They assured him that they had not forgotten the New Mission, although there had been other demands on their attention. Secretary Benjamin Chapman recorded their ‘high appreciation of the services of Mr Brown and prays that he...

  15. 8. ‘A great sinking of heart’ New Britain, Duke of York Islands 1878
    (pp. 107-116)

    There would be no holiday. The evening before they planned to set out, Brown was spending time at home skinning birds to be preserved for museums. He heard a tap on the window. From the darkness a voice said, ‘I have just heard that the New Britain natives have murdered Sailasa and some teachers.’¹ As Brown later noted in his journal,

    We have heard hundreds of tales like these before and have paid but little attention to them; but this time I felt a great sinking of heart as soon as I heard it, and felt assured that there was...

  16. 9. ‘I shall not be surprised to hear that many condemn’ Sydney, New Britain, Duke of York Islands 1878
    (pp. 117-128)

    There was another problem now. George Brown was going to have to explain himself and his actions, and attempt to justify himself to his Mission authorities and the public in the colonies. Soon after he arrived home he began to record what had happened in his journal. ‘I felt deeply the great responsibility I was assuming and I think it right now to state the position in which I was placed and the reasons which induced me to decide as I did.’¹ He marshalled his reasons. The teachers were planning to go anyway on the grounds that life was no...

  17. 10. ‘A fearful mistake’ New Britain, Sydney, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji 1879
    (pp. 129-148)

    There was no time to waste. Obstacles seemed to be evaporating at last. George Brown was relieved to find that the new missionary Benjamin Danks was practical, energetic, sensible and good company. After so many months of isolation, ships were arriving at Port Hunter in the weeks before Christmas, including German businessman Hernsheim’s Pacific and the mission ship John Wesley. Contrary to the directions of the Mission Board, Brown was determined to locate the house for the new missionaries some forty miles away beyond the water, on New Britain. Although the two men made a token exploration of other possible...

  18. 11. ‘I wish I was twenty years younger’ New Britain, New Ireland 1880
    (pp. 149-164)

    ‘We hope for better times now,’ George Brown wrote, in a long letter to his friend Benjamin Chapman. It had been harrowingly difficult to go back to the empty house at Kinawanua. Lydia, worn out from the many months of anxiety, grief and heavy nursing work, was now unwell herself. Benjamin Danks assured Brown that ‘but for her Mrs Danks must certainly have died as he was utterly unable to help at times. They both say that they often thought that the intense sorrow when Wallis died would seriously affect her health. She seemed beyond comfort.’¹

    With a rare opportunity...

  19. 12. ‘A vagabond streak’ Australasia, United Kingdom, North America 1881–1886
    (pp. 165-178)

    It was the time in between, the hinge on which past and future turned. Much later, when the time came for George Brown to record his own story, the period of six years spent in Sydney, from when they disembarked from the mission ship on 2 February 1881 until early 1887, barely counted in his memories. Years of living were condensed to a few pages. The period spent establishing the New Mission was the time to which he had looked forward through the preceding years in Samoa and the time to which he would always look back in the years...

  20. 13. ‘One of the toughest morsels’ New South Wales, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji 1887–1890
    (pp. 179-192)

    ‘I am counting the days,’ George Brown wrote, as he travelled home to his family early in 1887. By March he was home again at last with his ‘dear old woman’ and his six children. Now Lydia could hand back to George her anxieties over his financial affairs, and there was news of Lizzie teaching at Brisbane Girls Grammar, Amy’s engagement, Monica’s art, Claudia’s romances, Fred and Geoffrey’s studies. His new role meant still another house move. Lydia seemed to be packing up all their belongings almost every year. This time they moved to a handsome house in the new...

  21. 14. ‘The other end of the telescope’ Australasia, British New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa 1890
    (pp. 193-208)

    The map spread before him. The islands of the western Pacific Ocean were studded against blue; the familiar names of Fiji, Rotuma, Samoa and Tonga, the less known New Caledonia and New Hebrides, his old home in the cluster with New Britain and New Ireland and the long chain of the Solomon Islands where he had imagined another New Mission. Lying just south of the equator was the great dragon shape of New Guinea trailing a wide scattering of smaller islands behind its long tail to the east. George Brown had rarely imagined New Guinea as a site for a...

  22. 15. ‘A doubtful experiment’ New South Wales, Victoria, British New Guinea, New Britain 1891
    (pp. 209-222)

    Sitting at his own dinner table on New Year’s Eve 1890, George Brown was a beloved visitor. He had missed Christmas at home yet again, this time at sea between Auckland and Sydney. Over the previous ten months he had spent a total of sixteen days in Sydney. That summer evening, the Brown family attended the traditional Wesleyan New Year’s Eve Watchnight and Covenant Service at their local church at Randwick. This new year of 1891 was still a mystery for George Brown. All he knew was that his life must now take a new direction. The period of focus...

  23. 16. ‘Rev. Dr. Georgium Brown’ New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Samoa, Tonga 1892–1895
    (pp. 223-234)

    Names…. He had been plain George, ‘Geo’ to close friends, ‘Palauni’ to the Samoans, the Reverend George Brown. Now his name appeared in Latin on a splendid certificate—Georgium Brown, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society,’ and the citation ‘Propter magnum scientiam Literarum Sacrarum in comitus publicis....’¹ He had been awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Divinity by the Wesleyan Theological College, McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on 6 April 1892. As a youth he had spent two years in Canada and had been involved in a shooting accident there with a romantic rival; if the shot had not gone wide...

  24. 17. ‘Sanctified audacity’ New South Wales, British New Guinea, New Britain, Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands 1896–1900
    (pp. 235-252)

    The region where once George Brown had met curious and hostile villagers was changing. The curves of coastline on the maps were familiar but the place names had become German. New Britain was now Neu Pommern. Duke of York was Neu Lauenburg. German colonial authorities were in charge. Priests and nuns from Europe, with the Sacred Heart Mission, had been in the area since 1882. In Australia, the Methodists realised that to maintain their place in that region it would be strategic to recruit a German agent. It was decided in 1896 to appoint a ‘German Methodist Minister of good...

  25. 18. ‘Something of the vagabond’ New South Wales, Queensland, Samoa, Fiji, Norfolk Island, Solomon Islands 1900–1902
    (pp. 253-270)

    ‘To do all my work properly,’ wrote one of his mission staff, ‘I ought to be able to divide myself into two men.’¹ George Brown understood what he meant. The people under his care were taking on impossible workloads; travelling, counselling, mediating, preaching, teaching, learning languages, translating Scripture, wrestling with small craft at sea and house building on land, establishing plantations to support their work or planting gardens for the survival of their families. Many of them worked in lonely isolation or were embroiled in local tensions. Some of the most able men and women, exhausted by malaria and other...

  26. 19. ‘The Venerable General Secretary’ New South Wales, Fiji, Victoria, South Australia, Solomon Islands, New Britain, Papua 1903–1906
    (pp. 271-290)

    ‘It is to be deplored,’ a writer announced in 1902, ‘that so little aggressive work is done by the Foreign Mission enterprise … it gives a little relief to know that the Society’s operations are to embrace the Solomon Islands.’¹ George Brown was furious – and hurt. Had decades of effort gone unnoticed? He wrote a long defensive reply setting out the work of the Society over the years across the Pacific. When the Mission Board asked Brown to prepare a short pamphlet explaining the range of Methodist missionary work for distribution, he did it with some satisfaction.²

    Whether or not...

  27. 20. ‘Grand old man of Methodist Missions’ Australia, South Africa, United Kingdom, Solomon Islands 1907–1912
    (pp. 291-304)

    Applause broke out as the entire Conference stood to honour the Reverend Dr. George Brown. Memories of George Brown as a thorn in the side of Conference, or as an embarrassment to the worthies of Methodism seemed to have faded with his announcement of retirement. After a missionary career spanning forty-seven years and many fields, the words of appreciation flowed. He was, they said, their ‘grand old man of Methodist Missions … full of missionary enthusiasm and possessed of a unique knowledge of the Polynesian races … a trusted leader in all our missionary forward movements, and a brother beloved...

  28. 21. ‘A creed wide enough’ New South Wales, Brisbane, United Kingdom 1913–1914
    (pp. 305-316)

    When Lydia Brown farewelled her husband on his way to General Conference in Brisbane in early winter 1913 she may have hoped that he would return with fewer responsibilities and more time to spend at home. She knew that George loved to be with the grandchildren, in deep conversation with Amy’s boys who were now young men, or surrounded by the little ones as he told them stories by the family fireside. His study and museum gave him so much pleasure as he showed a succession of interested guests through its treasures. But Lydia was a realist. His enthusiasm for...

  29. 22. ‘Beloved chief and father’ New South Wales, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Queensland 1914–1917
    (pp. 317-332)

    Within days of the news that the Australian Federal Government would mobilise in support of Britain, Lydia wrote to her German friend Johanna Fellmann. Johanna and Heinrich Fellmann were now living in Sydney while Heinrich worked on translation and their older children were living with family members in Germany. Lydia wrote, ‘My dear Mrs Fellmann, I cannot tell you how much we all feel for you and Mr Fellmann in the present very trying time and what anxiety you must be feeling for your dear children and friends far away in Germany.’ She continued,

    I have been feeling so miserable...

  30. Epilogue
    (pp. 333-338)

    George Brown had hoped to live long enough to see the opening of Wesley College at the University of Sydney and the end of the War. He saw neither. The business of his beloved Methodist Church went on without him. Another man was installed as next President General at General Conference but Brown was not there.¹ The war in Europe staggered on, through ever deeper carnage, for another seventeen months. Memorial services for Brown were held in Sydney, Barnard Castle and in the islands of the Pacific as people honoured their old friend. Glowing obituaries appeared in journals, listing his...

  31. Bibliography
    (pp. 339-352)