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Views in Melanesia

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/Y309A

Scope and Contents

An album containing mounted prints, most measuring approximately 205 x 150 mm. Photographs by Bishop Henry Hutchinson Montgomery, Rev. Dr. Henry Welchman and Rev. Arthur Brittain. A handwritten key at the front of the album provides the captions used in the catalogue, which have been recorded as found. A passage from the preface of H.H. Montgomery’s ‘The light of Melanesia’ in which many of these photographs are used as illustrations, contains a note on the photographers:

‘The illustrations are from photographs taken chiefly by Dr. Welchman and the Rev. A.H. Brittain during my tour; a few are my own handiwork. The apparatus belonged to Mr. Beattie, photographer, Hobart, by whose direction we were able to save some ten dozen views from injury until he could develop them.’

The photographs were taken on a tour Montgomery made on behalf of Bishop John Selwyn around the Melanesian mission schools and churches between August and October 1892. The tour, in the mission ship ‘Southern Cross,’ started from Auckland and visited Norfolk Island, the Banks Group of islands, the Solomon Islands, and the New Hebrides.

After an almost accidental start, the mission thrust into the Melanesian islands was characterised by the individual stamp of its two most famous bishops, George Augustus Selwyn and John Coleridge Patteson. Selwyn’s original letters patent unintentionally defined his see as extending to 34 degrees and thirty minutes North instead of 34 degrees and thirty minutes South, and he seized the opportunity to expand the bishopric into Melanesia. In 1847 he began making yearly trips to the islands, picking up young people who were taken to Auckland to be taught and trained in Christian principles, the theory being that they would return to their islands and spread the gospel. Attractively simple in theory, the reality disclosed formidable difficulties: the size and number of the islands, the lack of any common language, and the hostility of the people, all made progress painfully slow. Added to this, the missionaries had to give presents to secure the people’s friendship, and in the early years at least the motives of most of the islanders in leaving their homes was generally mercenary, and the veneer of Christianity shrugged off when they returned home. After Selwyn’s years of frustration, Patteson, who made his first voyage in the islands in 1856, made various changes in the organisation of the Melanesian mission; Mota, in the Banks Group, was made the headquarters in 1859, and its language became the official missionary tongue, while the school was moved from Auckland to Norfolk Island, where fewer of the people fell sick. Even so, progress was often dispiriting (‘I know no more of them than I did years ago,’ Patteson wrote in 1867).

By the time of Montgomery’s tour in 1892 substantial progress had been made, with several factors giving the mission its individual character: through Patteson’s work and personality it gained a reputation as a High Church, faintly aristocratic organisation, while through his death (plate 29) these tendencies were strengthened as the Martyr's writings were invoked as irrefutable argument. Montgomery, with unintentional humour, echoes these attitudes from time to time: ‘Patteson says emphatically that these boys of his on this still savage island were acquiring insensibility the tone of a good English public school’. But perhaps the most important of the mission’s achievements, initiated by Patteson, was an awareness of, and respect for the language and customs of the people (‘We ought to change as little as possible - only what is clearly incompatible with the simplest form of Christian teaching and practice’).


  • Creation: 1892


Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (


60 item(s) (60 images)

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Fair condition.

Existence and Location of Copies

This collection is available on microfiche: Oceania, fiche numbers 1-2.


For a detailed account of this journey and many of the people and places portrayed in these photographs, see: Montgomery, Henry Hutchinson (1896), 'The light of Melanesia: a record of thirty-five years’ mission work in the South Seas,' London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.


This item level description was entered by NE and MJC using information from the original typescript catalogue.



Includes index.
2006-10-23 14:22:16+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

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