Thursday, November 09, 2023

Who is the Devon man who inspired the Patteson’s Way?

A Devon curate who became a missionary and was later murdered in the South Pacific is remembered in a walk through the landscape where he grew up

Opened to honour the life and legacy of local man John Coleridge Patteson, ‘Patteson’s Way’ is an eight mile circular walking route through the beautiful East Devon countryside. Though Patteson started life in this part of Devon, he bravely ventured to the other side of the world where he inspired and transformed lives. His brutal murder caused outrage back home and hastened the end of the slave trade in the Pacific territories.

Patteson, great nephew of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was born in 1827 and grew up at Feniton Court, near Honiton. He attended The King’s School, Ottery St Mary, then Eton College and Oxford University. Returning to his East Devon roots, Patteson was ordained as a curate and served at Alfington church for two years.

In 1855, he received a life-changing invitation from Bishop Selwyn of Auckland (who was visiting Feniton), asking him to work in the South Pacific as a missionary. Although Patteson’s widowed father initially refused to let his son go to what was seen as a dangerous part of the world, he later relented and the invitation was accepted. Alfington parishioners were unhappy with the loss of their popular curate and blamed Bishop Selwyn!

With a thirst for adventure, Patteson set off from Devon in a stagecoach on the first leg of a staggering 9,500 mile trip to Melanesia.

Patteson was not what you might think of as a typical 19th century missionary. He was a gentle man who had a sincere respect for the new cultures and customs he encountered. He learned to speak 23 of the islands’ 1,000 languages, a knowledge which helped him to connect with the indigenous people. A great equaliser, he made no distinction between the Melanesians and the Europeans who were accompanying him.

Missionaries were not always welcomed, at times shot at with deadly poisoned arrows. Added to which, the islands he visited were spread across thousands of miles of ocean and members of his party suffered frequent outbreaks of illness such as malaria.

Undeterred by these hurdles, Patteson gained the trust of local people, preaching to communities and setting up schools. This work led to the spread of Christianity in the South Seas. He was consecrated as the first Bishop of Melanesia and Head of the Melanesian Mission in 1861, an area covering the nations of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

At the age of 44, Patteson’s life came to a tragic end. Landing on the island of Nukapu, he was beaten to death by local people. It is likely that he had been mistaken for a ‘blackbirder’. ‘Blackbirding’ was the kidnapping of young Melanesian men to work as poorly paid labourers, a common practice then. Ironically, Patteson had campaigned tirelessly for the end of blackbirding and slavery. Five young men from that island had recently been kidnapped and recruited for the Queensland or Fiji Plantations - Patteson may well have been the victim of a revenge attack.

This shocking murder caused outrage, expediting legislation to end the trade in human lives, the British government resolving to stamp out slavery in all its Pacific territories. The incident also generated increased interest in missionary work and improving the working conditions of labourers in Melanesia.

Despite Patteson’s untimely and tragic death, the church he created in the South Pacific remains strong to this day. Christians in Melanesia still revere Patteson as a martyr, many regarding his family home and churches in Devon as places of pilgrimage.

Patteson’s Way was officially opened by The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby in September 2021, the 150th anniversary of Patteson’s martyrdom. The route begins and ends at St Andrew’s Church, Feniton, beside the Patteson family grave. It then winds through to Alfington’s St James and St Anne Church, heading on to Ottery St Mary and St Mary’s Church, which has a Melanesian chapel. Looping back to Feniton, the route passes the impressive stone monument, Patteson’s Cross, which was refurbished in 2016.

The legacy of Patteson lives on in both East Devon and the South Pacific. Why not tread the beautiful pilgrimage route yourself and reflect on a remarkable life?

Source HERE

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