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The Rev J William's first interview with the natives of Erromanga

Date: 1840
Overall: 510 x 405 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Print
Object No: 00045218
Place Manufactured:London

User Terms

    This coloured print depicts Rev John Williams holding his first interview with the indigenous population of Erromanga (Tanna) in Vanuatu. Williams believed his duty was to spread Christianity to the Pacific islands, save souls and create a safe passageway for travellers. He was killed at Erromanga in 1839 as he attempted to establish a mission. This print was produced for the London Missionary Society (LMS) to generate funds for the construction of a missionary ship in Williams' honour.
    SignificanceThis print is representative of missionary activity in the South Pacific during the 19th century. It highlights the hero status of John Williams and the London Missionary Society’s campaign to generate support and funds using lithographs, prints, books and journals.
    HistoryEuropean missionary activity in the South Seas was influenced by the Pacific voyages of European explorers such as James Cook, and the published accounts of sailors, scientists and gentlemen explorers such as Joseph Banks. The first attempts were made by Franciscan friars at Tahiti in 1774 but after they failed to evangelize the Tahitians they returned to Lima (Peru) in 1775.

    Pacific Islanders saw no other missionaries for the next 22 years until the arrival of missionaries from the London Missionary Society (LMS) on board the vessel DUFF in March 1797. Although the first contacts - aided by King Pomare I - were hopeful, the Tahitians quickly disregarded these new arrivals, whose behaviour was so different from that of the European sailors and traders they had met before, and the LMS struggled to gain converts.

    John Williams was a key figure of the LMS he volunteered and was accepted for service in September 1816. Two months later he sailed for the South Pacific to take up a position in Tahiti, with fellow missionaries William David Bourne (1794-1871), David Darling (1790-1867) and George Platt (1789-1865). They arrived at Hobart Town in March 1817 and held the first Evangelical service in Van Diemen's Land, with Williams defying any opposition by preaching in the open air. The missionaries then visited Sydney before sailing for the Pacific in September 1817.

    Williams preached throughout the Pacific, held prayer meetings in Sydney and Hobart, and bought a ship the HAWEIS (also known as HAWIIS) to trade between the islands and NSW. The vessel was launched in December 1817 by King Pomare of Tahiti and named after Dr Thomas Haweis, whose interests led to the founding of the London Missionary Society.

    The work of the Missionary Society and Williams impressed many people, including Governor Brisbane who gave stock and other supplies to the LMS and appointed John Williams as British Magistrate in the Pacific Islands. Williams was also active in the development of the LMS on his return to England in June 1834. He was determined to publish his accounts of missionary activity in the Pacific, raise funds for further works and acquire a more suitable missionary vessel. In 1835 he superintended the printing of the Rarotongan New Testament and in early 1837 he published his 'Narrative of the Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands'. On 11 April, 1838 he left England in his new missionary ship the CAMDEN. His advocacy campaign was so successful that Williams obtained the sum of 4,000 pounds for the purchase of the Missionary Society's first permanent missionary service vessel.

    The CAMDEN called at Cape Town, and there the missionary band was increased to 20 with the addition of Ebenezer Buchanan, a volunteer for service in Polynesia. Sydney was reached on 10 September 1838, and during the vessel's stay in Port Jackson the missionaries travelled around the colony spreading the word and collecting additional funds for their work. In 1837/38, Williams gave evidence before the committee of the House of Commons on Aborigines, being influential in the establishment of the NSW Aborigines Protection Society and the Auxiliary Missionary Society in Sydney.

    Williams returned to Sydney in early 1838 on the CAMDEN and drew large crowds at public meetings before he sailed off to the Pacific Islands. On 20 November 1839 he was killed while trying to establish a missionary presence on the island of Erromanga (Tanna) in the New Hebrides, now southern Vanuatu.

    Following the death of Williams the CAMDEN returned to Sydney and a request was made to the Governor asking that a ship of war might be dispatched to recover the bodies if possible and to convey the news to Samoa. This was done. On 1 February, 1840 HMS FAVOURITE, Captain Croker, with Mr Cunningham on board, left the anchorage at Sydney for the New Hebrides. At Tanna, a friendly chief was taken on board to act as interpreter. The remains of Williams and some of the other missionaries were taken to Samoa, and buried at Apia close to the local church. At the service addresses were delivered by the Rev C Hardie in English, and by the Rev T Heath in Samoan. Captain Croker requested that the marines might be allowed to fire a volley over the grave of the Christian hero, and he too wrote an epitaph: 'Sacred to the memory of the Rev John Williams, father of the Samoan and other Missions, aged forty-three years and five months, who was killed by the cruel natives of Erromanga on November 20th, 1839, while endeavouring to plant the Gospel of Peace on its shore'.

    The CAMDEN returned to Britain and the London Missionary Society commenced raising funds to buy a new missionary vessel in John Williams's honour. This vessel was named the JOHN WILLIAMS I and was a wooden, three-masted barque of 296 tons 101.0' (L) x 24.8' (B) x 16.0' (DIH). Felted and sheathed in yellow metal the ship was built at Harwich, England on 1844. After many years of active service JOHN WILLIAMS I was wrecked on a reef off Danger Island, Cook Group on 16 May 1864.

    After the wreck of the first JOHN WILLIAMS the London Missionary Society ordered a second vessel. The JOHN WILLIAMS II was a wooden, three-masted, barque, 132.0' (L) x 25.0' (B) x 15.6' (DIH) built by Halls of Aberdeen, Scotland in 1865, rated 13 A1 at Lloyds and owned and operated by the London Missionary Society. The ship drifted ashore at Niue Island, 8 January 1867.

    The work and activities of the Missionary Society were keenly followed and famous missionaries achieved the status of hero worship. A number of coloured prints were produced to demonstrate their exploits. Printing in colour had been experimented with since 1557 and a number of names can be cited as playing a key role in its development. These include Hugo da Carpi, John Baptist Jackson, William Savage, Edward Kirkhall, Arthur Pond, George Knapton, Albert Durer and James Christopher Le Blon. Despite experiments in colour by these various printers, most prints were still either monochrome or hand coloured by the late 1820s. The tradition was very labour intensive and expensive.

    The coloured prints of men like Baxter were a novelty during a period without photography. Baxter began his affiliation with the London Missionary Society in 1837 and between the periods of 1838-39 and 1846-47 he produced a number of missionary-themed prints. These two brief periods are considered to be Baxter's finest and most serious work as an artist and colour printer.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: The Rev. J William's first interview with the natives of Erromange

    Web title: The Rev J William's first interview with the natives of Erromanga

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