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The barque JOHN WILLIAMS entering the Bay of Huahine, Society Islands

Date: 1840s
Overall: 485 x 605 mm
Medium: Watercolour
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Watercolour
Object No: 00045220

User Terms

    This ship portrait depicts the London Missionary Society (LMS) barque JOHN WILLIAMS I. The vessel was named after John Williams, a popular 19th-century missionary involved in bringing Christianity to the South Pacific. In 1839, he was killed while attempting to establish a mission at Erromanga. Williams' death stirred public sympathy in Australia, England and America and stimulated financial support for the LMS, which went on to construct six vessels bearing his name.
    SignificanceThis painting highlights the activity of the London Missionary Society (LMS) and their impact on religion, trade and colonisation in the South Pacific. Along with lithographs, prints, books and journals this painting was used to gain support for the LMS and promoted the hero worship of John Williams.
    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, who failed to evangelize the Tahitians and returned to Lima (Peru) in 1775.

    The 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.

    The origins of the London Missionary Society (LMS) and other missionary societies such as The American Board for the Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) and the Wesleyan Missionary Society lie in the late 18th century revival of Protestant Evangelism and the development of the Congregationalist movement in England and the USA. At a meeting of Independent Church leaders, Anglican and Presbyterian clergy - including Thomas Haweis - and laymen, held in London in November 1794, the aims of the London Missionary Society - to spread the knowledge of Christ 'among heathen and other unenlightened nations' - were established.

    The Missionary Society was formally established in September 1795 and although broadly interdenominational in scope, the Society was very much Congregationalist in both outlook and membership. The Missionary Society was renamed the London Missionary Society in 1818 and their work expanded into North America, South Africa, eastern and southern Europe including Russia, Greece and Malta. There was even an LMS mission to Jews in London. However, during the 19th century, the main fields of mission activity for the LMS were China, South-East Asia, India, the Pacific, Madagascar, Central Africa, Southern Africa, Australia and the Caribbean.

    During the course of their work the LMS, like other missionary societies, established the first printing presses in the Pacific Islands and subsequently translated the King James Bible along with numerous religious tracts, prayer books and hymnals into the various languages and dialects of the Pacific Islands.

    From its inception the Society had close links with Port Jackson, New South Wales. The Society's missionary activities in the Pacific were on a number of occasions blended with speculative trading, hence the close links with Sydney's merchants and traders, including Robert Campbell of Campbell and Clark. All five JOHN WILLIAMS vessels and the LMS's other ships MESSENGER OF PEACE and HAWEIS were involved in trading ventures throughout the Pacific.

    In terms of organisational structure, the LMS was governed by a Board of Directors. The working of the Board was reorganised in 1810 when separate committees were appointed to oversee particular aspects of mission work, including the important foreign committees. The administrative structure of the LMS relied upon the work of salaried officials such as the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, together with the workings of the various committees, including the Examinations Committee, which appointed missionaries to the field. The Directors themselves were unpaid.

    The constitution of the LMS was revised in May 1870, as a direct result of financial pressures and the expansion of overseas mission work; the work of the Investigation Committee (1866) in turn led to a new administrative policy and an emphasis on the development of the self-governing and self-financing indigenous church. In 1966 the LMS merged with the Commonwealth Missionary Society, to form the Congregational Council for World Mission (CCWM), which in turn was restructured to create the Council for World Mission in 1977.

    John Williams (1796-1839) was a key missionary figure of the LMS. He volunteered and was accepted for service in September 1816. Two months later Williams 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.

    Williams preached throughout the Pacific, held prayer meetings in Sydney and Hobart and bought a ship named HAWEIS to trade between the islands and NSW. The 72-ton, wooden schooner / brig HAWEIS was built at Moorea, Society Islands for the London Missionary Society by the missionaries George Bignall and John Williams. 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 William's obtained the sum of 4,000 pounds for the purchase of the Society's first permanent missionary service vessel.

    The CAMDEN was placed under the command of Captain Morgan. 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. They reached Sydney, Port Jackson on 10 September 1838, and during the vessel's stay the missionaries travelled around the colony spreading the word and collecting additional funds for their work.

    It so happened that while the CAMDEN was in Sydney preparations were also being made there by the Wesleyan Missionary Society for sending forth their second band of missionaries to Fiji. The two expeditions left Sydney Harbour in company on Tuesday evening, 23 October, a united valedictory service was held in the Baptist Church, and on Thursday morning the missionaries and the friends of the two Societies went on board the steamer AUSTRALIAN, and together proceeded to the vessels which were anchored in Watson's Bay.

    As they steamed down the harbour, Rev J Saunders commenced the service and hymn 'Jesus, at Thy command', while prayer was offered by the Rev John McKenny. In Watson's Bay the Wesleyan missionaries were first taken on board the AUSTRALIAN; then the CAMDEN was visited, and her contingent put on board. During the embarkation many spirited and some solemn hymns were sung, and amid the cheering from the steamer and a whaling vessel anchored in the bay, the Wesleyan messengers of the Cross, including Rev J Calvert, John Williams and his comrades, sailed through Sydney's headlands.

    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.

    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 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 in 1844. The London Missionary Society owned and operated the ship that was registered in London and rated 12 A1 at Lloyds. After many years of active service JOHN WILLIAMS I was wrecked on a reef off Danger Island, Cook Group on May 16 1864.

    Subsequently the London Missionary Society ordered a second vessel. 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. It left Sydney in August 1866 but had to return to the port after striking a reef near Aneityum that caused damage to its forefoot and false keel. After substantial repairs the vessel departed Sydney in November 1866 with missionaries and supplies for Savage Island (Niue). The ship then drifted ashore at Niue Island, on 8 January 1867 and was completely wrecked. There would eventually be three more missionary vessels named after John Williams.

    In the 19th-century missionary societies were very active and wealthy and the reports of their activities were eagerly followed with missionaries, like Williams, achieving the status and hero worship similar to that of popular film or music stars today. Interest in the missions were catered for by the LMS's careful and strategic use of lithographs, prints, books and journals many of which used the George Baxter colour process and were published by Snow's in Paternoster Row, London.

    The heroic death of Williams on the island of Erromanga while he was attempting to proclaim the gospel, later illustrated by a series of Baxter colour process prints, created great interest and speculation in Australia, England and America and outpouring of sympathy and support for the LMS.

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