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Failure Promoted

Paton’s autobiography relied on celebrity status attached to South Pacific missions following “martyrdom” of the first Christian missionaries there. His “demonstration” of how impossible it was to convert cannibals became a bestseller that reached readers, not only in Britain and the United States, but also in island communities as small and so, to all appearances, as irrelevant to greatness as islands in the South Pacific. In Britain’s West Indian colonies, the significance of model schools was always distinct.

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Simultaneous effort to convert nearby islanders proved futile

Islanders on Aneityum were reading, writing, counting, sewing and learning skills effectively ignored for thirty years from “heroic,” but unsuccessful effort to convert “hostile” islanders elsewhere.

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Missionaries arrive. They teach islanders reading and other skills.

By the time they returned home seventeen years later, the mission modelled success that was rare, if not unparalleled in Christianity. They had proven that, given the very small size of the New Hebrides, despite their remote location, islanders long viewed as incurable savages might be educated to live as missionaries themselves did in their own homeland.

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Missionaries “clubbed and eaten” on arrival in the New Hebrides

The report of missionaries cooked and feasted on by savages created a cause célèbre, producing “tears and prayers… from all Christian souls, wherever the story of the martyrdom… was read or heard” and winning widespread public sympathy.

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James (Captain) Cook arriving in the New Hebrides

He is shown taking quick action against a chief he considered treacherous. Cook’s judgement appears to be confirmed by an incident over half a century later, within minutes of the arrival of the first Christian missionaries.

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Yet another “martyrdom” triggered debate in the British Parliament

Debate in the British Parliament reveals atrocities being committed against South Pacific islanders.

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