On this day in 1858, John and Mary Paton arrived at the island of Tanna, a southern island in Vanuatu, a group of eighty islands about fifteen hundred miles northeast of Australia, then known as the New Hebrides.
In his journal, John Paton recorded the experience:
We were all safely landed on Tanna. Dr. Geddy went for a fortnight to Umairarekar, now known as Kwamera, on the
south side of Tanna, to assist in the settlement of Mr. And Mrs. Mathieson, and to help in making their houses habitable and comfortable. Mr. Copeland, Mrs. Paton, and I were left at Port Resolution to finish the building of our house there, and work our way into the goodwill of the Natives as best we could. On landing, we found the people to be literally naked and painted Savages; they were at least as destitute of clothing as Adam and
Eve after the fall, when they sewed fig-leaves for a girdle; and even more so, for the women wore only a tiny apron of grass, in some cases shaped like a skirt or girdle, the men an indescribable affair like a pouch or bag, and the children absolutely nothing whateverAt first they came in crowds to look at us, and at everything we did or had. We knew nothing of their language; we could not speak a single word to them, nor they to us. We looked at them, they at us; we smiled, and n
odded, and made signs to each other; this was our fist meeting and parting.
Other missionaries had established a solid work on Anatom, a small island to the south, and several converts from there agreed to accompany the Patons north to the island of Tanna, where they built a small house on the low-lying land adjacent to Port Resolution, not realizing that it was an area infested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
The Tannese people worshiped and feared many idols and had no concept of a loving God. Witches and wizards in each village cast spells they claimed controlled life and death. They stirred up warfare between the people, hoping it would drive out the missionaries. At first, the Patons felt overwhelmed by these warring cannibals. Then they realized that the Christians from Anatom had been just as savage only a few years earlier. However, warfare between tribes increased, with some of the worst fighting happening right outside the Patons’ house.