Captain James Cook made three Pacific voyages, which, with those of Byron and Wallis, covered a continuous period of British exploration in the south Pacific from 1764 to 1780.
Cook’s first expedition (1768-1771) was under the auspices of the British Admiralty and the Royal Society, primarily to observe the transit of Venus from the newly found island of Tahiti. Cook was given command of the bark Endeavour.
Cook’s second voyage (1772-1775) was for the purpose of searching for the south continent. He had two ships, the Resolution, and the Adventure. The ships the Antarctic between the meridians of the Cape of Good Hope and New Zealand. On this trip, Omai, a Tahitian, was taken on board the Adventure and sailed with Cook back to Britain.
Cook’s third voyage (1776-1780) was for the purposes of returning Omai to his home in the Society Islands and seeking a northern passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic. The Resolution was refitted for her second voyage and the Discovery, under Captain Clerke, was added to the expedition. At the end of Cook’s last voyage, nearly all the important islands in Polynesia had been found.
The Pacific made a particular impression on the British imagination. The revelation of the Polynesian culture, entirely cut off from any exterior force of civilization, touched a chord with Cook’s compatriots.
Britain’s new fascination with the Polynesians was fueled by the arrival in London of a Polynesian – Omai. Joseph Banks, botanist on Cook’s ship the Endeavour, dressed Omai in tailor-made suits, the portraitist Joshua Reynolds painted him.
King George III himself eventually requested a meeting. Omai cheerfully shook hands when the meeting took place, saying `How do, King Tosh,’ to the King’s reported delight. (Hiney; NY Times)
Cook’s Pacific finds later led to questions for the Evangelicals. Why did British Christianity, with the means at hand, lack a missionary history? When had there last been a serious missionary movement among Christians anywhere?
The empire was in place to trade. In 1793 an India Bill went before parliament which renewed the royal license of the East India Company. There was a call for an amendment allowing Christian missions and native schools to be opened in India, but the bid was resisted.
It was in this climate that the London Missionary Society was formed. A meeting was called; on the first day, 200 Evangelicals gathered at the Castle and Falcon, paid the guinea membership, and proceeded to elect from among themselves thirty-four regional directors to meet once a year, and a London-based board of twelve to meet monthly. (Hiney; NY Times)
On August 9, 1796, a service was held for the inaugural mission at Surrey Chapel. Just four of the chosen thirty were ordained ministers. All four were in their late twenties: it was vital that they should be young and healthy.
The other, non-ordained missionaries had been chosen for their skills as much as their conviction; among them were six carpenters, two bricklayers, two tailors, two shoemakers, a gardener, a surgeon and a harness maker.
They sailed at six the next morning, on August 10, 1796. Nearly seven months later they anchored off the island of Tahiti, after a voyage via Gibraltar and Cape Horn. Seventeen missionaries were to disembark here, including all those who were married.
The first known Christian missionaries in Polynesia came from the London Missionary Society, an ecumenical Protestant organization; they landed in Tahiti, the Marquesas, then Tongatapu in Tonga. (PCC)
The missionaries soon saw an unforeseen problem. Since Cook’s voyages, other ships of exploration and whaling (Russian, French, British and American) had paid visits to the islands. Rum and firearms were now a part of life, as were disagreements and occasional violence between crews and islanders. Over the years, more London missionaries were sent.
One London Missionary Society member was William Ellis. Born in England, William and Mary Mercy Ellis went to Tahiti in 1817 as part of a new group of highly educated workers. They brought with them the first press and set it up in Moorea. They soon moved to Huahine, where William Ellis helped draft the code of laws. (Boston University)
Then the mission sent them to Hawai‘i. “The time for her departure at length came, and on the 31st of December, 1822, accompanied by her four children, she embarked, with her husband, on board the Active, for the Sandwich Islands.”
“The voyage to the Sandwich Islands, about three thousand miles distant, was safe, and not unpleasant, and by the tender mercy of their heavenly Father, they reached Oahu on the 5th of February, 1823.”
“Here Mrs. Ellis received on landing, a cordial welcome from many of the chief women of the settlement, and from the esteemed American Missionaries, of whose plain but hospitable and comfortable dwelling, she became for several weeks an inmate, and received every attention and kindness as a beloved sister in the Lord.”
“All the affection professed in the invitations they had so kindly forwarded, was practically manifested; and every hope of tenderness and sympathy which they excited, was fully realized. Mrs. Ellis found that the prospects of greater usefulness …”
“In Huahine the influence of the Missionaries could bear on a comparatively small number, but here the town of Honolulu contained not fewer than 8,000, while the population of the island amounted to 20,000, and the influence of the Missionaries was brought to bear indirectly upon 150,000 or 180,000 persons.” (Mary Mercy Ellis Memoirs)
Ellis and the others who joined him from the London Missionary Society (including Tahitians who came with them) worked well with the American Protestant missionaries who arrived in Hawaii in 1820.
In 1823, Ellis and three of the American missionaries, Asa Thurston, Artemas Bishop and Joseph Goodrich, toured the Island of Hawaii to learn more of the country and people, with a view to establishing mission stations there. They were the first white men to accomplish this, being also the first white men to visit the volcano of Kilauea. (Thurston)
Ellis remained in the Islands for eighteen months, but returned to England, due to illness of Mary (she died in 1835.) Ellis later remarried and continued mission work in the Madagascar. Ellis died in 1872.)
British mission activity started in the South Seas, with the first overseas mission to Tahiti in 1796. British missionary work expanded into North America and South Africa. Early mission activities also centered in areas of eastern and southern Europe including Russia, Greece and Malta.
During the 19th century, the main fields of mission activity for the London Missionary Society were China, South East Asia, India, the Pacific, Madagascar, Central Africa, Southern Africa, Australia and the Caribbean (including British Guiana, now Guyana.) (Guide to Council for World Mission) (Lots of information here is from Hiney; NY Times and Mary Mercy Ellis Memoirs.)
Because of the positive role of the London Missionary Society in assisting the Hawaiian mission, any descendant of a person sent by the London Missionary Society who served the Sandwich Island Mission in Hawaii is eligible to be an Enrolled Member in the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society.