Gill, William Wyatt, 1828-1896.


Life in the Southern Isles, or, Scenes and incidents in the South Pacific and New Guinea / by William Wyatt Gill. (London : Religious Tract Society, [1876])

The Rev. William Gill was another sent to the Pacific islands by the London Missionary Society. He spent twenty-two years in the Cook Islands and New Guinea. As with many of the missionaries, their knowledge of the local languages and minute observation of the daily life of the natives, with whom they lived closely is of lasting importance to anthropologists. However, they were constantly working to convert the heathen and extirpate their idolatrous practices.

In his Preface, Gill summarises the present position of the Polynesians and the problems they face. He also addresses the question raised as to the worth of missionary endeavours,

A recent critic, referring to the South Sea Missions, speaks of “the smallness of the results obtained from the enormous expenditure upon Mission-work.” Now what are the facts of the case? Sixty-five years ago the whole of the Pacific was heathen. Now upwards of three hundred islands are Christianized. When missions were commenced in the Pacific, commerce did not exist. The commerce of the Pacific is now estimated at 3,000,000. So surely does civilization follow in the wake of Christianity. (p. vi)

The book is open to show two scenes, “before and after”. The first is of “A village in Pukapuka, under heathenism”, the second, “The same village under Christianity.” Pukapuka is one of the Cook Islands. The London Missionary Society landed there in 1857 and when Gill arrived in 1862 he found most of the people converted to Christianity. Unfortunately Peruvian slavers raided the island in 1863 and took away about 100 men and women.

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