Valiant Circle of Christians on Erromanga

Dan Graves, MSL

Valiant Circle of Christians on Erromanga

This will be a dangerous place for missionaries to work," wrote Captain Cook in 1774. He had just emerged from a fight with the inhabitants of Erromanga island.

Cook wasn't wrong, either. Wicked white traders didn't make matters any better. When they came to buy sweet-smelling wood, these traders killed some of the islanders. The traders even deliberately infected the islanders with diseases to kill more of them. This made the Erromangans hate white people all the more.

In 1839, Erromangans killed John Williams and James Harris who came to the island, looking for a place where they could build a house and teach the islanders about Jesus. After that, Christians from other islands of the Pacific came to Erromanga. Perhaps the Erromangans would listen to them when they explained the love of Jesus, they thought, because they were brown, not white. But the people of Erromanga killed or starved forty of them, too. It looked as if the church would have to give up on Erromanga.

A Canadian named George Gordon didn't believe it. He had studied medicine and theology so that he could cure the Erromangans of diseases and teach them about God. In 1857 he landed in Erromanga with his wife Ellen. While on the ship, he learned every word that he could of the Erromanga languages so that he would be able to talk to the people. When he landed on the island, he was able say a few phrases in the local language. The Erromangans were surprised by this. Other white people had not learned their tongue.

Gordon warned the Erromangans against the tricks of the traders. He began translating the Bible into their language and tended sick people. In the next five years, forty Erromangans became Christians. Gordon hoped to change the way the islanders lived. He especially wanted to help the women, because girls were forced to marry when just twelve years old. The men were so mean to their wives and worked them so hard that many jumped off cliffs to kill themselves and end their misery.

In 1861 wicked traders brought measles to the island. Hundreds of islanders caught the disease. Half of them died. Gordon took care of as many of them as he could. Only two of his patients died. But unfortunately, both of them were children of a chief. The chief thought Gordon had put a spell on his children so that only they would succumb. He plotted to kill Gordon and Ellen. On this day, May 20, 1861, he led his warriors in an attack on the two missionaries which left them dead.

When Gordon's brother James heard that his brother had been killed, he immediately gave up his job in Canada and came to Erromanga to take Gordon's place. He wanted to show the Erromangans what it means to forgive your enemies. But eleven years later, the Erromangans killed him, too.

By then, though, the Erromangan Christians had their own church. It cost a lot of Christians their lives, but Erromanga finally began to learn the ways of Christ.


  1. Bush, Peter. "Dying for the Gospel. The Gordons of Erromanga."
  2. Saunders, Alfred. History of New Zealand, 1642-1861. Christchurch: Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd., 1896. Source of image.
  3. Stewart, David. "The Dayspring."
Last updated May, 2007.
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