Pacific Missionary George Brown 1835–1917

Pacific Missionary George Brown 1835–1917

Wesleyan Methodist Church

Authored by: Margaret Reeson

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George Brown (1835-1917) was many things during his long life; leader in the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Australasia, explorer, linguist, political activist, apologist for the missionary enterprise, amateur anthropologist, writer, constant traveller, collector of artefacts, photographer and stirrer. He saw himself, at heart, as a missionary. The islands of the Pacific Ocean were the scene of his endeavours, with extended periods lived in Samoa and the New Britain region of today’s Papua New Guinea, followed by repeated visits to Tonga, Fiji, the Milne Bay region of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. It could be argued that while he was a missionary in the Pacific region he was not a pacific missionary. Brown gained unwanted notoriety for involvement in a violent confrontation at one point in his career, and lived through conflict in many contexts but he also frequently worked as a peace maker. Policies he helped shape on issues such as church union, indigenous leadership, representation by lay people and a wider role for women continue to influence Uniting Church in Australia and churches in the Pacific region. His name is still remembered with honour in several parts of the Pacific. Brown’s marriage to Sarah Lydia Wallis, daughter of pioneer missionaries to New Zealand, was long and rich. Each strengthened the other and they stand side by side in this account.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Apr 2013
ANU Press
Arts & Humanities: Biography & Autobiography, History, Philosophy & Religion
Pacific: Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Samoa


Joanna Cruickshank reviews Margaret Reeson’s Pacific Missionary George Brown 1835–1917 for the Journal of Pacific History.

Cruickshank describes Brown as “one of the more intriguing and controversial figures in the history of Christian missions in the Pacific”. She finds that Pacific Missionary George Brown “provides a well-written, carefully researched account of his life and career that fills some existing gaps in Brown’s story and pays particular attention to the important role played by his wife, Lydia”.

Cruickshank describes the focus of the book as being on “George and Lydia’s emotional and spiritual (rather than intellectual and theological) lives”. She concludes by saying that Reeson’s “detailed research adds to our understanding of the complicated role that missions and missionaries have played in Pacific culture and society”.

(Joanna Cruickshank, review of Pacific Missionary George Brown 1835–1917 by Margaret Reeson, Journal of Pacific History, 49:2, pp. 248–249.)


Wesley and Methodist Studies, Volume 7, features a review of Margaret Reeson’s Pacific Missionary George Brown: 1835–1917. Lindsay Cameron describes Reeson’s writing as “more than just a valuable academic resource, but a great read as well” (p. 169). He feels that the book is a worthy contribution to existing scholarship on Brown, thanks to both Reeson’s comprehensive research and the focus she puts on Brown’s wife, Lydia.

Cameron goes on to say “Reeson has woven the fruit of exhaustive research into a storytelling style to produce a book that must become a key resource for future students of Methodism in the South Pacific”.

(Lindsay Cameron, review of Pacific Missionary George Brown: 1835–1917  by Margaret Reeson, Wesley and Methodist Studies, Volume 7, 2015, pp. 168–170.)

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