1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Williams, John (missionary)

WILLIAMS, JOHN (1796-1839), English Nonconformist missionary, was born at Tottenham near London on the 29th of June 1796. He was trained as an ironmonger, and acquired considerable experience in mechanical work. Having offered himself to the London Missionary Society, he was sent, after some training, in 1816 to Eimeo, in the Society Islands, where he rapidly acquired a knowledge of the native language. After staying there for a short time, he finally settled at Raiatea, which became his permanent headquarters. His success as a missionary here and elsewhere was remarkable. The people rapidly became Christianized and adopted many of the habits of civilization. Williams was fairly liberal for his age, and the results of his labours among the Pacific Islands were essentially beneficial. He travelled unceasingly among the various island groups, planting stations and settling native missionaries whom he himself had trained. From the Society Islands he visited the Hervey group, where he discovered, and stayed for a considerable time on, the island of Rarotonga. Most of the inhabitants of the group were converted in a remarkably short time, and Williams's influence over them, as over the people of other groups, was very great. Besides establishing Christianity and civilization among them, he also, at their own request, helped them to draw up a code of laws for civil administration upon the basis of the new religion. While at Rarotonga he, with the help of the natives, built himself a 60-ft. ship, “The Messenger of Peace,” within about four months; with this he returned to Raiatea, and made voyages among other island groups, including Samoa and the neighbouring islands. Williams returned to England in 1834 (having previously visited New South Wales in 1821); and during his four years' stay at home he had the New Testament, which he had translated into Rarotongan, printed. Returning in 1838 to the Pacific, he visited the stations already established by him, as well as several fresh groups. He went as far west as the New Hebrides, and, while visiting Eromanga, one of the group, for the first time, was murdered by cannibal natives on the 20th of November 1839.

His Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands was published in 1837, and formed an important contribution to our knowledge of the islands with which the author was acquainted. See Memoir of John Williams, by Ebenezer Prout (London, 1843); C. S. Horne, The Story of the L.M.S., pp. 41-54.