The Land of the White Missionaries

Tonga became one of the the main mission fields in the Pacific for the Wesleyan Missionary Society for whom the Pacific Base was Sydney. In August 16, 1822 Walter Lawry arrived in Tonga as the first Wesleyan missionaries from Australia. Although not a major success, continuing support by the Wesleyans of the mission fields in Tonga eventually lead to a long-standing affiliation between the Methodist Church of Australasia and the Wesleyan Church of Tonga. Schools, hospitals and churches were built, and the missionaries maintained great influence in the social and political development of the small Kingdom of Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga was unified in 1852 under the Kingship of Taufa’ahau Tupou I, known to the world as King George Tupou I. The King, a practising Christian with leanings towards the Wesleyan teachings, made his first visit to Australia in 1853. In this visit, His Majesty preached in Wesleyan Churches in Sydney, sharing his personal Christian conviction as well as the changes happening in his small Kingdom because of the influence of Christian teachings. The King made quite an impression upon the Methodist Churches in Australia.

Tonga progressed into the monarchial, legislative government at a slow pace with missionaries having a major impact on domestic politics.

Flash to the nearer past, and in the fifties and sixties, the few Tongans who came to Australia were mainly students. Tongan Government officials and some of the Royal Family would stop in Sydney for their holidays, but the ones who were here on a permanent basis were young Tongan girls who married Australian men.

With the Tongan students who were in Australia in the fifties and sixties, it was up to the Australian host families and to the educational institutions of their vocation, to teach them about their new environment, and how to adapt to the new culture, people, and to the climate. It was in these homes that students would meet and exchange news from the Islands, and freely ‘chit chat’ in the Tongan Language.

Rev. Colin Harkness and his wife Joyce returned from their mission services in Tonga in 1960. The Harknesses were aware that there were some Tongan students in Sydney and they took the initiative in bringing these students together in Christian fellowship, and in supporting them in whatever capacity they could. Concurrent with this idea was the commeration service of Rev Sau Faupula’s death, so on the last Sunday of May 1961, at Newington College chapel, not more than twenty Tongan students gathered together for a small service conducted by Rev Cecil Gribble and Rev Samiuela Tupou from Tonga. This occasion marked the official commencement of the Tongan Fellowship Group which continued to meet regularly at Newington College chapel, once a month on a Sunday.

[ref: The Tonga Parish in Sydney, In Search of a new identity. Tevita Maliepo Siuhengalu]