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Story: Inglis, John

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Inglis, John



This biography, written by G. S. Parsonson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

John Inglis was born on 14 July 1808 at Minnyhive (Moniaive), Dumfriesshire, Scotland, the son of Andrew Inglis and his wife, Margaret Maxwell. A foreman mason by trade, he resolved at the age of 31 to enter the ministry of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, enrolling in 1838 in arts and divinity at Glasgow University and in 1840 at the Theological Hall of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, at Paisley. In 1842 he was licensed by the local presbytery and was ordained on 26 September 1843. On 11 April 1844 at Minnigaff, Kirkcudbrightshire, he married Jessie McClymont. In August 1844, after his appointment as a missionary to the Māori, John and Jessie Inglis sailed in the Caledonia for New Zealand to join the Reverend James Duncan in Manawatū; they arrived in Wellington on 11 January 1845.

Inglis initially formed a favourable opinion of Presbyterian prospects in Manawatū, but by late 1846 he and Duncan, dejected by the sparseness of the Māori population and by the near impossibility of competing successfully with Octavius Hadfield's Church Missionary Society mission at Waikanae, were recommending that the mission be abandoned and another field sought elsewhere. New Zealand was already well covered by both CMS and Wesleyan missions, so that Inglis could see little prospect of Presbyterian success.

The Gilfillan murders at Whanganui and the military activities of Te Rangihaeata precipitated Inglis's withdrawal to Wellington in May 1847; Duncan had moved there on medical advice in November 1846. There they preached to the Presbyterians, who were without a minister. In 1848 Inglis was advised that the New Zealand mission was to be continued, but refused to comply with instructions to return to Manawatū. In 1849 he was attracted by invitations from missionaries John Geddie and A. W. Murray to co-operate with the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia and the London Missionary Society in a pioneering enterprise in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu).

On 8 August 1850 Inglis embarked on the Havannah for a three month cruise in the New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands. He visited Aneityum, the southern-most island of the New Hebrides, where Geddie renewed the invitation to join him in a combined Presbyterian mission. After his return to New Zealand in November 1850, he spent a year as a relieving minister in the Auckland parish while he awaited a decision from the foreign missions committee, to which he had sent his report of his trip. Finally, in June 1852, John and Jessie Inglis set sail aboard Bishop G. A. Selwyn's Border Maid for Aname, on the northern side of Aneityum, where they were to spend the next 24 years.

As a rather late arrival on the scene Inglis played a secondary role to Geddie in the conversion of the islanders. A practical, highly methodical, if somewhat unimaginative character, he nonetheless did much to lay the physical foundations of the Aneityumese 'state'. He was also largely responsible with Geddie for a translation of the New Testament, published in London in 1863, and with Geddie and the Reverend Joseph Copeland for a translation of the Old Testament published in 1879, following his retirement. He was consequently awarded an honorary doctorate of divinity by Glasgow University.

Inglis shared the imperial ambitions of Bishop Selwyn and Sir George Grey. He urged the establishment of a school for island boys at Auckland, and supported Selwyn's scheme for the missionary partition of the islands of the western Pacific. In 1857 he forwarded an appeal by the Aneityumese chiefs for British protection. In 1866–67 he encouraged the Presbyterian Churches of New Zealand to send missionaries to the New Hebrides. Later, he was a leading opponent of what he termed the 'slave trade' in Melanesia, the migration of Melanesian labourers to Fiji and Queensland, concerning which he wrote a pungent and widely published account. He opposed French expansion in the south-west Pacific as inimical to Protestant and British interests.

After his retirement to Kirkcowan, Wigtownshire, Scotland, Inglis wrote and published a number of books: A dictionary of the Aneityumese language (1882); In the New Hebrides: reminiscences of missionary life and work (1887), which contains a number of interesting biographical sketches, including one of his wife; and Bible illustrations from the New Hebrides (1890). Jessie Inglis died in 1885, and Inglis himself died on 18 July 1891 at Kirkcowan, widely mourned by supporters of the mission he helped found.

How to cite this page:

G. S. Parsonson. 'Inglis, John', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1i1/inglis-john (accessed 10 December 2023)