Codrington, Robert Henry (1830-1922)

English missionary in Melanesia

Son of a Church of England clergyman, Codrington was born in Wroughton, England. He was educated at Charterhouse School and at the University of Oxford and in 1857 was ordained in the Church of England. Later he immigrated to Nelson, New Zealand, and in 1871 began service with the Melanesian Mission on Norfolk Island under Bishop John Coleridge Patteson. This was during the era when unscrupulous labor traders forcibly abducted island men. After one such kidnapping episode in 1871, Bishop Patteson, in a misdirected retaliation by Islanders, was murdered on the atoll of Nukapu. Codrington was forced to assume Patteson’s leadership role until 1877, although he turned down the opportunity to be bishop. During this period, the mission developed greatly. Under his leadership the work of evangelization progressed, indigenous teachers were trained and given charge of village schools, and several Islanders were ordained to the diaconate. In 1888 he returned to England and devoted himself to church work.

Codrington’s anthropological writing, which came largely at Lorimer Fison’s encouragement, is of great importance. He extensively and systematically inquired into Melanesian practices and social regulations. He also researched their languages. He set out to record “what the natives themselves said, not what the Europeans said about them.” All this he tells in the preface of The Melanesians: Studies in Their Anthropology and Folk-lore (1891, 1957), a companion to The Melanesian Languages (1885). Codrington’s writing became important in anthropology because of his concept of mana, which has greatly influenced writing on “primitive” religion. He also encouraged Pacific-Islanders to write about their conversions and the sociological factors involved, an example being Clement Marau, Story of a Melanesian Deacon, Robert Henry Codrington, tr. (1894). Codrington also wrote (with J. Palmer) Dictionary of the Language of Mota (1896).

Darrell Whiteman, “Codrington, Robert Henry,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 141-2.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Bibliography

Digital Texts


Codrington, Robert Henry. A Sketch of Mota Grammar. London: Gilbert and Rivington, 1877.

_____. The Melanesian Languages: A Linguistic Survey of the Groups of Dialects and Languages Spread Over the Islands of Melanesia Comprising their Comparative Grammar, Numerals, Vocabularies and Phonology, and the Grammars of Somethirty-Five Languages, Preceded by a General Introduction. London: Clarendon Press, 1885.

_____. The Melanesians: Studies in Their Anthropology and Folk-lore. Oxford, New Haven: Clarendon Press, HRAF Press; 1891, 1957.

Codrington, R.H. and John Palmer. A Dictionary of the Language of Mota, Sugarloaf Island, Banks’ Islands: with a Short Grammar and Index. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1896.

Primary


Codrington, Robert Henry. A Sketch of Mota Grammar. London: Gilbert and Rivington, 1877.

_____. The Melanesian Languages: A Linguistic Survey of the Groups of Dialects and Languages Spread Over the Islands of Melanesia Comprising their Comparative Grammar, Numerals, Vocabularies and Phonology, and the Grammars of Somethirty-Five Languages, Preceded by a General Introduction. London: Clarendon Press, 1885.

_____. The Melanesians: Studies in Their Anthropology and Folk-lore. Oxford, New Haven: Clarendon Press, HRAF Press; 1891, 1957.

_____. “Melanesians.” In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. Edited by James Hastings, 8:529-38. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1915.

_____. Letters and Journals of Robert Codrington, 1870-1882. Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1978.

Codrington, R.H. and John Palmer. A Dictionary of the Language of Mota, Sugarloaf Island, Banks’ Islands: with a Short Grammar and Index. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1896.

Marau, Clement. Story of a Melanesian Deacon: Clement Marau, Written by Himself. Translated by R.H. Codrington. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1906.

Secondary


Armstrong, E.S. The History of the Melanesian Mission. London: Isbister and Co., 1900.

Davidson, Allan K. “An ‘Interesting Experiment’–The Founding of the Melanesian Mission.” In The Church of Melanesia, 1849-1999. Edited by Allan K. Davidson. Auckland: College of St. John the Evangelist, 2000.

_____. “The Legacy of Robert Henry Codrington.” In International Bulletin of Missionary Research 27 no. 4 (October 2003): 171-6.

Douglas, J.D. and Philip Wesley Comfort (eds.). Who’s Who in Christian History. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992, p. 167.

Friesen, J. Stanley. Missionary Responses to Tribal Religions at Edinburgh, 1910. New York: P. Lang, 1996.

Hilliard, David. God’s Gentlemen: A History of the Melanesian Mission, 1849-1942. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1978.

Hitchen, John M. “Relations Between Missions and Anthropology Then and Now–Insights from the Contribution to Ethnography and Anthropology by Nineteenth-Century Missionaries.” In Missiology: An International Review 30 (October 2002): 455-78.

“Robert Codrington.” In The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia. Edited by Brij V. Lal and Kate Fortune, 190. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

Sparrow, Brandon. “Rev. Codrington.” In Harvest of Grace: Essays in Celebration of 150 Years of Missions in the Anglican Diocese of Nelson. Edited by R. Bester, 38-41. Nelson, New Zealand: Standing Committee of the Diocese of Nelson, 2010.

Stocking, George W. After Tylor: British Social Anthropology: 1888-1951. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.

Whiteman, Darrell. Melanesians and Missionaries: An Ethnohistorical Study of Social and Religious Change in the Southwest Pacific. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1983.


Photograph portrait of an older Codrington and a bibliography of published books, articles, and letters by Codrington; unpublished lectures, letters, and journals by Codrington; translations by Codrington; as well as unpublished books and articles about Codrington. Part of “Project Canterbury.”