A model for mission: Remembering the Melanesia

"Today we fly aeroplanes and drive cars, back then we sailed on the Melanesia."

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Dedication day: The Melanesia in Sydney Harbour on June 3, 1917.

The story and legacy of the Melanesia was celebrated at Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church in Cooranbong (NSW) on Sabbath, June 3—exactly 100 years to the day since the Australasian Union Committee dedicated the mission boat to the work of spreading the gospel in the South Pacific islands.

While the Melanesia went to a watery grave more than 40 years ago, the original model from which the mission boat was designed remains. For many years the model was nothing more than just that—a few remains—until Dr John Hammond took it upon himself to rebuild and restore the boat to its original glory.

In the workshop.

“The model had been in our family for 90 years and was in a bad way, with only the hull remaining in three broken bits,” Dr Hammond explained. “It took a lot of putting back together.”

Dr Hammond described the restoration process as a “slow and finicky job”. A tiny staircase in the model took several hours to construct, with the retired education administrator confessing “it would have been easier to build a full-size set”. The binnacle and compass, crafted out of solid brass, also took a while to complete, as did the grating on the deck of the boat, which was made from an almost extinct Fijian hardwood known as nawanawa.

“Master craftsman” Ray Faull assisted Dr Hammond by working on the “really difficult” railings and fittings (as well as the boat’s toilet). Together, the two men spent more than 300 hours on the project.

The result of their hard work was evident on June 3, with the model—completed just before the start of Sabbath a day earlier—captivating those gathered for Sabbath School at Memorial church. The morning service was made extra special through the attendance of Joan Patrick (Howse), who was born on the Melanesia. Dr Hammond explained how her mother resisted the pleas of the Solomon Islands crew who had begged for the baby girl to be named “Melanesia”.

The finished product.
Fully equipped with lifeboat.
Dr John Hammond and Joan Patrick (Howse), who was born on the Melanesia, examine the restored model replica.

The Australasian Union Committee commissioned the construction of the Melanesia in August 1916 after pastor and sea captain Griffith Jones, on furlough from New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), pleaded for a boat he could use to spread the gospel in the Pacific islands. Plans for the vessel took the form of a large model boat, which was taken around churches in Australia to encourage members to donate money.

The Melanesia sailed under the command of a number of skippers and served the mission of the Church in the South Pacific region for 30 years. During this time the vessel endured some harrowing adventures. The boat was involved in a sensational escape from the advancing Japanese during World War II, when a number of Adventist missionaries sailed her to Australia after being stranded in Solomon Islands following the evacuation of their wives and children. The Melanesia was later requisitioned by the US Navy and sunk by the Japanese.

After being raised and repaired, the Melanesia resumed her role as a mission boat for the Church. The vessel was sold in 1947 and ultimately wrecked on a reef off Suva (Fiji) in 1971. The model would also have met an untimely end had it not been for Dr Hammond’s mother retrieving it from the ceiling of the old Union Conference office in Wahroonga (NSW) the night before the building was demolished.

Dr John Hammond at the grave of Captain and Mrs Jones at Macquarie Park, Ryde (NSW).

Speaking at Memorial church, Dr Hammond said the model is a reminder of the “mission that is so vital to us”.

“Today we fly aeroplanes and drive cars, back then we sailed on the Melanesia.”

Dr Hammond said the model will be returned to the South Pacific Division offices where it can be put on display for all to see.

“The model symbolises the faithful work of our missionaries and national people who were won to the blessed truth through the sturdy vessel which, even though it had a reputation as a ‘roller’ due to its shallow draft, never failed in a mission.”