John Gibson Paton was born on 24 May 1824, in a farm cottage at Braehead, Kirkmahoe, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. He was the eldest of the 11 children of James and Janet Paton. The cottage had ribs of oak, stone walls, a thatched roof, and three rooms. The front room served as a bedroom, kitchen, and parlor. The rear room was his father’s stocking-making shop. The middle room was a closet where John’s father retired each day for prayer and Bible study. The sound of his father’s prayers through the wall made a powerful impression on young John.

In his youth Paton felt called by God to serve overseas as a missionary. He eventually moved to Glasgow where he undertook theological and medical studies. For some years he worked at distributing tracts, teaching at school, and laboring as a city missionary in a degraded section of Glasgow.

Paton was ordained by the Reformed Presbyterian Church on 23 March 1858. Then on 2 April, in Coldstream, Berwickshire, Scotland John G. Paton married Mary Ann Robson and 14 days later, on 16 April, accompanied by Mr. Joseph Copeland, they both sailed from Scotland to the South Pacific.

John and Mary Paton landed on the island of Tanna, in the southern part of the New Hebrides, on 5 November 1858 and built a small house at Port Resolution. When they arrived, the Canadian missionary John Geddie had labored in the New Hebrides since 1846, where he served primarily on the island of Aneityum.

In those days the natives of Tanna were cannibals. The missionary couple were surrounded by “painted savages” who were enveloped in the superstitions and cruelties of heathenism at its worst. Three months after their arrival, a son, Peter Robert Robson, was born on 12 February 1859. But just 19 days later, Mary died from tropical fever and soon following her in death was the newly born Peter at only 36 days of age. Paton buried his wife and child together, close to their house in Resolution Bay. Despite the tragedies, Paton continued unfailingly with his missionary work where there was constant animosity from the natives and many attempts on his life. During one attack, a ship arrived just in time to rescue him and take him and missionaries from another part of the island, Mr. and Mrs. Mathieson, to safety at Aneityum.

Paton went first to Australia, then to Scotland, to arouse greater interest in the work…

From Aneityum, Paton went first to Australia, then to Scotland, to arouse greater interest in the work of the New Hebrides, to recruit new missionaries, and especially to raise a large sum of money for the building and upkeep of a sailing ship to assist the missionaries in the work of evangelizing the Islands. During this time in Scotland, on 17 June 1864, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Paton married Margaret (Maggie) Whitecross, a descendant of the so-called “Whitecross Knights“. Their son Robert Robson Paton was born at Victoria Square, Adelaide, on 24 March 1865.

Arriving back in the New Hebrides in August 1866, John and his new wife Maggie established a new Mission station on Aniwa Island, the nearest island to Tanna. There they lived in a small native hut while they built a house for themselves and two houses for orphan children. Later, a church, a printing house, and other buildings were erected.

Maggie Whitecross Paton died at the age of 64 on 16 May 1905 at “Kennet” – believed to be the family home at 74 Princess Street, Kew, Victoria, Australia. Nearly two years later Paton died at the age of 82 on 28 January 1907 at Cross St, Canterbury, Victoria, Australia. They are both buried at Boroondara at the intersection of High Street and Park Hill Road, Kew, Victoria. The student group at the Presbyterian Theological College in Victoria is named in his honour.


  1.  Mennell, Philip (1892). “Paton, Rev. John Gibson” The Dictionary of Australasian Biography. London: Hutchinson & Co – via Wikisource.
  2.  Robb, James E. (2013w). Cameronian Fasti: Ministers and Missionaries of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 1680-1929. p. 26not dated, uploaded 2013
  3.  Byrum, Bessie L (23 June 2005), John G. Paton: Hero of the South Seas, Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 978-1-41799313-0.
  4.  Paton, John G (2009) [1889], Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography, Christian Focus, pp. 7–49, ISBN 978-1-84550-453-3.
  5.  Hutchison, Matthew (1893). The Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland; its origin and history 1680-1876. Paisley: J. and R. Parlane. pp. 320-322.
  6.  John Geddie, Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology, Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Editor. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993, 353).
  7.  Paton, John G (2009) [1889], Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography, Christian Focus, pp. 126–167, ISBN 978-1-84550-453-3.
  8.  Paton, John Gibson. The Story of Dr. John G. Paton’s Thirty Years with South Sea Cannibals. George H. Doran Company. (1923)
  9.  Paton, John G (2009) [1889], Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography, Christian Focus, pp. 168–171, ISBN 978-1-84550-453-3.
  10.  Couper, W. J. (1925). The Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland, its congregations, ministers and students. Scottish Church History Society. pp. 136, et passim.
  11.  Hutchison, Matthew (1893). The Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland; its origin and history 1680-1876. Paisley: J. and R. Parlane. pp. 360-365.

*Information retrieved from 27 January 2022.


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*Information retrieved from and 27 January 2022.

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