JOHN THOMAS, WESLEYAN METHODIST MISSIONARY SOCIETY, TONGA
This entire appeared on eBay auctions, listed by a German vendor. The address side has a manuscript ‘1305' and is addressed ‘To the Secretaries of the Wesleyan Missionary Society, 77 Halton Garden, London’ and in the lower left hand there is a manuscript ‘/Tonga/’. The large obliquely placed manuscript superimposed on the address is the cost of sending the letter, but it is difficult to be sure of the amount, perhaps ‘1/7' [one shilling and 7 pence] (Figure 1).
The circular postmark is an example of the first dated Sydney postmark a framed SYDNEY/ NSW/ A 5/ 1828 postmark, first known from 8 March 1828 until 12 January 1832. The figures ‘18' were permanently fixed, but slots were provided for plugs to show the final two figures of the year, as well as the month and day. The ‘A’ was for the month of April, whereas August was shown as ‘AU’. This postmark was applied to both overseas and internal mail passing through Sydney, the majority in black, in red to indicate "after time" or "too late", and it is also known in green and blue ink. A better example, than that on the entire, is shown in Figure 2.
The reverse shows 2 postmarks a boxed ‘rectangular’ SHIP LETTER/ PLYMOUTH and a circular D/ 10SE10/ 1828, the date for its reception in London (Figure 3).
A small portion of the letter was shown, and several points are of interest: ‘No 13' ‘Hihito Tongatabu Jan. 4 1928' and it is addressed in part to ‘& Brethren’, and the portion of the letter reads: ‘Long before you get this, you will have.................. of a Special District Meeting held in the Colony Sepr 1827/ ............(c)harges are brought against Bro. Hutchinson and me. His........business I now address you. Whether we shall by.........equally culpable in the matter I do not know........was removing?/concerning? on account of ill health......’ (Figure 4).
This letter is number 13 in a series of letters sent from Hihifo Tongtabu, a town of ca. 800 people. There had been trouble on this island of Tonga, and Brother John Henry and Brother Hutchinson have been involved. The letter was written on January 4, 1928 and it arrived in London on September 10, 1928, via Sydney N.S.W.
John Thomas was born at Worcester, England in 1796 and he became a blacksmith at Hagley, Worcestershire before becoming a Methodist and he soon started to preach. He married Sarah Hartshorn who predeceased him in 1867. He was accepted by the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (WMMS) in 1824 and he became a pioneering missionary to Tonga (the Friendly Isles) in the South Pacific. He sailed first to Australia, and eventually arrived in Tonga in 1826, together with his wife and fellow missionary John Hutchinson (mentioned in this letter). Initially he preached in Hihifo, Tongatapu (note different spelling) from 1826 to 1828 and then moved to the island of Ha’apai in 1829.
He baptised the chief Taufa’ahua Tupou in 1831 and enthroned him with English rites as the first King of all Tonga in 1845. Although the WMMS withdrew from Samoa in 1839, Thomas advocated its re-entry and he supported the King’s policy of sending Tongan Wesleyan missionaries to Fiji and Samoa.. John Thomas also persuaded the Australasian Wesleyan Conference ( which took over the Pacific region from the British in 1855) to reverse the London Missionary Society’s decision regarding Samoa.
John Thomas had 2 periods in Tonga from 1826 to 1850 and 1855 to 1859. Following a visit to England his influence with King Tupou waned in the 1850's and he retired to England and became a supernumerary minister at Stourbridge, Worcestshire, where he died in 1881. His wife Sarah had been a partner in his missionary work until she died 14 years earlier than he did.
John Thomas’ name is honoured by having one of the 12 dormitory houses of Toupou College in the capitol of Tonga named after him. John Thomas House is House #1, and it is customary for the Head Prefect to reside in this dormitory.