My interest in Reverend Bodger was stimulated by acquiring an interesting cover addressed to him. It was addressed in particularly fine manuscript to The Revd Canon Bodger, C/o Australian Board of Mission, 14 Spring Street, Sydney and was sent by airmail, as shown by a boxed purple stamping, and was faintly postmarked LAE/ 25 SE 51/ PAPUA NEW GUINEA on the blue 5½d emu definitive stamp of Australia, issued 12 February 1942. There were no other post markings nor any identification of the sender on the reverse (Figure 1).
Whereas, with the other missionary in PNG covered at this website I had more information than I needed for a philatelic paper (see: Arthur Henry Voyce [1899-1984], Methodist missionary), the present Anglican missionary has been remarkably difficult to research in Australia, England and Papua New Guinea. Before entering into a short biography, I want to share some information about missionaries in PNG.
In a paper termed “Going to Heaven” I learnt that PNG is one of the most Christian countries on earth….97.3% of the PNG population is Christian. Among large countries (more than a million people or so), only Ecuador (97.4%), Guatemala (97.5%) and Paraguay (98.0%) have a higher proportion of Christians. PNG is also one of the world’s most evangelised countries. There are 2,221 foreign missionaries in the country, a huge number for a population of 4.6 million people. More than 10% of the missionaries are from Australia (this paper dated May 16, 2002).
John Dewhurst Bodger was born 23 November 1901 and he was appointed to PNG in 1929. From 1929 to 31 he was a priest in Dogura New Guinea and from 1938-50 he was the Diocese Chaplain to the Bishop of N.G. In 1940-1950 he was Sub-Dean of Dogura Cathedral. In 1948 his address was given as the Anglican Mission in Samurai. His date of return to UK was given as 1950, and he served the Diocese of New Guinea for nearly 40 years, first as a missionary, then as a secretary of the New Guinea Mission in England, based at the Holcott Rectory in Northampton, UK.. He died 25 November 1981 (at the age of 80) and his place of origin was given as the United Kingdom. The Anglican Church of PNG confirmed that he was in PNG from 1929-1950.
There are three additional snippets of information about the man, that can be added to this incomplete biography. Between 1972 and 1975, the writer and journalist, Christopher Ashton interviewed important people who had been involved in PNG and a total of 23 tapes were made. Rev. Bodger was one of those interviewed on tape, the tapes being held at the University of California at San Diego, but a transcript was not available to me.
Of interest is that at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (2 June 1953), there were contingents of troops and police, of dignitaries and of politicians from the Commonwealth invited to be present. There was a contingent of 25 native members of PNG Police and Reverend Father Bodger visited them in their camp and addressed them in their own language.
An Australian website of Christ Church, Brunswick, Victoria relates to the financially supportive relationship of the Church to Dogura and Canon Bodger, and describes that “signs of his church and practical work are still very visible at Dogura. Many PNG Anglicans have been baptised “Bodger” over the years as a tribute to his work and influence.” An aerial view of Dogura, PNG is shown in Figure 2.
Returning to the present cover, I am assuming that the Rev. Canon Bodger was visiting or working at the Australian Board of Mission in Sydney during 1951 after he retired from PNG and that the letter from Lae, PNG may have come from the Anglican National Office, the church’s administrative headquarters at Lae.