Born into a Christian family near Dumfries in 1824, John Gibson Paton’s early years were marked by a struggle against poverty. He was self-educated, and the training ground for his life’s work was the slums of Glasgow where he laboured with success as a city missionary. With ‘the wail of the perishing heathen in the South Seas’ continually sounding in his ears, he prepared himself to serve overseas and was ordained as a missionary to the New Hebrides in 1858.
The difficulties that confronted Paton were accentuated by the sudden death of his wife and child within months of their arrival. Against the savagery and the superstition, despite the trials and the tragedies, Paton persevered and witnessed the triumph of the gospel in two of these South Sea islands. His life is almost without parallel in missionary annals and his account of it in his autobiography – John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) – is moving and gripping.
Paton re-married (Margaret Whitecross) during furlough in Edinburgh in 1864, and on their return to the South Seas in 1866 he and Maggie established a new mission station on Aniwa Island. They lived to see the entire island of Aniwa profess Christianity. In 1899 Paton’s Aniwa New Testament was printed and missionaries were established on twenty five of the thirty islands of the New Hebrides.
Paton died at the age of 82 in January 1907 at Canterbury, Victoria, Australia, Maggie having preceded him to glory nearly two years earlier.