John Inglis – Missionary

John Inglis spent the early part of his life in Moniaive, where he was born on 8 July 1808.

He was the son of Andrew Inglis, a carrier, and his wife Margaret Maxwell and on finishing his education in the village, he worked for a stone mason.

In due course John Inglis enrolled at Glasgow University (1833) and studied there and at the Reformed Presbyterian Divinity Hall (1838-41). He did some teaching up the Ken to families living far from a school (see Glencairn Gazette April 2005).

On 11 April 1844 the Rev. John Inglis married Jessie McClymont who was brought up on her parents’ farm – Corriefeckloch – thirteen miles north of Newton Stewart. She was admirably suited to be part of the mission team to which she and her husband were to devote most of their lives.

Three months after their wedding John and Jessie Inglis set off for New Zealand, to join the Reformed Presbyterian and Free Church mission north of Wellington along the Manawatu river, two years after the mission had been established. As there were already other missions in this area it was decided to relocate the mission to the New Herbrides.

John managed to hitch a lift round the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) on a British warship and so acquired invaluable knowledge about the islands and their people. Eventually on 1 July 1852 John and his wife, with a frame for a house, furniture, boat, livestock and other supplies set up home on Aneityum (now Anatom). This is a small tropical island of 25 square miles with mountains up to nearly 3,000 feet high. Taro tubers, which were harvested seven months after planting, was the principal crop. Citrus fruit and sugar cane grew well and fish was readily available.

John Inglis worked from Aname which was on the opposite side of the island from John Geddie, who had arrived from Nova Scotia in 1848, when there were said to be no Christians; but when he left 24 years later, no heathen.

Mr Inglis had studied medicine for six months in Glasgow and so as well as preaching and teaching, the native people came to him when illness struck. Malaria was rife and John Inglis was very particular about the way that their house should be built. The closely boarded floor was two feet off the ground so that air could circulate underneath. Windows were built opposite one another to encourage plenty of cross ventilation.

Only from 1841 had the days been divided into weeks so that the traditional Presbyterian sabbath could be observed as ‘a day of rest for the body, and a day of worship for the soul’. Fighting, fishing and other manual work was expected to be completed during the rest of the week. Pigs were killed on Fridays and Saturdays were for roasting, boiling and baking.

John and Jessie Inglis had first to learn the Aneityum language which is different from that spoken on the other islands and had never been written down. John Geddie and John Inglis spent much time translating parts of the Bible and other useful books into Aneityumese and printing their results. A local boy, Williamu, greatly helped with all kinds of jobs round the mission as well as with the language.

When Mr and Mrs Inglis came back to Britain in 1860 they brought Williamu with them. Some of his letters translated into English by Mr Inglis have been published. They include one describing a visit to Moniaive. From Glasgow they went to Kilmarnock via Paisley. “Next morning we again travelled by the railway…. we alighted at a village called Thornhill, and travelled in a thing drawn by a horse till we came to the village in which Mr Inglis was born; its name is Moniaive…. When we came there we stayed in the house of Mr Proudfoot. Both he and his wife were very kind people. They were both very good to me. On the Friday there was a marriage there, and Mr Proudfoot and I went to see it.”

The Rev. John Inglis was Moderator of the Reformed Presbyterian Synod in 1861. Williamu used to speak at the church meetings while Mr Inglis translated. Unfortunately Dora, Williamu’s wife, died in Aneityum after measles struck the island. All three went back to Aneityum where John Inglis set up 28 schools before he finally left; books being paid for by exporting arrowroot for sale.

Before retiring to Lincuan Cottage, Kirkcowan in Wigtownshire the Inglises spent three years in London overseeing the printing of the Old Testament into Aneityumese. “At one time it was hoped that he would be able to give us a volume of the Reminiscences of Glencairn which would have proved exceedingly interesting to all the dwellers in the Cairn valley, but his strength was not equal to the task.”

Another Dumfriesshire man who became a colleague of John Inglis in the South Pacific was John G. Paton from Torthorwald who arrived with his wife in Aneityum in 1857.

In 1883 John Inglis was awarded a Doctorate in Divinity by Glasgow University. When he died in 1891, after the funeral service at Kirkcowan, the burial took place at Glencairn, conducted by Dr. Gould, his friend for 58 years.

John Inglis’s old home can be seen in Ayr Street, now with a second storey and ‘Inglis House’ in gold letters over the front door.

© A.B. Hall


In the New Hebrides

Rev. John Inglis 1887.

Bible Illustrations from the New Hebrides

Rev. John Inglis 1890.

A Roll of the Graduates of the University of Glasgow

W. Innes Addison 1898.

The Matriculation Album of the University of Glasgow

W. Innes Addison 1913.

Annals of the Free Church of Scotland

Rev. William Ewing 1914.

The Annals of Glencairn

John Corrie 1910.

Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology

N.M.deS. Cameron and others 1993.