RICHARD BURDSALL LYTH (1810-1887), pioneer missionary and the first qualified doctor to serve in Fiji, was attached to the Wesleyan Mission in Tonga from 1838 to 1839 and Fiji from 1839 to 1854. Although much biographical material will be included, this dissertation is not a biography of Lyth. Rather, it is a case study of his interactions with the indigenous Fijians, the Tongans and Wallisians, and the expatriate white community which resided in Fiji during the mission contact period, 1835 to 1854. Special emphasis will be given to the relative strengths and weaknesses of each group and an assessment made of those aspects of Wesleyan-Methodism which shaped and guided Lyth’s response to those he met in the course of his missionary service.
CHAPTER ONE examines the reasons why the missionaries believed that the Fijians needed to be converted to Christianity. Discussion is centred on those activities which made the Fijians notorious in the region- cannibalism, warfare, widow-strangling and murder- and explains why Lyth felt no compromise could be made with heathenism as it existed in Fiji.
CHAPTER TWO deals with Lyth’s confrontations with the paramount chiefs of Cakaudrove and Lakeba. A comparison is made between Cakaudrove where Lyth and John Hunt pioneered the work, but where so little progress was made that the station was abandoned in less than a decade, and Lakeba where, at the time of Lyth’s departure in 1854, most of the towns and villages in Lau had abandoned heathenism and all but a handful were Christians in name if not always in practice.
CHAPTER THREE examines the role of the Tongan teachers in the establishment of the Wesleyan mission and looks at the problems which arose for the infant church from the inability of the Fijian paramount chiefs to curb the predatory activities of those Tongans who visited Fiji in the canoe building industry. Particular emphasis is given to Lyth’s special responsibility for the Tongan convers in Fiji and to his attempts to bring them under the full discipline of the Wesleyan Society.
CHAPTER FOUR centres on the difficulties faced by Lyth and his colleagues in maintaining a British middle-class standard of living in a remote and primitive society & emphasizes the ways in which the Lyth family relied on the European community to provide emotional and material substance. Mention is made of Lyth’s dealings with the local traders and their families and with the captains, officers and crews of visiting ships of war and trading vessels. Mention is also made of Lyth’s opposition to the establishment of a Roman Catholic mission in the archipelago and to his personal dealings with the Catholic priests.
CHAPTER FIVE surveys the Fijian mode of production and examines some of the ways in which Lyth and his colleagues sought first of all to understand their physical environment and, having done so, to harness the material resources of Fiji to the advancement of the indigenous church.
CHAPTER SIX compares the Wesleyan attitude to marriage and child-rearing with Fijian practice as a basis for explaining why Pyth insisted that the converts abandon polygamy and establish monogamous family units on the lines of the British family unit.
CHAPTER SEVEN concentrates on Lyth’s medical practice, which is assessed both in comparison to Fijian medical practice and to the standard medical procedures of mid-nineteenth century Brisain. Attention is also given to Wesleyan beliefs which influenced the manner in which Lyth dealt with his patients and the role those attitudes played in the conversion of the Fijian people.
CHAPTER EIGHT traces the establishment of the Fijian church to 1854 and makes particular reference to Lyth’s role in the development of a training programme for native teachers and in the publication of the Fijian Bible. Once again, parallels are drawn between the doctrines and practice of Wesleyan-Methodism in Britain and the modifications that were introduced to cater for the special needs of the neophyte Christians of Fiji.
The dissertation concludes with a short summary of Lyth’s achievements in Fiji and with a brief assessment of his success both at the personal level and as a minister of the Wesleyan Church.