Yesterday’s Hunterian Insight Talk entitled “International Students: Educational outreach and collecting by Glasgow graduates in the 19th century” gave an interesting insight into our earliest Samoan connections through a nineteenth century Fly Whisk, which is currently on display at the Hunterian Museum. The Fly Whisk was just one of over 100 Polynesian and Melanesian artefacts to have been donated to the University in 1860 by former student George Turner.
George Turner was among the earliest Glasgow students who contributed to the evangelisation of the natives of the South Seas. Together with fellow student, Henry Nisbet, Turner joined the London Missionary Society and both were appointed to Tanna (now Vanuatu), one of the New Hebrides Group of Islands in 1841. Due to increasing hostilities from the natives of Tanna, who in 1839 had killed several missionaries, Turner fled to the Samoan island of Upolu in 1843, where he was a missionary for 45 years.
As well as contributing to the opening and running of a Mission Seminary for the preparation of a native ministry in Malua, Turner also travelled with other Presbyterian missionaries in and around the various island groups.
He wrote about his travels in Nineteen Years in Polynesia: Missionary Life, Travels, and Researches in the Islands of the Pacific (1861) and Samoa: A Hundred Years ago and Long Before (1884), discussing topics from religion, government and war, to ageing, food, and clothing. This was the first extensive study on the natives of Samoa and became the standard authority on the subject.
As well as recording the customs of the various natives, Turner and Nisbet also recorded the language of the indigenous people of Samoa, and published in the Samoan dialect.
In recognition of their work in and on Samao, Turner and Nisbet received honourary LLD degrees from the University, Nisbet writing a 5-page letter of thanks to the Clerk of Senate in 1871.
Dr Henry Nisbet died at Malua, Samoa, in 1876 and Dr George Turner died in London, in 1891. However, our connections with Samoa did not stop there. One of Turner’s most precious donations, and indeed a display of his esteem for his alma mater, was the fact he sent his sons, all born in Samoa, back to Glasgow for their education. Therefore, the first Samoan-born student of the University was his eldest son, George Alexander Turner, who enrolled in 1861, graduating MB CM in 1867, and MD 1870. He returned to Samoa as a medical missionary.
If you know of any former Samoan students at the University, or know if there are still Turner’s in Samoa, please feel free to contact us.