Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire produced some of the most important Christian missionaries of the 1800s. Like James Hudson Taylor from Barnsley, they are much more celebrated where they went than where they came from. However, John Hunt became an important Fiji missionary from Newark.
One noted missionary from our area of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire was John Hunt, who was born at Hykeham Moor near Lincoln in 1812, the family later settling at Balderton near Newark. Although he died at the age of 36, Hunt was instrumental in bringing Christianity to Fiji and is still celebrated there today.
Faith would have been a topic in his childhood home as his father became a Primitive Methodist but it was not until he became sick as a young man that Hunt fully committed his life to God. Then living at Balderton, he began to explore Christianity for himself. In the 1820s life was hard for an unskilled farm labourer and Hunt had to go to the ‘hiring market’ at Newton on Trent where he got a job at Swinderby from 1829-1833. Possibly Hunt stood for hiring in the same spot as John Wesley preached when he assed through this little village.
During this time he became a regular at the Methodist chapel in Swinderby but one evening went to hear the evangelist Rev John Smith preach at Thorpe on the Hill with his ‘flaming zeal and irresistible energy.’ He thought about going home, but returned to ‘go forward’ and ‘I was in a minute as completely bathed with tears and perspiration as if I had been thrown in a river.’
His first attempt to speak to a congregation ended in failure but he first preached successfully in the chapel at Girton, a tiny village where the chapel closed in 1881. A key factor in his life was that some sincere Methodists in his home area identified his talents and gave him encouragement. Whilst working at Potter Hanworth and Waddington Hunt became a regular preacher, though often characterised as a ‘ploughboy preacher.’ But eventually he was able to enrol for training at Hoxton in London and to plan to marry his love, Hannah Summers of Newton on Trent.
When he went off to study more in London in 1835 there was a revival and he began to consider missionary work in South Africa and told his future wife’s family that was where they were going – but instead opted for the challenging, cannibal-ridden isles of Fiji. She told him that she would go wherever he did. He arrived there with his new young wife just before Christmas 1838 and after a hard beginning conversions began to break out on one of the islands.
In 1845 the nephew of a chief accepted Christ and soon others followed, a key factor being Hunt’s skill in the language so he was able to translate the New Testament. He had particular success at Viwa.
Language wasn’t the only problem as the picture of his 200th birthday party in Fiji shows! It rains…..
There was also the real risk of being killed, and even eaten.
When Hunt died of dysentery his wife Hannah left Fiji with her two daughters and came home to live with her brother Thomas Summers at Newton on Trent. But the groundwork had been done, and within 50 years Christianity was well-established in Fiji. Hannah died in 1891 and is buried in the Anglican churchyard at Newton.
Unlike most missionaries, Hunt has actually been honoured at home – the John Hunt Memorial Chapel was opened at Thorpe on the Hill in 1909, fittingly in the place where he experienced his profound conversion. There is even a primary school named after him in Balderton – but its website does not why it is called this!
It is interesting how people from tiny, insignificant settlements had a huge impact across the World. God connects his people together in all sorts of ways.
You can read more on Hunt here: https://missiology.org.uk/pdf/e-books/nettleton_joseph/john-hunt_nettleton.pdf
His memory is still very much alive in Fiji: