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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Chatterton, Sir Percy (1898–1984)

by Ian Stuart

Teacher and educationalist, youth worker, pastor, linguist and Bible translator, public speaker and politician, Percy Chatterton can look back on a remarkably varied career. The foundations were laid in a lower middle class London home before World War I and it was there that his interest in a wide range of subjects was originally stimulated and his particular talents sympathetically encouraged. Percy was born at Sale on the outskirts of Manchester on 8 October 1898. He was the younger child of Henry and Alice Chatterton whose first child, a daughter, had been born seven years earlier. The family moved to London while Percy was still a baby and he was educated first at the Stationers’ Company School, an establishment of the ancient livery company, and later at the City of London School, which was run by the City Corporation. Henry Chatterton was a Freeman of the City and consequently was eligible for certain privileges such as a scholarship for his son at the Corporation’s school. Without this assistance the Chattertons would not have been able to afford the fees. 

Percy’s people were nonconformist in religion, radical in politics and liberal in their social attitudes. They were fairly typical of that English class of Free Churchmen of the time who were passionately committed to the cause of education and self-improvement and were enthusiastic workers for social reform. Henry Chatterton was employed as a salesman by the publishing firm of Nelson and the perquisites of his job enabled him to fill his house with books dealing with a wide range of subjects. His enthusiasm was in­fectious and Percy and his sister grew up to share their father’s love of books and thirst for knowledge. In 1915 Percy entered the University College of London to take a degree course in physical science. Twice during the next two years he tried to enlist in the army but was rejected because of his poor sight. A third attempt, however, was successful, the standard of physical fitness required in recruits having apparently been lowered and, in 1917, at the age of nineteen, he was sent to Chatham barracks in Kent for his initial training. Early in 1918 he was posted to France where, by this time, trench warfare had come to an end and the Germans had begun to retreat. The young soldier was in Belgium when the Armistice was declared. 

On his return home Percy decided against resuming his interrupted university studies. This decision was partly due to the restlessness felt by many returned soldiers but also to the fact that physical science no longer appealed to him. He found that he had lost interest in things and had gained instead a new interest in people. This prompted him to look for and find a job as a teacher and to begin studying privately for a teaching diploma from the College of Preceptors, the oldest teachers’ organisation in the country. It was not a teachers’ training college in the modern sense; it prescribed a course of studies and awarded diplomas by examination. Percy gained his Associateship while teaching in London and soon afterwards obtained a position with a Quaker school in Lancashire. The Society of Friends was progressive in its educational attitudes and it ran what were probably the only co­educational boarding schools in England at the time. Chatterton found himself in sympathy with the Quaker viewpoint and life style. He shared the Quakers’ liberal approach to theology and the love of quiet simplicity in their forms of worship and he appreciated their compassionate Christian humanism. Working also at the school was Christian Finlayson, a young woman with attitudes and ideals very similar to his own. A friendship developed and deepened, Percy proposed and was accepted, and the two were married in 1923. 

Percy’s parents had strong church affiliations and he and his sister had been exposed frequently to visiting missionary deputationists. The resident minister often preached sermons containing strong calls for the faithful to offer themselves for service in the Lord’s vineyard and the Chatterton children learnt much about missionary lands in their weekly Sunday School lessons. Percy’s sister had obtained a secretarial job at the headquarters office of the London Missionary Society on leaving school and, when the L.M.S. appealed for teachers to volunteer for service overseas, Percy and Christian were among those who responded. In Percy’s Sunday School room there was a picture of a Papuan house and child, which had captured and held his interest. Consequently, when he and his wife were offered a choice between Samoa and Papua, Percy at once opted for Papua. The Chattertons were accepted for missionary service about the middle of 1923 and the remainder of the year was spent at various London institutions in a crash course to prepare them for their new work. Percy also continued his studies under the direction of the College of Preceptors; he was later to gain his Licentiateship at an examination for which he sat in Port Moresby under the supervision of the local resident magistrate. 

The young missionaries arrived in Papua early in 1924 and found Port Moresby to be a small, dusty, Australian-type country town. It was a white enclave of about 500 Europeans on New Guinea’s shores and was surrounded and served by Papuan villagers who were tolerated in the town proper only at certain times and for purposes of work. Following alarm over sexual attacks upon white women by Papuan men in this period, a White Women’s Protection Ordinance had been introduced. It provided draconian punishments for Papuan offenders. A curfew on natives in the town from nine o’clock at night until dawn the following morning was also imposed. The Lieutenant-Governor, Hubert Murray, had bowed to the residents’ demands in this matter but many were still suspicious of his native policy, which they considered too favourable to Papuans. The more extreme residents strongly opposed his administration.

The Chattertons were not very interested in or concerned about the turbulent currents running through the little white community. Their vocation as missionaries immediately set them apart from the other white residents, who tended to regard missionary activity with, at best, rather patronising tolerance or, at worst, open contempt and hostility. They were also removed from the town proper and occupied a quite different world on the opposite shores of the harbour. The new teachers lived in a house at the mission station at Metoreia very near to the spot where Dr and Mrs Lawes had lived some fifty years earlier when they arrived in New Guinea as the first white missionaries and first white residents of the country. The Chattertons’ house was on the site of the first church built by Dr Lawes (the area today has been occupied again by the Poreporena Church). The people of the group of villages known as Hanuabada on the shores of Port Moresby had given the first missionaries the ridge above the beach for their station and from this elevated position the Chattertons looked down on a scene little changed from that of fifty years earlier. The village houses were still built of native materials on stilts out over the water and life went on in a traditional way. The Hanuabadans were not as yet much affected by the presence of the white town, the corrugated roofs of which they could see glaring across the harbour. There was little contact between the two communities and the possibility of closer relations seems not to have occurred to residents of either town nor village.

Chatterton discovered the school founded by Lawes holding its classes on house verandahs and in the shade of nearby trees. Until a full-time kindergarten teacher, Doris Smith, was appointed in 1921, the school had been supervised by missionaries whose educational work was only a part of their wider activities and responsibilities. Chatterton became the first headmaster whose sole task was the running of the school but, even so, his work involved not only the instruction of the pupils but also the training and guidance of its Papuan teaching staff. The Chattertons did not have to endure for long the makeshift classroom arrangements. J. H. P. Murray, the Lieutenant-Governor, had noted that the new Australian administration of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea had announced that it would establish government schools in the former German colony. In Papua all the schools were run by missions but, with the introduction of native taxation in 1918, funds became available to the administration to enable it to subsidise this work with an annual grant-in-aid. The L.M.S. was already receiving this help and Murray, who wanted an effective and impressive school for Papuan children in his capital, was prepared to assist further. Soon after the Chattertons’ arrival the government financed the building of classrooms superior to any others in the country at the time. It also provided the mission with a grant to help meet the cost of maintaining the school’s overseas staff, which included Christian Chatterton as well as Doris Smith and Percy. Indeed, it was this promise of help that had enabled the L.M.S. to offer the position to the Chattertons.

The young English teachers quickly won the affection of their pupils. The older missionaries were respected and considered to be good men and women but the Chattertons’ relaxed, friendly and good-humoured approach was something new in the students’ experience. Former pupils of the school during the fifteen years of Percy’s regime still remember their old teacher with enthusiasm. The school had an enrolment of about 500 pupils and Chatterton believes that, in this area, there are probably more children without education today than there were then. Classes ranged from Standard 1 through to 5, a sixth class being added towards the end of the thirties. The staff, apart from the European missionaries, consisted of young Papuans of both sexes who received their training on the job. Their abilities were limited and their numbers inadequate but Chatterton considers that they did surprisingly well in coping with classes of forty to sixty children in poorly equipped classrooms. School was held on four days a week — the headmaster bowed to opposition by the parents to classes on Fridays on the grounds that there was much that the children needed to learn from them. The girls were expected to perform many home and garden chores before school and during the midday break and they sometimes slept soundly through the last lessons of the day on hot afternoons. The parents did not object to their daughters going to school but could not see much point in their doing so. One father commented to Chatterton: ‘What’s the good of teaching girls to read and write. They only use it to write naughty notes to boys’. The headmaster occasionally confiscated one of these notes in transit and had to agree that ‘naughty’ was certainly a suitable word to apply to them.

The school’s curriculum was based on vernacular literacy and the teaching of social studies. English was also taught and this won for the school a government grant assessed on the basis of the number of children who passed an annual examination conducted by an external examiner, usually a retired Queensland teacher. Pupils who obtained a pass earned for their mission a per capita grant with a base of 5/- for children in Standard 1. A maximum of £250 a year was placed on the grant given to any one mission. Percy has dubbed this system of grants as ‘a bob a nob’ scheme. The teaching of English was a hard struggle for both the teachers and the taught. Modern methods of dealing with the subject as a foreign language were still in their infancy but Chatterton had had the good fortune to be in touch with one of the pioneers in the field when doing part of his missionary training course at the London School of Oriental Studies. There were no suitable primers and readers available at first and supplementary reading material tended to be either to infantile in content or difficult in language. The government recognised this difficulty and got together a small team of people, of whom Percy was one, to prepare a series of Papuan readers in English that were related to the children’s needs and experience. In spite of lack of materials and the fact that there were few op­portunities for the children to practise their English outside the classroom, the school laid a foundation on which those pupils who later obtained employment with Europeans were able to build.

The missions have been criticised for limiting their pre-war educational efforts to a primary level of schooling but Chatterton believes that such condemnation is unfair. At the time there were no opportunities of employment for students with post-primary schooling. The prevailing sentiment among Europeans in both the administration and the private sector was hostile to the idea of Papuans aspiring to any but the most lowly jobs. There were exceptions — some young men were trained as carpenters, mechanics and medical orderlies and others manned the fleet of small ships plying the Papuan coast — but the number of these positions was limited. Thus higher education at the time could lead only to frustration and bitterness. Chatterton thinks that he and his colleagues did a sensible and practical job in the situation in which they found themselves: ‘If we produced no potential university graduates, we also touched off no drop-out problems’. [1] In 1927 Percy purchased a second-hand Buick car of 1916 vintage and, when the people were living in temporary homes in their gardens on the Laloki, he established a camp school for the children and held classes for them two days a week during the gardening season. He went out as well on Sundays to conduct services and also used his car to visit and supervise the work of the Papuan teachers in the smaller schools of the villages around the town.

Percy’s interest in the children extended beyond school hours and also beyond school years. He and Mrs Chatterton founded the boy scout and girl guide movements in Papua to provide worthwhile activities for the youngsters’ leisure time and, when they came to the end of their school days, he helped those who wanted jobs to find positions with the administration or the business firms in the town. However, most of the children were happy to be absorbed into the ordinary life of the village. Percy encouraged his pupils to keep up their traditional games as well as introducing them to cricket, football and hockey. The mission, at Percy’s prompting, built a small clubroom in the village with a billiards table and other recreational facilities and he assisted the committee of young men who were appointed to manage it. While Chatterton was at Hanuabada two tribal institutions that had formerly oc­cupied much of the people’s time were given up. These were the ritual feast dances such as the turia and the tabu and the annual trading expedition called the hiri. The church had always opposed the dances, forbidding its members to take part in them. But when they were dropped in the mid-thirties only about one-third of the villagers were church members and the others could have continued the ceremonies had they wished to do so. The hiri had been con­demned by early European and Polynesian missionaries because of the nature of the preparatory rituals but this opposition had faded so completely that Chatterton himself was unaware that it had ever existed. He conducted prayers on board the last lagatoi to leave Hanuabada on the eve of its departure and the captain, Frank Rei of Elevala village, a personal friend and pillar of the church, invited him to join the crew at Gemo Island on its return for the last stage of the journey home. Chatterton believes that the hiri and the feast dances were finally abandoned, not because of mission opposition, but because the drift of more and more of the young men of the villages into wage earning employment left the community without the manpower necessary to stage these great tribal events. When the hiri was given up the people established extensive food gardens on the banks of the Laloki River, which could now be reached by motor vehicle. Their economy was still based on subsistence agriculture, fishing and trade, and they looked on cash as an optional extra for the purchase of luxuries rather than the necessities of life.

Chatterton has described the 1930s in Hanuabada in rather idyllic terms:[2]

In retrospect, it is clear that the decade we have been considering was an interlude in the passage of Hanuabada from one world to another. The  people of Hanuabada had emerged from their stone-age world. They had abandoned the worst of their own bad habits and had not yet adopted the worst of ours. They had effected an, at any rate, temporarily successful synthesis of their subsistence and our cash economics, and they had carried over the essence of their own basically democratic village organization into their relations with the new religion and the new state. Furthermore, they had not yet developed a sensitivity to racial discrimination, partly because they were satisfied with their own society and had no desire to be integrated into a European one, and partly because, while recognizing that many of the skills of the white men were, for the present at any rate, beyond their reach, they were quietly proud of the fact that they possessed some skills in which the white men were notably deficient. It was perhaps a rather simple-minded, but essentially a happy, interlude. 

Percy saw this old Hanuabada for the last time in 1942. A few weeks later the Pacific War had swept it away. The village was burned down by labourers living in it and of the pleasant, grass-thatched, palm-leafed walled houses, only the blackened stumps remained, sticking out of the water like betel-nut stained teeth. 

During Chatterton’s early years at Hanuabada his particular talents for leadership found expression in his own educational field. His missionary colleagues found him rather reserved and with a strong tendency to mind his own business and get on with his own job. He never offered gratuitous advice but was always willing and generally able to help when requested. It is possible that he was sensitive to the fact that he was a lay missionary without the status and prestige of his ordained fellow workers. The Congregational Church, of which the London Missionary Society was the missionary arm, is the least hierarchically oriented of churches and has a highly democratic system of organisation, but the South Sea Island pastors had brought with them to Papua a rather different view of the ordained ministry from that of the English home church. It is said that the Tongans regarded pastors as equal in rank to high chiefs, while the Samoans considered them to be gods. Chatterton was a layman in Papua for eighteen years before he was ordained and there may have been times towards the end of this period when he felt that his lay status denied him the respect his experience and ability deserved. Certainly, he was not inclined to suffer fools gladly and, when he was chairman of the local district assembly, some of the delegates were stung by his impatience with their obtuseness and bewildered by the business-like efficiency with which he conducted the proceedings of the church conferences.

The Chattertons did not have much contact with the residents of the town. It was an era in which the only expatriates expected to have close relationships with the Papuans were the missionaries and government officers whose work made it necessary for them to have dealings with native people. Other expatriates who showed in­terest in the Papuans were immediately suspected of being eccentrics or, even worse, ‘coon lovers’ and so it was not possible, for example, for Percy to enlist the help of young white men and women in the town to assist him in developing the scouting and guiding movements. His efforts to find employment for school leavers brought him in touch with some of the leading citizens and a closer association was cultivated when he joined the local debating society, proving to be one of its most effective speakers. However, his strongest links with the settlement across the harbour were forged through the Ela Protestant Church in the town. It was the custom for the missionaries at Metoreia to go across, at first by boat and later, when the road was extended to Hanuabada, by motor car on Sunday evenings to conduct the service for the townspeople in the little Douglas Street chapel. This provided the best opportunity to make friends with members of the white community most likely to be sympathetic. 

In 1939 the L.M.S. transferred the Chattertons to Delena, a village on the south side of Hall Sound, which is to the west of Port Moresby. The station was the headquarters of a large mission district, which included a number of smaller centres, each with its own teacher-pastor. The pioneer missionary, James Chalmers, had settled a Polynesian pastor at Delena in 1882 and the Reverend H. M. Dauncey, the district’s first European missionary, had been appointed in 1894. Dauncey stayed for thirty-four years and it was his successor, the Reverend R. L. Turner, who handed over the station to Chatterton in 1939. Despite, or perhaps because of, this remarkable length of service by the first two European missionaries, the district had not greatly prospered in the growth of church membership. Turner believed the reasons for this to have been an overdependence for too long on Polynesian pastors, the failure to use the local vernacular as the language of church and school, and the church’s rule prohibiting traditional dancing. 

Chatterton at once set about to complete the work, initiated by Turner, in training Papuans to replace the remaining two Polynesian pastors. He used his predecessor’s notes on the gram­mar and vocabulary of the Roro language to master it quickly and to introduce it into church services and school classrooms in place of the Motu that had previously been used. The dancing issue was a difficult one. Turner had, with great opposition from the local church leaders, managed to lift the ban (it is interesting to note that the Papuans were more conservative in upholding the traditional missionary attitude than the missionaries themselves). Percy found by experience that the final result was much the same whether the church banned the practice or not. If there was a rule forbidding it, those who wanted to dance broke the rule and were dismissed from church membership. If there was no rule the people who danced were so carried away by the activity that they had little time, interest or energy left for church affairs anyway. Chatterton himself had too much respect for the Papuans and their ways to seek to impose his will in the matter and was temperamentally unable to adopt an intolerant attitude towards Papuan customs. 

Along with notes on the Roro language, Turner had left Chatterton the first draft of a translation of St Luke’s Gospel; Percy at once took up the task of completing this work. He claims that he has no special linguistic skills, but his Hanuabadan friends recall that he was preaching in their language within six months of his arrival in Port Moresby. With or without special talents, he always had the perseverance to master new languages and, while he finds it hard work, it is an activity he enjoys. When St Luke was completed, he went on to translate the other three Gospels into the Roro language and had the satisfaction of seeing his work accepted and published by the British and Foreign Bible Society. Even more satisfying was the response of the Papuans when he introduced their language into the church and school. He recalls the initial mystification of the children and then their growing delight when he first wrote a sentence in Roro on the school blackboard. Though they were literate in Motu, it had not occurred to them that their own language could be written and read. 

Opposite Delena, across Hall Sound, is Yule Island, on which were situated the headquarters of the Catholic Mission in Papua. The Missionary Fathers of the Sacred Heart had come to the island in 1885 to the consternation and resentment of the L.M.S., who looked upon them as intruders upon their own domain. In the bit­ter dispute that followed, the government at first supported the L.M.S. but eventually allowed the Catholics to stay. However, they were confined to the island, a narrow stretch of the mainland coast and the mountainous hinterland. Relations between the two missions had been poor for many years, but when the Chattertons arrived at Delena much of the old rancour had gone and they were able to make friends with at least some of the Catholic Mission staff. This would probably have been easier had the Catholics been Australian, English or American, but most were from France, Spain and Italy. Thus to the difference of religion were added differences of language and culture. It was a period in which an ecumenical spirit between the churches was beginning to be fostered overseas, but the Papuan missionaries, remote from the centres of church affairs, were unlikely as yet to be much affected by it. As with the attitude towards dancing, the local church members tended to be more conservative than the expatriates and to harbour the old animosities for longer. It was often the Papuan adherents who were involved in disputes rather than the leaders of the two missions. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that hamlets traditionally hostile towards one another had tended to embrace the mission not supported by their enemies. This enabled them, under the cloak of religion, to prolong age-old differences that really had nothing to do with Catholic/Protestant issues. During the early years of both missions the people had cleverly exploited the two groups of missionaries for their own ends and to their own advantage, but by the time the Chattertons went to the area a more Christian spirit prevailed; the newcomers did their best to foster and encourage it. Percy and Mrs Chatterton consider the eighteen years they spent at Delena the happiest of their lives; this indicates the degree of their acceptance by the people of the district and the affection in which they were held. They would hardly have been so happy had their own offer of friendship not been met with a warm response on the part of both the Papuans and their European neighbours. 

On his appointment to Delena, the L.M.S. had suggested to Chatterton the possibility of ordination. Percy accepted this call and, after some theological studies, was ordained to the ministry of the Congregational Church in Australia in 1943. This enabled him to exercise the full functions of a pastor, but it is characteristic of him that he did not use his new authority to set up his own little spiritual kingdom. Instead he strengthened the L.M.S. system of village congregational meetings and established a central district church council made up of lay members and pastors representing the village congregations. The effect of this organisation was to involve the ordinary members more closely in the affairs of their church and, during Chatterton’s last years at Delena, the council took an increasingly greater responsibility for the management of the church in the district. Percy’s own role was that of adviser, consultant and conciliator when requested by the councillors. This exercise in localisation was well under way at a time when the word was unheard of in the land and the concept, if thought of at all, was paid little more than lip service. The scheme of church government also helped to prepare the people for the later introduction of local government councils. 

The Japanese invaders did not reach the south coast of Papua during the Pacific campaigns of World War II and the work of the mission went on, although under new difficulties. The L.M.S. authorities insisted that all European women missionaries be evacuated from the country and Mrs Chatterton was separated from Percy from the beginning of 1942 until mid-1944 when she was allowed to return. They were reunited for a brief period in 1943 when Percy went to Sydney for medical treatment and to prepare for his ordination. The rest of the war period he got on with his job and managed to cope with the isolation brought about by the cessation of all normal forms of communication and the lack of almost all kinds of supplies that could not be obtained locally. In the villages life was disrupted as the authorities took away all the able-bodied men to work as labourers for the allied troops. In place of the menfolk some of the villages in the district received Papuan evacuees from the Port Moresby area. There were hardships in­volved in accommodating and feeding the new population, mostly composed of old men, women and children, and the evacuees were grateful to find their former teacher and friend in the same district as their temporary homes and anxious to help them to adjust to their new situation. Despite the difficulties the missionaries man­aged to keep their sense of humour and, when a colleague sent him a proposal concerning the transfer of certain pastors, and the cen­sor removed all personal and place names, Chatterton sent back the mutilated letter, which read: ‘I propose that ... be transferred from . . . to . . . and that ... be transferred from ... to with the comment ‘I could not agree more!’

In the immediate post-war years, the Director of the newly established Department of Education, W. C. Groves, who had earlier married Doris Smith, Chatterton’s fellow staff member at the Hanuabada School, enlisted his aid in initiating a program of teacher training under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. From this work eventually developed the church’s Ruatoka Teachers’ College at Kwikila, some 70 miles to the east of Port Moresby.

In the early fifties, numbers of Papuans and New Guineans began to migrate to Port Moresby for the advantages they believed town life offered them. The L.M.S. was concerned for the spiritual welfare and pastoral care of the newcomers. Many of them belonged to its mission but did not fit easily into the established congregations of the villages around the town. When they did not drift away from church membership entirely, they tended to set up their own informal congregations along tribal or linguistic lines. The old church structure was inadequate to meet the new situation and in 1958 the L.M.S. asked Chatterton to pioneer a new type of ministry in the town. When Percy and Christian went back to Port Moresby that year they found it to be a very different place from the little township they had left nearly twenty years before. During the war it had become a huge army base and in 1945 it had been made the capital of the combined Territories of Papua and New Guinea. The Australian government’s new policy of development involved it in the expenditure of very much more money than had been available before the war and this in turn encouraged the growth of many new industries in the private sector. Many more jobs became available for local people and there were much greater opportunities for their advancement than had been possible before the war. Nevertheless, old racial attitudes and discriminatory prac­tices tended to linger on. The native curfew had been abolished in 1955, but prohibition was still in force for native people and they were forbidden by law to attend the expatriate cinemas as a special film censorship was applied to them. Social separation was almost as complete as it had been before the war, but some bridges were being built between the races: the missions were establishing welfare centres, youth programs, adult education classes and sports clubs and some of the town’s expatriate residents were drawn in to assist with these activities.

The Chattertons settled at Koki and the difference between their quiet Delena home and the noisy, busy, boisterous and smelly bayside suburb could hardly have been greater. The church authorities had recognised that the influx of Papuans and New Guineans to the town posed problems but they could hardly have realised the immensity of the task to which they had appointed the now experienced missionary. It was thought at first that he would have time to engage, in addition to his pastoral duties, in biblical translation work; the combination of these tasks would have taxed the resources of a much younger man. The translation work, which involved the preparation of the whole of the Old Testament in Motu for publication, demanded careful concentration. At the same time, the gathering together of church members scattered around the town necessarily meant constant visiting to seek them out and then to win their friendship and confidence, assist them with the painful process of adapting to urban life and to offer them advice on a multitude of problems. The choice of the hillside above Koki for his house, and, later, a large church, was a happy one as it is near Koki Market, a popular meeting place for Papuans. Chatterton was able to gather for worship on Sunday mornings a large congregation, which then divided and organised itself into smaller ethnic groups for other meetings, conducted by their members in a variety of languages later in the day. In 1962 the Bible Society asked that Chatterton be released to devote his whole time to the translation work and his last two years with the L.M.S. were spent in completing the Motu Old Testament. The Chattertons moved from Koki to a cottage on the main road through Kaugere, a suburb of low-cost government housing fringed by migrant settle­ments. The situation was hardly an ideal one for a scholar, with the almost constant roar of traffic a few yards away, the clouds of dust raised on the unsealed road and the frequent calls for assistance from his Papuan neighbours. Nevertheless, the Scratchley Road cottage was to be the Chattertons’ home for the next ten years.

Chatterton is sceptical that the course his life has taken was the result of chance. He is convinced that underlying it there has been a meaning, a purpose and a spiritual grace at work giving guidance and direction. Fortuitously or providentially, the time for his retirement from the L.M.S. at the age of sixty-five years coincided, in 1964, with the elections for the first House of Assembly in Papua and New Guinea. He and Mrs Chatterton had no wish to leave Papua but he needed some worthwhile employment if they were to be able to stay. At the same time Percy wanted very much to see the missionary representation in the old Legislative Council maintained in the new Assembly. He determined to stand for election in the Central Special Electorate, one of those in the first House reserved for expatriates. Percy believed that he was in a position to make an effective and useful contribution in the new parliament. He had long been interested in the skills of debate and public speaking, of which he is an accomplished, witty and persuasive exponent. The forty years of close involvement in Papuan affairs, together with his mastery of native vernaculars, gave him, as an expatriate, an almost unique authority and ability to represent local interests. His church affiliations and ecumenical spirit meant that the missions would have in him a clear and sympathetic voice. Chatterton was not worried by the traditional stand taken by English Dissenters with regard to the separation of church and state. There was no established church in Papua and New Guinea and he did not believe there was a conflict between the roles of churchman and politician. His six years of residence in the town had given him an intimate knowledge of the needs of his Papuan constituents, while his respect for all men, regardless of race, promised that the expatriates in his electorate would not be neglected or ignored.

Apart from these obvious qualifications, Chatterton perhaps had more personal reasons for seeking election. He had admired and respected Sir Hubert Murray and his senior officers in pre-war Papua, but he was less impressed by many of the post-war administration officials, whom he considered to be overinfluenced by the attitudes and policies of the old Mandated Territory. There has always been some tension between government and mission. Government officers have sometimes been suspicious and perhaps resentful of the missionaries’ influence over the people, an influence strengthened by their tendency to stay for long periods in the one place and to become fluent in the local vernacular. This was in contrast to the frequent transferring from one station to another of the kiaps. In turn, the missionaries were often critical of what they believed to be a lack of real interest, sympathy and understanding on the part of the kiaps towards the people under their administration. For a linguist such as Chatterton, one manifestation of the superficial nature of many officers’ contact with the people was their seeming inability to master the simple rules of phonetic spelling and their apparently wilful insistence on mispronouncing most native names and words. His conviction that many of the administration’s policies were wrong must have enhanced the attractiveness of a position in which he might be able to bring about a change in these policies and actions. 

Chatterton could have had other reasons for seeking election. He had devoted his working life and special talents and skills to a quiet ministry which, while it had brought him happiness and personal satisfaction, had not perhaps won him the acclaim which was his due. Papuans are not demonstrative in showing appreciation and most men need assurance that their work has been recognised and their talents valued for their true worth. To the indifference or ridicule of the conventional worldly attitude towards the missionary vocation had more recently been added the criticism of scholars assessing the contribution of missions to the development of Papua New Guinea. Chatterton believed that much of this criticism was unfairly hostile and it was natural for him to resent the disparagement of a lifetime’s work as not simply irrelevant but positively harmful. As a member of the House of Assembly, he would have the status that would make his views more likely to be listened to. Whatever his motives, conscious or not, the majority of electors recognised his impressive array of qualifications and chose him as their member from a field of five other candidates. 

Chatterton enjoyed the first House. It was not then divided along party lines and there was a friendly atmosphere; members were prepared to listen to and be influenced by well prepared speeches and skilful debate. But the member for Moresby Open was less happy in the second House, to which he was returned with a comfortable majority over his formidable opponent, J. K. McCarthy, a former Director of the Division of District Administration and an official member of the first House. Increasingly, Pidgin became the language of debate and its use almost obligatory if the attention and support of the majority of the New Guinean members were to be won. Chatterton, who almost certainly understands the language well, refuses to speak it and is prejudiced against it. He resents its growing acceptance in Papua at the expense of Hiri Motu, the old Papuan lingua franca. He also regretted the growth of political parties in place of the flexible and informal groupings of the first House. On issues about which the parties held determined and opposing views, members tended to substitute derision, abuse and personal attacks for reasoned argument and debate. Chatterton deplored deterioration in the standard of the speeches and the manifestations of bitter hostility between the members. He believed that the parliament of a country with little or no sense of national unity could not afford the luxury of shouting matches and the ridiculing of opponents. Despite the many protestations of national unity, he feared that there was in fact, less real unity at the end of the second House than at its beginning. Chatterton did not join a political party during his years as a politician but he was, perhaps, most in sympathy with the aims and objects of Pangu Pati, and his position was well to the left of centre. 

In his maiden speech on 10 June 1964, the member for Central Special raised the subject of school leavers in the towns, their difficulty in obtaining employment and the need for more diversity in the type of education offered in the country’s high schools. He was thus one of the first to draw attention to a problem to which no satisfactory solution has yet been found. A few days later he took up a subject to which he was to return again and again during the next eight years. This was the provision of low-cost housing in the town. In a hard-hitting speech, he castigated those responsible for the design and building of the terrible little concrete boxes recently erected at Hohola. He urged that the office of Housing Commissioner be abolished and that, instead, a Housing Commission be set up. He drew attention to the fact that, in its efforts to build cheap houses, the administration had made no attempt to find out what the people who would have to live in them thought about their design. As a result, as well as being small, the Hohola concrete boxes were repugnant to the occupiers. Percy hoped that these houses would eventually be demolished and replaced with others of a better design. In this he was disappointed but the residents of the ‘dog boxes’, as they are popularly called, have since taken matters into their own hands and have added to and altered them with scrap materials and constructions of their own devising. While the effect is hardly aesthetic, they have been made more habitable. This practical solution was not permitted until recently — earlier the administration stuck strictly to its building regulations and swept away any improvements the occupiers tried to make. 

The Central Special Electorate included the Port Moresby and Goilala Sub-districts of the Central District. Percy had already met many of the Goilala people living in the town and, after the first meeting of the House, he visited their home area, which he believed the administration had neglected. He took up the cause of the area and made strong appeals for government assistance in constructing a road down to the coast so that the people would have the opportunity to develop a cash economy by selling the food crops and beef cattle that flourished in the mountain valleys. This concern for minority groups became a pattern running through his speeches and his work. He took up the causes of mental patients at the Laloki Mental Hospital, increased wages for young female trainees, migrant settlers in Port Moresby, accommodation for married students undertaking long courses of studies and the welfare of Irian Jaya refugees. To help these refugees, he learnt Bahasa Indonesia. The ordinary people of the town were his special care and he continued to worry about the things which affected them most — housing, employment, schooling, taxation, local government and co-operatives, law enforcement, food costs and marketing, trading practices and public transport. Any matter involving civil liberties was certain to bring him to his feet and he was involved in debates on an independent judiciary, discriminatory practices, the Public Order Bill of 1970 (which he opposed) and the Human Rights Bill of 1971 (which he introduced and was successful in having accepted). He failed, however, in his attempt to have an office of ombudsman created. Radio broadcasting especially interested him and at first he welcomed the setting up of administration stations with programs designed to meet local needs. Later he became disillusioned with their administering authority, the Department of Information and Extension Services, which he nicknamed ‘Propaganda and Sweet Talk’ and threatened to blow up its headquarters on Guy Fawkes Day 1971 if it did not provide a service for Motu-speaking people in the Port Moresby area. He would then, he declared, establish a pirate station to be called Radio Hiri on Fisherman’s Island in the bay off Port Moresby. The department eventually opened a Central District station in 1974. Percy, of course, had not kept his Guy Fawkes or pirate station threats. However, he had turned his fire on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Papua New Guinea Service, which, he believed, was promoting the Pidgin language and neglecting Hiri Motu. From this arose his successful efforts to have a national broadcasting commission established.

Chatterton’s championship of the underdog and his vigilant defence of all citizens’ rights and freedoms is consistent with his background and upbringing. These had also been the concerns of his Nonconformist forefathers and Percy carried on in Papua New Guinea the causes of the English reforming Dissenters. Looking back over his time as a politician, he believes his efforts to raise local wages, the setting up of the national broadcasting commission and the promotion of the Bill of Human Rights to have been his most important achievements. With regard to the last he says: ‘Just how many of the rights set out in the ordinance will survive remains to be seen, but at least it ensures that, if the people of Papua New Guinea decide to throw them away, or allow them to be taken away, they will know what they are losing’. His biggest disappointments were the rejection of the ombudsman and the suggestion that a national capital district be created. The latter was an attempt to benefit both the city of Port Moresby and the rural areas of the Central District as well as Papua as a whole. If expenditure on the national capital were to be subtracted from the amount allowed in the budget for Papua, he believed that a true picture of Papua’s comparative neglect in relation to New Guinea would be revealed.

In the last of the regular monthly features he wrote from 1966 to 1973 for the Pacific Islands Monthly, Chatterton acknowledged that he had expended most of his energy in the Assembly fighting what appeared to be lost causes and that his only substantial suc­cess was the passing of the Human Rights Bill. But he points out that many of the ideas he put forward between 1964 and 1971, which were ignored or ridiculed at the time, have since been taken up by others with more success. His plea that development plans should recognise the importance of social and political as well as economic factors was repeated many times during his time in politics and as early as September 1965, he said in the House:[4]

The World Bank Report lays great stress on the concentration of effort in areas of high economic potential and up to a point this is no doubt sound. But if it leads to complete neglect of the areas of low economic potential, it could be very dangerous indeed. We cannot, of course, hope to have an equal level of prosperity all over the Territory but if we allow the disparity between the most prosperous and the least prosperous areas to become too great, we shall create social and political problems which may well destroy the value of our economic advances and bring the Territory into a state of disunity from which nothing will be able to save it. Nothing, not even a national anthem written for us by the Beatles. 

These prophetic views were ignored at the time, but the concept of balanced development is now basic to the Somare government’s Eight Point Plan. 

Another of Percy’s favourite themes that was ahead of its time was the warning that, in allowing and encouraging massive overseas investment by big corporations without careful restrictions and control, the country was in danger of exchanging political for economic colonialism. This has since become a subject for worldwide discussion and concern and the Papua New Guinea government is now well aware of the problems involved. Chatterton also had the satisfaction in 1971 of seeing certain jobs in the private sec­tor, as well as in the public service, reserved for local workers. He had proposed this in November 1968 in the face of outraged opposition from many fellow members. In 1974, the government was also proposing to set up a national capital district and an om­budsman’s commission. 

A system of regional government is another idea Chatterton has promoted successfully. He is intensely loyal to Papua and resents very much the domination, as he sees it, of the former Australian Territory by the richer and more populous Trust Territory of New Guinea. He calls himself ‘a colonial relic of the Hubert Murray era’ and believes that some of the principles of Murray’s administration that gave Papua its pre-war distinctiveness were swept away by New Guinea-oriented officers in the post-war period. He thinks that Papua has been forced into playing Cinderella to New Guinea’s ugly sister, and fears for the future of the Papuans under the domination of the New Guineans, especially the Highlanders. Consequently, in May 1971, he supported the Member for Western and Gulf Regional Electorate, V. B. Counsel, in his call for an im­partial inquiry into the future relationship between the two territories. He made clear his own views on the matter: he had accepted the Administrator’s invitation to act as Chairman of the National Day Committee because he wanted to promote national unity. But this he saw as ‘the unity of people who come together because they want to come together and stay together because they want to stay together’. He believed that ‘a unity imposed by the arrogant upon the unwilling can only end in disaster and misery for the people of this country’.[5] Pointing out that it was untrue that, as some had suggested, there were no alternatives other than a single nation within the old colonial boundaries or a collection of tiny, hostile fragments, he went on to spell out some other possibilities. These included semi-autonomous provinces united within a federal state or small, independent states linked by such bonds as a com­mon market, customs union and defence pacts. He outlined his own suggestions for strong regional government in a paper read at the Fourth Waigani Seminar on the Politics of Melanesia in 1970.[6] This scheme would set up provincial assemblies composed of mem­bers of the House of Assembly representing electorates within the province along with an equal number of delegates from the prov­ince’s local government councils. An independent president could be elected or appointed. The powers and responsibilities of national, provincial and local government respectively, would be worked out by agreement; decision making and implementation would be decentralised as much as possible to provincial and local levels, leaving the national government with mainly enabling, co­ordinating and regulative functions. The paper concluded:[7]

We are faced with the task of creating national unity where there is no national unity. We are asked to accept the end product of a series of colonial accidents as a fait accompli, and to transform it into an independent nation. Frankly, I am not optimistic about our chances of success. But I do believe that we have a somewhat better chance of suc­cess if we adopt a decentralised governmental structure of the kind I have suggested than if we persist in our present policy of centralism. In Niugini, centralist government has little hope of success. Centralist government based on Port Moresby has no hope of success at all. 

There has been speculation as to the role, if any, Chatterton has played in the development of the Papua Besena Movement. He sponsored Miss Josephine Abaijah, the founder of the movement, when she sought election to his old seat in 1972 and he considered her qualifications made her worthy of his support, although he hardly knew her before she asked him for his help. As a champion of women’s rights he was glad to assist a woman candidate, especially a personable, intelligent and well educated one, who also shared his pro-Papua sympathies. Whether he would have helped Miss Abaijah to success if she had already formulated her secessionist policies is not known,[8] but Chatterton is certainly in sympathy with many of the Besena aims and believes that it expresses some of the legitimate hopes, fears and grievances of the Papuan people. He does not, however, support the idea of complete secession from New Guinea, not because he would not like to see this happen, but because he believes that such separation is now no longer practical or possible. The most he feels can be hoped for at this stage is strong regional government for the Papuans, with a real measure of autonomy within the united nation. He confesses to a temperamental liking for small things and simple people, by which he no doubt means people with a simple life style, and he deplores the cult of bigness. By inference he would thus prefer a small independent Papua to a large, united Papua New Guinea. He watches old friends and colleagues busily engaged in such ‘dinosaurian activities’ as nation building and the creating of a national identity and neither condemns nor applauds. Of these activities he simply says, ‘they are not my cup of tea’. With regard to the Papua Besena Movement he adopts a stance of strict neutrality: he does not support the movement, neither does he condemn it. This attitude does not satisfy some of those who deplore the effects of Besena on national unity and fear that it may provoke violence between Papuans and New Guineans. With his influence he could no doubt persuade many who now support the movement to accept union with New Guinea and the loss of a separate Papuan identity, but such persuasion would surely involve assurances to Miss Abaijah’s followers that they, in his opinion, had nothing to fear from New Guinea and that they would be less well off if they separated. This Chatterton is unable to do: he does fear for Papua under New Guinea domination and he is not convinced that it is to Papua’s advantage to be united to New Guinea.

He believes the people of the Highland Districts pose the greatest threat to the Papuans. He has made it clear that he resents the presence of the Highlanders in such large numbers in Port Moresby and would like to see most of them depart, along with the Pidgin language, for their homes. This antipathy is perhaps prompted in part by their very numbers. However, the characteristics generally attributed to the mountain people are precisely those he finds least attractive in his fellow men. Their big man system, their materialism and love of ostentation and the trappings of power, their arrogance, aggressiveness and urge to dominate are all distasteful to him.[9] He has also, perhaps, reacted defensively to the tendency, apparent until recently, of many expatriates to compare the coastal Papuans unfavourably with the Highlanders and to predict confidently that the mountain tribes would leave their lowland neighbours far behind in future achievement. Chatterton might bear some personal resentment towards the Highlanders for their opposition to his most cherished proposals in the House of Assembly. At least some Highland support was necessary if any bill was to be approved and official members often denied him this by using what he called the roads and bridges tactic. The cry that the cost of social legislation proposed by Percy would mean less money for physical development was usually enough to turn the Highlanders against him. Despite their many problems and disadvantages, the mountain people seem to be the one group in the country that has failed to win his ready sympathy and to have strained his usually warm charity and tolerance. The tone of some of his letters to the editor of the Post-Courier on the problems caused by the Highlanders in Port Moresby has been, on occasions, less than kind and perhaps unfairly critical.

Chatterton’s work for the underprivileged inevitably involved him in much prodding and pricking of the Australian admin­istration. When Michael Somare and he, on 25 November 1968, at­tacked it for its treatment of Irianese refugees in Manus Island camps, Assistant Administrator Frank Henderson was stung to retort: ‘I think it unfortunate that Mr Somare and Mr Chatterton should have besmirched the good name of Papua and New Guinea as they have done today ... Mr Chatterton and Mr Somare are always only too willing to think the worst of the Administration’.[10] Percy has been accused of being not only anti-administration but also anti-Australian. He denies this, though he once expressed regret in the House that Great Britain had ever handed over her New Guinean possession to Australia and declared that Papua would have fared better if it had enjoyed the same status as the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. Percy claims that these were tongue-in-cheek comments and a manifestation of his delight in leg pulling. What he does resent is the Australian tendency to believe that its administration of Papua New Guinea is the best of all possible governments simply by virtue of the fact that it is Australian. He is also irritated by the administration’s refusal to consider the possibility of being able to learn anything useful from other colonial powers and its automatic conviction that anything good for Australia must necessarily be also good for Papua New Guinea. There must have been many times when the official members of the House felt Chatterton to be a thorn in the flesh, but despite many wide differences of opinion and disagreements over policy he retained the respect and even the affection of many of those he opposed. It is to the Australian government’s credit that it recommended him for an award in recognition of his services to Papua New Guinea: He received an O.B.E. in the New Year’s Honours of 1972. No doubt he was grateful for this official recognition of his efforts on behalf of the people of Papua and derived a deep sense of satisfaction for the honour bestowed on him and, indirectly, through him on his missionary colleagues. But perhaps a distinction that gave him more pleasure was the honorary Doctorate of Laws conferred upon him in March the same year by the University of Papua New Guinea. He had been the constant, if not uncritical, friend and supporter of the university since its foundation and had defended it in the House when its autonomy seemed threatened.

Chatterton was provided with a very useful platform from which to express his views when the editor of the Pacific Islands Monthly invited him, in 1966, to contribute a regular feature article called ‘To The Point’. It is interesting that Percy took the place, as monthly columnist, of the late Gordon Thomas who had gone to New Guinea to work for the Methodist Mission in 1911.[11] Thomas later became editor of the Rabaul Times and while, in the thirties, Chatterton was writing to the Papuan Courier urging a more sympathetic attitude from white motorists towards Papuan pedestrians, Thomas was advising his readers that the maintenance of white supremacy demanded that, when natives were to be carried in a motor car, it should be on the running board rather than in­side.[12] Both writers showed a tendency to look back nostalgically on the between-wars period in Papua and New Guinea, respectively, but Thomas’s view was tinged with a bias in favour of white privilege while Chatterton’s interest was in the life of the Papuan villagers. Another difference was their attitude towards events of more recent times. Thomas’s stance tended to be reactionary; he almost invariably compared current developments unfavourably with the practices of the ‘time before’. He was, in fact, a classic exemplar of the ‘before’ generation. Chatterton could never be thought of as ‘before’ in this sense. All contemporary trends, affairs and attitudes were grist to his mill, to be examined carefully, and criticised or commended according to his judgment of their merits. The range of topics he has discussed in his column is as wide as Papua New Guinea itself and it is doubtful if a single institution, activity or development has escaped the discerning glance behind those pebble-lensed spectacles. At the beginning of 1970 ‘To The Point’ was altered in format and the name changed to ‘Footnotes — With Percy Chatterton in Port Moresby’. The editor, perhaps because of the popularity of the feature, added similar columns from writers in other Pacific centres. 

Chatterton’s relaxed, easy style of writing is deceptive in that it does not indicate the amount of care and hard work he gives to it. Through it runs a thread of compassionate concern for others, even when he is gently mocking the follies and the foibles of those in­volved in Papua New Guinea affairs. His quick ability to laugh at himself makes it difficult for others to feel offended when he laughs at them. During his years as a politician Percy frequently wrote letters to the editor of the Post-Courier. They showed the same clarity of thought as his P.I.M. feature and were always in­teresting and relevant, with often the added bonus of being amusing as well. He was the rarest of birds: a parson and a politician who was never boring. While many of his readers disagreed with his opinions or were exasperated by his attitudes, few were hostile to him personally. It was a remarkable achievement to be outspoken and controversial, sometimes in situations which were emotionally highly charged, and yet avoid producing a backlash of anger and hatred.

Percy’s decision not to stand for the third House of Assembly in February 1972 was perhaps a wise one. Had he stood successfully, he would certainly have supported the coalition government on most issues; one wonders if he would have been temperamentally comfortable on the government benches. His scrutiny of proposed legislation, based on his own strongly held views regardless of party politics, could have been embarrassing to the coalition at times. Papua New Guineans, he wrote:[13]

are not by tradition tolerant people. In the small vulnerable communities in which they lived before the coming of the white man they could not afford to be tolerant of dissenters. Moreover, it was their belief, as it has been the belief of many peoples throughout the ages, that the failure of a single individual to conform to traditional customs and rituals could bring down the vengeance of gods or spirits on the whole community. In the settlement of disputes tribal solidarity was more important than an abstract idea of justice being done. Chatterton doubts that nearly a century of contact with Western democracy has to any great extent produced an atmosphere of tolerance among Papua New Guineans and he suggests that the instant popularity of the slogan ‘national unity’ is a reflection of the old requirement of tribal life. With this awareness he could have found himself with the painful dilemma of choosing between giving the government the support it needed to function effectively and the dictates of his own conscience. There was some speculation at the time the new House met that Chatterton might be offered the Speakership under a provision whereby a small number of non-elected members could be co-opted to serve. He was, however, determined to retire from politics and settled down to enjoy the view from the verandah of his new cottage on a hill-top site in Sabama. The Chattertons’ Papuan neighbours had helped them to obtain this house, near their old one, but away from the main road and in a more attractive location. 

In retirement Chatterton can look back on fifty years of service to his adopted country. As an educator Percy can wryly reflect that the wheel has taken a full turn and what was previously despised and disparaged has now come to be recognised as sensible, sensitive and effective educational practice. In recent times there has been a widespread disillusionment with the kind of schooling introduced after World War II, which, in effect, assumed that every child should be prepared for admission to secondary and tertiary training institutions. In fact, only the brightest children can find places in high school and the country is faced with the problem of what to do with large numbers of young people who are unable to continue their schooling beyond Standard 6. The effect of their education has been to make them dissatisfied with traditional life in the villages without equipping them with the skills necessary to find the kind of employment they imagined their education would provide. Percy has pointed out that education has been regarded by many as a kind of cargo cult which would open the road to the material prosperity and all the trappings of Western affluent society. For most this has been a vain hope. Against the wishes of many missionary teachers, the post-war educators rejected vernacular teaching and demanded that English be the sole medium of in­struction. Chatterton believes that the effect of this policy has been to produce a generation that knows no language at all in depth. He considers that his pre-war Hanuabadan pupils were able to think more clearly, reason more effectively and grasp language skills better than today’s youngsters who have learnt some English, but im­perfectly. Meanwhile they have failed to master fully their parents’ vernacular and, in the towns at least, are often confined to the use of Hiri Motu or Pidgin for communication and thought. As they have never been formally taught these languages, they are not usually literate in them or even very effective speakers of them. By contrast Hanuabada, surrounded though it is by a modern, Western-style city, has retained its identity, dignity and distinctive way of life. The Hanuabadans seem to have adjusted remarkably well to the revolutionary changes that have taken place around them[14] and for this the young missionary teacher who spent fifteen years with them must take some of the credit.

As a missionary Chatterton’s linguistic skills, warm humanitarianism and deeply rooted democratic spirit have perhaps contributed most to the effectiveness of his work. A man’s most profound thoughts, feelings and aspirations are best expressed in his mother tongue and Chatterton’s language work made it possible for those to whom he ministered to hear the Gospel not only in their own tongue but also in their own familiar thought forms and within the context of their own world view. He provided those who accepted the Gospel with tools of prayer and worship in the form of his vernacular liturgies. Of course he was not an originator in this field but was following the established L.M.S. tradition. Nevertheless, his patient translation of the Scriptures has benefited a much wider group than his own parishioners and has helped his fellow pastors and teachers also in their own work. At the end of 1973 he held in his hand the fruit of many years of hard labour in the handsome shape of his newly published version of the whole Bible in the Motuan language. It would be hard to imagine Chatterton involved in any organisation which was not thoroughly democratic in form and spirit. He believes and has convincingly pointed out how much the old L.M.S. and later the Papua Ekalesia, the church that evolved from the mission, prepared the people of Papua New Guinea for a democratic form of government. The church’s system of congregational, district, regional and national councils, all made up of elected representatives of the ordinary church members, anticipated similar forms of government in the state. No doubt it is from this experience of church organisation that Percy has developed his own ideas of regional administration. Underlying them is his conviction that the only government really understood and accepted by the people is one in which they are personally involved at village level. It becomes their govern­ment when they share in the decision making. Missionaries have been much blamed for the destruction of at least part of the old culture of the country. Chatterton has shown by his broad tolerance and his respect for individual conscience that the traditional image of the missionary as a bigoted and puritanical iconoclast of native cultures is by no means always true. He and missionaries like him have demonstrated that the Christian religion need not be the negative, destructive force condemned by nationalistic critics. In Papua New Guinea, it has been a powerful instrument for worthwhile change and progress.

In the political sphere his influence has also been felt. He has lost individual battles, but if the war for good, just, democratic and humane government is won in Papua New Guinea, it will be due to the efforts of people like him. He was ahead of his time on many issues and it is not surprising that one hears Chattertonian echoes in speeches made in the House two years after he left its floor. It is too early to tell how much of his influence will survive, but there are indications that he has left a mark on some of the most effective politicians of the present time. 

When, in March 1972, Percy was presented with his honorary Doctorate of Laws at the University of Papua New Guinea, Stuart Inder, editor of P.I.M., was moved to commend his speech of acceptance ‘for its brevity and the clarity of thought and the humanity that are so typical of the man himself’. It was a typical Chatterton speech, delivered in his unmistakable deep stentorian tones:[15]

There are three reasons why the honour which you have conferred on me tonight gives me very special satisfaction. 

The first is that it is of this country, and, although I cannot claim to be either black or beautiful, I like to think of myself as of this country and I hope to end my days here. 

The second is that it is of this university and I believe in this university. I believe it has a value for this country not to be measured in terms of dollars spent on it or even of degrees granted by it. It is my earnest hope that from this university will emerge leaders who are not only knowledgeable and highly skilled but also wise, tolerant and humane. The third is that it is of the Faculty of Law. I am sceptical about the value to this country of some of the alleged blessings of civilisation which we of the west have brought to it. But I have no doubt at all that we have done Papua New Guinea a very great service by establishing in it a system of justice designed to ensure that not only the guilty are punished but also that the innocent are set free. I have no sympathy with those of my fellow parliamentarians who, if I understand them correctly, want to sweep this system away and replace it by some kind of instant justice-on-the-spot jurisdiction presided over by policemen. I must confess that as a parliamentarian I have sometimes been critical of the jargonisation of the English language by lawyers. They are not the only offenders, of course, but they are among the worst, and I would like to see established within the Faculty of Law of this university a lectureship in English usage, dedicated to restoring, in this field which so intimately affects the lives of ordinary people, the simplicity, brevity and clarity which were once the glory of the English tongue. 

For these three reasons, therefore, the honour which you have conferred upon me gives me great satisfaction. Whether, in spite of the kind things said about me by the Vice-Chancellor, I deserve it is another matter. 

I would find it difficult now to recapture the mood and motives which brought my wife and myself to this country in 1924. But I can tell you, and I would like to tell you, why we have stayed here for almost half a century. 

We cannot, I am afraid, lay claim to a share of the splendid altruism of those who from time to time remind you that they are here at great personal inconvenience simply and solely in order to guide and assist the people of this country in their onward march towards nationhood, prosperity and the Australian Way of Life. 

The reason we have stayed here for so long is a very simple and I am afraid a rather selfish one. We have stayed here because we like it here. We like the place, we like the people, and for some reason which I have never been able to understand, many of them seem to like us. The happiness which we have found among the people of this land has been, in itself, ample reward for anything which we may have been able to do for them. 

You have very generously added to that happiness and that reward and I thank you most sincerely. 

In a farewell tribute to the member for Moresby Open on his last day in the House of Assembly, the Speaker, Dr John Guise, said:[16]

I do not call him Mr Chatterton; we Papuans call him ‘Taubada’ Chatterton and ‘Taubada’ does not mean a white person. ‘Taubada’ happens to be a Milne Bay word, from where I come, and it means a great man and this is what Mr Chatterton is — ‘Taubada’ Chatterton — for his devotion to this country and for his unselfish service to this country; not alone, but also with his wife.

Original Publication

This person appears as a part of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17. [View Article]

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Citation details

Ian Stuart, 'Chatterton, Sir Percy (1898–1984)', Pacific Islander Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 June 2024.

© Copyright Pacific Islander Biography, 2012

Life Summary [details]


8 October, 1898
Ashton-upon-Mersey, Greater Manchester, England


25 November, 1984 (aged 86)
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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