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George Bennet
Dates: 1775 - 1841
Biographical Account:

George Bennet grew up with Christianity influence by his granddad and family. He actively helped the poor, a lender amongst his townspeople and a missionary to the Pacific (1821-1829). He was invited by directors of the London Missionary Society to accompany Reverend Daniel Tyerman on an official visit to the various stations, in certain islands of the South Pacific Ocean, where "a work of conversion from gross barbarism and idolatry to the profession of a pure Christianity".

He died in 1841 aged 68. Grandparents were Edward and Hannah Bennet. Father was James Bennet. Uncle was John Bennet (Edward's 2nd brother).

George Bennet, together with Reverend Daniel Tyerman, toured a large part of the world between 1821 and 1829 on behalf of the London Missionary Society. The year 1821 marked twenty-five years after the ship Duff voyaged to the Pacific carrying the first missionaries of the newly formed Missionary Society (which became the London Missionary Society in 1818). Bennet and Tyerman’s role was ‘cheering the hearts and strengthening the hands of the Missionaries’ and reporting to the Society on progress. A published account of the voyage was compiled from official and private documents including journals kept by Bennet and Tyerman (Montgomery 1841, 2nd edition with corrections). It also includes some accounts by previous missionaries.

Bennet and Tyerman were assigned to report on a wide geographical area including China, India and South Africa as well as the Pacific islands. They were based in the Society islands (the LMS centre for missionary work)  in 1821 and travelled extensively in French Polynesia and the Hawaiian Islands, before moving on to New Zealand and Australia in 1824, and Java in 1825 (then China, India and Africa). Their contact with Pacific islanders was at a relatively early stage of missionary work in that part of the world, and they reported on many aspects of local traditions and material culture, describing the people, landscape and natural history in some detail. This contextual information is extremely valuable for the artefacts they collected. For example, there are three Austral Islands paddles in the collection and there is an account in the published work of ‘prettily-carved paddles, which are highly prized here’ being presented ceremonially to a Ra’ivavae chief and his wife in 1824 (1841: 167). Unfortunately there is no mention of how Bennet acquired the paddles in this collection, but we know from his published accounts that he was presented with gifts by high-ranking friends and probably also acquired items in exchange for European goods.

Of Bennet’s original collection, some were retained by the LMS for their museum. Other items were deposited with Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society, the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, and Saffron Walden Museum. Sheffield then donated part of the collection to the British Museum in 1871. The British Museum has 21 of the items collected by Bennet accessible through their online database. These include some important items purchased from the LMS in 1911 (on loan from 1890), notably a to’o (‘god image’) and fare atua (‘god house’). The LMS probably retained the religious items in the first instance as a demonstration of the effectiveness of their missionary work.

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