This film is held by the BFI (ID: 765392).


Outlines the history of the London Missionary Society Papua mission, with reference to the missionary James Chalmers, and the work of the modern mission in the context of Papuan society and culture. Mission stations on the south coast of Papua are visited. Edited from reels taken by the Australia and New Zealand secretary of the LMS, Rev. Norman Cocks, during his official secretarial visit to Papuan mission stations in 1949.



Papua Patchwork was shot in 1949 by the Australia and New Zealand Secretary of the London Missionary Society, the Rev. Norman Cocks, during an official secretarial visit to the LMS missions in Papua. Notice of the film becoming available to churches appears in the ‘Youth Chronicle’ section of the LMS’s monthly magazine The Chronicle for March 1952, where it is described as providing ‘a good idea of the waterways of Papua and the difficulties of travel with which our missionaries have to contend’ (The Chronicle, March 1952, 50). Several other audio and visual teaching aids relating to the LMS Papua mission are mentioned alongside it, namely two sets of gramophone records (‘Discussion Disc – Papua Problems’ and a ‘Medical Disc’) and a 36-shot filmstrip and commentary on the LMS’s Gemo Island Leprosy Hospital in Papua (this institution is also subject of the ‘Medical Disc’; ibid., 49-50). 

These materials, and the film itself, were part of a church-wide LMS programme entitled ‘Introducing Papua.’ Launched in 1951, it saw all of the Papua-related educational material ‘integrated in a programme for every branch of the local church from the Sunday school to the men’s fellowship’ (LMS Survey, 1951-2, 26). Some materials, such as the phonograph discs, were only thought suitable for adults (‘We know that they are not any use with children’; The Chronicle, op. cit.), but much of the rest was aimed specifically at the young, and included books (Cannibals Come to Town, by the then LMS Home Secretary Leonard Hurst [1951a]), educative programmes and activities for classes (Papua, by Monica M. Green [1951], and A Visit to Papuaby Bertha Krall [1951]), a play, and a plan for a ‘pageant’ (Survey, 27).

Filmmaker Cocks’s 1949 visit is itself documented in articles written by him for TheChronicle that appeared in 1950 (‘By Beach and Waterway’, Cocks, 1950) and 1951 (‘This is Papua’, Cocks 1951). Indeed, the April 1951 issue is almost exclusively devoted to coverage of Papua, and may be seen as the opening fanfare of the ‘Introducing Papua’ programme, as it contains several articles detailing current and historical missionary work and other pieces on the labours of the first LMS missionary to coastal south Papua, James Chalmers, who was killed by Papuans at Goaribari 1901.

These articles provide an ambiguous picture of the LMS’s stated rationale for its work in the Papuan mission field, an ambiguity that is expressed most plainly in an article by former LMS missionary to Papua Leonard Hurst (he of Cannibals Come to Town) called ‘The Years Ahead in Papua’ (Hurst 1951b). The general thrust of the piece is unremarkable, and follows a standard LMS narrative – the modern world has arrived, it is causing chaos within traditional societies, and these societies need the guidance of the church as they emerge out of the darkness of the past and into the light of the civilised world. As Hurst rather floridly puts it, ‘The old order is rapidly disintegrating under hammer blows of modernity and is being swept away by the seething rush of new ideas…’ (Hurst, 1951b, 61). Past LMS successes have seen ‘headhunters and cannibals’ transformed to exponents of ‘noble Christian living’, and savage warriors have laid down their arms for Christ, but the task must go on, for ‘[t]he Papuan of to-morrow must be…healthy in mind and soul as well as in body’ (ibid.). This is fairly standard stuff.

However, unlike other LMS mission fields such as Bechuanaland or the Rhodesias, where the idea (and in some sense the reality) of such a clash between the ‘old order’ and ‘new ideas’ had an obvious and easily indicated cause (e.g. migratory contract labour in mines, or political nationalism), no such disruptive influence is revealed in Papua, and it seems that the familiar tale of the coming of change did not require anything in particular to substantiate it here. Its invocation by Hurst only thinly veils a far more powerful evangelistic narrative that runs through the commentary on Papua – the old-fashioned appeal of converting savage stone-age cannibals to Christ. 



In keeping with the circumstances of its production (Cocks’s 1949 secretarial visit to Papua), Papua Patchwork is for the most part visually structured as a travelogue, with a continual emphasis on travel and transport – within the first five minutes, the viewer has already travelled on river and sea in several types of boat, been in a car along a jungle track, seen an aeroplane take off, and walked through a jungle clearing. Cocks’s eastward journey to the various mission stations along the coast is evidently traced by the footage, and all of the major LMS stations and institutions are captured on film – Lawes college, the leprosy hospital at Gemu, Kanpuna hospital and the newly finished Chalmers Technical College at Veiru all have sequences devoted to them. Several sequences, left largely unexplained by the commentary, show what are very probably the ceremonial welcomes, parades, and activities laid on by the mission stations to greet the visiting Secretary.

Though the body of the film could easily be understood simply as a record of Cocks’s tour, the commentary recasts the footage as an introduction to Papua, its people and its problems. This is facilitated initially by the presentation of the film as an illustration of the work of James Chalmers: the first shot is of a burning candle and a photograph of the famous missionary, as is the very last, and the first major sequence is a dramatically edited series of shots of dancing and singing Papuans in full ceremonial regalia, over-dubbed with sinister, ‘jungle’-themed exotic music as the narration describes the work and finally the slaughter of Chalmers.

The rest of the film fundamentally accords with travelogue conventions, with general commentary on the work of the LMS in Papua. The footage itself is interesting, with a variety of landscapes and villages covered, and several sequences of ceremonial dances; staged scenes include a humorous slapstick incident wherein a European, probably Cocks, is carried into the sea by two Papuans sedan chair-style, then dropped into the water. Such moments are more like amateur film, and reflect the fact that the picture is edited from what were in all probability Cocks’s private reels.

Traditional Papuan society is cast in a particularly poor light, ‘stone-age’ being the preferred epithet. The emphasis throughout is on the confusion and ‘bewilderment’ felt by Papuans as they come into contact with ‘Westernism’ (‘the stone-age mind struggles with the twentieth century’). However, as with the literary LMS coverage of Papua, there is very little evidence in the film to show what precisely has lead to the alleged crisis in Papuan society. Very little, that is, beyond the work of the missionaries themselves, with their technical colleges, hospitals, schools, churches and proselytising. The LMS is presented as ‘the only hope in their ever-disintegrating community’, and the narrative relates with satisfaction that every Papuan who visits the LMS hospitals might return to their village to ‘spread some of the Christian teaching that they have absorbed’. In expressing this hope that ‘the brighter dawning of a new day’ will break in Papua as the LMS leads Papuans ‘out of darkness…into the light of the Gospel of Christ,’ the film inadvertently makes it clear that the disintegration of ‘stone-age’ Papuan life was something in which the missionaries of the LMS sought to play an active role.

Francis Gooding (October 2009)


Works Cited

Biskup, P, Jinks, B, and Nelson, H  A Short History of New Guinea (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1968).

Cocks, Norman  ‘By Beach and Waterway’ in The Chronicle: A Magazine of World Enterprise April 1950 (London: London Missionary Society, 1950), 58-9.

Cocks, Norman 1951 ‘This is Papua’ in The Chronicle: A Magazine of World Enterprise April 1951 (London: London Missionary Society, 1951), 53.

Green, Monica M. Papua (London: Livingstone Press, 1951).

Hurst, Leonard  (a) Cannibals Come to Town: An Introduction to Papua (London: Livingstone Press, 1951).

Hurst Leonard  (b) ‘The Years Ahead in Papua’ in The Chronicle: A Magazine of World Enterprise April 1951 (London: London Missionary Society, 1951), 60-1.

Jenkins, Mary  ‘Week-end in Papua’ in The Chronicle: A Magazine of World EnterpriseFebruary 1952 (London: London Missionary Society. 1952), 29-31.

Krall, Bertha  A Visit to Papua (London: Livingstone Press, 1951).

Legge, J. D. Australian Colonial Policy: A Survey of Native Administration and European Development in Papua (Sydney: Halstead Press, 1956).

Survey 1952: A review of the work of the London Missionary Society for the year 1951/52 (London: Livingstone Press).

‘Youth Chronicle’ in The Chronicle: A Magazine of World Enterprise May 1952 (London: London Missionary Society), 49-51.




Technical Data

Running Time:
13 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film

Production Credits

London Missionary Society
SMITH, Norman Ingram
SMITH, Norman Ingram
COCKS, Norman
Production Company
London Missionary Society
United Motion Pictures





Production Organisations