Collection PHOTO 108 - Isaac Neilson Whyte and Mary Grace Whyte Photographs of New Hebrides (Vanuatu)

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Isaac Neilson Whyte and Mary Grace Whyte Photographs of New Hebrides (Vanuatu)


  • 1952 - 1959 (Creation)

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379 slides scanned to digital

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Isaac Neilson Whyte was born on 28 November 1919 in Ulster, Northern Ireland. His family moved to Australia in 1927 and had a dairy farm in Victoria. Neilson served with the Australian Army in 1940-1945 and fought with the Rats of Tobruk. He was captured by the German forces and spent four years as a prisoner of war. He read a lot in custody and began to consider studying theology. On his return to Australia, he studied for a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne and theology at the Presbyterian Theological Hall at Ormond College. He was ordained on 10 March 1952 and commissioned for missionary service.

Neilson married Dr Mary Grace Asche in February of 1951 and in December 1952 they began their mission service in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) with the Australian Presbyterian Board of Missions. The Whytes were based in the village of Wintua, South West Bay on the island of Malekula 1952-1957. Neilson and Mary Grace had seven children; the four eldest children spent their early years in Wintua. Neilson spent a lot of time away from Wintua as he was responsible for 17 villages in the region. He also helped bring about a peace agreement between village leaders in Big Nambas territory and a peace house was built to mark the agreement. The 1957 Assembly was held in Wintua and Neilson was inducted as Moderator. Shortly after the Assembly, the Whyte family returned to Australia as Neilson was experiencing some physical ailments associated with his war service. On his return to Australia he went on to serve in parishes at Goodwood, Learmonth and Donald. After years of pain and ill health, Isaac Neilson Whyte died in Melbourne in February 1972 at the age of 52.

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Biographical history

Mary Grace Whyte was born Mary Grace Asche on 23 March, 1926 to missionary parents. She graduated with Bachelors degrees in medicine and surgery at the University of Melbourne. In February 1951 she married Isaac Neilson Whyte. After he was ordained in 1952, they went to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) with the Australian Presbyterian Board of Missions. They were based in the village of Wintua in South West Bay on the island of Malekula, 1952-1957. The Whytes had seven children; the eldest four spent their early years in Wintua.

Mary Grace provided medical care in Wintua and surrounding villages and introduced preventive measures such as inoculations against tuberculosis and using mosquito nets to protect from malaria. She was also engaged in talking to women about their health, especially childbirth. The Whyte family returned to Australia in 1957 as Neilson was experiencing a lot of pain from war service injuries. Mary Grace made subsequent visits to South West Bay throughout her life. She is also an artist who has painted many scenes of the New Hebrides.

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This collection of photographs illustrates the life of Rev Isaac Neilson Whyte and Dr Mary Grace Whyte durng their service with the Australian Presbyterian Board of Missions in the New Hebrides, 1952-1957. With their children Michael, Robyn, Alistair and Peter, they were based in the village of Wintua in the South West Bay region of Malekula. Mary Grace and Neilson arrived in Wintua shortly after a hurricane had been through and destroyed much of the village infrastructure. In the years that followed, Wintua was rebuilt with the help of people from neighbouring villages, who helped to build a new church, mission house, district school and a small hospital. Rev Whyte was often away from Wintua, visiting other villages in his mission jurisdiction. He visited Big Nambas territory, which had in the previously been hostile to Europeans, and helped bring about a peace agreement between village leaders. Mary Grace practised medicine in Wintua and surrounding villages.

This collection of photographs depicts village and church life in South West Bay. It shows the reconstruction of the village, family photographs, Rev and Dr Whyte giving medical care and travel between villages by launch and canoe. There are also photos of a Big Nambas village and the Leviamp peace talks, as well as family photos taken on return to Australia.

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See individual items

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Whyte Family, Victoria, Australia

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Access this title at PMB Member Libraries or by purchasing it directly from the Bureau:

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See also MS 1430 and MS 1431

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  • English



Archivist's note

Individual item titles are taken from the handwritten captions on slide mounts. The handwriting varies across the collection. The language is reflective of the period of captioning. In the absence of captions, titles were devised by cataloguer based on image content or (where indicated) information supplied by Paul Mitchell, November 2019. Information added by cataloguer is included in square brackets [ ].

Archivist's note

Uploaded by Kari James 15 December 2019.

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