The autobiography of John G. Paton contains everything necessary to make it a missionary classic. Born into a Christian family near Dumfries in 1824, Paton's early years were marked by a struggle against poverty. He was self-educated, and the training ground for his life's work was the slums of Glasgow where he laboured with success as a city missionary. With 'the wail of the perishing heathen in the South Seas' continually sounding in his ears, he prepared himself to serve overseas and was ordained as a missionary to the New Hebrides in 1858. This group of thirty mountainous islands, so named by Captain Cook, with its unhealthy climate, was then inhabited by savages and cannibals. The first attempt to introduce Christianity to them resulted in John Williams and James Harris being clubbed to death within a few minutes of landing in 1839.
The difficulties that confronted Paton were accentuated by the sudden death of his wife and child within months of their arrival. Against the savagery and the superstition, despite the trials and the tragedies, Paton persevered and witnessed the triumph of the gospel in two of these South Sea islands. His life is almost without parallel in missionary annals and his account of it is moving and gripping.