DECK, John Northcote (1875-1957) • Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography

DECK, John Northcote (1875-1957)

Stuart Braga, ,

DECK, (JOHN) NORTHCOTE (b. Norwood, London, England, 12 March 1875; d. Toronto, Canada, 10 May 1957). Missionary doctor and teacher.

Northcote Deck was the second son of Dr John Feild Deck and his wife Emily (née Baring Young). He came to Sydney from New Zealand with his parents in 1877 when J F Deck established the Sydney Homeopathic Hospital at Ashfield, then a wealthy suburb, and studied medicine at Sydney University. In 1908, he visited the work in the Solomon Islands of the SSEM conducted under the aegis of his aunt Florence Young (q.v.), and joined the Mission. For the next nineteen years, he served as the SSEM's first medical missionary, travelling among the islands of the Solomon group in the mission's vessel Evangel. Florence Young wrote that Northcote Deck 'threw himself heart and soul into the work. He took full charge of the vessel, and as Captain, engineer, photographer, explorer, doctor and visiting missionary and teacher has done work of untold value ... The moment the anchor is dropped there follows the important and strenuous work of visiting the out-station schools to instruct encourage and guide the native teachers.' To the islanders, he was 'Liutasi' - the man who goes everywhere. In 1910, he became the first white man to cross Guadalcanal, notoriously hazardous tor whites since the depredations of the blackbirders. The next year he recovered the skulls of an Austrian party which had been wiped out in Guadalcanal some years before. These exploits, performed at such obvious peril earned Deck the Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society.

He assisted in the establishment of an outpost at the more remote Rennell Island in 1910, and on returning a little later, was horrified to find the bones of the three native teachers. They had been killed, it appeared, to obtain the nails with which the mission house had been constructed, to use as fish hooks. Writing in 1945, Northcote commented of this set-back, 'at the time the whole tragedy seemed like defeat. In the light of subsequent events it was only victory deferred'. However, Rennell Island remained closed tor many years thereafter; the government forbade the establishment of a mission station until 1934, a policy with which Deck reluctantly concurred.

He m. Jessie Gibson on 19 April 1911 while on deputation work in Dunedin, New Zealand his parents' home town, where the mission had a Council of Advice; there were no children. After Jessie died of Blackwater fever in 1921, Deck m. in Oct 1923 his step-cousin Gladys Deck, from Motucka, New Zealand, who had arrived in the Solomons earlier in the year, a daughter and a son were born to them. The losses of his first wife and aunt strengthened Deck's utter commitment to the Lord's work.

Following Constance Young's death in 1924, he wrote, 'we are here to glorify God every day and night, and anything which does not do that must go'. Though Florence Young was the founder and undoubted leader of the SSEM, her nieces and nephews, members of the Deck family, were among its key members in the field for most of the first half of the 20th century. Seven of the eleven children of John and Emily Deck became missionaries: five with the SSEM and two with other missions, most of them for long periods. All had drunk deeply at the fountain of their parents' faith and piety, solidly based upon Bible study, so characteristic of the Brethren of that period. The seed thus sown bore fruit as the years went by, with the establishment of a strong indigenous church in the Solomons.

Deck's quarterly letters describing his missionary journeyings had an apostolic quality, and gained a wide circulation, 2000 copies being printed in the 1920s. Like St Paul, he was in danger often, and was no stranger to suffering. He also produced a number of devotional works and accounts of the work of the SSEM, and lived to see the fruit of his labours and those of his fellow workers. Despite the desperate battle for Guadalcanal in 1942, one of the fiercest conflicts of the Pacific theatre of World War Two, the work of the mission was unharmed, and continued to grow in subsequent years.

He left the Islands in 1928, and settled in England for 10 years before moving to Canada. He had a warm and generous personality, and an uncommon gift of combining gentleness and authority as a public speaker: his words were with power. He was a sought-after speaker at conventions, and was an active board member of Christian organisations. Naturally, he maintained a keen and prayerful interest in the work which he had done so much to establish.

A Griffiths, Fire in the Islands! (Wheaton, 1977); F S H Young, Pearls From the Pacific (London, nd, 1925.)

SELECT PUBLICATIONS: J N Deck, South from Guadalcanal: the romance of Rennell Island (Toronto, 1945)

STUART BRAGA

 

Electronic Version © Southern Cross College, 2004

Content © Evangelical History Association of Australia and the author, 2004
 

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