Biographical entry: Mathews, John Evan (1923 - 1938)

24 October 1923
12 August 1938


Graeme Golden provides a good account of John (Jack) Ewan Mathews, who lived in the Solomons from 1900 to 1938. He was born in London on 5 October 1881 of Welsh parents. He became a sailor working between Europe and the Americas, and in 1899 reached Sydney, Australia. He joined a ship that was subsequently wrecked in the Solomons in about 1900, and became a trader. In 1904, Lever Brothers had acquired land from Oscar Svensen (q.v.) at Graciosa Bay on Santa Cruz, which, starting in 1906, Mathews managed for eighteen years. It was a difficult time since the local people often launched attacks and he had to remain armed most of the time. He married a part-Solomons woman and had two children, Elsa and Charles. After his wife died, the Melanesian Mission (q.v.) took care of his children. Communications beyond the island were very poor, occurring only two or three times a year, and Mathews often ran out of supplies.

In 1922, he decided to take his children to England for education, but on the way a shipboard romance occurred and he married Ruby Isobel Etchells. The family then returned to Graciosa Bay. Ruby found life there too hard and returned to Sydney, pregnant, at which time Mathews resigned from Levers and joined her. Sydney proved just as hard as Santa Cruz, and after his daughter Irene was born on 24 October 1923, in May 1924, he returned to a job as junior overseer at the Solomon Islands Development Company (q.v.) plantation at Salicana in southern Choiseul. Next, he worked for Hugh Scott on Kamaleia plantation on Shortland Island. His family returned to Australia once more since Ruby was again pregnant, and daughter Dorothy was born on 12 September 1925. Mathews' next position was as Manager for Shortland Islands Plantations Ltd. at Fauro. Fauro was a pleasant location and his family returned, and two more children were born: Joyce on 14 June 1928 and Stanley on 13 February 1930. Every six weeks the family made a trip to Faisi on 'steamer day' (when the ship from Australia arrived) to give them social experience with other European children. During the Depression years in the 1930s Ruby took the children to Sydney for education, and never returned. Jack Mathews visited Sydney for medical reasons, then returned to the Solomons. He left the Solomons for the last time in 1937 when his health deteriorated, and died in Sydney on 12 August 1938. His wife survived him by forty years. (Golden 1993, 384-387)

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Published resources


  • Golden, Graeme A., The Early European Settlers of the Solomon Islands, Graeme A. Golden, Melbourne, 1993. Details