George Turner Scotland England Samoa Vanuatu

Biography of George Turner

Title pages of Nineteen Years in Polynesia
Title pages of Nineteen Years in Polynesia

Dr George Turner was one of the earliest missionaries to Samoa in 1840, publishing the first extensive study on the natives of Samoa and his notes on Polynesia, which became the standard authority on the subject. He also wrote extensively in the Samoan dialect.

George Turner was born in Irvine, Ayrshire in 1818, the youngest of ten children to Alexander Turner, a merchant, and Barbara Young. Turner first matriculated at the University in 1837, attending Professor Robert Buchanan's Logic class. He undertook his theological studies at the Relief Divinity Hall, Paisley, and Cheshunt College, and was ordained on 23 July 1840, at the Hutcheson Town Relief Church in Glasgow. Although appointed by the London Missionary Society as missionary to Tanna, one of the New Hebrides Group, Turner and his fellow missionary, Henry Nisbet, were forced to return to the Samoan island of Upolu in 1843 due to hostilities from the natives of Tanna. There Turner settled and contributed to the opening of a Mission Seminary for the preparation of a native ministry at Malua in 1844.

Turner returned with his family to England in 1860, taking the second revision of the Samoan Bible for publication, along with four volumes in the Samoan dialect on religion and Samoan history, which included his “Nineteen years in Polynesia” (London: Snow, 1861). For recognition of his work, the University conferred on Turner an Honorary LLD in 1861.

Returning to Samoa in 1863, he continued his work at Malua and his literary work in Samoan. Due to Turner's wife's failing health, he returned with her to Glasgow in 1869, where she died in 1872. Turner re-married the widow of the New Hebrides missionary, Rev. James McNair, in 1873 and returned to Samoa in 1874. Turner would return to England again in 1882 on account of his own failing health, where he edited a third edition of the Samoan Bible, under the Bible Society, and other two volumes of comments in the Samoan language as well as his “Samoa, a Hundred Years ago, and Long Before” (London: Macmillan & Co., 1884).

He died in London on 19 May 1891.


George Turner
Born 22 January 1818.
Died 19 May 1891.
GU Degrees: LLD, 1861; Arts, 1837;
University Link: Honorary Graduate, Student
Occupation categories: missionaries
English snippet: Scottish-born missionary to Samoa
Record last updated: 18th Nov 2013

Country Associations

Scotland Scotland, Irvine
Place of Birth

England England, London
Place of Death

Samoa Samoa

Vanuatu Vanuatu, No Region

University Connections

University Roles

  • Honorary Graduate
  • Student