Lenakel was one of the later areas on Tanna to allow missionary settlement. The first missionary, Frank Paton (son of John G. Paton), was welcomed by the local chiefs Lomai, Iavis, and Titonga in 1896. There are few remains from this period, though Lomai’s Grave is still present. Most of the features on the landscape relate to early 20th century mission activity when the Presbyterian Church had access to global trading networks and large amounts of material to support its work.
The 1912 Church at Lenakel encapsulates the relationships between local and global in the Presbyterian missions. The building, which was standing until 2015 when it was blown down in a major cyclone, contained materials from throughout the British Empire. The church was a kit from the Sydney firm Saxton and Binns, which produced prefabricated timber buildings for Australia and the Pacific Islands. It is the third church built on the site. The timbers in the church came from North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. Door locks and roofing iron came from industrial centres in Britain. On the local side, people from Lenakel, led by Iavis and Titonga, not only participated in construction of the building, but to make room for it they cut a terrace into the hillside for one of the earlier church buildings. Local workers removed a total of 3500 cubic meters of earth from the site using baskets and hand tools. The building has an important role in many local people’s memories, as it was used for worship until 2000, and also was the site of important discussions during the independence movement in the 1970s. Since the building blew down in a cyclone, the photographs and drawings of this church provide an invaluable record of a rare example of early-20th century prefabricated architecture.
Other sites in the surrounding area include features relating to the mission school, and a Mission Hospital opened in 1915. Missionary residences include a standing ‘Nun’s House’inhabited by Presbyterian sisters who worked in the hospital, and the foundations of James Campbell Nicholson’s House. Nicholson was the resident missionary in Lenakel when the 1912 Church was constructed.