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Potnuma was the primary mission settlement of James Gordon, who moved from Dillon’s Bay in 1868. He built a church with stone and mortar foundations. Some of the walls of the church were still standing in 2013 when we did fieldwork in the area. James Gordon also built a two-storey house and the lower floor was stone and lime mortar (J. Gordon House). The walls are now mostly collapsed, and crabs have burrowed into the site, disturbing the stratigraphy (layering in the sediment). However, excavations recovered a rich assemblage of artefacts that tell the story of the site. The artefacts included a large number of slate pencils, and sherds of a clay pot that James Gordon purchased from Ambae Island, 400km to the north of Erromango. There was also a large amount of imported ceramic material, including stoneware crocks, ‘Berlin Swirl’ ironstone plates, and a porcelain measuring cup.
Like his brother George, James Gordon was killed in 1872. In part, his position was precarious because Potnuma was on the boundary between two land divisions, and Gordon only had the support of one of the paramount chiefs, Potnilo. For Melanesian people, missionaries often appeared to be dangerous sorcerers. When some local people became sick from eating fish James Gordon had served at a feast, he was likely seen as a threat to the surrounding communities. However, Gordon had several loyal followers. His murderer, Nerimpau, was killed in revenge. Local converts placed a Stone by the house where James Gordon’s blood was spilled, and built a Memorial in the shape of a sea turtle in James Gordon’s memory.
There are also several interesting kastom (tradtional) sites around Potnuma, including towards the currently inhabited village of Port Narvin to the south. These include several rock art or petroglyph sites. One of these, at Bomtal, tells the story of Sou Sou, one of the early Christian converts.