I’ve spent the past two months researching the lives of Fred and Sybil Pucknell. Not a minute has been wasted. Not one email or one letter. I have enjoyed receiving every piece of the puzzle. I have been thrilled when someone has given me information and it has linked with someone else’s view or knowledge of them. It’s been bit of a roller coaster. I’ve gone from exhilaration to disappointment to being very puzzled and then to having connections and details sorted out and things making sense.

The downside of this project I feel, is that too many years have gone by and the means for finding out more information has been lost along with those who were the Pucknells’ contemporaries especially during their years in China and Sabah. Yet my Maryborough connections have been extremely helpful.

The other issue is the many, many places that their possessions went too. Some people have the Pucknells’ bibles or their poems, sermon notes and ornaments. Some have newspaper and magazine articles that were written about them. Some would love to know where Mr Pucknell’s diaries went… In a library in England, there are journals and letters that belong to them. I wonder then what is in China and Sabah? It makes me sad. I mean, when you have no children and no other relatives- who does your stuff go to when you die?

So I suppose this all means hard work if I want to keep researching or else just let it lie. But I don’t think I can. The upside of it all is just too good. Too exciting. Too thrilling. I’m moved and stirred by the example of Fred and Sybil Pucknell. So I thought a look at what I have learnt from studying the lives of these two dear servants of God would be worth me pondering. And that is what you do in Pormpuraaw isn’t it?

1. Mrs Pucknell knew her Bible.

I know three people who have in their homes a Bible that belonged to her. Here’s what Neil Connell has to say- “Her Bible is well used. She had a habit of reading through the Bible each year. We noticed that many verses were underlined. There are also many notes in the margins and lines connecting verses or words on the same page. She has also written many quotes, poems and songs on the pages at the front and the back of her Bible. It’s a KJV and in the front it says ‘Appointed to be read in Churches’. She has crossed out the word- ‘Churches’ and written in, ‘everywhere’. In the middle there is the heading- ‘Deaths’ and she has crossed out that and written ‘with Christ which is far better’. Her comments and quotes display the depth of both her faith and her spiritual walk.”

My sister has sent me quotes from the Bible that she has-

Psalm 29:11 “Claimed and proved true 1942 China.”

Psalm 34:7 “He delivered us in China many times.”

Ex 19:8 “How easily I too say such things. How sadly possible to fail as Israel did!”

Ex. 33:3 “I too can forfeit blessing by my unyielding behaviours.”

Mrs Pucknell is on the left standing behind me.

2. God supplied what they needed.

They didn’t have the means for communication that we do nowadays, but what they had still worked. The Gospel was still preached. They may not have had microphones, data projectors or Power Point but they had a voice, a heart for others and a love for God. Those that supported them financially and prayerfully were able to read of their work in missionary magazines. Letters and Emmaus Bible School lessons that were sent from them and to them were precious and treasured– never just deleted by the click of a button.

Clive Connell recounts, “When WW2 was happening, Mr Pucknell was amazed to hear that the British Army was coming. Mrs Pucknell was very sick in bed and he had to continually turn her over from side to side. He wondered how much longer she could live. When the Army arrived, they asked Mr Pucknell to be their translator, offering him a position as officer on full pay. He declined saying, “I’m a missionary but I will be only too happy to translate for you.” The Army asked if there was anything they could do for him. He told them of his sick wife and discovered they had two doctors who could come to see her. The doctors said she needed milk which was unprocurable as the Chinese people didn’t have milk in their diet. But the Army had plenty of powdered milk which they provided for her. Mr Pucknell believed the British Army achieved nothing from a military point of view, but that God sent them there to restore his wife to health.”

3. Mr Pucknell preached God’s Word.

A story in a Brethren missionary magazine, tells of a trek into the mountain districts. Mr Pucknell and a Mr Elliot had just reached the market town of Si-shang. “In the evening, hanging up a pressure lantern and with a large meat block making a convenient pulpit, we started off with accordian accompaniment to sing the Gospel. The people began to collect and presently with a great crowd listening we preached the Gospel till we were hoarse. They listened very well indeed and then asked for more. “Preach a little more to us- we still want to hear more!” So we preached again and then sold a number of gospels.” Later on in the article, he says in regard to the whole trip- “How one’s heart ached to be able more adequately to reach them with the life-giving message.” (Pucknell, 18/12/1948, Kiangsi Echoes)

Stories from those who knew them in Maryborough tell of Mr Pucknell’s fervent preaching. His sermon notes show a man who really studied the Word and then explicitly taught it. There were tapes made of his messages- one day I hope to hear them.

There’s so much more but space and time holds me back. I still have so many questions… Where and who are those people who heard about Christ and were discipled by the Pucknells? What remains of the Church they started in Sabah?

One thing I do know though – they lived the words of Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

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About Alana Milson

Alana is a primary school teacher. She and her husband, David lived in Cairns for over 17 years but are now living in Cape York in a remote Aboriginal community. Alana enjoys teaching in many different capacities, reading missionary biographies and pursuing biblical womanhood.


  1. Lyn 24 November, 2010 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    Picture me digging through the cupboard in the rumpus room looking for old tapes!!!!!

  2. Janet McKinney 26 November, 2010 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    Unbelieveable photo – I think I can point to my mother for bringing that one to light. That is the front steps of our house

  3. Alana 26 November, 2010 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    Yes, Janet, that is the front steps of your house and yes, your mother gave me the photo.
    She’s been very helpful with finding Pucknell information for me.

  4. Gavin Petersen 12 December, 2010 at 6:25 am - Reply

    When I was a new believer Fred Pucknell often preached at Maryborough.
    My wife and I had the privilege of spending time with the Pucknells in their home. They told wonderful stories of their time in China and afterwards when they were expelled by the communists.
    It impressed us that they had decided to not have children so that they could better serve Christ.
    Once Mr Pucknell preached the same sermon two Sundays in a row (he was getting on) and in it told of his missionary call. His call impacted me. I left Maryborough in 1985 for Teacher’s College. My wife and I later responded to the missionary call and have served as missionaries in Brazil since 1994. The Pucknells were a part of that.
    I’m not sure when Mrs Pucknell went to be with the Lord but I think I only knew her a short while. I knew Mr Pucknell longer. I remember especially that he simply radiated Christ. He was very passionate about the Lord.

  5. Rhonda Cox 5 January, 2011 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    Have you contacted Clive Connell for info? He was instrumental in getting the Pucks to retire in Mbro. They lived a very frugal life style in retirement, as well as on the mission field. I can give you connell’s email address if you don’t have it.

  6. Rhonda Cox 5 January, 2011 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    I see you have heard from Clive.

  7. Alana 28 July, 2011 at 8:29 pm - Reply

    Yes, I have received quite a bit of information from Clive Connell. Thanks.

  8. Jessica 28 December, 2011 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    Loved this Alana!

  9. Peter Cooper 30 January, 2012 at 10:13 am - Reply

    Between 1960 and 1966, I was a missionaries’ kid living in Jesselton, North Borneo – later Jesselton, Sabah, Malaysia. I used to go to the afternoon Sunday School at Tanjong Aru at the Pucknells’ home.

    I lived at Kapayan- a district a little to the south of Tanjong Aru, which was a little to the south of Jeselton town.

    Happy to fill in a boy’s memories of the gap to which you refer.

  10. Alana Milson 30 January, 2012 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    So exciting to hear from you. Could we talk further via email? You can reach me on alanaobbs@gmail.com.

  11. Franco Laviano 25 January, 2013 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Hi Alana
    I got the great privilege of meeting Fred Pucknell when I first became as Christian in 1982. His wife had recently died. I was told by others that when they went around to read the Bible and pray for Mrs Pucknell, no sooner had they started reading from a passage, she would finish it. She greatly encouraged them!
    Fred attended the Maryborough Gospel Chapel. I used to sit next to him each Sunday. Three things that impressed me about him was his deep-seated joy, singing in harmony and reading the Scriptures (when preaching) with wonderful expression (not the lifeless monolog that many read in).
    On a trip to Europe I visited Fred’s brother Percy in Seven Oaks, Kent. He told me that on furlough, Fred would translate the Emmaus Bible Study notes/courses into Chinese. When I asked about G Campbell Morgan, a minister at Westminster Chapel London who had published many theological books of whom Fred was very fond, his brother said that when Morgan preached he got up a “pulpit sweat” from the fervency of preaching!
    In Belfast, a missionary privately relayed me a story of one night when he preached somewhere, he saw Fred in the audience and the Spirit prompted him to stand aside and let Fred preach. He ignored the prompt and his own message spilled out flat and lifeless. This missionary recognised at once the presence of the Holy Spirit in Fred Pucknell!
    I used to visit Fred in his little flat in Alice Street, Maryborough and he would be at his desk wearing a skull cap and using a magnifying glass to studying the Good Book as I arrived. Behind him was a sizable library of pastoral theology (including a lot of Spurgeon) which, he told me, he acquired at SPCK in London, second hand. He was progressive in that whilst others were adamant that the KJV was the only bible to be read, he read a different version each year (3 chapters a day and 5 on Sundays = bible in one year) besides his KJV.
    When he moved into Fairhaven nursing home I continued to visit him. On a couple of occasions I observed that he had been reading from his old journals that he and Sybil both kept over the years. These would have been rich in spiritual wisdom –a spiritual classic. However, as he read each A4 page he would reminisce then rip it out and throw it in the bin. How I wished I has stuffed my shirt with the binful of pages I saw on at least two occasions! He commented that God knew what he and Sybil had done and nobody else need know so that all the glory would be the Lord’s. A challenging thought for a Facebook generation.
    He did tell me a few things about his call to China (28 years in China, 18 years in Borneo). He started touring with an evangelist in England as a young man. After a while the evangelist asked if he could take over the crusade while he had a break. Fred agreed. However the evangelist never returned. Whilst on this mission the Spirit began calling him to China, a foreign and unknown place. One night on the train to Hastings, as the wheels made their rhythmic clanking over the tracks, Fred committed himself to go to China. During this period he had also met Sybil, a beautiful Christian lady. But a decision had to be made, would he stay with Sybil in England or go to China? He decided to honour his Hastings commitment and left for China. It was with great joy that he met Sybil again in China and they married!
    I have often contemplated that many in his local church were unaware that a Hudson Taylor was in their midst. His last words to me were, “Yield yourself to the Lord” (Rom 6:13) –a challenge that still speaks. Fred Pucknell died in 1987.
    NB. Peter Polley of the Maryborough Gospel Chapel had a collection of tapes of many of Fred’s sermons. If you get a chance to unearth and listen to them, you will hear his wonderful expression of speech and rich, positive expository.
    Fred had a tremendous theological library but after his death people took liberties and many of his books went awol. These may have benefited his local church congregation, especially all the margin notes and papers hidden inside. Seeing they had no children, they belonged to the congregation.
    Franco Laviano 25/01/2013

  12. Alana Milson 26 January, 2013 at 8:06 am - Reply

    Franco, I wrote this post 2 years ago so it was a delight to hear from another person again who knew Mr Pucknell. The post previous to this one is entitled “As unto the Lord”. Maybe this biographical sketch of their lives (that I put together early in my research) you may like to read? Click on my name at the top of this post and it will go to the archive. If you could email me at alanaobbs@gmail.com I would love to talk further about the Pucknells. Thanks!

  13. Sheila ne Pucknell 24 May, 2014 at 11:34 pm - Reply

    Very interested to read the comments about my Uncle Fred on this site. Fred was my father’s elder brother and I have childhoood memories of Fred and Sybil visiting us and, in early days, my grandmother on their trips home.
    Pendants that Fred gave to my mother were stolen but I do still have a gown from China and some wonderful paintings on rice paper.
    I also have a number of photos including that taken on their wedding anniversary.
    Please let me have more information about which library holds my Uncle’s diaries and papers, I would be very interested to see them. Thanks Sheila

  14. Gary Akehurst 15 June, 2017 at 11:56 am - Reply

    I have 7 recordings of Fred Pucknell that I have digitised and they are ready to go online. Let me know if you’d like a link.

    • Franco Laviano 26 August, 2017 at 9:02 am

      Hi Gary
      I’d love to have a link to Fred Pucknell’s sermons. Thanks Franco

  15. Angela Hudson 3 March, 2018 at 8:08 am - Reply

    Hello. I was interested to come across this post and the photos of Fred and Sybil Pucknell having found some old postcards that I think Fred sent to Sybil from Echo Point in Australia. Sybil was previously Sybil Daws, my Granddads sister. I am thrilled to read this.

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