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Colonial Church Histories: New Zealand

Containing the Dioceses of Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Nelson, Waiapu, Wellington, and Melanesia.

By Henry Jacobs

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1887.

Part II. The Period of Organisation.


Governor Grey's Despatch to Earl Grey--The Conciliatory Resolutions--The Governor and the Bishop--Refusal to Surrender Grants--Breach with Bishop--Dismissal--Retires to Pakaraka--Vindication--Archdeacon W. Williams meets Committee--Complete Exoneration--Henry Williams Re-instated--Reconciliation with Bishop and Governor.

So the Governor was worsted. But the bitterest trial of all was yet to come: the authority of the parent Society was invoked against its own missionaries. Governor Grey's secret despatch of June 25th, 1846, was communicated by Lord Grey to the Society's committee. Naturally supposing from the position of the writer that the terms of such a document were trustworthy, they were proportionately alarmed by the gravity of the accusations implied in them. The committee met on the 22nd February, 1847, to consider the question. They had previously defended the land purchases, regarding it (to use Mr. Carleton's words) as "not only their interest, but their duty to relieve their funds from the expense of maintaining the mission families." But now, under the influence of the alarm occasioned by the despatch, they adopted what were termed the "Conciliatory Resolutions," the purport of which was, that their missionaries should accept the joint decision of the Governor and the [151/152] bishop as to the amount of land they should retain for their own use and benefit, and should dispose of the remainder either by sale, or by making it over to their children, or by putting it in trust for the benefit of the Aborigines. The missionaries responded by cordial acceptance of the resolutions. They went further indeed, for they determined to retain no land at all for their own use and benefit, thus leaving no question for the bishop and the Governor to arbitrate upon. "I see no difficulty," wrote the archdeacon in reply, "in complying with the resolutions of the committee, by conveying to the various members of my family that which I did purchase for their support [Footnote: This transfer was a reality, about which there could be no question. It was an absolute alienation. Several of his children were grown up, and had families of their own, and the archdeacon was punctilious in paying them the full market value for all produce purchased from them.] My own views upon this subject appear to me similar to those of the committee."

When news of the resolutions arrived in the colony, both the Governor and the bishop were dissatisfied with them. The Governor declined to take part in the proposed arbitration; the bishop put upon the resolutions a construction of his own, which appeared to the missionaries to be at variance with their plain meaning, and ultimately demanded that the grantees should make an absolute and unconditional surrender of their land-grants to the Governor, leaving it to him to decide how much land they should be allowed to hold. This his lordship considered to be the true purport of the Society's minute, and wrote accordingly [152/153] to the Rev. H. Venn, the Society's secretary, as follows:--"If you receive letters from any of the claimants, expressing their intention to make over their whole claim to their children, you will understand that by so doing they will embroil the whole question with the Governor, outrage public opinion, break your resolutions, and set aside my award." Some of the missionary body gave way under this pressure, and did their best to persuade the archdeacon to follow their example. But he was fighting, not for land, but for character, the character, not of himself alone, but of the mission; for the Governor kept reiterating the same old charges, [Footnote: In a letter written to the archdeacon by the Colonial Secretary (Dr. Sinclair) under the Governor's direction, bearing date Jan. 7, 1848, these words occur:--" I am further directed to add that the Governor attributes a great deal of the ill-feeling of the natives in the North to the large land-claims of some of the missionaries, who, his Excellency had hoped, would have assisted him in the adjustment of them." Also, in one of the Governor's despatches to the Secretary of State, printed in a Blue-book of 1849, he accuses the archdeacon of "mis-statements and misrepresentations extremely untrue."] and it came to the archdeacon's ears, that he was endeavouring to persuade some of the leading native converts that the missionaries had taha-ed (that is, stolen) their lands from them. So he refused to yield an inch until the Governor either substantiated or retracted his charges. If either were done, he definitely pledged himself to give up every acre. Though, in reality, the land was no longer his, but his sons'--although not yet legally conveyed to them--he knew [153/154] well that what he promised they would perform; for his lightest word was law to them. The bishop's authoritative demand, therefore, for an unconditional surrender of the title-deeds was met with a point-blank refusal, together with a request that the subject might never be mentioned to him again. We pass over a great deal of painful correspondence, and many circumstances illustrative of character, both for reasons of space, and also because they are not absolutely necessary to the continuity and clearness of our narrative. But we are anxious to suppress no important fact, and are therefore bound to state that the bishop on his part thought fit to exclude the archdeacon from participation in the business of the Local Committee of the Society. The breach between them, in short, was declared and open.

Before we proceed to narrate the further action of the parent Society in the matter, it should be stated that the Secretary of State for the Colonies, on hearing that the Supreme Court of New Zealand had pronounced the missionary land grants to be valid, gave up the contest, and directed the Governor to bring in a Bill in the Legislative Council of the Colony confirmatory of the title of the missionaries to the lands. The result was the enactment of "The Crown Titles Act." It was on the passing of this Act that the archdeacon made formal conveyance of the whole estate to which he was declared to be entitled to the several members of his family, without reserving for himself a single acre. Before, however, the news of the decision of the Supreme Court, on which this Act was founded, had reached England, [154/155] the parent Society, instigated by the joint action of the bishop and the Governor, and by influence brought to bear upon them at home, without instituting that investigation into the merits of the case, so earnestly prayed for by their old and faithful servant, passed a second series of resolutions, contradictory to those of February, 1847, and requiring compliance with the Governor's demand of unconditional surrender, under pain of dismissal from their service. The painful story culminates, with a tragic completeness, in a resolution inflicting on the Venerable Archdeacon Henry Williams, after more than twenty-seven years' service of such a kind as few men ever rendered, the penalty of actual dismissal. The mandate, dated Dec. 21st, 1849, reached him at Paihia on the 25th May, 1850, and was accompanied by a needlessly mortifying expression of a hope, "that he would not make any difficulty about giving up possession of the Society's premises." [Footnote: One of the Society's resolutions was, "That the Northern Committee take immediate measures for receiving from the Venerable Archdeacon Williams all the property and documents of the Society he may possess," &c.; and the series of six closed with this:--"That these resolutions be communicated to the Bishop of New Zealand, and that Earl Grey and the Governor of New Zealand be informed of the dissolution of the connexion between Archdeacon Henry Williams and the Church Mission Society."] Winter had set in in New Zealand, and the committee, in its comfortable quarters in Salisbury Square, could little appreciate the hardship of "moving house and home" at that season, and at that early stage of [155/156] advancement in a new colony. It was providentially ordered that his sons had a house ready to receive their parents at their inland farm at Pakaraka, not many miles distant; but had it not been so, they would have made any shift rather than remain as intruders on the Society's property at Paihia. So on the 31st May, Henry Williams and his wife, true help-mate in all his troubles, turned their backs upon their home of twenty-seven years, and, in the midst of heavy rain, set off on horseback for their new abode at Pakaraka, accompanied by their daughters and escorted by their sons, together with a goodly cavalcade of Maori horsemen, their goods having been sent on before them. He had suffered much to make a home for his children; he was rewarded by its becoming a timely refuge for himself in his destitution; for he had laid by nothing for his own old age. Their greatest trial in leaving was caused by the distress of the natives, especially the tangi-ing (that is, the wailing) of the women, and the grief of parting from their European friends at Kororareka, who presented him with a very handsome testimonial. The natives even threatened to burn down the mission buildings at Paihia, rather than that they should be occupied by others, but were soothed by the consideration that their friends were not going away from them by sea, but were, after all, only retiring a few miles inland.

The whole story reads like a drama, or a romance; we will follow it up to its conclusion, anticipating the chronological order of our history. In his reply to the committee of the parent Society, the Archdeacon [156/157] did not refrain from speaking his mind plainly. They had complained of the "style and tone" of his communications with the Governor and others; they were at all times those of an outspoken man of strong impulses; and now, besides the mortification caused by the treatment of himself personally, there was the galling fact that the charges against the mission, which he had striven so long and so earnestly to bring to the test of a thorough investigation, appeared in the face of the world to be endorsed by the Society itself. He complained that "not one word of sympathy, assistance, or support in our difficulties has been offered by you in any form to men long tried, and writhing under such a weight of infamy, in no respect attempted to be established." Requested by some of his fellow missionaries to take part in their labours, he declined the invitation, and difficult as his position was, through the inability of the natives to comprehend the meaning and the reasons of his dismissal, studiously refrained from the slightest approach to interference with the work or property of the mission. He named his home at Pakaraka "The Retreat," and there he lived in patriarchal peace and quietness, confining his ministrations at first to the members of his family, who were a community in themselves, and to their near neighbours, and interesting himself in the progress of "Trinity Church, Pakaraka," which his sons were erecting, and which was opened for service on the 23rd April, 1851. He did not, however, refuse to teach and baptize natives who sought him out, many coming to him from a great distance. In one year he baptized no fewer [157/158] than 163. Before the beginning of the year 1853 ecclesiastical relations were completely re-established between himself and the bishop, who, on his part, would not allow that they had ever been interrupted; and a specified sphere of duty was assigned to him.

But his vindication, both in England and in the colony, was not long delayed. His brother, Archdeacon William Williams, could not rest under the injury and affront to the mission, and the grievous wrong inflicted on his brother; and early in 1851 he went to England, determined to meet the committee face to face, and vindicate both the mission and his brother. Should he fail in obtaining a distinct declaration from the Society, that they considered the charges against the mission to be disproved, he was resolved to sever his connexion with them. The matter brooked no delay; he therefore felt bound to risk the displeasure of the Society by leaving his cure before formal permission to do so could be obtained. On the 20th May, in the year last mentioned, he met the Corresponding Committee, and delivered himself of a full and circumstantial statement, characterised alike by manliness and moderation, in which he completely, and point by point, exonerated the mission from the charges brought against its members in the Governor's despatches. While he shrank not from exposing the injustice of these despatches in the plainest and most uncompromising terms, he showed himself at the same time "desirous not to do injustice to the character and conduct of Governor Grey. Indeed, I am free to admit," he said, "that there are certain good qualities in Sir George Grey, [158/159] which are calculated to draw forth the approbation of those who may differ widely from him upon other matters. He has shown himself a warm friend and patron of the native race, and has encouraged, by Government support, the establishment of schools to the utmost extent of the means placed at his disposal." The effort was as successful as it deserved to be. The result was the adoption of a resolution entirely exonerating the mission. A week later William Williams again addressed the same committee on his brother's case. But they were not yet prepared for what must needs be regarded as a further humiliation, and accordingly resolved that "no sufficient grounds had been shown for rescinding the resolution of dismissal." But, not understanding the character of the man with whom they had to deal, they proposed to offer him a pension of £150 per annum "in consideration of his long and important services," and of his having "divested himself and his wife of all means of support while providing for his children's maintenance by the transfer to them of his land." Upon this William Williams, who knew his brother better, rose and said:--"I am prepared to declare that Archdeacon Henry Williams will not accept of any pecuniary compensation from the committee, so long as their resolution shall leave him under the charge of being unfit to remain in connexion with the Society. It is not a matter of salary, but of character." In the meantime independent members of the Society, clerical and lay, began to enquire into the matter, with the result that the eyes of many were opened, and the committee was soon [159/160] beset with demands from all sides for a re-consideration of the case. In self-defence they published a statement; but this only made matters worse, since it was full of errors which were soon exposed. At length a way of retreat was unexpectedly opened to them. The bishop had resolved to pay a visit to England for purposes which will disclose themselves in a subsequent chapter. The Governor, whose period of office had expired, was also returning, and they sailed together in the same vessel, the Commodore, leaving New Zealand in December, 1853. Having reached London, they went together to Salisbury Square to have an interview with the committee. The bishop having first explained his views and intentions on the subject of the Church Constitution, proceeded to express a personal wish that Archdeacon Henry Williams should be restored to his former position. As Mr. Venn, in his subsequent letter to the archdeacon, which will be mentioned presently, says that "the expression of the bishop's desire was evidently responded to by all parties," it may be presumed that Sir G. Grey expressed his concurrence with it. The ultimate result, at any rate, was that, at a meeting of the committee, held on the 18th July, 1854, the following resolution was unanimously adopted:--"Resolved: That, adverting to the confidence which this committee have ever felt and expressed in Archdeacon Henry Williams as a Christian missionary, and their regret at his disconnexion with the Society upon a question which they understand may now be regarded as having passed away, rejoice to believe that every obstacle is providentially [160/161] removed against the return of Archdeacon Henry Williams into full connexion with the Society, as one of its missionaries, and they therefore gladly dismiss from their recollection all past events, and will rejoice to hear that Archdeacon Henry Williams, receiving this resolution in the same spirit in which it is adopted, consents to return, and that all personal questions, on every side, are merged in one common object, of strengthening the cause of Christ in the Church of New Zealand." In his letter conveying this resolution, Mr. Venn adverts to his having previously "declined to receive a retiring stipend," and expresses "an earnest hope that he will see his way to accept the present proposal." "The new order of things," he adds, "about to take place in New Zealand at once suggests that all past questions should be at an end, and that, as you were mainly instrumental, under God, in the establishment of the mission, so you should assist in the great work of transferring missionary operations into a settled ecclesiastical system." Neither must the concluding clause of this letter be omitted. "Be assured that, if the committee have in any respect misunderstood your actions, or mis-stated facts, it has been unintentional on their part, as they are most desirous of doing full justice to your character, and to the important services which you have rendered to the cause of Christ."

The archdeacon's reply to this communication, which is dated "The Retreat, Feb. 28, 1855," is extremely characteristic. It begins with the following brief and dignified reference to the resolution:--[161/162] "Your letter of October and, covering a resolution of the committee, of July 18, 1854, I received on the 2nd ultimo, with unexpected pleasure. In this communication I have to acknowledge the hand of a righteous Judge. I must regret that the committee allowed themselves to be carried away by vain speeches and unsound statements: these 'having passed away,' I have no desire to recall them." The remainder of the letter refers chiefly to the bishop's plans for a Church Constitution, and to the condition of the natives. His private opinion of the conclusion of the mattter is thus expressed in a letter to his brother-in-law, written on the same day as that to Mr. Venn:--"I should not have moved but for the wording of Mr. Venn's letter. The resolution might have been more nobly expressed I feel it to be my duty to meet the committee where there is no sacrifice of principle; I have not shifted my position taken in 1847; this is a singular fact."

He did not return to Paihia, not being required to do so, either by the bishop, or the local committee or the parent Society; for the old buildings were in a serious state of dilapidation, and he was able to carry on the work of his district, which remained the same as it formerly was, with equal advantage from the Retreat at Pakaraka.

Thus ends this eventful story, which ought never to be omitted or slurred over by the historian of the Church of New Zealand. There now only remains under this head the pleasant duty of recording the welcome proofs of reconciliation between the archdeacon and those with whom he had been so seriously at [162/163] variance. He had gone with Mrs. Williams and all his family from Pakaraka to Paihia in May, 1856, on the occasion of the opening of a new church at the latter place. The bishop, Mrs. Selwyn, and the Rev. J. C. Patteson--the martyr-bishop of later years--were present; and Mrs. Williams thus writes of the occasion in a letter to a relation in England:--"Nothing could exceed the kind and friendly manner of both the bishop and Mrs. Selwyn: he, with Mr. Patteson, dined twice, and she once, with us in the old house They several times exclaimed how glad they were to see this house full of Williamses again." The genuine kindness, the evident desire of reconciliation, and the inexpressible sweetness of manner of Bishop Selwyn towards those who, whether with or without cause, had a grievance against him, seldom failed to take their hearts by storm.

As regards Sir George Grey, we must pass over several years, during which his duties lay in another part of the globe, and anticipate the time of his removal from the governorship of the Cape Colony to that of New Zealand, at the close of the Taranaki War in 1861. On his arrival in the colony, but before he came to the Bay of Islands, the archdeacon sent him his card by Mr. Carleton: afterwards they met, and he thus speaks of the meeting in a letter to Mr. Marsh:--"I met his Excellency, and believe the pleasure was mutual. At the great meeting at the Waimate we had a long conversation, when he unfolded his native policy, of which I fully approved." In the same letter he says:--"I have it on the best [163/164] authority, that he has said that he committed one error in interfering with the missionary land grants, but that he had been urged to it." Mr. Carleton adds:--[Footnote: Vol. ii., p. 341. It ought, perhaps, to be stated that Mr. Carleton married a daughter of Archdeacon Henry Williams, and that he was an old political opponent of Sir G. Grey. On the other hand, he is well known to be a man of scrupulous honour and integrity; he writes with an evident desire to be fair and moderate; his statements are supported throughout by documentary evidence; and he closes his Memoir with these words:--"This Memoir is open to challenge; I expect and hope it." So far as we are aware, the glove has not hitherto been taken up.] "The governor, with his suite, went from Waimate to Hokianga"--that is, after the meeting just referred to--"and on his way back paid a visit to Pakaraka, where, presumably by way of intimating that he no longer considered the missionary land grants excessive, he volunteered the information that a farmer at the Cape of Good Hope would think nothing of 40,000 acres." Archdeacon Henry Williams never ceased from his labours for the native race of New Zealand until his death, which took place at "The Retreat" on the 16th July, 1867. His widow survived him many years, and breathed her last at the same peaceful home towards the end of 1879.

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