Project Canterbury

A History of the English Church in New Zealand

By H.T. Purchas

Christchurch: Simpson and Williams, 1914.

Chapter IV.

THE NEW BEGINNING. (1823-1830).

And he spake to me, "O Maeldune, let be this purpose of thine! Remember the words of the Lord when he told us, 'Vengeance is mine.'

His fathers have slain thy fathers in war or in single strife. Thy fathers have slain his fathers, each taken a life for a life. Thy father had slain his father: how long shall the murder last?

Go back to the island of Finn, and suffer the past to be past."
--Legend of Maeldune.

WHEN I reflect upon the evils which have crept in among the missionaries, I am astonished that the mission has not been completely annihilated. That it should continue to exist under such difficulties affords a proof, in my judgment, that God will still carry on the work." Such was Marsden's reflection in 1823--the year which saw a beginning of better things. Out of the midst of the failure and the shame this man of faith was able to gather hope for the future.

The great need of the mission was a higher class of workers. This need was now to be supplied--in fact, the preparation for its supply had been quietly going on concurrently with the mission itself, though in a different quarter of the globe.

One of the last actions of the great war which was coming to an end when Marsden proclaimed his message of peace in 1814 was the capture of an American frigate in the West Indies. The prize was being towed to a British port when a terrific gale sprang up, and in the midst of the confusion the prisoners attempted to retake the ship. The danger of the situation drove one of the officers to serious thoughts, and on the conclusion of peace he resigned his commission and resolved to enter the service of a higher monarch. For some years he lived quietly in England on his half-pay allowance, but his thoughts were drawn towards New Zealand, a part of the mission field which seemed to offer the greatest peril and the greatest need. The news that the C.M.S. were about to equip a ship for their station in that country seemed to him a call to a post where his nautical skill would be of service. He volunteered to take command of this vessel without pay. His offer could not be accepted, because the project of the ship had already been abandoned, but the Society accepted the lieutenant as one of their missionaries. All arrangements were made for his setting out, when news arrived from the Antipodes that the settlers would probably soon be driven out of the country. This was no time to be sending out fresh workers. But the candidate was not cast down. He studied surgery, and bided his time. The Society was now coming to the conclusion that lay catechists were undesirable, and it ordered the lieutenant to stay for two years longer in England, and to prepare for Holy Orders. He was now a married man, and could not go up to a university, but he studied at home under the direction of a clerical brother-in-law who had first turned his attention to foreign missions. In 1822 he was once more ready, and had received the orders both of deacon and priest when tidings came of Hongi's first raid. The Committee offered to send him to some quieter part of the world, but he earnestly pleaded to be allowed to adhere to his original purpose. Thus it was that Henry Williams reached New Zealand, at the age of thirty-one years, arriving just in time to save the mission and to give it a new beginning.

The character of the man thus providentially trained and guided is a factor of the utmost moment in our history. He brought to the mission just those qualities of leadership and power in which it had hitherto been deficient, and he was joined somewhat later by a brother whose milder and more intellectual nature supplied what was wanting in his own. Drawn from the professional class, the brothers Williams of course stood for a higher culture and a wider knowledge than could be expected of the settlers who were hitherto in the field. These advantages were by no means unappreciated by the Maoris, but the quality which impressed them most immediately was the personal force and dauntless spirit of the elder man. "He is a tangata riri" (i.e., angry man), said a hostile Maori; "he shuts his tent door upon us, and does not sit by our sides and talk; he has the Atua upon his lips, and we are afraid of his anger." He could hold at arm's length two powerful men who were struggling to fly at one another's throats. He soon won the name of "the man with the iron thumb," from the fact that on one occasion, while he held in his hand the key of his study door, he felled to the earth the leader of a gang of bullies who were bent on doing him bodily injury. On another occasion a number of angry natives crowded in upon himself and a companion as they were building a boat. After standing their interference for some time, the builders seized, one a broken oar and the other a stout stake, and after a sharp fray, in which the arm of the carpenter was broken in two places, the intruders were driven from the spot.

Nor was it only the men who felt the power of his arm. A story is told of an encounter with some shameless women who had crossed from Kororareka to taunt his school-girls at Paihia. The missionaries were busy at a translation meeting, and at first sent some peaceful messengers to bid the "ship-girls" depart. The messengers came back discomfited, and the behaviour grew more wanton and defiant. At last, Henry Williams came forth, umbrella in hand and spectacles on nose. The whole school came out to watch the encounter. The leader of the band--a great lady of the place--came on with outstretched tongue and insulting cries, when "old four eyes," as she called him, gave her a sounding thwack with his umbrella. Startled by this indignity she turned and fled. "Duck them," cried the missionary; and before the saucy damsels could regain their canoe they were thoroughly soused in the water, and went back (as the narrator says) wetter, if not better, than they came.

No wonder that "Te Wiremu" soon obtained an ascendancy over a people who idolised physical prowess. But it would be a great mistake to suppose that he brought to the mission nothing more than the authoritative tone of the quarter-deck. His piety was deep and self-sacrificing. It was in order that he might exercise his ministry on shipboard that he had chosen to come out in a female convict ship, where he had been untiring in his attempts to uplift the unhappy creatures with which it was crowded. During his stay at Parramatta he had thrown himself into Marsden's work among the convicts of the other sex. There was sweetness as well as strength in the straight glance of the well-opened eye, and in the fine lines of the compressed lips.

In one respect Williams differed both from Marsden, who preceded, and from Selwyn, who followed him. He was not an idealist; he dreamed no dreams and he saw no visions. He fixed his attention upon the work immediately in front, and to it he gave his undivided energy. The old naval instinct of unquestioning obedience was strong in him to the last. Writing to the C.M.S. before his departure from England, he assured them that he should always regard their orders as rigidly as he ever did those of his senior officer in His Majesty's service. Like the centurion in the Gospels, he regarded himself as a man under authority, and he expected a like obedience from those who were under him.

Marsden himself brought Henry Williams to New Zealand, and decided upon the place of his abode. The chiefs were all anxious for the presence of a missionary because of the commercial advantages which it brought. Marsden was loth to refuse the request of some disconsolate relatives of the slaughtered Hinaki, but he thought it wiser to bestow the favour upon one who had been with him at Parramatta, even though the chief himself was at the moment on the warpath with Hongi. Accordingly, the new missionary was placed at Paihia, a village whose open beach lay opposite to Kororareka, the great resort of European ships, from whose crews the Maoris were acquiring vices and diseases more hideous than their own. Its central situation gave to Paihia great advantages, and it soon became the real focus of the mission.

That the work of the past eight years had not been altogether in vain was proved by the altered demeanour of the Maoris. When the bell rang on Sundays at Paihia, they came along the beach, dressed in European clothes and carrying their books with the utmost propriety. It was only a fashion, but it meant something. At the two older stations some of them could repeat prayers and sing hymns. At Marsden's departure his ship struck on the rocks while working out of the Bay, but the natives of the island of Moturoa treated the shipwrecked passengers with kindness, and forebore to plunder their goods.

This was not much, but it carried hope for the future. The real hope, however, lay in the change of workers and the change of methods. At the time of the wreck, Marsden had with him several of the older settlers whose connection with the mission was now dissolved. In their places new names gradually appear. Fairburn came with Henry Williams in 1823; Clarke and Davis followed in the next year. Hamlin accompanied the Rev. W. Williams in 1826. In 1828 came two clergymen--Yate and Brown--besides a lay catechist, Baker. Chapman arrived in 1830, Preece in 1831, Matthews in 1832. Puckey and Shepherd had in the meantime come from Australia. King and Hall were left at Rangihoua, but the latter was compelled by an asthmatic affection to leave New Zealand in 1824, and for a time helped Marsden in his work among the Maori youths at Parramatta.

It is evident from the above list that the "settlement" policy still held its ground. And indeed settlers of the right type were urgently needed. As Mr. Saunders points out, the mission had suffered greatly through the lack of a skilled agriculturist. The first catechists were town artisans, and so were most of those that followed. They had tried hard to grow wheat, and not altogether without success. But on the whole the settlements had failed to support themselves. After the establishment of Kerikeri, Marsden had refused to send more flour from Sydney. He himself had been so successful with his farm that he expected others to do the same. If they would not work, he said, neither should they eat. But he could command the labour of convicts to do the work: this the New Zealand missionaries could not do. For long they had only hoes and spades; the Maoris would not help them; the soil and the climate were unfavourable. Some improvement there was when in 1824 Richard Davis, a Dorsetshire farmer, joined the staff. But even he was beaten again and again in his attempts at wheat-growing. It was not until 1830, when a move was made from the mangrove-lined shores of the Bay to the higher and more English country twelve miles inland at Waimate, that farming operations really began to succeed: then they prospered in marvellous fashion.

On the whole, the "settlement" scheme was a failure. It was too high for average human nature. The drastic regulations which Marsden left behind him in 1823--regulations which forbad even the slightest transaction between individual settlers and the trading ships--were tantamount to a confession of a breakdown of the system. As for Henry Williams, he determined on a change almost from the first. He would not try to raise produce at Paihia. Seek ye first the kingdom of God, he said. For years he left himself without anything that could be called a house, but he must have a church at once, and not only a church, but an organ. The church was soon built, and a pipe organ, which delighted his Welsh ears, was sent out by some of his friends at home. For the first two years he devoted much of his time and money to the building of a vessel, which should bring flour and groceries from Sydney, gather children from other districts for his schools, and collect pork and potatoes wherewith to feed them. In this 6o-ton schooner, which was launched under the name of the Herald early in 1826, the missionary made several voyages to Australia, to Tauranga, and to Hokianga, but she was wrecked on entering the last-named harbour in 1828.

The schools were indeed the pivot of the mission during the first ten years of the new order. Hitherto they had been small and intermittent, but at Paihia they soon developed into large and important institutions. Discipline was rigidly maintained. From early morning, when the bell rang out at 5 o'clock, the hours of the day were mapped out for different kinds of work. The girls' schools were well cared for by Mrs. Williams--a lady whose literary gift has rescued from oblivion much of the life of those far-off days. A part of each day was devoted by the missionaries to their own acquisition of the Maori language, and to the translation of the Bible and Prayer Book. At this work William Williams excelled. He was an Oxford graduate, who joined his brother in the March of 1826. The language seemed to have for him no terrors and hardly any difficulties. From time to time small volumes of translated portions with hymns and catechism were carried across to Sydney and brought back in printed form. These were eagerly bought and read by the Maoris. They were the first printed specimens of their own tongue, and the influence they exerted was incalculable.

Learning, teaching, and translating occupied the brotherhood at Paihia, while Davis was farming at Kerikefi or Waimate, and the Wesleyans were founding a station further north at Whangaroa. Outside these quiet spots there was still turmoil and bloodshed. The year 1827 was a particularly stormy period. Hongi raided Whangaroa and there received a dangerous wound. The Wesleyans were panic-stricken and fled overland to Kerikeri. They were received there and at Paihia with brotherly welcome by men who felt that their own turn might soon come. "It is not easy," writes Bishop Williams, "to describe this breach which had been made upon the mission body." As soon as the news became known in Australia, Marsden flew to the scene in a warship, but he found the missionaries facing the prospect with quiet courage. "It gives me great pleasure," he wrote, "to find the missionaries so comfortable, living in unity and godly love, devoting themselves to the work." They were well aware, of course, that so far as their tenure depended upon human protection the outlook was not bright. Hongi sent to them a message advising them to stay as long as he should live, but to fly to their own country as soon as he should die. They determined to stay at their posts as long as possible, but they shipped some tons of goods to Sydney, in case of a taua or stripping-party which might be expected to visit them as soon as their protector should have died. Such a proceeding would nave been strictly in accordance with Maori law of muru, and would be understood as a complimentary testimonial to the dead man's dignity. But it would have meant to the white men the loss of all their possessions, and the being left naked and destitute in a savage country.

Early in the year 1828 the long-expected death of the great warrior took place. He died as a heathen, his last words being, "Be courageous, be courageous!" But he had drawn closer to the missionaries during the last year of his life, and their estimates of him are nearly all favourable. "His conduct towards us," writes Clarke, "was kind, and his last moments were employed in requesting his survivors to treat us well." "He was ever the missionaries' friend," says Davir, "a shrewd, thoughtful man, very superior to any other native I have yet seen; the greatest man who has ever lived in these islands." Bishop Williams' estimate is less favourable, but the Committee of the C.M.S. (relying perhaps on Yate's unqualified encomium) considered that he had been specially raised up by God to be the protector and helper of the Gospel.

However beneficial his life may have been, the historian cannot help a sigh of relief when he comes to his death. For it marks the time when the mission began to stand on its own feet. So far from being "stripped," the missionaries actually rose in the estimation of the Maoris. A quarrel arose out of Hongi's death, which led to hostilities between the men of the Bay of Islands and those of Hokianga. The army of the Bay was worsted, and both sides were not unwilling for peace if honour could be preserved. Henry Williams and three of his colleagues went to the field and visited the camps. Everywhere they were treated with respect, and on Sunday a strict rest was enjoined as a mark of deference to these ambassadors of peace. Williams preached to a congregation of 500 on the neutral ground between the contending hosts. The silent and respectful behaviour recalled Marsden's first congregation fourteen years before. Next morning peace was concluded. "These," said Williams, "are new days indeed!"

The role of peacemaker thus taken up by the missionaries was one which they were often called upon to play. After a short interval of quiet, the flames of war were rekindled by the curses hurled by one young woman at another on the beach at Kororareka. A sharp battle was fought between the relatives and partisans of the two damsels, in which many lives were lost. At this juncture, Marsden arrived suddenly in the Bay. Together with Henry Williams he visited the hostile camps, and after some days of discussion peace was made. But the "Girls' War" did not end here. Two of the Ngapuhi chiefs, not being able to obtain vengeance for their slaughtered father among those who had slain him, went far away from their own territory and raided the islands in the Bay of Plenty. This involved the whole tribe in a war with the people of Tauranga, a war which dragged on for two whole years. Henry Williams and his brethren accompanied the fleets in their boat, and used their influence to stop the war. Partly through his exhortations, and partly through the absence of Hongi's determined generalship, the Ngapuhi fought half-heartedly and with little success. "The words of Wiremu," they confessed, "lay heavy on us, and our guns would not shoot." The stage had arrived which is depicted in the legend quoted at the head of this chapter. Like the Irish warrior, the New Zealanders were ready to say:

O weary was I of the travel, the trouble, the strife, and the sin.

The deadly feuds of the last thirteen years had greatly reduced the population, and the Maoris were bound to admit that the new religion offered a more excellent way.

This consummation, though highly desirable in itself, was of course regarded by the missionaries only as a means to a further end--the thorough conversion of the people to the Christian faith. Such conversions were rare, but they were just frequent enough to give encouragement. At first it was only the old and the sick were drawn by the announcement of a heaven where bloodshed and turmoil should cease. Of these the case of the old man, Rangi, is notable through his being the first of his race to be received into the Church of Christ by baptism (1825). A much more striking conversion was that of Taiwhanga, one of Hongi's chief warriors, in 1829. His struggles against the fascinations of the old life were severe and prolonged. Frequently he was solicited to go with a party on the warpath, and even his musket was coveted as a weapon endowed with more than ordinary power. At last he resolved that his children should be baptised, and the letter which he wrote to the missionaries on this occasion is of uncommon interest: "Here am I thinking of the day when my son shall be baptised. You are messengers from God, therefore I wish that he should be baptised according to your customs. I have left off my native rites and my native thoughts, and am now thinking how I may untie the cords of the devil, and so loosen them that they may fall off together with all sin. Christ is near, perhaps beholding my sinfulness; he looks into the hearts of men. It is well for me to grieve in the morning, in the evening, and at night, that my sins may be blotted out."

The baptism of Taiwhanga's children (August 23) was naturally looked upon as a significant event. William Williams spent part of the previous day in translating the baptismal service, and he determined to baptise at the same time his own infant son, Leonard Williams, afterwards to become Bishop of Waiapu. Six months later, Taiwhanga himself came forward publicly for baptism, and received the appropriate name of David. He immediately became an active missionary among his own countrymen, and proved an invaluable help to his teachers.

In spite of these and other gleams of success, the mission seemed to its friends to be doing little during these years, inasmuch as it made no extension beyond the limits of the Bay of Islands. The regret was shared by the leaders on the spot, and it has already been shown how Williams made more than one attempt by sea to effect an opening in the Bay of Plenty. It must be remembered, however, that the country to the southward of the northern isthmus had been desolated by Hongi's wars, and that the few remaining inhabitants were naturally hostile to anything that seemed to come from the Ngapuhi. Concentration was forced upon the mission by the circumstances of the time. When once the schools were established, they required the whole of the available staff of teachers to conduct them efficiently. To have weakened the schools would have been bad policy, even if openings had presented themselves elsewhere.

But, as a matter of fact, the missionaries "builded better than they knew." The really important feature of their work was little guessed even by themselves. Among their classes at Paihia were many wistful faces of slaves who had been torn from their distant homes in Hongi's wars. These had been befriended by the missionaries, and were placed on an equal footing in the schools with the sons of chiefs and rangatiras. It was these who drank in most deeply the Christian teaching, and it was these who were destined to be the pioneers of the future.

Outwardly the most striking achievements of these schools were the annual examinations which took place at the close of the years 1828 to 1830. Twice the scholars from Paihia and Rangihoua were taken by boat to Kerikeri, where the proceedings lasted for two or three days, and always finished with a generous feast. The gathering of 1830 took place at Paihia, and included 178 men and boys, besides 92 girls. It is not often that a school examination acquires a political significance, but it was so in this case. There were more than 1,000 Maori spectators present--men who had fought on opposite sides in the recent battle of Kororareka. The orderliness of the proceedings, and delightful atmosphere of keenness and pleasure which pervaded the scene, drew all parties together and served to weld the bond of peace.

Such exhibitions of the working of the new faith, together with the adhesion of a powerful convert like Taiwhanga, were bound to tell upon the people around. Evidences began to multiply of a serious attention to the teaching of the missionaries. Here and there in unexpected quarters signs appeared of coming change. To use the picturesque native simile, "the fire was spreading in the fern."

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