Project Canterbury

A History of the English Church in New Zealand

By H.T. Purchas

Christchurch: Simpson and Williams, 1914.

Chapter X.


The sequel of to-day unsolders all
The goodliest fellowship of famous knights
Whereof this world holds record.

WHEN Bishop Selwyn removed his headquarters from the Bay of Islands, he was in no doubt as to whither to betake himself. Auckland was the seat of government, and the most central position from which to reach the various mission stations; it was the strongest church centre of all the European settlements; and it was the home of Judge Martin, with whom the bishop had already formed a close friendship, and who was destined afterwards, as Sir William Martin, to play an important part in the building up of the New Zealand Church.

Thither accordingly the bishop moved his family and his collegiate establishment in the spring of 1844. With part of the Whytehead bequest, he had bought several hundred acres of land at Tamaki, about six miles from the town, and not far from Mokoia, the scene of the great battle between Hongi and Hinaki. The first summer was spent in the erection of the buildings, for which the bishop's English friends had subscribed no less than £5,000. During this time the community lived in tents and other temporary habitations at Purewa, which served as the "port" of the new establishment. Before winter there were sufficient permanent structures at St. John's College itself to house the scholars, and soon the varied activities of the old Waimate period were resumed with even more than their old vigour.

Nothing, indeed, could exceed the simplicity or the theoretical comprehensiveness of the college ideal. The agricultural department was still a prominent feature, and the bishop loved to watch his little army of 70 spades going forth in the morning to its task of breaking up the rough fern land. The printing press had been brought from the north, and was kept busily at work; weaving, carpentry, and shoe-making also were carried on. One of the largest buildings was a hospital--the first in New Zealand--where patients were attended by "the Brethren and Sisters of the Hospital of St. John," whose vows bound them "to minister to the wants of the sick of all classes, without respect of persons or reservation of service, not for any material reward, but for the love of God." Schools for Maori and English children formed, as before, an essential part of the scheme, and the little chapel with its daily services shed a hallowing influence over the whole. The communistic character of the organisation was maintained, but one-third of the profits of the farm were divided among the lay associates to enable them to stock farms of their own when the time of their training should expire. Prominent among the students were two youths who had walked to Auckland from Poverty Bay. These were Leonard Williams, son of the Archdeacon of Waiapu; and Samuel, second son of Archdeacon Henry Williams. This young man, who was afterwards to become famous for his agricultural success, his wealth, and his generosity, was ordained in the college chapel on Sept. 20th, 1846, and married, at the same place, a few days later, to a member of his uncle's family. The double event drew a large concourse of both the Williams families, and thus served to emphasise the solidarity which existed in that hopeful spring-tide between the bishop and the missionary clergy.

Such evidences became all the more precious in the light of outside events. The relations between the bishop and the Church Missionary Society, so far from improving, became worse. The Society had tried to make some atonement for its closure of Waimate by presenting the bishop with the printing-press, and also with a yacht (the Flying Fish), in which Hadfield had been wont to visit the pas in the Nelson sounds. But it would not give way on the question of the placing of its agents; and on the bishop refusing to acquiesce in a divided authority, it declined to present any more of its catechists for ordination. The brothers Williams by no means approved of this policy, for to them it seemed that the bishop was more likely to know the wants of the whole diocese than could a committee in London, and they trusted his judgment entirely. Yet, a well-meant act of this very kind had already contributed to the series of events which was destined to mar the godly harmony with which the young Church of this land had hitherto been blessed.

One of the concluding tasks of the Waimate period had been the revision of the Maori Prayer Book. Archdeacon W. Williams must of course be brought from the east coast for this work, and the bishop despatched the elder brother to take his place there for the time. The step was an unfortunate one, for never was the old peace-maker's influence more needed in the north than at this juncture. The Maoris were becoming restless under the regulations of the new government, and their discontent was fanned by Americans and other foreigners, who told them that the flagstaff upon the hill overlooking Kororareka (or Russell) was a symbol that the country had passed away from the native race, and that soon the Maoris would be reduced to slavery. These taunts made a deep impression upon the mind of Hone Heke, a clever man who had learned in the mission school at Paihia and in Henry Williams' own household to read and understand something of what was passing in the world. The American whalers had instilled into him an ardent admiration for George Washington, while the British Government had just become discredited in the eyes of all good men through the "Opium War" in China. To shake off its yoke became to Heke the part of true patriotism, and to fell the flagstaff was to strike at the symbol of Babylonish idolatry.7

The one man who might have dissuaded Heke from his purpose was his old master, Te Wiremu, and it was just in the months of Te Wiremu's absence that the flagstaff was first cut down (Sept. 16, 1844). It was felled again in the following January, and in March came the real struggle. When Henry Williams returned to the Bay, shortly after the first outbreak, it was too late to change Heke's purpose. The die was cast. But he was still able to do much with those Maoris who had not yet declared themselves on Heke's side. By circulating and explaining the terms of the treaty of Waitangi, he won over the great chief, Tamati Waka Nene; and it was this man's force that eventually turned the scale on the British side. Williams and Waka Nene saved Auckland at this crisis, as certainly as Hadfield and Wiremu Kingi had saved Wellington the year before. But, though Henry Williams was unable to shake the determination of the "rebels," he could not withhold a certain admiration at their conduct. "It is astonishing," he wrote, "to see Heke: how close he keeps to his Testament and his Prayer Book. I am disposed to think he is conscious he is doing a good work, as, previous to his attack on the flagstaff, he asked a blessing on his proceedings; and, after he had completed the mischief, he returned thanks for having strength for his work." Right up to the eve of the final assault, Heke attended the church services devoutly, and in planning this assault he betook himself to his Bible. A strong force of military was now protecting the mast, but Heke

7In the negotiations which followed the war, Heke addressed the British commissioner as "King of Babylon," much to the embarrassment of Henry Williams, who was acting as interpreter!

took his tactics from those of Joshua at Ai. While his ally, Kawiti, engaged the British soldiers and marines at the opposite end of the beach, Heke himself and his party lay in ambush below the blockhouse. The stratagem was successful: the block-house was easily overpowered; the mast once more felled to the earth; and then the victors, having achieved their object, sat down on the hill-top to watch the scene below.

A curious scene it is! A terrific explosion of all the English ammunition in the lower block-house brings the fighting to an end, but the harbour is alive with boats laden with fugitive settlers. Here, are Henry Williams and the bishop conveying dead and wounded soldiers to Paihia, or to the man-of-war which lies at anchor in the background; there, are Maoris cheerfully helping their late enemies to save their household goods. But what are these English doing? Their warship begins to fire at the town, and especially at the church behind which the wounded are lying! No one is hurt, it is true; but is not the meaning clear enough? Can there be any doubt now as to the unchristian character of the British rule? Must it not be the anti-Christ?

If such were the thoughts of the Maori, which the sight of the bombardment of Russell awoke in his mind, how much stronger would they have been, could he have heard the gross and violent abuse which was showered on Henry Williams by the officers of the Hazard, as he sat in his boat alongside, waiting for the bishop? Through all his years of missionary work the old naval officer had never forgotten the service to which he had once belonged, and now the cries of "Traitor!" cut him to the quick. Sorrowfully he made his way across the Bay to his home. The "beginning of sorrows" had come.

With his sons he was again at Russell, on the morrow, using his influence to keep some sort of order, until intoxication began among the victorious Maoris. Yet, even when they burnt the town, these "savages" were careful to save the churches and the parsonages; and a few days later Heke called on Williams at Paihia, and in the kindest tones begged him to move inland out of harm's way. In spite of all his disapprobation of their conduct, the missionary could not but feel that his converts were not altogether untrue to their profession. But the more their reverence for their teachers became conspicuous, the louder rose the cry of "traitor" from the English side. "You must have given them encouragement," was the common charge; "for look how they single you out for their favour!"

Before long, indeed, it seemed as though the innocence of the missionary was being vindicated by a Higher Power. The tide of war rolled inland, and Heke was defeated by Waka Nene, who now fought on the British side. Still more tragic was the death of the rash Lieutenant Philpott in the unsuccessful attack upon the stockade of Ohaeawai, July i, 1845. This was the man who had ordered the bombardment of the church at Russell, and who had led the cry of "traitor" afterwards. He was a brave man, and the son of a bishop; but his excitable mind had been poisoned by the officials of the New Zealand Company, and now that death had interposed its extenuating plea, his offence could be forgiven. The archdeacon was permitted by the victorious Maoris to take the officer's eyeglass, and a lock of hair from his brow, for transmission to his English friends, and might well hope that the falsehoods he had uttered would be buried in his grave.

But this was not to be. The final act in this disastrous war brought on the scene an antagonist who took up with craft the charge which Philpott had made in ignorance, and pressed it home for many years with all the astuteness and malignity of a superior intellect.

The ill success of the British arms had caused the recall of the friendly Governor Fitzroy, and the appointment in his place of Captain (afterwards Sir George) Grey. This officer began his military operations with a much larger force, and advanced against the strongest position which the Maoris had yet fortified--that of Ruapekapeka, or the Bats' Nest. The name was only too appropriate at this period, for the place seemed to abound with creatures of darkness. Who does not know that the pa was captured by the governor on a Sunday morning (Jan. 11, 1846), while the defenders were engaged in worship in the bush outside? [It is strange to find the good Lady Martin recording this action without a word of disapproval. Carleton's defence of it is extraordinary. If the Maoris had been given the Apocrypha (which they had not) they might have read of Jonathan the Maccabee fighting a defensive battle on the Sabbath. The amusing part is that Carleton himself could not at the moment lay his hand on a copy of the Apocrypha, and had to fall back on Josephus! A more consoling comment is given by Lieut.-Col. Mundy: "Who shall say that this neglect of man's ordinances and observance of God's in the time of their trouble, did not bring with them a providential and merciful result? It led, doubtless, to their almost instantaneous defeat; but it saved them and the English from the tenfold carnage which a more vigilant and disciplined resistance, from within their walls, would hare infallibly caused."] This was bad enough, for now the Maoris had been taught how little Christian England regarded either their sacred places or their sacred day. But out of the Bats' Nest came a second charge against Henry Williams. The governor averred that letters had been found in the captured pa which amounted to a positive proof of the missionary's treason. As the troops marched back to the Bay of Islands, a common topic of their conversation was the arrest of the "traitor," whom they expected to see carried off in handcuffs to Auckland for his trial. The letter which had been found was really one that Williams had written to the Maori leader, urging him to submit himself to the government; but, by burning the letter, the governor was able to base upon it a charge which was dangerous from its very vagueness. Conscious of his innocence, the missionary remained at his post, and at last saw the police boat depart without him on a Sunday afternoon, and was able to go in peace to his evening service.

The prospect of a trial was indeed less welcome to the governor himself than to the archdeacon, for throughout the long conflict which followed, a public enquiry was the one thing which Henry Williams consistently claimed, and which the governor as consistently evaded. But the peace which followed the departure of the troops was occupied by the latter in forging weapons of a different character. Six months after the fall of the Bats' Nest, the governor indited to the Secretary of State for the Colonies a "confidential" despatch, which even his defenders admit to be full of falsehoods. This despatch came to be known as the "Blood and Treasure Despatch," and it forms the key to the whole after history of the quarrel. In this document Governor Grey completely abandoned the charge of stirring up the Maoris to rebel, and accused the missionaries of claiming more than their share of the land of the natives, and thereby making inevitable another war. "Her Majesty's Government," he wrote, "may rest satisfied that these individuals cannot be put in possession of these tracts of land without a large expenditure of British blood and money." By "these individuals" he meant (as specified in another part of the despatch) "several members of the Church Missionary Society," as well as other settlers, who had acquired land from the natives. The despatch was addressed to Mr. Gladstone; but shortly after its arrival a change of government took place, and the new colonial secretary, Lord Grey, made known its contents to the Church Missionary Society, by whom it was transmitted to New Zealand.

Its publication had all the effect of a thunderbolt. What could the governor mean by such charges? So far from there being any need of a British army to put the missionaries--or rather, their sons--in possession of the land, the truth, of course, was that they were already in possession and had been quietly farming their grants for some years. All through the war the Maoris had respected their titles, and were on the best of terms with the young farmers. To Henry Williams, with his life-long devotion to the government he had once served, no charge could have been more painful. It touched his honour to the quick. He offered to give up every acre of the land, if the governor would either retract or substantiate his charges. Neither of these things would the governor attempt to do. He was determined to get the land, and he left no stone unturned in his efforts to accomplish his object.

August and September, 1847, were the critical time of this distressing episode. On Aug. 13th, Henry Williams received from London the news of the "Blood and Treasure" despatch. It was accompanied by a letter from the C.M.S., instructing the missionaries to divest themselves of all land in excess of 1,260 acres for each grant. They might sell it, or make it over to their children, or put it in trust for the benefit of the aborigines, but they were not to retain it for "their own use and benefit." Nothing could have been more satisfactory to Henry Williams, who had never drawn a shilling from the land for his own use, but had always paid his sons for any of their produce he might require. He now sent to the Society an undertaking that he would at once transfer the land legally to his family, and thus he hoped to put an end to the dispute.

But this did not satisfy the governor. In the same month he submitted proposals so worded as to imply, if accepted, that the land (or a portion of it) had been unjustly acquired. This at once brought up again the question of honour, and the proposals were of course rejected.

It was at this juncture that the governor took a course which was fraught with evil consequences to the New Zealand Church. He applied for help to the bishop. Unless the question was settled, he said, he would be obliged to take steps which might deeply injure their common faith. Would the bishop communicate his letter to the missionaries, and use his influence to induce them to give up their land?

What was the bishop to do? It is generally supposed that he allowed himself to be persuaded against his better judgment by the plausible arguments of the governor. But this is surely to wrong a man of Selwyn's character. He had stood shoulder to shoulder with Henry Williams in upholding the validity of the Treaty of Waitangi, against the action of the same governor and of the Home authorities. It was not likely that he would weakly give way to the blandishments of any individual, unless he had convinced himself that the cause was a just one. How then can we account for his action in this instance?

The only explanation that seems to meet the case is that which is supplied by the idealistic nature of Selwyn's mind. One of his ideals was plain living, and he had something of the socialist's contempt for the "rights of property." Even before his consecration his mind had been exercised on the question of the land purchases of the New Zealand missionaries. When he arrived in the country, he told Henry Williams that he had determined to take no notice of the matter, but for all that he never abated his dislike of the system. These "waste and worthless acres" threatened to mar the success of his schemes. "Catechism and bread and butter" should be enough for missionaries' children; and when these grew to manhood, was not St. John's College open to them, with its farm and its technical training, besides its invitation to the offices of schoolmaster and deacon? If the missionaries' sons were endowed with land of their own, would they not be so much absorbed with its management as to be insensible to the charm of community life and the call of the ministries of the Church? Such thoughts seem to have been working in the mind of the bishop from the time of his arrival, and he had corresponded with the C.M.S. from time to time on the subject. He had hitherto said nothing, but when the governor appealed to him with the plausible reasoning which he--an idealist also--could so skilfully use, the bishop fell in with the proposal, and broke through the reserve which he had hitherto maintained. Such, at least, is the explanation which is suggested by a careful study of the facts. The conflict was one of principles: communism against individualism. Like many other reformers, Bishop Selwyn was strong when he exhibited the positive aspects of the communistic ideal; he failed and became unjust when he tried to force others into the same method of life.

The attack was made with great suddenness. The bishop brought the archdeacon from the Bay of Islands to St. John's College, and there, on September 4, in the midst of his own disciplinarian surroundings, handed him a lengthy letter in which he revealed his long cherished opinions, defended the Blood and Treasure despatch, and called upon the missionary to accept the governor's terms. The startled archdeacon asked for proof of the episcopal charges, but of course no proof was forthcoming. It was a matter of prejudged guilt. The bishop was not skilful in the negotiations, and at last lost his temper and demanded point-blank the surrender of the deeds. [Archdeacon Williams' son-in-law, Mr. Hugh Carleton, has left it on record that the archdeacon and his family would at any time have given up the lands, if only the bishop had shown them some sympathy and publicly disavowed his concurrence with the governor's charges.] Henry Williams felt that he was unjustly accused, and, still holding out for "substantiation or retractation," left the scene of the conference in a fit of indignation, which was still further increased when he found that the unscrupulous governor had been trying to stir up the Maoris of the Bay of Islands to claim the restitution of their lands. Nothing but their strong affection and loyalty towards "Te Wiremu" could have enabled them to resist this appeal to their cupidity. But underhand dealing was the one thing that Williams could not bear, and he would hold no more communication with Governor Grey on the subject. His sons were of age: let them carry on the struggle.

The year 1848 brought one ray of light to the unhappy "grantees." The governor brought against one of them an action in the Supreme Court of New Zealand. The two judges were friends of the bishop and of the governor, but their verdict confirmed the missionaries in possession of their land. The legal status thus acquired enabled Henry Williams to convey the whole of the land which stood in his name to his family, and thus to make quite clear to all the real state of the case. But the old question of honour was still unsettled, and Williams sought for a public enquiry both from the British Government and from the Missionary Society. Both bodies, however, were under the influence of his foes, and refused his request. Instead of enquiring into his wrongs, the C.M.S., misled by the constant accusations of the governor, resolved to end the trouble by terminating the connection with their old and well-tried servant.

This was a stunning blow. It was the Eve of Trinity Sunday, 1850, that the letter came to Paihia, after a period so long that it had seemed as though the trouble were at rest. Mrs. Williams has left on record the feelings of herself and her husband on that Sunday: "The day was beautiful in which we saw our old and much-loved home, all untouched in Sabbath peace, for the last time. We told no one; all went on as usual; but it was a great conflict to keep down the thoughts of our expulsion, and all its attendant cruel injustice."

On the following Thursday the move was made. Amidst heavy rain the family rode off to the inland farm at Pakaraka, where the sons were already settled. The cavalcade was escorted by Pene Taui, the general who had repulsed the British troops at Ohaeawai, and by Tamati Pukututu, who had guarded the stores of the English in the same campaign. They had fought on opposite sides in the war, but they were at one in their devotion to Wiremu.

With the removal of Henry Williams, came to an end the Golden Age, or influential period, of the Bay of Islands. Governor and bishop had both left it, and the war had dealt its missions a blow from which they were never to recover. The visitor to Paihia to-day sees a few silent houses ranged along the quiet beach, and amongst them the ruins of the building in which the first printing-press in New Zealand was set up. A church of more modern date contains some remains of the early period, and at the other end of the beach stands the dismantled house in which Carleton lived and wrote. But the most enduring object is the fine granite cross which was erected long afterwards by the Maori Church to the memory of Henry Williams--"a Preacher of the Gospel of Peace, and a Father of the Tribes."

NOTE.--With regard to the rest of those whom Mr. Collier calls the "peccant missionaries" there is not much to be said. One of them, Clarke, was certainly treated with strange injustice. The governor brought an action against him in the Supreme Court, as already related. He did not defend himself, but was dismissed by the C.M.S. on a charge of having gone to law with the governor! A full list of the landgrants may be seen in Thompson's "Story of New Zealand," Vol. II., p. 155. It is not pleasant reading; one could have wished that the missionaries had not been driven to acquire land as they did. Perhaps some of them were led on further than was wise or right. Taylor's claim for 50,000 acres was startling, but he bought the land at Henry Williams' request to save a war between two tribes who both claimed it. When the grants came to be legally made by Governor Fitzroy Taylor received only 1,704 acres. Maunsell, Chapman, Hadfield, Morgan, Stack, and some others, never bought any land at all; and the amounts claimed by some of the others were very small'. The total number of missionaries on the schedule is 36 the total number of acres granted is 66,713. It must be remembered that the families of the grantees were generally large, and that the quality of the land was usually very poor.

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