Project Canterbury


By James W. Stack

Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin, N.Z.
Melbourne and London: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1909.

Chapter V. Koro as Churchwarden

The laying of the foundation stone of our church by the Governor of New Zealand was a memorable event in the history of our Mission, and took place amidst many signs of outward rejoicing.

Gaily decorated arches, each displaying a suitable motto, spanned the approaches to the church site, and flags of all kinds waved from lofty poles planted round it.

The local volunteers in their uniforms, and hundreds of the neighbouring settlers and their families in holiday attire, flocked to the grounds, and added by their presence to the animation of the scene.

When the Governor arrived, a procession was formed, and started for the church site in the following order:

The Rev. J. W. Stack, in surplice and stole.

Eighteen Maori chiefs.

The school children, walking two and two.

The following clergy in their robes:

The Rev. R. Jackson.

The Rev. H. Torlesse.

The Rev. G. J. Cholmondeley.

The Rev. W. W. Willock.

The Rev. B. W. Dudley.

The Very Rev. Dean Jacobs.

His Excellency Sir George Grey, K.C.B., Governor of New Zealand, and suite.

His Honour Mr. Sefton Moorhouse, Superintendent of Canterbury.

The Municipal Councillors of Christ-church.

The Municipal Councillors of Kaiapoi.

After a service, part of which was rendered in English and part in Maori, the Governor proceeded to lay the foundation stone, which was lowered into its place with the usual ceremonies.

The following memorandum was deposited under it:

This foundation stone was laid by


Governor of New Zealand, etc.
on the 9th day of February, in the
year of our Lord, 1867.

PITA TE HOEI and KORO MAUTAI, Churchwardens.
A. G. PURCHASE, Architect,

After the Benediction, the procession reformed and returned to St. Stephen's, where [38/39] the Governor held an audience with the Maoris before returning to Christchurch.

The Maoris watched the building of their church with the greatest interest, and upon its completion sent representatives from every village in the diocese to be present at the opening ceremony, which was witnessed by almost as many English people as the laying of the foundation stone.

In the absence of the bishop--who was in England--his commissary, the Dean of Christ-church, preached, taking for his text the words of the prophet Micah (iv. 1, 2), ". . . Many nations shall come, and say, Let us go up to the house of the God of Jacob . . ." words which proved to be more appropriate for the occasion than he could possibly have imagined when he chose them; for, besides representatives of six European nationalities, there were present at the service an Indian and a Chinaman from Asia, a Chilian from South America, a negro from Africa, an Australian black, and several South Sea Islanders, all drawn by the same impulse to the House of God.

Our Maori church was the first one built with a spire on the Canterbury plains, and, although it was only fifty feet high, it was for many years a most conspicuous object, as at that time nothing higher than a gorse hedge obstructed the view in any direction. The notice which it attracted pleased the natives, who were gratified by the interest [39/40] taken in everything connected with their church by all ranks of their European neighbours, who met them as equals within its walls. It increased the Maoris' self-respect, and made them feel that, since they were treated as civilised people, they ought to behave like them. Their efforts to do so were sometimes rather comical, as, for instance, when the old men and women, who were addicted to rather dirty habits, provided themselves with large pocket handkerchiefs, which each one unfolded and used freely before entering the church for divine service.

In deference to Maori ideas of propriety, men and women sat on opposite sides of the church, and formed one united choir, responding together simultaneously like one great voice, the effect of which was most impressive and inspiriting.

It was a positive delight to take part in such hearty services, where every worshipper seemed so devout and attentive.

We Europeans can hardly realise how difficult it was for the old Maoris to conform to our ideas of reverential attitudes during divine service. It was most irksome to them to be obliged to sit quietly on raised seats and to stand and kneel at the appointed times, but, notwithstanding the discomfort it caused them, they adhered strictly to the directions of the Prayer Book, and were always reverent and orderly in their demeanour in church. Many of the congregation were very poor, [40/41] out they always came decently clad, in European fashion, and were surprisingly generous in their gifts at times. Some were too old to provide for themselves the scanty fare on which most of the people at that time subsisted, and were dependent upon the charity of their neighbours for their food (for there were no rents in those days to fall back upon); but, however kindly disposed their neighbours might be, they sometimes forgot to present gifts of food when they were most needed, and it was no uncommon thing for these old people to be left for a day or two without anything to eat. Amongst this aged class of poor Maoris was an old man named Jacob, and his wife, who occupied a small raupo hut, half a mile from St. Stephen's, where they passed their time, either crouching over a few embers on the earthen floor of their dwelling, or sitting with their backs against the outside wall of it sunning themselves.

The old man suffered from chronic ophthalmia--his eyelids were always inflamed, the lower one projecting outwards and the other curling upwards, and preventing the edges of the eyelids from meeting when closed.

They were a cheerful couple, and often entertained me with accounts of the arduous journeys which they took many times in their younger days to the West Coast, in search of greenstone, of which they were well-known [41/42] judges and manufacturers. There were no roads, or tracks even, to guide them over the Alpine ranges and. through the forests which they had to traverse.

Their practice when climbing the mountains was to follow the barest ridge they could find, and, when going through forests, to follow the streams and rivers flowing through them. The journeys were always tedious and dangerous. For their food they depended almost entirely upon what they could catch. The streams and lakes supplied eels, and the woods, weka, kakapo and other birds.

On reaching the West Coast, they used to search about till they found a lump of greenstone, which they would reduce to a portable size with stone hammers, and then carry it on their backs, by the way they came, to their home on the East Coast. The courage and endurance required for one such journey were so great that only the bravest could be induced to undertake it a second time. And the proof that the old couple once possessed both the required qualities in an extraordinary degree was shown by their having made the journey from East to West no less than five times.

Though Jacob and his wife were regular attendants at morning and evening prayer on Sunday, I could never persuade them to come to the Holy Communion, and it was many months before I discovered the reason.

I was passing the hut one day, when the [42/43] old man came out to meet me with a beaming face, and asked me when the next celebration of the Holy Communion would take place.

"I want to come with my wife, for I have got an offering to present to God now [showing me half a sovereign]. I did not like to appear empty-handed before God."

"How did you get the money?" I asked.

"A white man gave it to me yesterday for that black pine-stump," pointing to one near the hut, "which he is going to cut up into firewood."

At the next celebration, old Jacob and his wife came to Communion, and, to make sure of his offering being presented, he brought it up to the rails himself, and placed it in my hands when I received the offertory.

When we remember that the old couple often suffered from hunger and cold, owing to their extreme poverty, it does seem surprising that, when a piece of gold came unexpectedly into their possession, their first thought should be to give it to God, rather than to expend it upon themselves.

Koro proved to be a most efficient churchwarden, and took a very intelligent view of the duties appertaining to his office. He was not content with securing the good behaviour of the people within the church on Sundays, but took equal pains to secure their good behaviour outside the church on weekdays. He was foremost amongst the good men who established and managed the [43/44] "runanga," or village council, which undertook the settlement of all quarrels and disputes between members of the native community, and the supervision of their daily conduct. This useful institution did its work so successfully that it not only put an end to all vexatious litigation in the English Courts between Maori and Maori, but to the necessity of prosecutions for such criminal offences as drunkenness, slander, and seduction, which were of frequent occurrence before the native community subjected themselves to its discipline.

Koro was jealous of the reputation of his race, and did all he could to uphold the honour of the Maori name, which in those early days of the colony was in danger of being discredited by the disputes which were constantly taking place between Europeans and Maoris about their business transactions, each charging the other with dishonesty, when neither of them was really to blame, because neither of them understood the terms of any agreement they made, as they were both ignorant of each other's language.

Koro hailed with joy the appointment of a Government interpreter, whose certificate, that he had explained in the Maori language the contents of an agreement before it was signed, was necessary to its validity, because he felt sure that no reputable Maori would break his word, and that time would prove that when the Maoris understood what they [44/45] were doing, there would be no fear of their repudiating their engagements. Nor was he disappointed of this hope, for evidence of an unmistakable kind was forthcoming at the end of sixteen years, to prove the high estimation in which his people were held for their integrity by the English who did business with them.

It came about as follows. A portion of the Kaiapoi Reserve was leased, "for grazing purposes only," to an English settler, for five years, at an annual rental of £50. Before the termination of the lease the grazing value of the land had doubled, and the Maoris awaited with impatience the time when they could profit by it. But they had quite forgotten that when leasing the land, on what at the time were thought to be favourable terms, they had granted the tenant the right of renewal for another period of five years, at the same rental, and when he notified his intention to renew his lease, and they found that they could not increase the rent, they became very angry, and were loud in their denunciation of those members of their community who had signed the lease, and made such a bad bargain.

It was pointed out to the Maoris by interested Europeans who wanted to get hold of the land, that the lease was a valueless document, and could be easily set aside, and possession of the land resumed by the owners, seeing that only eight out of one hundred and [45/46] fifty-six of them had signed the lease, and that several of the owners had never been consulted about it all, and did not even know of its existence. But, when the tenant remonstrated, and reminded the Maoris that it would be very unfair to him to repudiate an agreement which they had so long recognised as valid, they resisted the temptation to take advantage of him, and left him in possession; because the majority of the owners knew, from the first, that the lease was not a document of any legal value, but only a memorandum relating to the understanding between them and the person whom they allowed to occupy a portion of their land.

But their sense of fairness and honesty was to be put to a still severer test. The tenant sold his interest after two years to another person, who asked permission to crop the land, promising in return to double the rent, and to expend £300 in fencing. The Maoris agreed to his proposal, but refused his request that they should give their consent in writing. The new tenant fenced and cropped the land, and for the second crop he was offered £1,000 as it stood in the field, together with whatever rights he possessed for the last year of his tenancy. He accepted the offer, and appealed to the Maoris for permission to sell, but they refused to be parties to the transaction. "We shall not disturb you," they said, "till the original grazing lease expires, [46/47] as long as you pay the rent which you have agreed to give us."

The purchaser had to borrow the money, but he soon found some one willing to lend what he required, and the two men repaired to the office of a leading firm of lawyers in Christchurch to get the necessary deeds made out. There the borrower was asked what security he had to offer, and all he could show was the original grazing lease, which disallowed any other use being made of the land, and a letter from the Government interpreter, stating that at a meeting of the owners, convened by him, they had promised not to disturb the new occupier.

"But that is no security at all," said the lawyer; "no one would be so foolish as to lend £1,000 upon the security of a promise made by a crowd of men, women, and children. The idea is ridiculous. Think how easily some of them might dispute your right to occupy the land. If it is worth £1,000 to you, it is worth that to the Maoris, and they may not be able to resist the temptation to seize such a prize by resuming possession of their property. As there is no security to offer, no mortgage deed can be drawn."

"But I am quite satisfied," interposed the lender, a shrewd cattle-dealer. "I have transacted business with the Maoris for sixteen years, and have never known one of them to break a promise made to the Government interpreter. I am quite willing to [47/48] lend the money, and all I require is a receipt from the borrower, drawn up by you." Mr. Grarrick, who was the lawyer employed, expressed the greatest astonishment at the confidence reposed on the integrity and honesty of the Maoris, and said that such a transaction would be impossible amongst Europeans.

Shortly after Koro became churchwarden of St. Stephen's the Maoris took to calling him "the Bishop," because he so magnified his office by the way in which he discharged its duties. The same zealous spirit animated him from first to last, and in whatever kind of Church work he was engaged he always "purchased to himself a good degree."

Project Canterbury