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Missionary impact

A matter of faith

From 1814, Christian missionaries from Britain began building up friendly relationships with Māori. Mutual trust grew, and eventually this helped the British government gain influence here.

Enlarge image The chiefs Waikato and Hongi Hika with missionary Thomas Kendall in England

The chiefs Waikato and Hongi Hika with missionary Thomas Kendall in England, oil painting by James Barry, 1820. National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington (Ref:G-618)

Pioneers of language

In 1820, Bay of Islands rangatira (chiefs) Hongi Hika and Waikato travelled to England with missionary Thomas Kendall. The three went to Cambridge to work with renowned linguist Professor Samuel Lee on Kendall's book, A grammar and vocabulary of the language of New Zealand. While in England, the two rangatira were introduced to
King George IV.

The book was published at the end of the year, laying the foundations for the way te reo Māori is written today.

Enlarge image The missionaries encouraged peace, and sometimes sailed with waka taua (war canoes)

Wood engraving by Henry Williams, 1835, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington (Ref:PUBL-0031-1835-1)

Side by side

The missionaries encouraged peace, and sometimes sailed with waka taua (war canoes), as shown here. They hoped to mediate between warring tribes.

A new approach

For nearly ten years, the Church Missionary Society's Bay of Islands mission offered Māori training in new ways of gardening and farming, and worked on forming good relationships with local people. But this didn't convert a single person to Christianity.

Henry Williams took over as the mission's leader in 1823. He focused more on spiritual teaching, and demanded that mission members improve their Māori language skills and preach to local tribes.

Williams's firm, unswerving character gained him respect in the surrounding areas, and he was soon sought after as a mediator. In 1830, the first conversions came.

Christianity on the map

The Anglican Church Missionary Society was joined by the Wesleyan Missionary Society in 1823, and both groups began extending their operations throughout the country in the 1830s. Catholic missionaries arrived in 1838.

Enlarge image Kororareka - Print by J S Polack, 1838

Print by J S Polack, 1838, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington (Ref:PUBL-0115-1)

Popular port

Kororareka attracted both whaling and trading ships in the 1830s – with its rowdy shore life, it became known as 'the hell-hole of the South Pacific'.

Enlarge image Title page, New Testament, published by William Colenso, Paihia, 1837

Title page, New Testament, published by William Colenso, Paihia, 1837. National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington (Ref: F5695 1/2)

Reading, writing, and religion

In 1834, the Church Missionary Society employed William Colenso to set up a printing press at the mission in the Bay of Islands. Colenso published Māori translations of biblical passages and, in 1837, a translation of the entire New Testament.

These first books in te reo Māori provided a vehicle for Māori to learn to read and write in their own language. The promise of literacy drew local Māori to Christianity in increasing numbers. By 1840, around 3000 in the Bay of Islands area had been baptised.

Enlarge image Sketch of Rawiri Taiwhanga by T B Hutton

Sketch of Rawiri Taiwhanga by T B Hutton, in W C Cotton's Journal, Vol VIII, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales (ML Ref.MS 40)

A high profile conversion

Rawiri Taiwhanga was the first high-ranking Māori to convert to Christianity. He was baptised at Paihia on 7 February 1830. Taiwhanga ran a successful farm, and supplied butter to the Bay of Islands.

E tō mātou Matua i te Rangi, kia tapu tōu ingoa,
kia tae mai tōu Rangatiratanga.
Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed
be thy name, thy Kingdom come.