The Rev. William Colenso
was a distinguished New Zealander, who gave upwards of sixty years of useful life to his adopted country. He was born in 1811, at Penzance, Cornwall, England, and was a son of Mr. Samuel May Colenso, and first cousin
of the late Bishop Colenso, of Natal. He was educated privately at Penzance, learned printing and bookbinding in his native town, and subsequently worked as a compositor in the book-printing office of Messrs Watts and Son, of Crown Court, Temple Bar, London. In the year 1833 the Church Missionary Society, feeling the need, through their missionaries in New Zealand, of a printing press in this country, where all errors might be corrected on the spot by those familiar with the Maori language, appealed to their supporters with a view to securing the services of a missionary printer; and Mr. Colenso, on the recommendation of Messrs Watts, and after the usual preliminary examination was appointed to this position. On the 3rd of January, 1835, he landed at the Bay of Island. On opening his boxes, however, he found that he had no cases, leads, rules, ink table, roller stocks, nor frames, lye brush, potash, and, worst of all, no paper. Fortunately, he had provided himself with a composing-stick, the resident missionaries had a little writing paper among their stores, and his ingenuity enabled him to supply other requirements. On the 17th of February, 1835, he worked off, in the presence of admiring spectators, the first copy of the first book printed in New Zealand—the Epistles to the Ephesians and Maori language. In December, 1837, Mr. Coleirso printed, amidst many diffieculties, the New Testament in Maori. If the printer of to-day were asked to produce a volume of the New Testament in the Maori language, single-handed, and with even the best appliances that were available in the Old World seventy years ago, he would sicken at the thought. But the father of the New Zealand press had to surmount difficulties tenfold greater than those indicated by the above supposition. Time seems to have been the only thing to go slowly in those days; eighteen months could slip by comfortably while an order despatched from New Zealand was being fulfilled in London and sent to its destination. Yet all this time Mr. Colenso was turning out printed work, which, under the cirumstances, reflected upon him unlimited credit. At the same time he was learning the Maori language, and performing the arduous duties of an ordinary missionary. For many years past Mr. Coleno had been the only surviving European who was present and took part in the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Fortunately he was indefatigable in keeping up his dairy, and from these notes he was able to write for the Church Missionary Society a full and true account of Governor Hobson's arrival, and the interesting proceedings consequent thereupon, and the account was afterwards attested as correct by the late British Resident, Mr. James Busby, who was present officially on that great occasion. This “History” of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi was copied by Mr. Colenso in 1890, and printed by the Government for general circulation. Mr. Colenso had been in New Zealand about five years, when the advent of Captain Hobson, the first Governor, marked a new detarture in the history of the country, and during the whole of that time he had been working at his occupation of church printer, producing several other books, both small and large, in thousands, the principal ones being the “Common Prayer of the Church of England,” 372 pp., 12mo., and the “Gospel of St. Luke,” 68 pp., 12mo. Among many important acts of assistance rendered by the missionaries to the new Governor, the work done by Mr. Colenso was by no means the least. With his own hands—unlike the Government printer of to-day—the typographical missionary printed the Proclamation and the Treaty itself, besides much other Government work, including the first “Government Gazette” issued in the colony. Prior to this the Maori Testament of 356 pp., 8vo., had been entirely “set up” by Mr. Colenso, and with such assistance as he could get, no fewer than 5,000 copies had been printed, and a large number of them were bound by himself. It was the first edition of the New Testament printed south of the equator in any language, and only one copy of it is now known to exist, and was in Mr. Colenso's own possession. As a “legislator,” Mr. Colenso's abilities were recognised by his election, in 1861, to the General Assembly, as a representative of Hawke's Bay, and he remained in Parliament five years. As a debater his weight was felt also in the Hawke's Bay Provincial Council, where he held the office of provincial treasurer, and as a scientific man he towered high on the list of celebrities. As a botanist he was in the front rank, with a world-wide reputation. Speaking of Mr. Colenso's scientific
Whara Whara, Onepoto.
achievements, the “Inland Printer” said: “He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society, and a few years ago was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, in recognition of his distinguished services in the cause of botanical science. He was the first to identify the fossil bones of the long extinct moa as those of a gigantic bird, and very accurately indicated its place in the animal kingdom. On the subject of ferns, lichen, and the humble but beautiful hepaticæ, he is one of the greatest authorities. On the subject of Maori history and tradition there is only one other man—Sir George Grey—who will bear comparison with him as an authority. He has in manuscript a voluminous lexicon of the Polynesian language, which he was commissioned by the Government many years ago to write. The work was approaching completion when a change of administration reversed the order, and succeeding Governments have declined either to carry out the work officially, or to permit the author to find a private publisher. Mr. Colenso was one of the founders of the Hawke's Bay branch of the New Zealand Institute, and has always been the largest and most valued contributor to the ‘Transactions’ of that auxiliary branch. For precise, exact, and well-authenticated information his ‘Contributions towards the Better Knowledge of the Maori People,’ Excel all that has been written or collected by any other writer.” Mr. Colenso removed from the Bay of Islands to Hawke's Bay in 1844, which place he had also visited in the preceeding year, having been stationed at Port Ahuriri as the resident clergyman of the district by Bishop Selwyn. Among many positions filled by him since that time was the inspector of schools for Hawke's Bay. He published many valuable books which will live to his memory while the language lasts. During his missionary days, Mr. Colenso became thoroughly acquainted with the North Island, for he traversed the whole of it on foot from Cape Terawiti, in Cook's Straits, to Cape Maria Van Diemen, besides frequently travelling over both the east and west coasts, and more than once crossed the great dividing range, the Ruahine Mountains. The reverend gentleman continued to enjoy good and hearty health almost up to the time of his death, which took place on the 10th of February, 1899, in his eighty-eighth year.