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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 6 (September 1, 1934)


The subject of this historical sketch cannot, perhaps, be described as famous, strictly speaking. The Rev. Benjamin Yate Ashwell, pioneer of missionary work in the Waikato, was not so well known or so much written about as the great Williams brothers of North New Zealand, and Bishop Selwin and Bishop Pompallier, John Hobbs and James Buller. But his courage and devotion to duty, and his strenuous efforts for peace and civilisation in a savage land entitle him to the remembrance and gratitude of both races in the country he helped to redeem from barbarism. It is appropriate that his life and labours should be recalled just now when the centenary of mission enterprise in the Waipa district is being celebrated. The first missionary visitors established a post on the Waipa in 1834, and Mr. Ashwell founded Te Awamutu station in 1839.

The Rev. B. Y. Ashwell.

The Rev. B. Y. Ashwell.

TRavellers by train through the Waikato country cannot but have admired the beauty of that great sweeping bend of the river at Taupiri, where the ranges on east and west step back steeply to give passage to the noble waterway. The railway line curves along the river-edge on the eastern side, below the sacred burial hill where the bones of the family of Maori kings and their chieftains of the past lie in “the place of a hundred wailings.” Behind this tapu hill rises in graceful lines the mountain of Taupiri, famous in mythology and poetry. On the opposite side of the broad Waikato, brimming to its willow-fringed banks, is a level tract of farming land, a Maori cultivation, and beyond the green range of the Hakarimata goes up in steep slants, ferny on the lower slopes, forested on the summits and in the gullies. Here on the levels once stood the large village, or rather town, called Kaitotehe, which a century ago was the headquarters of old Potatau te Wherowhero and his Waikato tribes, the Ngati-Mahuta and kindred clans. On the gently sloping ground yonder, near the base of the range, is the spot where “Te Ahiwera,” as the Maoris called him, the Rev. B. Y. Ashwell, built his mission house at the beginning of the Forties.

The station, with its boarding-school for Maori boys and girls, has long since disappeared; the Waikato War brought ruin to all this benevolent enterprise; but among the very old people who live on the historic banks of Waikato-taniwharau, the name of “Te Ahiwera” lingers in reverent memory. Here and there survives an ancient of the race who was taught in the mission school by Ashwell and his wife in the days when all this good land of Waikato was purely Maori, and when flotillas of great canoes plied up and down the broad shining river.