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

From Africa to New Zealand

From Africa to New Zealand.

Benjamin Yate Ashwell had been a missionary in Sierra Leone before he came to New Zealand for the Church Mission Society. He all but left his bones in that “White Man's Grave;” as it was he returned to England with broken health. Possibly the after-effects of the African coast malaria would have shortened his life had he remained in England, but the Society in 1835 sent him to these then cannibal islands, with the result that he regained his health and lived until 1883. He arrived at the Bay of Islands from London by way of Sydney, on December 23 of 1835, and joined the Mission staff at Paihia. There, and at the other stations in the North, he studied Maori, the first requirement of a missionary, and when he was proficient in the language he was sent out to extend the Church work in the Island.

There was peace in the North, but south of the Waitemata the land was still for the greater part unknown to the missionary bodies and untouched by any Rongo-Pai propaganda. Tapu and the tohunga ruled supreme. There were church stations at a few places—Waikato Heads, Mangapouri, Puriri, Matamata, Tauranga, and Rotorua, but the radius of their influence was very limited in 1835.

One of the stations—Matamata—had to be abandoned, through wars, and the Rotorua establishment, at Te Koutu, was destroyed.

A pen-portrait of the ex-African missionary has come down from one who knew him in his early active days in the Waikato. He is described as a man of small stature, who usually wore a pith helmet, relic of his days in Sierra Leone. This hat was too large for his head, and as he had a short neck the brim rested on his back and partly hid his face. He was a kindly, emotional man; he had the welfare of his Maori people at heart, and he never spared himself in his efforts to promote peace and right-living among them.