The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 12 (March 2, 1936)
Famous New Zealanders — No. 36 — Some Great Missionary Pioneers: — The Wesleyan Church In New Zealand
There were no braver and no more useful pioneers of civilisation in New Zealand than the early missionaries of the Wesleyan faith, the founders of Methodism in this country more than a century ago. They were not long in following in the footsteps of the great Samuel Marsden, who did not confine his sympathies to the members of the English Church Mission but generously assisted the Wesleyans to gain a footing in North New Zealand and came to their assistance in their early troubles with the Maoris. The names mentioned in this sketch are those of men greatly honoured in the records of our nation-making. They were not only teachers of the new religion to the Maoris, but they were practical settlers of the best class and their stations and cultivations were object-lessons to the tribes among whom they established their churches and schools and farms. The most prominent of all those who planted the first mission when New Zealand was still a kind of No Man's Land was the Rev. John Hobbs. He is honoured in history for his notable share in obtaining the consent of the Hokianga and neighbouring tribes to the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. He and the famous C.M.S. missionary Henry Williams were in fact the principal men who influenced the Maoris of the North in favour of the Treaty and the British flag.
Samuel Leigh and The Maori Heads.
The story of the “Hahi Weterce” (“Church of Wesley”) in New Zealand begins with the coming of young Samuel Leigh, who arrived at Sydney in 1815, as the first apostle of his church to the Southern world. He worked as a minister in New South Wales, preaching and founding churches, and in the course of his duties he became very friendly with the great English Chaplain of the Colony, Samuel Marsden. In 1818, through the kindness of Mr. Marsden, who had established the first mission in New Zealand, he made a cruise for the sake of his health to the Bay of Islands in the C.M.S. brig Active. One of the first things he saw when he reached the Bay of Islands was a row of smoke-dried Maori heads, for sale; the wonderfully tattooed mokamokai was an item of commerce with the Sydney traders. Leigh was offered the heads, and when he refused to buy them he was told that the owners of the “dry goods” could easily sell them on board other Sydney vessels.
This callous traffic so affected the young clergyman that he went to England and appealed for help towards a Wesleyan Mission in New Zealand, and by February, 1822, he was back in these waters and landed at the Bay of Islands. It is recorded that he preached his first sermon in New Zealand in February, 1822, and it is characteristic of the narrow vision of many of these good men that, as he had found his congregation in the fields planting potatoes on Sunday “he expounded to them the obligations of the Fourth Commandment.” It must have puzzled the aboriginal brain to comprehend such “obligations” so foreign to its thought. However, when Maoridom did at last adopt the Mosaic sabbath it did so very thoroughly, often even to the discomfort and annoyance of pakeha travellers.
Fish-Hooks for Luck.
It was soon after this that Leigh, visiting Whangaroa Harbour in a whaleboat, was confronted on the beach with an alarming display of a crowd of naked savages yelling and flourishing weapons. He and his companions were in imminent danger of death, they imagined. (It may have been merely the “savages’” form of welcome.) However, he remembered that he had in his pocket a packet of fish-hooks for presents. He called out in Maori, “Wait, I have fish-hooks,” and he threw them over the heads of the Maoris. There was an immediate scramble for the treasures, and Leigh and his crew in the confusion were soon at a safe distance from the beach.
That timely shower of fish-hooks was as bread cast upon the waters. Leigh went back to Sydney, and returning in June 26, 1823, in the ship St. Michael, he again landed on the same beach in the inner part of Whangaroa. The Maoris recognised him and greeted him with cries of welcome and shouts of “This is the man who gave us the fish-hooks!”
The motau-throwing inspiration set the new missionary on a friendly footing among the people of Whangaroa. He established the first station of his church at Kaeo, at the head of the harbour and called it Wesley Dale. There he lived under rough conditions for some months. Then the Revs. John Hobbs and Nathaniel Turner arrived. They were a complete contrast to the delicate, scholarly Leigh; they were the pioneer stuff. Leigh, harrassed by ill-health and by mischievous Maori raids, had to give up the work. Robust frames and a general practical hardiness were needed and Leigh returned to Sydney, and thence to England.
The name of this pioneer Wesleyan is commemorated in coast nomenclature. The township at the beautiful cove called Little Omaha is called Leigh. This pretty and perfectly sheltered little harbour, fringed with pohutukawa groves, was a favourite place for call and rest of Archdeacon Henry Williams during his missionary cruises.