Maori and Missionary: Early Christian Missions in the South Island of New Zealand
Chapter Eleven — The Rev. William Kirk
The Rev. William Kirk
In 1853 The Rev. William Kirk was Appointed to Succeed Mr. Creed, but he was detained in Christchurch to supply an appointment there, and Mr. Creed, writing from Wellington on August 30th, 1853, reported to London: “Mr. Kirk's appointment as my successor I hailed with delight, having heard of his truly missionary spirit, but what must I now add after eight months! … Otago is without a missionary. Within the last few weeks, I have received several letters from Europeans and natives sorely complaining as sheep without a shepherd. This greatly distresses me. Indeed, but for past ill-health both to Mrs. Creed and myself, we feel so deeply upon the subject, we should not be prevailed upon to wait for another district meeting, but pack up, and take ship immediately for Otago to resume our former labours.”
During the interval the gap was filled by the Maori pastors and lay preachers, who carried on till Mr. Kirk's arrival.
Mr. Kirk was delayed in Canterbury due to the shortage of ministers until the arrival, in January of the following year, of the Rev. J. Aldred, who was the first resident Methodist minister in Christchurch. Previously the work had been supervised by the Rev. J. Watkin from Wellington. Mr. Kirk has written his own story of his arrival in Otago:
“Mrs. Kirk and myself, with two little children, arrived at Port Chalmers in a small vessel belonging to Mr. Swinborne, of Lyttelton, on January 3rd, 1854. We met with the warmest welcome from Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Mansford, and from Mr. J. R. Monson, who was an officer in the Customs Department.
“Through the kindness of Mr. Mansford we obtained the loan of a small hotel, which was at that time without a tenant. Though things were rough and we had to make up our beds on the cases, we were young and very happy. One night Dr. Menzies, whose acquaintance we had made coming over from Lyttelton … seeing the Thistle Inn on a prominent signboard, opened the door and walked in. Mrs. Kirk was asleep on the cases, and I was absorbed in a copy of the Wandering Jew a kind lady who kept a fine vegetable garden in one of the bays had lent me. Of course the doctor made profuse apologies, and left without disturbing Mrs. Kirk's slumbers. After spending some time in this singular residence, we left for our page 129 new home in Waikouaiti, in a native whale boat, and were taken over safely and pleasantly.”
1 The Rev. John Hobbs was a master of the Ngapuhi (North Auckland) tongue, the most perfect form of Maori. The Rev. Thomas Buddle and Alexander Reid were experts with the idiomatic niceties of the Waikato dialect. They were associated with the Anglican clergy in the revision of the Maori Bible.—Robert Maunsell, L.L.D., A New Zealand Pioneer, by H. E. R. Wily and Herbert Maunsell.
Mr. Kirk's task was to continue and consolidate the work of his predecessors. This involved much travelling, which was no easy matter in those early years. On foot, on horseback, and by boat the missionary persevered in his arduous calling.
During the previous years of the Mission much had happened. The Treaty of Waitangi had been signed; the South Island had been proclaimed a part of the British Empire, valuable Maori tribal lands had been handed over to the pakeha, and the Scottish pioneers had arrived to establish their settlement.
There is nothing spectacular to relate regarding Mr. Kirk's four years of service in Otago, yet he added a very valuable contribution to the history of the Mission. The work among the Maoris was continued without intermission. One secret of his success was his intimate knowledge of the native mentality and his strict observance of native codes of etiquette. He had a genius for understanding the Maori people and for acquiring their language and manner of expression. He had a certain charm of personality and the natives felt its spell.
Mrs. Kirk, as before stated, was the daughter of the Rev. John Hobbs, who commenced his missionary career at Whangaroa in 1823. Mrs. Kirk, therefore, was inured to the hardships of a missionary's lot from her earliest years, and could tell many stories of hairbreadth escapes in the North Island. Besides being an accomplished Maori scholar, she was well acquainted with the customs and traditions of the Maori people, and consequently won the confidence and affection of the Maori women of Otago. Mrs. Monson, in her Reminiscences, tells how Mrs. Kirk, when a child, passed through some very trying circumstances and experiences. When at the page 131 Hokianga Mission Station a taua (war party) had returned, bringing with them a number of slaves, and were preparing to kill them for the oven. Mr. Hobbs went to the victorious party and pleaded for the captives. In anger his request was refused, and they threatened to destroy him and his family and pull down the Mission Station. When it was dark, Mr. Hobbs took his family into the bush for safety. The feast went on and nothing could be done for the unfortunate victims. The victors, however, did not burn down the Mission buildings, and the missionary and his family did not suffer further harm. Mrs. Kirk said that as a child she had often seen from the window of the Mission house at Hokianga the fateful fires of a heathen feast.
Not only did the Maori work in Otago engage Mr. Kirk's attention, but the constantly increasing numbers of Europeans arriving at Port Chalmers claimed his ministrations.
The first resident clergyman of the Anglican Church was the Rev. M. Leeson, 1873–76. The Register reveals that he conducted services in Dunedin, Port Chalmers, Otakou, Waikouaiti, Moeraki, and as far north as Waitaki, and as far south as the Molyneux. One day, April 2nd, 1854, he baptised twenty Maori people at Waitaki. On December 28th, 1856, he baptised thirteen Maori people at Molyneux. Among the names mentioned are Rena Nohorua, Heremaia Wiri, and a very old man, Horomona Te Kihi. On the same day Rauru Tangatauruuru (35) was married to Reita Inewahia (35). On March 8th, 1857, he baptised Jane, daughter of William Alfred and Mary Moseley, at Molyneux River.
On December 30th, 1855, Mr. Kirk baptised twelve persons, among them: Mere Tinou, Heremaia Toitu, Mohi Tuawaiki, and Maraea Kaiaia.
Among the many baptisms conducted at Otakou by Mr. Kirk appear the name of Fanny Weller, aged 19 years, daughter of Edward Weller and Paparu, a chief's daughter. On the same day he baptised Papei Rapatu, son of the chief, Karetai, and Hini Pakia. The following marriages were celebrated: March 19th, 1854, Patoromu Pu, native pastor, widower, about 40, to Riria Korako, widow, about 38. Mr. Kirk's last Maori baptism took place at Otakou on July 12th, 1857, the person being Te Karira Teute, and the last European baptism being that of Fanny, daughter of Dr. Joseph and Mary Ann Crocombe, at Matanaka, Waikouaiti, on August 27th, 1857.
Mr. Kirk terminated his ministry in Otago in 1857, and left for Kai Iwi, Wanganui, via Wellington, in the ship Ellen. This zealous missionary and his devoted wife worthily sustained the work of their distinguished predecessors, and were an unfailing source of inspiration to Maori and pakeha. After leaving Otago, Mr. Kirk was appointed to some of the most important Wesleyan Methodist charges, including Auckland, Nelson, New Plymouth and, for two page 132 terms, Wellington. He was elected President of the Methodist Conference in 1877. In that office, and as chairman of various districts, his duties were discharged with characteristic thoroughness. He died at Petone in 1895 in his 90th year.