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Maori and Missionary: Early Christian Missions in the South Island of New Zealand

Chapter Twelve — The Rev. George Stannard

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Chapter Twelve
The Rev. George Stannard

The Rev. George Stannard Arrived by the Southern Cross on the 14th November, 1857, and next day, Sunday, conducted his first service in the Port Chalmers Methodist Church. Mr. Stannard came to New Zealand with a party of settlers in 1841 who intended to take up land and make their homes in Northern Kaipara. On the way to their destination the party put into the Bay of Islands, and Mr. Stannard and a companion decided to leave the ship and walk overland to Kaipara. In crossing the Kaipara bar, the ship was lost and the passengers were drowned. After the disaster, Mr. Stannard, who was a lay preacher, applied himself to study, and to acquire the Maori language. He prepared himself for and passed the regular examinations required from candidates for the Methodist ministry, and was received by the Conference in 1844 and was stationed at Orongata. In 1845–47 he was stationed at Waima, and at Auckland in 1848. Later, when stationed at Taranaki, he purchased a horse, which he called Turi. The Patea Maoris objected to the name, as it was that of the great ancestor of the tribe. This caused a little misunderstanding for a time.

When on one occasion the Maoris were speaking of resistance to the Government, Stannard warned them, saying: “Kia tupato, koutou he kuri, kai kino te Kawana.” “Be careful! The Governor is a dog who eats speedily.” A warning in such language meant much to the Maori mind, and subsequently was often referred to as evidence that Mr. Stannard not only knew what would be done, but showed his regard for the people by letting them know what might be anticipated.

Mr. Stannard was a great student of Maori etymology and excelled in the interpretation of Maori nomenclature. His ample stores of learning enabled him to revel in this subject. He was interested in the education of Maori children, and saw the necessity of providing greater facilities than the institute at Ngamotu could supply. He therefore purchased land at Kai Iwi for school purposes, and there, later on, buildings were erected and an industrial school started. The land is still in the possession of the church and provides a yearly rental. It was purchased from the Government with English Mission money, the Government giving subsidies for the maintenance page 134 of the school.1

The missionary had his share of dangers and exposures in the discharge of his duties, and on one occasion he turned up at the Heretoa Station, having missed his way in the bush and been lost for a considerable time. Truly he was “in perils often, in weariness and painfulness, in hunger and thirst”, but he persisted and won through.

Arriving at Port Chalmers in November, 1857, in order to succeed Mr. Kirk, Mr. Stannard did not think it advisable to live at Waikouaiti, and Port Chalmers became the head of the Mission charge. He included Waikouaiti in his itinerary and made occasional visits in order to advise and supervise the Maori pastors.

At Dunedin services were held in the Oddfellows' Hall, a small building about twenty feet by twelve feet. For Dunedin and Port Chalmers, Mr. Stannard made a plan which provided for services conducted by lay preachers under his own direction—a noble hand of men, among them Messrs. C. Duke, Morris, Hammond, J. Wright, W. Bacon, J. Pow and D. Hall.1 Upon the arrival of the Rev. W. Johnstone in May, 1858, the first Presbyterian minister for Port Chalmers, Mr. Stannard, took up his residence at the Otakou kaika, and the Port Chalmers Methodists, at his request, attended Mr. Johnstone's services, Mr. Stannard paying them occasional visits. An assistant minister was much needed, but there being no prospect of help, Stannard continued single-handed to the end of his term. Although living at Otakou, the Register shows that besides Port Chalmers and Dunedin, services were held at Sawyers Bay, Portobello Purakanui and Moeraki.

It was at this time that the chief, Taiaroa, accepted the Christian faith. He had been much disappointed at the way in which the Maori land claims had been administered or ignored. He was exasperated when he saw the increased value of lands and realised that the promised revenue would not be forthcoming. For a long time he kept aloof from the European settlers, and nursed his grievance with though! s of revenge, and even bloodshed. The Rex. Charles Creed had considerable influence over the great chief, and it was during the latter part of his pastorate that Taiaroa began t' change his attitude towards the pakehas. Under Mr. Stannard's ministry he professed a change of heart and life, and consequently passed into an experience of vital religion. He was admitted into church fellowship by the sacred rite of Baptism in the Ruatitiko Church, Otakou, on April 3rd, 1859. At the same time his wife, Karoraina, was admitted into fellowship. She was a daughter of the chief, Ngatata, who was the father of Wi Tako, chief of the page 135 Te Aro Pa, Wellington. (Ngatata was one of the chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi for and at Wellington.) On the same day and in the same native church, Taiaroa and Karoraina were married according to the Christian usage. Previously they had been married according to Maori custom.

It was a great day for the people of Otago, and there were many guests who participated in the functions. Among the guests present were Mrs. Dick and Mrs. Wilson, daughters of Mr. O. Harwood, who described the ceremony to the present writer.

Taiaroa was now anxious to see a new church erected, and for this purpose offerings were taken up at the church services. The old native church was in a sad state of decay. One day the chiefs and elders ascended the hill Ohinetu, overlooking Ornate, and Taiaroa said: “Why not here, this is my land; it is a good situation and can be seen miles away.” Other chiefs were of the opinion that the section was too far away and would involve a stiff climb for the aged people and for little children. Karetai said: “Why not below on the flat of Ornate. That is my land; it is nearer our homes and there is no hill to climb.” It was agreed to dedicate ten acres there as a Mission reserve for church, burial ground and minister's residence. Collections had already been taken up at the services for the erection of a church, but as Mr. Stannard was shortly afterwards appointed to the North Island, the church was not erected till 1864 under the direction of the Rev. J. F. Riemenschneider.

It was unfortunate that Mr. Stannard was moved by the Conference so soon, seeing that he had great influence with the Maori people and was beloved by them. Upon his departure the charge was left vacant, but the Maori pastors continued their services with occasional visits from the Rev. Te Kote Te Ratou.

After years of strenuous service Mr. Stannard became a super-numary and lived at Wanganui, but he continued in service, preaching and relieving ministers, travelling as far as Patea and Rangitaiki. In old age his sight failed, but he and his wife enjoyed a quiet eventide in a sunny cottage in the Wanganui Avenue, where visitors were always given a hearty welcome, and heard the English language spoken in its purity; their Maori visitors heard their own tongue in its soft and poetic expression. Mr. Stannard passed to higher life and service in 1888.

1 Mr. David Hall in later years became the City Missionary for Wellington.