Maori and Missionary: Early Christian Missions in the South Island of New Zealand
Chapter Three — Otakou and The First Christian Mission
Otakou and The First Christian Mission
Sentinel at the Entrance of the Otago Harbour Stands Taiaroa Head.1 Within the entrance lies the Maori Settlement which gave the name to the provincial district. Otago is a corruption of the Maori name Otakou. The port was known to the early whalers as Port Daniel and Port Oxley.
No more interesting and historic locality can be found south of the Waitaki River than Otakou with its traditions, legends and subsequent history.
June 13th, 1840, was a noted day, for on that date H.M.S. Herald, in command of Captain J. Nias, having on board Major T. Bunbury (80th Regt.), called and a gun was fired at eleven a.m. as a signal to the residents. Major Bunbury went ashore and during an absence of four and a half hours, obtained the signatures of Hoani Karetai and Korako to the Treaty of Waitangi. The signatures of Taiaroa, Tuhawaiki and Kaikoura2 were obtained on June 9th at Ruapuke. On that occasion the chief Tuhawaiki wore the full dress staff uniform of an English A.D.C., with gold lace, cocked hat and plume. He was attended by a native orderly sergeant in uniform. Thus the Maori people acknowledged British supremacy, and Queen Victoria as their lawful sovereign and protectress. The days of “no man's land” came to a close.
The provisions of the Treaty of Waitangi were as follows:
1 The original name of Taiaroa Head was Pukekura. Mr. Herries Beattie in his Maori Place-names states that the Pukekura Pa has always been a famous spot and is mentioned in a song where a canoe from Hawaki shortened sail under its shadow. The flagstaff and lighthouse of today are erected on the site of the old Pukekura Pa. A little further along the coast may be seen a cliff known as Rerewahine. The tradition is that a young Maori lady, probably in a disappointed love affair, terminated her life by throwing herself over the cliff—hence the name.
“Article I—The Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the separate and independent Chiefs who have not become members of the Confederation, cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England, absolutely and without reservation, all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation of individual Chiefs respectfully exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or possess, over their respective territories as the sole sovereigns thereof.
“Article II—Her Majesty the Queen of England, confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand, and to the respective families and individuals thereof, the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands and estates, forests, fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to Her Majesty the exclusive right of preemption over such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate at such prices as may be agreed upon between the respective proprietors and persons appointed by Her Majesty to treat with them on that behalf.
“Article III—In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand her Royal protection and imparts to them all the rights and privileges of British subjects.
(Signed) W. Hobson,
Rev. James Watkin.
Rev. Charles Creed.
Rev. J. F. H. Wohlers.
Rev. Samuel Ironside.
Rev. J. F. Riemenschneider.
“The New Zealand Company continually desired the English Government to disregard the Treaty of Waitangi, and to confiscate the whole of the lands of New Zealand nominally to the Crown, but really for the benefit of the Company. It had gone so far as to approach Lord Stanley, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, urging upon him that the Treaty of Waitangi was simply a device for the purpose of amusing naked savages, and inducing them to behave in a friendly manner until the British power should be permanent in these lands. With Lord Stanley the leaders met with no success.”2
On October 28th, 1840, Watkin wrote in his Journal:
“Now this country is claimed by the British Crown as one of its appendages, it would be well if British Law were brought into operation here for the protection of the natives and the suppression of the enormities practised by Europeans…. Ex-convicts there are plenty, and some runaway foreigners, but some of these are thinking about changing their quarters…. If the French are allowed into this land it will only perpetuate and enlarge the evil…. This last, I hope, will be prevented without the intervention of war.”
Watkin's early contact with the Otakou Maori people was disappointing, for they had suffered by reason of their connection and association with evil-minded pakehas, and “they were in no wise improved from their commerce with English, American and French shipping.”
There was a fairly large European population at Otakou, consisting of whalers, sailors, small farmers and ex-convicts; some of them brought the Maori few virtues but outrivalled them in evil conduct. Mr. Octavius Harwood, Weller's manager, said that he was not afraid of the Maori people, but there were times when he felt considerable anxiety regarding some of the foreigners, and he did not feel safe in his store without his gun or pistol near at hand. There were other stations just as lawless, or even worse, where there was a concentration of the worst elements of human degradation, greed, selfishness, strife and lust; places where there existed neither legal or moral restraint, and where might was right. The Rev. S. Ironside recorded such conduct at Cloudy Bay. Some of the people “were not savages but savages and a half.” Dr. Robert McNab, in his The Old Whaling Days, has written regarding Watkin:
“He could see that the whalers regarded him as a check upon their licentiousness, and a friend of those they plundered, and, if the whalers at Waikouaiti were like those described by Chetwode and Bumby, in Cook Strait and D'Urville at Otago, the missionary was in anything but an enviable position.”
There were, however, at Otakou, pakehas of another type. Each had a Maori wife. Some had well cultivated gardens, and families of half-castes were brought up more or less in the European fashion. They had a crude idea of a “bit of religion”. From these families the missionaries succeeded in obtaining some of the most sincere converts.
It has been the custom of some writers in referring to Otakou to paint in dark colours the whole population, which is most unfair. Some of the settlers were of high character who, as soon as the Mission was established, lent their full weight in support of the good work. Even some of the flotsam and jetsam of the whaling station, who led hard and dangerous lives and were given to coarse dissipations, had the virtues of courage and generosity in some degree.
When the Maoris at Otakou heard of the arrival of the missionary at Waikouaiti they journeyed by canoe or boat to the Mission Station in increasing numbers, being anxious to hear and learn.
There were several kaikas and hapus in the Otakou Harbour. Numbers of people were living in the old Pukekura Pa at Taiaroa page 37 Head and at Te Waiare. Ruatitiko, near Harrington Point, above the Rauone Beach, was the most important kaika in the old days. The Tahakopa Kaika, a little further to the south and above the Black Rock, was the next in importance. The third kaika was Omate, where Weller's store stood. The dwellings of the whalers were here at the base of the cone-shaped hill Te Atua o Taiahua, stretching toward Black Rock. This rock was the landing place of the whalers.
Amid all the difficulties and perplexities of his lot, and these were many and complex, the missionary set himself to his task.
Mr. Watkin visited Otakou by boat or on foot, and his reports to the London Mission Board indicate that he had no easy problem to solve. The Maoris were most unfortunate in their first contact with “civilised” Europeans, and he deplored that fact.
On March 1st, 1841, during a pastoral visit he was much perturbed because “a person the previous day had been buried who came to his death by falling down a deep place into the sea when returning home drunk; he was found next morning, within a short distance of his hut, dead.”
1 Several Europeans are buried on the slope of the hill Te Atua o Taiahua. Prior to the arrival of Watkin, funerals were conducted by Mr. O. Harwood. The names of those buried are given by Miss Harwood, a grand-daughter of the last named: Benjamin Coleman, James Slahers, Bob Fortune, James Hanlon, Oamaru Watson, Pe Ses Suvat, Joseph Moss, Robert Twelvetree, John Antone. There were two women from the North Island, Maiti Tau and Hine Kaitaki.
These cruel outrages became fewer and soon ceased due to the influence of the Mission. The first marriages conducted according to the Christian rite at Otakou took place on June 19th, 1841. The chief, Tare Weteri Te Kahau, was married to Riria Weteri Wharekauri, witness, Moki Piehorokai; also Heremia Tahara Whana to Roka Tahana, witness, Horomona Pohio. Watkin, at first, conducted his services in Weller Brothers' store, the only building available. The seats for the congregation were made by Mr. Clearwater, Weller's boatbuilder. (These seats at the time of writing are in possession of the Harwood family.) The store, later, was owned by Mr. O. Harwood, and served as a place of worship till a church was erected at Ruatitiko, near Harrington Point.
The next recorded visit was more encouraging than the last. This was due to the fact that the converts at Otakou were constantly visiting the Mission Station at Waikouaiti, and also to the exertions of the native pastors who conducted regular services. These pastors and teachers made the services as instructive and interesting as possible. The regular reading of the New Testament was accompanied with expository remarks where necessary, and thus brought home its teachings to the hearts, minds and consciences of the people. When the subject was a miracle or other incident, it was rendered as vivid as the teacher or preacher could make it, in order to arrest attention, and a few words were added by way of inculcating the lessons learned. In this way the converts, line upoh line, and precept upon precept, were advanced in their knowledge of Scripture and the Christian way of life.
Another journey indicates the dangers arid difficulties Watkin had to face in the performance of his pastoral duties:
“On the 9th February, 1842, visited Otago (Otakou) per boat. Held a service there in the evening, the natives present were very attentive to what I said about the true God, His law and His Gospel. The next day the wind was contrary so I determined upon walking home. The journey was a very long one and tremendously fatiguing, the mountains so steep that ascending them and descending is more fit for goats than human beings. There are four rivers to cross, or perhaps ‘tideways’ were a better word. Crossing one of them (probably Waitati) I think took half an hour to effect it, and most of the time I was up to the chest in water. A long and difficult swamp is one of the peculiarities of the road. After dark page 39 on the first day we reached a Maori place and were glad to avail ourselves of the shelter it afforded us from a heavy thunder storm. Wet and weary we sat or lay upon the ground during the night and early the following morning started again. We were soon wet through again from wet grass and bushes, and reached home in a state of greatest exhaustion, having slept little and eaten less during my absence.”
There were no roads, no bridges, simply the imperfect Maori tracks hedged by dense undergrowth of briars and scrub which were difficult to negotiate. To the north there were dense and almost impenetrable forests, while along the foreshore there were thickets of flax (harakeke), fuchsia (kohutuhutu), supplejack (kareao) and bramble-lawyer (tataramoa). The route between Waitati and Evansdale was through a huge bog to the knees or armpits, to which succeeding missionaries testified—all these difficulties were faced, endured and overcome. The missioner's heart was always cheered by the songsters of the bush—the parson-bird (tui), paraquet (kakariki), pigeon (kereru), fantail (piwakawaka), bellbird (korimako), and robin (totoara)—in fact the bush was vocal with enchanting music.
On October 11th of the same year: “Visited Otakou, and found a considerable number of southern natives with their chief, Tuhawaiki. I had three short services and had some conversations with the natives, chiefs and people, young and old. They want a missionary there.”
Watkin expressed his regret that some of the people were too fond of rum, and that there were stocks of that article available.
He therefore pointed out to them the evil of the habit and urged them to “give up the evil thing”. It was his intention to remain for some days in order to continue his duties, and further instruct those who had visited the mission-house, but he wrote: “The eagerness of my boatmen to return with the great chief, Tuhawaiki, prevented it. I therefore returned, and as my complement was five, and only one efficient, I had to take my share in working the boat, etc.”
The following report was entered on December 13th, 1843:
“Visited Otakou. Voyaging this coast is never particularly pleasant nor free from danger; going into most harbours here is very unpleasant and somewhat dangerous. My boat was crazy enough and my crew were Maori lads, but we accomplished our voyage in safety. In the evening I preached to and catechised the people at Teruatitiko (Ruatitiko), afterwards a prayer meeting was held. I had before me one of the catechumens and they had chosen their own names. Early in the morning of the 13th I baptised a number of men, women and children. May they be baptised with the Holy Ghost. I then met the members of the society and gave tickets page 40 (tickets of church membership). Afterwards visited Tahakopa and went through similar duties baptising and marrying. This done, I married four Europeans to the Maori women with whom they had been living and baptised two half-caste children. My second service was held out of doors arid if it had not been so hot the occasion would have been one of great enjoyment; there was that to gratify both the natural and spiritual eye. I have long laboured to impress the English men with the propriety of being married, and at last with some success. Visited Tawhiroko1 (near Taylor's Point) and held a service there, and next morning, while the boat pulled round, David (Rawiri Te Maire) and I walked along the shores of the harbour to Waiparapara (now known as the Spit) and stayed there the night.”
Having fulfilled his appointment at Otakou, Watkin prepared for the homeward journey. On the way he called at Purakanui, and reported: “Under an almost torrid sun I held two services, the first a baptismal one, and the second an ordinary service. I also married two couples. To sleep was impossible, and I was glad when morning broke to take a walk on the sands. When the morning was advanced enough I conducted a service … after which we embarked and pulled to Waikouaiti, thankful to God for all His mercies and seeking his blessing upon, our labours. May God make all these people Christians.”
On that occasion he baptised sixteen persons. The marriages performed were between Tamati Teaparakau and Rahera Natomina, Kipa Tana Poukaha and Hira Nukumaitore.
1 Tawhiroko is sometimes spoken of as Otawhiroko. Barnicoat, assistant surveyor to Tuckett, in his Journal, April 23rd, 1844, mentions a visit to Otawhiroko, where he was treated kindly by the natives. The Maoris had copy books with neat writing, of which they seemed proud. This shows the effectiveness of their training under the direction of Watkin.
Ornate also was an attractive kaika, studded with little Maori dwellings. The missionaries referred to it as the “upper village”. A small whare karakia was soon built there. It was a native structure which served as a church for some years.
The visitor today who may wander through the various kaikas—Ruatitiko, Tahakopa and Omate—can easily visualise the scene of those missionary labours on that day of glorious sunshine, for such it was, and understand the joy and rapture that filled the soul of the missioner as he pondered the results of his toil. Nor was he unresponsive to the surrounding grandeur of creation in its various forms, for such helped to lift him above the depressing circumstances of his strenuous life.
Watkin made several visits to the kaika at Purakanui and established a class for prospective converts and confirmed those already received into membership. It was usual for him to visit this kaika when on his Otakou itinerary, and he spoke of it as:
“A place that was formerly densely populated, but now the inhabitants are few indeed. I have a teacher there whose name is Elijah, a very worthy young man I think him. The measles and other … things brought by foreigners must account for the diminution of the inhabitants, the account of the ‘mitara’ (measles) visitation is affecting enough. During my stay I was pretty fully employed in preaching and teaching by day and most of the nights also. I was much pleased with the people. The accommodation was Maori. We were a dozen strong in a hut large enough for a couple, according to English notions. The voyaging is anything but agreeable and sometimes dangerous…. We were twice in danger of being swamped…. For want of lights I was obliged to hold my evening service earlier than usual tonight. Have since conversed with two catechumens who are anxious for baptism and, of course, wish for new names. When I mention a new name the question is, ‘Was that an upright man?’ The people are very averse to my leaving them.”
Dr. Shortland in his Journal gives an interesting description of Purakanui as he saw it when on his way to Waikouaiti in 1843:
“Our course lay across a deep bay to a small cove, where was the native village, delightfully placed by the side of a river, deep enough to admit a boat, which entered it with the flood tide. Here was abundance of everything the New Zealanders required. There was plenty of wood, a rich soil, and the sea close at hand to supply them with fish. Nor did there seem much chance of their being disturbed, for the space of level land was too small to attract the page 42 attention of the European settler, and there was too many lofty hills surrounding it. The number of residents here I found to be men 10, women 9, children 13, total 32. The place formerly belonged to a family called Urikino. The present occupants were tenants on sufferance, having fled hither from Kaiapohia, after Tamaiharanui had been kidnapped by Te Rauparaha. The family name was Katihurikia and their chief persons were Pukai-a-te-ao and Kaitipu. I spent some time conversing with my new acquaintances, and looking at their cultivations. In the meantime they had sent a messenger to their white man, an old whaler who had built himself a cottage near the beach, at a short distance from the village. They said he could give me a more comfortable night's lodgings than they could. This man welcomed me with the hospitality of his class, although he possessed little but the mud and sticks of his hut, an old musket and the clothes which covered him. He set himself to work to shoot some pigeons for my dinner, but, as he used small stones for shot, I was obliged to be very careful in eating, to avoid breaking my teeth. My bed was made from the slender branches of manuka, which are both soft and fragrant…. In the morning I woke early; and, as the dawn first peeped forth, was deafened by the sound of the bellbirds. The woods, which were close by, seemed to be thronged with them. Never before had I heard so loud a chorus.”
One can scarcely realise that this peaceful area and the adjacent Mapoutahi, in the days of the contending rival chiefs, Taoka and Te Wera, were the scenes of strife and bloodshed.
Continuing the Otakou narrative. As a direct result of Mr. Watkin's exertions a vast improvement was seen in the manner of life of the Maori people. Gradually they refused to take part in the drunken excesses of the pakeha population, and Sunday was observed by regular attendance at the Christian services.
Some of the pakehas of the “baser sort”, however, viewed the missionary with no friendly eye. Others, seeing a decided improvement in the lives of the people, ceased their opposition. The Christian Sabbath was held in great reverence. They prepared for it on Saturday by attending to cooking, cleaning and necessary toil, thus leaving the Day of Rest free for devotion, Bible study and the regular services. When the missioner was absent the devotions were conducted by the native pastors and teachers. Not only on Sundays, but every day when the missionary was present, the bell was rung for worship. When the missionary was absent, when possible, his place was taken by a native teacher. After the services of the Sabbath, before the people retired to rest, there was usually the psalm, prayers, and evening hymns.
The people had great respect for the church building. It was indeed a sacred structure—the House of God. Before entering, they page 43 left all walking sticks, food, knives, tobacco and pipes outside on the grass till the service was over. None dared to touch or steal them, for they were placed on sacred ground.
In the year 1852, when the Rev. Charles Creed was in charge of the Mission, Canon Stack visited Otakou and remarked about the changed lives of the Maori people, and is thus quoted in More Maoriland Adventures: “The change in their attitude towards one another was due to their having embraced Christianity and submitted to its enlightened rules of conduct. They had exchanged the vindictive heathen heart for the forgiving Christian heart—the ‘new heart’, as the Maoris say. As we read, sang and prayed together that first night I spent with the Maoris ashore at Otakou Heads, I realised what a bond of union and fellowship our Christian faith is between men of all ranks and races who accept it, and what a transforming power it possesses where it can change … men into gentle and courteous Christians, such as the people I was then associating with.”
One of the outstanding chiefs in the early days of the Mission was named Tohiti Haereroa. He had been a great warrior and had fought Te Rauparaha in Marlborough, and against Te Puoho at Tuturau. He sometimes surprised Watkin with his thrilling descriptions of those fierce encounters and the oven fires which followed. He professed conversion to the Christian way of life and on May 20th, 1843, Watkin records “that he had become anxious for Christian knowledge”. In 1840 and onward he had been a great help to the missionary in perfecting his (Watkin's) knowledge of the South Island Maori and in compiling his vocabulary.
As a proof of Haereroa's sincerity and devotion, Watkin records the following: “An instance of sincerity has been reported to me by a Maori who formerly lived with us, but is now resident at some distance. He is well known to the white men and talks better English than they can Maori. He has lately become anxious for knowledge, and serves God to the best of his ability. For some time formerly he assisted the whalers in this vicinity by means of a beacon. A party of them reached his place, and the first question they asked was, ‘Have you seen any whales lately?’ ‘Yes, on Sunday.’ ‘Why did you not make a smoke?’ ‘Because it was the Sabbath—the Sacred Day.’ ‘Ugh! are you turned missionary?’ (Christian), and other abuse. ‘I am very ignorant,’ he said, ‘but I wish to keep God's Commandments.’ ‘What God, the Maori God?’ ‘No, the missionary's God.’ They said, ‘The missionary lives a long way off and he would not see you.’ ‘True,’ he replied, ‘but God would see me. He sees everything.’ ‘Oh,’ they said, they were taught those things when they were children, but now they had cast them away. 'And where will you go when you die?' he enquired, telling them that ‘hell was the place for evildoers.’ They laughed, of course, and page 44 would fain have persuaded him that there was nothing beyond the grave, but without effect.” Watkin remarked in his report: “The natives estimate them and their opinions at their proper value now, and perhaps there is some danger of their regarding the illiterate among them as Montezuma is said to have regarded Pizarro.”1
There was another chief of outstanding importance named Wirernu Potiki. He was of sufficient mana to be one of the signatories to the Deed of Purchase of the Otago Block in 1844. He is said to have been “gentlemanly in bearing and possessed a strong and honest mind.” He and his wife, Mera Whio, and their three children were baptised by the Rev. J. Watkin on December 24th, 1843. The following day this chief and his wifTaiaroae accepted the Christian form of marriage, and the record stands in the Register: “Wiremu Nera Potiki to Mata Nera Whio.” Upon the death of his wife Mata Whio, Potiki married Lydia Titawa on July 28th, 1857. Potiki died on May 17th, 1880, and his body reposes in the Otakou cemetery behind the Centennial Church.
1 As before stated, the Otakou whaling station was situated at the Black Rock about two miles from Taiaroa Head (Pukekura). The lookout for whales was on the hill at the Heads. When a whale was seen a fire was lighted and the smoke indicated that a whale was in sight. The crew at the station would then man the boats and make with all speed to attack the whale and secure their prize. Haereroa died at Temuka in 1870. He was uncle to the late Hon. T. Parata, M.L.C.
There were, unfortunately, some self-appointed teachers who esteemed themselves above measure and who did much harm. These men by their arrogance and lack of knowledge hindered the Mission. Watkin, in a state of exasperation, said of such whom he had used, “They are as stupid as asses.” At another time he wrote: “Some of those who can read and write are rather too proud of their acquirements, and when out of the direct influence of the missionary love, to set up as teachers, the one at … for instance.”
Dr. Shortland also has written in the same tone of some who had constituted themselves “priests”. These, however, were not Watkin's preachers. Many of Watkin's trained preachers were well equipped and possessed apostolic gifts.
W. Pember Reeves, in his book The Long White Cloud, writing of the native teachers in the North Island, makes statements which may also be applied to many of the native teachers of the South Island: “These dark skinned teachers carried Christianity into a hundred nooks and corners. Most of them were honest enthusiasts…. Colonists as a rule shrug their shoulders when questioned as to the depth of the Maori religious feeling. It is enough to point out that a Christianity which induces masters to release their slaves without payment or condition must have had a reality in it.”
In the history of Christian Missions, in any part of the world, for devotion to duty, for sincerity of self-denying zeal, there are few, if any, greater characters than Watkin's preachers—Hoani Weteri Korako, Tare Wetere Te Kahu, Horomona Pohio, Matiaha Tiromorehu and Hami Watekini. It will be necessary to refer to these men again in this story.
The last recorded visit was on February 15th, 1844, and the entry is as follows: “On the 15th visited Otakou, saw some of the people, made necessary ‘arrangements’ and returned. Have preached the usual number of times, etc.” The words “made some necessary arrangements” seem to imply that it was not his last visit. On June 23rd, 1844, the Register shows that he baptised Ereha Taheke, of Otakou.
The extracts from Watkin's Journal and reports to the Mission Board, London, show that the infant church which he established page 46 at Otakou, and the various hapus in his charge, was an accomplishment of which no pioneer need be ashamed. Much was achieved for the mental and physical welfare of the people, but the greatest achievements were spiritual in transformed lives—the miracles of Saving Grace.