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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Taranaki, Hawke's Bay & Wellington Provincial Districts]

Church Work

Church Work.

At this juncture attention may be turned to a feature of the settlement's growth, which marks its steady advance towards civilisation. Already, within a few years of its foundation, several religious denominations had established themselves in the little village, which was slowly growing into the prosperous town now known as New Plymouth. In 1840 the New Zealand Church Society was founded in England, and in 1841 Bishop Selwyn was appointed spiritual guardian of the colony. He reached Auckland in May, 1842, and in October of the same year he made his first visit to Taranaki, travelling overland from Wellington to New Plymouth. The New
Rewi Maniapoto.

Rewi Maniapoto.

Zealand Company gave £500 towards the endowment of a church in Taranaki; and in 1844 the Bishop appointed the Rev. William Rolland, whom he had trained at Waimate, to be minister at New Plymouth. By 1846, an imposing stone church was erected at a cost of £800, and as the settlement advanced, other places of worship grew up in the adjacent villages—in 1848 at Omata, in 1854 on the Bell block, and in 1859 in the Barrett road.

The Roman Catholic Church preceded the Church of England in this colony in order of time; for Bishop Pompallier first arrived in Auckland in 1838. But for some years the Roman Catholics in Taranaki had to be content with the ministrations of the priest stationed at Wanganui, who frequently traversed on foot the whole distance between the two settlements. It was not till 1856, when the Puketapu feud had rendered it necessary to station some companies of soldiers at New Plymouth, that a Roman Catholic church was built there. However, no priest was stationed there till the outbreak of the Maori rebellion in 1860; but among the most famous names in the roll of colonial churchmen is that of Father Rolland, of New Plymouth, who, during the war, steadfastly performed the duties of his office for the wounded and the dying, on the field of battle.

The Wesleyan Missionary Society established itself at Whangaroa so far back as 1827, and later at Hokianga. When the New Plymouth settlement was founded, Mr. Creed was sent down to the district, and established himself at Ngamotu. A small church was put up by the Wesleyans, in 1842, within the boundaries of New Plymouth: and in 1848 Governor Grey erected an Industrial School at Ngamotu, managed by the Wesleyan Mission, to give Maori children industrial training and education. By 1856, the increase in the number of settlers, and the presence of the soldiers in Taranaki, necessitated the building of another chapel, and ever since then the Wesleyans have been an active and successful body in the district. It should be mentioned that the Primitive Methodists were first represented in the district in 1844, by a missionary, the Rev. Robert Ward. “The settlement,” says Mr. Wells, “owes a debt of gratitude to the plain but earnest members of the connexion. At their Sunday schools, many obtained all the book learning they ever received. When there were no newspapers and little literature of any kind in the province, the Primitive Methodists distributed books in their schools and congregations, and while other denominations devoted a very large part of their attention to the Maoris, these directed all their labours to the spiritual, and intellectual good of their fellow-countrymen, the colonists.”

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The foundation of the first Baptist church in New Plymouth was not laid till 1868. But the first Congregational minister who laboured in the district came out in the “Tunandra” in 1842. In 1849 the Rev. H. Groube erected a small chapel in the town; but in 1861, the congregation, on account of the war, dwindled away, the clergymen left the colony, and the demonination, so far as New Plymouth was concerned, ceased to exist.

Very different has been the history of the New Plymouth Presbyterian church. This was first represented by the Rev. John Thom, who, in 1858, went up from Wanganui on a pastoral visit. The Presbyterians among the “military settlers” sent Home a memorial to the Colonial Committee of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, petitioning for a clergyman for “St. Andrew's Kirk,” Taranaki. The Rev. Robert McNicol, of Oban, was accordingly despatched to the colony, and reached New Plymouth in 1865, only to find that the church was so far non-existent. But the Presbyterian settlers rallied round their minister, and in 1866, the first Scotch church was opened by the Rev. David Bruce, of England. For some years the depression and uncertainty caused by the war reduced the congregation, and when the troops were withdrawn, many of the best supporters of the Presbyterian church left the district. However, by 1872, the church debt was finally cleared off, and since those days the church has grown and prospered till it is one of the most powerful religious bodies in the district.

This brief reference to the ecclesiastical history of New Plymouth shows that even in the earliest and gloomiest periods of its career, the young settlement did not lack due care for its moral and spiritual needs.