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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa

Before 1877

Before 1877

The teaching of reading and education generally in New Zealand was sporadic and uneven in the first years of the 19th century. Samuel Marsden opened the first mission school for Māori in 1816 in the Bay of Islands, and before 1840 there were also Wesleyan and Catholic mission schools. C.L. Bailey in A Documentary History of New Zealand Education (1989) points out there were 'hordes' of children on the ships of the New Zealand company, 195 on the Bolton alone, with some desultory schooling but, though clergymen were given free passage for services rendered, schoolteachers were not.

Most schools were established by churches or private individuals and privately run and paid for. In the 1850s provincial governments were given responsibility for education, but only Nelson and Otago set up education systems, and in 1858 Nelson abolished fee-paying in favour of a household levy. Reading was dependent on the reading books used in Britain which were brought by settlers, and Hugh Price's essay 'Reading books and reading in New Zealand schools 1877-1900' (1987) notes the most widely used were the religious and didactic Irish National Readers. From 1867 New Zealand booksellers began to import the graded series of Royal Readers, published by Thomas Nelson of Edinburgh to meet the needs of the British Revised Code of 1862 which varied teachers' payment according to the examination success of their pupils. Parents were required to buy one reader per year, and promotion from class to class was based almost entirely on success in reading.

Demand for literacy among Māori was very strong in the early part of the 19th century. M.P.K. Sorrenson in 'Maori and Pakeha' in The Oxford History of New Zealand (1981, p.170) estimated that by 1845 about half of adult Māori could read a little in Māori. Readers for Māori speakers appeared very early: in 1815, A Korao no New Zealand or the New Zealander's First Book, a glossary and phrase book; Ratari, lists of phonetic sound groups in Māori and words in 1834; and from 1839 William Colenso printed a series of readers and lesson sheets in Māori at the Waimate Mission. Most of the Māori readers printed in the 1840s and 1850s were produced by mission presses.

He Puka Ako i te Korero Maori (1841) is a wordlist of South Island Māori compiled by James Watkin and He Korero Tara mo te Kura (1851) is a collection of fables. He Pukapuka Whakaako mo te Kura, printed at St. John's College in 1852, is a typical example of the mission-produced reader in Māori, opening with lists of vowels, then syllables, sentences, paragraphs and numbers. (A later edition (1870) added prayers and responses.) Colenso published Ko te A-Nui a Wi Hei Ako Maana ki te Reo Ingirihi or Willie's First English Book in 1872, a parallel text for learning English with graded lessons and vocabularies.

Teaching reading to Māori in English became standard practice in 1886 with The Native School Reader for Standards II and III, produced by the Government Printer, which consisted of 50 fables 'altered and in some cases localised so that they may be interesting to Maoris' (preface). The Native School Reader abounds with hortatory 'fables' which are colonising and assimilatory in intent. Kuni Jenkins's study of literacy as an agent of colonisation Becoming Literate—Becoming English (1993), discusses the earliest Māori manuscripts by Titere and Tuai (referred to in some sources as 'Tui'), young Ngāpuhi men who spent 1818 in England and recorded their reading lessons in English. Jenkins makes an important argument about the whole process of literacy as a coercive tool of colonisation.

Reports from the Inspectors of Native Schools published in the Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR) from 1858 onwards sometimes provide very detailed information as to numbers of pupils, reading progress and texts used. Although administration of Native Schools was transferred to the Education Department in 1879, separate reports for Native Schools continue in AJHR through until 1953 (shoulder numbers vary, especially before 1882).