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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.


Ill-fated Turanga Station—Huge Church Blown Down—Bishop Selwyn's First Visit in 1842—Hauhaus Drive Missionaries Away in 1865.

Prior to the establishment of mission stations along the East Coast from Te Araroa to Poverty Bay, the Rev. W. Williams was sent from the Bay of Islands on another visit in April, 1839. He was accompanied by the Rev. R. Taylor. They landed at Hicks Bay [E.C.] and proceeded overland to Poverty Bay. Mr. Williams found that additional chapels had been built in the Waiapu district since his last visit. He describes the new church at Whakawhitira as “one of the best buildings of its kind in New Zealand.” They were welcomed at Poverty Bay at a chapel at Pa-o-Kahu (near Awapuni Lagoon) by the native teachers whom the Rev. H. Williams had left there some months earlier.

Kaupapa—about nine miles to the south-west of Turanganui (Gisborne)—was chosen as the site for a mission station. Mr. Williams considered that Poverty Bay, although its population was not more than half of that of Waiapu, possessed many great advantages as a centre for missionary endeavour. What was much in its favour was that most of the natives lived only from two to ten miles from the spot fixed upon for the station. He arranged with the natives to build a large whare for himself and his family, and selected several youths to take to the Bay of Islands for instruction. The visitors rejoined the Aquita at Poverty Bay.

On 31 December, 1839, Mr. Williams, together with Mrs. Williams, their son James Nelson and the infant Anna Maria, also a nephew, Henry (the youngest son of the Rev. Henry Williams), and George Clarke (a son of another missionary) left Waimate (Bay of Islands) for Poverty Bay. The two eldest daughters, Mary and Jane Elizabeth, and William Leonard and Thomas remained at the Bay of Islands to continue their schooling. All the household goods, as well as some cattle and some trees, had been sent earlier in the Jess. According to W. L. Williams, the party received a very warm welcome, which, in large measure, compensated for the inadequacy of the accommodation which had been provided for them—a mere shell of a building, constructed in native fashion. It had walls of raupo attached to a frame of wood, and its roof was thatched with toetoe grass. There were no doors or windows, no partitions or flooring—and it was swarming with fleas!

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Interesting sidelights on the early missionary days in Poverty Bay are given by the Rev. George Clarke—he was only sixteen years old when he accompanied Mr. Williams to Kaupapa in 1840—in Notes on Early Life in New Zealand (Hobart, 1903). Upon their arrival, the captain, it seems, became uneasy about the position of his vessel. When he was about to lift the anchor preparatory to shifting to the other side of the roadstead, the natives (who had come off in crowds) got the notion that he intended to make off with Mr. Williams's goods. They overpowered the crew and took all the cargo ashore in their canoes!

“We had,” Clarke says, “little peace for the first week. Hundreds of natives surrounded the house and, all night long, kept shouting in unison: h-a, ha; h-e, he; h-i, hi; h-o, ho; h-u, hu, and so on through half of the primer spelling book. I think they fancied that it was part of the missionaries' karakia, or worship. We had brought down a small primer in sheets and had given away half a dozen copies. And this was the result!”

It is pointed out by Clarke that, in the early intercourse between the pakehas and the Maoris, many, if not most, of their quarrels arose from sheer ignorance of each other's ways. One very frequent cause was the inadvertent, or careless, violation of the laws of tapu. The burial-places, or, rather, sacred groves, in which the bones of the dead were deposited, were carefully guarded against violation. He adds: “We became at last recognised peacemakers in their intertribal quarrels. Even if a fight were going on, our persons were sacred, and we were allowed to pass to and fro between the contending parties, they sometimes deliberately suspending their firing that we might pass unharmed.”

W. Williams (Christianity Among the New Zealanders) states that, upon settling in Poverty Bay, he found that the three native catechists left there by his brother in 1838 were giving more or less regular instruction to over 1,500 natives. In every village a school had been established, but they were being conducted under great disadvantages for want of more competent teachers. The supply of books and slates was very limited; but, notwithstanding these drawbacks, much elementary knowledge was being imparted. Numbers had learned to read and write, and the desire to possess books was intense. On the first Sunday after his arrival he had a congregation of at least 1,000 persons, who assembled in the open air, “and their extreme attention was a grateful commencement of our labours.”

During the autumn of 1840, Mr. Williams (accompanied by George Clarke) visited the East Cape district, where even more progress was manifest than in Poverty Bay. It was estimated that the congregations aggregated 3,000. In his account of the visit, Clarke says that they were hardly able to pitch their tents page 164 [? at Whakawhitira] for the throng that pressed about them. There were nearly as many dogs as men, and the human part of the assemblage was as noisy and as wild and savage as any crowd he had ever seen. When the bell—a musket barrel hanging on a tree—was struck with a stone to announce the holding of a service, all the dogs made for the bush. The Maoris knew that a church was no place for a dog, and they had made a practice when the bell was sounded of thrashing their curs out of all desire to attend. Red ochre for the face and shark oil for the hair had been much in request during the previous hour. Many of the natives thought it highly proper that they should be armed with a book—it might be only an old ship's almanac or a castaway novel.

“Our first surprise,” he continues, “was to see two ugly old savages—nearly naked, plastered with red ochre and reeking with shark oil from head to heel—at the sides of the door, each brandishing a murderous club, and, as far as looks went, threatening to brain any disturber of the ceremonies—be it man, woman or child. They were the doorkeepers of the Sanctuary.
“The men were on the right side and the women on the left, and we passed along with all eyes following us to the dais at the end, where the native teacher awaited us … With a sound like thunder they took the second line out of the teacher's mouth … It was terrible. Men, women and children were on the strain, holding their sides, stooping to the effort, gasping for more breath, and working till the perspiration made long, brown seams where it rolled down their redsmeared faces.
“I saw our two old club friends gesticulating wildly in the distance (it was getting misty with the steam) and close by me there was a hoary old sinner gasping out, ‘Kia Kaha!’ ‘Kia Kaha!’ (‘Sing louder!’ ‘Sing louder!’).”

In Rovings in the Pacific, Alexander Salmon (a merchant of Tahiti) says that, accompanied by a shipmate, he visited the northern end of the East Coast in 1840. They found that most of the natives could read and write; that prayer was offered three times a day; and that no presents, however eagerly coveted, would cause the natives to violate the Lord's Day. On a journey overland from Rangitukia to [?] Hicks Bay [Te Araroa] they had a meal with a chief named Ne-pere, who provided them with salt to sprinkle on their potatoes. When they declined his pressing invitation to stay overnight at his settlement, he expressed his keen disappointment with a sad “Well! well!” Nepere wrote his name and brought out several books. Many of the natives flocked around to listen to their attempts to read the Maori text. When either mispronounced a word, all joined in correcting the mistake.

In the spring of 1840, Mr. Williams paid a visit to Mahia, Wairoa and Hawke's Bay, where, as yet, no missionaries had page 165 been placed, but where the way had been paved by three exslaves who had been liberated from the Bay of Islands. Only a few MSS copies of some prayers and hymns were possessed among many who had been taught to read and write. He estimated, in 1841, that about 8,600 natives in the area which he controlled attended Christian worship—3,200 at Waiapu and Tokomaru Bay; 2,500 at Uawa and Turanga; and 2,900 at Table Cape, Wairoa and Ahuriri. The candidates for baptism had numbered 2,115, of whom 588 men and 251 women had been accepted, together with 339 of their young children. No adult had been baptized until he or she had undergone a long and patient examination.