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

Mission Life in Early Tolaga Bay

page 168

Mission Life in Early Tolaga Bay

Mr. Baker's Troublesome Neighbours

The pioneer in the work of Christianizing the natives in and around Tolaga Bay was Wiremu Hekapo (William Jacob), a cousin of Te Kani-a-Takirau. He had been enslaved by the Ngapuhi during one of their devastating raids on the East Coast between 1818 and 1824. When Bishop Selwyn paid his first visit to the district in December, 1842, Hekapo and his wife greatly impressed him. In his journal he wrote: “Here we were most kindly welcomed by the native teacher and his wife, one of the most worthy couples I have seen in this country.” Hekapo had built a rush chapel and was engaged in erecting a house for Charles Baker (a catechist at the Bay of Islands), who had been appointed to establish a mission station for the Uawa district.

Hekapo's wife (Mariana) died from tuberculosis on 15 February, 1844. Mr. Baker, in his journal, says: “It has afforded me no small encouragement to have beheld so striking an instance of genuine Christianity in a New Zealander … Many could not but lament their loss of one who to them had been a ‘Mother in Israel.’” Hekapo, who also suffered from tuberculosis, died early in 1853. The Rev. T. S. Grace (who was temporarily supervising the Uawa station) went from Poverty Bay to comfort him.

Mr. and Mrs. Baker, with eight of their children, reached Tolaga Bay on 12 January, 1843. They had left their three eldest boys—William, Charles and Ebenezer—at the Bay of Islands to finish their schooling. In addition to some household effects, they brought with them a number of cattle, some building materials, several cases of printed religious matter and a large quantity of medicine. A son (Joseph G. Baker) says that it was raining heavily when they arrived. His father asked the natives to thatch the roof of their home, but they jauntily replied that the work would have to wait till the weather cleared. When he told them that, if they were not prepared to treat him more considerately, he would move on elsewhere, they at once swarmed on to the roof, and the job was finished in an incredibly short period. About 250 natives attended the first service, which was held on 15 January.

The Uawa mission district extended from Tokomaru Bay to Puatai. The pa adjacent to the station contained about 500 natives. Across the river on Paremata there was also a large settlement. Te Kani-a-Takirau—reputed to be one of the greatest chiefs in all Maoriland—resided in an isolated locality above Cook's Cove. Many natives who lived at a distance made a practice of arriving on the Saturday for the Sunday services, and they did not return home until the Monday, when they would have consumed all the food that they had brought with them. Regularly at daybreak young and old from all the nearby settlements came to attend prayers and receive some Scriptural instruction before they went to their work in the fields. Another service was held at dusk.

According to the Rev. C. Baker's journal (which was kindly placed at the disposal of the writer by Mr. Ward Baker, of Auckland) there was a small settlement of European traders, shipmasters, carpenters, sawyers and boatbuilders at Tolaga Bay when the mission station was opened. Among the residents were: Captain A. Nicholas (who owned the Nimrod), Robert Waddy (a shipmaster and trader), Ashmere (a sawyer), Samuel Brockhurst (a carpenter) and his wife, Harris (a carpenter) and his wife, Ellis (a carpenter) and his wife. In April, 1843, a carpenter named Williams and his wife arrived. Edward Biddle and his wife were there in 1844. Nicholas's abode was frequently the scene page 169 of drunken parties, and, upon occasions, Mr. Baker was called upon to attend to injuries received in fights. Workers for Mr. Baker were forbidden to go there.

A month after his arrival, Mr. Baker lost three of his servants—Wiremu Peere (William Bailey), his wife Ellen, and Wanaupo—who left to go to Waiapu. Joseph G. Baker says that Bailey was only a youth when the Ngapuhi captured him at Waiapu and took him to the Bay of Islands. His master allowed him to work at the Kerikeri mission station, but, shortly afterwards, made a demand that he should be returned to him, as he had decided to kill and eat him. Wiremu sought refuge with James Kemp, who bought him by the payment of a three-legged pot. He had been with the Baker family for twelve years. Ellen, who was also a Ngati-Porou captive, had been permitted by her master to become a nursegirl at their home. When, later on, her master threatened to slay and eat her, his father redeemed her. She had proved very useful during the fifteen years she had been with them.

The Baileys returned to the Uawa mission station in February, 1844, and, in Wiremu's own words, “we were welcomed in the same way as the prodigal son was welcomed by his father.” During Mr. Baker's absences from Tolaga Bay he proved so zealous that the natives nicknamed him “The Vicar.” When Mr. Baker took charge of the Rangitukia station in 1854, the Baileys joined his staff there. After the death of his wife, Wiremu became an itinerant preacher. He died at Te Horo in August, 1895.

One of the most difficult chiefs Mr. Baker had to deal with at Uawa was Nopera (Noble) Rangiuia. In October, 1843, Nopera told the people at the pa adjacent to the mission station that the last lot of medicine he had received from Mr. Baker had killed one of his daughters. Archdeacon W. Williams, Mr. Stack and Mr. Baker went over to the pa, and Mr. Williams remonstrated with him. Producing what was left of the medicine, Nopera said: “If the pakehas will drink this and are not killed, it will be proof that my daughter did not die from it.” Seizing the bottle, Mr. Williams drank most of the contents, and Mr. Stack consumed the dregs. Nopera then complained that, when he had sent for some nails with which to make a coffin, Mr. Baker had refused to give him any, saying that he wanted them to nail down his daughter's eyelids. The fact was that Mr. Baker's refusal was on the ground that the girl was still alive. She was a sufferer from consumption. Nopera had lost another daughter only a few months previously.

Mr. Baker had a lot of trouble with Nopera over some trees which he bought from him in January, 1844. When the sawyers had sawn a considerable quantity of timber, Nopera held out for a further payment before he would allow any of it to be removed. By way of compromise, Mr. Baker offered Nopera a further sum if he would deliver the timber. This he did not do until May, and, when he came with it, he asked for some medicine for himself.

In February, 1844, an old savage named Te Hango threatened to burn down the mission station because Mr. Baker had reproved him for taking another wife. Te Hango was called upon by Te Kani to attend a meeting, and he handed over a musket as compensation. Te Kani told him that, before anyone could burn down the station, he would have to burn down all England, then the Bay of Islands and Auckland, and so on down to Opotiki. In turn he would have to destroy Port Nicholson and come on to Uawa and burn him. Then, and only then, might he destroy the station! He issued a warning to all present that no European was to be molested, no matter what his character might be or his calling. If a pakeha settled in Uawa, he was to be treated well, and, if he was page 170 merely passing through, he was to be supplied with food even if he had not the means to pay for it.

The work of the mission station became completely disorganised during the following month on account of trouble arising through Te Kani taking the wife of a young man named Patararangi, although he had three or four others. When Te Kani heard that the young woman's mother had suggested that the nose of his canoe should be broken as a reprisal, he gave orders that none of his people were to cross the river to attend the services, and went off to Puatai to muster a force. Meantime, the people belonging to his pa made preparations for war. Those who lived in the pa adjacent to the mission station remained quiet.

When Te Kani returned he told Mr. Baker that, although he had found him straight in all his dealings with him, he considered that his native teachers had played a double role—they had prayed to the God of War as well as to the God of Peace. The people belonging to the pa near the mission station went off to Waikirikiri. In April Mr. Baker rode over to the exiles and informed them that it was Te Kani's wish that they should return home. [This is the first mention of a horse being attached to the mission station.]

A threat to attack the Bakers was made by an up-river chief who coveted one of their foals. Mr. Baker complained to Te Kani, who turned up at the time fixed for the raid. As he had no men with him, Mr. Baker was much concerned. “Oh! I don't need any men,” Te Kani told him. When the raiders appeared he gave them a sharp reminder that all the pakehas were under his care and ordered them away. Within a few days the up-river chief returned. Again Mrs. Baker and the children fled into the scrub. Putting on a brave face, Mr. Baker went to remind him of what Te Kani had said. The chief told him that, as he had done wrong, he had brought some canoe-loads of produce as a peace-offering!

What was probably the first European craft to be purchased by the Uawa natives was the subject of a letter from Mr. Clarke (Protector of Aborigines) to Mr. Baker in April, 1844. It seems that an Auckland resident had sold a cutter (20 tons) to Te Kani, payment to be made in pigs. When half the payment had been made, the owner of the vessel had given a bill of sale for £60 over it. Mr. Clarke wished Te Kani to send the remainder of the pigs, so that he could transfer the registration of the craft to him.

In July, 1843, Mr. Baker, whilst at Poverty Bay, procured (presumably from Mr. Williams) some fruit trees, wheat and grass seed. He had, in the previous May, planted English fruit and vegetable seeds. The wheat was planted on 15 July and the grass seed on the 22nd. [There is no record of wheat and grass being sown at Tolaga Bay earlier.] In June, 1844, he sowed some wheat for Te Kani and furnished seventeen bushels to the natives to promote that branch of agriculture among them. He supposed that there would be about 200 participants.


Te Kani-a-Takirau's autocratic methods greatly perturbed the Rev. T. S. Grace whilst he was supervising the Tolaga Bay station in 1852–3. In the former year, some Turanga natives removed a post from an old burial ground. Although they had replaced it, Te Kani made the road leading to Turanga tapu, stopped intercourse between the two districts, and declared war. Mr. Grace sent a deputation of influential Turanga chiefs to him, and, following them three days later, “was most happy to be able to bring matters to a peaceful conclusion.” The trouble in 1853 was more serious. A great woman of Turanga named Victoria—many page 171 called her “Queen Victoria”—died from consumption, but her death was attributed by her people to witchcraft by an Anaura tohunga. An avenging party, 150 strong, set off from Turanga to Anaura. Mr. Grace went on ahead to mollify the people in the villages through which it was about to pass. On the fifth day of the march Te Kani was conferred with at Puatai, and a peaceful settlement was reached. (Vide A Pioneer Missionary Among the Maoris.)


Charles Baker (born in Yorkshire in 1803) was trained in agricultural and industrial pursuits. Upon the death of his first wife, he entered the C.M.S. College at Islington. With the second Mrs. Baker, and the daughter of the first marriage, he landed at the Bay of Islands on 9 June, 1828. He was stationed first at Kerikeri and then at Paihia. In the temporary absence of the Rev. H. Williams he played a not unimportant part in making the arrangements ashore for the proclamation of British sovereignty over New Zealand. Lieutenant-Governor Hobson requested him to have copies printed of an invitation to the chiefs to meet him, and arranged with him to send messengers to deliver them. He also sought permission to use the church on the occasion of the reading of the official documents relating to his appointment, etc. On Christmas Day, 1835, Charles Darwin (the eminent naturalist) and Captain FitzRoy (of H.M.S. Beagle and, later, successor to Governor Hobson) attended a service conducted by Mr. Baker and made donations towards the cost of the historic church which was built at Paihia under his supervision and which is still standing. Mr. Baker was stationed at Waikare (1840–2), Tolaga Bay (1843–51) and Rangitukia (1854–7). Whilst he was at Tolaga Bay his family of nine was increased on 11 April, 1843, by the birth of a son, Henry Williams, who might have been the first white boy born at Uawa, and on 3 September, 1844, by the arrival of another daughter, Charlotte Elizabeth, who might have been the first white girl born there. In 1860 Mr. Baker and the Rev. E. B. Clarke were stationed at Tauranga, but, in 1863, they had to leave when the natives began openly to sympathise with the Waikato rebels. Returning to Auckland, Mr. Baker paid regular visits to the stockades, the gaol, and the hospital and to the hulks on which rebel prisoners were being detained. He died on 15 February, 1875.