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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 6, April 1973

Maori Church

Maori Church

In 1859 when Bishop Hobhouse arrived in Nelson there were some 46 Maoris living at the Wakapuaka Pa in Happy Valley. In 1862 the Bishop reported that a neat little chapel was in the course of construction.

During the year various items in the Examiner newspaper gave reports on the progress of the building. Two sailors were drowned near the Wakapuaka Pa and the Maori people recovered their bodies. One correspondent to the paper stated that, "This incident shows up the character of the Maori and we heartily concur in thinking that the kindness of the Waka natives should be recognised." A guinea was enclosed as a contribution to the Maori chapel. In November, 1862, a further testimonial about this incident stated that "the natives are erecting a small chapel at the pa. It is not yet finished and their funds are exhausted." Subscriptions were asked for. About three weeks later it was announced that the sum of £97 was required. "Some subscriptions are:—

  • Commissioner of Native Reserves, £20.
  • Nelson Diocesan Synod, £10.
  • Private Donations, £3.
  • Native Donations, £12. The natives have cut all the timber gratuitously."

Unfortunately this building was never completed. In the Evening Mail in April 1869, a correspondent stated, "It is now some years since a church was built by the Maoris of Happy Valley with the understanding that the windows and doors were to be provided by the Government. This has not yet been done …." A plea "from the Children of the Pa now living in Happy Valley," was made asking that the eyes and mouth for their church be supplied.

After some years the chapel ceased to be used either because the congregation had moved or had simply lost interest. Fourteen years after it was built it was moved to the Pa near Delaware Bay, page 24re built, re-opened as St. Barnabas' Church, and used by the congregation there for many years. Hemi Matenga was himself a prominent churchman serving on the Nelson Diocesan Synod and in other capacities.

The point which now interests our historians is just where the early church was situated or where a Maori Pa existed in Happy Valley. There is no evidence now available of any Maori settlement and as the area from the boundary of the Native Reserve down the valley was heavily forested it seems unlikely that it was anywhere in the narrow part of the valley but probably nearer the open flats towards Bishop's Peninsula.