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Maori and Missionary: Early Christian Missions in the South Island of New Zealand

Chapter Eleven — The Rev. William Kirk

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Chapter Eleven
The Rev. William Kirk

In 1853 The Rev. William Kirk was Appointed to Succeed Mr. Creed, but he was detained in Christchurch to supply an appointment there, and Mr. Creed, writing from Wellington on August 30th, 1853, reported to London: “Mr. Kirk's appointment as my successor I hailed with delight, having heard of his truly missionary spirit, but what must I now add after eight months! … Otago is without a missionary. Within the last few weeks, I have received several letters from Europeans and natives sorely complaining as sheep without a shepherd. This greatly distresses me. Indeed, but for past ill-health both to Mrs. Creed and myself, we feel so deeply upon the subject, we should not be prevailed upon to wait for another district meeting, but pack up, and take ship immediately for Otago to resume our former labours.”

During the interval the gap was filled by the Maori pastors and lay preachers, who carried on till Mr. Kirk's arrival.

Mr. Kirk was delayed in Canterbury due to the shortage of ministers until the arrival, in January of the following year, of the Rev. J. Aldred, who was the first resident Methodist minister in Christchurch. Previously the work had been supervised by the Rev. J. Watkin from Wellington. Mr. Kirk has written his own story of his arrival in Otago:

“Mrs. Kirk and myself, with two little children, arrived at Port Chalmers in a small vessel belonging to Mr. Swinborne, of Lyttelton, on January 3rd, 1854. We met with the warmest welcome from Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Mansford, and from Mr. J. R. Monson, who was an officer in the Customs Department.

“Through the kindness of Mr. Mansford we obtained the loan of a small hotel, which was at that time without a tenant. Though things were rough and we had to make up our beds on the cases, we were young and very happy. One night Dr. Menzies, whose acquaintance we had made coming over from Lyttelton … seeing the Thistle Inn on a prominent signboard, opened the door and walked in. Mrs. Kirk was asleep on the cases, and I was absorbed in a copy of the Wandering Jew a kind lady who kept a fine vegetable garden in one of the bays had lent me. Of course the doctor made profuse apologies, and left without disturbing Mrs. Kirk's slumbers. After spending some time in this singular residence, we left for our page 129 new home in Waikouaiti, in a native whale boat, and were taken over safely and pleasantly.”

Mr. Kirk was no ordinary man and he possessed singular gifts which fitted him for his work as a missionary. He was born at Epworth, Wesley's birthplace, on September 9th, 1825. His father was a Wesleyan preacher and young Kirk received elementary training for the church. He was designated for missionary work by the English Wesleyan Conference, and after the usual training and tests, came to New Zealand in the ship Triton and arrived at Auckland in 1847. For a time he assisted the Rev. T. Buddle and then removed to Hokianga in order to acquire the Maori language.1 There (at Hokianga) he accustomed himself to the Maori way of life and modes of expression, under the training of the Rev. John Hobbs,1 and ultimately married his daughter, a lady well versed in the Ngapuhi dialect, and whose beautiful accentuation of that musical language was, in after years, the admiration of all the southern Maoris. In 1849 upon Mr. Kirk was placed the responsibility of opening a Mission up the Wanganui River, which was no small undertaking for a young man twenty-two years of age, and a newly married wife. They left for their new sphere, accompanied by the Rev. John Hobbs, who was anxious to see them settled in their new home. The schooner, the Leithart, in which they sailed, became a total wreck near the Wanganui Heads. It was night time and the passengers found themselves in a terrible position, with the waves washing over the deck—the worst results were feared. When daylight came, however, it was discovered that the vessel lay on the north bank of the river, and with the falling tide it was possible to reach the land. They settled at Ohinemutu, known afterwards as Te Aomarama. Twelve acres of land were purchased, and upon this section a whare (parsonage) was erected. This building was constructed of wheat straw and stiffened by poles which were erected in the ground. In this rude shed, for such it was, of thirty feet by fourteen, which Mr. Kirk divided into three rooms, and which had neither floor nor chimney, they lived for twelve months. All their cooking was done in the open air. Later a small weatherboard cottage was erected, and with stone from the river, a chimney was built. In this isolated spot, where for weeks and even months at a time they did not see a white man, or receive a letter, they resided

1 The following information comes from History of Methodism, by Dr. Morley, and In the Beginning, by Rev. T. G. Hammond.

1 The Rev. John Hobbs was a master of the Ngapuhi (North Auckland) tongue, the most perfect form of Maori. The Rev. Thomas Buddle and Alexander Reid were experts with the idiomatic niceties of the Waikato dialect. They were associated with the Anglican clergy in the revision of the Maori Bible.—Robert Maunsell, L.L.D., A New Zealand Pioneer, by H. E. R. Wily and Herbert Maunsell.

page 130 for four years. Travelling from the Mission Station to Wanganui was difficult and took four days by canoe. The strain was severe. On one occasion Mrs. Kirk was ill with brain fever and no doctor was available. They struggled on amid discouragement. A few of the Maoris were Mr. Skevington's converts from Waingongoro, but most of them were still heathen, though willing to be taught. Gradually the missionaries won their way and a spiritual change took place. A chief named Ngapara, who had been a great warrior, and was a terror to the whole district, was won for Christ, and became as gentle as a lamb. He built himself a whare close to the Mission Station to be near the missionary. There he learned to read the Bible, and for hours together explored its truths. A large church was built, free of cost, and the public services and class meetings were well attended. Taupo was also under Mr. Kirk's care and he preached at the various villages in that area. After four years of strenuous service he was appointed to Otago, and, as before stated, he was detained in Canterbury for some time, and reached Otago on January 3rd, 1854.

Mr. Kirk's task was to continue and consolidate the work of his predecessors. This involved much travelling, which was no easy matter in those early years. On foot, on horseback, and by boat the missionary persevered in his arduous calling.

During the previous years of the Mission much had happened. The Treaty of Waitangi had been signed; the South Island had been proclaimed a part of the British Empire, valuable Maori tribal lands had been handed over to the pakeha, and the Scottish pioneers had arrived to establish their settlement.

There is nothing spectacular to relate regarding Mr. Kirk's four years of service in Otago, yet he added a very valuable contribution to the history of the Mission. The work among the Maoris was continued without intermission. One secret of his success was his intimate knowledge of the native mentality and his strict observance of native codes of etiquette. He had a genius for understanding the Maori people and for acquiring their language and manner of expression. He had a certain charm of personality and the natives felt its spell.

Mrs. Kirk, as before stated, was the daughter of the Rev. John Hobbs, who commenced his missionary career at Whangaroa in 1823. Mrs. Kirk, therefore, was inured to the hardships of a missionary's lot from her earliest years, and could tell many stories of hairbreadth escapes in the North Island. Besides being an accomplished Maori scholar, she was well acquainted with the customs and traditions of the Maori people, and consequently won the confidence and affection of the Maori women of Otago. Mrs. Monson, in her Reminiscences, tells how Mrs. Kirk, when a child, passed through some very trying circumstances and experiences. When at the page 131 Hokianga Mission Station a taua (war party) had returned, bringing with them a number of slaves, and were preparing to kill them for the oven. Mr. Hobbs went to the victorious party and pleaded for the captives. In anger his request was refused, and they threatened to destroy him and his family and pull down the Mission Station. When it was dark, Mr. Hobbs took his family into the bush for safety. The feast went on and nothing could be done for the unfortunate victims. The victors, however, did not burn down the Mission buildings, and the missionary and his family did not suffer further harm. Mrs. Kirk said that as a child she had often seen from the window of the Mission house at Hokianga the fateful fires of a heathen feast.

Not only did the Maori work in Otago engage Mr. Kirk's attention, but the constantly increasing numbers of Europeans arriving at Port Chalmers claimed his ministrations.

The first resident clergyman of the Anglican Church was the Rev. M. Leeson, 1873–76. The Register reveals that he conducted services in Dunedin, Port Chalmers, Otakou, Waikouaiti, Moeraki, and as far north as Waitaki, and as far south as the Molyneux. One day, April 2nd, 1854, he baptised twenty Maori people at Waitaki. On December 28th, 1856, he baptised thirteen Maori people at Molyneux. Among the names mentioned are Rena Nohorua, Heremaia Wiri, and a very old man, Horomona Te Kihi. On the same day Rauru Tangatauruuru (35) was married to Reita Inewahia (35). On March 8th, 1857, he baptised Jane, daughter of William Alfred and Mary Moseley, at Molyneux River.

On December 30th, 1855, Mr. Kirk baptised twelve persons, among them: Mere Tinou, Heremaia Toitu, Mohi Tuawaiki, and Maraea Kaiaia.

Among the many baptisms conducted at Otakou by Mr. Kirk appear the name of Fanny Weller, aged 19 years, daughter of Edward Weller and Paparu, a chief's daughter. On the same day he baptised Papei Rapatu, son of the chief, Karetai, and Hini Pakia. The following marriages were celebrated: March 19th, 1854, Patoromu Pu, native pastor, widower, about 40, to Riria Korako, widow, about 38. Mr. Kirk's last Maori baptism took place at Otakou on July 12th, 1857, the person being Te Karira Teute, and the last European baptism being that of Fanny, daughter of Dr. Joseph and Mary Ann Crocombe, at Matanaka, Waikouaiti, on August 27th, 1857.

Mr. Kirk terminated his ministry in Otago in 1857, and left for Kai Iwi, Wanganui, via Wellington, in the ship Ellen. This zealous missionary and his devoted wife worthily sustained the work of their distinguished predecessors, and were an unfailing source of inspiration to Maori and pakeha. After leaving Otago, Mr. Kirk was appointed to some of the most important Wesleyan Methodist charges, including Auckland, Nelson, New Plymouth and, for two page 132 terms, Wellington. He was elected President of the Methodist Conference in 1877. In that office, and as chairman of various districts, his duties were discharged with characteristic thoroughness. He died at Petone in 1895 in his 90th year.