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

Chapter Thirteen — The Rev. J. F. Riemenschneider

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Chapter Thirteen
The Rev. J. F. Riemenschneider

When Mr. Stannard was Transferred to the North Island in 1859, the work was carried on by Patoromu Pu and other native pastors. Towards the end of the same year a public meeting was held in Dunedin to form a “Society for the elevation of the physical, social and moral conditions of the Maoris”. The society had in mind the welfare of the Maori people in the areas from Moeraki to Jacob's River. Money was collected and the Government promised a grant to assist in building a school and teacher's residence at Otakou. Mr. and Mrs. Baker were appointed and brought from Auckland, but little further was done for a considerable time. Up to 1861 no buildings had been erected and Mr. Baker was obliged to take the matter in hand himself and erect a small cottage. After three years' service Mr. Baker resigned and accepted an appointment from the Government in connection with the Native Department, The ship in which he sailed was lost crossing Cook Strait, and Mr. Baker perished with the ship.1

In 1862 the Rev. J. F. Riemenschneider took up the work at Otakou and district. He had been stationed at Parihaka, but due to the Maori war he was obliged to leave his native people, they having advised him to do so as they could not guarantee his safety.

John F. Riemenschneider was born at Bremen, Germany, in August, 1817. He early dedicated his life to the service of the church and, feeling “a call” to the Mission Field, applied himself to intensive study. In 1837 he was accepted by the North German Missionary Society. He was at that time twenty years of age. He was ordained at Bremen on September 21st, 1842, and in the following month a service was held in St. George's Church, Hamburg, when four missionaries, Messrs. Trost, Heine, Wohlers and Riemenschneider were finally set apart for pioneer work in New Zealand.

The St. Paul arrived in New Zealand on June 18th, 1843. The missionaries proceeded to Nelson as a probable field of labour. Riemenschneider attended, for some time, to the spiritual needs of Germans in and around Nelson, but in June, 1844, he decided to go to the Lake Taupo district, where there were many Maori villages.

1 The Story of the Otago Church and Settlement, by C. Stuart Ross.

page 137

On his way he visited the Matukaramu people, and was persuaded by the natives to dwell among them. He, however, remained in the district but a short time, not being satisfied to intrude in the Wesleyan sphere, the area being under the care of the Rev. J. Whiteley, of Kawhia. By arrangement with the Wesleyan Church he moved to Warea, near Parihaka, Taranaki, where at the end of the year he had charge of thirteen villages. His nearest neighbour, the Rev. W. Woon, says of him: “He was a most devoted and humble Christian.” He very quickly became sufficiently conversant with the Maori language to preach acceptably to the people. He commanded the respect of the chiefs, Te Whiti and Tohu, and gained the confidence and esteem of the Maori people generally. Riemene, or Rimi, as he was variously called by the Maoris, was a constant visitor to his nearest neighbour, Mr. Woon, and ere long proposed marriage to the eldest daughter of the family, and subsequently married her. They were married on October 29th, 1849, at the Wesleyan Mission Station, Waimate, Taranaki1 A very interesting description of Mr. Woon's station is given in the Wesleyan Miscellany for 1849:

“The Mission house is prettily situated on a point of land jutting into the harbour; a glassy sheet of water extends in front of the house, and beyond it rises the bold and rugged outline of the mountain of Peronguia. The church stands on an elevated terrace behind the house. To the left of the parsonage is a cliff, where the goats belonging to the Mission Station generally browse, and from this elevation a fine, commanding view may be obtained of the Kawhia Harbour, with the ocean breaking foam beyond.” Such was the home of the sixteen year old bride. The marriage was ideal; for the lives of the bride and bridegroom were a beautiful example of a true and perfect Christian union of love and mutual happiness. Mrs. Riemenschneider was well versed in the Maori language, and proved a help-meet indeed to the lonely bachelor of Warea. Mr. Riemenschneider proved a good son-in-law, and often visited Mr. Woon and assisted him in his missionary labours. It was a happy marriage. Again and again the grandfather (Mr. Woon) journeyed to dedicate the children to God, which was a source of joy to the grandparents.

The Rev. W. Woon had a notable career. Born in Truro, Cornwall, in 1804, he entered the ministry in 1830. After spending some time on the Tongan Mission field he came to New Zealand in 1834, and assisted in forming the first Mission Station at Kawhia. Later he was stationed at Manukau and subsequently at Hokianga, and then moved to Taranaki. The Rev. S. Ironside regarded him as an expert preacher in English, Tongan and Maori. His diary and

1 In the Beginning, by Rev. T. G. Hammond.

page 138 letters prove that his knowledge of Maori was abreast of that of most scholars of his day. Mrs. Woon was a mother to the Maori women and girls and won an honoured place in the history of the Church in New Zealand. She made the treatment of the sick and infirm her special care. Her long journeys on errands of love and mercy, and her courage and self-sacrifice, endeared her to the Maori people. Such were the parents of Mrs. Riemenschneider, and she partook largely of the merits and qualities of her father and mother. Thus equipped with a good help-meet, Mr. Riemenschneider was able to prosecute his duties with abundant success. In 1855 a new Mission building was erected to serve as a church and school. He was so successful that he was able to extend his sphere and toil from Warea southward, until the sad Maori war of 1860 terminated all Christian effort, and he was obliged to abandon the station. For two years he resided in Nelson, but in 1862 he received an invitation from the Otago Society, already mentioned, to undertake work among the Maoris living in the environs of Dunedin. The offer of a salary of £200 a year, free residence and a glebe of ten acres seemed a providential call, although the prospect did not turn out as he expected.

The new missionary arrived at Port Chalmers in June, 1862, with his wife and family and Miss Woon, Mrs. Riemenschneider's sister. Their arrival was accompanied with much sadness. Miss Woon was taken ill and died at Port Chalmers and was buried in the old cemetery. The Riernenschneiders proceeded to Otakou and proved themselves worthy successors of the pioneer missionaries. They entered upon their task with energy and enthusiasm. Many difficulties lay before them, but being conscious of the Divine Call they did not look back. The native churches at Otakou (Ruatitiko and Tahakopa) were very primitive structures and had been abandoned. The native church at Ornate was in a ruinous state, and the new church building had not been commenced. The new missionary urged the need for church buildings which would serve as day schools. Riemenschneider wrote: “The Government had bought up most of the country from the natives for a ridiculous price and had guaranteed them to build schools and churches, but had not kept its promises.” The only thing the missionary could do was to postpone the school building question for the time being, but he still hoped for Government aid, and kept the church building project in view.

Things did not go smoothly between himself and the Otago Society, and at his own request he was relieved from his engagement in October, 1863, but he continued his Mission work with an income considerably reduced.

In 1864 he was taken seriously ill and, feeling intensely his isolation, he invited his friend Wohlers, of Ruapuke, to come and page 139 discuss the affairs of the Mission. The two friends had been parted for a long time—a period which had been for both of them heavy with suffering and anxiety. The meeting proved to be a source of strength to the sick man; he recovered, took a holiday, and resumed his tasks. Although there were but few signs of spectacular success, yet the “Word” was silently but surely working in the hearts of the people, and he wrote: “I am not able to speak about such great victories or conversions.” Quite true, but the seed had been sown and the harvest was sure.

When Mr. Riemenschneider arrived at Otakou in 1862, he was obliged to provide a residence for his family. His predecessor, Mr. Baker, had erected a small cottage. To this, Mr. Riemenschneider added two rooms, doing most of the work himself. He also planted a vegetable and flower garden and suitable trees. The avenue of hawthorne trees which he planted, marking the roadway to his residence, remains today.

The next task to be faced was the erection of the proposed church. This project had been kept in mind from the time of Taiaroa's conversion to Christianity in 1859, but upon the removal of the Rev. George Stannard, nothing had been done. To meet this task Mr. Riemenschneider applied himself, and the matter of raising funds was by no means easy. Collections had been taken up at the services in Mr. Stannard's time. The Maoris had in hand £57; Taiaroa is said to have given £50, and when the building was started £170 was in hand. The church was opened and dedicated on Christmas Day, 1864. About five hundred persons were present, including one hundred and fifty Maoris. The visitors arrived from Dunedin and Port Chalmers by the Bruce and Golden Age, and were met by the missionary and Maori chiefs at the landing place.

Besides Mr. Riemenschneider, those taking part were the Rev. W. Johnstone, of Port Chalmers, Rev. R. S. Bunn (Wesleyan), the Revs. Connebee, Fraser, Dr. Stuart, and others. The function took place in glorious sunshine and was a pronounced success, filling the missionary's heart with thankfulness. “God the Lord,” he said, “has given us a pleasant day; the weather the best one could wish.” The interior of the church was 28 feet by 16 feet, and the chancel 8 feet by 8 feet. The Communion altar and pulpit were constructed by Mr. Riemenschneider. Mrs. Parry, wife of the lay missionary and schoolmaster, presented the fancy linen work, presumably for the Communion altar. The neat little sanctuary had seating accommodation for about one hundred and twenty persons. There was a small organ-loft or gallery in which the minister's wife sat to play the organ. She had a sweet voice and led the singing and service of praise. The children of the parsonage sat near the pulpit and assisted with the responses and in the singing of the hymns. The cost of the erection of the church was £250. The outstanding page 140 liability after the opening function was £111, which was met later.

The church and parsonage commanded an enchanting view of the harbour, and the well kept grounds of the church and humble residence were admired by all visitors. The glebe of ten acres, known as the Maori Mission Reserve, proved a source of help to the missionary and his family of six daughters and two sons. The area provided pasture for a horse, cows and fowls. The vegetable garden and orchard proved an asset to augment the slender salary of the missioner.

Mr. Riemenschneider continued the practice of his Wesleyan predecessors and the church bell was rung regularly on Sundays and week-days as a call to worship. The Sacraments were carefully observed.

The devoted missioner was heartily supported by his wife who, being a daughter of a Wesleyan missionary, entered into all departments of Christian service. Being a good Maori scholar, she conversed freely with the women and advised them in their domestic affairs. In her husband's absence she was able to exercise an influence for good upon the people. Her pleasant manner and her frank, loving conversation made her at once popular and useful, To the church she was a “Mother in Israel”, competent, from her intelligent Christian outlook and her deep spiritual experience, to exercise discreetly a wise and happy influence on all around her.

Mr. Riemenschneider was not physically strong, and at times his health caused his wife and family much concern, but he toiled on, sustained by a stern regard for duty, and cheered amid all discouragements by the truth he proclaimed.

Nor were his efforts for the spiritual welfare of his congregation in vain. The people were regular in their attendance at public-worship on the Day of Rest and also on the week evenings. Wet or fine found them in their places. The Maori tracks from Pukekura, Pukehau, Pipikaretu and Kapuketereti (Wickliffe Bay) were often ankle deep in mud, but barefoot and with blanket or great coat, the people honoured the House of Prayer with their regular attendance The native pastors also were assiduous in their duties and rendered valuable help. Not only at Otakou, but at Moeraki, Karitane and the Taieri they ably supported the Mission.

In 1865 the good missioner's health declined and he was obliged finally, to discontinue his visits to the other centres, and was under the necessity of confining his efforts, as much as possible, to Otakou He possessed those qualities which go to the making of the true missionary, and only those who knew something of his inner life—his consecration to God, his patience, his indomitable perseverance, his courageous zeal and devotedness—could fully appreciate his value as a missionary.

In 1866 Riemenschneider was conscious that his ministry was page 141 drawing to a close. In July of that year, he was taken seriously ill. All that medical skill could do was of no avail, and on the 25th August, after intense suffering, he passed peacefully to be “forever with the Lord”.

He had won the affection of the Maori people, and his name ever afterwards was mentioned with respect. He “walked with God” and he walked wisely towards them that are without; his uniformly happy deportment left upon all associated with him the impression of a noble, God-fearing and God-like character.

He was buried in the old cemetery at Port Chalmers in the same grave as Miss Woon, Mrs. Riemenschneider's sister.1 The body was conveyed to Port Chalmers by water, many boats following. This took place on August 30th, and the service was conducted by the local ministers, the Rev. W. Johnstone, Dr. D. M. Stuart and the Rev. A. Blake taking part. An address was given in Maori by the Rev. T. S. Forsaith. “Such a faithful father and teacher,” the Maoris said, “we shall never see again.”

During Mr. Riemenschneider's ministry, and probably earlier, Mr. Thomas Parry, a lay missionary without salary, gave his services to the Mission. For a short time he lived in the old Ruatitiko Mission house and cultivated a small farm. He felt that Christian work among the Maori people was his particular calling. He became the missionary's right hand man and also held the position of schoolmaster, assisted by his wife. The day school was held in the Ornate Church until a suitable building could be erected. In addition to this, he cared for the physical welfare of the Maori people and was a keen herbalist. His herbal remedies worked wonders for the sick and aged, and they were grateful for his kind ministrations.

In 1869, the Presbyterian Church of Otago appointed the Rev. A. Blake, M.A., who had been a missionary in Madras, to take oversight of the Maori Mission. A sum of £50 was paid to Mrs. Riemenschneider for improvements which had been made to the missionary's residence, and the new minister was inducted into office by the Dunedin Presbytery.

Mr. Blake was ably assisted in his work by the Wesleyan pastor, Patoromu Pu. There were also two other Wesleyan native pastors actively engaged in the Maori Mission, Solomon (Horomona Pohio), Watkin's first native teacher appointed to Ruapuke and the far south, and (David) Rawiri Te Maire. These two men were chiefs of rank and were highly respected by the Maori people, and were a source of help to their supervisor. In 1870 he visited the Maori prisoners who were confined in the Dunedin gaol for what were termed, rightly or wrongly, “political offences”. It was at this time that the Govern-

1 The Story of the Otago Church and Settlement, by Rev. C. Stuart Ross.

page 142 ment took over the management of the day school and a teacher was appointed.

After nearly three years of service, due largely to Mrs. Blake's health, Mr. Blake resigned and accepted a call to the Kaikorai Presbyterian Church. He was a man of considerable gifts and unmistakable devotion, but his mode of conducting the services was not popular with the Maori people, who showed preference for the liturgical form of service.

Patoromu Pu was now in charge, assisted by Horomona Polio, Rawiri Te Maire, Hoani Weteri Koraki, and Tare Weteri Te Kahu. Patoromu was an able pastor and preacher and untiring in his efforts to promote a high type of Christian living in the lives of the people under his charge.

The first mention of his name at Otakou, as shown by the Church Register, is March 19th, 1854, when he married Peti Ineweatea. The Rev. W. Kirk officiated at the wedding, the witnesses, being Tare Weteri Te Kahu and Hopa Paura. The exact date of his arrival from the North Island is not given. After 23 years of service at Otakou, he died suddenly on June 10th, 1877, age stated to be 75 years. His body, according to Maori custom, was laid till burial in the Whare runanga (meeting house), and the funeral took place a few days later. A report in the Evening Star of July 14th intimates that the body was carried by four Maoris from the meeting house to the church, where a service was held, and that the chief mourners were the chief, H. K. Taiaroa, M.H.R., and his sons.

It was said of him that “he watched over the members of his charge with a solicitude and anxiety rarely equalled”.

A memorial tablet to his memory has been placed in the new Centennial Memorial Church, Ornate, Otakou.

In 1877, Bishop Nevill visited Otakou and appointed a native minister, Rev. E. Ngara, from the Diocese of Waiapu, who officiated for about three years. Other Anglican ministers visited the kaika at intervals.

During this interval, and through all the changes that ensued, Watkin's and Creed's native pastors continued their ministrations and their form of service, and although working in conjunction with other branches of the Christian Church, most of them still considered themselves Wesleyans.

During the same period, there being no Wesleyan ministerial appointment in Otago, the work in Dunedin and Port Chalmers was carried on by a noble band of laymen.