Maori and Missionary: Early Christian Missions in the South Island of New Zealand
Chapter Eight — The Rev. J. F. H. Wohlers Visits Creed
The Rev. J. F. H. Wohlers Visits Creed
Reference has Already Been Made to the Rev. J. F. H. Wohlers, of the Bremen Mission, who accompanied Charles Creed on the schooner Deborah when travelling to Waikouaiti. Mr. Wohlers was destined to accomplish a very important task in consolidating the work begun by Mr. Watkin and his native teachers at Stewart Island and Ruapuke.
Johann Friedrich Wohlers was born at Mahlenstorf, Germany, on October 1st, 1811. After schooldays were ended he engaged in farming, and one day visiting a friend, he saw the pamphlet written by Mr. Watkin entitled Pity Poor Fiji. This appeal was written in 1836 and was translated into German. As the young man read the document it proved to be the turning point in his life, and he made up his mind to enter the mission field. He was accepted as a student by the Reformed North German Mission and pursued his studies in the Mission College. He was ordained in 1842, and was designated for New Zealand, to work among the Maoris, and he, with three others, among whom was J. F. Riemenschneider (who was destined to spend his last years as a missionary at Otakou), arrived in New Zealand in June, 1843. Wohlers was engaged in Christian work in the Upper Moutere Valley, Nelson, till April, 1844, when, with letters of introduction from the Rev. S. Ironside, he accompanied Mr. Creed on the Deborah.
When at Port Cooper, Mr. F. Tuckett advised Wohlers to settle himself as a missionary at Banks Peninsula, but as that field was already a Wesleyan sphere, he declined the suggestion. Arriving at Waikouaiti, Wohlers was warmly welcomed by Mr. Watkin and his wife, and was given hospitality at the parsonage, the Deborah being detained for several days. Messrs. Watkin and Creed discussed with Wohlers the problem of his future, and both ministers advised him to settle at Ruapuke Island, as a centre, where Watkin already had many baptised converts, several native teachers, and his chief pastor and teacher, Horomona Pohio, and thus the problem was finally settled.
Arriving at Ruapuke in May, 1844, the new missionary took his outfit ashore, which consisted, it is said, “of a portmanteau, a gun, an axe, a saw, a sack of flour and a bag of salt.” The pilot of the Deborah, Edward Palmer, explained to the Maoris that the page 97 missionary had come to them with the commendation of Watkin. At first several of the Maoris were reluctant to receive a person they did not know, and several of the leading Wesleyans sent a boat and representatives to Waikouaiti to place their objections before the missionary there. They were assured, however, that all was in order, and they were advised to accept the new arrangements.
Wohlers found that regular services were held on the Sunday, and that devotional and other meetings were held every morning and evening. He found much discord between the Wesleyans and the Anglicans, due to the visit of Tamihana who, in the previous year, had set up a rival church. Wohlers, therefore, wisely built a church of his own, and gradually brought about unity.
When the missionary arrived at the island he was the guest of the chief, Tuhawaiki, until better accommodation could be arranged. Another chief, Teone Patuki, came to the rescue and offered a house in which his wife had died. This building being tapu, it was taken down and rebuilt on another section. Ruapuke is an island covering an area of about eight miles by four, and was the home of 200 people. It contained six or seven hapus, and Wohlers preached at all of them in turn. He also included Stewart Island in his parish. There were discouragements, difficulties, perplexities, and at times cause for much depression, but there were also successes and tokens of spiritual victories.
For a long time there was no financial help from the Missionary Society in Germany. One source of cheer and comfort, however, was the friendship of the occupants of the Waikouaiti Mission house. Many letters of goodwill and advice were constantly received from Mr. and Mrs. Creed. Weakened in body, due to lack of nourishing food and the European way of life, he lapsed into a state of mental depression. Mr. Creed urged him to take a holiday, and spend it with them at the Mission parsonage. In November of that year (1847) Wohlers left Ruapuke in an open boat with a Maori crew, and Mr. Creed wrote: “November 17th: This morning the Rev. Mr. Wohlers, German missionary, arrived at Waikouaiti from Ruapuke, in an open boat. He has been on that solitary station for three and a half years, and now, at my urgent request, he has come on a visit.”
Due to the change of scenery, congenial surroundings, and the cheering and invigorating atmosphere of the Mission parsonage, a change for the better took place. Mr. Creed took his guest with him on his daily rounds. On December 5th he records that he preached to the natives that Sabbath morning, and in the afternoon to the English on the Flat. In the evening he accompanied Mr. Wohlers to Matanaka, where the latter preached his first sermon in the English language from “Blessed are the poor in spirit, etc.” There was a class meeting afterwards.page 98
On December 14th, he attended a wedding festivity at Matanaka, the happy couple being James Hoad to Mary Ann Ellis, the witnesses' names in the Register being J. F. H. Wohlers and Eliza Creed.
On the 19th, Mr. Creed preached in Maori at 10 a.m., and in the afternoon heard Mr. Wohlers preach in English from “the children of this generation, etc.”
The Christmas season of 1847 was a very happy one for Wohlers, and on Boxing Dey, the 26th, he was so far recovered that he was able to give considerable help to Mr. Creed, who reported: “Sabbath, I read prayers. Mr. Wohlers preached this morning.” At this time Mr. Creed was suffering from influenza, and Mr. Wohlers was able to assist by taking further services.
“January 19th: This morning Mr. Wohlers left for Ruapuke per Frobe, his health has greatly improved during his sojourn with us. May the God of Mercy preserve his life. We have been greatly delighted with his company He is a truly good man, exceedingly amiable, and of a very loving and sweet spirit.”
For two months Wohlers had sojourned with the Creed family, and when the time came for departure he reluctantly left for his lonely abode in the Foveaux Strait. Towards the end of the following year depression and weakness of body again almost overcame him. At the same time another missionary arrived from Germany, without financial support, which increased his difficulties. He also received a letter from his Missionary Society urging him to proceed to Nelson to ordain a missionary there. Again he left Ruapuke in an open boat and landed at Port Chalmers. From Port Chalmers he trudged on foot to Waikouaiti to visit the Creeds. He was 38 years of age, unmarried and lonely, his clothes patched as only a bachelor can patch them. Mrs. Creed's discerning mind took in the situation at once. She wrote a letter of introduction to a young widow in Wellington, Elsie Palmer, a lady who had experience in dealing with Maori people, and who knew their language.
Having performed his duties at Nelson, Wohlers went to Wellington and became the guest of Rev. James and Mrs. Watkin. Mrs. Creed's letter of introduction to Elsie Palmer was in Wohlers's pocket. He sought the advice of his host, with the result that the letter was delivered without loss of time. After a few days of betrothal, under the guidance of Mr. and Mrs. Watkin, the happy couple were married by their host. Their honeymoon was spent with the Creeds at Waikouaiti. On December 1st, 1848, Mr. and Mrs. Wohlers landed at their own home at Ruapuke, where under the gracious influence of the missioner's wife, a transformation took place in their immediate surroundings.
Miss A. Karetai, grand-daughter of the chief Karetai, at the opening of the Maori Centennial Church at Otakou.
Right: The tower of the Church, which contains the bell of Tuhawaiki's schooner.
Karitane Bay, showing to the right part of the peninsula where the siege of Huriawa took place. In the distance is the peninsula of Matakana, where John Jones lived.
The missionary and his brave wife faced the difficult situation with heroic courage, and made the best of the distressing circumstances.
A magical change came over the condition of the people and real family life became established on the island. Pakeha sailors married Maori women, who, having Christian instruction, had a refining influence over their husbands. Mrs. Wohlers was the means of creating a social and economical revolution in the island, such as only a woman filled with energy and strength of will could accomplish. In the Mission house she usually had ten or twelve girls to whom she gave two hours of instruction daily. The rest of the time the girls helped partly in the house, partly in the garden and field. Cows were kept, and the young Maori girls were taught to milk and make butter.
Mr. Wohlers conducted worship, taught school, acted as registrar of births, deaths and marriages, and carried on pastoral visitation. Towards the end of his life he was able to repeat, “There are no heathen proper now in the whole of my district. The entire native population may be looked upon as a Christian community.”
He continued his beneficient work until his death at Ringaringa, Stewart Island, on May 7th, 1885, at the age of 73 years. Mrs. Wohlers died on December 14th, 1878. Mr. Traill, their son-in-law, died on December 3rd, 1936, and Mrs. Traill, their daughter, died on July 11th, 1935. They are all buried in the private cemetery, Ringaringa, Stewart Island.
Like his predecessor, James Watkin, Mr. Creed does not give the date of his first visit to Otakou, but wrote to the Mission Board, London, as follows: “In my former visit to Otakou I engaged to visit them again as soon as circumstances would admit, accordingly I sent a message that I would be there, all being well, September 12th. Perhaps an extract from my Journal will best elucidate my visit.
“September 12th, 1844: Morning boisterous, but being under an engagement to visit the natives at Otakou and a large boat returning thither, we started about 10 a.m. There was a considerable swell on (being open sea), the wind favourable, and our boat stiff under sail, we rode safely over the raging billows until we reached the entrance of Otakou, when a heavy roll knocked the boat dreadfully, we lost the rudder, but having a steer-oar in readiness we soon got all right again, and in a few minutes arrived at the village, where we were gladly received by the natives. I felt humbly thankful to the God page 100 of the missionaries who so graciously delivered His servants in the trying hour. In the evening I preached to the people, about 50 strangers, besides the natives resident at Otakou, were present; seven boats having arrived. Had a long conversation with them after service.
“September 13th: Preached to a pretty good congregation at sunrise. In the afternoon called upon Mr. Tuckett, the N.Z. Company's agent for the settlement of New Edinburgh. On our return we received the painful intelligence of the death of six native men, who were drowned by the upsetting of a boat. They left for Waikouaiti about ten minutes after our departure; their course lay a little more to the west, being bound for Purakanui, a village ten miles from this place. It is probable that their boat upset about the same time as we lost cur rudder, and six out of the eight were snatched away….
“September 14th: Early this morning I preached from the subject of the barren fig tree. The congregation very attentive. In the afternoon I examined the candidates for baptism; we afterwards prepared a temporary place with boat sails for the services of the Sabbath.” (Mr. Creed remarks that the Maori church was too small to accommodate the congregation.) “In the evening I preached from Galatians 6:7–8. The Word seemed to take hold of the people.
“September 15th: Sabbath. Prayer meeting this morning. About 80 present. At 10 o'clock the bell was rung for service; from one to two hundred were present, to whom I preached from Matthew xi, 28, 29. After service 20 adults and two children were solemnly baptised in the name of the adorable Trinity. One of them was a young chief from Ruapuke of considerable influence. Most of the chiefs of the neighbourhood were present as a mark of respect to those who were baptised.” (The young chief from Ruapuke who was baptised was Topi Patuki.) “At 2 p.m. I married three couples, after which I preached again to the people. I left them for New Edinburgh,1 walked four miles, crossed over in a boat, and preached to a few Europeans. Spent the evening with Mr. Tuckett,
“September 16th: I returned to the village (Otakou) at 5 p.m., preached to the natives. In the evening I renewed the tickets (of membership) to the classes. The young men who act as leaders conduct themselves with great propriety and are very intelligent.
“September 17th: At sunrise I preached to good congregations and at about 11 o'clock started for Purakanui, at which place I arrived in a few hours. None of the bodies have yet been found; page 101 the boat's oars, sail, etc., drifted on shore. The two surviving natives have returned to Waikouaiti. At 5 p.m. I preached to the natives…. In the evening met the classes. The members here do not seem so much in earnest as those at Otakou.
“September 18th: This morning preached to the people. Afterwards heard them repeat part of the Second Catechism. At 10 o'clock I left for Waikouaiti.”
The next visit to Otakou was on November 6th: “About 2 p.m. I left home in a whale boat; was very sick and ill on board. We arived in safety after two hours' gentle sailing. In the evening I preached to the people.
“November 7th: At 6 a.m. preached from St. Mark 4. The parable of the sower. Went to visit the people at the upper village, Omate” (where the Centennial Memorial Church stands today). “Had a long interview with a sick native; there is no hope of his recovery. I earnestly exhorted him to lay hold of Christ as the only help left for him. Called upon some of the Europeans, made arrangements for holding a service with them on Sunday next. About 5 p.m. preached to the natives from St. Luke 18. Returned to the other village (Ruatitiko) and had school in the evening.
“November 8th: This morning preached to the people from I Tim. 1; felt considerable liberty in setting before them the true religion of Christ and the necessity of giving up all their sins. About noon a messenger came to me with the intelligence of the death of a sick man whom I had visited yesterday. In the afternoon I preached from I Thess. 5. My mind much distressed. I earnestly pressed upon them to turn to God. The people dying so fast affects my mind…. In the evening met three young men candidates for baptism; afterwards had a meeting with the teachers and leaders. Expounding the Scriptures occupied part of the evening.
“November 9th: Sabbath. Prayer meeting at 6 a.m. Preached from Acts 3:19; afterwards baptised four adults and eight children. In the afternoon preached to more than twenty Europeans and I endeavoured to set before them the necessity of true repentance and conversion to God. They were very attentive. Hope the good seed of eternal life may be sown in their hearts. Immediately after service I went to the upper village (Omate) to inter the deceased native. Many of the Europeans were present, and nearly the whole of the native population of Otakou. The natives proceeded from the grave to the chapel, where I preached from I Cor. 15:55–57. The subject made an unusual impression on their minds…. In the evening met two of the preachers, John and Charles Wesley (Hoani Weteri Korako and Tare Weteri Te Kahu), two hopeful young men.
“November 10th: This morning met the classes. The 7th chapter of Romans is very descriptive of the state of several of the members. May they speedily experience the deliverance offered to page 102 them in the Gospel. I had a long conversation with some of the people on Scripture history, a subject with which they are much delighted. Went to the upper village (Omate), married a couple, and baptised the native wife of an European (Meri Ana Taraphake). Crossed over the port to Tawhiroko, held service with a few natives, went thence to Koputai (Port Chalmers).”
Following the above-mentioned events, Mr. Creed reported to the London Mission Board regarding the death of a Maori woman at Ruapuke, in which the Otakou people were concerned. The report throws light upon the doings of those days:
“Since the date of my last, we have had to pass through a great deal of excitement, partly in consequence of the death of a native woman at Ruapuke supposed to have been murdered by a European residing near the spot where the body was found and at whose house she had lived for a long period. She suddenly disappeared from the neighbourhood and nothing could be heard of her for about a week, when she was discovered lying among the rocks on the beach, apparently having been put into the sea some short time before, as the body was not at all swollen or otherwise affected as in the case with persons drowned, or lying long in water. Several boats coming from that neighbourhood had arrived at Otakou, also a boat borrowed by some natives from the European suspected as the murderer, had caused a great stir. Some of the chiefs from this place, being at Otakou at the same time, returned home to this place (Waikouaiti) and immediately sent off a boat secretly by night to assemble all the natives of this district. The messenger arrived at Moeraki by night; some of the people suspected all was not right, their counsel was to stay at home; however, a few came; all the boats from south of Otakou, seven in number, being arrived here, the general meeting took place. Great was their speechifying; some were for taking the European's boat as payment (utu) for the murdered woman…. I endeavoured to persuade them to submit the case to the law. They immediately referred the murder to Cloudy Bay…. A few of them were turbulent and ready for anything, regardless of life or death.”
Mr. Creed was a peacemaker, and on this occasion, as on many others, by his tact and wisdom he was able to prevent serious complications, and even disaster.
Mr. Creed's journeys to Otakou were often made by the Maori tracks via Waipute (Waitati).
“About noon I left home on a visit to the Otakou district, reached Waipute about 4 p.m., but found the tide so high that I could not proceed. Stayed with Mr. S. (sheep station); had service in the evening with two shepherds, Scotchmen, who I hope are not altogether careless about their eternal interests. Next day about 10 a.m. tide being favourable I proceeded on to Purakanui, preached page 103 to the people and had much conversation with them—went to Wareakiake (Murdering Beach), met with an old European in a very weak state; had service with him and a few others, natives, and then hastened on to Otakou, the beach way. As we got to the Heads, found the wind blowing very strong indeed, and it being dark we could not get across to the native village; found a little hut on the sand banks, where we lighted a fire and rested for the night. Early next morning we signalled for a boat, which came shortly after, in which we crossed to the village. I preached immediately to the people I found there. In the course of the day I visited the sick and many others. In the evening I preached again at the same village. Afterwards met a few candidates for baptism. Next day, morning preached, afterwards baptised six women and one child. One of the women was far advanced in age, being, I suppose, 70 years of age, or more; she had a great grandson now living. I trust the poor old woman will find her way to eternal life.”
In 1848, just before the arrival of the Scottish settlers on the John Wickliffe, Mr. Creed was at Otakou performing his usual duties in visitation and teaching. On the Sunday he went to the upper village (Ornate), where he preached to the Maoris in the morning. In the afternoon he conducted a service for the Europeans, and he remarked: “The Lord enabled me to warn and exhort them faithfully.”
Mrs. Monson in her “Notes” states that “a Sunday School was held at the Otakou Kaika under the supervision of Mr. Creed.” Hoani Weteri Korako was the native teacher. She continues her reminiscences regarding Mr. Creed and the Sunday school: “I always thought of Mr. Creed as a man of God. The first time I saw him I was a child. He laid his hand upon my head and blessed me. I well remember when I repeated to him my Scripture lesson, St. Matthew, chapter 2, and received the second prize. Mrs. Creed did splendid work among the Maori women and girls, teaching them to read and write, to sew and to cook.”
In 1846 the Sunday school was conducted by Mr. and Mrs. C. Windsor and continued under them till 1849, when they removed from the district, and the work passed into other hands.
Mr. Creed's first recorded visit to Moeraki is described in his report to the Missionary Secretaries, London, and bears the date November 28th, 1844:
“My trip to Moeraki, 20 miles north of Waikouaiti, was satisfactory. I found the natives attending regularly their Karakia (worship) and their attendance also to the schools is very encouraging. Many of them can read the New Testament with fluency. They are also making progress in the second part of the Catechism. Much credit is due to Joel (Hoepa), one of Mr. Ironside's natives from Cloudy Bay, who acts as their principal teacher, Matthias (Matiaha Tiromorehu) and David (Rawiri Te Mairi), whom Mr. Watkin page 104 baptised … zealously co-operate with Joel in teaching and instrucing the people.”
His visit on his return from Canterbury has already been described and need not be repeated. Unfortunately there are serious gaps in the Journal which even his reports to London do not supply. His journeys were performed on foot, along native tracks which involved much fatigue. Services were held at sunrise, during the day and in the evenings as opportunity offered. The following entry is an example of this: “Sabbath. Prayer meeting this morning” (presumably at sunrise). “At 10 a.m. I preached in the open air to nearly all the inhabitants of the settlement. They paid great attention. At 6 p.m. preaching to the natives from ‘Where your treasure is, etc.’”
A further entry: “Both at the morning as well as at this evening's service they paid most earnest attention, especially the old people. In the evening I examined two elderly men for baptism. Their attendance at the schools and services has been most exemplary for a long time. Next day preached from I Peter 4:7. I also baptised the two elderly men, one of whom I suppose must be between 70 and 8(1 years of age. I baptised his great grandson twelve months ago, he received the name of John Waterhouse, after our venerable Father Waterhouse.”
On another occasion: “Preaching this morning at 6 o'clock from Romans 6:16. Visited a sick woman in the course of the day—had much conversation with some of the people. At 6 p.m. preaching in the open air, many attended, my subject was ‘Resist the Devil, etc.’ I trust the Lord enabled me to be faithful. In the evening I conducted school. Next day, morning, my subject was ‘Every plant which my Heavenly Father, etc.’ Matt. 15:13. Today I had a long conversation with one of our principal men, who is very intelligent—especially in Maori information.”
This man explained to Mr. Creed some of the cannibalistic practices of the people before they came under the influence of the Mission. “And now,” Mr. Creed reported, “some of these people are embracing the gospel of peace and love. How wonderful are the triumphs of the Cross of Christ! At 6 p.m. I preached again. In the evening met the classes. I trust some of the members enjoy true religion.”
In 1848 the new native church was built, and on February 15th Mr. Creed reported:
“This morning I set off for Moeraki, having received a letter from that place I thought it my duty to go; but as the weather became foggy I waited some time at Matanaka—it became clearer as I proceeded on the journey, got there at 5 p.m. In the evening I preached to the people. The new chapel which they have recently built is strong and neat—native built. The door, windows, table, page 105 reading desk, etc., the Society (Church) furnished.
“February 16th: Sabbath. Prayer meeting this morning. At 10 a.m. I preached from ‘I am the Bread of Life’. In the afternoon I attended the school. During the catechical instructions I was much pleased with the blind orphan boy, who answered many of the questions with such readiness and propriety as at once evinced much insight into the doctrines of the everlasting Gospel. At 5 p.m. preaching again from ‘To us there is but one God, etc.’ In the evening I met the classes and examined the candidates for baptism.
“February 17th: Early this morning I preached from ‘All power is given unto Me, etc.’ Afterwards baptised four adults…. I then rode eight miles and preached to a fishing party. I reached home (Waikouaiti) in the afternoon, thankful to God for all His mercies.”
Unfortunately several pages of Creed's Journal have been lost, and the next entry regarding Moeraki is dated July 6th, 1851:
“On Sunday, after preaching to the native congregation (at Waikouaiti), I proceeded to Goodwood, Pleasant River, where I preached to the European congregation.
“Yesterday Messrs. Suisted and Scott accompanied me to Moeraki. I arrived at the place a little before sunset after a pleasant journey. The natives were delighted to see me. After service I weighed a quantity of wheat and potatoes for them which they had sold to Europeans. The natives are rapidly rising in the scale of civilisation.
“July 12th: Since my arrival I have been preaching morning and evening on a succession of subjects in sacred history, commencing with the Flood. I do not ever remember to have witnessed such continued and earnest attention amongst any natives since I first landed in New Zealand. An old priest (tohunga) is particularly interested and compared the sacred history with their traditions, remarking on the traditional events which seem analogous to those recorded in the Sacred Volume. Late in the evening two boats arrived from Waikouaiti bringing the intelligence that my family was passing through scenes of excitement and trouble, and that of a twofold nature. On Sunday last a stranger, a foreigner, who had been staying a few days at Waikouaiti with a native, shot himself. Added to this, Mr. F., who had brought my travelling horse with the things I required for my journey as far as Goodwood, was returning home in the evening on a valuable little mare of Mrs. Creed's. When he was passing down a valley near Mr. —— (no name) establishment, the mare fell into a pit 14 or 15 feet deep. Mr. F. jumped from the saddle as the mare was descending the pit and thus miraculously escaped with his life. Proper help was refused by Mr. ——, consequently the poor creature had to remain in the pit and although got out next day, she died on Thursday morning. This fearful pit was not known to myself or to Mr. F., so that page 106 in passing that way I might have ridden into it…. I feel the cruelty towards the poor beast as much as the loss to ourselves. Had proper help been afforded the mare would have been saved.” Mr. Creed remarks that other animals had met the same fate.
Mr. Creed's journeys to Moeraki and to other places on horseback were not without incident and inconvenience. He was an expert horseman, and he and his steed were familiar figures in those days. His horse Pompey would be regarded by the elder Maoris as a species of taipo (devil or goblin). He had the reputation of being something of an outlaw. When most needed he had the habit of disappearing and hiding in the scrub and flax bushes. Mr. Thomas Ferens, Creed's assistant, recorded his firm conviction that the rebellious spirit of Pompey emanated from taipo. Sometimes he refused to face the rain and snow, and at other times he would get away on his own account, and leave his master to go on foot as best he could.
Mr. Creed visited Moeraki as frequently as his engagements would permit.
On December 5th, 1851, he baptised Mary, the daughter of the chief, Matiaha Tiramorehu, and of Priscilla his wife.
On October 22nd, 1852, he baptised five persons, among them Hohepa Temaiaki, said to be an “old man”, also Pita, son of Pita Tipa and Erihapeti his wife. The last baptismal entry is that of Hapuroana Mama, adult New Zealander. The last marriages performed by Mr. Creed took place on February 20th, 1854, as follows: Paroa Tu to Ritia Keripako, and also Tatena Touitu to Maraea Tuetekura.
1 Dunedin. William Chambers suggested the alteration of “New Edinburgh” to “Dunedin” in a letter that appeared in the New Zealand Journal of some date in November, 1843. Chambers's letter was dated October 30th.