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Through Ninety Years

Chapter I

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Chapter I.

Parentage and Early Years

A certain Thomas Williams of Welsh descent, who was an Army clothing contractor, resided at Gosport, and his son, another Thomas Williams, settled in Nottingham where he established a successful business as a lace manufacturer, and married a Miss Mary Marsh, daughter of Captain Henry Marsh, who for many years had the command of the Royal Yacht at Portsmouth.

Of their family of nine children two died in infancy. The eldest son, Thomas Sydney, lived for many years in Germany, where he found an opening for teaching English and wrote and published several books on the subject.

The second son, John, was an officer in the Bank of England. Henry, the third, following the example of his maternal grandfather, entered the Royal Navy at the age of 14. He served in several ships, and took part in a number of engagements, including the bombardment of Copenhagen, 1807, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant. The last engagement in which he took part was that between H.M.S. Endymion and the United States frigate President in which the latter was captured. At the conclusion Lieutenant Henry Williams was sent with a prize crew to take the President to Bermuda, a service of great risk and danger owing to the damaged state of the ship and the severe weather met with, combined with an attempt made by the prisoners on board to retake the vessel. Thankfulness for his safe deliverance from the perils of this voyage awakened him to serious reflections, and finally led to his changing his career. He retired from the Navy, entered the service of the Church Missionary Society, and landed in New Zealand page 2 on August 6th, 1823, where he lived and worked among the Maoris until his death, as is fully told in the story of his life written by Hugh Carleton.

William, the youngest son, was born at Nottingham on July 18th, 1800. Three years later his father, Thomas Williams, died from an attack of typhus fever caught through visiting his partner in business who was similarly smitten. They both died within a few days of each other.

The eldest son, with the assistance of a cousin, endeavoured to carry on the business, and so support his mother and her family, but owing to youth and inexperience he was unsuccessful, and was compelled to close the factory during the next period of depression.

Mrs. Williams had been well educated, and had a love of music and other fine arts, which she imparted to her children. She also taught them to strive after the great things of life from the loftiest motives. On the failure of the family business she decided to open a school for young ladies at Southwell in order to support herself and her children. Deeply religious by nature, she earnestly strove to help her pupils in every possible way; thus the school became a blessing both to herself and to all who attended it.

Her elder daughter, Lydia, married Rev. Edward Garrard Marsh. Mr. Marsh who had been a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and was afterwards Vicar at Nuneham, Courtney, was, like his wife, a devoted servant of God. Through the fervour of their words and the holiness of their lives they both had much influence with their relations.

The younger daughter, Catherine, married Edward Heathcote, who was organist at Southwell Minster and music teacher at Mrs. Williams's school for young ladies, which she opened at the Bishop's Old Palace, Southwell. She subsequently removed to Burgage Green.

On Mrs. Williams's death in 1831 the school was carried on by Mrs. Catherine Heathcote, who was then herself a widow. At her death in 1881 the school was continued for several years by Miss Gaster.

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Very little information is available about the early years of William Williams. He received his first tuition at a school that was kept by the mother of Henry Kirke White at Beeston. A Latin lesson book bearing his name, the word Beeston, and the date 1809, is still in existence. Afterwards he attended the Southwell Grammar School.

It was at first proposed that he should take up the medical profession, and with that object he was apprenticed to Mr. Foster, a surgeon living in Southwell. While still following his medical studies with Mr. Foster he heard that his brother Henry, who was over eight years his senior, had decided to change his profession. As this subject was much discussed in the family circle, he was led to follow his brother's example, and offered himself to the Church Missionary Society for work in the mission field, in order that he might join Henry in New Zealand.

Mr. Foster would not allow him to leave his service until his period of apprenticeship had expired. However, he found time to prepare himself for matriculation at Oxford, and was assisted in this by his brother-in-law, Rev. E. G. Marsh, then one of the Canons of Southwell. In due course he entered Magdalen Hall, now Hertford College, Oxford, where he spent two years. His portrait hangs in the College Hall.

On his arrival in 1822 he wrote to his mother describing his journey by stage coach via Nottingham, and related how he had been entertained by his undergraduate fellow travellers with wonderful stories of their hunting escapades at places they passed en route. He told also of his reception by Dr. McBride, the principal of the College, who had arranged lodging for him, as there were no vacant rooms in College. For these lodgings he had to pay a guinea per week, which he was afraid would make his expenses exceed £100 per year.

In a later letter of May 10th, 1822, he told of a visit to his sister, Mrs. E. G. Marsh, at Hampstead, and mentioned that Dr. McBride had written to beg that he would not go to Oxford until May 3rd instead of April 24th, as the new building was not then finished. This page 4 additional vacation enabled him to attend Missionary meetings and hear a Missionary sermon at St. Bride's Church, Fleet Street, when the collections amounted to £210. He also described the receipt of his Scott's Bible which he regarded as a great treasure.

In a letter of July 10th, 1822, he wrote—“I am the sole occupant of a large range of buildings in Old Magdalen Hall in which rats largely abound,” and—“I dine in the Hall, and for breakfast and tea receive the usual supplies from the buttery. My movements from Oxford will most likely be guided by Henry's departure if he does not sail before August 3rd. I shall then be at Hampstead. I had heard nothing about him but that his second ordination is past, and that he will sail shortly. I was much pleased with the obliging manner in which the Bishop of London removed every impediment in the way of Henry's ordination, when Mr. Pratt stated to his Lordship the difficulty in the present case because New Zealand is not an English colony. ‘Oh, that will be easily removed,’ he said, ‘I will ordain him to New South Wales, and he may be deputed from there to New Zealand.’ Oxford already possesses some productions of New Zealand. In the museum is the tattooed head of a chief, together with a piece of greenstone with which they cut the skin, and the Botanical gardens was last year enriched with seeds of various kinds of plants that are growing wonderfully.”

On March 27th, 1823 he wrote from Holloway—“I am not surprised at your fears respecting Henry, being excited by the report given of Mr. Shungee (Hongi) in the ‘Register’ (the C.M.S. record) but I hope soon to be able to shew that they are groundless, and that there is now as flattering a prospect of success in New Zealand as ever there has been. For the present I suppose that Mr. Shungee is exasperated with the Missionaries, but a great deal of this will appear to be done away. What is the danger the last missionaries hazard when compared with that of the first settlers? Mr. Marsden in 1814, a very short time after the Boyd was cut off, trusted himself under the care of Providence, page 5 to the mercy of the very persons whose hands were warm with the blood of Europeans. Messrs. Kendall, Hall and King were left with them, not knowing what was the disposition of the natives. From every account of the New Zealanders yet received, they have ever shewn themselves kindly disposed to all who treat them with proper respect, and the many lives which have been lost in different vessels was a punishment to the English for unheard of cruelties to a comparatively defenceless set of people. When Edward has read to me the whole of the accounts I shall send you further particulars. In the meantime I shall leave you to your own reflections, and know you will not make yourself uncomfortable about trifles. Remember that the arm of the Almighty is stretched out over His servants, and He will if He sees fit preserve them from all evils.”

William Williams left College before taking his degree, but after taking a course of study at the Church Missionary Theological College at Islington he later received the B.A. degree. He was ordained deacon by the Bishop of London on September 26th, 1824, and received priest's orders at the same hands on December 19th in the same year.

While waiting for an opportunity to sail for New Zealand he subsequently spent a good deal of time walking the London hospitals in order to gain experience in the practice of medicine, and thereby qualify himself more fully for the work to which he had devoted his life.