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Williams Houses

Apart from shelter their houses were a functional part of the mission, which included entertaining and housing visitors and colleagues, providing midwifery and health services, and accommodating and teaching Maori girls – who assisted with housekeeping. They were also places where the administrative work of the mission was carried out – correspondence with other missionaries and the Church Missionary Society in London, keeping daily journals, managing mission accounts, recording committee meetings, translating texts, and so on.[1] Often space was provided for a study where this work could be carried out. Although several of the missionaries had limited medical training – at least able to provide first aid or palliative care -William Williams was trained as a surgeon and when able would provide space in his house for a surgery. Likewise, Marianne Williams made room in her house for midwifery services.

They began with limited and uncomfortable temporary structures, before gradually improving their accommodation as their families, and other demands, grew. The nature of their accommodation placed a significant burden on Marianne and Jane and their children. Only towards the end of their lives did they live in what we would now regard as comfortable circumstances. 

Their houses were far from lavish, constructed largely with local materials and labour, some of the latter contributed by Henry and William (and later their sons) as they became experienced in bricklaying, plastering, glazing and painting. Most houses were of timber frame and weatherboard construction, few were built of stone. In each case the house was accompanied by a garden of vegetables, fruit trees and ornamentals. The houses had a limited lifespan - relocation, the peripatetic demands of the mission, and destruction by fire or warfare contributed to this impermanence. Only one of their houses survives to this day- Henry and Marianne's 'Retreat'.

Paihia became the principal site of the Anglican mission and the focus of their building after Hohi and Kerikeri, and it was there, and at nearby Pakaraka, that Henry and Marianne spent most of their lives. William and Jane joined them but later moved to Waimate and then to the East Coast where they remained for many years. The following gives a brief account of their housing:


Henry and Marianne


1823 September – Their first house at Paihia was of raupo (also known as bulrush) used to thatch the roof, with the more substantial stems forming the walls. It was affectionately known as the “beehive” or “bandbox,” reflecting its appearance and size. The floor was covered with wooden boards, and a contemporary sketch by Henry Williams, and journal reference by Marianne, suggests the presence of glazed windows.[2] It was shared with the Fairburn family, each family having two rooms. Owing to the fire risk the kitchen was located outside, and a store was built next door. A garden was established and a nearby sawpit prepared timbers for their next house. The Fairburns moved out in 1824, shortly followed by the Williams family. In December 1827 it was refurbished as a school for the mission girls. It was demolished in late July- early August 1834.[3] Lieutenant Woore of HMS Alligator sketched the missionary settlement at Paihia in March of that year, although there is no sign of the Beehive.


1824 July -Their next house was a wattle and daub cottage with a shingle roof, more in the English style, with lean-tos at either end, and an internal kitchen and chimney soon added. It was still being completed in 1825, requiring a finishing coat of plaster and a ceiling. Henry Williams and Mr Fairburn built the chimney. While the new premises were more convenient for Marianne, the house was cold and damp, and wind penetrated the shingle roof. For a time they had to share the house with William Puckey and his son.[4] William and Jane Williams and their children moved in when Henry and Marianne vacated the property. It was always planned that this would be a future school.[5]


1830 October– A more permanent, and convenient, house at Paihia with four bedrooms (there were now seven children with four to come) a study for Henry, a kitchen and pantry opening into a sitting room, and a ‘native girls room’. Built in English cottage style with skillions or lean-tos, with a shingle roof, this was to be their home for almost 20 years. It was demolished around 1910.[6] Apart from an entrance at the front there was no hallway. Instead there was a series of interconnecting rooms with numerous doors, as seen in the sketch plan drawn by Marianne. Much of the interior plastering was done by Henry. Bricks for the chimney were made locally, and shells were burnt to extract lime for mortar. Henry remarked (of the new house) that: “ The change is very great, and Mrs W. already experiences an important change in her domestic duties. The children also are more orderly and correct in their behavior, also the Native girls and boys. We trust we shall experience much saving of time in every branch of duty, beside the comfort of having our household ordered according to the good English fashion.” This was a partial acknowledgement by Henry of the trying conditions under which Marianne worked in the previous seven years, driven by the lower priority he placed on their domestic accommodation. He was particularly enthused by the provision of a study.

1853 January – They built a house at Pakaraka following their move there in 1850 – but only after Henry had first built a church –the first iteration of Holy Trinity. Called ‘The Retreat’ the house is described in detail elsewhere on this website. It was to be their last. Until it was finished – it took three years - they lived in Henry Jun. and Jane’s house next door. A kitchen was added in 1856, before which cooking took place in a kitchen-dining room. This kitchen was replaced by another at a later date –possibly following damage from a chimney collapse or fire. The replacement appears to have been a worker’s cottage – possibly dating from the late 1830s - dragged on to the site and butted up against the Retreat. The Retreat is the only house built by either of the Williams brothers that is still standing.




William and Jane


1826 September. William and Jane moved into the now vacant raupo  “beehive” having stayed after their arrival with Henry and Marianne in the wattle and daub cottage. Fortunately a fireplace and brick chimney had been added to the “beehive”.[7] They soon moved into a new “rush” (raupo) house (a place built for visitors) next door to Henry and Marianne’s wattle and daub cottage. They subsequently moved into the same cottage, vacated by Henry and Marianne in late 1830. The cottage was converted into a school late in 1831.[8]


1831. Completed at Paihia this year, it was the most substantial house to date, built of greywacke split stone, river stones and rubble, and plastered. It was next door to, and north of, Henry and Marianne’s house. William, Henry and others contributed to the building. It was a dormer bungalow, with three dormer windows lighting the roof-space. They had four children by now and William may have required a surgery and study.[9] After they moved to Waimate in 1835 it was occupied by William Colenso, who installed a printing press. The house was destroyed by fire in 1856. Parts of the stone wall remain today at 28 Marsden Rd. Paihia. It appears in Woore’s  and Henry Williams’ sketches of Paihia, occupying a central position.[10]

1835 May. The family moved to Waimate to a wooden house still undergoing completion. An inconvenience with a growing family, the house was started by James Hamlin, a CMS catechist who came out on the same ship as William and Jane. It had rooms upstairs and may have been a dormer bungalow.[11]


1839 January. At Turanga (Poverty Bay) a raupo house had been erected. lt was not immediately ready for occupation and was still being finished during May that year, under trying conditions. By September 1841 a more permanent structure was planned.


1844 February. At Whakato (Poverty Bay) a new house was almost ready for occupation when a fire destroyed it. By July a one-room replacement had been hastily assembled.[12]


1846 June. At Whakato. They had partly moved into a new house with a sitting room and separate bedrooms, as well as a surgery for William, although still retiring to the old one for meals while a further sitting-room was finished.[13] Apart from a journey to England from 1850-1853, they remained there until the mission station moved to Waerenga-a-hika.

1857 March-May. They moved to Waerenga -a- hika, along with their Whakato house and possessions. Occupation was gradual with the ground still being cleared, and they remained in their old house (later to become a school) until the new one was ready- progress was very slow.


1862 May. William and Jane moved into their partly completed house although it was another 16 months before it was anything like finished –even then parts of the upper storey were not completed. It was however deemed “more comfortable”.[14] It was two-storeyed, gabled and with a verandah in neo-Georgian style, similar to the house built by Henry Williams Jun. at Pouerua, Northland at about the same time.


1865 April. William and Jane left Waerenga-a-hika as a result of the Hau-hau rebellion, and did not return. A friendly Maori family defended their house for a time. Colonial soldiers took over the house and, in the ensuing battle with the rebels on 17-19 November 1865, it was irretrievably damaged. Previously other buildings in the mission station had been burned and little remained.[15] Eventually William and Jane retreated to Horotutu (near Paihia) where a small house was made available.[16] Through 1865 and in the following year there was a great deal of travel by William, sometimes including Jane Williams. Following this unsettled period they moved to Napier.


June, 1867. They moved into a house bought for them by their son, Archdeacon William Leonard Williams.


June, 1868. William and Jane, and three unmarried daughters moved into “Hukarere” on the Napier Hill. A handsome, two-storeyed, gabled house, Victorian in style, it was to be their last home. It was demolished in the 1940s and another house built on the site, which contained some of the materials recovered from “Hukarere”.



What can be drawn from this outline of the missionary families and their houses? First, their choice and location of housing were driven by the demands of the mission. Henry was adamant throughout his lifetime that the work of the mission, including building churches, took priority. His minimalist approach to housing took its toll on Marianne who undertook a massive job in household management under conditions that were always cramped and uncomfortable. She could end the day with tears of exhaustion, but seldom complained, or simply saw her trials in the context of faith and duty. In referring to Henry’s plan to move to a larger raupo house from their small wattle and daub cottage, she wrote:

“ ...I shall very much prefer remaining in this, small as it is, to Henry’s proposed plan of building a good-sized rush house; for under the present state of the mission, he thinks it wrong to erect substantial buildings”.[17] Marsden was much more forthright in his condemnation of the low quality of missionary housing.[18] Even their last house at Paihia, while an improvement, had limited privacy for its numerous inhabitants, although Henry yielded to the addition of a study -essential given the volume of mission paperwork.



William and Jane had a lengthier and more mixed housing experience –  from a raupo hut to a comfortable two-storeyed Bishop’s residence in Napier – everything in between proving transient and often uncomfortable or inconvenient. Even their solid and roomy stone house at Paihia housed them for little more than three years before they had to move. Then only another four years before the East coast beckoned. Again, the needs of the mission were paramount, although William made some effort to see that they were properly housed. It was just as well. Isolated on the East Coast, Jane had to spend long periods without her husband, and without the social interchange that was possible in the more populous mission stations of Northland. She had her children and Maori for company, but at times she would have envied Marianne’s crowded house.


Again, these were people whose experience of houses in England was quite different, although William’s quarters during his surgical training, and later at his Oxford college, would have been very basic. Henry’s years in the cabins of naval ships would have rendered him immune to discomfort. The homes of their parents where they grew up were of the comfortable middle class. In the end, and for both families in New Zealand, creature comforts were dismissed as irrelevant to their vocation and purpose, and the lack of them a test of faith.


The cold, often damp and crowded missionary houses might seem like a recipe for chronic illnesses and a shortened lifespan. On the contrary they, and most of their children, lived to respectable ages, contradicting expectations. But it would be wrong to think that they lived in a climate of monastic deprivation. There were many enjoyable celebrations and family occasions under those draughty and sometimes leaky roofs, often shared with Maori, visitors, friends and colleagues. The Bay of Islands was the principal port of call for visitors to New Zealand and for some time the missionary establishment, and the Williams houses in particular provided them hospitality.

Other Williams Houses


Apart from the Retreat at Pakaraka, houses built by Henry and Marianne’s sons still remain in the area. These are Pouerua (Henry Jn. and Jane  Williams Jn ),  Ngaheia (Joseph Williams) and Puketona – now known as the Choat House - (Edward Williams and Jane Davis) all of which are now in private hands.


On the East Coast is what is now the Principal’s house at Te Aute College, which was a Williams family house built in the 1860s. A cottage of the same date at Te Aute is now derelict in spite of a Cat 1 HNZ registration. It was once occupied by Allen Williams, son of Edward and Jane Davis.

[1] Letters and journals were copied, often by their wives, in order to have a record of correspondence. This was most important as months separated the sending of a letter and the receipt of a reply.

[2] P. 18, Evans, R. & A. 1998. Faith and Farming, Te Huarahi ki te Ora, The Legacy of Henry Williams and William Williams. Evagean Publishing, 722 pp. P. 68, Davies, G. n.d. The Shield of Faith, the Life and Times of Henry and Marianne Williams. Privately published. 153pp. Although there is no mention of the walls being plastered, later buildings used a wattle and daub structure of raupo stems covered  with a mud or lime plaster.

[3] It is not clear where the Beehive was located, although references to its demolishment restoring a sea view, suggest it was in front of or close to their last Paihia house (Marianne Williams, quoted in Davies, G., n.d. p.72, The Shield of Faith, the life and times of Henry and Marianne Williams. Privately published.

[4] pp. 141,142, Middleton, A.,2014. Pēwhairangi, Bay of Islands Missions and Māori, 1814 to 1845. Otago University Press, Dunedin. 336 pp.

[5] p. 85, Marianne Williams, journal, 10.6.1824, in Fitzgerald, C.,2004 (Ed.) Letters from the Bay of Islands, the Story of Marianne Williams. Penguin Books, Auckland.270 pp. It shows clearly in a sketch of the Paihia house c. 1830, and of the missionary settlement at Paihia, both by Henry Williams (1845).

[6] p.155n. Middleton, A. loc.cit.

[7] p. 111, Fitzgerald, C. 2004, (Ed.) Letters from the Bay of Islands, the Story of Marianne Williams. Penguin Books, Auckland, 270pp.

[8] p.160, Rogers, L.M. (Ed.), 1961. The Early Journals of Henry Williams, 1826-40. Pegasus  Press, Christchurch. 524pp. The cottage (and later school) appears behind the newer Henry and Marianne Williams house that features in sketches by Henry Williams and Thomas Hutton.

[9] Strictly speaking it is not two-storeyed, as claimed in several descriptions. No plan of the house has been found. A report (Thomson, W., and Maingay, J. 1987. William Williams’ stone house at Paihia: A history and archeological survey of its ruins. NZ Historic Places Trust, Auckland, 23 pp. + appendix.) mentions a partition wall towards the rear and a change in roof line suggesting a rear kitchen and scullery. It is possible William located a surgery at the rear, given he included one in a later house at Waerenga-a-hika.

[10] An undated photo (PH-NEG-C1797, Auckland Museum Library) has been suggested to be of the ruins of the Williams house. Although the structure in the photo seems quite small and single storied. It may be the remains of the Bakers’ house (made of ‘stone and rubble’) which for a time had a printing press. See Middleton, A. p.158.

[11] p. 218, Fitzgerald, C., 2004, Loc.cit.

[12] p.293, Porter, F. 1974. The Turanga Journals, 1840-1850. Price Milburn/Victoria University  Press. Wellington. 659 pp.

[13] p.387, Porter, F. 1974. Loc. cit.

[14] p.181, Williams, F.W., 1939. Through Ninety Years, 1826-1916, Life and Work among the Maoris in New Zealand, Notes on the Lives of William Williams and William Leonard Williams, First and Third Bishops of Waiapu. Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd, Wellington. 360 pp.

[15] pp. 219-220. Williams, F.W. 1939. Loc. cit. The house Waerenga-a-hika was later refurbished as a Maori boys school in 1890. Frances Porter. 'Williams, William Leonard', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993, updated September, 2003. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 27 November 2017)

[16] p.207. Williams, F.W. 1939. Loc. cit.

[17] Marianne Williams, April, 1825, quoted in p. 22, Evans R.&A. 1998. Loc. cit.

[18] pp.71, 72. Davis, G., n.d. The Shield of Faith, the Life and Times of Henry and Marianne Williams. 153pp. Privately published.

The 'Beehive', 1823, drawn by Henry Williams

Auckland Museum Library, PD-1964-2-3

Beehive Plan, drawn by Marianne Williams, Journal November 21,1823.

Alexander Turnbull Library, MS Micro 0209

Thomas Woore (1804-1877). The missionary settlement Pahia [sic] Bay of Islands, N.Z. March 21st, 1834.

Alexander Turnbull Library, Copied, 1932.  Ref:  B-064-004. Records/23081820

Paihia House, Henry Williams ?1830s. Auckland Museum Library, PD 52 (2)

Merrett, Joseph Jenner, 1815-1854. Pahia Beach, Bay of Islands. [1848]. Ref: A-143-013.

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23252547

Henry Williams sketch, Paihia, 1845.

Auckland Museum Library

Waerenga-a-hika, 1863, damaged after fighting.

From 'Through Ninety Years' by F W Williams, 1939. p 219

Archdeacon William Williams' house at Whakato in 1834.

From www.williams.gen


Retreat at left, Henry Jun and Jane's cottage at right. Holy Trinity spire at rear.

Drawing by Henry Williams

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