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Williams Churches





While shelter was a priority, the erection of a church was at the forefront of missionary minds when establishing new stations. Initially the churches were basic, with provision for an altar and lectern. The lack of embellishment was not of concern to evangelicals who preferred plainer structures and rejected elaborate church furniture and ceremony.[1] Crosses on the roof and candles on the altar were initially regarded as unnecessary display, redolent of a “high church” practice.[2]  But later examples were less austere, leaning towards a steeply pitched roof, the addition of a steeple and crosses, and more decorative windows. Examples closely associated with Henry and William Williams are described below.

Paihia, Russell, and Pakaraka


The first place of worship at Paihia was a raupo chapel opened on September 21st 1823, barely a week after Henry and Marianne had settled in the Beehive. There is no drawing but it is described as having sash windows, a wooden floor, and chairs and benches provided seating [3] A replacement chapel was built between 1824 and August 1828. Henry and William Williams and other missionaries had a hand in its building, sourcing timber, preparing lime for mortar, and plastering. The front entrance featured a rounded portico leading to a panelled door. On each side were two sets of lattice windows in the Georgian style. Repairs were required in 1830. A sketch of Paihia in 1845 by Henry Williams shows it located next door and to the north of the William Williams stone house, more or less where the current St Paul’s Church is today. A lean-to at the rear was used as a school-house, and nearby, a bell-tower.


Inland, at Waimate North, four missionaries – William Yate, James Hamlin, Richard Davis, and George Clarke - were building houses with the help of Maori sawyers. A church, St John the Baptist, was finished in 1831. 


On 1 August, 1834 Henry Williams negotiated with local chiefs for land next to the pa at Kororareka (present day Russell), and a chapel was completed there in late 1835, with William Williams conducting the first service on 3 January 1836. This was partly the result of demands made by European settlers who insisted on an ordained clergyman taking services.[4] Although lacking a steeple or a bell-tower it was more church-like than the one at Paihia with large, distinctive arched windows. It was substantially modified in 1871, given the name of Christ Church in 1873, and restored in 2000. It is said to be the oldest church in New Zealand still standing. Those buried in its graveyard include Tamati Waka Nene, who was persuasive at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Hannah Lethbridge, the second Pakeha girl to be born in New Zealand, and Samuel Ford, the Church Missionary Society’s doctor.[5]

In 1856 the chapel at Paihia was replaced with a church built by Henry Williams’ sons. This, the third place of worship on the site, differed from its predecessor by having a steeply pitched roof and a cluster of three lancet windows at the end occupied by the squared apse. There are hints of the neo-gothic style that was to characterize small wooden churches being built in the last few decades of the 19th century.[6] It is likely that this church was the first dedicated to St Paul. As a practice, the dedication of churches with Saints names fell into decline in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but was revived later in the 19th century along with new church building - which is why the Williams family records refer to the earlier, more simple structures, as chapels, perhaps also reflecting their non-conformist heritage. For a time, the chapel that predated St Paul's remained at the rear of the new Church - it was still there in 1858 according to a painting by the Rev. John Kinder.


Then in 1874 a new St Paul’s (the second) was built at Paihia that followed the ground plan of the previous one and incorporated some of its materials. It was moved in 1925 to Taumarere by barge, making way for the current St Paul's at Paihia. The former church was re-dedicated as St Andrews. Like its predecessor, the apse extends from the body of the church and has a grouping of three lancet windows.



At a meeting on 24 August 1923, a century after the arrival of Henry Williams and his family in the Bay of Islands, Williams family descendants met and voted to erect a stone church at Paihia in memory of the missionary work of Henry and William Williams. Mr A J Palmer, from the Auckland architectural firm of Jones and Palmer was appointed as architect. Donations towards the building from the family were called for and plans drawn up.


This, the current (third) St Pauls was consecrated in 1926 by Archbishop Averill, formerly a Bishop of Waiapu, who succeeded William Leonard Williams-son of William and Jane - in that office. The old wooden churches have an endearing simplicity and small scale that has strong appeal. In contrast, the Williams Memorial Church of St Paul exudes solidity and style, featuring bluestone walls and a slate roof. The brick ornamentations and steep-pitched roof are reminiscent of the Tudor revival style. The stonemasons were Liddles of Auckland. Together with the historic graveyard, the Maori memorial to Henry Williams, and the historic organ (once owned by Henry Williams), it is one of the most significant of New Zealand’s churches. It connects with the Paihia historical precinct which today contains the stone ruins of William Williams’ house, which was earlier the printery occupied by William Colenso.






Following their move to Pakaraka in 1850, Henry decided that a church should have priority over a house for themselves, although he had always anticipated a church would be built there. He provided the land through an endowment. The first service in the new church, called Holy Trinity, was conducted on April 23, 1851, almost a year after their arrival at Pakaraka. It was a simple structure to which a steeple was added by 1854. After his death a new church, also called Holy Trinity, was built by his sons on the site and opened in November 1873 by the Bishop of Auckland, with William Williams taking part in the service. It stands to this day. The original church was later used by Marianne Williams as a hostel for visiting Maori.[7]  Both Henry and Marianne Williams are buried in the Holy Trinity Church graveyard. More about the current Holy Trinity Church can be found elsewhere on this website.


East Coast and Hawkes Bay


By the time that the missionaries moved to the East Coast churches were being built by Maori, such as Whakawhitira by Ngati Porou in the 1830s. Although the East Coast was a focus of William Williams’ attention after 1840, church building was to an extent left to others, particularly the Maori pastorate, churches being built at Kawkawa, Rangitukia, Tuparoa, Whareponga, Waipiro, and the elaborately carved church at Manutuke.[8] This last, the Toko Toru Tapu Church at Manutuke, was built in 1913, replacing one that goes back to 1839, and has now been restored. 


Church building was starting to become the responsibility of the mainstream church as settlers gained a foothold.  William believed in oral instruction and conversation with candidates as much as preaching, so a school was almost as important to him as a church as a basis for conveying the Christian message. William collaborated with Samuel Williams in the establishment of Te Aute College and Hukarere Girls College.


Samuel, Henry and Marianne’s son, moved to the Hawkes Bay where he became an Archdeacon, He built Christ Church at Pukehou in 1859. Gothic revival in style, it was fully restored in 2002. The Te Aute College chapel was built in 1900-01 as a memorial to him and his wife, Mary Williams. The chapel was restored in 2016. Also built by Samuel Williams, in the 1880s, was the chapel on Mangakuri Station, Mangakuri, Central Hawkes Bay.


The Church of St John the Evangelist, the forerunner of the Napier Cathedral was built in 1862. The cathedral, built in 1888 was destroyed in the Napier earthquake of 1931, and ultimately replaced by a modernist building which contains stained glass windows dedicated to four members of the Williams family, three of whom were bishops.  These churches have had Williams connections to this day, and the Napier cemetery is where William and Jane, and other members of the family are buried.

[1] Throughout its history the Church of England went through phases of rejecting idolatry, starting with Edward VI.

[2] p.37, Porter, F. (ed.) 1974. The Turanga Journals. Price Milburn and Victoria University Press, Wellington, 659pp.

[3] Marianne Williams Journal, 6.10.1823, in p.67 Fitzgerald, C. (ed.) 2004.  Letters from the Bay of Islands. Penguin Books, Auckland, 270pp. Pp. 140, Middleton, A. Pewhairangi, Bay of Islands Missions and Maori, 1814 to 1845.Otago University Press, Dunedin, 336pp.

[4] p. 178, Porter, F., 1974, loc.cit.


[6] The first St Paul's which post-dates the two chapels, features in three watercolours by John Kinder, a watercolour by T B Hutton,, and in a sketch of Paihia , published in Christianity Among the New Zealanders (1867) by William Williams. The early examples by Kinder still show the second chapel and lean-to schoolroom at the rear of the Church, which were later demolished. 

[7] p.287, Rogers, L M, 1973.  Te Wiremu, A Biography of Henry Williams. Pegasus Press, Christchurch, 335 pp.

[8] pp. 175, 185. Williams, F.W. 1939. Through Ninety Years. Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd. Auckland. 360 pp.

Research and writing: John R H Andrews

The second church, St Paul’s, Paihia, by TB Hutton.

WC Cotton Journal..v.8 Dixson Library, NSW.

Christ Church, Russelli.jpeg

Russell, showing Christ Church

Barrett, Fenwick, 1908-1996. Ref. 1/2-019446-F, Alexander

Turnbull Library, Wellington New Zealand

The first St Paul’s, Paihia.

Watercolour, TB Hutton, 1860

The second St Paul’s, Paihia.

Auckland Museum Libary

The fifth St Paul’s, Paihia.

Stuart Park, Heritage New Zealand. 

The first Holy Trinity Church, Pakaraka.

Attributed to Marianne Williams.

Holy Trinity Pakaraka with steeple addition.

Drawn by Henry Williams, 1854

St Andrews, Taumarere (originally the 1874 version of St Pauls, Paihia, moved offsite in 1925).

Photo, John and Sheila House.

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