Maori reached England some years before Henry and Marianne Williams set sail for New Zealand. Te Mahanga (“Moehanga”) visited in 1806, and Maui (“Mowhee”) arrived in 1816.[1] Through Church Missionary Society contacts he attended school and made good progress before dying of a febrile illness. Samuel Marsden, recognizing the importance of establishing the “vocabulary”, then sent Tuai (“Tooi”) and Titere (“Teeteree”) to England in 1818 for that purpose. Ill health forced their premature return to New Zealand, although they met with Professor Samuel Lee, a Cambridge linguist.[2] Although enthusiastic about making the journey to England, Maori were at risk, exposing themselves to diseases for which they had no immunity or resistance, either in England or en route - two Maori,  “Taurau” and “Taurea”, died at Batavia (Jakarta) in 1818, a notorious enclave for malaria.[3]


In 1820 Hongi Hika, accompanied by Waikato and Thomas Kendall, went to England where they collaborated with Professor Lee in preparing A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Language of New Zealand, published by the Church Missionary Society.[4] As Professor Lee noted in the preface, the object of the exercise was to support the “civilizing and evangelizing” purpose of the Mission and to make the work useful “to the New Zealanders…and their Teachers – the Missionaries and Settlers”.[5] Hongi Hika was a very powerful chief in the North, noted for his warlike campaigns, trading for muskets, and political acumen. He saw value in the missionaries as a source of the instruments of power, and in return his authority afforded them protection. He was an early visitor to the Williams household in New Zealand.


There is no record of the Williams family in England meeting up with these visitors, although it is possible the Grammar informed their early attempts to acquaint themselves with te reo, the Maori language. It was not until Henry and Marianne reached New South Wales and spent time with Marsden at Parramatta that they finally met two Maori – “Watu” and “Bushy” who made a favourable impression and gave them first-hand experience of the spoken language. Although William and Jane also spent time at Parramatta on their way to New Zealand, they did not record contact with Maori while there, although such contact may have been made.


In New Zealand, the missionary-Maori relationship divided itself along gender lines. The men were responsible for field activities, the process of conversion, the conduct of services, baptisms and funerals (usually the province of an ordained minister), training Maori pastors, teaching in the boys schools, translating and distributing religious books, mediating disputes and peacemaking, and negotiating land purchases.  Henry, on rare occasions, was a marriage broker and celebrant.[6] The missionaries were trained in first-aid, and William Williams particularly applied his surgical knowledge in the treatment of wounds and infections, setting of broken limbs, and amputations. Other male tasks such as house, church and boat building, gardening and farming, they often shared with Maori, paid for in kind or money. 


Aside from caring for their own children, the women were responsible for teaching Maori girls –including some who lived with them, learning household management and carrying out domestic duties. In addition, missionary women set up, and ran, girls schools. They hosted – accommodating and feeding - numerous Maori and European visitors, as well as providing these services on ceremonial occasions. Midwifery and care of the sick were added to their tasks. Apart from keeping their own journals and writing letters, the women assisted their husbands in making fair copies of journal entries and letters.


How therefore does one characterise their relationship? Was it run of the mill or did it bear features out of the ordinary for missionary lives? How did it compare with other settler-Maori interaction?


[1] Missionary Register, 1817, v.5, pp. 71-79. He left for England in 1815. Maui died at Paddington in December 1816.  Ruatara left New Zealand in 1805 on a whaling vessel, and reached London in 1809, but was not allowed to leave the ship. He returned to Port Jackson where he stayed with Marsden. Contemporary transliterations of Maori personal names are given in parentheses.

[2] Missionary Register, 1818, v.6, pp.93, 94. Tuai and Titeri managed to reach a commendable level of literacy judging by their letters to friends in England, following their return, Missionary Register, 1820, pp. 309-11.

[3] Missionary Register, 1819, 463-67.

[4] Kendall had earlier written A Korao no New Zealand! The New Zealander’s First Book, which was published in Sydney in 1815. The Grammar presents written Maori in a form that is recognizable today, unlike contemporary English writers who tended to use heavily Anglicized transliterations. This (1820) was the same year that Henry Williams was accepted by the CMS as a missionary candidate

[5] Preface by Samuel Lee, A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Language of New Zealand, published by the Church Missionary Society, 1820.

[6] pp. 96, 97, Fitzgerald, C. (ed.) 2004. Letters from the Bay of Islands, the Story of Marianne Williams. Penguine Books, Auckland. 270pp. 

​© 2013 H & W Williams Memorial Museum Trust.  All rights reserved.


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