top of page

Personal Relations

While they did not intermarry there were lasting friendships with Māori, including those who refused conversion. There was clearly a degree of respect, superimposed on discordant generalisations of Māori as ‘children’ or ‘savages’ when discussing their degree of development and need for ‘civilising’, or aspects of their behaviour or cultural practices that they found offensive. Nevertheless, among the so-called ‘savage races’ Māori were thought to be superior, and worthy of the effort of ‘civilising’ and conversion. Today, these will seem harsh characterisations, disrespectful of another culture. But in the 19th century they were bluntly expressed commonplaces by those who thought themselves culturally superior.


The letters, journals and biographies of Williams family members are peppered with references to individual Māori, hapū and iwi with whom they had connection: Ngāpuhi, Te Ngāti Rahiri, Ngāti Kawa, and others in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland); Ngāti Porou and Rongowhakaata on the East Coast, as well as iwi in the Hawkes Bay region. Their extensive travels brought them into contact with other groups further south. Anglican mission stations were established along the Waikato River, at Whanganui and New Plymouth, in the Wellington region and at Nelson.


The warmth and mutual respect that characterised the relationship between the Williams family and Māori persisted through the generations, up to the present day. This is reflected in the memorial to Henry Williams, raised by Māori after his death, in the grounds of St Paul’s Church, Paihia, and intergenerational support for Maori education and the Māori Hui Amorenga of the Anglican Church, long given broad support by Williams Charitable Trusts. At the base of the Pouwhenua, at the Te Tii marae at Waitangi, is a carved image of Henry Williams holding a bible.[1]


The process of conversion and teaching may be seen as cultural colonisation or that it prepared the ground for formal colonisation and eased that process –both for the colonisers and the colonised. However it is important to see the missionaries as a chapter in the ongoing development of Māori-European relations that began with the European navigators and explorers and is still evolving today. Sadly, the worst aspects of colonisation – poor health indicators, land loss, and poverty, among them – had their roots in those early days, and despite their best efforts the missionaries were powerless to prevent them, and easily caught up in the blame for the evils of colonisation by later critics.


At this point we can briefly explore some of the more significant relationships between Māori and the Williams family. The names below are a selection – there were many others.


Te Koki and Hamu


Of particular significance was the engagement with Māori from Paihia, as it was here that Samuel Marsden and Henry Williams located the Church Missionary Society station that would become the mission’s headquarters, with Henry Williams in charge. In his journal Samuel Marsden tells of visiting Te Koki and his wife on September 2nd 1819 on a site north of the Waitangi River where the latter was preparing the ground for planting potatoes.[2] Te Koki asked Marsden to send a European to come and live with them, which wasn’t immediately acted on. In 1823, when the time came to choose a location, Te Koki was absent in the south with a war party. It was then that Marsden and Williams crossed the Waitangi River and saw the land for which Te Koki’s wife, Hamu – herself a powerful Rangitira- had mana whenua. They decided to locate the mission village there, and a raupo whare and chapel were built for them by Hamu’s people.[3]


Te Koki was one of the leaders of the southern alliance of Ngāpuhi and a rangatira of Ngāti Hine. He died in 1829, with Hamu staying on with the mission at Paihia. She was baptised in October 1834, taking the name Ana.[4] She was a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi. Apart from a dispute that arose with one of the Heralds carpenters, which had the potential to get out of hand, relations between Te Koki and the mission were generally cordial. 




Of Ngāpuhi, and a rangatira of the Te Roroa iwi, he was among the first to greet Henry and Marianne when they arrived on board the Brampton in 1823. He was a tohunga and an important and sometimes quarrelsome chief who would later threaten and confront Henry Williams.[5] In time, however, the two became friends. Tohitapu kept up this turbulent relationship until his death in July 1833, unable to be converted to Christianity and strongly committed to traditional beliefs. 


Hongi Hika


A Ngāpuhi leader, he was an early and important influence in the establishment of the Church Missionary Society in New Zealand. Reputedly born in 1772, he had gone to Australia and returned with Marsden on the Active in 1814.The site of the second mission station, Kerikeri, was to be on Hongi’s land and therefore under his protection. His journey to England to assist the preparation of Kendall and Lee’s Grammar was in part devoted to the acquisition of muskets on his return. Well-armed he and his followers were to conduct forays into a number of North Island areas including Waitemata, the Bay of Plenty, Waikato, and the Coromandel, causing substantial loss of life and disruption to the population.[6] He was at the height of his powers when Henry and Marianne Williams arrived in New Zealand. Perpetually distressed at the fighting and loss of life with which he was associated, they were in no position to challenge his authority.


It was inevitable that the paths of Hongi Hika and Henry Williams would cross. The former saw strategic advantage in cultivating European connections, including the missionaries to whom he gave his protection. One of them, Kendall, engaged in musket trading which pleased Hongi, but which was a source of friction with his fellow missionaries, and later contributed to his dismissal. 


In January 1824, while still in their cramped “Beehive” at Paihia, Henry and Marianne hosted Hongi Hika and Te Koki, and their party, who stayed the night, establishing a tradition of hospitality to visiting Māori and Europeans, a task that was exhausting for Marianne, but one that she never shirked. [7]


A practice of Māori was to plunder the relatives or tribe of any chief who had been killed or injured in battle or in some other way. Because the missionaries were under some degree of chiefly protection, they were potentially liable to be swept up in such events. After Hongi’s death on 6 March 1828 the missionaries escaped the expected plundering and were similarly spared when their friend and protector Te Toki died in early 1829.


Hone Heke 


Of Ngā Puhi, a nephew of Hongi Hika and husband of his daughter, Heke was born around 1807 at Pakaraka, the future location of Henry and Marianne Williams’ house, the Retreat. He attended the Mission school at Kerikeri and came under the influence of Henry Williams. Despite his adoption of Christianity he became involved in inter-tribal warfare in the 1830s. He was the first of the chiefs to sign the Treaty of Waitangi but, in the Treaty’s aftermath, Government actions caused a rebellion in which Heke played a leading part (see section under ‘Peacemaking’). Heke died of tuberculosis in October 1850, still professing as a Christian.



Te Morenga


Born c. 1760, he was of the Uri-kaupaua hapu of Ngāpuhi, from Taiamai (near present day Ohaeawai). His friendship with the missionaries dates from Marsden’s arrival in 1814, and continued until his death in c. 1834. He was successful in obtaining a missionary to live on his land, James Shepherd, an experienced agriculturalist. Although he led several war-parties into battle as far afield as the East Coast, his relationships with the missionaries remained cordial. He became friendly with Henry Williams and the latter’s journal records many meetings with ‘old More’ as he sometimes called him. Te Morenga sold land at Taiamai to Henry Williams, who bought it for his sons to farm. It is still in the hands of his descendants today.




A Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Hine chief, he was born in the 1770s and, although he had a long association with Henry Williams, he was not baptised until 1853 under the name ‘Te Ruki” – the ceremony taking place at Holy Trinity at Pakaraka. He had spent the previous year living near the Williams family and obtaining instruction. A renowned warrior, he had earlier joined forces with Heke in their attack on Kororāreka, and at Ruapekapeka in 1846, after which peace was negotiated. He died in 1854.


Rawiri (David) Taiwhanga


He was of the Ngāti Tautahi hapu of Ngapuhi, born c, 1818. Closely associated with Hongi Hika and his war-parties in his earlier days, he underwent a significant transition, taking up horticultural pursuits, and becoming converted to Christianity as well as other European practices. He had spells on Samuel Marsden’s farm at Parramatta, and at the mission station at Kerikeri, before settling at Paihia in the early 1830s, where he built a stone cottage in 1831. Baptised in 1830, he became an active supporter of the mission, assisting Henry Williams on his proselytising journeys. He built a stone cottage at Paihia, near the Horotutu stream, close to Charles Baker’s house. Later he farmed at Kaikohe. He died in 1874.


Nopera Pana-kareao


A chief of the Te Patu hapu of the Te Rawara in the far North, he met with William Williams and others of the Church Missionary Society, on a journey to locate a mission station at Kaitaia. He and his wife were baptised by William Williams in 1836, and he became an active evangelical and adopted European practices and habits, only to be disappointed at the actions of the Government after the Treaty was signed. Nevertheless, he took the Government side against Heke and Kawiti in the Northern war. Henry Williams had earlier become embroiled in a lengthy dispute between Panakareao and Ngāpuhi over Mangonui land that the former had sold to Governor Hobson – an arrangement that Williams persuaded the parties to reverse.[8]



Tamati Waka Nene


Born in the 1780s, he was one of the older Ngāpuhi chiefs to come within the missionary orbit. A brother of Patuone, his family was influential throughout Northland. An effective and wide-ranging warrior he became leader of the Ngāti Hao, based in the Hokianga. Although involved in many battles he emerged as something of a peacemaker, settling disputes among Māori and between Māori and the settlers. He became seen as an elder statesman, able to provide advice and support to the Government. Something of a pragmatist, he spoke persuasively in support of signing the Treaty. 


He adopted Christianity through the Wesleyan missionaries based at Hokianga and was baptised in 1839. He became friendly with Henry Williams, and with him took the side of the Government in the altercations with Heke and the flagstaff. In October 1847, Waka Nene wrote to Henry Williams a supportive letter in which he made clear that Māori vendors had willingly sold land to the missionaries and received payment for it – a response to Governor Grey’s assertions that missionary acquisition of land was the cause of the Northern War. He died in 1871.


Eruera Maihi Patuone


Born in the late 18th C and of the Ngāti Hao and Ngāpuhi,  Patuone was an influential chief in the same mould as his younger brother, Waka Nene. Although originally from the North, he spent his later years at Waiheke in the Hauraki Gulf. Baptised in early 1840 by Henry Williams, he took Māori versions of Williams names – Eruera Maihi (after Edward Marsh Williams, Henry and Marianne’s eldest son). His wife Riria was named after Lydia, after the youngest Williams daughter. He died in 1872. [9]




In the last few months of 1825 Henry Williams and other missionaries attended an elderly chief from Whangarei who was living at Waitangi. Rangi, had become ill and after interrogation by the missionaries he was accepted as a candidate for baptism and given the baptismal name of Christian. He died not long after. The missionaries had conversed with him over several months and were impressed with his sincerity. He was the first Christian convert. As it was more than ten years since missionary arrival in New Zealand this was a welcome and overdue milestone.


The East Coast


For many years the strongest links between the Williams families and Māori were forged in the North, but from 1840 through to the mid-1860s the focus for William and Jane Williams shifted to the East Coast, where the tribes included Ngāti Porou and the Rongowhakaata among others. On the face of it the region showed great promise to missionaries seeking conversions. But they little realised that the recently signed Treaty was laying the groundwork for future disruption and eventual curtailment of much of their work.


Much of William Williams’ work on the East Coast consisted of relentless travel, catechising, services and teaching, which, as he put it, was  “more like the unbroken course of a parish schoolmaster. A great deal of work, but most of it of the same character”.[10] This is reflected in his journals and letters, which describe villages passed through, baptisms carried out, teaching administered, and so on, but contains less of personal encounters with individual Māori, and depth of exchange, than was shown in his brother’s writings. This is in part due to William’s rigorous attention to the central themes and purpose of his mission, his growing preoccupation with the failings of Bishop Selwyn, the presence of catholic priests, and the missionary land question, subjects that frequently occupy his letters. His inflexible stand on the visible forms of religious practice carried through to the building of Māori churches, where, while admiring their carved work, he was opposed to the use of what he saw as idolatrous forms in a Christian church. However, to balance the picture we have his promotion of the use of Māori pastors, his facility with the language and his lifetime devotion to the work of translation and orthography, as well as his constant attention to the development of Māori schools, notably Te Aute and Hukarere. William had laid a foundation that was ably built on by his son, William Leonard, and Samuel Williams, the son of Henry and Marianne, when he moved to the East Coast.


The relationships of the two families with Māori differed because of the different circumstances in which they were placed. Henry was to a large extent tied to the Bay of Islands and the surrounds, the headquarters of the mission, enabling repeat encounters with the senior chiefs of the area, who saw him as a leader, like themselves. Persistent engagement encouraged both friendship and conversion – often quite late in life. William, on the other hand, was more mobile – particularly once he moved to the East Coast - and had to cover an area of large size. This left Jane isolated for long periods, leading her to value the friendship of the Māori women who shared her home. Marianne, on the other hand, was perpetually caught up in the bustle of Paihia (and later Pakaraka) activity, involving a passing parade of Māori and European visitors, and attending to the needs of nearby missionary wives and families. 


When William Williams was made Bishop of Waiapu, the diocese was to a degree seen as one set apart for Māori.[11]The first half of the 1860s saw the development of a Māori pastorate under Williams’ guidance, so that by 1865 more than half the Tūranga mission clergy were Māori.


Fruitful beginnings were interrupted by events elsewhere that were to lap up against the East Coast: the Waitara purchase and the Taranaki War, the King Movement and the war in Waikato, followed by the emergence of the religious cult of Pai Marire from 1862, the Hauhau rebellion and, ultimately, in 1868, the Ringatū movement led by Te Kooti. All involved took sides, sometimes changed sides, but the end result was prolonged, sometimes vicious fighting that ultimately caused William Williams and his family to leave the area and move to the safety of Napier. It was a troubling departure, William not being sure where his allegiance lay. “God’s purpose”, always something in which he could place his trust, was nevertheless mysterious, and if there was nothing more he could do here, better to expend his energy elsewhere. For someone opposed to versions of Christianity other than the one he followed, it was very unlikely that he would find common cause with the cults that emerged. 


From the mid 1840s the novelty of Christianity for East Coast Māori was beginning to fade. All manner of distractions were in play. The economy was growing only to get a lift from the growth of the Māori pastorate, and the mission schools at Waerenga-a-hika in the late 1850s. But it was not to last.


Opportunities for peace were earlier presented and lost, for which the settlers, the Government, and Māori loyalists, each bore their share of the blame. Even William Williams, who foresaw trouble brewing from a mix of settler aspirations and Government ineptitude over land purchases, became uncertain as to where his allegiances lay. Seeing satanic forces at work, he and other missionaries initially leaned towards the Government and Clause One of the Treaty – British Sovereignty must be maintained- only to retreat from that position and sympathise with Māori.


[1] It is virtually unique for a Pakeha to be carved into a Pou. Henry Williams has a musket carved above his left shoulder – the significance is not clear. Apparently he features in the carving in recognition of his gifting of 82.5 acres of CMS land back to the Ngati Rahiri hapu (

[2] This may have been Hamu, influential in her own right, although Te Koki had more than one wife.

[3] It seems likely that Hamu gifted the land south of Horotutu, that forms part of present day Paihia, including the site of St Paul’s Church. Turton’s copies of Old Land Deeds do not include a sale for this site to Henry Williams acting on behalf of the CMS, although deeds of sale from various owners exist for Horotutu and adjacent sites. A map that formed part of the Old Land Claim’s Commission investigation into land held by the CMS and Henry Williams shows missionary land running from the Kawaka River estuary to the Waitangi River estuary at Ti Point (Archives New Zealand ref. OLC Box 34/).

[4] P. 395, Rogers, L.M. (ed.), 1961, The Early Journals of Henry Williams, 18826-40. Pegasus Press, Christchurch, 525 pp.

[5] Henry Williams made a well known sketch of the head and moko of Tohitapu. The confrontation arose from a dispute over payment for timber which resolved into a ferocious challenge, which the Williams family withstood. The issue came down to cultural differences and misunderstandings.

[6] pp. 201-202, Ballara, A., Hongi Hika 1772-1828,  in The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, v. I,  Allen and Unwin and the Deaprtment of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

[7] p. 72, Fitzgerald, C. 2004. loc. cit.

[8] p. 198, Rogers, L.M., 1973, loc.cit.

[9] pp 338-340, Ballara, A.,  Patuone, Eurua Mahi,  in The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, v. I,  Allen and Unwin and the Deaprtment of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

[10] p. 549, Porter, F., 1974, loc.cit.

[11]  p. 587, Porter, F. 1974, loc. cit.

Tohitapu, Auckland Museum.jpeg

Tohitapu. Drawing by Henry Williams. Private collection.


Hongi Hika. Ink sketch, copy from James Barry portrait, 1820. Auckland Museum Library


Hone Heke Pokai, ?drawn by J J Merrett c. 1846, copy by J A Gilfillan. Alexander Turnbull Library, A-114-003

IMG_1209 2.JPG

'Rawiri of Kaikohe' baptised as David Taiwhanga. Sketch by TB Hutton, W C Cotton Journals, v.8, 33, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales


Tamiti Waka Nene. 1860s, Photo Elizabeth Pulman, Alexander Turnbull Library.  PA2-1357


Eruera Patuone. 1870, Photographer unknown. Photo related to Eric Ramsden and family. Alexander Turnbull Library,  PA2-2262

bottom of page