A new biography of Buddle, Thomas appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Thomas Buddle was born in 1812 at Durham, the son of Matthew Buddle, a member of a prominent Church of England family. At 17 he joined the Wesleyan Church at Barnard Castle, Durham, where he soon became a lay preacher. Although he did not have the advantage of a college education, Buddle studied divinity, and in 1835 was accepted by the Wesleyan Conference as a probationer. He was attached to the Daventry Circuit in Northhamptonshire and spent the four years of his probation at Huntington, St. Neots, and Peterborough. In 1839 he was ordained by the Conference at Liverpool, and, shortly afterwards, accepted an offer from the Wesleyan Missionary Committee to serve in the New Zealand mission.
Buddle came to New Zealand in the Triton and arrived at Hokianga in May 1840. At first he was stationed at Whaingaroa (Raglan), but a few months later, following Tamihana Te Rauparaha's request for a mission to be established in the Porirua district, Buddle was assigned the task. Unfortunately, the schooner taking him south was wrecked on Kawhia bar and he returned to Whaingaroa. When Bumby, the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Missions in New Zealand, visited the station soon afterwards he directed Buddle to open a new mission at Kaihotea, a site near Te Kopua, on the Waipa River. This was one of two such sites presented to the Wesleyans by Te Wherowhero. Buddle reached Kaihotea on 2 November 1840. During the four years he spent in this district he baptised several influential chiefs and opened native schools in many villages in the territory lying between the upper Mokau and Taupo. During this period Buddle acquired a fluent command of the Maori language and also became an expert on Maori folklore and customs. In May 1844, at the request of the Maoris and in common with Ashwell, Morgan, Whiteley, and Wallis, he accompanied his tribe to the great meeting held at Remuera to welcome Governor FitzRoy.
The flair for organising, which Buddle had shown in his Waikato Mission, together with his manifest popularity among the Maoris, drew his superiors' attention to his merits, and, very much against his will, he was put in charge of the Wesleyan Native Training Institution in Grafton Road, Auckland. This was a special Methodist college for training native teachers for service in mission schools and, at the time when Buddle was appointed, it had 20 pupils. In addition to his college duties, Buddle acted as financial secretary to the Wesleyan Missions in the South Seas during the time the headquarters remained in Auckland. He spent the next 22 years ministering to Maori and European congregations in Auckland and was chairman of that district for some years. He served as one of three Wesleyan representatives on Wm. Williams' (q.v.) Maori Bible Revision Committee; and, as one “intimately acquainted with the idiomatic niceties of the Waikato dialect”, Buddle assisted in revising Maunsell's translation.
Buddle attended the first Australasian Wesleyan Conference in Sydney and was appointed to the Manukau Circuit. He was president of the Australasian conference in 1861 and of the first New Zealand conference in 1874. During these years he served on several circuits, including Christchurch (1866), Wellington (1870), and Nelson (1873). He became chairman, successively, of the Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington districts. When the conference established a Wesleyan Theological College at Three Kings, Auckland, Buddle became its first principal – a position he occupied until 1881. He retired from the active ministry in the following year, but continued as a supernumerary until his death.
Besides his missionary work, Buddle played an important part in the Maori political movements of his time. In May 1860, with McLean. Williamson, and Selwyn, he attended the great meeting at Ngaruawahia and took part in the discussions. Later in the year he published a small pamphlet – The Maori King Movement in New Zealand – in which he set forth his views on the Maori problem. He did not think the King Party would fight unless the Government provided it with a pretext. If the King Movement were left to its own devices, it would collapse because “it lacked the unity of purpose without which no such organisation could survive”. His view in this matter coincided with McLean's, but Buddle also thought that the land question lay at the root of these troubles, because the Maoris had got the idea that the Europeans wanted to buy all the land.
Buddle took a keen interest in education and was a member of the Senate of the University of New Zealand from 1874 until 1880 and served on the Council of Auckland University College. He died at Grafton Road, Auckland, on 26 June 1883.
In September 1839, at Barnard Castle, Durham, Buddle married Sarah, daughter of William Dixon, and, by her, he had five sons and five daughters.
In his day Buddle was noted for his knowledge of Maori traditions and folklore. Although he was often consulted when Grey was compiling his Polynesian Mythology, Buddle never published any detailed study in this field. The Aborigines of New Zealand, two lectures which he delivered in 1851, contain much interesting material which he had gathered from Maoris who had grown up in pre-European times. In 1873 he delivered two lectures on the theme Christianity and Colonisation Among the Maoris. In these Buddle summed up the impact of Christianity upon Maori tribal life. After referring to the various benefits introduced by the missionaries he offered the following conclusion: “The fact is we have expected too much, we have looked for civilisation equal to our own. We forget how many centuries it took the European race to reach its present elevation; yet we have expected the Maoris to overtake us in half a century.”
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Transcript of Thomas Buddle's Diary 13 June, 1840 – 29 December, 1840. Turnbull Library
- The Maori King Movement, Buddle, T. (1860)
- Supplements to the “Nelson Evening Mail”, 23, 30 Aug 1873, “Christianity and Colonisation Among the Maoris”, Buddle, T.