A new biography of Hobbs, John appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
John Hobbs was born in 1800 at St. Peter's in the Isle of Thanet, Kent, the son of Richard Hobbs, a coachbuilder and Wesleyan lay preacher, and Elizabeth, née Palmer. Hobbs learned his father's trade and, in 1816, joined the Wesleyan Church, becoming a lay preacher three years later. Towards the close of 1822, because he wanted to do missionary work among the convicts, he decided to emigrate to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). Shortly after his arrival there in 1823, however, Turner persuaded him to offer his services to the New Zealand Mission. He accompanied Turner to Sydney, where Marsden offered Hobbs employment with the Church Missionary Society and arranged to bring them to New Zealand. They arrived at Paihia on 3 August 1823 and proceeded to Wesleydale. When ill health forced Leigh to return to Sydney, Hobbs decided to remain at Wesleydale rather than join the Church Missionary Society. He quickly mastered the Maori language and came to speak it fluently. By his sympathy and understanding of their problems, Hobbs soon won the confidence of the local Maoris and became unofficial counsellor to several influential chiefs. At the same time he acted as general factotum about the station, where his practical abilities and readiness to oblige made him very popular among the Europeans. Unfortunately, Te Ara (George), the Ngati Pou chief of Whangaroa, who was ailing when Hobbs arrived, found it increasingly difficult to protect the mission. In January 1827, after his death, hostile natives attacked the station and the missionaries were forced to flee to the Bay of Islands. After the destruction of Wesleydale Hobbs returned to Sydney, where he was ordained.
Although their first station in New Zealand had been destroyed, the Wesleyan authorities in Sydney were unwilling to abandon their efforts in the country. They decided to set up a new mission in the more populous Hokianga district, where two thriving European business settlements were already established and where they would be adequately protected by Patuone, the powerful Ngapuhi chief. The task of establishing the new station was confided to Hobbs and the advance party sailed from Sydney in the Governor Macquarrie, arriving at Hokianga on 31 October 1827. With characteristic zeal Hobbs visited Patuone and sought his help to provide a mission site. On 14 December 1827 he chose a place at Te Toka, but this did not prove as suitable a location as he had hoped. Therefore, on 20 March 1828, the mission was moved to Mangungu, about a mile distant from Brown and Raine's establishment at Horeke. Hobbs, with the assistance of Stack, planned the new station and took charge of its management. At Hokianga, as at Whangaroa, his fluent command of the language, together with his wide knowledge of practical matters, enabled him to secure immense prestige among the Maoris. One of the secrets of his success as a preacher lay in his mastery of the traditional methods of the Maori orators. In his sermons Hobbs adopted the gestures they were accustomed to see in their own orators, and he painted his gospel message with illustrations drawn from their own daily experience. He was also a skilled musician and composed many Maori hymns. Some of these, as well as his translations of English hymns, are still sung in Maori churches.
After 1830, when White, the senior Wesleyan minister, returned to New Zealand, he and Hobbs differed about the running of the mission. As a result the latter, in 1833, asked to be transferred to Tonga, where he took charge of the mission press. He remained there for some time before being appointed to Tasmania; however, Turner interposed to retain his services at the Bay of Islands. There he built boats and houses and looked after the mission press. With Taonui's assistance, he translated the Book of Job into Maori. He also accompanied Bumby, the General Superintendent of Wesleyan Missions, on several exploratory journeys. One of these took him to Port Nicholson where, on 8 June 1839, he negotiated with Ngatata for a mission site. This land, which lay between the “stream called Kumutoto to another stream called Te Aro”, was the “no-man's-land” between the pas of these names. Some months later, when Colonel Wakefield arrived, he induced Aldred to exchange this for several acres in the Courtenay Place area of Wellington. Hobbs also visited the Cloudy Bay area and afterwards travelled overland from Port Nicholson to Hokianga.
At the time of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Hobbs interpreted for Hobson at the great meeting at Mangungu. What is not so well known, however, is that, prior to the Waitangi ceremony, Hobbs spent several days discussing with Nene the advantages of British sovereignty. In this respect Hobson probably owed a large part of his mission's success to these talks.
In 1848, when his son-in-law was selected to open a new mission station at Pipiriki in the upper Wanganui district, Hobbs offered to help him settle in on the site. On the way south his ship was wrecked in a storm and he spent a night lashed to the mast. This experience brought on the deafness which later increasingly incapacitated him for active duty. In the early 1850s Hobbs was one of the three Wesleyan representatives on Wm. Williams's committee which revised Maunsell's translation of the Old Testaments. He spent 1855–56 resting at the Three Kings institution and then retired from the mission. He died at Beresford Street, Auckland, on 24 June 1883, and was buried in Grafton Cemetery at the spot he chose himself.
On 15 August 1827, at Sydney, New South Wales, Hobbs married Jane Broggreff, of Ramsgate, Kent, and by her had two sons and five daughters. One of his sons, Richard (1833–1910), represented Franklin (1879–80) and Bay of Islands (1881–90) in the House of Representatives. He married Emma, daughter of the Rev. John Waterhouse and a sister of G. M. Waterhouse. Hobbs's eldest daughter, Emma, married the Rev. William Kirk in 1848 and lived at the Pipiriki mission for some years.
Hobbs's contemporaries greatly admired his amazing versatility in mechanical matters and he was always a welcome visitor at outlying settlers' homes. On his many trips through the north, he found it no trouble to repair settlers' clocks, tune their pianos, or adjust their spectacles. His advice was sought constantly on their agricultural and horticultural problems, as well as on their building or boat designing. He was often called upon to attend the sick and, on occasions, performed quite intricate surgical operations. In the mission field he is best remembered for his work at Mangungu, where the successful re-establishment of the Wesleyans provides an enduring tribute to his ability as an organiser. Hobbs's relations with the Maoris were equally successful. Although he taught them by his own example as well as by precept and proved himself to be just and liberal in all his dealings with them, the Maoris soon learned that he was not a man to be coerced.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Extract from the original record of the Journal of John Hobbs (typescript), Turnbull Library (1940)
- Fragments from the Journal of the Rev. John Hobbs, Hobbs, R. (Comp.) (1908)
- Wesley Historical Society (N.Z. Branch) Proceedings, Vol. 3, Jan 1944