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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Wesleyan missionary.

A new biography of Ironside, Samuel appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Samuel Ironside was born on 9 September 1814 at Sheffield, Yorkshire. In early life he was influenced by Dr Adam Clarke, the Bible commentator, and decided upon a missionary career. In 1836 he was accepted as a candidate for the ministry and entered Hoxton Wesleyan College to train. At Hoxton he was a contemporary of John Hunt, who was afterwards known as the apostle of Fiji. At first Hunt and Ironside prepared themselves for service in Africa, but when Watkin's pamphlet, Pity Poor Fiji, was published, they decided to seek appointment to the South Seas. On 24 August 1838, at the Trinity Church, Sheffield, Ironside married Sarah, daughter of William Eades, and, a month later, the couple sailed from Gravesend in the James, arriving at Hokianga on 19 March 1839. Immediately Ironside began to learn Maori and – so rapid was his progress – he was able to read the morning service in that language six weeks after his arrival. After five months' study he preached his first extempore sermon in Maori.

Ten months after his arrival, Ironside accompanied Nene, Patuone, and the Hokianga chiefs to the Waitangi meeting, and it was he who urged Nene to make his famous speech in favour of the treaty, Ironside signing as a witness. Later in 1840 Ironside accompanied Aldred on an overland trip to Wanganui and the Taranaki district when the party secured the release of some Maori prisoners.

On 20 December 1840 Ironside arrived at Cloudy Bay, Marlborough, to open a Wesleyan mission in the area. The mission was situated at Ngakuta Bay, near Port Underwood, and Ironside's field covered Queen Charlotte Sound, Tory Channel, and, on occasion, D'Urville Island. Edward Shortland records that converts from this mission travelled to all parts of the eastern South Island. During his first years in the district Ironside experienced great difficulty in procuring adequate supplies of New Testaments for distribution to his teachers, and he and his wife were often obliged to copy out whole chapters of the epistles in order that the most urgent demands might be met. The Cloudy Bay mission was immensely successful and its influence spread to other districts. In less than three years Maori converts erected 16 churches in their villages and Ironside paid regular visits to each. He established Wesleyan centres at Nelson and Motueka in 1842. Because he knew how keenly the Maoris felt about their lands, he warned Tuckett and Captain Wakefield against proceeding with the Wairau survey. Their failure to heed his advice led to the Affray on 17 June 1843. When news of this reached Ngakuta, Ironside set out for the scene. On the way he met Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata and, from the latter, he obtained permission to bury the dead. Ironside's account of the Affray was later presented in evidence before the British Parliamentary inquiry.

After the Affray, many of the Mission Maoris decided to return to Taranaki and tried to persuade Ironside to accompany them. Instead he moved to Wellington where, from 1843 to 1848, he took an active part in the life of the town. On 13 August 1843 he opened a new Wesleyan Chapel at Te Aro; and he was a member of the committee which arranged the Te Aro land sale in September 1844. In the same year he was vice-president of the Mechanics' Institute. During these years he was an unofficial adviser on Maori affairs to FitzRoy and, later on, to Grey. He retained his prestige among the Maoris and worked closely with Hadfield and Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitaki to prevent a Maori attack on Wellington.

In 1849 Ironside transferred to Nelson, where he remained until 1854. He served at New Plymouth from 1854 to 1857 and afterwards moved to Australia, where he served, successively, at Sydney, Adelaide, Hobart, and Melbourne. From 1875 to 1878 he was Foreign Mission Secretary in Victoria. In the latter year he retired from the ministry and settled at Hobart, Tasmania, where he died on 24 April 1897.

A capable and energetic man, Ironside was ideally suited to work among the whalers and the Maoris who associated with them. He was an excellent organiser and made his presence felt wherever he was called upon to serve. During his retirement he revisited New Zealand and, afterwards, wrote a series of reminiscences based on his personal diaries. These articles appeared in the New Zealand Methodist in 1890–91.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Paper Relative to the Wesleyan Missions and to the State of Heathen Countries, No. CV., Sep 1846
  • Maori and Missionary, Pybus, T. A. (1954)
  • Pages from the Past, McDonald, C. A. (n.d.).


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.