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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.



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Church Missionary Society


Samuel Marsden, chaplain of the penal settlement at New South Wales, had been impressed by the Maoris he had encountered and when in England in 1807–08, he asked the C.M.S. for missionaries, or failing that, two or three mechanics to go and live among the Maoris, to teach them the simple arts of life and so prepare them for the Gospel. William Hall, a carpenter, and John King, a shoemaker, returned with Marsden. It was not until 1814 that they sailed for the Bay of Islands with Marsden and Thomas Kendall, a schoolmaster. On 25 December Marsden preached the first Christian sermon in New Zealand which Ruatara, a young chief befriended by Marsden, translated for the uncomprehending Maoris.

The Maoris had no organised religion but their lives were regulated in many aspects by tapu (prohibitions relating to sacred persons, places or objects). They had many gods (atua) of varying importance. The God of the missionaries was also classified as an atua and the objection was often to be raised that, although he was undoubtedly powerful, he was the god of Europeans, not of Maoris; or, if he was the god of one tribe, he could not also be the god of their enemies. The gods of the Maoris were feared and placated so that the concept of a merciful and loving God introduced a gentler element into their religion, but the emphasis on punishment for sin after death brought new fears.

By June 1815 the “lay settlers” at Rangihoua numbered 25, but Ruatara, whom Marsden had expected to be the mainstay of the mission, was dead. The Maoris were acquainted with the whalers and traders who called at the Bay of Islands, but the mission settlement had a different moral tone from Kororareka. At first the Maoris helped in clearing land and felling timber; later they wanted only guns, in which the missionaries were forbidden to trade, and they did not care to learn the various trades the settlers could have taught them. Henry Williams observed, some years later, that “in all the efforts to civilise they do not perceive that we have any views beyond that of benefiting ourselves”. As to Christianity, the lay settlers observed the Sabbath, conducted family prayers and spoke to the Maoris of Christianity, as opportunity offered. On a visit to England in 1820, Kendall assisted with giving a written form to the Maori language.

In 1819 John Butler, the first ordained missionary, was stationed at Kerikeri near the principal cultivation grounds of the powerful chief Hongi, whose cannibal feasts filled the missionaries with alarm and disgust. Butler spent much of his time building and farming, but with the arrival of Henry Williams at Paihia in 1823, and his brother William Williams, in 1826, the emphasis shifted to spiritual instruction of the Maoris. It was not until 1825 that the first baptism was made because the missionaries were determined that each convert should understand the catechism thoroughly, make a genuine profession of faith, lead a Christian life, and abandon his old beliefs completely. Other baptisms followed, slowly at first, but with increasing rapidity throughout the 1830s and 1840s. Henry Williams became greatly respected by the Ngapuhi, and through his influence fighting was prevented on several occasions. Missionary influence also resulted in the freeing of slaves and the cessation of cannibalism.

Further missionaries arrived, some ordained, some laymen trained at the C.M.S. Institution at Islington, so that by 1832 at the Bay of Islands there were four priests, 13 laymen, and 12 women. Schools and a farm had been established at Waimate in 1831. Expansion beyond the Bay of Islands now began. Between 1834 and 1840 stations were established at Kaitaia, Thames, Whangaroa, Waikato, Matamata (abandoned during a resurgence of tribal wars in 1836–37), Rotorua, Tauranga, Manukau, and Poverty Bay. Usually the formation of a station consolidated rather than began missionary activity in the district. The mission station customarily consisted of a house for the missionary's family, a schoolroom and chapel, and sleeping quarters for the school children and adult Maoris who were being trained as teachers. A farm and orchard were often attached. From the station the missionary visited regularly, usually on foot, a circuit of villages.

By 1840 much of the Old and New Testaments had been translated by William Williams and Robert Maunsell, and many copies issued from the mission press at Paihia.


During these early years the activities of lawless Europeans and land speculators, and the partial collapse of the traditional restraints in Maori society caused most of the missionaries to welcome British annexation. Thus the C.M.S. members persuaded chiefs throughout the country to sign the Treaty of Waitangi.

From 1840 to 1856 missionary influence was at its height. Further stations were opened until practically the whole North Island was covered, and many baptisms were made (including the sons of the notorious chiefs Te Waharoa and Te Rauparaha. In many villages morning and evening prayers and Sunday services were held. The Maoris were also prospering materially. In a number of districts they were producing a steady supply of food for the European settlements and in the Waikato, in particular, they seemed to have become a community of industrious farmers. Bishop Selwyn made long journeys on foot through the North Island, becoming thoroughly acquainted with the work of the missionaries. In the far north, however, Maori prosperity had decreased and, with it, their approval of British government. In Hone Heke's rebellion of 1845 mission property was undamaged, but the missionaries never regained the same influence among the declining population of despondent Maoris. Meanwhile a dispute between Governor Grey and a number of missionaries in the north horrified the C.M.S. in London and resulted in the resignation of several missionaries and the unjustified suspension of Henry Williams until 1854. At Wellington the Maoris disputed the land purchases of the New Zealand Company, and sporadic fighting occurred which ended with the imprisonment of Te Rauparaha in 1846. Until his health broke down in 1844, Octavius Hadfield remained at Otaki, using his not inconsiderable influence for peace.

Under Governor Grey grants were made to Anglicans, Wesleyans, and Catholics to maintain schools, particularly industrial boarding schools similar to that run by Hadfield at Otaki. After 1853 little official interest was displayed and many schools were closed during the Maori Wars.

The missionaries did not generally oppose colonisation, although they were accused of doing so, but they wished the Maori to retain sufficient land to support himself, and in the disputes arising from the Waitara purchase men like Bishop Selwyn and Hadfield wished merely to see justice done. Nor did the C.M.S. missionaries support the King movement which was essentially an expression of Maori nationalism. Their aim had always been to encourage the Maoris to adopt not only Christianity but also their own English middle class morals and manners. Despite their criticisms of the Government, when war came the missionaries aligned themselves with their European compatriots. During the Waikato campaign of 1863–64, John Morgan and other missionaries reported to the Government on Maori affairs.

When the Maoris retired south into the King Country, they were no longer accessible to the missionaries. In 1865 Hauhauism spread to the east coast and resulted in the murder and mutilation of the missionary C. S. Volkner, the narrow escape of T. S. Grace and the abandonment of his station in Poverty Bay by William Williams.

During these troubles certain Maori tribes remained loyal to the Government and to their church, but even among them the enthusiasm of the early years for European ways was greatly reduced.


Bishop Selwyn had delayed many years before ordaining the first Maori priest although he had founded a college at Waimate (moved in 1844 to Auckland) for training candidates. After 1870 ordinations increased and in 1900 there were 69 Maori clergy.

By 1880 the missionaries who had arrived in the 1830s were either dead or past strenuous missionary activity. Negotiations for the withdrawal of the C.M.S. began in 1854 and few men were sent out after this. It was not until 1903 that C.M.S. grants were completely discontinued, and each diocese became responsible for work among its own Maoris. At present Maori clergy serve Maori pastorates and a Maori bishop supervises this work. Various new religions founded by Maori prophets, the Mormons, and certain Christian sects, have from time to time drawn members away from the Anglican church, but during this century it has increased at approximately the same rate as the Maori population. At the 1961 census over 30 per cent of Maoris were returned as Anglicans.