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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 Society


In 1818 Samuel Leigh, a Methodist minister stationed at Sydney, visited New Zealand and on his return to England he proposed to the W.M.S. that he should be sent there as a missionary. He arrived at Rangihoua, the C.M.S. station, in 1822 and with William White, James Stack, and Luke Wade, a layman, who joined him the following year, he established a mission station at Whangaroa in June 1823. Nathaniel Turner and John Hobbs reached Whangaroa in August 1823 with Samuel Marsden, who completed the land purchase at Whangaroa for them, and took Leigh, in ill health, back to New South Wales. On 10 January 1827, “Wesleydale” was attacked during Hongi's raid on the Whangaroa tribes, and the mission station had to be abandoned.

The W.M.S. Instructions to the early missionaries emphasised that they were “to propose the gospel in its simplest and most explicit truths, as an undoubted revelation from God” and to refrain from disputing the superstitions of the natives. They were to learn the language, teach the natives agriculture and some of the useful arts of life, and to cultivate in them habits of labour and industry. They were prohibited from trading and, unlike the members of the C.M.S., they were forbidden to buy land except for the use of the W.M.S.

Within six months of abandoning Whangaroa, Hobbs and Stack returned to Hokianga, and founded a station at Mangungu. Its proximity to the C.M.S. stations brought both advantages and friction. By the 1830s many Maoris were being converted and it was the policy of William White, superintendent of the mission 1830–36, to extend work south into the Waikato, which brought him into conflict with the C.M.S. Stations were commenced at Kawhia and Whaingaroa (Raglan). These were abandoned in 1836 on instructions from the London W.M.S., but were resumed following an agreement on boundaries with the local C.M.S. in October 1838. There were also stations at Kaipara from 1836 and Pakanae (Hokianga) from 1837.


The Wesleyans continued their advance down the west coast of the North Island and between 1840 and 1845 stations were founded at Aotea, New Plymouth, Te Kopua (Waipa), Mokau, and Waimate (South Taranaki). At all these places native teachers prepared the way. Stations were also formed at Auckland, Waima (Hokianga), and Wellington, and James Watkin began the first Christian mission in the South Island at Waikouaiti on 16 May 1840. The Maori population of the South Island was small and scattered, but a further station was founded at Port Underwood in December 1840, from which the missionary Samuel Ironside departed after the Wairau disturbance in 1843.

From 1844 when the Rev. Walter Lawry was appointed General Superintendent of Missions, the Wesleyan headquarters were at Auckland. There was a Native Institution for training native teachers at Grafton Road (1845–48) and, later, at Three Kings (1849–69), and a Maori girls' school at Onehunga. There were also village schools attached to some of the stations because both for Anglicans and for Wesleyans it was important that their converts should be able to read the Bible. Under Sir George Grey's governorship the Wesleyans received one-third of the education grant, the Catholics one-sixth and the Anglicans one-half.

In 1846 there were 14 mission stations with 17 missionaries, 345 native helpers, 2,960 church members, and 4,834 children at school. By the time of the Maori Wars there were stations at Mangungu, Waima, and Pakanae on the Hokianga; Tangiteroria and Mangawhare on the Kaipara; Mechanics Bay and Ihumatao at Auckland; Raglan, Kawhia, Aotea, and Te Kopua south of Auckland; Mokau, New Plymouth, and Heretoa in Taranaki; and Port Underwood and Waikouaiti in the South Island.

In 1863 the stations near the Waikato had to be vacated and in 1868 Raglan, Aotea, and Kawhia were combined in one circuit under the Rev. Cort Schnackenberg while Te Kopua was not even a preaching place.

The Wesleyans had assisted in the collection of signatures for the Treaty of Waitangi and they did not, in the following years, criticise Government policy or actions with regard to land buying or the events leading to the Maori Wars as outspokenly as the Anglican missionaries. The Wesleyans feared a war, seeing the destruction of their years of work as an inevitable consequence, and they advised the Maoris not to fight. When war did come the missionaries sent in reports to the Government of Maori activities and intentions, and acted as chaplains to the British troops. The Maoris regarded them as spies and traitors. John Whiteley, a veteran missionary at Taranaki, was murdered by a party of Hauhaus at Whitecliffs in 1869, after which fighting ceased.


Many of the Maoris in North Auckland had remained loyal to their churches but the decline in population and the wandering life necessitated by the principal occupation of gumdigging reduced congregations. One missionary at Hokianga served both Europeans and Maoris for many years. South of Auckland the great reduction in the Wesleyan following had been already noted. In Taranaki, where much of their land had been confiscated, the Maoris congregated at Parihaka round the prophet Te Whiti, avoiding all European contacts. The mission was re-established but the rise of the Ratana movement at Wanganui following the First World War reduced its influence. In the South Island the dwindling Maori centres of population were included in adjacent European circuits. With 12,611 adherents in 1961, the Methodist church did not appear to have regained its original strength among the Maoris.