A new biography of Taylor, Richard appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Richard Taylor was born on 21 May 1805 at Cetwell, Yorkshire, the second son of Richard Taylor and Catherine, née Spencer. He was educated at Dr Inchbold's school at Doncaster, but in 1818, when his father died, Taylor decided to enter the ministry. He studied under the Rev. Snowden of Horbury for several years and, in 1825, entered Queen's College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. three years later and M.A. in 1835. As he did not enjoy very good health he spent much of his spare time abroad, where he studied natural history. Taylor was ordained deacon in 1828 and received the curacy of St. Botolph's, a living which lay in his College's gift. In November of the following year he was admitted to the priesthood and, in 1830, became Vicar of Coveney and Manea in the Island of Ely. Taylor remained there until 1835, when he was accepted by the Church Missionary Society. On 18 February 1836 he sailed for New Zealand in the Prince Regent, arriving at Sydney on 12 June. About this time the death of the incumbent had left Liverpool, one of the most populous parishes in Australia, without clergy. Marsden therefore retained Taylor in this parish until a successor could be sent from England. There were many delays before the successor arrived and Taylor remained in Australia until March 1839.
Taylor landed at Paihia, Bay of Islands, on 10 March 1839 and, on the 19th, set out with William Williams (q.v) (later, first Bishop of Waiapu) to select a site for a new mission in the East Coast area. Later in the year he was put in charge of the mission school at Waimate, thus freeing Hadfield for mission work at Otaki. Shortly after this Taylor claimed to have bought for himself 50,000 acres of Motupao Island (near Cape Maria Van Diemen): this claim was subsequently reduced to 1,704 acres and, on being surveyed, to 852. Taylor was present at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and engrossed the text on parchment for the official copy the night before the ceremony. He remained at Waimate until 1843, when he was appointed to succeed Rev. John Mason at Wanganui.
The mission station was at Putiki-wharanui, across the river from Wanganui, and Taylor threw himself into the task of organising the affairs of his charge. He worked to a rota system and paid regular visits to all the villages in the district, often travelling far afield. In 1843 he walked to Rotorua where he met Selwyn, whom he escorted overland to Wanganui. A few months later he visited all the pas between Wanganui and New Plymouth and returned home via the headwaters of the Waitara. He built a mission school and a small hospital at Putiki and these greatly impressed Governor Grey when he visited Wanganui in March 1846. On this occasion Taylor was able to use his good offices to arrange a meeting between the Governor and the Wanganui chiefs, when the controversial Wanganui land sale was arranged. When the surveys began a month later the Maoris objected to the reserves allocated to them; and Taylor, much to the European settlers' annoyance, upheld the Maoris' view that they had no right to divide lands that the Maoris had not been paid for. He was, however, able to arrange for the settlers to occupy their lands pending settlement of the dispute. A little earlier, in January 1845, he had been partly instrumental in persuading a Ngati Tuwharetoa taua under Te Heuheu Mananui and Iwikau from attacking the Ngati Ruanui pas at Waitotara. A month later, in the company of Donald McLean, he visited Taupo and preached on Te Heuheu's marae. In February 1847, in response to the Tuwharetoa request for a missionary, Taylor dispatched two Ngati Ruanui converts, Mawhera and Kereopa, to Taupo. They went to Taupo, despite Te Rangihaeata's warning that the Ngati Ruanui – Tuwharetoa feud was not forgotten, and were killed near Tokaanu.
Besides his mission work Taylor also attended to the spiritual needs of the Europeans in the district. In this connection he founded a small boys' school in the town, and this afterwards became the nucleus of Wanganui Collegiate School. Telford, another clergyman, took over the European side of Taylor's duties in 1850, which left the latter free to concentrate on the Maori mission. In 1855 he visited England, taking with him Hoani Wiremu Hipango, a leading Wanganui chief and one of Taylor's earliest converts. He returned to Putiki in the following year where, in 1860, he was joined by his son, the Rev. B. K. Taylor. Thereafter he was able to devote more of his time to his scientific interests. During the Hauhau wars Taylor served as Chaplain with General Chute's forces. He retired from the mission in 1866, visited England in 1867, and returned to Wanganui in 1870. He remained there until his death on 10 October 1873.
Although much of Taylor's life was devoted to his missionary work, he was an acute observer of, and a prolific writer upon, natural and ethnological phenomena. He was a fellow of the Geological Society, and contributed papers to the New Zealand Institute. His first pamphlet, A Leaf from the Natural History of New Zealand (1848), contains much of interest to the student of today. The ethnological portions of this were later expanded into his Maori and English Dictionary (1870). In 1855 he published Te Ika-a-Maui, which is a mine of information on Maori culture and folklore, and in it Taylor dissents from many of the absurd popular opinions of his day about the Maoris. The Age of New Zealand (1866), a small geological pamphlet, and Past and Present of New Zealand (1868) complete his more important published works. In addition to these, however, he left several unpublished manuscripts. There is an Essay on the Zoology of New Zealand and a brief account of the steps leading up to the Waitara purchase. In the latter incident Taylor knew personally most of the principals, Maori and European, and was thus in a position to hear both sides of the dispute at first hand. His conclusion about this was that “it seems to have been rather an extraordinary misunderstanding arising out of associations between incapable sub-ordinates and a thoroughly dishonest Maori”, and he believed that the Governor had erred in not having the whole question examined by a Court of Justice. From 1825 until almost the day of his death Taylor kept a Journal. This record of his “daily life” is illustrated with pen sketches of persons, places, and other features that caught his eye. As well as notes on his routine work as a missionary, Taylor includes descriptions of Maori life and customs, flora, fauna, natural formations, and comments on political affairs.
Taylor was one of the most able men to serve the C.M.S. in New Zealand; he quickly won the Maoris' trust and exerted a tremendous influence among them. As he was one of the very few Europeans who believed the Maoris to be capable of assimilating western civilisation, Taylor stood high in the estimation of Grey and Gore Browne, who often consulted him on their native policy. During his lifetime Taylor corresponded with many of the scientific leaders of the day and collected New Zealand specimens for them. He was one of the first to realise the significance of New Zealand's moa remains; and he also built up a fine collection of recent Maori artefacts.
In 1829 Taylor married Mary Catherine Fox, who later accompanied him to New Zealand, and by her he had three sons and three daughters. Their eldest son, Arthur Spencer (1830–40), was killed in an accident at Waimate. Basil Kirke (1831–?), the second son, entered the church and succeeded his father at Putiki, where he was stationed until 1876. Taylor's name is perpetuated in Taylorville, a suburb of Wanganui.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Journal 1833–73, Taylor, R. (MSS), Turnbull Library
- Tuwharetoa, Grace, J. te H. (1959)
- Wanganui, Chappel, L. J. B., and Veitch, H. C. (1939).