Page 1: Biography
This biography, written by Nancy Pickmere, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Charlotte and James Kemp were, with other missionaries, the co-founders at Kerikeri of the second Church Missionary Society station in New Zealand. According to family information Charlotte Butcher was born on 27 July 1790 at Carlton Forehoe, Norfolk, England. James Kemp, the son of Richard and Ann Kemp, was born on 7 September 1797 at Wymondham, Norfolk. James worked as a blacksmith until his marriage to Charlotte, which took place in the abbey church in Wymondham on 16 November 1818. Charlotte and James then sailed to Sydney, Australia, in the Baring, and from there in the General Gates to the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, where they arrived on 12 August 1819. Charlotte was one of the first European women at Kerikeri.
The first six years at Kerikeri, coinciding with the intertribal musket wars, afforded some harrowing experiences. The missionary settlement was on the perimeter of Hongi Hika's pā, from which the war parties set out to raid distant tribes. With unsettled conditions prevailing, the missionaries suffered robberies and, on some occasions, had cause for more serious alarm. They were, too, impotent onlookers at the brutal treatment meted out to slaves captured from the defeated tribes. Continuing discord among their senior colleagues, particularly Thomas Kendall and John Gare Butler, made it a testing time for the couple.
Nevertheless, by 1828 schools were flourishing and church services well attended. James Kemp taught in the boys' and adults' schools and visited Māori villages along the coast. A devout, sincere man, he was well respected by the Māori, and undertook the role of peacemaker among warring tribes on several occasions. Charlotte Kemp, also well liked, taught in the girls' and infants' schools. For many years children, including the daughters of tribal leaders, were placed in residential care and training in her home. By 1835 she and James had eight children of their own. In May that year the death of their seven-month-old baby added to Charlotte's distress at the notification that the Kemps were to be transferred to Tauranga to pioneer a new mission station. The daunting prospect led her to suffer a mental breakdown, so that the Kemps remained at Kerikeri. Charlotte recovered the following year but subsequently suffered relapses. Their last child was born in 1838.
By 1840 the Kemps were the only missionaries left at Kerikeri. James's familiar stocky figure was often seen visiting the distant villages. His work included taking regular services, smithing, farming and tending the sick, although since 1822 his main non-clerical function had been running the CMS store which supplied the other stations. In 1832 he supervised the construction of a new store, the Stone Store, completed in 1836. It served the mission until 1843, when it was leased to Bishop G. A. Selwyn to house the diocesan library. Two of the Kemps' sons, James and Richard, purchased the stock under bond to the CMS and set themselves up as traders. After Selwyn removed to Auckland in November 1844, the Kemp sons leased the Stone Store.
During the war in the north from 1845 to 1846 the Kemps were among the few Europeans who stayed on at the Bay of Islands. British troops passed through Kerikeri en route to the battles at Ōkaihau and Ōhaeawai and on 4–5 May 1845 the station was pressed into service as temporary barracks. The Kemps later assisted in tending the wounded.
The Kerikeri station was closed in 1848, after James again refused a transfer, this time to Tūranga (Gisborne), on account of Charlotte's health. In March 1850 he accepted a retiring allowance of £80 per annum. In 1852, to release James and Richard from their agreement made in 1843 with the CMS (they still owed £788 5s. 2d. on the stores), James undertook to forgo his superannuation. He continued taking services, farming and running the Stone Store. The Kemp family lived on in their old mission house, the present Kemp House, into which they had moved in 1832.
During the 1830s James Kemp had purchased an area of forest land at Kaeo and some farming land at Kerikeri and Waimate North for the future employment of his family. After 1840 a vacillating government made great difficulties for old land claimants such as the Kemp family. In 1844 Kemp was granted 9,276 acres by Governor Robert FitzRoy, but received only 5,276 acres. After many years of legal wrangling, Kemp was finally granted 6,967 acres in 1859, and a further 2,722 acres in 1862.
Charlotte Kemp died at Kerikeri on 22 June 1860; James Kemp died at Auckland on 21 February 1872. In 1974 their old home, the oldest existing building in New Zealand, was presented to the nation by their great-grandson, Ernest Kemp.