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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.


VOLKNER, Rev. Carl Sylvius


Missionary martyr.

A new biography of Völkner, Carl Sylvius appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Carl Volkner was born in Hesse Cassel, Germany, and trained at the Missionary College, Hamburg. In 1847 he came to New Zealand under the auspices of the Lutheran North German Missionary Society. In 1852 he offered his services as a catechist to the Church Missionary Society. Two years later he married Emma, daughter of William Lanfear, of Christian Milford, Wiltshire. Volkner was ordained deacon on 3 June 1860 and a priest in 1862, being appointed to Opotiki in 1861. In 1865 there was an outbreak of typhoid at Opotiki, and Volkner, warned of an impending Hauhau attack, went with his wife to Auckland for medicines, leaving her there for safety. In the interim the Hauhaus ransacked the mission. When Volkner and his assistant, the Rev. T. S. Grace, returned on 1 March 1865 they were seized by Kereopa, the leader of the invaders. On 2 March Volkner was condemned to death and hanged outside his church, the body afterwards being mutilated. Kereopa, who had instigated the crime, was captured and executed in January 1872.

As a result of Volkner's murder, Opotiki was declared a military settlement, and units of the Armed Constabulary were stationed there for some years. The Governor and Ministers also used the incident to make successful representations to the Secretary of State to secure the further retention of Imperial troops in New Zealand.

Volkner was buried behind his church (St. Stephen the Martyr), but during extensions to the building in 1910 his grave was brought within the sanctuary.

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

  • Waiapu – The Story of a Diocese, Rosevear, W. (1960)
  • A Pioneer Missionary Among the Maoris 1850–1879 – Being the Letters and Journals of Thomas Samuel Grace, Brittain, S. J. (jt. ed.) (n.d.).


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