Henry Williams



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Henry Williams, Missionary

Public Domain

When Henry and Marianne Williams (16 December) arrived in the Bay of Islands in 1823, a new stage began in the life of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in New Zealand “Marsden Cove” (Paihia), became the centre for the first real spread of the gospel. Henry had served in the British Royal Navy, which lead to his being a peacemaker. He had some training in shipbuilding and medicine. But it was after his marriage to Marianne in 1818, that he offered his services as a missionary to the CMS, first as a lay settler, but then ordained in 1822.

The mission to New Zealand was nearly 10 years old when he arrived, but not a single Maori had been converted. The missionaries were still largely dependent on the Maori for food and supplies; leading to a trade in muskets and there were bitter personal disputes between missionaries. Henry took charge and turned things around. They made a concerted effort to learn Te Reo, and the translation of the Scriptures and Prayer Book was carried forward. Schools were established and every opportunity was taken to speak about the way of salvation.

Henry Williams's forceful personality, discipline and stubborn faithfulness to his Lord, were as important as his policies in reorganising the mission, and added to his growing mana among the Maori. He refused to be intimidated by the threats and boisterous actions of utu and muru plundering parties. By the late 1820s he was intervening in intertribal disputes and on several occasions was able to negotiate peace. Thus, his mana grew. Only one with great mana would be invited to settle a conflict, and it required even greater mana to be successful. As Williams mana grew, so did the influence of the mission.

Williams supervised the start of several new mission stations at Tauranga, Wanganui, and Waikanae. He laid the foundations of the Maori Anglican Church. It was a remarkable period of development and spiritual growth, in which “Te Wiremu” (Henry Williams) played a vital role, bringing joy to his heart.

The arrival of colonists brought by the New Zealand Company brought a stormy period for Henry Williams. He strongly supported the Treaty of Waitangi, seeing the rule of British law as a protection for Maori against unscrupulous land deals and general lawlessness. He was the official interpreter at the first signing.

Unfairly criticized by Governor Grey for his land purchases on behalf of his family. Henry’s vigorous defence of himself against the attacks by the governor and his refusal to heed the advice of Bishop Selwyn that he should give up his lands led to his dismissal by the CMS in 1849. He was reinstated 5 years later. Meanwhile he moved to Pakaraka, the land in question, and continued to exercise his ministry in the church. He had been appointed archdeacon of Waimate in 1844, and remained so even after his dismissal by the CMS. During the New Zealand Wars of the 1860’s , Henry Williams took no part in the public debates raging up and down the country, though privately he was very critical of the government. His concern was for the Maori people of the north, to whom he continued to minister faithfully for 40 years until his death. He was buried in the churchyard at Pakaraka.

Henry Williams’ family built a new church at Paihia as a memorial to him. It was dedicated on 17 November 1873. Maori erected a stone cross in the churchyard. It was unveiled on 11 January 1876, and on it is the following inscription:

Te Wiremu
He tohu aroha ki a ia na te
Hahi Maori
He tino matua ia ki nga iwi katoa
He tangata toa ki te hohou rongo i roto i nga riri Maori
E 44 nga tau i rui ai ia te Rongo Pai ki tenei motu
I tae mai ia i te tau 1823
I tangohia atu i te tau 1867

Henry Williams
A token of love to him from the
Maori Church
He was a father indeed to all the tribes
A courageous man who made peace in the Maori Wars
For 44 years he sowed the Good News in this island
He came in the year 1823
He was taken away in the year 1867

BORN: 11 February 1792, Gosport, Hampshire, England.

DIED:16 July 1867, Pakaraka, New Zealand.