Missionary impact

From 1814, Christian missionaries from Britain began building up friendly relationships with Māori. Mutual trust grew, and eventually this helped the British government gain influence here.

E tō mātou Matua i te Rangi, kia tapu tōu ingoa,
kia tae mai tōu Rangatiratanga.
Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed
be thy name, thy Kingdom come.

Pioneers of language

In 1820, Bay of Islands rangatira Hongi Hika and Waikato travelled to England with missionary Thomas Kendall. The three went to Cambridge to work with renowned linguist Professor Samuel Lee on Kendall’s book, A grammar and vocabulary of the language of New Zealand. While in England, the two rangatira were introduced to King George IV.

The book was published at the end of the year, laying the foundations for the way te reo Māori is written today.

S. Williams, New Zealand War Expedition, after an 1833 drawing by Henry Williams, 1835, wood engraving. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand (PUBL-0031-1835-1)

Side by side

The missionaries encouraged peace, and sometimes sailed with waka taua, as shown here. They hoped to mediate between warring tribes.

A new approach

For nearly ten years, the Church Missionary Society’s Bay of Islands mission offered Māori training in new ways of gardening and farming, and worked on forming good relationships with local people. But this didn’t convert a single person to Christianity.

Henry Williams took over as the mission’s leader in 1823. He focused more on spiritual teaching, and demanded that mission members improve their Māori language skills and preach to local tribes.

Williams’s firm, unswerving character gained him respect in the surrounding areas, and he was soon sought after as a mediator. In 1830, the first conversions came.

Christianity on the map

The Anglican Church Missionary Society was joined by the Wesleyan Missionary Society in 1823, and both groups began extending their operations throughout the country in the 1830s. Catholic missionaries arrived in 1838.

Thomas Gardiner, Kororareka Beach, Bay of Islands, New Zealand, about 1856, watercolour. Purchased 1993 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (1993-0029-1)

Popular port

Kororareka attracted both whaling and trading ships in the 1830s – with its rowdy shore life, it became known as ‘the hell-hole of the South Pacific’.

Ko te Kawenata Hou (New Testament), 1837, New Zealand, by Church Missionary Society. Gift of the Guard Family, 2016. Te Papa (GH025037)

Reading, writing, and religion

In 1834, the Church Missionary Society employed William Colenso to set up a printing press at the mission in the Bay of Islands. Colenso published Māori translations of biblical passages and, in 1837, a translation of the entire New Testament.

These first books in te reo Māori provided a vehicle for Māori to learn to read and write in their own language. The promise of literacy drew local Māori to Christianity in increasing numbers. By 1840, around 3,000 in the Bay of Islands area had been baptised.

A high profile conversion

Rawiri Taiwhanga was the first high-ranking Māori to convert to Christianity. He was baptised at Paihia on 7 February 1830. Taiwhanga ran a successful farm, and supplied butter to the Bay of Islands.


This content was originally written for the Treaty2U website in partnership with National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa and Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o Te Kāwanatanga in 2008, and reviewed in 2020.