Christian missions in the South Island in the 1840s
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
••• in works which profess to describe New Zealand, the largest island of the three is not described at all. It is passed over sub silentio. But it seems never to have occurred to the gentlemen who have published their 'New Zealands', that it was necessary to see more than a very small portion of it, in order to describe the whole ••• D. Monro, "Notes of a Journey through a Part of the Middle Island of New Zealand." My aims in writing this thesis are to draw attention to race relations in the South Island in the 1840's, and to investigate the initial impact of missionary work. Although the title refers only to the South Island I have extended the study to the Chathams, Stewart Island and Ruapuke for purposes of comparison. Because the South Island contained barely a twentieth of the total Maori population, New Zealand historians have tended to concentrate on racial conflicts in the North Island. As a result Te Wai Pounamu has been something of a Cinderella awaiting her prince. The condition of a few thousand South Island Maoris who, in half a century, were catapulted from the neolithic into the Victorian age is of more than academic interest. In several respects I have attempted an extension of Harrison Wright's work on the early years of western contact in the North Island to the southern islands of New Zealand. Although there are many predictable reactions between Maori and pakeha there are a number of important contrasts between northern and southern Maori. In the North Island the missionaries were the contemporaries of explorers, whalers and traders, and they built up their considerable political power alongside, though not as allies, of these Europeans engaged in secular pursuits. In the South Island, on the other hand, the missionaries came years after the less cultured and dedicated Europeans and had to establish their influence in competition with them. It is not easy in a study of race relations to strike a balance between the good yarn and the convenient labels of the sociologists. While certain patterns and generalizations do emerge, Harrison Wright's 'confusion' and 'conversion' tags cannot be applied as representing a sequence of psychological developments. An undercurrent of confusion and elements of a clairvoyant fear are discernible in the Maoris' attitude to Europeans from the days of the sealing gangs to the period of organized colonization in the mid-century. The Maori 'conversion' to Christianity in the 1840's was not different in kind from the earlier response to the whalers and traders. It involved a profound mental disruption since the values and morality of the whaling station and the mission station were far apart, but it was not deep rooted. The missionaries had so short a time in which to launch their work that the Maoris' conversion could be little more than an attraction to the person of the missionary and above all to his most significant credentials, books. By this interpretation the falling away of the Maoris from Christianity in the late 1840's and the 1850's was not the result of a sudden wave of disillusionment after the glad morning of conversion, but the almost inevitable outcome of an uncertainty more fundamental than the attraction of the trappings of European civilization. Te Wai Pounamu was far from being a Christian Mecca even for missionaries. The South Island missions were regarded by most as an appendage of those in the North and by some as posts of penance for men who wandered from the path of duty in more populous places. Because the missionaries were so few those who were resident for several years in one place seem an integral part of that area. One thinks of the stench and squalor of Waikouaiti in terms of James Watkin's melancholy; of the Rev. Reay establishing the work of the Church Missionary Society against the background of the newly founded Nelson settlement; and of Johann Wohlers' blithe sanctity like a breeze from the Baltic amid the decadence and lethargy of Ruapuke Island. I have adopted a regional approach to this survey comparing the impact of Christianity and race relations in areas where resident missionaries worked. However this method was not satisfactory for assessing the influence of that little known band of itinerant Maori preachers who roamed the country preparing their fellowmen for the European Gospel. I have surveyed their influence and that of Bishops Selwyn and Pompallier in a separate chapter devoted to sectarianism in the South Island. Histories of missionary work tend to fall into two categories: the scathingly critical, and the sentimental with accompanying hosannas. While I hope above all else to have escaped the latter I am convinced that in the South Island the charges by modern anthropologists are not entirely justified. When the missionaries arrived the economic, social and religious bonds of tribal life had already decayed and the Maori population was in decline. However devastating the moral implications might be, tribal institutions could not survive if the Maoris were to aspire to anything like equality with the pakeha in a European New Zealand. The missionaries knocked down some of the remaining props of Maori life, especially the tapu, but they offered literacy, the passport to the future.