Monday, November 24, 2014
We feature each week Nicholas Reid's reviews and comments on new and recent books
“PEWHAIRANGI – Bay of Islands Missions and Maori, 1814 to 1845” by Angela Middleton (Otago University Press, $NZ50)
My first cursory glance at the publishers’ description of this book led me to wonder if the author could possibly have anything new to say about the subject.
Pewhairangi concerns, as its subtitle indicates, the interaction of Maori with Anglican CMS (Church Missionary Society) missionaries in the Bay of Islands from the very first permanent English settlers in 1814 to the winding-down of the Anglican mission in that area in the so-called “Northern War” of the 1840s. (“Pewhairangi” is the Maori transliteration of the English phrase “Bay of Islands” and not the original name that Maori gave to that area.)
But hasn’t this subject already been covered in numerous history books – not just popular general histories, but also more recent scholarly studies? Was there really anything of significance that readers would not already know from other published sources?
As it happens, my misgivings were quite unfounded. Pewhairangi has much that is new to reveal to us, because Angela Middleton is primarily an archaeologist rather than an historian. Her book appears on the second centenary of the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand. It was, as she told a Radio New Zealand interviewer, over a decade in the making, as many of its key findings are based on a series of archaeological digs at the sites of old mission stations. Consequently Pewhairangi gives us not only the general history of the missions in those years, but also the intimate details of how people lived at the mission stations as revealed in the material artefacts uncovered by the archaeologists’ spades.
Middleton includes three general chapters on the development of the Anglican missions. “Into the Maori World” concerns the ways in which missionaries did or (more often) did not adjust to the Maori worldview and customs. “Maori Gardens and European Arms” considers how the missionaries inevitably became involved in trade with their hosts the Ngapuhi, and how this led, via the growing musket trade, to Hongi Hika’s first “musket wars” and his slaughter of the Ngati Whatua at Tamaki-makau-rau (Auckland). “The Escalation of War, 1845” outlines the period in which, with the influx of European settlers after the Treaty of Waitangi, the Anglican church in New Zealand was becoming more a settler church than a mission church, Auckland became the country’s capital, and the Ngapuhi took up arms as they saw the promises made in the Treaty not being kept. There is also a brief final chapter, “What Hath God Wrought?”, giving the author’s (mainly negative) view of what the missions achieved.
These chapters are, however, necessary mainly to give the book narrative and chronological coherence.
The originality of Pewhairangi lies in the other five substantial chapters in which Middleton examines each of five mission stations, one by one. Her method is to give the full history of each station in turn, from its first settlement to its decline and closure, with an account of its inhabitants and their success or failure in the missionary field, buttressed by detailed comments on the geographical site of the mission station and its archaeological remains. The stations are Hohi (founded in 1814), near Rangihoua Pa on the northern side of the bay; Kerikeri (founded 1819) up the river; Paihia (founded 1823); Te Waimate (founded 1830) far inland; and Te Puna (founded 1832).
Every so often, there are words that could be interpreted as expressing the archaeologist’s frustration at what is no longer accessible, such as this opening to the chapter concerning Paihia:
“Visitors to Paihia today have to search for clues to any trace of the mission and its lost structures. Little archaeological investigation has been carried out, as development has taken place over the years with scant regard to this heritage.” (p.134)
There are indeed passages in which Angela Middleton assumes an audience not acquainted with any of this early New Zealand history, as when her introductory remarks discuss the mutual misapprehension of two cultures:
“Evangelical missionary doctrine described a binary world, divided into good and evil. Thus, Maori cultural practices and beliefs were seen as the work of Satan or the Devil, often personified as the ‘Prince of Darkness’ in the reports and daily journals of the New Zealand missionaries sent back to the CMS in London. Missionaries saw themselves as fighting a holy battle against Maori practices related to mana and tapu. These concepts affected the missionaries’ everyday lives as Maori inflicted punishments for infringement of tapu by ransacking mission houses, taking goods or even physically attacking people. The Europeans did not understand that these were actually lesser forms of punishment, that they were being exempted from normal practices, such as the infliction of death, for similar infringements by Maori. When the missionaries responded to Maori transgressions by exacting European ‘justice’ or revenge, Maori were similarly confounded.” (Chapter One, pp.19-20)
Later, when she makes much the same point, she tends to cultural equivalence:
“The work of the mission, seen as a battle between good and evil, personified through the Christian God and the devil, Satan, was further exemplified by the missionaries at Paihia through the repudiation of tapu and the unforeseen consequences of offences against Maori cultural practices. This view was reciprocal, since some Maori considered European practices in a similar way, seeing the preaching of the Gospel as witchcraft.” (Chapter Five, p.144)
This, in turn, paves the way for her closing suggestion that the Bay of Islands missions achieved little in the way of real conversion to Christianity.
Some elements of the general story are familiar, as when Middleton explains the original CMS strategy, authorised by Samuel Marsden, to “civilise, then Christianise” Maori:
“None of the first missionaries were ordained ministers. They were artisans chosen according to Marsden’s belief that nothing could ‘pave the way for the introduction of the Gospel but civilization’, through the ‘civilized arts’. The missionaries and their wives were to teach Maori to read and write, how to grow wheat and other European crops, and such skills as shoemaking, carpentry, ropemaking, needlework and housekeeping.” (Chapter Three, p.69)
This was the fate of the Hall, King and Kendall families. Naturally, we are told of the choleric and bullying nature of Thomas Kendall as he became more attuned to the Maori world than his fellow lay catechists and shifted into trading. Equally familiar is the story of how the arrival of Henry Williams, an ordained Anglican minister, in 1823 changed the nature of the mission and changed the whole strategy for making converts. Williams insisted on “direct conversion through preaching”. However, Williams’ arrival also accentuated class divisions between the ordained clergy and the lay catechists who had preceded them. Says Middleton:
“As an ordained minister, Henry Williams held a superior position, as did his brother, William. With his shift to ‘direct conversion through preaching’, rather than teaching practical skills and literacy, divisions between the old catechists and ordained ministers grew, along with parochial interests.” She instances the treatment by Henry Williams of James Kemp, and says such divisions hardened once Bishop Selwyn arrived, noting that “the (few extant) letters and journals of missionary women” present “a world where some of the mission families, in particular the lay catechists and mission labourers, were considered less desirable social companions.” (Chapter 4, p.108)
Even more tensions within the mission came with the arrival of Bishop Selwyn, who had “high church” inclinations quite different from the more evangelical Anglicanism of earlier Anglican missionaries. By the time Selwyn arrived, however, the church’s focus was shifting away from the Bay of Islands:
“The significance of Selwyn’s occupation of Waimate was that it was synchronous with the arrival of settlers after the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, British annexation and the development of the ‘colonial church’. With the departure of St John’s College, the bishop joined the list of those Pakeha, including government officials and settlers, who abandoned Ngapuhi and Pewhairangi for Tamaki-makau-rau, the seat of the old Ngapuhi enemy, Ngati Whatua.” (Chapter 6, p.205)
If I found myself greeting some stories told in this book as familiar from other books (the sins of William Yate, for example), I was nevertheless beguiled by the unfamiliarity of others. I would instance the detailed history Middleton gives of the stone store at Kerikeri and its various uses and modifications. Or the sad rearguard action of James Kemp in trying to maintain an active mission in Kerikeri in the 1840s when the church was letting the mission there run down. Or Selwyn’s pretentious (and brief) attempt to turn the Waimate station into a seminary before he moved St John’s College to Auckland. Or the frankly hilarious account (pp.216-219) of the urbane German visitor Karl von Huegel attempting to visit and socialise with sour-faced and unsympathetic missionaries.
If I regret anything in this book, it is the lack of detail about how the Anglican missionaries reacted to missionaries of other Christian denominations in the area at this time. There are only a few fleeting references to the contemporaneous Wesleyan (Methodist) missionaries in Ngapuhi territory, and even fewer to the Catholic missionaries who arrived in 1838 and who (in history) provoked outraged reactions from Anglican and Methodist alike. However, Middleton’s avowed purpose is to deal systematically with the Anglican mission stations and this she does handsomely. And I find it hard to resist a book which is so well documented and so thoroughly illustrated with appropriate images of places and sites.