Assisted suicide – the critical unanswered question


It cuts to the heart of the issue. But it’s the question that euthanasia advocates refuse to answer. They argue that assisted suicide is the only “solution” for a small group of dying New Zealanders who suffer untreatable pain. But the critical question is this.  If legalising assisted suicide increases risk for a large number of other vulnerable kiwis, is it still an acceptable solution?

Palliative care is effective in relieving pain and suffering for the vast majority of those dying with a terminal illness. But for a tiny minority it is not. On TVNZ’s Q&A programme last week the Hon Alfred Ngaro noted the experience of a leading palliative care specialist. Over a period of forty years she had treated 12,000 patients. In only twelve cases was palliative care ineffective at relieving pain. 

The interviewer Jack Tame quickly responded with the obvious question – yes but why should we not give those twelve people the option of assisted suicide? It is a question which encapsulates the strongest argument for those advocating for the new End of Life Choice Act. When palliative care isn’t enough, shouldn’t euthanasia be an option?

But it is a question with a very narrow vision. It ignores the wider and more critical question. Should we make changes to “benefit” the twelve, if those changes are likely to harm many thousands of others?

For those who answer no, it is not because they lack compassion or fail to recognise the suffering of the twelve. It is because they perceive that the changes involved cannot be “quarantined” so they only impact on this small group. This is the tragic reality that must be faced. 

For a start the changes involved in the End of Life Choice Act cannot be quarantined legally. In spite of the legislation’s architect David Seymour’s claims, there is very little in the Act to ensure patients make their choice free of duress or coercion (read more here). In the same TVNZ programme Seymour also dismissed concerns about the “slippery slope” when it came to legal eligibility. Forget about what might happen in the future he said. Focus on the legislation in front of us now. However we all know that this genre of socially liberal legislation never remains what is in front of us now.  

More importantly, the quarantine challenge with this legislation extends well beyond its legal impact. In this Act the State will effectively sanction the idea that there is such a thing as a life not worth living. Once it does so, there will be no way to culturally quarantine this concept. There are tens of thousands of New Zealanders who at any one time are suffering serious depression. Seymour will reassure us that such people are not eligible for assisted suicide under this legislation. But that completely misses the point. The issue here is not legal eligibility. The issue is cultural endorsement of suicide. Go there, and you will inevitably place these vulnerable people at higher risk.

In their tunnel vision, the advocates of the “End of Life Choice Act” consistently ignore these concerns about the wider impact it will have. However good government does not suffer tunnel vision. It takes a broader view of the common good. And most importantly, good government does not assume all problems can be solved and all suffering relieved. It recognises that we live in an imperfect world, where trying to solve intractable problems, often risks creating worse ones.  

Ewen McQueen
September 2020

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Politics and schools don’t mix?

On Tuesday this week, Act MP David Seymour addressed the school assembly at Auckland Grammar. Among other things, he promoted his euthanasia legislation to the students.

On Wednesday, news arose of Catholic schools providing information to students and parents outlining the risks of that legislation, and of legalising cannabis. Seymour promptly responded that the education system  should be politically neutral and “it was inappropriate for schools to get involved in a partisan way” (NZ Herald). Apparently politics and schools don’t mix – unless you are the Act Party leader.

Of course such blindness to the contradiction in one’s own position is not restricted to MPs like David Seymour. Many in our governing bureaucracy are equally optically challenged.

The Ministry of Education also weighed in on the Catholic schools “controversy” this week. Deputy Secretary Katrina Casey noted that integrated religious schools are Crown entities just like state schools. As such they “are required to be politically neutral.” However only the day prior, the Ministry had issued new sexuality education and relationships guidelines which stated that schools needed to,

Allow their students freedom of expression in relation to their gender identities and sexual orientation, including the right to determine their own identity and name.

Include content on the diversity of sex characteristics, sexuality, and gender identities in their curriculum programmes.

So when did the political ideology of gender confusion become scientifically accepted truth which must be enforced in our schools? This week apparently. The same week the Ministry of Education is lecturing integrated Catholic schools on the need to be politically neutral.

Such is the hubris of the social liberals who now dominate our political and bureaucratic establishment. They cannot see the hypocrisy of their positions. They simply assume that their particular worldview and the deluded ideas which often arise from it are somehow “neutral”. However alternative viewpoints which challenge their belief framework are “political speech” which must be kept out of our schools. Go figure!

Ewen McQueen
September 2020


Posted in Cultural Renewal, Honouring Marriage, Protecting Children, Respect for Life | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Where is your Soviet unit now Minister Little?

Who do I call? The Ministry of Justice website has no contact details for it. But we know it exists – the “Soviet unit” set up by Minister Andrew Little last year. It was tasked with “calling out misinformation” during the cannabis and euthanasia referendums. Will it call out its own Minister? Or will his arrogant disregard for the truth go unchallenged?

Last night on TVNZ Andrew Little falsely claimed that the Family First NZ campaign against legalising cannabis was being funded “by a large US outfit trying to influence New Zealand politics”. According to Little, Family First “are going to have to answer to New Zealanders about the fact that Americans are funding their campaign interfering in New Zealand’s election processes.” But what Little calls a “fact” is actually a lie. If anyone should be answering to New Zealanders it is him. Will his Soviet unit call out his blatant spreading of misinformation? Don’t hold your breath.

The Say Nope to Dope campaign being run by Family First and other concerned New Zealanders is funded by the voluntary giving of ordinary Kiwis. It has not received a cent of overseas funding. As part of its campaign it is offering views from overseas experts into the debate – as are those advocating for liberalisation. That is the normal business of public debate.

None of this means anything to Mr Little. The polls are showing public opinion is against cannabis liberalisation. This was enough to trigger his cynical effort with the liberal New Zealand media to foment a shallow anti-American response among the public. It was an effort that Little should be ashamed of, and for which he should apologise. Again, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Ewen McQueen
July 2020

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Henry Williams – Nationmaker

The water lapped brightly around the small boat. It was 1835. Henry Williams and his crew were sailing south through the Hauraki Gulf. As they passed the Waitemata, Williams recorded,

…was much struck with the beauty of the harbour, which is accessible at all times; it will some day make a valuable place, being by far the best anchorage and deep water. (1)

Later they paddled up the Tamaki inlet to Otahuhu. Williams noted the country was good and would “doubtless be very valuable at some future day”. The boat was then dragged over to the Manukau, “quite an inland sea” with Kauri trees “thick on the north shore”. However it was a quiet place. Hongi Hika’s raids some years earlier had seen to that. Williams lamented the many who had been killed in the area, and recorded there was “now not an inhabitant for a great distance”.

Were Henry Williams to return to the Tamaki isthmus today, he would be astounded. In less than two centuries it has blossomed into the flourishing metropolis of Auckland. With its gleaming high-rises, busy motorways, bustling harbour, and sprawling suburbs, it is the first city of our nation. And it is a nation which owes a debt of gratitude to Henry Williams. He stands a clear first among its founders.

Williams’ nation-making efforts in New Zealand began from the moment he stepped ashore in 1823. Wherever he went, Williams was relentless in proclaiming the Christian gospel, te rongopai, among Māori. It was a message he lived and breathed. For years te rongopai competed with the musket, for Māori hearts. However, eventually it prevailed. In the 1830s there was a spiritual awakening in the land. Social transformation followed. Where previously there had been tribal feuding, violence and cannibalism, now a new way dawned. What was written, came to pass – He makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth. 

On this foundation of spiritual and social transformation, the next building block of our nation was laid. Civil government was established in the Treaty of Waitangi. Here again, Henry Williams was at the centre of the action. It is his Treaty translation, and explanation to the chiefs, for which he is most well known today – and most criticised.

It is now common to hear that Williams was either incompetent or disingenuous in his Treaty translation. Historian Paul Moon, for example, asserts that Williams was not “sufficiently conversant in Maori to undertake the responsibility”.(2) According to Moon, others were better suited to the task. It is a claim which buttresses the modernist view that Māori comprehension was misdirected at Waitangi. However, viewed alongside Williams’ life, it is a claim which is hardly credible. 

Henry Williams spent seventeen years prior to the Treaty, living and working among Māori. He had sat beside campfires all around the North Island, engaging wherever he could in “close conversation” with Māori, young and old. Some had never seen a Pākehā. Yet he conversed with them in their own language. In those years Williams also learnt tikanga and culture. He became involved in tribal affairs. He “embedded” himself on war parties, travelling hundred of miles and spending weeks away, with the hope of mediating to avert conflict. He dealt with great chiefs, and negotiated matters of war and peace, life and death. If anyone was suited to translate and explain the Treaty of Waitangi – it was Henry Williams. 

And contrary to modern opinion, Williams did not misdirect Māori comprehension of the Treaty with his translation. The records of the debate at Waitangi show the chiefs quickly grasped its essence. Williams’ explanations to them were also straightforward. Their land would be protected. And the Treaty meant that both Māori and Pākehā would now come “under one Sovereign, one Law, human and divine.”(3) That the Crown subsequently failed to keep the plain promises of the Treaty, is in no way a reflection on Williams. He played his part ably, and with honour. 

Williams next appears on the stage of our founding history in January 1845. Hone Heke had felled the flagstaff and was fomenting dissension among the northern tribes. The Treaty was a trick, he said. The British were going to take their land. Until then most chiefs had opposed Heke. However a recent British parliamentary report had proposed that the Crown take ownership of all non-occupied “wastelands” in New Zealand. The report was not acted on, but news of it alarmed the chiefs. A large hui gathered at Paroa in the Bay of Islands. Perhaps Heke was right? Maybe they should join him in rejecting the Treaty and casting off the Queen’s Government it had established.

Into this highly charged moment stepped Henry Williams. Armed with copies of the Treaty he challenged the chiefs to find any suggestion their land was at risk. They could trust the British Crown. There would be no “tinihanga” or trickiness.(4) Debate continued for four days, but eventually the mana of Williams carried the day. The hui concluded with most chiefs reassured of their Treaty commitment, and rejecting Heke’s call to arms. Thus this early threat to our nascent nationhood was effectively extinguished.

Of course in subsequent years, governors and the settler administration found other ways to alienate Māori from their land. Tinihanga became all too common. Because of this it is easy to view Williams, and his reassurances to the chiefs, with the cynicism typical of our age. However, at the time, Williams had much reason for optimism. He had witnessed remarkable changes across New Zealand. And the British Empire itself was undergoing  unprecedented and promising change. The recent abolition of slavery was but one example.

In the midst of these heady days of progress, it is understandable that Williams’ vision was focused on a positive future for the land, and the people, he loved. Along with the chiefs who signed the Treaty, he looked to that future with optimism, hope and faith.

Indeed when the spiritual and governing foundations of our nation were being laid, good faith abounded. And no more so than in the life of Henry Williams – New Zealand’s original nationmaker.

Ewen McQueen
June 2020


(1) Fitzgerald, Caroline (ed), Te Wiremu – Henry Williams: Early Years in the North, Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2011, page 240

(2) Moon, Paul, Hobson: Governor of New Zealand 1840-1842, David Ling Publishing, Auckland, 1998, page 93

(3) Fitzgerald, page 317

(4) Buick, Lindsay T, New Zealand’s First War: Or the Rebellion of Hone Heke,  Government Printer, Wellington, 1926, page 53

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Henry Williams – the inveterate learner

The chocks were kicked away. Fifty tonnes of sailing vessel glided down rollers, over the Paihia sand and plunged into the water. The multitude of Māori onlookers were briefly silenced. Astonished. Then they erupted. Hundreds splashed wildly into the water throwing spears and clambered aboard. On shore, thousands burst into a thundering haka of celebration. No waka had ever been launched this way! The gathered Pākehā joined with “three hearty cheers”. (1)

So was launched the Herald, in January 1826. A sixty-foot schooner, it would enable regular supply trips to be made across the Tasman. It was a response to the shortages often experienced at the Paihia mission station. And it was a response typical of Rev Henry Williams. Without prior experience in boat-building, Williams simply turned to books, and some advice he had obtained from a ship’s carpenter. He then supervised the construction of the solution to their supply problems, which now floated before them.

Resourceful, abounding in initiative, Williams was an inveterate learner. Faced with a challenge, he would apply himself to learning what was needed to overcome it.

And for Williams his greatest challenge was not crossing oceans, it was crossing cultures. To this task he applied himself with the same determination to learn. Upon arriving in 1823 he refocused the mission’s routine. Now there would be daily Māori language lessons for everyone from 8am to 10am. After this Henry and his brother would spend three more hours on preparing a dictionary. (2)

Some modern historians have claimed that in these efforts they fashioned a form of “missionary Māori”. However the evidence shows they took particular care to be accurate. In a letter home Williams records that an early problem in learning the language was the “mixed jargon” which Māori had picked up from the trading ships. He notes his team had first to learn, and then unlearn this. To this end,

...a proclamation was issued that none should speak in this confused manner to us. By degrees we suppressed it, and they have long spoken the pure tongue. Yet even now it is necessary to be very careful that we do not confound their words to accommodate us. (3)

Williams himself initially struggled with learning the language, but with perseverance came progress. It wasn’t long before he was conversing with confidence wherever he went. On his many adventures he invariably finished the day at his tent door in “close conversation” with Māori among whom he was staying. This is a recurring phrase in his journal.

Often the conversation went well into the night. After journeying into the Waikato interior in 1835, Williams returned to Thames where he “was kept in conversation with Wharerahi and others till midnight.”(4) In his traverse of the North Island in 1839 he arrived at a settlement on the upper Whanganui River where no European had been before. He reported in his journal,

I was kept in close conversation for about two hours, the people having gathered round for that purpose…   Some natives, hearing that I was in the neighbourhood, came down the river to see me. Two young men, in particular, took up their position close to me, and kept me in close conversation, till I could talk no more. (5) 

On the same journey he came across a party of Maori near Taupō who were very much surprised at finding a European in the bush, “especially when they discovered that he could speak to them in their own language.” A few days later near Lake Rotoaira, under the slopes of Mt Tongariro, Williams recorded,

Dec 30…  In the evening had much conversation with the people assembled around my Tent who were full of curiosity and wonder at all they saw and heard…                           Jan 1…  Had a good assembly around the Tent till late..  (6)

Henry Williams engaged eagerly with Māori wherever he went. And many of them were just as keen to talk with him. But it was not only language Williams was learning. Understanding the customs, or tikanga, of those he had come to serve was equally as important to him. Hence we find him in 1835, upon meeting the great chief Waharoa, maintaining a respectful silence, “As is the custom, no one spoke for some time…” (7)  Even where customs were not to his liking, he had the wisdom to see past the form, to the heart of what was being expressed. Williams was not a fan of haka, but of one expedition in 1833 he writes,

As we approached the beach, the troops were turned out to salute us, and gave us one of their infernal dances…  however, as it was intended as a compliment, it was needful to receive it as such. (8)

The ultimate success of Henry Williams, in learning to cross the cultural divide, is summed up in a story told by Mary Ann Martin, wife of the Chief Justice. In 1843 she attended a Waimate hui. Local Māori were opposing plans for the recently arrived Bishop Selwyn to relocate to Auckland. One chief was particularly animated. Martin wrote,

It was very amusing to see the two brothers Williams stand up to answer him. They had lived so long in the land that they used Maori action…  Archdeacon Henry Williams, a stout, old-fashioned looking clergyman, with broad-brimmed hat and spectacles, marched up and down with a spear in his hand, and elicited shouts of applause. (9)

Rev Henry Williams had clearly won the hearts of his hearers. Today it is fashionable to criticise Williams. However his life is an outstanding example of one who was willing to learn, in order to reach across cultures. He deserves as much applause from us, as he received that day at Waimate.

Ewen McQueen
May 2020

(1) Fitzgerald, Caroline (ed), Te Wiremu – Henry Williams: Early Years in the North, Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2011, page 65

(2) Williams, William, Christianity Among the New Zealanders, Seeley, Jackson & Halliday, London, 1867, University of Auckland Library, ENZB, page 68

(3) Fitzgerald, page 92

(4) Rogers, Lawrence (ed), The Early Journals of Henry Williams, Pegasus Press, Christchurch 1961, NZETC, Victoria University, page 431

(5) Rogers, page 467-468

(6) Rogers, page 470-471

(7) Rogers, page 420

(8) Rogers, page 298

(9) Drummond, Alison, Married & Gone to New Zealand: being extracts from the writings of women pioneers, Oxford University Press, 1960, page 154

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Henry Williams – adventurer to the ends of the earth

Whanganui River

The swine plummeted into the abyss. But this was no cliff above Galilee. It was a precipice above the Whanganui River. Henry Williams, now barefoot for greater grip, clung to the roots and branches on the side of the near vertical track. He watched as the pig tumbled over, and down, crashing through the bush to the bottom of the valley. His Māori companions clambered after it. Williams records, “Detained for two hours, while the boys cut up the pig.” (1)

It was Christmas Day 1839. Rev Henry Williams was not at home with his family, or leading services at Paihia. Instead, this intrepid missionary was on another expedition. For Williams, adventure was in his DNA.

After leaving the Royal Navy two decades earlier, Williams looked to the south seas for new excitement. He offered to captain supply vessels around the coast of New Zealand for the Church Missionary Society (CMS). They suggested he go as a missionary instead. (2) Williams took up the challenge. Becoming the leader of the CMS mission in Paihia in 1823 in no way cramped his adventurous spirit. It just gave him greater opportunity. Now his exploits would not just be on the high seas, but through dense forest and swamps, across rivers, and upon mountains. Te rongopai, the gospel, needed feet. In this wild and rugged land, he would provide them.

An 1835 journey to the Waikato interior saw Williams sail from Paihia to Whakatiwai on the Firth of Thames. From there his party proceeded via waka up the Waihou River to a meeting with the great chief Waharoa. They then battled through bush all the way to near Pirongia. Rain was a constant presence in Williams’ journal, where he also noted crossing the Waikato river and other challenges.

March 13… We had to cross over the river where the stream is extremely rapid, upon a rudely native-constructed bridge, consisting of a few slender trees thrown across, over which we passed on our hands and knees. 

March 14… had to pass through a dangerous bog; all that appeared to keep us from sinking, I know not what depth, was the roots of  weed, which seemed to float upon the surface, and bend under us like weak ice, obliging us to move quickly. lest we should fall through. (3)

Williams and his companions then paddled down the Waipa to Ngaruawahia and a meeting with Te Wherowhero. From there, more river and bush-bashing returned them to Whakatiwai and a sea voyage to Paihia. It was a six week journey of relationship building, sharing te rongopai, and mediating peace between various tribes.

There were many such expeditions. Once Williams traversed the entire North Island after sailing to from Paihia to Wellington with Octavius Hadfield. After climbing the hills and crossing fourteen rivers they came to Otaki, where Hadfield remained to live among local Māori. But Williams continued home via an arduous overland route. His party followed the Whanganui to its source (losing the plummeting pig en-route). After a night below the  Mt Ruapehu snowline they trekked for hours “over most barren ground. No vegetation of any kind, one continued bed of pumice stone.” (4) Lake Taupo was crossed via waka to Rangatira Point where he was glad “to find a chapel and that all professed to be believers”. (5) At Wairakei Williams poked his stick at a geyser which immediately erupted causing him “to retreat with all despatch”. (6) Then it was on through more endless bush to Tauranga, from where they sailed to Paihia. He arrived home after three long months away – just in time to translate the Treaty of Waitangi. 

Of course on all his adventures Williams was not alone. He often had missionary colleagues. And Māori companions acted as guides on routes which, for them, were simply business-as-usual. There was too, another faithful companion. The latter became apparent in moments of great danger. 

One such moment was April 1832. Sailing home from a peace-making mission to Tauranga, Williams and his crew were engulfed in a furious storm off Great Barrier Island. From the time of year, and his description, it was likely an ex-tropical cyclone. Williams records violent north-east gales and rain so dense they could not see the other end of their small vessel. With the boat becoming unmanageable and in danger of being dis-masted, they took down all sails and were driven before the fury of the storm. As night fell the storm intensified. None slept. At dawn, cliffs loomed over them. They hoisted sail to try and escape. But it only drove them faster towards the rocks and inevitable destruction. Henry’s brother William later wrote of the moment,

Every countenance spoke alarm, and it was declared impossible to save her. But what is impossible with man is possible with God. They watched a smooth of the sea to put the helm down, and at that interval there was a lull. The vessel came around in a surprising manner, though to all human appearance it was impossible… (7)

Henry himself later admitted to being “seriously impressed with our great danger” but also to having “felt a strong faith, or secret conviction” that the One who had always protected him on his many journeys, would do so once again. (8) He was proven right. It was such faith that made him one of our greatest adventurers.

Ewen McQueen
May 2020

(1) Rogers, Lawrence (ed), The Early Journals of Henry Williams, Pegasus Press, Christchurch 1961, NZETC, Victoria University, page 468

(2) Fitzgerald, Caroline (ed), Te Wiremu – Henry Williams: Early Years in the North, Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2011, page 15

(3) Rogers, page 422

(4) Rogers, page 469

(5) Fitzgerald, page 308

(6) Fitzgerald, page 309

(7) Williams, William, Christianity Among the New Zealanders, Seeley, Jackson & Halliday, London, 1867, University of Auckland Library, ENZB, page 142

(8) Rogers, page 242

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A time to fight – Galatas remembered

Galatas, Crete

Today the road to the village square was quiet. Seventy-eight years ago it was a cacophony. The thud of boots, smashing glass, a clattering tank. The latter roared its way up this narrow lane between the houses. Behind it a band of Kiwi soldiers was enveloped in the smell of diesel and cordite. Gunfire and ricochets rained down on them. Bright flashes and explosions from grenades split the twilight. Then, it happened…

It was May 25th, 1941. The strategic village of Galatas in Crete had been captured by the Germans. They now threatened to cut the New Zealand division in half. The prospect of mass casualties or mass surrender loomed. In the face of the relentless German advance, panic began to break out. At that moment, a soldier lying in a ditch beside the Galatas road saw a figure standing in the middle of the road. Tracer bullets flew all around him from Junkers flying over. It was Colonel Howard Kippenberger. He bellowed at the troops – “Stand for New Zealand! Stand every man who is a soldier!” Courage returned to shrinking hearts. The line held. But the crisis remained.

Kippenberger knew the only way to avert disaster was to retake Galatas. He pulled together the soldiers he could find and put the mission before them. For the sake of their fellow New Zealanders it was time to fight – and it would be the fight of their lives. The village on the hill had to be recaptured.

They set off behind the one small tank available. At first they walked, trying to keep cover against the barrage of enemy fire coming from within the houses lining the road. Then it happened. From out of somewhere – a great roar rose up. It drowned out all else. Even the English tank driver could hear it over the din of his engine. A bone-chilling sound that rose and fell like rolling thunder. A battle cry! The New Zealanders had cut loose. Now they were running. Charging. Ferocious. They entered the village square. Bayonets fixed, they swarmed at the enemy.

The Germans broke. The fury of the New Zealanders was upon them. There was no time to reload. They piled out of windows and doors and ran. Many never made it. There was brutal hand to hand fighting in the street. Then it was over. Galatas was retaken. The streets were full of dead and wounded from both sides. The local Greeks did what they could to help them as night fell.

At the same time on a spring evening in May 2019, my wife Rachel and I walked up the same narrow road. As we turned into the square we found it occupied by a silent honour guard of Greek soldiers. They were waiting for the commemoration service to begin. Dignitaries and locals gathered. The New Zealand flag flew alongside the flag of Greece. And then the proceedings commenced, and they remembered. As they do every year.

And we joined them. Proud New Zealanders remembering our fellow Kiwis who had fought so courageously that day. They were not highly trained, elite troops. They were just ordinary Kiwis – farmers, accountants, lawyers, labourers. Yes, they had crossed the oceans to help defend Europe from the Nazis. But in that moment, backs against the wall, their hearts were ablaze with one goal. They rose up to fight for their fellow New Zealanders.

As our nation today faces so many challenges – may we be inspired to do likewise. 

Ewen McQueen
Anzac Day 2020

Battle of Galatas, Commemoration Service 2019

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Henry Williams (RN) – the fighter on a new mission

HMS Endymion fires on the USS President – Auckland Museum Library – PD-1964-2-13

The cannon misfired, blowing the young man down the bank. Festivities at Paihia were abruptly interrupted.

It was December 1828 and hundreds had gathered at the Paihia mission station for the end of year huihuinga. George Clarke junior, a boy at the time, later recalled how the head of mission, Rev Henry Williams, had set up four cannons on the hill above the station. His plan  – to add some “bang” to the occasion from his Royal Navy experience. Unfortunately things didn’t go quite as intended. An over-enthusiastic young man reloaded one gun too quickly, causing an explosion. Clarke notes the lad lost some fingers, was temporarily blinded, and suffered “other bodily dilapidation” (1)

The records show more huihuinga were held at Paihia over the years, but cannons do not feature again! However there is no doubt that Henry Williams continued to bring his Royal Navy experience to the mission. It was experience forged after 1806 when he volunteered aged 14. By the time he retired a decade later as a lieutenant, he had fought in battles off the coasts of Africa, America and Europe. In one encounter his ship the HMS Endymion engaged and captured the USS President. Williams joined a boarding party which then sailed the sinking vessel through a storm to the Bermudas. Some of the captured sailors escaped and a violent struggle ensued before they were subdued.(2) Williams later painted the naval battle. It is now held in the Auckland Museum.

Māori were well aware of William’s fighting past. On one occasion they even tried to utilise his military skills. Williams had accompanied a war party south to try and mediate. However his Ngāpuhi companions were more interested in some cannons they had acquired from a sailing vessel. They sought his advice on how to use them. Williams notes wryly in his journal – “I declined the honour.” (3).

His friends should have known better. Karu Whā was now fighting another battle. And from the moment he arrived in New Zealand he had made clear his position. In early altercations with some of his new neighbours at Paihia he resisted strongly any intimidation – but without resort to weapons. After one incident in 1824 Marianne Williams recorded in her journal,

Henry told them he knew how to fight, but he did not come here to fight, neither would he fight. He would sit in peace and deliver his message to them, or he would go to another place. (4)

Williams earned the respect of Māori for his approach. They knew he was a fighter, and the battle he was now engaged in required no less determination, spirit and courage. And it often saw him still involved in the heat of warfare. Only now it was as a peacemaker, defying bullets to save lives and end violence. In 1830 a war broke out among tribes in the Bay of Islands over an insult to a chief’s daughter. Several had already been killed and tensions were rising when on March 6th a furious battle broke out at Kororāreka. Williams immediately sailed over and interposed himself between the parties waving a white flag. He records in his journal,

…went on shore to endeavour to put a stop to the firing. Landed at the scene of action, but could not see anyone of any rank, as all were concealed by fences and screens. The parties were about 20 yards apart. I made as much noise as I could, but to no immediate effect. (5)

Williams had landed in the middle of a beach, from either end of which, both parties continued to fire at each other. Eventually he convinced them to cease and all were dismayed to find many had been killed and wounded. Such peacemaking efforts became increasingly common for Williams. Not surprisingly, they were a source of much anxiety to his wife and family. After Henry avoided becoming a target in another mediating journey, Marianne wrote in a letter home of her relief that he was not shot at, as “Henry you know presents a broad front”. (6)

Combative, forceful, uncompromising. These are not words typically used to portray missionaries. But for Williams they fit.  Rev Henry Williams, ex-Royal Navy, was a fighter on a new mission. It was a mission of peace and reconciliation, but he brought to it the same fighting spirit with which had seen action on the high seas.

It is also fitting that he was sent to a people for whom honour and respect was won on the field of battle. Such is the wisdom of the One who sent him. 

Ewen McQueen
April 2020

(1) Clarke, George, Notes on Early Life in New Zealand, Walch & Sons, 1903, NZETC, Victoria University, Page 15

(2) Fitzgerald, Caroline (ed), Te Wiremu – Henry Williams: Early Years in the North, Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2011, page 9

(3) Rogers, Lawrence (ed), The Early Journals of Henry Williams, Pegasus Press, Christchurch 1961, NZETC, Victoria University, page 231

(4) Fitzgerald, page 49

(5) Rogers, page 156

(6) Fitzgerald, page 143

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Henry Williams – one of our greatest New Zealanders

Rev Henry Williams – Alexander Turnbull Library – C-020-005

He never won New Zealander of the Year Award. But in the two decades from 1823 to 1845 he should have – multiple times. Rev Henry Williams, former Royal Navy officer turned missionary, was an outstanding character in those pivotal years when our nation was formed. Indeed one early historian has described him as “one of the greatest men who ever influenced the destinies of New Zealand” (1). It is an apt description.

Today Henry Williams is most well known as the missionary who translated the Treaty of Waitangi and garnered Māori support for this foundational agreement. For these honourable efforts he has, in recent years, been much maligned. But Williams’ role in the forming of our nation goes far beyond the Treaty. And his character towers above the caricature of our missionary pioneers normally presented in media and academia today. Petty, bumbling, self-interested, and culturally illiterate, is now the standard portrayal. However any honest appraisal of our history gives an utterly different picture – especially when it come to Henry Williams.

In Williams we find a man of action, courage, integrity, and adventure. We find a man compelled by love to cross oceans, mountains and swamps. He was fired by a vision of bringing hope to a people who needed it as much as his own people had. He entered their world, lived among them, and learned their language and their customs. He was known and respected by them throughout the land – his reputation often going before him. One Ngati Porou chief opened meetings among his East Coast people, declaring – “I have come from Paihia, and have seen Williams of the four eyes”.(2) The bespectacled Williams was affectionately known as Karu Wha (four eyes) by Māori all around New Zealand.

Henry Williams was in no way the feeble, dog-collared distortion that some today love to sneer at. The only thing “wet” about Williams was the sea-soaked and rain-drenched clothes in which he journeyed to the far corners of these islands. He was a giant of our history. Perhaps the greatest ever New Zealander. His life is an inspiration. Over the next few weeks I will highlight different aspects of that amazing life in a mini-series of blogs. Watch this space and be inspired!

Ewen McQueen
April 2020

(1) Buick, Lindsay T, New Zealand’s First War: Or the Rebellion of Hone Heke, Government Printer, Wellington, 1926, page 276

(2) Apirana T. Mahuika and Steven Oliver, Taumata-a-Kura, Piripi, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, 1990


Posted in Cultural Renewal, NZ History, Spiritual Renewal, Treaty of Waitangi | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Abortion Bill assumes life away

March for Life Auckland 2020

March for Life Auckland 2020

The Abortion Legislation Bill heads to its final reading in the next two weeks. It will completely remove all protection for unborn children. The Bill simply assumes the unborn child has no humanity or person-hood. The only person whose interests it addresses is the mother.

The last time our country made changes to abortion law was in 1977. It was done after major public consultation and serious consideration of the ethical issues involved by a Royal Commission. The Commission also reviewed the medical and scientific evidence on the issue. It concluded that life should be understood as beginning at conception. The subsequent Act was framed on that basis. It attempted to balance the interests of both the mother and the unborn child.

The current legislation has undergone no such process. Those promoting the Bill have decided no such consideration is required on the matter. The profound question of when life begins is simply ignored. The humanity and life of children in their mother’s womb, is simply assumed away. Instead of reviewing new evidence and thinking deeply on the ethical issues involved, we are merely offered the vacuous slogan that “times have changed”.

The arrogance of this position is breathtaking. And it is an arrogance that has characterised everything about this Bill. It was rammed through the Select Committee process. Nearly all those who wanted to make oral submissions were ignored. It is now being pushed quickly through its second and final readings. To make changes in this way on such a profound matter, is an insult to our democracy and to all New Zealanders.

Our Prime Minister likes to be known as an advocate of kindness and tolerance. There is no kindness here for children in their mother’s womb. And there is no tolerance for those who would give them voice.

Ewen McQueen
March 2020

Posted in Respect for Life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment