When hate speech becomes mainstream

Perhaps it’s my white fragility. Or maybe I just can’t stomach hypocrisy. Because the recent Stuff column in which Jane Bowron celebrated the triumph of inclusiveness in our election certainly had my “sickly white” stomach turning.

Bowron noted glowingly how the new Labour Government was full of female, Māori, and LGBT representatives. This is New Zealand in all its diversity, apparently. However in Bowron’s New Zealand there is one group who don’t qualify for inclusion. They cannot even be afforded the respect of being people with a different viewpoint. Instead they must be vilified as “old hat, sickly white and risibly irrelevant”. Such is Bowron’s description of the National Party. Two of its longest serving MPs were singled out for particular disdain. The words arrogance, institutionalised, and “muppets” all made an appearance.

I had to check myself – had I inadvertently switched to reading some ranting social media post? Sadly not. Yes this was a real mainstream media outlet, seemingly doing its best to channel an offensive and immature comment on a facebook post. I’m all for robust debate, but has Stuff really lowered itself to this level?

Of even more concern, is it now acceptable in our mainstream media to describe a group as “sickly white”? Swap out the term white, for the term brown, black, or Asian, and there would be outrage. And rightly so. Gratuitous public insults against any racial or ethnic groups are despicable. So why is it okay to casually cast such a racially charged epithet as “sickly white” into the public square? Are some groups are fair game?

And for those itching to tell me this is why we need new hate speech laws, go scratch somewhere else. It may come as a surprise, but New Zealand already has laws which adequately deal with this. Section 61 of the Human Rights Act addresses racial disharmony. It makes it unlawful to publish written matter which is abusive or insulting, and likely “to bring into contempt any group of persons on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons.” Publicly describing a group of persons as “sickly white” would certainly seem to fall within the orb of what Section 61 deems unlawful. So will anyone lay a complaint with the Human Rights Commission?

I doubt it. And that’s probably no bad thing. The existing law is necessary. No reasonable New Zealander thinks we should have absolutely unfettered free speech in our country. However most would agree that the provisions of the Human Rights Act noted above are best reserved to deal with extremist nonsense. The type spouted by the Christchurch mosque shooter. Not the errant musings of a news media columnist.

Calling out the risible double-standards of a liberal media columnist is best dealt with by other means. Rebuttal and exposure of such blatant hypocrisy to the public opprobrium it deserves is the appropriate way forward here. Far better sunlight and open debate, than legal threats and closed door proceedings with a bureaucratic tribunal.

Of course such an approach only works if the mainstream media have the integrity to allow self-criticism. This response to the Bowron column was submitted to Stuff a week ago. It remains unpublished. It would appear that Stuff thinks describing some New Zealanders as “sickly white” is okay. We have a problem… 

Ewen McQueen
November 2020

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Sovereignty and the Treaty – the evidence

As you start your Christmas shopping, this book may be just the thing for someone you know who is interested in New Zealand history and politics. It’s about the past, but it’s also about the future.

One Sun in the Sky presents an evidence-based perspective on the question of sovereignty and the Treaty of Waitangi. Whilst a supporter of the Treaty settlements process, Ewen McQueen raises serious questions about the modern dual-sovereignty paradigm of Treaty interpretation. It is this interpretation which is now being used to promote co-governance between Māori and the Crown.

In this book McQueen reviews the historical evidence for how the Treaty was understood by Māori and Pākehā both at the time it was signed in 1840, and for the century which followed. Thoroughly researched and fully referenced, it is a must-read for all New Zealanders.

Click here to order a copy ($33.50 plus shipping), or to find more about this new book.

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Do good kids a favour – don’t legalise dope

I can still remember the moment. It was a Saturday afternoon in 1982. About 15 minutes before kick-off, our 1st XV rugby coach completed his changing room team talk. Unusually, he then sent only half of us out to the field to warm up. The rest were held back. We all knew why. They were in for a dressing down about a dope smoking incident. I was the team captain. Needless to say, I found myself making the losers speech at the after-match that day.

In my 55 years I have never smoked dope. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t around when I was a young man. Of course it was. Like alcohol it was a reality in my high school years – especially in the social scene surrounding the 1st XV rugby team. I wasn’t a big fan of beer. But it was a legal product. It was freely available and having a beer with “the boys” after the game was encouraged. Occasionally I had one, mainly just to fit in.

Dope was also part of the scene. But those using it were more discrete. No one offered it around at the post match social gatherings. Even if they had I would have declined. It was illegal and I was a “good kid”. I didn’t want to get in trouble. And I knew drugs were not good for you. The fact they were illegal was part of knowing that.

So the law protected “good kids” like me. It protected me in the health message it sent about cannabis. It also protected me in the way it helped to mitigate peer pressure. Being illegal meant pressure to use dope was much less prevalent and overt than it was for alcohol. It also provided a legitimate objection for those who didn’t want to partake.

Make cannabis legal, and those protections for “good kids” will disappear. But do good kids even matter anymore? Or do we have to sacrifice their best interests to “help” others?

These days many of our political leaders, celebrities, and media personalities happily admit to breaking cannabis laws in their past. It was “a long time ago” or they “didn’t inhale” they tell us with a knowing smile. Having used dope is almost a fashion statement. For such leaders it is no surprise that good kids aren’t in the frame when it comes to drugs policy. In their world they probably didn’t even exist. After all – everyone was doing it weren’t they?

No, they weren’t. And a huge proportion still aren’t. They make up hundreds of thousands of our young people. They are good kids. And they deserve better than to be abandoned to cannabis liberalisation by leaders on a mission to recreate the world in their flawed vision of the lowest common denominator.

Of course our young people need health services and education about drugs. But they also deserve the protection of the law.

Ewen McQueen
October 2020

Posted in Cultural Renewal, Protecting Children | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Danger ahead – Labour’s hate speech agenda

Be warned. Next year the following words may be illegal. Writing, reading, sharing, or simply being in possession of them may make you a criminal. Indeed if you are reading this blog after a Labour victory in the 2020 election you could well be committing a crime right now.

Hate speech laws are firmly on Labour’s agenda. Justice Minister Andrew Little has told us so. In fact we would have had them already were it not for the moderating influence of NZ First over the last three years. With that influence looking likely to be removed from the next parliament, a Labour/Greens government will forge on with delight in this space. 

You only have to read about the launch of Labour’s “Rainbow” policies this week to be assured of that (NZ Herald 05.10.20). One activist gleefully spoke of how New Zealand was about to have the most rainbow parliament in the world. Another told us how “conversion therapy” will be made illegal. Combine this with new laws which will criminalise speech deemed “hateful” in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity, and you have a serious threat to freedom of speech in New Zealand.

Of course the hate speech advocates rarely admit that building a legal fortress around the rainbow agenda is the real agenda. Instead they prefer to focus our attention on the Christchurch mosque shootings. Apparently this is what justifies new hate speech laws. But it doesn’t. New Zealand already has laws which prohibit public dissemination of the sort of racist ideology which the shooter was promoting.

Section 131 of the Human Rights Act 1993 makes it illegal to publish, distribute or publicly broadcast, threatening, abusive or insulting words with the intention of inciting,

…hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule, any group of persons in New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons,

The push for new hate speech laws cannot be justified by what happened in Christchurch. Instead that tragedy is being cynically used to further an agenda which lies elsewhere. It is an agenda which seeks the complete cultural cleansing of any views which challenge the increasingly bizarre rainbow ideology. Dare to suggest that biology matters and fluidity of gender identity is an unscientific construct – your views will be deemed harmful and hateful. You may be looking at prison time. Certainly a substantial fine.

Think this is just scaremongering? Look at Scotland. Right now, in spite of significant opposition, the SNP is pushing through extreme hate crime laws (BBC News). The list of criteria which define “protected groups” includes sexual orientation and transgender identity. Any action which “stirs up hatred” against such groups is criminalised. Even simply being in possession of “inflammatory material” with a view to sharing it is a crime. Better get rid of that Bible!

Of course genuinely hateful speech against all groups should be condemned. But the problem is that these days any speech which challenges the rainbow agenda is classified as “hateful”. It matters not what tone is used, or how respectfully the view is expressed. Opinions which do not fit the “correct” view on this matter are by definition deemed to be hateful and harmful. 

If you are a New Zealander who holds to a traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of human sexuality and ethics – be warned. If an unrestrained Labour/Greens  government arrives next week, your freedom of expression is under serious threat.

Ewen McQueen
October 2020

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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


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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

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

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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