Landing of the Missionaries at Taranaki 1844

This image follows a common theme in colonial art: a coastal arrival by waka or sailing ship. It also glorifies Christianity and its arrival in Aotearoa. That glorification is, in essence, a privileging of the European male. While the straight-backed missionary wife is carried to shore, oddly by other females, the reverend gentleman maintains a dominant profile as central organiser. Flourishing his top hat, he appears, by some implied miracle to have brought with him immediate order and enlightenment, to which the Maori onlookers jubilantly submit. Apparently, the missionary arrival is heaven-sent, if the general movement of the ocean waves into shore and the sway of the predominantly Maori crowd are any indication. Those onshore seem also to have adopted European dance and dress styles. This work is a fantasy of religious arrival quite at variance with the facts of missionary colonial reality.

Such missionary arrivals, occurring in stages, were indeed momentous. Yet it is now a well-acknowledged fact that missionary life amongst indigenous peoples was far from plain sailing. Missionary order brought by early figures such as Waterhouse received comparatively short-term respect. They invariably lacked consistent support from their colleagues in Europe. In addition, Maori were always particular in their interpretation of the missionary message, often adapting it to their own needs. However, the effect of missionary Christian teaching remains important to many Maori people today, though often perpetuated in Maori cultural adaptations. It is ironic that Maori people themselves have often become the dominant leaders of Christian churches throughout this country. JD

George Baxter 1804-1867

Landing of the Missionaries at Taranaki 1844
Oil print

The Fletcher Trust Collection

In 1841, the Rev. John Waterhouse, General Superintendent of the Methodist South Sea Mission, arrived at Taranaki from Mangungu, Hokianga, with Rev. Charles and Mrs Creed and a Maori teacher, John Leigh Tutu, who had converted to Christianity a decade earlier. Some years after, in January 1845, the Missionary Society's Journal published a woodcut based on Baxter's print with the intention of persuading intending missionaries of the enthusiastic reception they could expect from 'the New Zealanders'. The Journal reports Eliza Creed's arrival assisted by "seven native females in a transport of joy, anxiously carrying Mrs Creed with the greatest care to the shore."

Maori are clearly represented here according to the prevailing stereotype of Rousseau's Noble Savage, despite the fact that it was already being questioned in missionary literature. The mountain, obviously Mt Egmont, as it was known at the time to Pakeha, was wrongly described as Mt Edgecombe.

The propagandistic intention of this triumphant scene of disembarkation is clear from subsequent events. After the arrival of 148 settlers on the William Bryan the following year, Creed found himself in an invidious position. It had quickly became apparent to the new immigrants that lands they had been promised by the New Zealand Company in London had never, in fact, been purchased from Te Ati Awa. In 1843, having lost all credibility with both Maori and Pakeha, Rev. Creed was told to give up his mission house or have it burned to the ground. In the same year he was accused of adultery with a Maori girl and banished to Dunedin. PS

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