A GREAT PIONEER.
LIFE OF REV. SAMUEL WILLIAMS
We have been reading a book of great interest to all who like to recall the early days of the Dominion and especially Hawke’s Bay. This is “Pioneering in New Zealand: Life of the Ven. Arch. Samuel Williams.” Unfortunately the book was printed for private circulation only; we venture to hope that later it may be made available for the general public. It was begun by the late Mr. John Thornton, for many years headmaster of Te Aute College, and was finally completed under the direction of the late Mr. W.T. Williams by other friends of the late Archdeacon. It is difficult to believe that it is already twenty years and more since Samuel Williams, passed away. His memory is still green in the land, and this volume should help to make the younger generation understand why it should continue to be so.
Books of this kind always raise the regret that pioneers did not keep diaries. Mr. Colenso did, but except for a few years they have been lost. Samuel Williams did not, partly because of defect of eyesight which made it necessary for him to avoid strain. So his biographers have to rely on such stories of his boyhood as were current in his family, and on public records for his later days. But for all that the story they tell is full of interest and of instruction. Samuel Williams was born in England in 1822 and was so delicate an infant that his parents almost despaired of rearing him, and arrived in the Bay of Islands in July, 1824. He was brought up at Paihia in the midst of a Maori population, and there acquired that insight into the Maori character and intimate knowledge of their language which so often was used for the benefit of the growing community. One of the most interesting chapters in the book is that in which Maoris testify to his command of their modes of expression and even gestures. His parents decided to educate him themselves, and he at first took a hand in the farming pursuits which necessity compelled the missionaries to undertake. But in 1844 he joined Bishop Selwyn and was admitted as a student of St. John’s College, Auckland. He was ordained deacon in 1846. It is interesting to note that he derived no benefit from the very modest land purchases of his father, and never received any stipend from the Church. He drew pay from the Church Missionary Society, but gave that up as soon as he could manage it. The early missionaries were unjustly blamed for land purchases in these early days, but were exonerated by the authorities, both clerical and secular, when these claims were inquired into. How else they could have provided for their children in the then circumstances of the country it is impossible to conceive.
In 1848 Samuel Williams was placed in charge of the mission station at Otaki, and in 1853 Sir George Grey persuaded him to remove to Te Aute to stand between Maori and Pakeha and labour in the cause of mutual understanding and goodwill. The Governor agreed to give 4000 acres of Crown land for the education of the Maori and to provide an annual grant, while the Maoris were to give an equal area of land. Unfortunately Grey went out of office and the grant was not paid. After struggling for some years the school which Mr. Williams had established was closed and the land leased. It is interesting to note that the highest rental obtainable was £5 and at that the lessee could not make it pay. Then Samuel Williams took over the land, and farmed it. He discovered how to eradicate the fern, he drained the swamp and devoted himself to the building up of a fine herd of cattle and equally fine flocks of sheep. He was the great pioneer of the sheep farming industry in this district. But once again he was criticised for his occupation of the land and he ultimately threw it up, but offered to lease it for seven years at an agreed rent. The lease was renewed for similar periods at ever increasing rents, and thus a fund was formed with which the Te Aute College was once more opened and began its successful career. The Archdeacon’s connection with the estate was the subject of an inquiry in 1893 and he received the thanks of the Church for his services as well as the approval of the commission of inquiry. We have no time to tell here of her [?his] services to the community in the time of the Maori wars. He undoubtedly saved Napier from attack at the time of the Omarunui fight by persuading the authorities to take the matter seriously and raise a defence force. His generosity to his church and to many individuals, is well known. There was hardly a missionary enterprise in any part of the world that he did not contribute to. Even a steamboat on the Nile was his gift for the use of the Sudan Mission. He was a devoted missionary yet a hard-headed businessman; a cultured clergyman yet a practical farmer; [“]a financier of such sterling character that it has often been said, “if Samuel Williams is in it it is good enough for me”; a philanthropist ever ready to help in any right-minded scheme, to educate at his own expense promising young people and to give them the advantage of including many men of fine character and great attainments among our early pioneers. Not the least of these men whom we should hold in honour was Samuel Williams of Te Aute. The book before us is a worthy record of an outstanding man.