July 3, 1940. NEW ZEALAND FREE LANCE 15
“Bless This House”
Walls Redolent of Inspiration and History
By the Hawke’s Bay Correspondent of the “New Zealand Free Lance”
TRADITION kept up to the very last marked the last chapter of a very dear old home in Hawke’s Bay when the historical house, built in 1859 by Archdeacon Samuel Williams, the great pioneer missionary famed throughout the early days of settlement and teaching, was closed by the Williams family some days ago.
Here it was that Archdeacon and Mrs. Williams’s blind daughter, Miss Lydia Williams, lived with her helper, Nurse Keith, until her death in 1938. Here it was that Nurse Keith passed away recently, two years after Miss Lydia – the last link with a most interesting generation.
It was in 1854 that Sir George Grey asked Archdeacon Samuel Williams, then a missionary at Otaki, to come to Pukehou, promising 4,000 acres for the founding of a Maori college provided the Maoris would give the same.
So up the Manawatu river in a canoe they came, with the baby’s cradle standing high on the frail craft. Mrs. Williams hemmed her ﬁne baby garments as they were rowed along, and on the bank Maoris drove the household cow. Thus they came to Pukehou where their ﬁrst home was a raupo whare. Here their children, Mr. W. Temple Williams, the late Mrs. T J. C. Warren and Miss Lydia, were born, in a humble pioneer hut almost opposite to where Te Aute college now stands. Then was built the home you see above, now time-weathered and full of historic associations. Mrs. Arthur Williams, one of the present Williams clan living nearby, tells its story:
“I have been told that there were no wallpapers, the rooms were hung with calico. It was open-house; everyone received hospitality. Everything was as simple as possible indoors, but outside spreading lawns and ﬁne old elms and oaks made the home very beautiful. It was the Mecca of missionary life in New Zealand. I remember meeting there Bishop Ridley, of Saskatchewan, Karl Kumm, the great traveller-missionary and missionaries from inland China, Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor. From every part of the world they came for help and refreshment.”
In those old days Archdeacon Williams and his wife worked with all their strength to help everyone. When the railway line was being built between Hastings and Waipukurau, a terrible epidemic of typhus broke out, and night and day husband and wife would nurse the cases. Archdeacon Williams would don waders and trudge through slush and water and sit with the patients through the crisis of illness. “Now Mrs. Williams will bring you food and look after you,” he would say. This she would do, and maybe return home to ﬁnd that 10 strangers had arrived to stay!
Archdeacon Williams built the present Te Aute College, and paid for many alterations. He also paid for literally hundreds of young, promising Maoris to take University education. Many of our leading Maoris owe their education to him.
“I thought Archdeacon Williams was a very wealthy man” was the surprised comment of the valuer who went to the home after his death. “Yes, but not for himself,” was the reply. He did not even have a comfortable chair to sit in but would read in an upright chair. And how touched he was when the men of his station heard of this and presented their employer with an easy-chair.
Miss Lydia carried on the family tradition and helped everyone who needed help. Everyone loved her. It was a happy thought, after Nurse Keith’s funeral, that Bishop Bennett should call indoors the group of some 40 Maoris and pakehas who were there. He spoke of all that had emanated from those historical walls, and uttered a prayer to “bless this house.” Thus was the Maori-Pakeha tradition of hospitality and goodness carried on to the very last.
Letters come from New Zealanders living in England who hope that the old home will be preserved for posterity as was Waitangi in the north through the kindness and thought of Lord Bledisloe. One writer says truly: “It would be a shocking thing not to preserve this old home, for so many years the hub of missionary and spiritual life.”
The house belongs to the Te Aute Trust which Archdeacon Williams founded. It is in the midst of other Williams homes and surrounded by lovely pasture-lands – an ideal spot for preservation as one of our national treasures.
Photo captions –
PRESERVATION FOR POSTERITY? The home at Pukehou, Hawke’s Bay, built by Archdeacon Samuel Williams in 1859 and for so many years the hub of missionary and spiritual life. Inset are photos of Archdeacon and Mrs. Williams.
Blind Miss Lydia Williams was loved by everyone.