Newspaper Article 1999 – Colenso ‘treated badly’

Colenso ‘treated badly’

About 100 people gathered at the old Waitangi Mission settlement in Napier yesterday to commemorate a man described as a cantankerous Cornishman who was a pain the neck to all he worked with.

He was William Colenso, missionary, politician, botanist, explorer and lecturer.

For Maori he became a trusted figure, a mediator in tribal disputes and an advocate for Maori during European settlement.

Born in Penzance, England, in 1811 and with his death in 1899, his varied career was yesterday honoured with a memorial stone at the Missionary settlement he established.

Gathering in recognition of Colenso’s many faceted contribution to Hawke’s Bay history were representatives from many of the areas he touched during his life.

Representatives included members of the Hawke’s Bay Branch of the Historic Places Trust, the Royal Society, the Department of Conservation, the Anglican Church and Hawke’s Bay local government.

Also present were pupils of his namesake, Colenso High School, who gathered around the centennial stone and performed a Maori rendition of “How Great Thou Art”.

Anglican Church dean Noel Hendry spoke not only of Colenso’s public and professional roles but also of his controversial private life.

According to Mr Hendry, the Church had not considered Colenso the “self-appointed guardian of standards”, as described by other champions of Colenso’s career, but an adulterer and father of an illegitimate child.

He conceded the Church now acknowledged that faults lay on both sides. Furthermore, the conditions Colenso endured as a missionary at Waitangi would have played a serious part in his errant behaviour.

“I hope we have ceased from casting stones at him[Colenso] as, we acknowledge that historically, the institution was not itself without sin.”

“Without condoning Colenso’s adultery as a missionary, we also have to acknowledge that the Church at least contributed to the circumstances that allowed it to happen. The Church certainly treated Colenso badly.”

“I’m sure that this cantankerous Cornishman was a pain in the neck to all those he worked with and worked for, and he really did do some things ‘which he ought not to have done’ but he managed to get 2000 people to Anglican Church services on a Sunday, which is probably more than we can do today with 20 times the population.”

“So as a fellow Anglican deacon, I say “good on you mate. Well done.”

Photo caption – William Colenso’s great-granddaughter, Barbara Swabey, left, and great, great granddaughter Jill Bell join Colenso High School pupils, from left, Chastina Ratima, 16, and Andrea Wilcox, 13, at Colenso’s centennial memorial stone

Plaque inscription –

1844 – 1852

Original digital file



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Date published

11 February 1999

Format of the original

Newspaper article


The Hawke's Bay Herald-Tribune


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today


  • Jill Bell
  • William Colenso
  • Noel Hendry
  • Chastina Ratima
  • Barbara Swabey
  • Andrea Wilcox

Accession number


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