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5 July 1841 - Letter of John Andrew Wilson to the Secretary of the CMS

National Library of Australia


Physical Context: Records of the Church Missionary Society (as filmed by the AJCP)/Series CN/019-101/Subseries CN/098/File. Letters/Letters

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Rec’d May 5/42

July 5th 1841
Opotiki New Zealand

My dear brethren,
You are aware that by a Com[mitte]e of the Southern Dist[rict] I was appointed in Jan 1840 to form a Station at this place.
One of the chief inducements that prompted me to come forward voluntary and offer myself to this work, was the fact, that the Romish Bishop intending occupying Opotiki himself; this weighed not a little with me, and I resolved with the prompting of the Com[mitte]e to leave Tauranga, and take the field against him.
But I should observe that long before the Papists made their appearance at the Southward, Mr. Wade and myself had intercourse with the natives of this Bay. Three young men sons of principal chiefs had been living with me for some time, and several of them had rec[eive]d books from my Station so that we had (as it were), a prior claim, or rather privilege.
Opotiki is situated in the deepest part of the Bay of Plenty: and as an introduction to the future labours of missionary exertion in connexion with this plan, I will first attempt to delineate its geographical position relative to the various habitations scattered over a considerable district of country. In order to do that I have made a rough sketch of coast [-- ---k] settlements, and have attached as accurately as I can ascertain the number of men dwelling at each place; which number multiplied by three will generally afford a tolerably exact estimate.

JAWilson sketch.png

This Pa is between Rotorua and our [--- ---]
[Text of sketch map]
Kapanga(?) 600, Matata 300, Wakatane 450, Oiwa(Ohiwa) 30, Opotiki 400, Torere 65, Maraenui 70, Te Kaha 200
Mountainous land occupied by the Urewera. 800 m---
The Roman Cath. Bp. was here about 6 months ago and endeavoured by a duality of deportment, by tolerating in part their native superstitions, and by his presents, to draw over this people to himself, consequent a number of mercenaries flocked round him, and as long as his presents were bestowed seemed zealous in espousing his interests, but all now, with the exception of a few, have either joined those who profess godlessness, or returned back to their old party.
I do not find that we receive much open opposition from the Papists, but in secret among a few, they labour hard to obtain their end, and to subvert that gospel, which I must say, in much simplicity has hither to been preached to this people. They are fond for instance of telling them the old popish slander that Martin Luther was an adulterer, a withered and dry branch broken off by the hand of infallibility, and that he became the founder of our religion, with many other scandalous and vain stories. But I will not intrude upon your time by a relation of what such enemies are capable of saying in support of their craft. The natives I am happy to say do not place much importance in these tales, and some I trust, know experimentally that “we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we make known unto them the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Hitherto I have dwelt in a tent moving about from place to place among the natives who have given me much encouragement, as you will see by referring to my Return No. 4, Their desire for Scriptural knowledge is very considerable, and their progress generally I conceive to have been great.
In conclusion I will mention one out of many circumstances which will tend to illustrate the power of truth, and the vivid transitions from darkness to light which here and there irradiate the scene(?) through which the missionary passes in the process of his heavenly calling.
In the middle of June last when I was about leaving his to attend a Committee at Otamao(?), one of my native teachers returned from a visit to the Urewera bringing with him a youth about seventeen who possesses the hereditary rank of what is styled an Ariki, which as far as I am capable of discerning is the greatest dignity known among the New Zealanders, as an applicant for a few books. I told him I had none with me but if he wanted go with me as far as Tauranga, I would gratify him by complying with his request. To this, after a little hesitation he consented, and after my arrival there accompanied me to Otawao, a distance from Opotiki of not less that 170 miles, and which by the time her arrives at home will amount to 350. Now this stripling (a fine example indeed for some of the youth of our own country) came to me only with the idea of getting a Testament and few prayer books; and the circumstances which lead to his wish for this purpose was simply this.
Some months ago he came to Waihoutahi where heard the word of life he became a believer[?] in Jesus, and returned home with the good tidings he had heard to his own people. How far they at first approved of this change in their young Ariki I know not, but one day seeing him carry a burden on his back (which part of the body is very sacred according to the ideas of the natives in one of his rank) it appears to have such an effect upon them, that they came to him, and said if he would procure books, they too would lay aside their native ritenga (a word signifying both their customs and superstitions) and he should become their teacher.
He came therefore, has now accomplished his errand, and is about to return to the mists of his native hills and I doubt not but these blessed oracles will not [ ] this sent for in vain.
Believe me my dear brethren,
I remain,
Yours very dearly[?] in the Lord,