Williams, Henry (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

WILLIAMS, HENRY (1792–1867), missionary, born at Nottingham on 11 Feb. 1792, was the third son of Thomas Williams (1754–1804) of Plumptre Hall, Nottingham, by his wife Mary (1758–1831), sister of John Marsh of St. Thomas's, Salisbury. On 10 May 1806 he entered the navy as midshipman, following the profession of his grandfather and three maternal uncles. He served under Sir Joseph Sydney Yorke [q. v.], a friend of the family, in the Barfleur and Christian VII, under Captain Lindsay in the Maida, under Captain Losac in the Galatea, under Captain De Repe in the Race Horse, under Captain Nash in the Saturn, under Captain (afterwards Admiral Sir) Henry Hope [q. v.] in the Endymion, and under Captain Walpole in the Thames. At Copenhagen in 1807 he served both afloat and ashore, working at the land batteries, and was told off on a forlorn hope on the eve of the capitulation. On 13 Feb. 1810 he took part in the attack made by the boats of the Christian VII on nine French gunboats in the Basque Roads. In the Galatea he was present in an engagement off Tamatave on 20 May 1811, between three English frigates under Captain (Sir) Charles Marsh Schomberg [q. v.] and three French vessels of superior force, receiving a wound from which he never completely recovered. For this service he subsequently obtained a war medal. He saw further service at the Cape, the Mauritius, Madras, and Calcutta. He took part in the last naval engagement of the war that between the Endymion and the United States frigate President. He was placed on board the President with a prize crew, and nearly perished in a gale while carrying her to Bermuda. His peril gave rise to serious reflections, and eventually changed the course of his life. He was retired on half-pay with the rank of lieutenant on 30 Aug. 1815, and in 1827 was removed from the list by an admiralty order striking oft' retired officers who had taken holy orders.

In 1818 Williams married and took up his abode at Cheltenham, whence in 1820 he removed to Balden, and in September 1821 to Hampstead, in order to remain near his brother-in-law, Edward Garrard Marsh (afterwards canon of Southwell), by whose advice he was preparing for ordination. He intended to serve in the mission field, and was especially attracted to New Zealand. He was ordained deacon on 2 June 1822 by the bishop of London, and priest on 16 June by the bishop of Lincoln. He sailed for New Zealand in the Lord Sidmouth with his wife and children on 7 Aug., reaching Hobart on 10 Feb. 1823. After some delay at Sydney Williams and Marsden reached the Bay of Islands on 3 Aug. Finding that his intended station, Whangaroa, had been occupied by a Wesleyan missionary named Leigh, Williams proceeded to Paihia, a few miles further up the harbour. There he laboured for over forty years.

The Church Missionary Society already had a mission there [see Marsden, Samuel], but it had encountered numerous difficulties both from the savage nature of the Maoris and from the faithlessness of their own agents. It had hitherto acted on the supposition that the way for Christianity must be prepared by the attainment of a measure of civilisation, but after the advent of Williams religious teaching was regarded as preliminary to other instruction. During the first part of his sojourn Williams was protected by the great chief Hongi, who, however, remained a heathen. In 1826 he was joined by his brother William, and early in March 1828 the chief Hongi died. Even during his lifetime the missionaries had undergone ceaseless trials and alarms, but after his death matters became so much worse that they sent to Sydney all the books and stores that could be spared, expecting every day to be robbed of their possessions and perhaps put to death. An intrepid act of Williams's improved their position. Hearing that two of the leading tribes were prepared for war, he hastened to the place where they were encamped, and on 24 March succeeded in making peace. His achievement made a deep impression on the Maoris, and the treaty, which was called the peace of Hokianga, was long remembered in their annals. After this time the mission made good progress; many converts were received, and the cruelty of the native customs remarkably softened. The station was reinforced by fresh missionaries, and in 1836 S. H. Ford, the first medical missionary, arrived. The mission was extended to the Hot Lakes district, the Waikato River, and the Bay of Plenty, and later, in 1839, to the east coast and to Otaki in the south. In 1835 Darwin visited the station during his voyage of the Beagle and expressed in his ‘Journal’ high admiration for the missionaries and their work. In 1841 George Augustus Selwyn (1809–1878) [q. v.] was appointed first bishop of New Zealand, a step strongly urged by the brothers Williams, and in 1844 he appointed Henry Williams archdeacon of Waimate.

In the meantime New Zealand had become a British possession. The treaty of Waitangi, concluded on 6 Feb. 1840, which established the queen's supremacy, was only signed by the Maori chiefs at Williams's earnest instance. They were reluctant to surrender their independence and were stimulated to resist by the Roman catholic bishop Pompallier. Williams viewed with considerable apprehension the establishment of a protectorate, but he realised clearly the imminent danger of annexation by France. More than four hundred similar treaties were signed in the next three months largely through the instrumentality of Williams, who travelled throughout the country interviewing the tribes. In the result, however, the missionaries were confronted with a new class of difficulties arising from the rapid influx of colonists, and from the unscrupulous dealings of some of the immigrants with the natives.

The increasing friction led finally to the outbreak of Heke's war in 1845, and Williams found his position very difficult. Refusing to abandon his native converts, he was called a traitor to his face by a British officer and incurred much ill-will and obloquy. The common sentiment was not shared, however, by the governor, Robert Fitzroy [q. v.], who spoke of him as ‘the tried, the proved, the loyal, and the indefatigable.’ His influence was constantly used to restore tranquillity and to restrain the Maori chiefs, who at one time had the white settlements almost at their mercy. His persuasions alone prevented the whole Maori nation from engaging in the war. When the natives stormed Kororareka in March 1845, Williams brought off the wounded captain of the Hazard, Commander Robertson, to his ship at the risk of his own life. These services, however, received no immediate recognition. After the conclusion of peace Fitzroy was superseded by (Sir) George Grey, who at first showed himself extremely hostile. In June 1846 in a secret despatch to Gladstone, then colonial secretary, he accused the missionaries, and especially Williams, of being the real cause of the recent conflict.

This was, however, only the prelude to a more serious controversy in connection with the acquisition of land. New Zealand being a country with a climate suited for Europeans, many of the missionaries' descendants became farmers, and acquired land before the annexation of the colony to the crown in 1840. In 1843 their claims were deter- mined and sanctioned by a court of land claims instituted by Fitzroy. Grey, however, in his secret despatch, unwarrantably stated that these acquisitions had been unjustly made, and would require to be enforced by troops. In reality a relatively high price had been paid, the native method of transfer had been carefully followed, and the settlers were in peaceable possession. Williams indignantly demanded an inquiry into Grey's charges, which was refused, and Selwyn, who was opposed to the acquisition of property, directed that the title-deeds should be surrendered unconditionally. Williams refused to obey until Grey's charges had been examined, fearing that compliance would be regarded as an acknowledgment of previous misconduct. The Church Missionary Society in consequence reluctantly severed their connection with him on 20 Nov. 1849. His brother William, however, visited England in 1851, and convinced the committee that they had been misled in their action, and they passed a resolution in May entirely exonerating the missionaries from Grey's charges. They, however, considered that Williams had done wrong in refusing obedience, and declined to rescind their resolution in regard to him. They were beset from all sides with appeals on his behalf, and on 18 July 1854 he was reinstated at the personal request of Selwyn and of Sir George Grey, who by that time had largely modified his previous opinions.

The closing years of Williams's life were somewhat saddened by the declension of the Maori church from its first fervour, and by the bitter warfare between the settlers and the natives. During the war which broke out in 1860 he lived quietly at Pakaraka with some of his descendants, using his influence to preserve the neighbouring tribes in loyalty. As the infirmities of age grew upon him he performed his journeys by sea in a small vessel named the Rainbow, to avoid the fatigue of land travelling. He died at Pakaraka on 16 July 1867, leaving a high reputation for Christian zeal. His influence with the Maoris was very great, and was due to his upright character and to his perfect comprehension of native ceremonies and customs. In 1876 the Maori community erected a great stone cross to his memory in the churchyard at Paihia, the scene of his longest labours. It was unveiled by William Garden Cowie, bishop of Auckland, on 11 Jan. On 20 Jan. 1818 Williams married Marianne (d. 16 Dec. 1879), daughter of Wright Coldham of Nottingham. By her he had six sons and four daughters.

His younger brother, William Williams (1800–1879), first bishop of Waiapu, born in 1800, matriculated from Magdalen Hall, Oxford, on 2 June 1821, graduating B.A. in 1825, and receiving the degree of D.C.L. on 3 July 1851. He was ordained by the bishop of London in 1824, and, after spending some time walking the hospitals to gain medical knowledge for missionary purposes, he proceeded to New Zealand in 1826. He was appointed archdeacon of Waiapu by Selwyn in 1843, and was consecrated first bishop of Waiapu in 1859. Between 1833 and 1848 he assisted in the revision of the Maori translation of the Bible and prayer-book. He died at Napier in 1879. He married Jane Nelson, by whom he had three sons. The eldest, William Leonard, is now bishop of Waiapu. William Williams was the author of: 1. ‘A Dictionary of the New Zealand Language and a Concise Grammar,’ Paihia, 1844, 8vo; 4th ed. Auckland, 1892, 8vo. 2. ‘Christianity among the New Zealanders,’ London, 1867, 8vo.

[Life of Henry Williams by his son-in-law, Hugh Carleton, 1877; Stock's History of the Church Missionary Soc. 1899; Burke's Colonial Gentry, 1895, p. 283, corrigenda p. xxii; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Rusden's Hist. of New Zealand, 1895, vol. i. passim; Sherrin and Wallace's Early Hist. of New Zealand, 1893, passim; Garnett's Edward Gibbon Wakefield, 1898, pp. 212, 275; Three Letters (by William Williams) addressed to the Earl of Chichester relative to the charges brought against the New Zealand mission, 1845; Darwin's Journal during the Voyage of the Beagle, 1890, pp. 509–15; Curteis's Bishop Selwyn, 1889; Miss Tucker's Southern Cross and Southern Crown, 1855; Lady Martin's Our Maoris, 1884, pp. 36–44; Jacobs's Church Hist. of New Zealand (Colonial Church Histories), 1887; Taylor's Past and Present of New Zealand, 1868; Taylor's New Zealand and its Inhabitants, 1870, pp. 593–5.]

E. I. C.