The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Colenso, Rev. William

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Colenso, Rev. William, F.R.S., F.L.S., the representative of an old Cornish family, was born at Penzance in 1811. He is a first cousin to the late Bishop of Natal, John William Colenso, celebrated as a mathematician and Biblical critic. In his youth he learned the arts of printing and bookbinding and worked in the office of Watts & Son, 2, Temple Bar, Crown Court, where he was for a time engaged on work for the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 1833, the Church Missionary Society having decided to send out a press and outfit to New Zealand, Mr. Colenso was engaged in the double capacity of missionary and printer. After many difficulties and delays the press and plant were landed at the Bay of Islands on Jan. 3rd, 1835. On opening his boxes, however, New Zealand's pioneer printer found that he had no cases, leads, rules, ink-table, roller stocks, nor frames, lye-brush nor potash, and, worst of all, no paper! Fortunately he had provided himself with a composing stick, the resident missionaries had a little writing paper among their stores, the expert's ingenuity enabled him to supply other requirements after a fashion, and on Feb. 17th, 1835, was worked off, in the presence of admiring spectators, the first copy of the first book printed in New Zealand—the Epistles to the Ephesians and Philippians, in the Maori language. Surmounting all difficulties, Mr. Colenso, in Dec. 1837, completed his great work, the entire New Testament, in octavo, small pica type. Out of the large edition of six thousand copies only one is now known to exist, the volume being in Mr. Colenso's own possession. A full account of the difficulties attending this publication, which reads like a romance, will be found in Mr. Colenso's little book, published in 1888, "Fifty Years Ago in New Zealand." The year 1840 saw the birth of the newspaper press, and thenceforward Mr. Colenso chiefly devoted himself to missionary work, in the course of which he traversed nearly the whole of the North Island on foot, and twice over crossed the great snowy range of the Ruahine. For two years he resided with Bishop Selwyn at St. John's College, Waimate. In 1844 he took orders and settled down in Hawke's Bay, where he has since remained. As a man of science Mr. Colenso has a good reputation, ranking high as a botanist, and being an acknowledged authority on Maori arts, antiquities, myths, and legendary lore. He has also paid much attention to the natural history of the islands, and has been for the last twenty years or more an active contributor to "The Transactions of the New Zealand Institute." Since his retirement from active missionary work he has filled important public offices. In 1861 he was elected to represent Napier in the first General Assembly and retained the seat for many years. Under the old provincial system he was one of the town representatives in the Provincial Council, and at various times filled the offices of Provincial Treasurer and Inspector of Schools. A few years since he was elected F.R.S. He was the first to recognise the fossil remains of the Moa, and has in manuscript a copious lexicon of the Polynesian language.