Grace Under Fire

4 10 2011

242 years ago this week, the Endeavour dropped anchor just off Kaiti Beach and so began contact between the British and Māori.

45 years later the first British missionaries arrived in the Bay of Islands and began their work of ministering to the Europeans and converting Māori.

A controversial legacy of evangelism in these islands meant missionaries were forced to choose sides between those they were called to minister to and the dictates of settlers and their government. Missionary roles in the drafting, promotion and signing tours of versions of Te Tiriti o Waitangi have also been hotly debated.

William Williams held the first service in Tairawhiti in 1834 and in the same month the Treaty was signed he acquired for the Church Missionary Society a large area of the Poverty Bay flats from Turanga Maori.

Thomas Grace arrived at Manutuke in 1850 and quickly found himself offside with speculators and land grabbers who were acquiring and grazing land under dubious terms. Grace also noted that local Māori received from settlers only half the price paid to Europeans for produce and livestock.

Challenging these and other discriminatory practices meant Grace fell out with the local settlers and fellow missionaries who accused him of ‘stirring up strife between the Maori and the settlers’. Grace walked from Gisborne to Tauranga then caught a boat to Auckland to defend the charge only to find the meeting had dealt with the issue just before he arrived!

The church hierarchy provided little support to Grace and he went on to continue challenging the practices of settlers and questioning the role of the church in the rapacious process of colonisation.

Grace’s biography is available in the HB Williams Memorial Library and provides a fitting tribute to a man dedicated to his calling and the best traditions of Christian faith.

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