Her Civilising Mission: Discovering Hannah King through Her Textiles

Article excerpt

"A first female teacher in the New Zealand Mission" (1)

Hannah King (2) occupies a unique place in missionary and colonial history, the history of education, cross-cultural relations and material culture in New Zealand. She was the only woman from the first 1814 Missionary settlement of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in New Zealand to remain in New Zealand for the rest of her life, yet she does not have an entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, and is rarely indexed in either New Zealand's general historical works or even works more specifically related to the Missionary era. (3) John and Hannah King were one of three artisan missionary couples who sailed with the Revd Samuel Marsden on his ship, the missionary brig 'Active' from Port Jackson, Australia to Rangihoua, (4) in the Bay of Islands, in late 1814. Marsden's 1814 Christmas Day service on the beach at Rangihoua is recognised as the beginning of missionary activity and planned European settlement on New Zealand soil.

CMS was a society of evangelical Anglicans, established in London in 1799. New Zealand was their second overseas Mission, after Sierra Leone in 1807. Marsden, a Yorkshireman and Senior Chaplain for the Church of England in New South Wales, persuaded them that New Zealand was fertile ground whilst on a return visit to England. He would be able to lead the Mission from Parramatta, where he was both already stationed and exercising oversight for the London Missionary Society's work in Tahiti. He had established good relationships with visiting Maori in Parramatta, and believed them ready for the gospel message.

William and Dinah Hall and Thomas and Jane Kendall were also aboard the 'Active' in November 1814. The Halls and John King had accompanied Marsden from England in 1809 to Australia, but had remained in Parramatta after news of the 1809 'Boyd' tragedy became known. (5) The Kendalls arrived in Parramatta in 1813. None of the three men was ordained clergymen. Marsden's plan, at this stage, did not require this of them. His plan was that conversions would follow the introduction of 'civilised arts.' (6) For this reason the men were employed in carpentry (Hall), flax-spinning and ropemaking (King), and schoolteaching (Kendall).

John King married Hannah Hansen on 10 November 1812 at St John's Church, Parramatta. The marriage register was signed by the bride and groom, with Dinah Hall and Thomas Hansen as witnesses and Marsden the officiating clergyman. The Hansen family, consisting of Captain Hansen, Mrs Hannah Hansen, twenty two year old son Thomas and fifteen year old daughter Hannah, had emigrated from England to Parramatta in 1807 as Free Settlers. By November 1814, Captain Hansen had been given command of Marsden's Active'. Hannah's mother and brother also accompanied the missionary party to New Zealand where Mrs Hansen remained with her daughter until November 1815. Mrs Hansen did not reside in New Zealand again after this date, and died in Australia in 1823. Captain Hansen, dismissed from his command by Marsden in December 1816, died in Australia in 1837. (7) Son Thomas briefly revisited Parramatta to marry Elizabeth Tollis in late 1815, then returned to New Zealand as a settler, living with his family just outside the mission hillside until his death.

The Rangihoua Mission Station was operational from 1815 until 1832, sited on a steep, narrow, and uncompromising strip of land at the northern entrance to the Bay of Islands. In 1832 it was re-sited in the neighbouring bay of Te Puna, from whence it continued until after the death of John King in 1854. Ruatara, a chief of Rangihoua, had invited the missionaries to New Zealand. He guaranteed their protection if they settled in the shadow of his pa, (8) but he died within days of Marsden's sailing back to Sydney on 25 February 1815. The Rangihoua chiefs continued to protect the settlement and its inhabitants after his death, (9) but learning the Maori language and surviving in an alien, sometimes hostile environment were priorities for these missionary pioneers. …