Early missionary lives unearthed

University of Otago archaeologist Associate Prof Ian Smith and archaeology honorary research fellow Dr Angela Middleton at the site of New Zealand's first mission station, in the Bay of Islands. Photo supplied.
University of Otago archaeologist Associate Prof Ian Smith and archaeology honorary research fellow Dr Angela Middleton at the site of New Zealand's first mission station, in the Bay of Islands. Photo supplied.

Two centuries after the first Christian mission station was established in New Zealand, University of Otago archaeologists are shedding new light on the daily lives of the country's first permanent European settlers.

This is the bicentennial year of missions arriving in New Zealand, and celebrations will be centred on the Bay of Islands, in December.

The site of New Zealand's first mission station and its first classroom has been uncovered during two years of fieldwork led by Otago archaeologists.

''We've found out some pretty amazing things and we've got more to do in terms of analysing the material,'' Otago University archaeologist Associate Prof Ian Smith said on Monday.

Prof Smith, of the Otago anthropology and archaeology department, and archaeology honorary research fellow Dr Angela Middleton led the excavation team, supported by the Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

Researchers had found what was likely to be the remains of the house of early missionary Thomas Kendall and his family, Prof Smith said.

Also unearthed were ceramic sherds and glass and gun flints, the latter ''evidence that muskets were present at the mission''.

The site of New Zealand's first school had included a ''modest-sized classroom'' and ''lots of slate pencils, and fragments of writing slates, and children's toys''.

The Hohi Mission Station excavations took place on the Purerua Peninsula, in the Bay of Islands, in February 2012 and early last year.

New Zealand's first permanent European settlement had been founded in 1814, and the research helped clarify what life was like for the Church Missionary Society missionaries and Maori at the time.

The place where the Hohi mission stood from 1814 to 1832 has since been abandoned.

In 1907 it became the Marsden Cross Historic Reserve.

The archaeological evidence highlighted the ''hard struggle'' that these first European settlers had in making a living, and ''how dependent they were on local Maori for food supplies and protection'', he said.

• Otago University Press has just published a book by Dr Middleton: Kerikeri Mission and Kororipo Pa: An Entwined History.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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