William Colenso NZ


William Colenso 1811 - 1899




Robert Colenso
1744 - 1814

Elizabeth Williams
1745 - 1814

William Thomas
1749 -

Jane Veale
1748 -

Samuel May Colenso
1783 - 1866

Mary Veale Thomas
1786 -1856

William 1809 - 1810

Richard Veale Thomas 1815 -1892

Jane Emily 1820 - 1896

Ellen 1824 - 1907

William 1811 - 1899 (NZ)

John Williams 1818 - 1853

Elizabeth 1822 - 1883

Edwin 1827 - 1897(Aus)

Samuel 1813 - Canada



Mary Ann 1830 -



1811 Nov 7
1811 Dec 13

William Colenso born in Penzance, Cornwall, England - the eldest of nine children.

1826 - 1833

William became a printer's apprentice in St Ives, Cornwall
He started work for Richard Watts - a London printing firm to the Church Missionary Society

1834 - 1840

William left for Paihia, Bay of Islands on behalf of the Church Missionary Society to run a small printing press
He published many pamphlets and books translated into Maori including 27,000 copies of the Book of Common Prayer which he took with him on journeys into areas covered by the Mission and beyond
William persuaded a reluctant Bishop Selwyn to accept him as a candidate for ordination

1841 - 1844

Inland explorations became more adventurous both to spread the word but also to collect botanical specimens - an interest that had been boosted by the visit of Darwin in 1835.
Bishop Selwyn tried his best to delay the ordination by setting out pre-requisites. One of these was marriage to a suitable partner. Elisabeth Fairburn was the daughter of a lay missionary who happened to speak fluent Maori and satisfied the criteria.
They were married at Otahuhu, Auckland 27 Apr
William spent most of his time away on explorations.
Frances Mary Colenso born
1 Feb 1844
Elisabeth became instrumental in the translation of the Bible into Maori which Bishop Selwyn was keen to have finished and for William to oversee its publication and so delayed the ordination further.
Finally William was ordained Deacon. 22 Sep 1844
In December William, his wife and daughter leave to set up a new mission at Hawke's Bay which covered a vast area allowing William to pursue both Evangelical and Botanical interests. However, his wife was isolated on the mission.

1845 - 1853

Ridley Latimer Colenso born 23 Sep 1845
Such isolation with a young family bred resentment and to avoid conflict William found himself seeking solace in the company of Ripeka Meretene who was a Maori girl that had been brought from Paihia as part of the household.
Ripeka Meretene was married in 1850 but was already pregnant with William's child.
Wiremu (William) Colenso was born 28 May 1851
Frances and Ridley are taken to Auckland by their uncle.
William was suspended as a Deacon and dismissed from the mission.
Elisabeth left in 1853 with Wiremu to rejoin her own family but they would not accept Wiremu and sent him to his relatives in the north.

William spent the next few years as a recluse suffering the ridicules of the Maori people whom he had chastised for various sins including adultery

1858 - 1867

Having reassessed his life William put his interests into local politics.
Wiremu returned to his father in 1861.
In the same year
William was elected to the General Assembly representing Napier Town. He was commissioned to publish a Maori dictionary - but the work was never finished and only a small section published.

During this time Elisabeth took Frances and Ridley to England. Some recorded events indicate that Elisabeth was known to Queen Victoria who was mourning the death of Prince Albert. Both Frances and Ridley returned to New Zealand with their mother in 1867 but it was not long before Ridley left for England again. It was apparent that Wiremu was also in England at this time.

1875 -

1899 Feb 10

William was appointed a School Inspector
In 1894
the suspension as Deacon was revoked and William was readmitted to the Anglican Clergy.
William died. He left money to the town of Penzance which was used for the Colenso dole.






This map shows the main explorations that William made between 1838 and 1844.

1838 - The first exploration was from Hicks Bay down the East Coast to Taranganui.

1841 - 1842 - Starting at Hicks Bay and going south to Poverty Bay William then turned west heading for Waikeramoana inland. Moving northwards through the Urewera region he eventually headed west to Rotorua and then made for Waikato on the west coast passing through Matamata on the way. Following the coast northwards via Manukau and Kaipara Harbours he made his way back to Paihia.


1843 - 1844 - Again starting at Hicks Bay and treading familiar ground south to Taranganui where he and fellow explorer missionaries travelled by boat to the south east section known as the Wairapara Coast. The main plan was to find a site for a mission - which they did having been guided northwards they decided on a place south west of where Napier is today. Travelling round to the north of Hawke Bay William left his fellow missionaries to return to Waikeramoana and other villages farther north taking his own census as he went. This time he travelled to Waikato via Tauranga and then crossed land to Otahuhu which is just south of Auckland. From there he made his way north to Kaipara Harbour and then further on to Paihia.

Map of North Island New Zealand showing exploration routes






William Colenso School Inspector on education 1875

Click the image to be transported to William Colenso College formerly 'Colenso High School'


Button  linking to 3 sketches by William Colenso

Click the image to view a photograph of
William in the 1860's
and here for a photograph of
Elisabeth Fairburn

Description of William Colenso by David Mackay 11th Dec 2002





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