In the Footsteps of the Shannon family, Morere Northern Hawkes Bay.

Morere Springs Hotel, 1927, APG-1756-1/2G Alexander Turnbull Library

With considerable anticipation I recently visited Molly Whitelaw’s first home territory of Nūhaka and Morere in Northern Hawkes Bay. I wanted to gain a little insight into the area and some appreciation of the environment that so amazed the family on their arrival in 1921.

It’s been many years since I first travelled on the Northern Hawkes Bay roads. Narrow winding roads are imprinted on my mind from childhood travelling, and this road no less then others. As a child in the mid-1950s my family travelled to the then isolated location of the Tuai Māori Mission House, 10 kilometres from beautiful Lake Waikaremoana in the Te Urewera National Park. I recall that sense of nausea one can have when squeezed into the claustrophobic environment of the back seat of a car and my father demanding quiet as he negotiated the narrow, roughly gravelled roads in our 1939 Ford Deluxe Sedan. It didn’t help on one occasion when my sister reacted with a sudden scream as a moth flew in through the open window. Father was unimpressed! All this came to mind as we drove on the now widened re-aligned, but still winding, tar sealed road from Napier to Morere. The trip today takes approximately two hours, without stopping to admire the amazing terrain and scenery. In Molly’s time, 1921, depending on the weather, the journey could require a stopover at Mohaka.

Molly described the Morere-Nūhaka Home Mission Station many years later in an address she gave to a group in Scotland in 1946:

We were in the most romantic parish among the deep valleys and razor back mountains of the great sheep-country, on the northern edge of Hawke’s Bay. Our parish extends from north and south, between 30 and 40 miles; from east and west about 30 miles. Embracing the Mahia(sic) Peninsula and Portland Island, with its lighthouse lying out to sea.

40km from Wairoa. Turn off State Highway 2 about 4km north of Nuhaka or 5km south of Morere Springs. Track 6km up a winding gravel road called the Mangaone Valley Road.

These ‘razor back mountains’ are indeed impressive. The suns slow movement as it casts its shadows is ever altering the landscape and the shape of these ‘deep valleys’ conveying little of their secrets but offering a challenge to those who settled and remain.   These mountains must have been awe-inspiring to our Scottish arrivals. But as we travelled through this amazing countryside I was made aware of how we humans impose our own design on the physical and cultural landscape. I experienced a pang of sadness as I contemplated the decimation of the native bush that once cloaked most of these mountains.

First Bath House, Morere Springs Brochure

Some physical evidence of the first human occupation by the Rakai Paaka hapu of Ngati Kahungunu and Rongomaiwahine is visible in the storage pits and the remains of the local pa. Known as Moumoukai, the Pa sat high above the district providing natural defences on three sides. The removal of native bush and other plant-life has meant erosion has disturbed much of the remains, leaving little evidence of the Pa’s existence today. Māori had known of the hot springs within the area from early on. They held and hold significance for local Māori as far north as Gisborne and south to Napier because of their healing qualities. For Pakeha settlers who discovered the springs in 1884, they became a commercial draw card. With constant pressure from the local settlers and their complaints of ‘Māori monopolising the Springs’, the Lands and Survey Department were finally persuaded, in 1895, to gazette the springs and the surrounding 300 acres as a reserve.[1] Land next to the Reserve was leased to a local settler who was to erect an accommodation house of not less than six rooms. It was built in 1898 and by 1920 the buildings could accommodate 100 people.

After a devastating fire in 1905, which destroyed much of the virgin bush within the reserve, as well as the sparse accommodation, the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts took over the Reserve under the Scenery Preservation Act of 1903, and fenced it to keep cattle out and to enable the bush to regenerate.[2] Behind this Act was the explicit drive to promote tourism and it resulted in the compulsory acquisition of scenic land as reserves. The rights of Māori to own and access scenic reserves became a point of heated friction as the Crown acquired more and more Māori land. By 1917, 63 reserves had been created from Māori land.[3] Only partial compensation for these reserves have been included in the historic claims to Māori in recent decades, being settled through the Treaty of Waitangi Land Claims.

Waikokopu Harbour, 1931. NZ Free Lance Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. PAC-5469-053

The small community settled the area quickly despite its isolation and almost impassable access. Ambitious schemes raised the confidence of the residents; a school settled in 1897, the Church was built, a dairy factory established, although short lived, a local store, the Springs Hotel built and rebuilt, purchased and resold on a number of occasions. The Local Settlers Association pushed for improved baths and the promised purchase and development of the Waikokopu harbour, the first Whaling Station in the area. By 1910 the formation of a Port Company opened future opportunities for Morere to transport produce to Waikokopu instead of Gisborne.

The area is renowned for heavy rain and flooding which devastated many of the dray tracks, roads, bridges, and farm properties. The Morere Springs tourist accommodation and bath house was swept away by one of the worst floods in 1910. Winter rains frequently cut off access to both Nūhaka and Morere but hope was ever-present within the community that the Government would hear their constant angry appeals to upgrade the roads. Stories abound in newspaper reports of inaccessible roads, horses and coaches stuck in deep muddy ruts, passengers having to disembark and trudge through the mud, horses being swept away, accidents, mail delays, and milk carts stranded in attempts to reach the diary factory. The visit to the Shannon’s in April 1922, by the Rev. Dr. James Gibb, the past Home Missions Convener, had to be abandoned soon after he left Gisborne. Gibb, whose reputation as driver left much to be desired, wrote off his car. By the time Molly Shannon and her family left in August 1924, the access roads in and out of Morere had greatly improved although bridges continued to be swept away and roads washed out. For their three years in the parish, Molly and her father traversed the back regions of the parish on horseback, a new experience for the family from a middle class inner city parish in Edinburgh.

Morere and Nūhaka Home Mission Station, initially fell within the bounds of the Presbyterian Parish of Wairoa. In 1897 residents Robinson, McIntyre, and Shaw set about gathering subscriptions to build a small church in Morere.[4] According to the report substantial contributions were offered from outside the district. On Easter Sunday, 1899 Rev. William Raeburn officially opened St. John’s, their place of worship. The soiree and concert that followed on Easter Monday was a celebration for the whole community. The Church served as a school and a community centre until 1925 when a new school was built. Sadly, the Church is no longer standing. It was removed to another site, used as a barn and then destroyed by fire. I have been unable to discover the date for the building of Nūhaka Church but it appears  in the district before the formation of the Nūhaka Māori Mission in 1913.

The manse, is located at the end of the Morere stretch of road. Built in the first decade of the twentieth century it was leased to the Presbyterian Church. It is a typical, turn-of-last-century structure, a timber framed rectangle home with a veranda across the front. It was primitive by 1921 urban manse standards. There was no laundry or bathroom. Molly speaks of bathing in the Tunanui Stream, which ran close by the back entrance of the house. The stream has carried some devastating flood waters over the years the last  being in 2010. Several attempts to redirect the stream has lessened some of the flood risk. As expected, the house has been  renovated by various owners, but continues to reflect its early 20th century style.

Nuhaka Maori Mission. PCANZ Research Centre P-A36_18-084

James Shannon with his family was the last Presbyterian missionary to live in Morere. A property of 4 acres was purchased in Nūhaka eight kms south, which by 1924, was considered a more suitable centre for the Home Mission ministry. The intention was to see a closer relationship develop between the Pakeha ministry and that of the Māori Mission at Nūhaka. The Home Mission Station was reunited to the Wairoa East parish in the 1950s and is now part of the Wairoa United Parish.

There is still that sense of the romantic in Nūhaka and Morere that Molly describes. Nūhaka has suffered more than Morere as people have moved away. It is a ghost of its previous self, yet the voices of the past can be found in its atmosphere of emptiness and the people who remain. Morere continues to provide its ‘healing waters’ to locals and tourists. There is a thick cover of regenerated native bush around the Reserve 100 years on. The modern sophisticated bathhouses are a far cry from those of an earlier era.


Tunanui Stream, Morere

The ministry of James Shannon and his family while at Morere and Nūhaka, and later Matawhero (I will tell that story in the future) was a far greater adventure than they anticipated, one that would have a significant impact on the direction of Molly’s future in New Zealand.


[1] Our Picturesque Heritage, 100 years of Scenery Preservation in New Zealand, by Tony Nightingale and Paul Dingwall, NZ Department of Conservation, 2003.

[2] Morere Springs Scenic Reserve Resource Kit for Teachers Author: Elizabeth Pishief, Department of Conservation, Gisborne East Coast Hawke’s Bay Conservancy, Department of Conservation Gisborne, New Zealand, June 2002

[3] Our Picturesque Heritage, 100 years of Scenery Preservation in New Zealand, by Tony Nightingale and Paul Dingwall, NZ Department of Conservation, 2003.

[4] David Shaw Jr. was farewelled at a social gathering at Morere, in May 1901 to begin his studies for the Presbyterian Ministy. He was presented with a ‘handsome cheque’ and the social concluded ‘near the wee sma ‘oors’. Poverty Bay Herald, 4 May 1901 (Papers Past)


Scenes Behind Home Missions in early 1920s New Zealand

My research into early 1920s Home Mission Stations has seen me dipping into the Harvest Field, the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union (PWMU) magazine. First published in 1906, its aim to motivate and inform women on how to achieve their missionary goals has resulted in a goldmine of information, often not found elsewhere.

During World War I the PWMU were encouraged to support Home Missionaries alongside their overseas mission activity. A monthly article began to appear in the Harvest Field, which gave a vivid insight into their ministries successes and many trials. Admittedly, the aim of the publicity was to garner the sympathies of the readers, but there is little doubt that the expectations of a back-block ministry quite often bordered on the unreasonable. Although written just under 100 years ago, the Home Missions Director, Rev. George Budd’s reports have a familiar ring to those tales my parents told of the mid-1940s and early 1950s; little, it seems, had altered in 30 years.

Financing a back-block church where a scattered population came together infrequently, from a wide area, had always been difficult. The Committee had to plead, if not bully, larger congregations into giving financial support through special collections, donations and even bequests, and cajole an already pressured PWMU to donate goods and their time. By the 1920s, 117 Home Mission Stations had been established, staffed by 87 men; 85% of the Stations were beyond the bounds of small towns. Budd, early in his term as Director, recognised the role women could take in the Home Mission field and the Committee employed several over the years.

A road Rev John Newlands travelled to worship at Kumara on the West Coast in 1912. PRC P-A22-14-55001

The stipend rate for Home Missionaries was unrealistic, accommodation often-below standard, and transport and access to many of the remote areas not fully developed. Budd’s reports convey his deep concern. He considered inadequate provisions hindered the ability of the Home Missionaries to experience a ministry that would ‘fulfil their call to service’. Transport was a regular topic to report. On his travels he discovered that getting from place to place in these back-block stations was ‘no mean feat’. Budd bemoaned his fate after a long journey inland on one occasion. ‘The springs were in some cases quite forgotten when the trap was built,’ cushions, he continued, had ‘the stuffing omitted … and the missionary is not only expected to ‘walk uprightly’ but to ‘sit uprightly’ with no comfortable back-board for support. One occasion after travelling in an open buggy to attend two Sunday services, over 45kms of muddy road, in steady rain prompted Budd to take action. He placed an appeal through the Harvest Field for warm socks, ‘canvas lined trap’ rugs, and oilskin rain jackets, to be sent to Missionaries. ‘The winter is coming on,’ he wrote, ‘and many a man will be contemplating the dull drudgery of muddy roads, the discouragement of small congregations, and the many trials incident to the season.’

Service conducted around a pool table. Location unknown.
Presbyterian Research Centre

The physical strain of travelling from one preaching place to another on any one Sunday, the infrequency of worship in the more isolated centres, low attendance and the places used for worship also provoked his critique. A school classroom, a poorly built and draughty hall or a back room of a hotel did not come up to Budd’s expectations as ideal places of worship. ‘The pleasant environment of a church, the impressive music of a majestic organ, the rich choral work of a choir – all was missing’. Mind you, this somewhat embellished vision of a place of worship did not fit many worship centres, other than a few in large towns and cities. Budd may well have been missing his home parish of Devonport, as he was away on Home Mission duties for weeks at a time.

The ‘manse’ in the back-blocks were often humble dwellings in comparison to a fully sanctioned parish where simple guidelines applied. Single men described the one or two room shacks as barely suitable, and family accommodation was generally inadequate. There was a lack of modern-day conveniences of the time. Molly Shannon tells of their weekly bathing in the stream below the manse. Laundry facilities in a number of ‘manses’ were outside under a small lean-too proving to be very inconvenient for the women who undertook the heavy task of using a copper and mangle. One wife described the kitchen range as puffing out more smoke than heat and badly designed kitchens resulted ‘in walking miles’ in a day just to prepare food, stated another. Electric light and the telephone had reached few of the remote areas by 1920 and where it had the manse generally was the last to be wired up. The burden of these many discomforts fell heavily on the women and children.

Coupled with the many inadequacies of housing was the low stipend payment. ‘It has often been a struggle with poverty’, stated one Home Missionary. He added that without ‘the charity and generosity of our PWMUs’, many Home Missionaries would not have managed thus far. Another noted he had been in the service for 17 years on a stipend of $200 to $220pa. Yet another expressed what many also considered, ‘time and again I have thought of resigning’. On an average, the stipend was $300pa lower than ordained ministry but it carried the same expectations. Home Missionaries were excluded from the Beneficiary Fund and many had used their savings to make ends meet. The sacrifice was great. What’s more, the Church’s policy to transfer Home Missionaries every two or three years added further pressure and expense that few could sustain.

A questionnaire on stipends Budd circulated ‘resulted in depressing reading’, but even this did not stir the church fathers. A liveable remuneration did not justify the extra pressure on congregations, they opined. Although the General Assembly debated Home Mission stipends regularly, and did offer occasional relief, some extra theological training programmes, or ordain those with some qualifications, the stipend remained well below the standard stipend. This was partly due to what was perceived as the ‘unqualified nature’ of their status. Budd supported the respondents comments, reinforcing their ‘rights, which they had earned by steadfast service’ and agreed that the church ‘cannot ask such men to be simply nothings and nobodies’. It’s worth noting that the majority of Home Missionaries were unable to speak or vote at General Assembly and therefore, relied on sympathetic supporters to present their ‘case’.

Rev George Budd, Director of Home Missions from 1921-1938.. Presbyterian Research Centre, P-L-18013

For all Budd’s efforts, publicity and his visits to congregations, funding for both Maori and Home Missions was a constant exercise of persuasion. Budd reminded his readers they were ‘doers of the Word, not just listeners, and therefore not to deceive themselves’. People who took no action he compared to ‘aspen leaves, tremulous, sensitive, quivering, which sway with agitated responsiveness with every breath of wind, but though they are moving all day long, the night finds them just where they were in the morning’. Through his 17 years as Director, Budd stood by the Home Mission team doing what he could to improve their lot. Unfortunately, for researchers and Presbyterian Archives staff today,  Budd decreed on his retirement that the ‘old stuff ‘ he and others accumulated would be destroyed. We are fortunate his reports have survived along with some personal correspondence found in ministers collections.

There have been arguments for and against the success or otherwise of the Home Mission scheme. The strategy to employ theologically untrained missionaries led to a two-tier ministry within the Presbyterian Church that existed into the 1960s. Even though ministry in the back-blocks was challenging and often difficult and lonely, a large majority gave dedicated service, without which the Church’s goal to meet the spiritual needs of many in outlying communities may never have been carried out.