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The story of European settlement of the Tauranga district really begins with the establishment of a permanent mission presence. Most influential and long lasting was the Church Missionary Society's station at Te Papa. Its history reflects the development of the area and is dealt with in some detail below.

Story by Jinty Rorke.

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Catholic Mission Station

It is less generally known that a Catholic mission station was established here in 1840. Bishop Pompallier was given land at Otumoetai within the palisades of the pa for a church and a presbytery. The first resident priest was Father Viard. The close proximity to the CMS station and the competition for converts lasted for 23 years. The mission station closed in 1863 because of the effect of the land wars in the Waikato district, which spread to Tauranga the following year. Catholicism gained ground in the Te Puna district because of the settlement there of several French men, Bidois, Borell, and Potier, whose descendents are still living in that area.

The Anglican Te Papa Mission Station
(Maori occupation to 1828, known as The Elms since 1873. See also The Elms.)

The Te Papa peninsula was occupied by Maori living in the neighbourhood of two fortified positions, the Otamataha pa, (the Mission cemetery) and Taumatakahawai pa, (the Monmouth Redoubt). During the 1820s, missionaries from the Bay of Islands visited the Tauranga district to obtain supplies of potatoes, pigs and flax. On one visit in 1828 the missionaries found that the Otamataha pa had been attacked and the inhabitants killed by visiting war parties from the Thames area. The few survivors fled to other settlements.

The Mission period. Rev. A.N.Brown and his wife Charlotte 1830s -1859

In the 1830s the missionaries decided to expand their work to the south, and establish stations in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty. The northern end of the Te Papa peninsula was chosen as a suitable site, for its proximity to the harbour entrance and because it lay between two major pa, one at Otumoetai, the other at Maungatapu. Several attempts at living at Te Papa were abandoned because of the danger from warring tribes, but in 1838 with the arrival of Rev. A.N. Brown, his wife Charlotte and their children Marsh and Celia, permanent residence was established.

To consolidate the CMS presence at Te Papa, Brown made two purchases of land, one of 12.5 hectares in 1838 and a second of 240 hectares in 1839. The deeds of sale were signed by local chiefs.

The Mission Station consisted of several raupo houses for the missionaries, a shed for the carpenters, a store for supplies and a boatshed on the beach at the foot of the cliff. Brown arranged for work to begin on permanent structures. The first to be completed by the end of 1838 was the library, to which Brown himself added a chimney in 1842, when he found his books were suffering from damp.

Until the mission house was completed in 1847, the Browns lived in a raupo house, whose position is marked by a cairn on the north lawn.
The garden was a very important part of the mission station. It not only supplied fresh fruit and vegetables for the table, but also recreated a small part of England. Brown was known for his interest in gardening: he planted the oak tree, the Norfolk pines which are the most visible markers of the mission station, as well as ornamentals such as roses.

During this period, Brown was busy and successful in his attempts to take the Christian message to the Maori of the Bay of Plenty. He walked for many months of the year, over rough tracks, in all weathers to visit remote settlements where he preached, and prepared converts for baptism. He was made Archdeacon in 1843.

A great sadness at this period was the death in 1845 of his only son, Marsh, named after his father's mentor in England. Marsh was buried in the cemetery on the site of the Otamataha pa.

Elms mission house. Watercolour by Emma Vogan c.1893

  • Archdeacon Brown's Library c.1940

    The 1850s saw a marked change for the missions. European settlers were arriving in New Zealand, hungry for land. The Maori were becoming more sceptical about the role of the missionaries. Another tragedy struck the small Brown family: Charlotte died of a respiratory complaint in 1855. She was buried in Auckland where she had gone for medical help. Celia, then in her late teens, was much sought after by suitors. Brown resisted, but in 1859 gave his consent to Celia's marriage to the Rev. John Kinder, principal of St John's College, Auckland.

    Archdeacon Brown and his second wife, Christina 1860-1887

    In February 1860 the 56 year old Brown remarried. His second wife was Christina Johnston, originally from Aberdeen, who was living with her brother in Wellington. Although the work of the mission was still continuing, everything was about to change. In 1863 war came to the Waikato, and soon involved Tauranga Maori. In 1864, imperial troops arrived, camping on CMS land, and taking over the recently completed mission institute building, intended as an agricultural college, as their commissariat.

    Brown was torn between loyalty to the Maori people to whom he had dedicated his life and his natural bonds with his fellow countrymen. Maori left their sea shore settlements and began strengthening and building pa in the hinterland. The Durham and Monmouth regiments arrived and constructed redoubts in and around Te Papa.

    A gate in the southern boundary fence of the mission land allowed travellers access to a traditional Maori track down the Te Papa peninsula. A pa was built near this gate, and the ensuing battle which took place on 21 April 1864, has become known as the battle of Gate Pa. The story is told below. For Brown the consequences were tragic. He was called on to bury not only his well loved Maori converts, but also his new English friends, including all but one of the officers who had dined with him at the mission house on the eve of the battle.

    The battle of Te Ranga in May reversed the situation, with the British troops victorious. For Brown, however, and for the Tauranga Maori, life had changed for ever. Soldier settlers were given land previously occupied by Maori. The mission land was surrounded by land confiscated by the government. Maori were forced to abandon ancestral land, and inevitably the work of the mission declined.

    In 1873 Brown and Christina purchased the mission house and 6.8 hectares of land surrounding it from the CMS. They renamed their private home The Elms, after the trees growing on the property. The CMS was gradually removing its support of the New Zealand mission. Although Brown continued to preach to those of his converts who remained, he also undertook parochial duties for the Europeans living in the township of Tauranga until an Anglican vicar was appointed in 1873.

    Brown died in 1884 at the age of 81, and was buried in the mission cemetery. Christina survived him by only three years. Perhaps surprisingly the property was left not to Celia, but to Christina's family.

    Alice Maxwell 1887-1949

    After the death in Australia in 1865 of her husband, a Presbyterian minister, Christina's sister, Euphemia Maxwell, brought her young family of two boys and two girls to her brother in Wellington. One of the daughters, Alice, often spent holidays at The Elms, which she grew to love. Christina left the property to Alice as life tenant on condition that her mother and sister Edith moved to The Elms with her. Although the strong-minded Euphemia was reluctant to leave the comparative civilisation of the capital, the three women took up residence in Tauranga in 1887, bringing with them the grand piano which now graces the music room.

    Survival was not easy for the three women, and money was always tight. Nevertheless their responsibility for the preservation of the mission station was never forgotten. In 1913, land was subdivided and sold for housing in order to effect necessary repairs to the property, leaving just one hectare around the remaining buildings of the mission house, library, coach house, kitchen block and outbuildings.

    After Euphemia's death in 1919, Alice began to open the house and its gardens to interested visitors. The nature of the garden changed, with New Zealand trees and shrubs alongside Brown's original English plantings.

    When Alice died in 1949 she had spent 62 years caring for The Elms and sharing her knowledge of the history of the mission station which she had learned from Archdeacon Brown himself.

    Duff and Gertrude Maxwell 1949-1997

    Neither Alice nor Edith married. After discussion with her nephews, Grant and Duff Maxwell, Alice decided that she would leave the property to Duff as life tenant. So, in 1949, Duff and Gertrude moved up from Taranaki to take over guardianship of The Elms. The property which they inherited needed a great deal of work. Money was always scarce, and considerable sacrifices had to be made in order to provide what Duff considered to be appropriate care of the mission station. Duff left The Elms in 1992 and died in September 1997.

    In 1962 The Elms Historic Family Home Preservation Trust Inc. was established to provide Duff with support and help in the maintenance of the property. One of the first tasks undertaken in 1964 was the building of a replica chapel to replace the original which had fallen into disrepair in the 1880s.

    Under Duff's custodianship, several notable gifts were made to The Elms: a slab and shingle whare built in the King country in 1919 was donated by J.D. and M.Menzies in the late 1960s; a Fencible cottage was donated in 1972 and is now used as an office and meeting room for The Elms Trust committee and tour guides.

    Major repair work was carried out on the mission house in 1976 under the supervision of the Ministry of Works. More recently restoration work has been done on the Library, funded by a generous donation from a community trust.

    The mission station has passed into public ownership with the establishment of The Elms Foundation in 1998. Funding for the purchase has come from charitable organisations and businesses in Tauranga and the western Bay of Plenty as well as from the Lotteries Board Heritage Fund. Trustees and a Board of Directors are now responsible for the management of the property.

    The mission house and library carry a New Zealand Historic Places Trust Class 1 registration, the other buildings are Class 2, and the whole site is designated a Historic Area.

    Further information is available through the Tauranga City Libraries' New Zealand Room.

    Note: This article was originally part of the Tauranga Memories website (2011-2020). To your right the 'Archived Kete Link', if present, will take you to a snapshot of the original record. Tauranga Memories was made of several focus areas, called 'baskets'. This article was part of the Tauranga Historical Society basket and uploaded to by a Tauranga City Libraries site administrator on 30/04/2012.

    This article underwent 7 edits. Editors included Tauranga City Libraries Staff (Debbie McCauley)|Tauranga City Libraries Staff (Harley Couper). The original license was: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License. Please note that articles on Tauranga Memories were often uploaded on behalf of a member of the public, meaning sometimes the author is misattributed to a library staff member. Please contact us if this is the case for an article you authored.
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