Counties-Manukau essays

Selwyn's sermon

Bruce Ringer with thanks to Ray Stone


At Maraetai, on a small point of land towards the western end of Omana Beach, a small plaque marks the site of the first mission station in Manukau, established by the lay preacher William Fairburn in 1837. This was also the site where, on 13 June 1842, George Augustus Selwyn, the first Anglican Bishop of New Zealand, preached his first-ever sermon in the Maori language.

This fact is well-known locally, but elsewhere ignored. Selwyn’s biographers generally claim he first preached in Maori at the Auckland courthouse on 6 June 1842, the first Sunday after his arrival in New Zealand. Mrs Selwyn’s memoirs alternatively suggest the event occurred in the Bay of Islands on 20 June.

Copies of Bishop Selwyn’s letters that are preserved in the Alexander Turnbull Library tell a different story. On 6 June Selwyn indeed preached at the courthouse, but in English. The following day he departed on a peace-making expedition to the Firth of Thames. When returning to Auckland, his boat was forced to take shelter at Maraetai, where on Sunday 13 June he took the service and preached in Maori to a congregation of about 120.

Selwyn’s European admirers universally praised his fluency in Maori. Edwin Fairburn, who was present at Maraetai, recalled some years later that Selwyn’s listeners on that occasion had difficulty understanding him.

For more information: see Manukau’s Journey and Manukau Myths and Memories

Publication record: first published in Connexions, no. 92, October 2007, p. 7. Revised for publication on the Manukau Libraries website in September 2009.

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