In 1841, New Zealand became a separate British colony, having been part of New South Wales before then. By 1860, there were over 100,000 British settlers in New Zealand. The Otago Association actively recruited settlers from Scotland, creating a definite Scottish influence in the Otago region. The Otago Province was the southern part of the South Island. A separate Southland Province existed from 1861–1870.

First brother

The first believer in the ‘Gospel of the Kingdom’ in New Zealand was Doctor Samuel George Hayes, an Englishman. He was qualified as an apothecary (pharmacist) in 1838, aged 21. Six years later he was a ship’s surgeon travelling to Wellington, New Zealand, the first of several similar trips.

In December 1852, he wrote to Brother John Thomas, a fellow doctor, from ‘Fort’ Wellington in the North Island, and again on 20 May 1854:

“In a letter recently received from England, I see that you think I had no business on this side the earth, and that you wish I was in New York. I can assure you that I did not cross the broad ocean from choice, having previously had more than enough of blue water. I was in hopes that, by emigrating to this colony, I should not be altogether dependent on the practice of physic, which I would willingly “throw to the dogs,” if I could. But what could I do in New York? I should very much like to be near you, especially for the Gospel’s sake you have done so much to make plain. I shall always feel much indebted to you.” (Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, February, 1855, pages 34-35)

Otago 1852–1876

There is no record of when Brother Hayes was baptised, but it may have been shortly before leaving London in 1852. In 1854 he was reprinting parts of the Herald in New Zealand entitled The Herald of the Kingdom of God.

In 1856, he travelled to New York and in 1860, he was back in Wellington. By 1864 he was living on the island of Jersey in the English Channel:

“Jersey. — Brother S. G. Hayes and his wife, lately returned from a considerable stay in New Zealand, is located at Eden Villa, Mont-au-piêtre. Though there is no meeting in the place, our bro. is unceasingly active in one way or other in his endeavours to propagate the truth, and in these endeavours he has the intelligent sympathy and co-operation of a valued wife and sister.” (The Ambassador of the Coming Age (later The Christadelphian), July, 1864, page 16)

Dunedin

In April 1864, Brother Hayes’ labours in New Zealand over the previous 12 years bore fruit: there were three baptisms in Otago (Dunedin) on the South Island:

“A Word from New Zealand. — A letter has been received by bro. S. G. Hayes, of Jersey, under date, Otago, N. Z., September 18, 1864, from bro. Murray; and we make the following extracts from it, believing they will be interesting to our readers: — “It will soon be six months since through the means of your work in Wellington, I was led to see the truth of God as it is revealed in the word, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Mr. & Mrs. Hurst, who came to reside, here were used for this end. They were placed at our very door, and having fulfilled their mission, have returned again to their own place. There are three of us here, myself, my wife, and a sister Perry, who, believing in the kingdom of God, and the things concerning the name of Jesus Christ, have confessed them by a re-baptism.

We cannot but wonder at the grace of our God in all the circumstances whereby we were led into the knowledge of the truth… I read Elpis Israel first, and immediately after, the Twelve Lectures by Mr. Roberts, and although there were many things which I did not receive at the time, and which have since disappeared as objections, on account of more perfect knowledge, yet I saw sufficient to show me that these books taught the main truths of the scriptures. There were a number of us here, who had been pretty diligent students of the word for some years, and free from the trammels of Sectarianism, so that we were in a favourable state to receive the truth.”” (The Ambassador, January 1865, page 116)

The ecclesias in the Dunedin district therefore preceded the earliest Christadelphian ecclesia in Australia. In 1865, the ecclesias had increased to 14 members, and in 1867, there were 25 members. The members were located in Dunedin and the nearby settlements of Caversham, Green Island, Abbotsford, Port Chalmers and Roslyn.

The ‘bro. Murray’ mentioned above was George Scott Tertius Murray from Scotland who was 35 when baptised in 1864. In 1878, he travelled to South Australia and introduced the Gospel of the Kingdom to Goolwa. He left after two weeks, giving the Kennett family Twelve Lectures, and soon after leaving, sending them Phanerosis. More will be said about this when considering South Australia in a later article.

Earliest brethren

The early baptisms in the Dunedin area included:

1864 – Bro. and Sis. G. S. T. Murray, Sis. Perry

1865 – Bro. Jock (John) Graham

1866 – Bro. David White

1867 – Bro. John Brown, Bro. William Wilson Holmes

1868 – Bro. Robert McLean

Mataura

In 1868, an ecclesia was established in Mataura, 150 km west of Dunedin:

“Brother W. W. Holmes, writing Dec. 24th, says: “I have to report that by the aid of some of the brethren at Green Island, I was enabled to pay a visit to a young ecclesia not long established at a place called Mimihau river, Mataura, a farming district, distant from here about 110 miles. The ecclesia was commenced by the removal of brother and sister Edwards from Green Island to that part. They now number six, three of whom are brothers and one sister after the flesh. Two have been brought to a knowledge of the truth since my last letter. One or two others are studying the word, of whose obedience, there are some hopes.”” (The Ambassador, April, 1869, page 125)

Riverton

Shortly afterwards, an ecclesia was formed in Riverton at the southern tip of the South Island. Brother William Holmes from Dunedin travelled to the southern area of the South Island in June 1869. He lectured three times in Invercargill, and seven times in Riverton and nearby areas. On that visit, five brothers and two sisters were baptised.

“William G. Mackay, of Tay-st., Invercargill, writes on the 4th of July, to announce his own immersion, and that of six others…

The Twelve Lectures are proving the instrumental means in God’s hand, to cause people to take up their Bibles in right earnest, to search the truth for themselves.”” (The Ambassador, November, 1869, pages 351-2, 386-389)

In July, Brother Hayward baptised his wife and in August, Brother Mackay baptised a further nine people. In 1870, the ecclesia numbered 15.

South Island

By 1871, there were at least five ecclesias in the South Island:

“Province of Otago (Ecclesia Meeting in Caversham): William Wilson Holmes, Margaret Holmes, Edward Holmes, Mary McClugage, John Greig, Mary Sinclair.

Province of Southland (Ecclesia Meeting in Riverton): Josiah Beer, William Gair Mackay, Alexander Macdonald, John McKinnon, Catherine Beer, John Ward, sen., John Ward, jun., Ann Ward, Annie Ward, James Moore, Thomas Moore, Janet Moore, Peter Lawson, John Hodgkinson, Alexander Clyne.

Province of Canterbury [around Christchurch]

Ecclesia Meeting in Eyreton: William Henry Gorton, William Murphy, Julia Murphy.

Ecclesia Meeting in Rangiora: John Scott, Eliz. Scott.

Ecclesia Meeting at Selwyn: William Scott, Mrs. William Scott, Mary Scott.”

(The Christadelphian, September, 1871, page 301)

The Christchurch ecclesia later developed from these small groups in Canterbury.

Napier

The Gospel of the Kingdom reached the North Island in 1870:

“The North Island. — Brother Brown, of Green Island, while lamenting the indifference of the people in his neighbourhood to the truth, says that some in the North Island are now looking into it. In a letter he received from a brother in the faith at Napier, mention is made of a Mr. Beach having obeyed the truth, whose wife is likely to follow his example. Others are looking into the matter.” (The Christadelphian, April, 1870, page 128)

“Napier, Hawkes Bay. — Brother Eldred Beck, writing Aug. 20th, says the seed sown broadcast in the provinces is bearing fruit. There has been a large circulation of Twelve Lectures, and the Bishop of Waiapu and the “Revs.” of Napier have been denouncing them from the pulpit as “pernicious books”. One of them having read the book, devoted several successive Sundays to an attempted refutation of them. Brother Beck says his arguments failed to convince those who had read them. There are four brethren and sisters in Napier, with prospects of increase.” (The Christadelphian, December 1870, page 383)

Auckland

Brother John Faulk was baptised in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1873. In 1874, he left for England, where his wife was baptised, and in 1875, he travelled to Brisbane, Queensland. Then in late 1877 he moved from Ipswich, Queensland to Auckland.

In 1879–1880 he reported the baptisms of several people. By mid-1880 the ecclesia numbered 11 (The Christadelphian, August, 1880, page 381) and 30 in 1885 (April, 1885, page 192).

Balclutha (Clutha or Inch Clutha)

There is a brief mention of five members in Clutha in 1867. However, no further mention is made of this ecclesia until 1878. The first baptism recorded in Balclutha (about 80km south-west of Dunedin) was in 1878, of Robert Simons. In 1879, his wife and two others were baptised. He expressed himself thus:

“I cannot express the thankful joy I feel that He hath used one so unworthy as myself, to promote His glory; for my brother, I have been many years resisting His grace, for I had great light and knowledge over twenty years ago, and used to meet at the house of Dr. Samuel George Hayes, London, but on his leaving for New Zealand, I had not sufficient root to withstand the world’s allurements. And I now find I was considerably deficient in knowledge, but blessed be God, all that is now passed, and I am rejoicing in His love.” (The Christadelphian, August, 1879, page 383)

Brother Simons also reported that a tea meeting was to be held in Dunedin:

“The brethren to the number of about thirty, intend holding a tea meeting at the house of brother Campbell, of Green Island, on May 23rd, for mutual greeting, edification and comfort. May the blessing of God the Father be with them. As my employment as station master keeps me very tied, it is uncertain whether I can be there, but I am truly happy if I can do my duty in the position a kind Father has placed me.”

Conscientious Objection

In 1885, Russia’s interference in Bulgaria caused fears of an international war involving Britain. Consequently, many in the British Empire were moved to talk of raising armies through compulsory military service to help Britain, including New Zealand. The Brotherhood had consistently opposed such service since the time of Brother Thomas during the American Civil War (1861-5).

The brethren in the south of the South Island (Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill and Riverton) were concerned and initiated the drawing up of a petition against compulsory military service, based on the work of Brother Thomas in the USA during the American Civil War (1861-5) and a petition drawn up by Brother Roberts in 1878. It was submitted to Parliament in July1885. However, the draft Defence Bill was not proceeded with, and the petition was therefore held in abeyance.

Wellington

Although Brother Hayes had lived in Wellington in the 1850s, the Wellington ecclesia was not established until 1885:

“Brother Holmes (of Dunedin) announces the immersion of Mr. and Mrs. Mather, at Wellington, both of middle age, and formerly Presbyterians. Sister Churchill first introduced the truth to them while in Dunedin. And therefore on examination they were buried with Christ in October last. Brother Ephraim Ward, of Wellington, reports on the same matter, saying there is now an ecclesia in the place consisting of the brother and sister named, a brother and sister Holmes, who came out from England about seven years ago, brother and sister Parker, and himself. They would be most happy to have a call from any brother passing. – Address, “Riddiford Place, Riddiford Street, Newtown, Wellington.”” (The Christadelphian, February 1886, page 94)

There were ten members in 1893.

Fluctuating Numbers

The number of members in many of the early ecclesias were small, and in widely separated locations. Numbers fluctuated due to changing employment (including economic depression), ecclesial problems, expanded road and rail infrastructure and urbanisation of the larger towns. Consequently, several of the early ecclesias ceased to exist or merged with others. The larger ecclesias were Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch and Auckland, which were also the largest cities.

Visits of Brother Robert Roberts

Brother Roberts visited New Zealand twice—in 1896 and 1898. The places he visited were:

7/1–10/3/1896—Auckland, Stratford, Hawera, Patea, Wanganui, Woodville, Dannevirke, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch, Timaru, Dunedin, Balclutha, Invercargill and Riverton.

31/5–1/8/1898 (with his wife, Sister Jane Roberts)—Invercargill, Riverton, Otautau, Balclutha, Kaitangata, Dunedin, Timaru, Christchurch, Wellington, Napier, Palmerston, Wanganui, Hawera, Stratford, New Plymouth, Auckland and Ngaruawahia.

These visits were a great encouragement to the fledgling ecclesias. A large number of public lectures were delivered, and many local ecclesial difficulties discussed.