Colenso arrives with a printing press

30 December 1834

Colenso's printing press
Colenso's printing press (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-050378-F)

Church Missionary Society printer William Colenso arrived in the Bay of Islands on the schooner Blackbird with New Zealand’s second printing press. The first, acquired by the Reverend William Yate in 1830, had not been a success.

Within six weeks, Colenso had produced a 16-page pamphlet containing two of Paul’s epistles in Māori. Three years after his arrival he began printing 5000 copies of William Williams’ 356-page Māori New Testament, followed by 27,000 copies of the Book of Common Prayer.

Having cautioned Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson that many Māori did not understand the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi, Colenso printed a Māori-language version of this document in February 1840. Later that year he printed the first New Zealand Government Gazette.

After he was ordained as a deacon in 1844, Colenso and his wife Elizabeth moved to an isolated mission station in Heretaunga (Hawke’s Bay). When his relationship with a Māori member of their household was revealed by her pregnancy, Colenso was dismissed, ostracised by Pākehā and ridiculed by Māori.

In later life he was an unsuccessful politician, a middling linguist and a competent historian, and made significant contributions to biology and ethnology. 

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