Skip to main content


Page 6 – Printing the word of God

From the mid-1830s the printed word became a new weapon in the campaign to bring Christianity to Maori. In 1835 the Church Missionary Society (CMS) printer, William Colenso, printed a Maori translation of the Epistles of Paul to the Philippians and to the Ephesians. With the first New Zealand publication under his belt, Colenso then produced 5000 copies of William Williams's Maori New Testament, quickly followed by 27,000 copies of the Book of Common Prayerin Maori. By 1840 Colenso had produced over 74,000 books and pamphlets.

The Catholic Mission at Kororareka was equally prolific. In October 1842, 6000 handmade copies of the 648-page Ko te ako me te karakia o te hahi Katorika Romana (The teachings and prayers of the Roman Catholic Church) were produced.

These publications attracted much interest among Maori and increased the authority and extent of missionary influence. Maori increasingly recognised the printed word and literacy as sources of Pakeha wealth and mana and as essential skills that they needed to acquire in order to survive and prosper in the post-contact world.

The missionaries clearly paved the way for European colonisation and were instrumental in Britain's decision to offer Maori a treaty in 1840. The Treaty of Waitangi challenged Maori in terms of their newly acquired skills of literacy. It also opened the floodgates for European settlement and changed the face of New Zealand in a way unimaginable a generation before.

How to cite this page

Printing the word of God, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated