Henry Williams


Henry Williams
Henry Williams

Henry Williams (1792-1864) was a former Royal Navy lieutenant who served in the Napoleonic Wars. In 1823, as an Anglican priest, he was appointed to head CMS's mission in New Zealand.

Under his forceful personality, the mission was highly successful, influencing several thousand Māori to convert and spreading its influence through much of the North Island.

By the late 1830s, Williams and most missionaries actively supported British annexation, believing it necessary to protect Māori from lawless Europeans. They also supported measures intended to protect Māori from fraudulent dealings, such as the prohibition on private land purchases and the investigation of existing purchases.

On 4 February 1840, Williams and his son Edward were given one night to translate the technical language of Hobson and Busby's draft Treaty of Waitangi into Māori. Henry then had a crucial role in explaining it to the chiefs who met William Hobson at Waitangi on 5 February. He later travelled to the southern North Island and the Marlborough Sounds to gain signatures. His personal mana undoubtedly influenced many chiefs to sign.

He was criticised after the sack of Kororareka in 1845 and also harshly criticised for his land holdings. After 1845, Governor George Grey questioned Williams’s title to land he had bought near Paihia, although it had been officially investigated and confirmed. The embarrassment this caused led to his sacking as head of the New Zealand CMS Mission, but he was later reinstated. He became Archdeacon of Te Waimate and remained in that post until his death. 

Adapted from the DNZB biography by Robin Fisher

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