Te Waimate mission, the fourth mission station established in New Zealand, is a storied place. Some of its stories reveal a roil of events and personalities that contrast with its gracious, tranquil appearance and pastoral setting.

During its history, the house accommodated families with as many as 13 children, numerous visiting missionaries and other guests, including Charles Darwin who visited at Christmas 1835 when HMS Beagle spent 10 days in the Bay of Islands.

Stories at Te Waimate reveal how some of its occupants and visitors viewed it. In 1839, during the Clarke family occupancy, Reverend Taylor said that the house was ‘dirty and full of children’; in 1842 Sarah Selwyn felt that she was ‘living in a box’ due to the exposed kauri board interior, that was remedied by a coat of whitewash; several missionaries found a haven for reading and writing in the study. Darwin said Te Waimate was ‘one bright spot’ on his visit to New Zealand which was ‘not a pleasant place’.

During the Northern Wars 1845-1846, the mission station was used as the headquarters for the British Army for several months.  Although occupying British soldiers severely damaged the house during this time, the house survived along with a range of objects that now help to illustrate Te Waimate’s stories. These stories feature significant people in New Zealand history including Hone Heke, Tamati Waka-Nene, Ruhe, William Williams, Henry Williams, Bishop Selwyn, William Colenso, Governor Fitzroy and Governor Grey.

The welcoming and knowledgeable Heritage New Zealand staff enhanced our visit to this peaceful, interesting and indeed ‘bright spot’, which includes a colourful garden, the beautiful St John the Baptist Church and its historic graveyard where casualties from the Battle of Ohaeawai (July 1845) are buried.

Photo credit: Bill Beale.  The flag is New Zealand’s first official flag, the flag of the United Tribes. It was selected on 20 March 1834 by 25 chiefs from the Far North who, with their followers, had gathered at Waitangi and voted at the request of James Busby. The design was modified as officially recorded in a Book of flags, 1845 and the black border around St George’s cross replaced with a white border.