Every month I write a local heritage-themed column, on behalf of The Treasury, for the Grahamstown Gazette. Here's my piece for the May edition.
From The Treasury:
Western music got off to an early start on The Thames. As far back as 1833 – more than thirty years before the declaration of the Thames goldfields, and seven years before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed – something unexpected was happening on the Waihou River.
In the early 1830s, the Church Missionary Society had its sights set on the Hauraki region. Keen to bring Anglicanism to the rest of the country and build on the success of their operation in the Bay of Islands, the Church Missionary Society identified the banks of the Puriri stream, among other places, as a potentially ideal spot for their first southern mission station. The Rev. Henry Williams and three other missionaries set out to visit Puriri in early 1833.
While this small group of missionaries weren’t the first Europeans to travel up the Waihou River, Europeans who dared venture so far inland were definitely few and far between. European activity in New Zealand was still mostly confined to the Bay of Islands, with Kororareka – the frontier ‘Hellhole of the Pacific,’ better known these days as Russell – the largest European settlement. New Zealand’s total European population at the time was still less than 2000 people. Information for travellers going inland was scarce. Following maps drawn by Captain Cook, the missionaries journeyed up the Waihou River and arrived in Puriri with the tide.
However, when it came to bringing European music to the Plains, someone else beat the group of missionaries to the punch. Much to their surprise, the missionaries were thrilled to discover the 200-strong Ngati Maru hapu who greeted them already knew the words to several Anglican evening hymns and prayers. This was thanks to a group of local boys who had been educated at the Paihia mission school, and had passed on the songs they had learnt to others at Puriri when they had returned. Anglican church music had reach Puriri well before the missionaries themselves.
Puriri was eventually chosen to be the site of the new Hauraki Mission Station, and with the establishment of the new station came the first instances of arranged Western music with instruments being played on the Coromandel, both for fun as well as for church services. The swampy conditions at Puriri meant the mission station was moved to Parawai a few years later, where traces of the mission still stand. The mission station at Parawai was the first permanent European settlement – and the first permanent venue for Western music – in the modern Thames township. It was the beginning of a long tradition of music on the Thames.