On 22 January 1822 the Rev. Samuel Leigh and his wife arrived in New Zealand to begin the Wesleyan Methodist Mission to the Maoris. They had been appointed to mission work in the colony by the Wesleyan Methodist Conference in England, and they thus represented that great missionary zeal which marked Methodism almost from its inception under John and Charles Wesley. On 23 May 1823 the Rev. Wm. White arrived at the Bay of Islands, and the two men, encouraged, advised, and assisted by workers of the Church Missionary Society there, began the mission at Wesleydale, Kaeo, North Auckland. The Maoris were uncooperative, and in 1827 the station was destroyed by some of Hongi's men. The missionaries barely escaped with their lives. But before the year was out they were back from New South Wales, working in the Hokianga area. In 1828 a site was bought at Mangungu, and by 1841 the mission had spread along the west coast as far south as Kapiti. There were stations, too, at Port Nicholson (under the Rev. John Aldred); at Cloudy Bay, Marlborough (under the Rev. Samuel Ironside); and at Waikouaiti, in Otago (under the Rev. J. Watkin). The Rev. Charles Creed replaced Watkin in 1844, and was present when the Scottish Free Church settlers arrived to found the province.
Despite inevitable difficulties, these 13 years of pioneer work produced encouraging results. Fifteen mission stations, with as many missionaries, had been established, and the European settlements at Auckland and Wellington had their own congregations. Thousands of Maoris were attending services regularly and some were themselves preaching the Gospel among their own people. Moreover, the outward profession of Christianity was becoming common, accompanied with a growing desire for instruction. Finally, thanks in no small degree to Wesleyan influence exerted through Tamati Waka Nene and the missionaries, a large number of Maori chiefs had signed the Treaty of Waitangi. In those early days, and for many years afterwards, the Government was in constant touch with Wesleyan missionaries such as Thomas Buddle and H. H. Lawry, not only on account of their first-hand knowledge of the Maoris but also because of their good influence over them.