Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

WILLIAMS, William

(1800–78).

First Bishop of Waiapu.

A new biography of Williams, William appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

William Williams was born on 18 July 1800 at Nottingham, the fourth son of Thomas Williams, a lace manufacturer, and of Mary, a daughter of Captain Henry Marsh, R.N. He was educated at Southwell Grammar School and apprenticed to a surgeon. Before long he decided to join his elder brother, Henry, in the mission field; however, he was obliged to complete his apprenticeship before going on to Oxford (1822), where he took his B.A. in classics. On 19 December 1824 he was ordained priest and, while waiting for a ship to take him to New Zealand, spent some time gaining experience in London hospitals. He arrived at Paihia on 25 March 1826 and spent the next eight years in charge of the mission school. As he had received some training as a philologist, one of his first tasks was to study the structure of the Maori language. In this connection he compiled a Dictionary of the New Zealand Language and a Concise Grammar which was published in 1844 and, later, revised by Maunsell and W. L. Williams.

When it was decided to expand the work of the mission, Williams offered to open the new stations at Thames and Mangapouri. In 1833 he visited the East Coast – Poverty Bay area, where he established native teachers. Five years later, accompanied by Colenso, Matthews, and Stack, he revisited these districts which he now judged to be ready for a permanent mission station. In April 1839 Williams and Taylor visited the districts once more and selected a site. The following year he brought his family to Turanga (Gisborne) and took charge of a parish extending from East Cape to Cape Palliser. In 1837 Williams published his translation of The New Testament. When Selwyn arrived in 1842, Williams was appointed chairman of the revising committee to prepare a new translation for the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 1843 Selwyn constituted Williams Archdeacon of Waiapu. Early in 1851 Williams was sent to England to protest to the parent committee of the Church Missionary Society against their acceptance of the allegation by Sir George Grey that the missionaries' land claims had provided Heke with his pretext for making war and, also, to vindicate Henry Williams. Though he did not secure his brother's immediate reinstatement, he was able to convince the Church Missionary Society authorities that Grey had misrepresented the situation.

Williams returned to Turanga in 1853, where he devoted much of his time to his literary interests. He also superintended the removal of the mission to Waerenga-a-Hika in 1857. In April 1859 Selwyn constituted the eastern portion of his diocese into a separate missionary diocese – named Waiapu – and consecrated Williams as its first Bishop. From 1859 until 1865 Williams maintained his diocesan headquarters at Waerenga-a-Hika, but the Hauhau invasion of the latter year led him eventually to move to Napier. In 1867 he published Christianity Among the New Zealanders, a historical account of Church Missionary Society endeavours in New Zealand. On 25 March 1876 Williams suffered a severe stroke and, shortly afterwards, resigned his See. He died at Napier on 9 February 1878 leaving two sons and six daughters.

On 11 July 1825, at Southwell, Nottinghamshire, Williams married Jane, daughter of James Nelson. One of his sons, William Leonard Williams, became the third Bishop of Waiapu (1895–1909), while a grandson, Herbert William Williams, was the sixth Bishop of Waiapu (1930–37).

William Williams was a strong evangelical. His character contrasted greatly with that of his brother. Henry was very much a man of action, but William was gentle and scholarly.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Through Ninety Years, 1826–1916, Williams, F. W. (n.d.)
  • Waiapu – the Story of a Diocese, Rosevear, W. J. W. (1960).


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This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

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