Topic: Rev. James Duncan.
James Duncan in Wellington about April 1843, staying there while he learned the Maori language and something of their customs from pa in the vicinity. About six months later he decided to make the Manawatu his base. On 7 January 1844, the first Scots Church in New Zealand was dedicated. The minister, Reverend John McFarlane took the morning service and Duncan preached in the afternoon and evening. After about six months in Wellington, Duncan decided to make the Manawatu his base. At this time, there were several large Maori villages with a population of about 1,000 adult males and 400 women and children along the Manawatu river. The nearest missionary was Octavius Hadfield based at Otaki.
James Duncan was born on 1 February, 1813 the son of a New Monkland, Lanarkshire, baker. He attended Glasgow University from 1836 to 1838 and then the Theological Hall of the Reformed Presbyterian Church at Paisley from 1839 to 1841.
On 29 March 1842 he was licensed as a preacher of the Gospel and on 25 September the same year was ordained to the ministry and inducted as a missionary to the Maori.
Just before his ordination Duncan married Christina Struthers of Blackness. (It is unfortunate that we know practically nothing about her).
Reverend and Mrs Duncan must have arrived in Wellington about April 1843, because we know Duncan took his first service in New Zealand on 7 May of that year. They stayed in Wellington while Duncan learned the Maori language and something of their customs from pa in the vicinity.
On 7 January 1844, the first Scots Church in New Zealand was dedicated. The minister, Reverend John McFarlane took the morning service and Duncan preached in the afternoon and evening. After about six months in Wellington, Duncan decided to make the Manawatu his base. At this time, there were several large Maori villages with a population of about 1,000 adult males and 400 women and children along the Manawatu river. The nearest missionary was Octavius Hadfield based at Otaki.
Leaving his wife with their baby daughter in Wellington, Duncan set out for the Manawatu on 11 June 1844. It was a terrible journey, cold and windy. We do not know who was with him but obviously not an experienced Maori because they got lost for a while in the bush. They might have done better to keep to the open beach. After four days they reached a village of the chief Taikaparua and his son-in-law Ihakara Tukumaru. Hadfield had already worked among these Maori but had no settled mission. Consequently, at first Taikapurua wanted to know whether Duncan had been sent by the Bishop or by Hadfield. Duncan explained that his was a separate mission so Taikapurua agreed to build a house for him while he returned to Wellington for Mrs Duncan and also to bring stores.
They had another terrible journey, five days this time, apparently all on foot, no mention even of a bullock cart to carry all the stores. Mrs Duncan became so exhausted that she begged her husband to leave her and save the baby. However, they did reach the village. We must use our imagination to fill in the details. I think a white baby would have helped bridge the gap between Mrs Duncan and the Maori women.
Duncan then began travelling up and down the river by canoe teaching and preaching at the various settlements. He also gave medical help. Besides reading and writing, Duncan taught the Maori arithmetic to help them in their dealings with the traders. Before the end of that year, disaster struck. Their house was destroyed by fire. They all escaped without harm and Duncan was at least pleased that most of his books were still in Wellington. Duncan returned to Wellington for provisions leaving Mrs Duncan with a friendly Maori family.
This time Duncan made the return trip by ship but alas the ship was wrecked on the Manawatu bar and all the stores were lost. They managed to save the books but what a job drying them, salt water too. They must have been fairly successful because Duncan said that most were readable. He had also been given 110 New Testaments by the Wesleyan mission.
It is not surprising that these disasters caused Duncan to have a physical breakdown and the family returned to Wellington for a few months.
When they came back to the Manawatu in early 1845, they made their home at Te Maire where most of the Maori were now living. At this time, he was joined by Reverend John Inglis who however never had his heart really in the work and stayed less than two years. Inglis recorded that between 80 and 120 people were attending worship and 40 to 80 secular instruction although no person was thought fit for baptism.
Perhaps influenced by his friendship with Ihakara Tukumaru, in 1848 Duncan made his last move and set up a permanent home in Te Awahou. We think this house was in Liddell Street. At this time besides his Maori school, he taught some white children in the manse. In 1850, the Maori built a church which was probably at the north end of Main Street near the cemetery now called the Ihakara Gardens, and in 1857 when Thomas Cook and Francis Robinson took the initiative in opening a school, the first in the Manawatu, Duncan became the official teacher, a position he held until 1866.
One of the things which marred Duncan’s ministry was the ill-feeling which right from the beginning had existed between him and Hadfield. On the other hand, he found a good friend in the Reverend Richard Taylor who often stayed with the Duncans on his way from Wanganui to Wellington. Once when in a despondent mood he felt like giving up, Taylor advised him to hold on. Taylor was experiencing similar problems with the Maori people moving to other places.
So Duncan held on and when the number of Maori followers dwindled, he found the white settlers were glad of his ministry.
In 1861, he was inducted to the charge of Foxton which he held until his retirement in 1897. In 1867, the Foxton Presbyterian Church was built by George Nye. Three years later, the Duncan home (now owned by Mr and Mrs D. Halidone) was built in Lady’s Mile.
Duncan took his part in the courts of his church. Until 1901, there were two Presbyterian churches in New Zealand; the Northern church and the Southern church; the Waitaki river was the dividing line. From 1862 till 1867, Duncan was the convener of the Foreign and Maori Mission Committee of the Northern Church and he was moderator of the Northern Church in 1863 and again in 1888. Duncan died on 29 December 1907. Mrs Duncan had died in 1884. They had three children, all girls; two died in childhood, but Robina Duncan lived until 1939.
When referencing this book please use the following:
Pioneers of Foxton : Book One. pp. 18-20. [Foxton, N.Z.] : Foxton Historical Society, 1988.