Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 68, 1938-39
This text is also available in PDF
(552 KB) Opens in new window
– 30 –

The Right Reverend Herbert William Williams,
Bishop of Waiapu,

The late Bishop Herbert William Williams was born in 1860 at Waerenga-a-hika, Poverty Bay, and began his education at Christ's College, Christchurch. Winning a University Scholarship, he took his B.A. degree at Canterbury College in 1880. From 1879 to 1880 he was resident at College House, Christchurch. He then went to Cambridge University, where he was a Rustat scholar, and graduated B.A. in 1884 and M.A. in 1887. While at Canterbury College he was a keen Rugby player, and at Cambridge he was captain of the Jesus College fifteen. After two years as a master at Haileybury College, he was ordained deacon in 1886, and priest the following year, and returned to New Zealand in 1889 to become vice-principal of Te Rau Native Technical College, Gisborne. Having held this office for five years, he was appointed principal, and remained at the college till 1902. From that year until 1929 he was Superintendent of Maori Missions on the east coast of the North Island, that term embracing the middle east, and in 1907 he was appointed Archdeacon of Waiapu. On the resignation of Bishop W. W. Sedgwick in 1929 he was elected Bishop, and was consecrated in St. John's Cathedral, Napier, on February, 1930, being the sixth occupant of the See.

He followed his father and his grandfather in his devotion to the Anglican Church; both preceded him as Bishops of the See of Waiapu. His grandfather, Bishop William Williams, who had joined the Reverend Henry Williams as missionary in New Zealand in 1826, was consecrated first Bishop of Waiapu in 1859. The son of William Williams, Bishop William Leonard Williams, was consecrated to the See in 1895, being succeeded in 1910 by the Right Reverend A. W. Averill, now (1938) Primate and Archbishop of New Zealand.

His grandfather was an excellent linguist, and it was his intellect, with that of other good scholars in the mission, that may be detected in the translation of the Bible into Maori. It was therefore appropriate that it should have been the Bishop lately deceased who, shortly before his elevation to the See, went to London to see through the press the most recent edition of the Bible. His grandfather also issued the first edition of the Maori dictionary, the grandson editing the fifth edition, published by the Government Printer in 1917. A Rarotonga dictionary is near completion; the first part was in the hands of the Bishop at the time of his demise, and it is unfortunate that he will not be able to see this dictionary through the press as was intended.

The Bishop also edited the ninth and tenth editions of First Lessons in Maori, and the second edition of Grey's Nga Mahi a nga Tupuna Maori, which he largely revised and to which he added matter originally collected by Grey but not originally included. He produced a pioneer work of great intricacy—a Bibliography of Printed Maori, with supplement, and after completion of this, based on

Picture icon

The Late Bishop H. W. Williams.

– 31 –

printed books and leaflets in the possession of the late Alexander Turnbull and himself, he presented his collection to the Turnbull Library, making it easily the finest collection of Maori literature in existence.

In recognition of his work in the revision of the dictionary, and other literary activities, the New Zealand University conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Literature in 1924, and the Cambridge University did the same a year later. He was elected a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute (now the Royal Society of New Zealand) in 1923, and President of that Society in 1935, filling the office till 1937, when he was elected Vice-President. He was elected President of the Polynesian Society in 1929, holding that office, in which he was highly esteemed, at the date of his death. He was appointed a member of the Honorary New Zealand Geographic Board at its constitution in 1924, and that position, too, he held at the time of his death.

He was a member of the Polynesian Society for over forty years, and it was as a member and President of that Society that I, as its editor, came-into closest contact, as also on the-Geographic Board. His keenly critical mind led him to be extremely cautious as an editor; with the result, as I know, that hundreds of Maori words collected by men like Elsdon Best, S. Percy Smith, and lesser but not negligible collectors, were long scrutinised before being admitted to his dictionary. A very great many, though their collectors could supply good instances of their actual use, he refrained from admitting since their use had not been recorded by any one of the three generations of Maori dictionary-makers. Those words are therefore still without the pale, and hence there are many words, apparently good Maori, that have been or may be heard in use that will not be found in the dictionary. He subjected all names, particularly of course, Maori names, that might come before the Geographic Board to equally close scrutiny, and his critical aid, always readily given, will be much missed by New Zealand anthropologists, historians, and lexicographers.

In his long pastoral career Bishop Williams won a unique place in the esteem of the Maori, although, well as he knew the language, he seldom spoke through it. Speaking of him not long since, the Right Reverend Frederick A. Bennett, Bishop of Aotearoa, said: “His associates of the past followed Tane, the spirit of the setting sun, and he stands by himself as a lonely figure. No other pakeha occupies a similar position, and after he passes away no one will be left for the Maori to look to to give the sympathy, counsel, and

– 32 –

guidance that he can. He occupies a unique position in the love and respect of the Maori race.”

Quite a short while before his death I had occasion to write to him in connection with a paper by him on Polynesian grammar to be published in the March Journal of the Polynesian Society. He sent the paper back with his comments, and said he had been advised to take three months' rest; but the characteristically cheerful tone of his letter gave me no hint that there was anything serious. I was about to leave for the south, to a complete change of scene; and I wrote: “I hope you will enjoy your rest, and that you are looking forward to a complete change as I am.” That was on 4th December. But he could not cease work even when resting; on the evening of Monday, 7th December, he had a meeting with several co-workers about his bed; he started to read the minutes; he put them down and said he could not go on; he had a seizure, and in a few minutes had passed away. My letter was returned by his son, the Reverend Nigel Williams.

J. C. A.