Samuel Ironside


The man and his mission

The Reverend Samuel Ironside was a pioneering figure in the introduction of Christianity to early New Zealanders. His influence was sought throughout New Zealand and his work in the Nelson Marlborough region saw him become a valued and cherished member of society.

Samuel Ironside. Marlborough Historical Society - Marlborough Museum Archives.
Click image to enlarge

Missionary work in Northland
Samuel Ironside was born in Sheffield, England, on 9 September 1814 to Samuel Ironside and Mary Bradbury. His early apprenticeship as a cutler saw him seek a greater calling, which then saw him apply to enter the Hoxton Wesleyan Theological Institution. Out of eighty-five candidates, Ironside was selected and on 20 September 1838, he and his young wife, Sarah Eades, set out on the England in search of missionary work in New Zealand.

The Ironsides arrived on March 19 1839 at Hokianga Harbour and were assigned Mangungu as their first destination. On February 6 1840, Ironside signed the Treaty of Waitangi as a witness, reportedly because of his help in convincing the Māori of the protection they would receive from the British Government. His amazing ability to pick up the Māori language meant that he was a crucial mediator in negotiations. From there, the Ironsides travelled down the West Coast of the North Island and then on the Magnet to Cloudy Bay, in the Marlborough Sounds, arriving there on 20 December 1840.

Ngakuta Bay
On arrival at Cloudy Bay, the Ironsides were in for a shock. The lack of shelter meant they were confined to a disused cooking facility which it is said that through the roof "he could contemplate the stars, while on the dirt floor he could study natural history".1

His work began almost immediately and the parish he established spread rapidly throughout the Sounds, extending to D'Urville Island and beyond. The missionary's base was at Ngakuta Bay, where the Ebenezer Church was established, holding a congregation of eight hundred people, the majority of whom were local Māori. Many European whalers were also known to attend the Sunday services. Marriages and baptisms were regularly conducted by Ironside, indicating how the local Māori were accepting Christian faith. Ironside's task of distributing Pukapuka Tapu , or the ‘Holy Book', was a great example of the Māori appreciation of the Christian word. After the difficult task of handing out four hundred bibles to a congregation of seven hundred, it is reported that the Māori brought six hundred baskets of potatoes, Indian corn, pumpkins and seven good-sized pigs2 in acknowledgement of the gift. Small chapels were appearing throughout his parish, built solely by his converts; these totaled sixteen by the mission's end, which came one fateful day in 1843.


A memorial service at Ngakuta Bay, Port Underwood, when a cairn was unveiled to the Rev Samuel Ironside who established a Methodist mission on this spot in 1840. Approximately 300 people attended in March 1960.Marlborough Museum & Archives

Wairau Affray and move to Wellington
On 17 June 1843, after some days of turmoil, the brutal death of twenty-two Pākeha men, and four Māori occured in at Tuamarina. This became known as the Wairau Incident or Affray, occurred. The New Zealand Company had sent a team of surveyors, led by Captain Arthur Wakefield, to the Wairau Plains to survey land for the early Nelson settlers, claiming that they had bought the land from the local tribes. The Māori denied having ever sold the land and began to cause trouble within the surveyors camps. Armed men attempted to arrest the chief, Te Rauparaha, for arson. Violence ensued and tragedy occurred.

Ironside played a vital role in the Wairau Incident. As news of the tragedy reached Ngakuta Bay, he immediately made his way to Ocean Bay3 to talk to Te Rauparaha and his associate, Te Rangihaeata. His main purpose was to seek permission to bury those Europeans that had been killed: he was told that "it would be better to leave them to the pigs"4 but gained permission. On his return to Ngakuta, after burying the dead in a "large, deep sadness and tears"5, Ironside was shocked to find that almost the entire population had assembled at Queen Charlotte Sound, preparing for a heke, or migration, north, in fear of retaliation by the Europeans. He found the mission station lonely and isolated and when the opportunity to leave arose, the Ironsides themselves left Ngakuta for Wellington.6

In Nelson
After about five years continuing to support his Māori followers in Wellington, Ironside was transferred to Nelson, arriving on 17 February 1849. By this time, the Ironsides had two children, both born in Wellington. Unusually, they had been married for almost ten years before having children. He was no doubt disappointed that soon after his arrival at Nelson the Ngakuta Bay mission, that he had worked so hard on establishing, was completely abandoned. However, his work continued on an almost identical circuit to the one that he had operated from Ngakuta, performing marriages and baptisms throughout the top of the South Island.

Although he wasn't the first Wesleyan minister in Nelson, Ironside's work greatly expanded that of his predecessors and he laid the foundation of future missionary work. He assisted in the work of the Nelson School Society, seeing education as an integral part of societal improvement. He was lecturer for the Evangelical Alliance, participated in the supervision of the Nelson Working Men's Freehold Land Association, concerning land distribution to early settlers, and was an affiliate of the Nelson Provincial Council. He was also active within the Nelson Literacy and Scientific Institution, which gave him the opportunity to meet with educated people, who tended to not reside in areas such as Ngakuta Bay. The drunkenness prevalent in Nelson society and within the whaling community at Ngakuta saw Ironside become very involved in the prevention of such activity, and become a key member in the Total Abstinence Society. Although he was not always in agreement with his peers, he was held in high esteem by Nelsonians of all social classes.

Move to New Plymouth and Australia
Unfortunately for the early Nelson settlers who had found Ironside particularly obliging in assisting them in their settlement, he was transferred to New Plymouth. A morning tea was held on the 27 April 1855 to show the community's gratitude for his work. Here, he was presented with a purse containing £75, which Ironside exchanged for a commemorative plate for the province of Nelson, which illustrates the extent of his humility. Ironside and his family of six left that same day on the S.S. Nelson.

In 1858, after spending three years in New Plymouth supporting the mediation work of other missionaries, the Ironsides were relocated to Australia. Here, Ironside continued circuit work for another twenty years - he served in Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and other small towns until finally settling in Hobart where on 24 April 1897, aged eighty-two, the Reverend Samuel Ironside passed away.

Zinnia Nichol Foster, Nelson College for Girls, 2011. Updated May 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Manson, C. & C., (1966) Pioneer Parade, A.H. & A.W. Reed: Wellington
  2. Pybus, T.A., (1954) Maori and Missionary, A.H. & A.W. Reed: Wellington
  3. Pybus
  4. Pybus
  5. Pybus
  6. Mitchell, H. & J., (2007) Te Tau Ihu O Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough Volume II: Te Ara Hou - The New Society, Huia Publishers: Wellington

Want to find out more about the Samuel Ironside ? View Further Sources here.

Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.

Comment on this story

Post your comment


  • I Have a photo ablum of pictures of the auckland total abstinence society of 1874 if they contact me they can have it was my great grandfathers.

    Posted by K F Orgill, ()

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments

Further sources - Samuel Ironside



  •  Provincial Centennial Supplement 1859-1959 (1959, November 1) The Marlborough Express, 19


  • Ironside, Rev. S. (1842)  Journal, 7 November.  Wesleyan Archives, Morley House, Christchurch.
  • Ironside, S:  "Missionary Reminiscences" VIII & XIV. 1891. Wesleyan Archives, Morley House, Christchurch.

Web Resources