Printer’s link – historic prayer book hits the right notes

A piece of Aotearoa New Zealand’s early Te Reo publishing heritage was snapped up at auction recently by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.


Hymnal open to title page
A prayer and hymn book dating back to 1845 was acquired by the country’s lead heritage agency to add to the collection at Māngungu Mission – the Wesleyan Mission house at Horeke in the Hokianga that is cared for by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. The rare artefact dates back to the heyday of the Wesleyan Mission and cost $300 plus an auction house fee. 

Entitled Ko te Pukapuka on nga Inoinga o te Hahi Ingarani, me nga Himene Weteriana, the Wesleyan prayer and hymn book is written entirely in Te Reo Māori. Even more special is the fact that it was printed at the Wesleyan Mission Press at Māngungu, which is today a Tohu Whenua.  

The fact that the Wesleyan Mission was able to churn out books like the hymnal can largely be credited to the Rev William Woon.  

Born in Cornwall, Woon was apprenticed into the printing trade. He showed promise as a preacher, and in 1830 was accepted for the Methodist ministry and appointed to the Friendly Islands (Tonga) mission, arriving in the Bay of Islands on the Lloyds in 1831.  

Initially his work was in connection with translating and printing the scriptures in Tongan, though in 1833 he resigned and went to Māngungu where he set up a recently arrived printing press. A printer by training, Woon was in a good position to give a bit of practical training to Māngungu missionary John Hobbs.  

Woon was witness to the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi at the Waitangi signing on February 6 1840. Six days later the third and largest signing of Te Tiriti took place at the Māngungu Mission at Horeke. 

The condition of the prayer book – a second edition – is very tidy considering its age, and has clearly been well used over the years with some passages underlined, and words added in pencil. It has also been given a hard cover at some stage. 

Eagle-eyed HNZPT staff spotted the item for sale in a recent auction catalogue. The organisation bid for the book – and are very pleased to have won it.  

The prayer and hymn book came from the estate of a private collector, Christopher Parr, who passed away recently. His collection included a sizeable number of early New Zealand books and documents.  

A number of staff regularly receive auction catalogues and, although HNZPT doesn’t have a budget specifically for acquiring collection items at auction, it does have some flexibility to act if the right item comes along. Which is good because nobody really knows when these items might surface. Decisions to shell out for items on auction are assessed against a range of criteria – provenance, significance and relevance to a site, condition, our ability to care for the item appropriately, and of course price.  

With its close links to Māngungu Mission, the prayer and hymn book was a red hot favourite for purchase.  

HNZPT hopes to be able to display the book at Māngungu Mission once an appropriate case is installed.

- John O'Hare