Located between the South Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, New Zealand includes two major islands, North Island and South Island, and a number of smaller islands. Its government is a parliamentary democracy. The population is 24 percent Anglican, 18 percent Presbyterian, 15 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent other Protestant, 2 percent LDS, 2 percent Baptist, and 33 percent other or unaffiliated. New Zealand has two official languages, English and Maori.
Augustus Farnham, president of the Australasian Mission headquartered in Australia, accompanied by William Cooke and Thomas Holder, arrived in New Zealand on 27 October 1854. They preached for two months with little success in Auckland, Wellington, and Nelson. They focused their missionary labors on the European population because they could not speak Maori. Farnham returned to Australia in December 1854, leaving Cooke and Holder to continue the work. In March 1855, they baptized 10 people, and in April organized New Zealand’s first branch at Karori (near Wellington). From 1854 to 1897, missionary work in New Zealand was conducted under the direction of the Australasian (also called Australian) Mission, though little work was done in New Zealand until 1866.
In 1867, Carl C. Amussen, a Danish immigrant and jeweler in Utah, was called to serve in the Australasian Mission. While in New Zealand, Amussen taught and baptized brothers William and James Burnett on 6 March 1867 at Kaiapoi near Christchurch on South Island. When Amussen left New Zealand in June 1867, he placed William Burnett in charge of the Kaiapoi congregation which consisted of seven members.
During 1870, Australasian Mission President Robert Beauchamp visited the Saints in New Zealand. He assigned William Burnett to serve as president of the New Zealand Conference and appointed Henry Allington to preside over the Karori Branch. By July 1870, there were 41 New Zealanders on the conferences membership rolls, but that number was reduced in December 1871 when a group of 11 saints sailed from New Zealand to Utah. Another immigrant group followed in April 1872 under direction of Henry Allington.
In 1871, persecutions began to mount as the Church became better known. At one point the issue was brought before the Colonial Parliament. Neither restrictions nor punitive actions were taken against the Church due to “insufficient evidence of malfeasance.”
A group of five elders arrived from Utah in December 1875. They served in the Wellington area until their release in 1877. In November 1879, New Zealand was divided into three conferences; Auckland, Canterbury, and Otago. By the end of 1880, branches were established at Christchurch, Prebbleton, Alford Forest, Auckland, Napier, Norsewood, and Timaru. Also in 1880, headquarters for the Australasian Mission were moved from Sydney, Australia, to Auckland, New Zealand.
In 1872, James Burnett reported working among the Maori in the Canterbury region. Language and cultural barriers limited his success, and the first known Maori baptism occurred not in New Zealand, but in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1874.
On 6 March 1881, Mission President William M. Bromley visited the Maori settlement at Orakei near Auckland on the North Island. There he met with chieftain Paora Tuhare of the Ngati-Paoa tribe and received permission to preach the gospel to the Maori and to seek an audience with their Maori prophet Te Whiti and King Tauhio. Soon afterwards, Bromley appointed John S. Ferris to work on the coast of the Bay of Plenty, John P. Sorensen was assigned to work in the villages near New Plymouth, and Thomas L. Cox and his wife worked near Cambridge.
Prior to the arrival of the missionaries, at least five Maori leaders, some of whom were Tohungas (spiritual leaders) and others who were tribal wise men, had told of a “true religion” that would come. Many Maori beliefs were similar to those taught by the missionaries. This made the conversion process much easier. The first conversions came in the Waikato region, but others soon followed. On 18 October 1881, Ngataki, an advisor to King Tauhio, was the first known Maori baptized in New Zealand.
On 25 February 1883, a branch was established in the Waotu settlement with Hari T. Katera as branch president. The work progressed rapidly and by 1885 there were 1,038 of the 1,238 New Zealand members were Maoris. Two years later, in 1887, natives comprised 2,243 of the 2,573 members in New Zealand.
In 1887, Ezra F. Richards and Sonda Sanders began translating the Book of Mormon into Maori. They were assisted by Henare Potae, Te Pirihe Tutekohi, and James Jury. The translation was published in April 1889.
In 1897, the Australasian Mission was dissolved. It was replaced by the Australian and New Zealand missions. The change became final on 1 January 1898. At the time, the LDS population in New Zealand was 4,000, and 90 percent were Maori.
In 1907, the New Zealand Mission began publishing a semi-monthly magazine titled Elder’s Messenger, printed in both English and Maori. The title was later Te Karere (The Messenger). In 1908, New Zealand Mission President Rufus K. Hardy began publishing a Maori translation of the Doctrine and Covenants in serialized form in issues of Te Karere.
On 4-6 April 1913, the Maori Agricultural College was dedicated. It operated until 1931 when it was damaged beyond repair by an earthquake.
Matthew Cowley served as a missionary in New Zealand from 1914 to 1919. During that time, he re-translated the Book of Mormon into Maori for publication in 1918. He also helped to prepare complete translations of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price which were published as a single volume in 1919. From 1938 to 1945, he served as New Zealand mission president, and from 1945 to 1953 as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and as the supervising General Authority for New Zealand.
On 21 April 1921, Elder David O. McKay of the Quorum of the Twelve arrived in Wellington on an official visit to the New Zealand Mission. Elder McKay visited government officials, hoping to improve the quality of relations between the Church and the country’s representatives. In the following week, a six-day conference was convened.
As part of an effort to create missionary opportunities among New Zealand’s caucasian population, the mission president in 1937 arranged sports leagues in conjunction with the YMCA. Basketball, baseball, and softball were organized, coached, and refereed by full-time missionaries. Additionally, beginning in 1939, MIA programs were broadcast on radio stations.
In November 1939, the Church sponsored a major exhibit at the New Zealand Centenary Exhibition in Wellington. By April 1940, there were 6,000 people who had signed the visitor book, and 22,000 tracts and 9,000 Articles of Faith cards had been distributed.
The First Presidency sent a cable on 14 October 1940 specifying that because of World War II all American missionaries in the South Pacific should return to the United States as soon as possible. Five days later, the Mariposa set sail for America carrying New Zealand’s missionary force. District and branch presidencies were reorganized with local leaders, but Matthew Cowley remained as mission president. At that time there were 8,250 members in New Zealand in 13 districts. Elder Cowley conducted a subscription campaign for Te Karere, and used the magazine to communicate with members.
During February 1946, American missionaries were allowed to return to New Zealand.
David O. McKay dedicated the New Zealand Temple on 20 April 1958 and the Church College of New Zealand on 26 April. The following month, the first stake in New Zealand was created in Auckland on 18 May. In August 1958, the New Zealand Mission was divided and the New Zealand South Mission was added. Membership at the time was 17,000, but grew to 26,000 during the next eight years as 200 missionaries canvassed the country and convert numbers doubled. It was necessary to create additional stakes in Hamilton and Hawkes Bay in 1960, Wellington in 1965, another in Hamilton in 1967, and in Auckland in 1968.
During 1968-1970 a seminary program was established in New Zealand. About 13,000 members attended an area conference in Temple View in 1976, at which President Spencer W. Kimball spoke. Three years later, President Kimball addressed 11,600 in area conferences in Auckland and Wellington held on 24-25 and 27 November 1979.
In 1987, Elder Douglas J. Martin, a former stake president from Hamilton, was called to the Seventy. President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke at a regional conference in Hamilton 10-11 May 1997, and spoke to 10,000 members in Auckland on 11 May.
In August 2001, missionaries serving at the Hamilton New Zealand Temple Visitors Center began traveling to wards and stakes on the North and South islands presenting firesides and concerts. By year-end 2000, more than 12,000 people had attended the programs, with 6,800 of them requesting missionaries. In addition, New Zealand Public Radio asked the temple visitors center to produce a radio program. A radio series was designed similar to the weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcasts.
The prime minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, was a special guest during the annual Christmas Light Display and Concert at the temple visitors center on 21 December 2001.
In 2003, record numbers of members from Christchurch welcomed President Gordon B. Hinckley on 17 June, the first Church president to visit and speak. In 2003, the Church had grown to the sixth largest religion in New Zealand with 93,840 members residing in 25 stakes.
In October 2004, more than 4,000 members and friends gathered in Hamilton to celebrate 150 years of the Church in New Zealand by attending a pageant chronicling the history and people who built the Church since missionaries arrived in 1854. In 2003, membership reached 93,840.
- William Gardner (1846-1932) - Early Bishop of Pine Valley Ward, he spent 10 years as a missionary to the Maori peoples in New Zealand.
Rangianewa Baillie Parker, Kia Ngawari Trust history, 2003, Church Archives; Brian W. Hunt, Zion in New Zealand: A History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Zealand, 1854-1977, 1977; Brian W. Hunt, The Maori Agricultural College, 1969; Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; Lyn R. Jacobs, Mormon non-English scriptures, hymnals, and periodicals, 1830-1986, 1986; Mervyn Dykes, “The Church in New Zealand,” Ensign, February 1976; Clyde P. Larsen, “Three Days with Missionaries in the New Zealand Bush,” Church News, 9 May 1936; “Remarkable Career Closes for Oldest LDS Maori, Church News, 18 January 1964; “Pres. Hinckley Visits New Zealand,” Church News, 17 May 1997; “Hearts Were Touched,” Church News, 20 December 1997; Peti Transfield, “Celebrating 40 Years of Church Education in New Zealand,” Church News, 30 May 1998; Pat Malouf, “Celebrating Anniversary of New Zealand’s First Stake,” Church News, 18 July 1998; “Sharing Gospel in New Ways in New Zealand,” Church News, 27 October 2001; Marilynn Leonard, “Prime Minister Turns On Lights On New Zealand Temple Grounds,” Church News, 29 December 2001; John L. Hart, “A City’s First Visit by Church President,” Church News, 28 June 2003; John L. Hart, “Steadfast in Faith, From One Era to Next,” Church News, 26 July 2003; “Pageant reflects heritage,” Church News, 2 October 2004.