In June 1840, not long after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in Whanganui, a Mission Station was built next to Pūtiki marae and many of the leaders converted to Christianity. After Reverend John Mason drowned in the Turakina River, Reverend Taylor and his family were called to take over the position, arriving at Pūtiki on 1 May 1843.
Taylor came from Yorkshire, England. He earned his BA at Queen’s College in Cambridge before being ordained as a Minister on 8 November 1829. He was then appointed as a missionary to New Zealand by the Church Missionary Society after gaining his MA in 1835. After a three year stint working in New South Wales, he worked in the Bay of Islands before being stationed in Whanganui. Taylor’s role was as evangelist, travelling the area from Taupō to Rangitīkei. He was also a peace keeper, defusing tensions within and between European and Māori.
At one point Taylor was baptising more converts than any other missionary in the country. He regularly travelled his parish to make sure he kept in contact and maintained an influence, leaving his wife and family at home to run the Mission Station and cater for visitors. He and Bishop Selwyn oversaw the building of several churches. He was also responsible for some of the place names along the Whanganui River, including Ātene/Athens, Koroniti/Corinth, Hiruhārama/Jerusalem, and Rānana/London.
He was greatly respected among local Māori. In the early 1840s he was presented with an intricately carved chair by the Māori of Pūtiki in recognition of the work he did with them and as a token of their respect for him. Whereas many Māori were appreciative of Taylor’s efforts, European Settlers were ambivalent towards his pastoral work, preferring to attend the horse races on Christmas Day rather than the church services that Taylor offered.
From the 1850s Taylor’s religious influence began to wane as his role in civil matters increased. He continued negotiating the peace but was not always successful. He attempted to prevent war in Taranaki in the 1860s and was torn when Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui and Pūtiki Māori fought on the Government side, unable to condemn them but upset by the devastating effects of war.
Taylor often represented Whanganui in government matters. He was a close friend and confidant of Governor Grey and helped make the decision to call a military presence to the town in 1845. He was involved with land negotiations and the final Whanganui land settlement agreement, and helped to establish several schools and the local hospital.
Alongside this Taylor also maintained a serious interest in the natural world. He discovered a new species of plant, Dactylanthus taylori, or the wood rose. He also sent moa bones to Richard Owen, who ultimately recognised and named the species of bird new to science. He sent samples of New Zealand native plants to Joseph Hooker, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew at the time. And he found the time to write and illustrate several books on natural, social and religious themes.
Reverend Taylor passed on his mission work to his son Basil, who joined him in his pastoral work in 1860 but continued his civil work. Taylor died on 10 October 1873, but is still fondly remembered and respected today.