Richard Taylor

Reverend Richard Taylor

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.


A photograph of Reverend Richard Taylor in his later years. WRM Ref: P-Q-006.

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.



View From the Cave in Hill overlooking Putiki-waranui [sic]-a-tamatea-pokai-whenua. A pen and wash painting by Cranleigh Barton after a work by his great-grandfather Rev. Richard Taylor. WRM Ref: 2001.57.

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.

The Governor Grey

A new schooner, called the Governor Grey, has been built at Wanganui, and is intended for coasting. [New Zealander 20 March 1847]

The Governor Grey was built for Merchant Mariners Taylor and Watt of Petre (the official name of the town of Whanganui at the time) by a Mr Walker and launched on 4 January 1847. The Reverend Richard Taylor recorded in his journal of the day, “The new vessel was launched. It is about 30 tons and was first named the Harvest Home but as everybody laughed at the name the owners substituted that of Governor Grey.” The launch was reported to be attended by most of the citizens of the town of Whanganui who cheered her into the water. Apparently, these worthy citizens had requested the name change, and thus she was christened in honour of the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Grey, who had been appointed to his post in 1845.

2. Taylor & Watt premises on Taupo Quay

Taylor & Watt premises on Taupo Quay.  Photograph thought to be by WJ Harding, 1860s.  Ref: W/S/TW/18

Thomas Ballardie Taylor and William Hogg Watt had arrived in Whanganui in 1841 and begun trading immediately. They built a store on the beach (now Taupō Quay) and then a jetty for their ships. The company built up a significant business in Whanganui, often acting as “bankers” to settlers all along the coast.

The new schooner replaced the Catherine Johnstone, known locally and affectionately as the Kitty J, a single masted cutter of only 10 tons, built in 1841. The cutter had traded between Taranaki, Wellington and Nelson, and occasionally Sydney, until the Taylor and Watt cargoes grew too big for her holds to carry. After the launch of the Governor Grey, Captain Taylor took on command at sea while Watt ran the business ashore. Business increased and the small vessel had plenty of profitable voyages.

Rigged with two masts and about 30 tons in weight, the Governor Grey was only 44 feet long and a mere 12 feet wide. Never-the-less, she managed to transport her fair share of goods and passengers between Whanganui and Wellington, sometimes venturing further to Nelson. In a November 1854 issue of New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian, a report records her carrying “1010 feet timber, 220 bags potatoes, 18 kits maize, 1 beer engine, 1 bundle bedding, 10 barrels 3 cases bottles.”  She was also advertised as a regular packet, to sail between Whanganui and Wellington once a month, with “superior accommodations for a few Passengers”.

1. Watercolour of Governor Grey

Watercolour painting of The Governor Grey.  Artist Charles Heaphy, late 1840s.  Ref: 1910.2.1

Artist and draftsman Charles Heaphy painted the Governor Grey in watercolours in the late 1840s. In the painting, the schooner is at sea, with Mana Island immediately behind her. It is probably an exact rendition of her rig. Three small figures can just be made out, two aft and one fore.

The Governor Grey was wrecked on the Whanganui River bar in a gale in November 1854. While much of her cargo was recovered, the heavy swell prevented the schooner from being saved and she was completely wrecked.


Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

A Treasure Trove of Moa in Whanganui

Last week the Moa Gallery opened at the Whanganui Regional Museum in Stage I of a visible-storage project that sees the entire moa bone collection out of boxes in the basement to where people can see it, both in display cases and on the internet. But why is the moa collection so important? Why put it all on display?

North Island giant moa (Dinornis novaezealandiae)

North Island giant moa (Dinornis novaezealandiae)

Whanganui has been known for its moa bones since the earliest days of European settlement. As far back as the 1850s Anglican missionary Richard Taylor collected enormous bones from old pa sites and sent them to the eminent zoologist Professor Richard Owen in England. Owen was the first scientist to recognise that these bones could only be from a giant flightless bird, and coined the name Dinornis for them; a “terrible bird” in the same way a dinosaur was a “terrible lizard”.

Moa bones are found throughout the country, and collecting them was a popular hobby from the 19th century onward, so most museums in New Zealand have a moa collection. You can find the bones in caves from birds that wandered in, or fell down sinkholes; in dunes, where the shifting sand covered and protected their skeletons; or in swamps, where moa were trapped and sank into the mire, accumulating in huge numbers over the centuries.

The 1937 excavation at Todd’s Hole

The 1937 excavation at Todd’s Hole

As more of the pool was extracted, excavation continued as walls were built to hold back the liquid mud

As more of the pool was extracted, excavation continued as walls were built to hold back the liquid mud

One such moa death trap was near Ūpokongaro, up the Makirikiri Valley, in a swampy pool named Todd’s Hole on the Todd Family Farm. Beneath a thin crust of soil was a funnel of liquid mud full of moa bones, plus a few more from farm stock that had wandered in more recently. At first the bones could be just yanked out with an iron claw, but when the vast size of the deposit became clear, representatives from the Museum, with a £1200 excavation budget, began a proper excavation. Over 1937 and 1938 a crane, bucket and sluice were built, hundreds of cubic yards of mud sorted through by hand and about 2,000 moa bones extracted, cleaned and sorted.

Back at the Museum, the Curator George Shepherd began assembling skeletons from the pile of bones, putting together 10 in all. In those days moa classification was not well understood and many species were thought to be represented in the find, some from just a single bone.

Today with the help of DNA we can put the bones from Makirikiri into just three species: Mantell’s moa, a small species found around forest edges and wetlands; the bush moa, another small slender species that lived in the forest and seems to have been the most common kind of moa in the area; and the North Island giant moa, with gigantic females 1.5 m at the shoulder and weighing perhaps 200 kg, with males only half that size.

Photo of the Makirikiri Moa skeletons in the new Museum wing 1968. They’ve since been reassembled into positions more like those of a living moa.

Photo of the Makirikiri Moa skeletons in the new Museum wing 1968. They’ve since been reassembled into positions more like those of a living moa.

The skeletons were put on display in the Museum and the rest of the bones put in storage until they were re-examined in the late 1980s by moa expert Trevor Worthy. He was the first to recognise that the moa collection from Whanganui was of international importance. Although other large moa deposits had been discovered, especially in the South Island, most of those bones had been sent around the world, traded, lost, or destroyed. The Whanganui collection is one of the most important in the world because it has stayed almost completely intact, which lets scientists study an entire community of moa trapped in the swamp over thousands of years: their age, growth rate, size and male/female ratio.

These bony rings support the trachea, or windpipe, of a moa and are sometimes found in a pile in the middle of a very well-preserved skeleton.

These bony rings support the trachea, or windpipe, of a moa and are sometimes found in a pile in the middle of a very well-preserved skeleton.

The moa species that ate leaves and twigs would also swallow small stones, known as gastroliths or gizzard stones, to help grind up their food, in the same way chickens swallow pebbles and grit. Sometimes one or two kilograms of smooth stones can be found in a pile in a sand dune long after the rest of the moa skeleton has crumbled away.

The moa species that ate leaves and twigs would also swallow small stones, known as gastroliths or gizzard stones, to help grind up their food. Sometimes one or two kilograms of smooth stones can be found.

The goal of the Museum is to make this collection accessible by putting it all on exhibition and also by photographing, registering, and 3D-scanning the bones so everyone in the world can see them, not just people able to visit Whanganui. The whole process will be happening in the gallery itself, where visitors can watch and ask questions. We’re hoping that our moa collection will put Whanganui on the map, not only for moa biologists but for anyone interested in these amazing giant extinct birds.


Dr Mike Dickison is the Curator of Natural History at the Whanganui Regional Museum.