Eliza and William White

Erased from history

William White was forced from his post at Māngungu mission. Eliza, innocent, was struck off too.

Eliza White was erased from the history of the Wesleyan Mission at Māngungu, Hokianga along with her husband William, when his “immoral conduct” was exposed.

Eliza and William White arrived in the Bay of Islands in early 1830, aboard the whaler Sisters. The outward voyage had taken a year, and Eliza, the only woman aboard, and pregnant, had remained below decks all the time.

William had fist come to New Zealand as a Wesleyan missionary. In 1823 he had gone to Sydney, Australia, looking for a wife, but was turned down. He continued his quest in England, searching for three years before marrying Eliza, a “young, impressionable girl from a relatively prosperous village family.”

After arriving at the Bay of Islands, there was a 13 hour walk to where a boat would fetch them on the upper reaches of the Hokianga Harbour. Eliza was carried in a litter by 12 Māori, with two going ahead to hack away the bush.

For their first six years at Māngungu mission, their home was a raupo hut. Eliza’s first two children died in infancy. Her third, John Ebenezer was born in 1834, and he lived a normal lifespan, but ended his years in a mental hospital.

The charismatic William White attracted crowds to their church. Two hundred would attend church services, and up to 1000 people would be camped around the mission. But White was described as “self-willed, self-important, ill-disciplined and at critical moments, lacking in self control.” In defiance of church policy, he established a commercial timber milling operation.

He was accused of raping two Māori women, wives of local chiefs. Eventually he was excommunicated from the church for “immoral conduct.”

Eliza continued to support her husband – at least outwardly. But no more children were born. Despite her husband’s reputation, she maintained the respect of the Missionary community. Rev Joseph Orton wrote in 1840: “…he has become the prey of intemperate and licentious habits. On all these accounts, poor Mrs White feels keenly and expresses herself with deep concern for the welfare of his precious sole [soul]. She counts here personal sacrifice of small import…No doubt her domestic felicity is marr’d for life by the unfaithfulness of her wicked husband – though she may be fairly ranked among the intelligent, pious and most amiable of her sex.”

The Whites were forced to leave the mission. They travelled back to England, returned temporarily to Māngungu, then went to Auckland where William became a trader and merchant.

In Auckland, Eliza worked to establish the Ladies’ Christian Association, which became the YWCA. In her later years, she suffered from deafness, and used an ear trumpet. William died in 1875, Eliza in 1883, and they are buried in the Wesleyan section of Symonds Street cemetery.

(The material for this biography was sourced from Sandra Coneys’ book, Every Girl – A social history of women and the YWCA in Auckland.)

  • <p>Portrait of Mrs Eliza White, c1860s.<em> Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A3950.</em></p>
  • <p>Mangungu Mission in Northland where the Whites served, and from which they were sent away.</p>
  • <p>The charismatic William White attracted crowds to church - but was forced to leave the Mission for "immoral conduct," c1870. <em>Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A3951.</em></p>

Aerial photo location

Where is the grave?

About 20m into the General/Wesleyan section of the cemetery from the top St Martins Lane entrance, between the paved path and Symonds Street.