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The King chest of drawers and the early New Zealand missionaries

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The King chest of drawers and the early New Zealand missionaries

By Vivien Caughey

The King chest of drawers was one of the first recorded pieces of Western-made furniture to arrive in New Zealand.  It was brought on the \u003cem\u003eActive\u003c/em\u003e in 1814 by John King and his wife Hannah.

The King chest of drawers was one of the first recorded pieces of Western-made furniture to arrive in New Zealand. It was brought on the Active in 1814 by John King and his wife Hannah.

Gift of Eleanor & Pamela Berry, 2007© CC-BY Auckland War Memorial Museum2007.38.1

John and Hannah King were one of three artisan missionary couples who came to New Zealand with Rev Samuel Marsden to set up a mission in 1814. The Kings' belongings included a chest of drawers which are now part of the Auckland Museum collection.

Marsden wrote in "Observations on the Introduction of the Gospel into the South Sea Islands: Being my first visit to New Zealand in December 1814":

I directed that the settlers, their families, and everything belonging to them should be landed as soon as the building was ready for their reception ... on the following morning, Friday the 13th, Mr and Mrs King ... were landed and the vessel loaded and watered ready for sea.

Examples of very early 19th-century New Zealand furniture with such a strong family provenance as the King chest of drawers are of immense significance to the Museum’s collection. The chest is a simple "2 over 3", a popular design that followed the manner of English construction of the time. It is made with Australian hardwood (most likely cedar) covering the New Zealand Kauri carcase and back. The locks and fine dovetailing construction in the drawers are characteristic of a piece of that time.

The piece has undergone some change during its working life, with drawer knobs altered to pulls and then replaced; the top repositioned; the feet changed, and the surface re-varnished according to mid-20th-century taste.

The chest adds to other items in the collection such as the armchair used to lower Mrs King and her lady companion from the Active on the occasion of the first visit of the Rev Marsden to New Zealand in 1814. We remain grateful to the King family descendants for their donation.

John and Hannah King were one of the three artisan missionary couples who accompanied Rev Samuel Marsden on his first historic voyage to New Zealand aboard the missionary brig Active. They heard his sermon on Christmas Day 1814. They were the only missionaries from this first settlement to remain in New Zealand for the rest of their lives. The chest of drawers which accompanied them on the Active was most likely made in Sydney.

The New Zealand mission was originally based on the premise that civilised arts would precede conversions. To this end John King, a shoemaker, was appointed by Marsden and given training in flax dressing and twine spinning. They left England in September 1809, Marsden returning to Australia; King, as a single man, and fellow artisan William Hall with his wife Dinah, intending to continue to New Zealand. However, news of the burning of the Boyd at Whangaroa in December 1809 also reached Australia. King and Hall remained at Parramatta (now part of Sydney) with Marsden.

The Boyd was a brigantine ship that sailed from Sydney to pick up kauri trees for spas on its way to the Cape of Good Hope. In a revenge attack for the whipping of a young chief who was on board, local Māori killed all but four of the crew and passengers and the ship was destroyed.

On 10 November 1812 John King married Hannah Hansen at St John's Church, Parramatta. Marsden was the officiating clergyman and the ceremony was witnessed by Dinah Hall and Thomas Hansen. On 28 August 1813, their first child, Philip Hansen King, was born. At the end of 1813 the third artisan missionary, Thomas Kendall, his wife Jane, and their family arrived in Port Jackson (now also known as Sydney harbour).

Plans for the New Zealand mission were resurrected. Marsden bought the brig Active for the use of the mission; the first exploratory visit was undertaken by Kendall and Hall. Captain Hansen, Hannah’s father, was offered command of the Active, and in November 1814 the party departed on its historic voyage to the Bay of Islands.

Marsden recorded that 35 people were aboard, as well as a quantity of livestock for the settlement. He made no specific mention of furniture, but he did note the date of the landing of the settlers and their possessions. In his first communications to the Church Missionary Society in 1808, Marsden recommended that missionaries should not take much with them. The chest of drawers was possibly the only storage piece the Kings brought with them. Two surviving King family garments, a wedding shirt and christening gown (also in the museum's collection), were likely to have been stored in this chest upon their arrival.

Marsden returned to Australia at the end of February 1815, having settled the missionary families in a raupō whare built by local Māori at Rangihoua, the site of the first mission station. The whare was partitioned, but had no floorboards, windows, or chimneys. The Kings shared this space with the Kendalls, the Halls, and the Hansens. Marsden, with idealistic optimism, pronounced that all was well, and thus the seed of the New Zealand mission and European settlement was planted.

Cite this article

Caughey, Vivien. King chest of drawers. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 4 June 2015. Updated: 15 April 2020.

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