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Skevington, John
1814-1845; e.m. 1839

Pioneer WM missionary in New Zealand, born at Old Radford, Nottingham on 9 January 1815 to Wesleyan parents. He became, like his father, a local preacher and a lacemaker. From an early age he shared his parents’ piety and began preaching before he was twelve. He experienced a call to missionary service early on and sailed to New Zealand in 1839 on Triton's maiden voyage. Learning his job from colleagues in Tasmania and New Zealand, he was appointed in 1842 to the new station at Taranaki on the north-west coast of North Island. Escorted there by a group of enthusiastic Maoris, he and his wife pioneered the work at a time of considerable difficulty, including Maori unrest After a brief but effective ministry, he collapsed and died during the District Meeting in Auckland, on 21 September 1845, aged only 31, the victim of unrealistic expectations of human stamina. His wife Jane and their two daughters returned to England in 1846, where she settled in Chesterfield and became an active member of her local Wesleyan church, dying in 1883. Their older daughter Anne (1844-1900) trained as a teacher and in 1868 was headmistress of Brunswick Girls School, Liverpool. In 1871 she became the headmistress of Southlands Training College’s ‘practising schools’.

Quotations

'John Skevington’s sudden death had a profound impact on the Mission which eclipsed even that of John Bumby’s. It earned him a brass wall plaque memorial in the High Street Chapel and it evidently led to a “revival of religion” amongst the Auckland Maori. Also he clearly gained the affection and respect of his colleagues... But he did not live to see “a pious and civilized people inhabiting the neighbourhood...” as he had hoped in 1842. The circumstances in which he took up his ministry in South Taranaki show how weak and how subject to Maori terms was his position... [He] never mastered the Maori language, so that his teachers did most of the preaching and teaching and he was frequently away...

‘John Skevington retained his power to influence ideas and events only so long as he retained his usefulness to the needs and aspirations of South Taranaki Maori. Previously, Maori saw the missionaries as bulwarks against further musket raids, and as a source of European technology, literacy, and new ideas. Bu 1845 their interests were shifting to developing trade with settlers and resisting the spread of land sales and settlement. They abandoned missionary leadership for more relevant, mission-trained, indigenous religious and military leaders...

‘Nevertheless, for three years Skevington did preside over a profound shift in the religious foundations of South Taranaki Maori. There was no going back. Maori evangelists paved the way before John Skevington arrived... By September 1845 South Taranaki Maori, as a whole, showed at least a nominal allegiance to a missionary style of Christianity. But they did so for reasons that were as much social, cultural and economic as they were religious.’

Gary A. Clover, ‘Rescuing from Obscurity: a life of the Reverend John Skevington, 1815-1845', pp.37-8

Sources

  • Gary A. Clover, ‘Rescuing from Obscurity: a life of the Reverend John Skevington, 1815-1845', in Proceedings of the New Zealand Wesley Historical Society, 2009 pp.22-43

Entry written by: DJP
Category: Person

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