Dig uncovers mission school

19:31, Feb 29 2012
OLD SCHOOL: Te Tii School visits the dig at Oihi Mission Station. Professor Ian Smith, centre, guided the students and whanau through the site. Especially interesting were the remains of New Zealand's first school building, of which a fireplace, post holes and stone paths were found. The students were also shown artefacts including slate pencils, a key, a musket ball, a clay marble and a toy cannon. Professor Smith said it was quite likely that direct ancestors of some Te Tii School students learned to read and write on that very site.

Archaeologists working at Oihi Bay packed away their tools and left last week, yearning to return for another dig.

"We found out some fantastic things but we have hardly scratched the surface," says Otago University professor Ian Smith.

The time span under investigation on the Purerua Peninsula, north of Kerikeri, is 1814 to 1832.

"We have been able to document the site of the mission school and changes in the size of the building over time. It seems there were two phases, the first school building being larger than the second.

"The school was rebuilt in the 1820s because of the building's poor condition. The fact that it was smaller suggested that it was catering for fewer children – that the population of the mission station and the Maori population were dwindling."

The dig also found evidence of prehistoric occupation by Maori buried beneath the school, along with later Maori occupation during or after the missionary period.


"We opened up a second area on a lower terrace, suspecting it was the site of a mission home. We didn't find evidence of a mission house but we found a small traditional Maori whare built over the top of an earlier missionary activity area."

Items associated with the whare include a stone-lined fireplace, bits of china, glass, and smoking pipes.

Professor Smith says the team left with a complete story – including prehistoric Maori occupation, the mission settlement and Maori occupation after the mission station had moved.

The two-week dig attracted visits from church representatives and descendants of mission families, including the Hansens, Kings, Shepherds, Kendalls and Williams.

Bay Chronicle