Unsung Methodist Personalities: Biographies from the history of New Zealand Methodism by Donald Phillipps

Life Under a Hat

When I was about 10 years old I remember a grey-haired minister informing us Sunday School children, when he was about to pray, that if ‘anything untoward’ happened during the prayers he would ‘inform us of it’!

That man was a true character – a Yorkshireman through and through, and a doughty fighter for democracy. After 10 years as a Home Missionary Moses Ayrton became an active political campaigner, and stood unsuccessfully for the Palmerston North seat for the Labour Party in 1925.

He then returned to ministry and for 20 years and served largely in out-of-the way places, like Bluff and Raetihi.

Moses was 30 years old, a corn merchant, married to Ethel since 1900, when he came to this country in 1908. He had been a lay preacher since he was 18.

Having been accepted as a Home Missionary, he was appointed to what was then known as the North Taranaki Saddle Bag Mission. The name tells it all. For days at a time he had just a horse and whatever shelter he could find.

What about his wife and family back home in Stratford? It’s almost incomprehensible today but men like Moses believed in what they were doing and counted the cost.

When he was sent to Taranaki he knew, as he said, no more about it than what he had seen on a map. ‘After sundry experiences with mud, rainy weather, and other bush pleasures, he got to know the settlers. He had to live under his hat for some time [isn’t that a wonderful phrase], and then got a tent. There were some places where the families living in the clearings had no means of educating their children, where the women had no means of socialising with others of their sex, and where they had learnt to appreciate the visit of a stranger.’

In his report to the Taranaki/Wanganui District Synod in 1910 Moses detailed some of the disabilities of the settlers. Already he was taking the path that would put him firmly on the side of the underdog.

He believed that living conditions were gradually improving but he ‘strongly urged the hearers not to slacken their efforts on behalf of the people who were working for the future of New Zealand. He did not want the Church to neglect ‘the pioneers whom love and duty had sent into the bush.’

For Moses Ayrton the Gospel was for the whole world, and anything less than that, anything smaller, would simply mean a ‘mongrel Gospel’. Victory would be gained through trial and suffering, and he himself experienced that, particular during his six years on the West Coast coal-mines, and the nation-wide effects of the Waihi Miners’ Strike in 1911.

He was well known as a ‘socialist’, and was vice president of the Social Democrat Party.
It was good that the Church could find a place for such a square peg as Moses Ayrton. He retired to Wellington but for three years was responsible for the Webb St. Mission following the imprisonment of Ormond Burton.

He died on October 3rd 1950, survived by his second wife, Grace, herself the widow of the Rev J T Pinfold.


Moses Ayrton


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Last updated on 21 April 2021, 1:00 PM