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

Non-Conformist and Proud of It

The last organised British settlement in New Zealand was the brain-child of William Rawson Brame, a Birmingham Baptist minister. In 1861 he founded the Albertland Special Settlement Association, sometimes referred to as the Nonconformist Association.

Early in 1862 a party including two from the Association and the Provincial Surveyor had set out from Auckland heading northwards. After looking at several sites along the east coast they heard of a likely area on the Kaipara Harbour.

They surveyed the majority of the Okahukura Peninsula and decided to create the Albertland settlement a few miles up from the harbour where there was good scrubland and bush with kauri for building. The Auckland Provincial Council already had in place a scheme which "...provided 40 acres each for a man and his wife, and 20 acres for each child between five and 18 years old – provided they paid their own fare and stayed on the land for five years, built a house, and began farming."

The settlers included farmers, carpenters, servants, butchers, joiners, cabinetmakers, millers, drapers, sawyers, clerks and many other trades. They set sail for New Zealand from May 1862 onwards, on three ships. From September of that year the new settlers made their way to the settlement of Albertland, now known as Port Albert.

Among them were a number of Methodists, and William Gittos started Methodist worship for them in 1863. From such beginnings arose Paparoa Methodism, and from that original Methodist community emerged three men who became Methodist ministers in New Zealand. They were Thomas Newbold, John Rishworth and William Worker.

Since that time Paparoa has given the Church many talented leaders. Among the original Methodist laymen the historian William Morley particularly refers to George Cliff, who became a Paparoa storekeeper and much else besides, and Thomas Walker Wilson, a headmaster.

But spare a thought for James Redfern, described by Morley as “a faithful, meek and lovable man”. What a wonderful, condensed biography that is!

James was born at Hanley, Staffs in 1814. He married Elizabeth Alsop (c1813-1871) at Mayfield in the same county, in 1841. His father, Richard Redfern, was an oven builder, and there may be some connection between that occupation and James being a master bricklayer, who employed eight men, according to the 1851 Census. When he came to New Zealand James was already a church leader at his home town.

In 1862 he came on the William Miles, one of three vessels that brought settlers for Albertland, along with his extended family – a married son, also named James and also a brick-maker, and six children. Between them all they were entitled to 280 acres, and one can imagine the hard work involved in clearing the scrub and getting the farm going.

After a few years James Snr moved to the Thames goldfields but when there was a shortage of ministers, he offered and was appointed Home Missionary back at Paparoa. He served there 1877-1879, and then not too many miles to the north at Mangawhare in the Northern Wairoa 1879-1880.

That service done he settled back at Paparoa and took over the brick and tile works that were on his property. Later he was recorded as a builder at Paparoa.

When he died at Paparoa on 24th June 1900 the newspapers reported James had been a local preacher for 66 years! That means he started preaching when he was 20.

While others have done that, James was still preaching when he was 86, and a few others have done that. There are few who can match 66 years of pulpit work. No wonder William Morley called him faithful. And what was it that Jesus said about the meek?

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James Redfern

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Last updated on 30 September 2020, 7:00 PM