Thomas and Elizabeth Hansen's house.
Thomas and Elizabeth Hansen's house.

Thomas Hansen was not a missionary but on December 22, 1814, he set foot on the shore in the Bay of Islands with the first Church Missionary Society members to arrive from Britain. A man of many trades, Hansen came as a settler, to live and find work in the new land. Eric Hansen, from Ruakaka, has delved deep into the roles his ancestors played in the earliest days of settlement. Here he writes about Thomas Hansen: A forgotten man of New Zealand history.

December 22 just gone marked 204 years since the arrival of Thomas Hansen, New Zealand's first permanent European settler.

It was a significant event yet Thomas Hansen seldom, if ever, features in historical narratives.

Hansen arrived at Oihi in Rangihoua Bay with Reverend Samuel Marsden's missionary group. Unlike the missionaries, he came to New Zealand with the intention of remaining as a settler, as opposed to the solitary traders, sealers, whalers and escaped convicts already here, few of whom established family roots.

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Thomas Hansen's holding on the map.
Thomas Hansen's holding on the map.

Within the year he had returned to Sydney, married, and brought his bride Elizabeth back to the Bay of Islands where they raised 11 children between 1817 and 1834.

Hansen was the first non-missionary settler to buy land from Māori in his own name for private use, and to retain legal title. He lived on this land for the rest of his life.

For some years after 1814, Hansen and his family were the only non-missionary, European family residing permanently in New Zealand.

To earn his keep, he worked for the missionaries, helping with building projects, bush and cattle work, and breaking in the land. He later diversified to carpentering and bushwork.

As a carpenter, Hansen's labour became much in demand in the community. Reverend John Butler employed him to assist in building the Kerikeri Mission Station, also known as Kemp House.

One hundred years after Hansen's arrival in New Zealand, 37 of his grandsons and great-grandsons enlisted for service in World War I, arguably the largest contribution from any family in New Zealand. Twelve of these men lost their lives in the service of their country, 11 of whom remain buried in France or Belgium. Two were awarded the Military Medal for bravery on the Western Front.

Any historical recognition gained by Thomas Hansen in recent times has been almost entirely due to the efforts of family members who have undertaken their own historical research in order to write books that can correct or add to knowledge of early European settlement in New Zealand.

Several other projects have been organised by Hansen's descendants.

In December 1989, Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves accepted an invitation from the family to participate in the 175th anniversary re-enactment of the Landing of the First Settlers.

In February 1991, Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard unveiled the Thomas and Elizabeth Hansen Memorial at Rangihoua Heritage Park, again at the request of the family.

Despite information available in the National Library, there does not appear to be any government website where the public or students can learn about these European settlers. That which can be found generally contains only brief mentions of the original three missionary families, two of which had left the country by 1835.

The Hansen family, New Zealand's first European settlers, seems to be all but forgotten.

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Three days after the British missionaries arrived in 1814 New Zealand's first Christmas Day service, watched by Māori, took place beside the rough little bay now in the Rangihoua Heritage Park.

The Marsden Cross memorial marks where the Church Missionary Society's Reverend Samuel Marsden led the sermon.

The Marsden Cross in Rangihoua Bay.
The Marsden Cross in Rangihoua Bay.

New Zealand's first European settler and mission settlement was made possible because of the protection of powerful chief Ruatara who had an understanding with Samuel Marsden.

Ruatara and hundreds of his people lived in the pa and kainga on a high promontory above Rangihoua Bay, watching and learning everything they could of the British.

In the shadow of the hill, the brave but disadvantaged British below struggled. Were they in denial about their situation?

In 1832, after 16 years of trying to make a go at the inhospitable location, most of those who were still living there moved to more fertile land at Te Puna, just a few kilometres to the west.

Today only terraces in the ground show where the tiny settlement and New Zealand's first school were built at Rangihoua.

The 1814 arrival at the site has sometimes been called The First Landing; the long struggle to keep the settlement there dubbed by some historians ''mission impossible''.

Signs at the Department of Conservation-managed Rangihoua Heritage Park describe the timelines and events that took place.

The park is on the Pureura Peninsula, and about a 35 minute drive from Kerikeri.

Visitors enter through a spectacular memorial building, built for the bicentenary in 2014.

Information panels tell the stories of a variety of the early participants and a 15-minute walk down the path leads to the beach and the Marsden Cross.