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Reverend John Morgan, photo date unknown. From the Te Awamutu Museum collection.
In 1839 missionary Benjamin Ashwell travelled from Taupiri and founded a settlement on the site of the present Selwyn Park in Te Awamutu. John Morgan (known to Māori as Mōkena) took charge of the Otāwhao Mission in January 1841 with Ngāti Apakura support. He also built a church in 1842 and a boarding school for Māori and 'half caste' children which received Government support.
Morgan offered industrial training including weaving, spinning, knitting, shoemaking, carpentry and cropping. Morgan also tended to the spiritual side of his responsibilities. He believed education had a ‘civilising’ effect on Māori and so introduced European methods of agriculture along with reading, writing and arithmetic.
With the assistance of Governor George Grey, Morgan helped introduce wheat and other crops. He assisted with the purchase of agricultural machinery and with building flour mills to help feed the growing population and to boost Māori production.
By 1849 the sale of flour from Rangiaowahia to the Auckland market amounted to £240-£330 per annum. This was reinvested by Māori in ploughs, horses and drays.
From 1849 to 1852, flour produced in Rangiaowhia was being sent by waka along the Waipā River to the Auckland markets and further afield to the Australian and Californian gold fields. Demand drove up the price of wheat.
According to James Cowan, on Reverend Morgan's rides between kāinga and the outlying church at Wharepapa, the minister would take his dog, which had around its neck a small bag of seed with a hole in it. This way English clover and grass seed would be spread a little at a time on his travels. Such swathes of grass became known as ‘missionary grass’ and were highly regarded as pasture.