Topic: The Life of Carl Sylvius Volkner by Jocelyn Davey

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The Life of Carl Sylvius Volkner by Jocelyn Davey was an entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here.

Carl Sylvius Volkner was born in Kassel, Hesse, Germany in 1819. His parents’ names are unknown. Trained at the Missionary College in Hamburg, Volkner was one of a group of missionaries sent to New Zealand in 1849.

Many arrived fatigued and sick after the long voyage. Volkner was set to work with German missionaries in Taranaki. Later his offer to help was accepted by the Church Missionary Society in the lower Waikato region, where he remained for several years.

He married Emma Lanfear in 1854, but they had no children.

In 1857 Volkner was naturalised as a New Zealander, and in 1860 he was ordained a deacon, becoming a priest a year later. He worked with the local people to build a church and school in Opotiki.

The first twelve years of his time in New Zealand had been happy and crowned with success, but now there were troubles brewing.

The local tribes had been peaceful and loyal, but now there was talk about east coast tribes coming to help a resistance in Waikato and Te Arawa. A rumour was spreading that Volkner might be a spy or a government agent. Volkner had always felt at ease among the local tribes, but his friends were not so certain they could be fully trusted. They persuaded him to take Emma to Auckland.

It seemed that the value of his life was to be negated by the brutal nature of his death at the hands of his own congregation.

When returning from Auckland with a fellow missionary, the Revd. Thomas Grace, they found Volkner’s home ransacked. Both men were imprisoned.

Next morning Volkner was led by the Maori marauders to a willow tree near his church. He knelt down and prayed. He shook hands with his murderers and told them, “I am ready.”

Continuing to shake his hand they hoisted him up on the tree. There were many present to witness his shameful death.

The body was mutilated, his head cut off and his blood smeared on the natives. His eyes were forced out and swallowed by Kereopa Te Rau, who declared one eye to represent Parliament and the other the Queen and English law. This conferred great mana upon him, but Te Rau was captured and executed for this crime in 1872.

In a ‘trial’ held the following day, they laid three charges against Volkner to justify his execution. He had been going to Auckland to spy. He had a cross in his house, which indicated a leaning towards Catholicism. He had come back to Opotiki when warned not to.

Carl Sylvius Volkner was buried in the church grounds, and later his wife was interred alongside him. Some years later the church was reconsecrated and a memorial to the Volkners set into a back wall.

It is said that there are bloodstains in the church that can never be got rid of.

Originally called the Church of St Stephen the Martyr, it is now known as Hiona-St. Stephens, Opotiki.

When our family were much younger we used to stop at the church and read Volkner’s story. We wondered about such cold-blooded murder and the mystery of things that happened long ago.




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The Life of Carl Sylvius Volkner by Jocelyn Davey

Year:c.1850, c.1860, and c.1870
First Names:Carl Sylvius
Last Name:Volkner
Date of Birth:1819
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
The Life of Carl Sylvius Volkner by Jocelyn Davey by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License