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William Colenso

Printer of some of the most significant documents in New Zealand history, missionary, explorer and botanist, a free wheeling politician and controversialist
– William Colenso was a maverick.

The Colenso Project

The Colenso Society, Victoria University of Wellington and MTG Hawke's Bay established the Colenso Project in order to build on the national and international interest in William Colenso’s life and ideas as the result of the William Colenso Bicentenary Celebrations in Hawke’s Bay in 2011.

printingpress1The intent of the project was to ignite public and academic interest in Colenso’s words – published, unpublished, private letters, journals - both in Maori and English, by sharing them with the world in digital form. We envisage a hub for all things Colenso: a place to read documents in the original, explore his writing through transcriptions, and as a place to experiment with new research and interpretation methods.

The first priority for the project was the creation of a comprehensive bibliography of all William Colenso holdings. This is currently being compiled and is now available on bibliography page. Bringing our collective knowledge to bear on Colenso material, wherever it lies, will determine the strength of this bibliography, and to this end contributions and information are welcomed from individuals and institutions.

If you are interested in being involved, and/or have information about Colenso holdings you can share with us, please contact us now.

Words from William


William Colenso Biography (1811 - 1899)

Controversial, opinionated, insightful and passionate, William Colenso had a keen appreciation of what it was to be an inhabitant of New Zealand in its earliest incarnation as a world of Maori and Pakeha. A talented polymath, Colenso was at home crossing the Ruahines, providing Kew Gardens with knowledge of New Zealand plants, or writing and printing the only published eyewitness account of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Olearia Colenco

You can find out more about William Colenso here...

New Zealand History Online

Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Colenso Society

The Colenso Society was formed by 25 individuals and was incorporated 30 March 2010. Its objects are stated in its Rules of Incorporation:

 Colenso Society Seal(a) to promote the study of the life and work of the Reverend William Colenso FLS FRS,

 (b) in particular tomark the bicentennial of his birth (17 November 2011) appropriately,

 (c) to improve access to Colenso's work by digitising and/or transcribing it and making it accessible via The Colenso Project

 (d) to assist Colenso scholars in applying for grants,

 (e) to affiliate with appropriate other bodies with similar objects,

 (f) to engage in any appropriate activity relevant to these objects.

Past activities included the publication of monthly e-newsletters (eColenso) and a partnership with MTG Hawke’s Bay and Victoria University of Wellington for The Colenso Project. To that end members of the Society are transcribing Colenso’s unpublished work. The Society also fields questions from Colenso scholars.


The Society is a non-profit body and membership is open to any person. Payments can be made my cheque (made out to The Colenso Society Inc), or by bank direct debit. To join, or for membership enquiries please contact us.

William Colenso Collections

Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust (HBMT) holds a significant collection of material relating to William Colenso.

The HBMT holds a large collection of Colenso’s printed work (and the press on which they were printed), his church organ, a significant number of drawings, paintings and writings, and his fern collection.

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While every endeavour has been taken by the MTG Hawke's Bay to ensure that the information on this website is accurate and up to date, MTG Hawke's Bay shall not be liable for any loss suffered through the use, directly or indirectly, of information on this website. Information contained has been assembled in good faith. Some of the information available in this site is from the New Zealand Public domain and supplied by relevant government agencies. MTG Hawke's Bay cannot accept any liability for its accuracy or content. Portions of the information and material on this site, including data, pages, documents, online graphics and images are protected by copyright, unless specifically notified to the contrary. Externally sourced information or material is copyright to the respective provider.

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