John Clarence Stewart
Grandson of Levi Stewart and Melinda Howard
John Clarence Stewart, my father, was the son of John Riley Stewart and Frances Ellen Van Hoosier who were married while crossing the plains to Utah in 1862.
When John grew to manhood he went on a mission to New Zealand in the year 1883. He kept a diary of his labors among the natives and was successful in converting many to the Latter-day Saint faith. From his diary we quote:
September 6, 1884: The people threw away their English prayer books and asked for baptism. We went four miles to Tikikino for the baptism and about twenty followed us. We held a meeting and I had to talk in Maori again as the man who tried to interpret Bro. Newby was no good.
7th—Sunday. This was a day long to be remembered. Twenty three asked for baptism. Three children we blessed. 10:00 a.m. was set for the time. I let Elder Newby baptize them as he hadn't baptized any yet. After dinner was over they spread mats on the ground and the sacrament on boxes covered with white cloths. I spoke to them and they were confirmed.
8th—After breakfast 2 couples were to be married. So at 11 a.m. we sang a hymn and had prayer, then I married them. The Saints all sang songs of praise and thanksgiving—that we had come to them and brought the Gospel. They talked till 11 p.m. and followed us for miles when we left.
11th—Went to Hastings and got letters from Pres. Stewart saying 89 more were baptized there where he was. He told me I was to come up where he was real soon.
October 1— ... Finally a small boat took me to Warhur. I supposed the town called Wairia was only four miles away but found it 20 miles.
5th—The Maori people followed me and asked for a meeting. There were 50 present and had good order and I talked for about an hour. After dinner I went three miles to the next place and they welcomed me. They rang the bell and the people came. About 250 collected and I spoke for one hour. After we dismissed, the men started asking questions and I had to stay till 11 p.m., and was so tired I rolled up in a blanket and went to the corner to rest, but the Maoris talked all night. Not much rest as one blanket wasn't very soft.
6th—I came to Toha's (head Maori) and had a good sleep. Another crowd collected and I showed the pictures of the Prophets and Salt Lake.
16th—I left for Wai Whare 10 miles. About 16 Maori followed me ... Fifteen more Maori were baptized at 5:30.... As the meeting was about to close, Maoris brought their children to be blessed. Sixteen were blessed and fifteen were baptized....
Father's diary is filled with villages he labored in and the success which followed him throughout his missionary labors in this faraway island. There were 144 baptisms recorded in this one year of his diary, also 220 mentioned in one of his letters to his mother, all on one island while he was there as presiding Elder.
When Elder Stewart returned he brought home with him a little Maori boy who had been given to him because of their great love for one another. His name was Piriki Whaanga. At that time he was about eight years of age. He lived only to his twenty-sixth year when he was fatally injured while riding a horse. An English lady also came with him. Her name was Jane Rountree.
A few years later seven or eight Maori came to Kanab, Utah, the president of the branch lived there. His name was Hirini Whaanga, and he was said to be of royal descent. His wife, Mere Whaanga came with him and also Hirini's brother's wife, Abigail, who was Piriki's mother. There was also Piriki's little brother named Kanab for the town in which my father lived. Three teenagers, named Watni Smith, Sydney Christi and Edna Pomeroy and others came. Hirini named my sister after his wife, and daughter, who had died.
Mere Whaanga had her picture in the Deseret News on the 20th of February, 1943. One picture showed her with Rufus K. Hardy and a near relative who was in the air force, Tame Hawaiki-range Waerea of Nuhaka, New Zealand. The other picture was at age ninety-five with a quilt she had made and given to President Grant of the Latter-day Saint Church. The article said she came to Utah with her husband Hirini in 1890. He was called back to New Zealand on a mission by President Smith and died soon after returning to Utah. She returned to New Zealand where she remained until she was ninety-five years old, then Rufus K. Hardy made arrangements for her to return to Utah so that she could be buried by the side of her husband when she passed away. While in New Zealand she fed and sheltered hundreds of missionaries and traveled all over the country in the interests of the Church. I went to see Mere shortly before her death. She was a great credit to her people.
The following gifts were presented to Elder John Clarence Stewart by the Maori people on his return to Utah: One jade idol, to be worn tied on a string around the neck; one jade piece fashioned as a boomerang with boar's teeth tied to it; two straight pieces of jade to be used similarly; one piece unfinished jade; one broken white bone ring and 1 pair of red and brown wool wristlets.
Before leaving New Zealand he gathered some beautiful articles for his bride to be, my mother, Editha Johnson. Among them was a clear glass rolling pin which he watched the natives blow, some seed bracelets and a small hand-fashioned bone cross. —Ellen S. Hemsley