William Ellis (August 24, 1794 – 1872) applied to train as a Christian missionary for the London Missionary Society and was accepted to the school. After attending Homerton College he was ordained in 1815; later that year, he married Mary Mercy Moor (November 9, 1815.) He served the London Mission in the Society Islands, Hawaiian Islands and Madagascar.
From 1816, when he first entered on his missionary career, until 1825, he devoted himself to “service of the Lord as a missionary” among the South Pacific Islands.
“It was the morning of the Sabbath when we embarked. Our friends in Gosport were preparing to attend public worship, when we heard the report of a signal-gun. The sound excited a train of feeling, which can be understood only by those who have been placed in similar circumstances. It was a report announcing the arrival of that moment which was to separate, perhaps for ever, from home and all its endearments, and rend asunder every band which friendship and affection had entwined around the heart.” (Ellis on departing for the South Pacific)
First landing in Eimeo (Moorea,) and travelling throughout the area, he served the London Mission for the next 6-years in the Society Islands (so named by Captain James Cook in honor of the ‘Royal Society,’ “as they lay contiguous to one another.”)
After an initial brief visit in 1822 to Hawaiʻi, arrangement were made between the American Board of Commissions for Foreign Mission, London Missionary Society and local chiefs, Ellis returned to Hawaiʻi to join the American mission there.
On April 16, 1822, the schooner Mermaid, arrived at Honolulu from Tahiti; on board were Ellis, other English missionaries and Auna and Matatore, Tahitian chiefs and teachers. After providing support for a few months to the American missionaries in the Islands, they returned to Tahiti, giving up their original plan of visiting the Marquesas Islands.
February 4, 1823, Ellis returned to the Islands, bringing his wife with him as well as Tahitian teachers, including Tauʻā. (Ellis remained at this time for about eighteen months; then returned to England, with his family.)
Tauʻā, originally known as Matapuupuu, was born in about 1792 and was by birth a raʻatira or landowner. He had been a principal Arioi (secret religious order of the Society Islands,) and succeeded his elder brother as chief priest of Huahine. (Gunson)
In August 1813 he joined John Davies’s school at Papetoʻai, and later accompanied Ellis to Huahine, where he became a prominent church member and was appointed deacon. He was also appointed first Secretary of the Huahinean Missionary Society. His speeches at prayer meetings and May meetings were reported with some pride. (Gunson)
Shortly after Ellis and Tauʻā arrived in Hawaiʻi, the Second Company of American missionaries arrived, bringing the Reverend William Richards and the Reverend Charles Stewart (April 1823.)
About this time, Queen Mother Keōpūolani (mother of Kamehameha II and III) began to accept many western ways. She wore western clothes, she introduced western furniture into her house and she took instruction in Christianity.
But her health began to fail, and she decided to move her household from the pressures of the court circle in Honolulu to the tranquility of Waikīkī. With her she took Hoapili (her husband) and Nahiʻenaʻena (her daughter.)
Each Sunday the missionaries walked across the hot plain from Honolulu to Waikīkī to hold divine service and to instruct the Queen Mother in Christian doctrine. Keōpūolani decided, however, that these Sunday meetings did not suffice; she asked that a religious instructor be attached to her household. Her choice was Tauʻā; the mission approved. (Sinclair)
In May of 1823, Keōpūolani decided to make her last move, this time back to the island of her birth, Maui. She chose Lāhainā, with its warm and sunny climate – another place traditionally a favorite with the chiefs. (Sinclair)
Before leaving, Keōpūolani requested the Americans to assign teachers to go with her. She wanted a mission established in Lāhainā, and further instruction in reading and writing for herself; she also wished to have a man of God to pray with her. The Honolulu mission selected Charles Stewart and William Richards to accompany the queen. (Sinclair)
Immediately on their arrival in Lāhainā, she requested them to commence teaching, and also said, “It is very proper that my sons (meaning the missionaries) be present with me at morning and evening prayers.”
They were always present, and sung a hymn in the Hawaiian language. Often in conversation she would introduce the subject which had been discussed, and ask important questions respecting it. (Memoir of Keōpūolani)
She became more attentive to the Gospel as she was resting. It was Tauʻā who became the teacher she relied on as perhaps they were able to converse with each other in the Polynesian language. (Mookini)
Tauʻā proved a faithful teacher, and he did much to establish her in the Christian faith. He answered several of her questions on the subject of Christianity.
She said to Tauʻā, “My heart is much afraid I shall never become a Christian.” He replied, “Why, what is in the way?” She said, “I think I am likely to die soon.” He replied, “Do you not love God?” She answered, “O yes, I love – I love him very much.” Tauʻā then communicated farther instruction to her. At the close of the conversation she said, “Your word, I know, is true. It is a good word; and now I have found, I have obtained a Saviour, and a good King, Jesus Christ.”
She asked him for advice about her having two husbands (at the time she was married to Kalanimōku and Hoapili.) Tauʻā answered: “It is proper for a woman to have one husband, man to have one wife.” She then said: “I have followed the custom of Hawaiʻi, in taking two husbands in the time of our dark hearts. I wish now to obey Christ and to walk in the right way. It is wrong to have two husbands and I desire but one. Hoapili is my husband, hereafter my only husband.” (Memoir of Keōpūolani)
To Kalanimōku she said: “I have renounced our ancient customs, the religion of wooden images, and have turned to the new religion of Jesus Christ. He is my King and my Savior, and him I desire to obey. I can have but one husband. Your living with me is at an end. No more are you to eat with my people or lodge in my house.” (Mookini)
She was asked, “How do you feel, as you are about leaving the world?” She answered, “I remember what my teachers told me. I pray much to Jesus Christ to be with me and take me to himself. I am now about to leave my three children, my people and my teachers. But it is not dark now. It would have been, had I died before these good times. You must pray for me, and all the missionaries must pray for me. I love you. I love them. I think I love Jesus Christ, and I trust he will receive me.” (Memoir of Keōpūolani)
In Keōpūolani’s earnest inquiries after truth, and the increasing experience of its power on the heart, Mrs. Ellis had, in common with other members of the Mission, ever taken a lively interest, and she shared with her companions at Lāhainā in the hallowed joy which was felt by the growing meetness for heaven which the first convert in Hawaiʻi had manifested, as the signs of her approaching dissolution became more frequent and decisive. (Mary Mercy Ellis Memoir)
In the presence of the royal family and the chiefs, Ellis delivered a short address to explain the meaning of baptism; he sprinkled Keōpūolani with water in the name of God – Ellis administered the rite of baptism to Keōpūolani. She had earlier chosen Harriet, the name of Mrs. Stewart, to be her baptismal name. (Sinclair)
The King (Liholiho, her son) and all the heads of the nation listened with the most profound attention, and when they saw that water was sprinkled on her in the name of God, they said, “Surely she is no longer ours, she formerly gave herself to Jesus Christ. We believe she is his, and will go to dwell with him.” (Memoir of Keōpūolani)
The ceremony was performed at five in the afternoon of September 16, 1823; at six o’clock the Queen was dead.
The funeral ceremonies, after the Christian manner, were held two days later with chiefs, missionaries and foreigners surrounding the corpse. (Mookini)
It was a season of much spiritual enjoyment to all present, it was peculiarly solemn and impressive; especially from the number of native chiefs and others who were present, some of whom were among the most earnest inquirers after truth, and all of whom seemed much affected, and anxious to ask the meaning of an observance to them so new and strange. (Mary Mercy Ellis Memoir)
After her death, Tauʻā joined the household of Hoapilikane and remained with that chief until his death in 1840. He then joined the household of Hoapiliwahine. (Tauʻā died in about 1885.)
The image shows the initial burial tomb for Keōpūolani; she was later reburied there in Waineʻe Church cemetery (now known as Waiola Church) in Lāhainā.