Unknown artist (Lithographer), Joseph Josenhans (Author), Joseph Scholz (Publisher)

The Power of God's Word

The Power of God's Word by Unknown artist, Joseph Josenhans, Joseph Scholz

Artwork Detail

This is one of four prints from the publication Illustrations of Missionary Scenes: An Offering for Youth. Within its two volumes are 40 prints with accompanying letterpress descriptions relating to missionary work in Aotearoa New Zealand, West Africa, India, America and China; of these, nine depict scenes from New Zealand. According to Len Bell, it was ‘the most elaborate and ambitious illustrated book about missionary activity in New Zealand at the time of its publication.’ (Bell, p 2) While images of missionary activities in New Zealand had been published prior to the book’s publication in 1856, they had usually been issued individually, or in the few instances they had been included in books their role was as subsidiary support material. In Illustrations of Missionary Scenes, the images are of equal, if not primary importance, perhaps to appeal to the ‘youth’ audience to whom the book was aimed. The plates of this book also differ from those that preceded them as they were not published by a missionary group or Church that had a direct interest in New Zealand. Instead it was the work of an independent publisher, Joseph Scholz; although the author Joseph Josenhans was associated with the Basle Mission and the French edition notes that the book was available for sale there (en vente dans l'Institut des missions évangéliques à Bâle).

While the lithographers of the plates are unknown, it is clear that none of the artists had first hand knowledge of the countries that were depicting. Rather they relied on previously published examples or textual accounts to invent the images. Christian Scholz, who ran the publishing firm of Joseph Scholz, explained his commissioning process in 1852, recording that on ‘finding pictures suited for a picture book [he] gives them to a writer to invent and write texts, and vice versa: how he, acquiring an interesting text gives it to an artist to make illustrations…he paid thousands of gulden as fees to artists for original illustrations, and to authors for texts.’ (Göte Klingberg, 2008, p103, paraphrasing Christian Scholz, 1852) The precedents for the four works proposed are not known, but other New Zealand examples in the publication are based on prints by artists ranging from Sydney Parkinson to George French Angas. Compositionally, Western art models have also been drawn on extensively.

The third or even fourth remove of the lithographer from the subject is manifested in the numerous factual errors of the print, along with their crude, lolly-bright colouring, which is very much of the period in Europe, yet in no way truthfully captures the subject.

Despite these inaccuracies, they are nonetheless significant early images within our art history, demonstrating the dissemination and distortion of images of Māori in Europe, alongside a Eurocentric portrayal of their interaction with missionaries. As Len Bell points out ‘the lithographs operate as moral narratives, the choice and thrust of which were carefully calculated. The fundamental missionary ideas about the unconverted and the converted are visualised in these few images – bluntly and unambiguously’. (Bell, 1979, p 4)

Plate 13. The Power of God’s Word

This dramatic scene illustrates an event related by William Williams, from the early missionary years in New Zealand’s Far North. The accompanying text tells that he was visiting his brother Henry Williams on a Sunday, when told a group of Māori were assembling around the house. The brothers went outside to find 150-armed people threatening to steal Henry’s crop of potatoes. The missionaries initially rebuked them for ‘their lawless attempt on the Lord’s day’, but having no success turned to the Bible, reading passages from it translated into Māori. This ‘seemed to quiet them, and evidently people were struck by what they heard’, with the crowd eventually dispersing. Shown at the moment of confrontation – the brothers stand their ground armed only with ‘God’s Word’ while opposite Māori aggressively holds spears, clubs and axes. Māori are portrayed as savage and war-like in contrast to the reason and calm exhibited by their European counterparts. The propagandistic intent of this print is evident, with God’s faithful servants unarmed and outnumbered, yet still overcoming their heathen foe with just ‘The Power of God’s Word’.

The Power of God's Word
Unknown artist, Joseph Josenhans, Joseph Scholz
Production date
handcoloured lithograph
210 x 347 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2010
Accession no
No known copyright restrictions
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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