Elizabeth Fairburn Colenso

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Elizabeth Fairburn Colenso (29 August 1821 – 2 September 1904) was a missionary and Bible translator in New Zealand.

She was born at the Church Missionary Society station at Kerikeri, New Zealand. Having grown up speaking the Māori language from infancy, she helped see the Māori Old Testament through the press in England. It was a lengthy undertaking; she was correcting proofs throughout the mid-1860s. Returning to New Zealand early in 1867 she helped prepare the revised New Testament for the press, correcting the printed copy, and sometimes suggesting alternative translations. She also translated Christian materials into the Mota language.

After several unhappy years of marriage, her husband, missionary printer William Colenso (not to be confused with his missionary cousin in South Africa, John William Colenso), was dismissed from the mission for adultery and Elizabeth separated from him. She is noteworthy for several reasons, including the fact that the Church Mission Society still retained her and appointed her to work despite the fact that she was separated from her husband (they never divorced).

She served for many years, before and after her work in Bible translation, as a school teacher for Māori children and also on Norfolk Island.


Ross, Catherine. 2006. The Legacy of Elizabeth Fairburn Colenso. International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol 30, No 3, 148-152.

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