Wilhelmina Sheriff Bain (1848-1944) An early advocate of the Baha’i Faith in New Zealand, 1908


 The National Library of New Zealand has an ongoing newspaper digitisation project with text search capabilities. One of the newspapers beng digitised is the Otago Witness, a weekly newspaper existing between 1851-1932. In the December 30th 1908 edition of that  newspaper is a lengthy article on the Baha’i Faith (sometimes referred to as Behaism/Bahaism). The author is well known New Zealand feminist and social activist Wilhelmina Sheriff Bain (1848-1944). The article, accurate and well written given the paucity of information available at that time is interesting in two key respects.

First the author indicates that she has received private information that Abdu’l-Baha, the then leader of the Baha’i community, up until the Young Turk rebellion, subject to Ottoman royal decree of exile “has been liberated from life-long captivity in Akka, the Acre of the Crusaders”. This indicates that she has an external correspondent, possibly in Palestine or more likely the United kingdom. Secondly she says at the end of the article “Note. The writer of the above article will be pleased to furnish the details of Behaism to sincre seekers.” This indicates that Wilhelmina Bain was interested, to some degree in sharing the Baha’i message with those who were interested and sincere. At the very least this indicates that she found the Baha’i message agreeable. Certainly her article can be construed as sympathetic to the Baha’i message.

In 1904 Wilhelmina Bainattended the International Congress of Women in Berlin. On  her return to New Zealand she also attended the eleventh Universal Peace Congress in Boston, Massachusetts USA. One of the attendees at the conference was Sarah Jane Farmer a well known American feminist and peace activist (Portsmouth Peace Treaty 1905) and social progressive at Green Acre, Eliot Maine who had by that date adopted a Baha’i identity following a visit to Abdul-Baha in Ottoman Haifa in 1900. Sarah Jane Farmer may have been Wilhelmina Bain’s informant and correspondent concerning the Baha’i Faith.

Bain was at this time probably living in Riverton in the South Island and was embarking on a career in journalism. This newspaper article adds to the number of instances of interest in and communication with the Palestine based headquarters of the Baha’i Faith by New Zealanders prior to 1920. Letters exist of contact in 1910 with high country farming woman Mildred Burdon of Geraldine and the Baha’i leader Abdu’l-Baha and again in 1919 with Havelock North farmer Maurice Chambers. The recognised first believer of the New Zealand Baha’i Community is Margaret Stevenson (1865-1941) of Devonport, Auckland. She states in a manuscript that she adopted the Baha’i Faith in 1913.  The full text of the Bain article can be downloaded here.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 at 5:11 pm and is filed under Announcements. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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