After gold was discovered in Australia in 1851, fortune seekers from around the world migrated to the goldfields. Among the prospectors were 18-year-old Thomas Holder and brothers Charles and Frederick Hurst, who left their homes in New Zealand in search of treasure. They never grew rich from their efforts, but their friends Francis and Emma Evans offered them something of greater value by introducing them to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Thomas, Frederick, and Charles were baptized in January 1854.
Later that year, Thomas Holder returned to New Zealand. He accompanied Elder William Cooke and mission president Augustus Farnham, the first missionaries to visit New Zealand. Thomas’s mother, Martha Holder, became converted and was the first person baptized in New Zealand, on December 31, 1854. Within four months, a branch of about 10 members was organized in Karori.
Less than four years after Martha’s baptism, a Latter-day Saint named William Burnett brought the gospel to the South Island. Burnett had emigrated from England to appease his wife, who was not a member of the Church and did not want to live in Utah. In 1867 he met Carl Christian Asmussen, a former jeweler from Christchurch who had encountered Church literature, traveled to Utah to be baptized, and returned to New Zealand to settle his affairs. Now an ordained Seventy, Asmussen rebaptized Burnett (not an uncommon practice at the time) and ordained him an elder. He also ordained Burnett’s brother, James, a priest, and the three began to preach the gospel and distribute tracts in Christchurch.
During these early years, there was not a consistent missionary presence in New Zealand, so local members often carried on alone. But in April 1870, new mission president Robert Beauchamp visited Karori and reorganized the branch, with Thomas Holder’s brother-in-law, Henry Allington, as president. The branch there, which met in a local barn, faced fierce local opposition but grew to over 50 members during the following year. Beauchamp also visited the branch led by William Burnett in Kaiapoi.
While the Kaiapoi Branch continued to grow steadily, the Karori Branch soon became depleted as many of its strongest members immigrated to Utah. Wars between Māori and their British colonizers slowed missionary work and the Church’s growth until the late 1870s, when more full-time missionaries were assigned to New Zealand. At that point, the Church began to grow slowly but steadily among the European population, especially in the Christchurch area.