Founder of the YMCA in Auckland, New Zealand



Richard, born at Worstead, Norfolk, on 24 November 1824, was the youngest of Phoebe (née Barcham) and Jacob Shalders children. He worked for his father in the grocers and drapery shop on Church Plain, Worstead, before going to London in 1840, at the age of 16. Before leaving home, his grandmother Elizabeth Barcham, asked him to read from the Bible:


And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand be with me, and thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me.’ And God granted him that which he requested

[Chronicles I, ch. 4, v. 10]


His grandmother then said:


‘Now my boy, you are leaving your home to go out into a world full of temptation and sinful men. I want you to take this prayer and make it your own, that God’s blessing may attend you all your days, giving you all you need; that His hand may be with you, remember, sin and grief always go together.’


Later, Richard wrote in his Personal Reminiscences that


‘. . . By God’s grace I made this prayer my own, and He has answered it through my experience of many years. Let me earnestly urge all young men to make this prayer their own, and God will answer their requests.’

[from Early History of the Auckland Young Men’s Christian Association]


According to his Personal Reminiscences, when Richard arrived in London he found it very difficult to obtain work, even though he had experience in the retail drapery trade and had introductions to large wholesale houses. After six weeks he decided to accept a retail situation at a high-class drapery establishment in Dover. There he met the young lady who later became his wife.

Richard returned to London in August 1846, and obtained a position with Morrison, Dillon and Co. in the largest drapery warehouse, where he remained for two and a half years. Initially, he lived in the company’s warehouse in Fort Street, Spitalfields, where he shared a room with eleven young men, whom he describes as being ‘of a very low character – swearing, card-playing, raising sweepstakes, theatre-going’.

One day, he walked a mile from the warehouse to attend a YMCA  Bible class, held at Sergeant’s Inn, 49 Fleet Street, where he found about 120 young men led by the Secretary of the Association Mr T.H. Tarlton. ‘Finding himself in such a brotherly element, I then applied for membership. The next day I received a letter from the Secretary requesting an answer to the three following questions: How long have you been converted to God? What was the means used in your conversion? Are you a member of a Christian Church? . . . I replied: I have been a Christian for many years. By the quickening influence of the Spirit of God through His Word I am about to join the Baptist Church, under the pastorate of the Revd John Howard Hinton, reputed to be the greatest and most original thinker in London. Afterwards I received a second letter from the Secretary, requesting me to give an address to young men at Radley’s Private Hotel on the Thursday evening, which I did as my maiden address. After this I received a third letter, informing me that I had been elected on the Committee, in which I remained until leaving England.’ 

Richard was then only about 18. Later, the YMCA’s activities were transferred to Gresham Street, then to Aldersgate and subsequently to Exeter Hall at 372 The Strand, now the site of the Strand Palace Hotel. Richard started holding prayer meetings at the warehouse: six boys came to the first meeting, and the number coming to his Bible classes subsequently rose to 20. In about February 1849, Richard became an employee of I. and R. Morley, where he had 19 youths under his paternal care. Of this Richard wrote:


‘. . . I entered with zeal all the various privileges afforded to me. I made it a point in every situation to care for the sick by nursing them and attending to all their wants; it gave me great power and gained [me] the respect of my fellow employees . . .’


All this time, Richard continued YMCA work, visiting branches and distributing tracts. Then he added a ‘ragged’ school in South London, where he held classes of 16 boys. One of them became a Baptist minister, whom Richard’s son met while visiting England 25 years later. The Ragged School Union, founded in 1844, was one of the movements founded by Victorian philanthropists. The Union was dedicated to providing free education for destitute children and young people who were excluded by poverty from other forms of schooling. Its headquarters were at Exeter Hall. Post-dating Richard’s work by 20 years, Dr Thomas John Bernardo began his life’s work by teaching at a ragged school in Ernest Street, Stepney; and, in 1875, what became London’s largest ragged school in warehouse  buildings in Copperfield Road,  Mile End, close to where other members of the Barcham family were living at that time.

Another young man employed by I. and R. Morley told Richard that he was going to New Zealand and urged him to accompany him. After consulting his ‘betrothed young lady’, who was perfectly willing to go with him, Richard decided to go too. When he told his employers they replied; ‘Well, Mr Shalders, if you see a market for goods, send to us, and we will send you goods to a large amount to help you in starting, for we have every confidence in you, and will give you six extra months’ credit to assist you.’ Richard then spent his capital in purchasing goods of every description suitable for a general store. [His nephew Herbert Shalders did the same when he emigrated to New Zealand in 1884.]

On 12 September 1851, a month before sailing, he had a meeting with the YMCA Committee, at which he was presented with a Bagster’s Bible, with the following letter signed by the Secretary T. Henry Tarlton and the other 13 members of the Committee:


Presented to Mr Richard B. Shalders on the occasion of his departure for New Zealand by the brethren who have been united with him as members of the Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Association, as a memento of their affection and esteem.


The Secretary gave an address, exhorting Richard to ‘have faith in God’, and warning him that he might encounter many trials and dangers. As a result of his association with the YMCA in London, Richard resolved to start a branch in Auckland as soon as he could.

At the age of 27, Richard married Eliza Rooke at the Baptist Chapel, Meeting Hill on or just before 30 September 1851 [Lynn Advertiser marriage notice]. Eliza, who had first met Richard at Dover, was the eldest daughter of Henry Rooke a builder in Ventnor, Isle of Wight. According to Richard’s diary, shortly before emigrating he:


 visited with my betrothed her friends in the Isle of Wight to take farewell. I then sent my betrothed to my home in Worstead, Norfolk, to get acquainted with my friends. After some days, I proceeded there also. We were then married at the Baptist Chapel, Worstead, and were welcomed back to my village by a peal of bells from the old church steeple [presumably St Mary’s, which has a tower]. Three days later we took farewells of my friends and finally left England in a barque, the Katherine Stewart Forbes.’

[from Early History of the Auckland Young Men’s Christian Association]


[Note: by law, the marriage would have been recorded in the Worstead Parish Register, even if the wedding ceremony was performed at the Baptist Chapel]


It is likely that Richard and Eliza travelled most of the way by train from London to the Isle of Wight, then back to London, thence to Worstead and, after the wedding, back to London. Most of England’s railway system was built before 1845, and the London–Norwich–Great Yarmouth line was opened before 1851.

Richard and Eliza sailed from Gravesend on 19 October 1851, aboard the Katherine Stewart Forbes (Captain W. Wright). They reached Auckland on 9 March 1852. The passage took 140 days. The barque almost foundered off North Cape, New Zealand, during a terrific storm. Richard wrote in his Personal Reminiscences that:


‘. . . No sound could be heard beside water rushing down into our cabin. (One poor sailor, the third mate, fell into the sea and was drowned.) The carpenter took an axe and knocked out the bulwarks and freed the decks of water. The ship rose again and we heard voices once more. My thought was: I shall yet stand on the shores of New Zealand to tell of the glorious Gospel of God.’


The passenger list on an Internet site [] includes Mr and Mrs Shilders [sic]. The Katherine Stewart Forbes is listed in Migrant Ships for South Australia by Ronald Parsons:


KATHERINE STEWART FORBES, 457 tons (old measure), three mast ship, built in 1818 at Northfleet, Kent, by William Pitcher, 117’3” x 28’4” x 5’11” tween decks. Owner – Chapman; reg. London, conveyed early settlers to New Zealand. Convict transport in 1830 to 1832.


Passage conditions are also described in this book. Another book, White Wings, by Sir Henry Brett, states that ‘passenger accommodation was devoted exclusively to young couples’ and mentions the voyage and storm:


KATHERINE STEWART FORBES, 457 tons, Captain W. Wright sailed from London on 19 October 1851, arrived Auckland on March 9 1852. Put into Cape of Good Hope on 4 January 1852 for water and provisions, sailing again on 9 January. Encountered a ferocious gale when off the New Zealand coast, during which sustained damage and a man was washed overboard.


Three months after they disembarked at Auckland, Eliza gave birth to her first child: Eliza Rooke, whose birth on ‘Tuesday, 24 June, to Mrs R.B. Shalders, Queen Street of a daughter’, was announced in the New Zealander on 26 June 1852. This means that, like several other members of the family, including Marmorice Caramania Barcham  and Robert William Barcham (see The Barchams of Edingthorpe, page 125), the mother was pregnant during the voyage; an unpleasant condition to be in during a long voyage on a small ship crowded with other passengers and crew.  Eliza and Richard’s second child Alfred Barcham Shalders was born at Auckland on 16 December 1857.

 Although the YMCA did not begin in Auckland until 1855, Richard began holding ‘Youth’s Scripture Conversational Classes . . .Tea will be provided (gratis) the first Sabbath in each month’, starting with six youths at his home on Queen Street every Sunday afternoon and later at his new home on Chapel Street, somewhat further up Queen Street. When attendance increased to 30 the accommodation became too crowded, and so the young men built an addition to the house.

Immediately after this, the history of the Auckland YMCA started Richard was invited to a meeting of the Wesleyan Sunday School Teachers at which ‘the Chairman expressed regret that young men had very little opportunity for literary improvement, and suggested meetings for reading the published letters of the London YMCA. [Richard] then rose and stated that [he] had been for four years a member of the London Committee, and would be happy to unite with young men to form such an Association, offering to give a lecture on the rise, progress and influence of the London Association, which offer was accepted. The lecture was given at the Mechanics Institute, the issue of which was a resolution to commence an Auckland YMCA. A committee was appointed, which met at [Richard’s] house . . . Rules were adopted and  [Richard] was appointed honorary secretary.’  A collection raised [pounds] 200 during the meeting; a site was purchased on Durham Street East [nearly opposite Richard’s business premises at 200 Queen Street], where a very comfortable home-like building was erected. The rooms were opened on Friday 12 September 1856 by His Excellency Governor George Brown. There was a circulating library and a long table with periodicals to amuse and instruct. Light refreshments were provided. Young men used the YMCA as a place to meet; the average daily attendance was more than 50. [from Early History of the Auckland Young Men’s Christian Association].

Richard’s Sunday afternoon Bible class met in the new rooms at the YMCA, instead of at his house, attendance ranging from 18 to 30. This class, conducted under the non-sectarian principles of the YMCA continued for nearly 20 years. However, in 1864, at the ninth annual meeting of the Association, a minister proposed that Richard Shalders should resign the Secretaryship: ‘Because you use your influence for the purpose of furthering the interests of your own [Baptist] denomination.’ This accusation was denied by Richard; and several members stated that ‘Mr Shalders never allowed any denominational questions to be conversed on in the Bible class.’ One gentleman got up and kindly said: ‘If Mr Shalders resigns the Association will go down.’ Richard did not resign; but strangely, at three o’clock in the morning the rooms were burnt to the ground.

A new wooden building, built in 1886 for (pounds) 7,500, on the corner of Albert and Wellesley Streets served for 19 years until it was demolished and a grand new building was erected on the site in 1886 at a cost of (pounds) 30,000. The present, modern YMCA building is on the west side of Queen Street, a short distance down from Karangahape Road.

From a monograph, YMCA New Zealand, The First 125 Years, published in April 1981 by the National Council:


‘Lectures to the Young Men’: with the advertisement in an Auckland newspaper the first series of programmes of the first YMCA in New Zealand was launched. It was in April 1855, only eleven years since the movement had begun in London under the guidance of one George Williams. The movement’s aim was modest: it would work towards the improvement of spiritual conditions of young men engaged in drapery and other trades by the introduction of religious services among them.

During the next decades [after 1855], amidst our history of land wars, gold rushes, high immigration, industrialisation and the rapid growth of new towns, YMCAs were established in all major cities: Wellington in 1866, Christchurch in 1862,  Nelson in 1866, Dunedin in 1874 and Invercargill in 1876. Initial purposes and programmes were very religiously oriented – typically bible study, religious and moralistic lectures, choirs and evangelical meetings . . . Each new YMCA was autonomous and drafted its own rules.

Early venues were public libraries or meeting rooms and small halls . . . These were often furnished through the efforts of women. Although they have only recently gained decision making status in the movement, women have long participated in and been supporters of YMCA programmes. The first ‘Lectures to the Young Men’ in Auckland was careful to include an invitation to ‘ladies’.

Many potential directions for New Zealand YMCAs became apparent in the latter part of the 19th century. From the beginning it was the members, the ‘lay people’ of the organisation, who set policy and ran many of the programmes.  . . .YMCA physical programmes got their start around this time . . .  As early as 1860, the Auckland YMCA imported gymnastic equipment from America . . .


It is clear from his reminiscences that Richard’s devoutly religious grandmother had a considerable influence on him. She died in May 1845, aged 93, a few years after Richard went to London. After devoting 65 years to the YMCA, Richard resigned from the Committer in 1912, at the age of 88.

Richard Shalders was a successful businessman. He owned a draper’s shop at 200 Queen Street, now the site of Hannah’s shoe emporium in Auckland’s downtown shopping area. According to the Electoral Rolls for 1866 to 1870, Richard also had properties and businesses at Kapanga Township on the Coromandel Peninaular; Huia Saw Mills on a strategic location when Manakau Harbour was being considered as the port for Auckland; 942 acres of land at Point Long Nose, Awitu Block.

Eliza died on 31 August 1908, aged 82; Richard died on 1 October 1914, aged 90. They, their daughter Eliza Rooke and her husband Peter Cheale and three of their children are buried in Purewa Cemetery, at Meadowbank, Auckland.