Project Canterbury

A History of the English Church in New Zealand

By H.T. Purchas

Christchurch: Simpson and Williams, 1914.

Chapter I.

THE PREPARATION. (1805-1813).

Every noble work is at first "impossible." In very truth: for every noble work the possibilities will lie diffused through immensity, inarticulate, undiscoverable except to faith.--Carlyle.

FOR the seed-plot of Christianity and of civilisation in New Zealand we must look away from the present centres of population to the beautiful harbours which cluster round the extreme north of the country. Chief among these stands the Bay of Islands. This noble sheet of water, with its hundred islands, its far-reaching inlets, its wooded coves and sheltered beaches, was for more than a quarter of a century the focus of whatever intellectual or spiritual light New Zealand enjoyed. Here the Gospel of Christ was first proclaimed, and the first Mission stations were established. Here were founded the first schools, the first printing press, the first theological college, the first library. Here the first bishop fixed his headquarters, and here he convened the first synod. Here was signed the Treaty of Waitangi, by which the islands passed under British rule, and here was the temporary capital of the first governor. Here, too, was the theatre of the first war between Maoris and white men; here stood the flagstaff which Heke cut down; from these hills on the west the missionaries beheld the burning of Kororareka, whose smoke went up "like the smoke of a furnace."

At the opening of the nineteenth century this important locality was occupied by the warlike and enterprising tribe of the Ngapuhi. The soil was generally infertile, but the waters teemed with fish, while the high clay cliffs and the narrow promontories lent themselves readily to the Maori system of fortification. The safe anchorage which the Bay afforded early drew to it the whaling ships of Europe, especially as the harbour was accessible from the ocean in all weathers. The Ngapuhi eagerly welcomed these new comers, and prepared to take full advantage of whatever benefits the outside world might offer.

Among the various hapus of this tribe stands out pre-eminent that which owed allegiance to the chief Te Pahi. This warrior had fortified an island close to Te Puna on the north side of the bay. In readiness to receive new ideas, and in the power to assimilate them, he and his kinsmen, Ruatara and Hongi, were striking examples of the height to which the Maori race could attain. Hardly had the century dawned which was to bring New Zealand within the circle of the Christian world, when word came to Te Pahi of the wonders to be seen at Norfolk Island, and of the friendly nature of its governor, Captain King. To test for himself the truth of these tidings, the chief, with his four sons, set forth (about 1803) across the sea to the great convict station. The friendly governor had left the island, but Te Pahi followed him on to New South Wales, little thinking of the mighty consequences which would result from his journey. Everyone at Port Jackson was struck with the handsome presence and dignified manners of the New Zealander. He was received by the governor into his house at Paramatta; he went regularly to church, where he behaved "with great decorum;" and loved nothing so much as to talk to the chaplain about the white man's God. His enquiries met with ready sympathy, for the chaplain was no other than the Reverend Samuel Marsden.

This remarkable man had hitherto found little to encourage him in his labours, but his light shone all the more brightly from its contrast with the surrounding darkness. Selected while still a student at Cambridge, by no less a person than the philanthropist Wilberforce, for this difficult position, Marsden had brought to his work a heart full of evangelical fervour, a strong Yorkshire brain, and "the clearest head in Australia." During the eleven years which had passed since his arrival, he had been fighting a courageous fight against vice in high places and in low, but nothing had daunted his spirit nor soured his temper. His large heart had a place for all classes and for all races. When he met Te Pahi his sympathies were at once excited. Like Gregory in the marketplace at Rome, he had found a people who must be brought into the fold of Christ. Years were indeed to pass before active steps could be taken, but the new-born project never died within him. Amidst all the difficulties of his lot the thought of the New Zealanders was ever in his mind, and their evangelisation the constant subject of his prayers. Many years afterwards, on one of his journeys through their country, Marsden remarked to those about him, "Te Pahi just planted the acorn, but died before the sturdy oak appeared above the surface of the ground."

What this Maori pioneer had done may seem little enough, but that little cost him his life. The presents which he carried home, and the house built for him by Governor King upon his island, excited the envy of his neighbours, who eventually found a way to compass his destruction by means of the Europeans themselves. Te Pahi happened to be at Whangaroa when the Boyd was captured in 1809, and he did his best to save some of the crew from the terrible slaughter that followed. But his presence at the scene was enough to give a handle to his enemies. They accused him to the whalers of participation in the outrage, and these stormed the island pa by night and slaughtered the unsuspecting inhabitants. Te Pahi himself escaped with a wound, but he was soon afterwards killed by the real authors of the Boyd massacre for is known sympathy with the Europeans.

It is a piteous story, and one that reflects only too faithfully the temper of the times. Hardly less piteous is the history of his young kinsman, Ruatara, the f inheritor of his influence over the tribe. This notable man, while still young, determined that he too would f see the world, and in the year 1805 engaged himself I as a common sailor on board a whaling vessel. The roving life suited his adventurous temperament, and in spite of many hardships and much foul play he served in one ship after another. His duties carried him more than once to Port Jackson, where he, too, met Samuel Marsden and talked about the projected mission to his race. After many vicissitudes he at length nearly attained the object of his desire, for his ship reached the Thames and cast anchor below London Bridge. Now he would see the king, and would learn the secret of England's power. "

But the London of those days was a cruel place.There were no kindly chaplains, no sailors' institutes nor waterside missions for the care of those who thronged its waterways. There was little care for the poor anywhere, and little religion among employers or employed. The close of the eighteenth century was indeed the low-water mark of English religion and morality. But by 1809--the year of Rua-tara's arrival--an improvement had begun. What is known as the Evangelical movement was changing the tone of life and thought. The excesses of the French Revolution had led to a reaction among the upper classes and made them think more seriously. This revival did not at once lead to much thought for the poor at home; it reached out rather towards the heathen abroad. The "Romantic" school was in the ascendant, and a black skin under a palm-tree formed a picture which appealed to the awakened conscience. Much of the fervour of the time had its being outside the historic Church of England, but in the last year of the old century a few earnest clergy and laity--without much encouragement from the bishops or others in high places--had formed what was afterwards known as "The Church Missionary Society." This Society had the New Zealanders under its consideration at the very time when Ruatara was being starved and beaten in the docks of London itself.

What had drawn its attention to a place so distant? It was the presence of Marsden in England. He had come thither in 1807 on business of grave and various import. The Government of the day had recognised the value of his practical knowledge, and had sought his advice on many matters concerning the welfare of Australia. But he did not forget New Zealand, and it was to the young Church Missionary Society that he betook himself. So great, in fact, and so various were the plans which Marsden entertained for the welfare of the many races in which he was interested, that the grandiloquent words of his biographer seem not too strong: "As the obscure chaplain from Botany Bay paced the Strand, from the Colonial Office at Whitehall to the chambers in the city where a few pious men were laying plans for Christian missions in the southern hemisphere, he was in fact charged with projects upon which not only the civilisation, but the eternal welfare, of future nations were suspended."

Marsden's proposals were the outcome of his own original mind. He appealed for a mission to the Maoris, but he wished it to be an industrial mission. He proposed that artisans should be sent out who should prepare the way for ordained clergy. A carpenter, a smith, and a twine-spinner should form the missionary staff. They must be men of sound piety and lively interest in the spiritual welfare of the heathen; but their religious lessons should be given whilst they were instructing the Maoris in the building of a house, the forging of a bolt, or the spinning of their native flax.

a scheme was only half relished by the Committee of the Society. These excellent men had hardly yet realised that the dark-skinned savage was a real human being. They had begun by picturing the whole population of a heathen island as rushing gladly to meet the missionary, receiving his message with unquestioning belief, and crying out in an agony of terror, "What must we do to be saved?" Now that apparent failure had met their efforts in different parts of the world, they were inclined to go to the opposite extreme and to despair of the heathen ever accepting Christianity at all. Marsden's unromantic proposals jarred upon their old ideas, but in their perplexity they could not help feeling that at least here was a man who had had experience of real, not of imaginary, heathen; a man who did not despair, and who had a definite and carefully prepared plan. Gradually they yielded to his influence, and, especially as clerical missionaries were not to be found, they agreed to seek for the artisans.

Even these were hard enough to find. There were as yet no colleges for the training of young aspirants; outside the newly-formed societies there was little interest in the welfare of heathen people; the best that could be done was to seek for men who had the love of God and men in their hearts, and should seem to ossess the qualities of patience, perseverance, and tact. Through the good offices of friendly clergy two young men were found. From distant Carlisle came the carpenter, William Hall; the Midlands supplied a shoemaker, John King. These were given further technical training--Hall in shipbuilding, King in rope-making. By the month of August, 1809, they were; ready for their enterprise. Their earthly prospects were not tempting. They were to receive £20 each per annum until they should be able to grow corn enough for their own support. To meet this and all , other expenses the Committee advanced Marsden the sum of £100. With this small sum and his two plain and poorly paid mechanics, this undaunted man started f out from his native land to undertake the evangelisation of a country as large as England itself.

But a mightier coadjutor was at hand. Many prayers were offered as the Ann was about to sail, and it must surely have been in answer to these that, when the vessel with her freight of convicts had already reached Gravesend, there appeared a boat in which were a half-naked Maori together with a seafaring Englishman. These were Ruatara and his employer who had robbed him of his wages and had now no further use for him. "Will you take him back to Australia?" said the heartless master. "Not unless you find him some clothes," said the captain of the Ann. The clothes were procured, and the Maori was allowed to go below. There he lay sick in body and mind. He had tried to play the part of the Russian Peter, but he was bringing back nothing for the benefit of his country. What was left but to die?

When the ship reached Portsmouth, Marsden came on board, and on August 25th she finally started on her six months' voyage. Not for some days did the chaplain know of the Maori's presence, but, as the ship entered warmer latitudes, Marsden observed on the forecastle among the sailors a man whose dark skin and forlorn condition appealed strongly to his sympathy. Ruatara was wrapped in an old great coat, racked with a violent cough, and was bleeding from the lungs. Though young, he seemed to have but a few days to live. Marsden at once went to him and found in the miserable stranger the nephew of his old acquaintance Te Pahi. Kindness and attention soon had their effect; the health of the invalid rapidly improved; the remembrance of past injuries melted away before the sunshine of Christian love; and, before the ship reached Australia, Ruatara was once again a man, and now almost a Christian.

This meeting was momentous in its results. "Mr. Marsden and Ruatara," as Carleton says, "were each necessary to the other; each furnished means without which the labour of his associate must have been thrown away. But for the determined support which Ruatara as a high chief was able to afford, Marsden could never have gained a footing in the land; and without the sustained labour of the civilised European, the work of the Maori innovator, too much in advance of its time, would have withered like Jonah's gourd, and have come to an end with the premature decease of Ruatara."

For a few days after the arrival of the Ann at Port Jackson, it seemed as though Marsden's project were going to be helped by another unexpected agency. The Sydney merchants had resolved to form a trading settlement in New Zealand; the settlers were chosen, and the ship was ready to sail. But at the last moment news came from the land of their destination of an event already referred to--news which for many a long day checked every thought of adventure thither, and had the effect of throwing New Zealand back into its old position of isolation and aloofness. The ship Boyd, which had sailed from Sydney not many months previously, had been surprised by the Maoris in the harbour of Whangaroa, and with four exceptions all its white crew, to the number of about 70 persons, had been killed and cooked and eaten.

The report of this awful tragedy--the most hor-rible that has ever been enacted on our shores, at least with white folk for the victims--threw the people of New South Wales into a fever heat of indignation. This condition was further intensified when the intelligence arrived that among the murderers had been seen the "worthy and respectable" Te Pahi, who had been an honoured guest at the Governor's table. No Maori dared now to be seen in the streets of Sydney, and it required all Marsden's influence to protect Ruatara, who was known to be Te Pahi's relative. His protector kept him for six months quietly working with a few other Maoris on his farm at Parramatta, and the expedition to New Zealand was for the time abandoned.

This sudden interruption of his favourite project was a severe trial to Marsden's hopeful temperament. But he never lost heart. "We have not heard the natives' side of the case," he said. As for Te Pahi, he refused, and rightly refused, to believe in his guilt. When the passion for vengeance had somewhat calmed, he found opportunity to ship Ruatara and some other Maoris on board a whaling craft which was on her way to fish on the New Zealand shores, and he gave them seed wheat and agricultural tools.

Even now Ruatara's adventures were not ended. In the following year he was again at Port Jackson with another tale of woe. He had never reached his home, though he had actually been within sight of it. Instead of being allowed to land there, he had been carried away by the unprincipled captain, robbed again of his wages, and then marooned on Norfolk Island. Again he found a friend in Marsden. Once more he was despatched to the Bay of Islands with wheat and hoes and spades. This time he arrived safely, and Marsden had the satisfaction of feeling that however long the time of waiting might still be, there was a quiet but effective influence at work in New Zealand on behalf of himself and of the message which he still hoped to proclaim.

At any time, in fact, during those years of suspense, Marsden was willing to venture forth among the cannibals, but he was forbidden by Governor Macquarie. That all-powerful functionary was determined that such a valuable life should not be thrown away on what appeared to be a quixotic scheme. But the chaplain was not to be altogether balked. He received into his parsonage whatever Maoris of good standing he could find; showed them the varied activities of his model farm; and explained to them the principles of the laws which he was called to administer from the magisterial bench. In this way several young chiefs acquired a knowledge of the elements of civilisation, and were disposed to welcome Christianity.

But it was not only upon his Maori visitors that Marsden's influence was at work. The two artisans whom he kept near himself must have learned during these years that absolute loyalty upon which so much was to depend thereafter. They laboured diligently at their trades, and each was soon earning as much as £400 a year; but the zeal and unselfishness of the chaplain kept them true to their original purpose, and prevented them from yielding to the fascinations of Mammon.

Thus the years passed--not uselessly nor unhope-fully. One bit of intelligence seemed like an augury of good for the future: Ruatara's wheat had been sown and was growing well!

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