Project Canterbury

A History of the English Church in New Zealand

By H.T. Purchas

Christchurch: Simpson and Williams, 1914.


Chapter II.

THE ENTERPRISE. (1813-1815).

Was it not great? Did not he throw on God
(He loves the burthen)
God's task to make the heavenly period
Perfect the earthen?
--R. Browning.

THE fourth year of waiting brought signs of approaching change. The Society at home, encouraged by Marsden's hopeful letters, sent out another catechist, Thomas Kendall. They were less sure of him than of King and Hall, but he pleaded earnestly to be sent, and, being a schoolmaster, he was a man of more education than the two others. During the last days of the year 1813, Marsden organised an influential meeting in Sydney, and succeeded in carrying fifteen resolutions in favour of a forward movement. Armed with these he again approached the Governor, who reluctantly consented to allow the missionaries to make a trial visit to New Zealand if a captain could be found sufficiently courageous to take them. The shipping problem was indeed a great difficulty, but Marsden at last overcame it by buying a vessel with money which he raised on the security of his farm. The Active was a brig of 110 tons, and claims the honour of being the first missionary craft of modern times.

Hall and Kendall were the men chosen for the preliminary visit. They were instructed to open up communication with Ruatara, and, if possible, to bring him back with them to Sydney. With good supply of articles for trade and for presents they set sail on the 4th of March, and arrived safely at the Bay of Islands. Here they were welcomed by the faithful Ruatara, to whom they presented a small hand-mill as a gift from his friend at Parramatta. This machine played its part in preparing the way for the mission. Ruatara's wheat had long been harvested, but his neighbours were still sceptical as to the possibility of converting it into bread. While this doubt remained, Ruatara's words carried little weight. In vain did the poor Maori try one expedient after another; in vain did he send appeals to Marsden. His own efforts always failed; his benefactor's gifts never reached him. But now the situation was changed. The mill was at once charged with New Zealand grown wheat; eager eyes watched the mealy stream issuing from beneath; a cake was quickly made and cooked; and all incredulity was at an end. Several chiefs volunteered to accompany Ruatara to Sydney, and the Active reached that port on August 22nd, after a thoroughly successful voyage.

The Governor could no longer withhold his consent to the enterprise, and Marsden was granted leave of absence for four months from his duties at Parramatta.

Before starting for New Zealand he spent three busy months in preparation. The mission was to take the form of a "settlement," and the missionaries were to be "settlers" as well as catechists. The Active was loaded with all that was necessary for this object, and in the words of Mr. Nicholas, who accompanied the expedition as a friend, it "bore a perfect resemblance to Noah's Ark." The resemblance was indeed a close one. The vessel carried horses and cattle, sheep and P'gs) goats and poultry; Maori chiefs and convict servants; the three missionaries with their wives and children; while the place of the patriarch was filled by Samuel Marsden himself, who, like Noah, had been "warned of God of things not seen as yet," had laboured on amidst the incredulity of his neighbours, and now bore with him the seeds of a new world.

Stormy weather delayed the progress of the brig and brought much misery to those on board. Three weeks passed before the New Zealand coast was sighted, but Saturday, December 17*, brought the travellers opposite to Tasman's "Three Kings, and on the following Tuesday they were off the harbour of Whangaroa, where the remains of the Boyd still lay. The brig did not enter this dreaded haven, but, seeing an armed force on the coast to the south, Marsden resolved to land and to attempt to conciliate these hostile people. Ruatara and Hongi acted as intermediaries, and friendly relations were soon established between the missionaries and the cannibals. Marsden and his companion even spent the night with the savages, sleeping among them without fear under the starlit sky.

Two days later the expedition reached its destination, and the Active cast anchor off the Bay of Rangi-houa. From her deck the mission families could now gaze upon the scene of their future home. The bracken and manuka with which the farther slopes were clad might remind them of the fern and heather of old England, but their gaze would be chiefly attracted to an isolated hill of no great height which rose steeply from the sea on the left side of the little bay. To this hill had come the remnant of Te Pahi's people after the slaughter on the island, and it was now crowned with a strongly fortified pa. Ruatara's residence was on the highest point; around it were crowded about fifty other dwellings; outside the mighty palisade neat plantations of potatoes and ku-maras seemed to hang down the steep declivity; an outer rampart encircled the whole. At sight of the vessel the inhabitants rushed down to the beach with cries of welcome, and greeted Marsden, on his landing, with affectionate regard. He seemed to be no stranger among them, for his name and his fame were familiar to all. The horses and cows caused a temporary panic among people who had never seen animals so large before, but fear soon gave way to admiration and a general sense of excited expectancy.

Ruatara's home-coming was not free from pain to himself. Misconduct had occurred in his household during his absence, and the next morning was occupied with a trial for adultery. The case was referred to Marsden, who advised the application of the lash to the male offender. Thirty strokes were given, and the honour of the chief was vindicated. Next morning (Saturday) he treated his guests to a scene of mimic warfare. Led by himself and Korokoro, four hundred warriors in all the pomp of paint and feathers rehearsed the details of a naval engagement. The brandished spears and blood-curdling yells brought forcibly to the imagination of the white men the perils which might be in store for them, but as the day wore on the arts of war were succeeded by preparations for the preaching of the Gospel of peace. Ruatara caused about half an acre of land by the Oihi beach to be fenced in; within this area he improvised some rough seats with planks and an upturned boat; in a convenient spot he erected a reading desk and pulpit which he draped with black native cloth, and with white duck which he had brought from Sydney; on the top of the hill he reared a flagstaff; and thus prepared his church for the coming festival.

The account of that Christmas Day of 1814 must be given in Marsden's own words, which have already attained a classical celebrity:

"On Sunday morning when I was upon deck, I saw the English flag flying, which was a pleasing sight in New Zealand. I considered it as the signal and the dawn of civilisation, liberty, and religion in a benighted land. I never viewed the British colours with more gratification, and flattered myself they would never be removed till the natives of that island enjoyed all the happiness of British subjects.

"About ten o'clock we prepared to go ashore, to publish for the first time the glad tidings of the Gospel. I was under no apprehensions for the safety of the vessel, and therefore ordered all on board to go on shore to attend divine service, except the master and one man. When we landed we found Korokoro, Ruatara, and Hongi dressed in regimentals which Governor Macquarie had given them, with their men drawn up ready to be marched into the enclosure to attend divine service. They had swords by their sides, and switches in their hands. We entered the enclosure, and were placed on the seats on each side of the pulpit. Korokoro marched his men and placed them on my right hand, in the rear of the Europeans; and Ruatara placed his men on the left. The inhabitants of the town, with the women and children and a number of other chiefs, formed a circle round the whole. A very solemn silence prevailed: the sight was truly impressive. I rose up and began the service with singing the Old Hundredth Psalm, and felt my very soul melt within me when I viewed my congregation and considered the state they were in. After reading the service, during which the natives stood up and sat down at the signals given by Korokoro's switch, which was regulated by the movements of the Europeans, it being Christmas Day, I preached from the second chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, and tenth verse, 'Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy,' etc. The natives told Ruatara that they could not understand what I meant. He replied that they were not to mind that now, for they would understand by and by, and that he would explain my meaning as far as he could. When I had done preaching, he informed them what I had been talking about. Ruatara was very much pleased that he had been able to make all necessary preparations for the performance of divine worship ┬źn so short a time, and we felt much obliged to him for his attention. He was extremely anxious to convince us that he would do everything in his power, and that the good of his country was his principal consideration. In this manner the Gospel has been introduced into New Zealand, and I fervently pray that the glory of it may never depart from its inhabitants till time shall be no more."

For the moment it seemed as though Marsden's congregation had not been very deeply impressed. Three or four hundred natives (says Nicholas) began a furious war-dance, apparently to express gratitude and appreciation. With conflicting feelings the missionaries at length withdrew to their ship, and there, in the evening, Marsden administered the Holy Sacrament in remembrance of our Saviour's birth and what He had done and suffered for us."

What would be the reflections of this far-sighted man as he lay in his berth that summer night? Fresh from the scene of the Boyd tragedy, and in the very presence of Te Pahi's desolated citadel, he had ventured to take up the angels' song of peace on earth, goodwill to men. He might perhaps have drawn some hope from the peace which the world at large was then enjoying after years of desperate strife. Napoleon was a prisoner in Elba, and the dogs of war were chained. But a few more months would bring another outburst and the awful carnage of Waterloo. So would it be in New Zealand also, and its Napoleon was a small quiet man who stood listening thoughtfully on that Christmas Day to Marsden's message of peace.

The planting of the settlement occupied the next fortnight. By the second Sunday in the new year a large building was sufficiently advanced to serve as a church. In a few days more this was divided into separate apartments for the residence of the mission families.

Marsden was now at liberty to think of certain subordinate objects of his visit--exploration and trade. In obedience to the Governor's instructions, he took his brig on an exploring tour down the Hau-raki Gulf. On his return he had the vessel loaded with timber and flax for conveyance to New South Wales. The expedition had, of course, been an expensive matter, and it must be remembered that he had strained his own private resources to provide means for its equipment. He had all along looked to recoup himself for some of his outlay by a trade in logs and spars. By the middle of February the vessel had received her cargo, the missionaries were settling down in their new home, and his leave of absence was nearing its expiration. But before he set sail two duties claimed his attention. A child had been born to Mr. and Mrs. King, and Marsden determined to make the first administration of Holy Baptism in this heathen land as impressive as possible. The infant was brought out into the open air. Many of the Maoris as well as the white folk stood around while the little one was solemnly admitted into the congregation of Christ's flock.

The other duty was less pleasant, and called for all the missionary's skill and resource. Poor Ruatara had fallen ill in the hour of his triumph--a victim, it would seem, to his admiration for the white man's ways. At the service on Sunday, February 12th, he had been present in European clothes, which had set off to advantage his manly form and European-like features. The day was rainy, and probably he had gone home in his wet clothes and thus contracted pneumonia. On the next day he was suffering from a chill and fever which defied the kindly attentions of Nicholas, who visited him daily until the tohunga forbad his admission. When Marsden returned from his trading enterprise he could only force an entrance by threatening to bombard the town with the ship's guns. The invalid seemed grateful for his visit and rallied for a little time, but as soon as Marsden sailed for Australia he grew rapidly worse. On the third day he was carried from his home and deposited on the top of a bare hill to await his end. Ruatara has been often compared with the Russian Peter, and like him he had purposed to build a new town in which he could carry out the ideas he had gained abroad. It was to the site of this projected metropolis that he was now borne, and it was there that, after death, his body was laid on a stage erected for the purpose. To complete the tragedy the same stage received the remains of his favourite wife, who hung herself out of grief at her loss.

In spite of this noble Maori's enlightened efforts for the civilisation of his countrymen, his mind seems to have been not wholly without misgiving as to the possible consequences of his policy. He could not altogether throw off the suggestions of the reactionary party, that the coming of the white man would eventually lead to the slavery and dispossession of the Maori. Could he look down from his lofty eminence now that a century has passed, what would be his thoughts? He would see his countrymen still residing on their own lands, their children carefully taught, their houses fitted with mechanical appliances which would have surprised even Marsden himself. But, on the other hand, the crowded pas and the vigorous life have passed away. Instead of the long canoe with its stalwart tatooed rowers, he would see perhaps a small motor-boat with one half-caste engineer. As for his "town of Rangihoo," he would see no trace of its existence. Maori dwellings, mission-station--all are gone. Nothing now remains to show that man has ever occupied the spot, save the rose-covered graves of one or two of the original "settlers," and the lofty stone cross which marks the place where Christ was first preached on New Zealand soil.


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