Project Canterbury

A History of the English Church in New Zealand

By H.T. Purchas

Christchurch: Simpson and Williams, 1914.


Chapter V.

THE FORWARD MOVE. (1831-1837).

Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.
--Exod.

UNLIKE their brethren in Africa and some other parts of the world, the New Zealand missionaries did not attempt much in the way of exploration. Marsden discovered the Manukau Harbour in 1820; Kendall and King were the first white men to visit Hokianga; Henry Williams' little Herald was the first European vessel since Captain Cook's Endeavour to enter the Bay of Plenty. Greater expeditions were prevented by a variety of obstacles. The missionaries were "settlers," and a settler is tied to his home duties. The land route from the Bay of Islands southwards had been devastated by Hongi. The clerical missionaries were few in number, and the schools absorbed all their energies. Hence it was that even as late as 1833--eighteen years after Marsden's first landing--their knowledge of the country was but slight. The map which Yate put forth at this time shows very little advance on that of Captain Cook. The interior of the island is almost wholly blank.

But the hour had now struck for a forward movement. New lay workers arrived from England--Wilson and Morgan in 1833, Colenso and others in the year following. The termination of the "Girls' War" had at last brought peace between the Ngapuhi and their neighbours; the inland tribes were beginning to creep out of their fastnesses and to re-occupy their ravaged lands.

Very cautiously and tentatively was the advance begun. Instead of a move to the southward, the Committee decided in the first place to try the north. At the end of 1832, Mr. William Williams with a large party of catechists and Maoris made their way for 80 miles over wooded mountains from Waimate to Kaitaia. The people at this place were so eager for a missionary that the resolution was soon taken to plant a station among them. It was long, however, before an actual settlement was made. In the following year some ground was bought, and a more direct road explored across the mountains. Even then there was hesitation. A fourth expedition was sent "to ascertain the true state of the minds of the natives with regard to our settling among them." The answer was brief and satisfactory: "Make haste and take up your abode among us." Thus encouraged, Puckey and Matthews made a temporary stay, and at last, after some months, brought up their wives and their belongings.

The site of the new station was a beautiful one. It lay amidst rivers and hills, and its position was such that the roar of the surf on both eastern and western coasts of the island could be distinctly heard. Shortly after his permanent settlement, Mr. Puckey made a journey to the extreme north of the island and reached Cape Reinga. Standing on the black cliffs against which the sea was dashing with terrific force, listening to the scream of the sea-fowl and the weird noise produced by the waves in a hollow cave, the white man could easily understand how this dread place came to be regarded by the Maoris as the gateway into the unseen world. The masses of kelp which swung to and fro in the waves were believed to be the door through which the spirits passed to Hawaiki, or to some idealised counterpart thereof, and a projecting tree-root halfway down the cliff was highly venerated as the ladder which assisted them in their descent. Very pathetic was the fear expressed by the older Maoris lest the white man should cut away this frail support of their hope of a future life: "Let the young men go with you to your heaven, but leave us our ladder to the Reinga." The missionary left them their ladder; but he told them on his return to Kaitaia that, whereas a death had occurred there during his absence, he had seen no bunches of grass on the road, such as they believed to be left by the spirits while passing up the coast. The old superstitions were clearly shaken, and the better faith soon took a powerful hold upon the people of the north.

Though this first attempt at an extension of the work was encouraging, it meant but little for the rest of New Zealand. Until a real attack could be made upon the south, the work could hardly be said to have begun in earnest. The land and the people were for the most part unknown, but a venture of faith must be made. This venture was begun in the October of 1833 under the leadership of Henry Williams, and constitutes one of the turning points in the history of New Zealand.

Besides the leader and the Rev. A. N. Brown, the expedition consisted of Messrs. Fairburn and Morgan with a party of Maoris. They left the Bay of Islands on October 22nd in open boats. The nights were spent on various islands, which they found to be all deserted, though everywhere they could see the remains of fortifications and villages. Where now the merchants of Auckland have their summer residences, there were no living beings to share the morning devotions of the missionaries, save the birds with their melodious songs. On the site of the Mokoia pa, where Marsden had so often received the hospitality of Hjnaki, they could see nothing but fern and fuchsia bushes, with here and there an axe-cloven skull. Proceeding down the Hauraki Gulf, the same scenes presented themselves, until at last a little smoke was noticed on the Coromandel coast. A fortnight's travel brought them to Kopu at the head of the gulf--175 miles in a straight line from the Bay of Islands. Here they entered the Thames or Waihou River, and were carried up it by the tide. On their left was a wooded range of hills, and on the right a flat forest that extended as far as the eye could reach.

Habitations now became increasingly frequent, but the villages were all new, and among them appeared the remains of old pas which had been destroyed by Hongi. Strange stories, too, were told to the visitors of a miserable remnant of the old inhabitants, who still lingered on in the forest which lay to the right hand of the travellers. The whole of this country was submerged from time to time by the flooded rivers, and no one knew or could conjecture how these people lived. The smoke of their fires was occasionally seen, but they never held any communication with the people who had come to occupy the river banks.

By the evening of the second day the travellers arrived at a settlement that seemed to be of some importance. Now at last they had reached the heathen country, and could begin their mission to the south. Some 200 natives crowded round to see the visitors, those in the rear holding torches to increase the illumination. The missionaries began their Evensong with one of the Maori hymns which they were accustomed to sing at Paihia. Hardly had they sung a line when, to their intense surprise, the whole of the audience joined heartily in the tune. Trembling with excitement the reader began the Evening Prayer, and when he uttered the words, "O Lord, open Thou our lips," there came from a hundred manly voices the significant response, "And our mouth shall show forth Thy praise." So it continued throughout. Canticle and creed, prayer and hymn, were all known to these presumably heathen people. At the conclusion of the service the secret was discovered. Three of their boys had been taught at Paihia. Here was the first fruit of the mission schools.

For some days longer the journey up the river continued, the object being to gain an interview with the chief potentate of the region, the celebrated Waharoa. On leaving the river a dreary march began through woods and swamps. Henry Williams was carried on two poles by native bearers who often sank in mud up to their chests. At last they emerged into a beautiful park-like country, where stood Matamata, the pa of Waharoa. The old man was very gracious. Though his career had been almost as bloodstained as was that of Hongi, he made a favourable impression upon the missionaries, and "asked many significant questions about religion." He was keenly desirous of a mission settlement in his pa. Williams discussed with him many plans for an extension of the work. "This conversation," says Carleton, "was the clue to all subsequent proceedings."

Returning down the river, a site was chosen for a station at Puriri. The spot lay amongst flax swamps on a tributary of the Thames. It was somewhat damp and unhealthy, but it was centrally situated as regards the tribes of the neighbourhood. Before the end of the year it was occupied by Morgan, Preece, and Wilson, who found raupo houses already erected for them by the Maoris.

The Thames expedition had proved beyond a doubt that the land lay open to mission enterprise. But the surprises which it offered were not always pleasant ones. Early in the year 1836 Brown and Hamlin, with some Maori converts, started overland to explore the Waikato. The Kaipara and Tamaki districts were waste and uninhabited, nor were any human beings seen, till thoy struck the great river itself. In the absence of canoes they essayed to cross it on mokis or bundles of flax-stalks. These rafts were so satisfactory that they paddled down the stream for some distance, when they were met by a boat containing an Englishman and a younger brother of Te Whero-whero--afterwards well known as the Maori King, Potatau. The strangers were friendly, but their remarks were uncomfortably direct. "Why did you not come before?" they asked. "You have stayed so long in the Bay of Islands that surely your children are old enough to be missionaries. If you had come among us some time ago, the Taranakis would have been alive, but now we have cut them nearly all off."

The opening thus indicated could no longer be neglected. A few months later a second expedition was directed towards the same quarter, though by a different route. It consisted of Messrs. W. Williams, Brown, and Morgan, and they had with them the speaker of the sharp rebuke above mentioned. Approaching from the side of the Thames Valley they reached Ngaruawahia, at the confluence of the Waikato and Waipa rivers. Boating up the Waipa until they could pull no longer, they landed at Mangapouri near Pirongia. So pleased were they with the place that they decided to fix a station there. The local chief at once offered land, and set men at work to clear it, though a few months necessarily elapsed before it could be actually occupied.

Mr. Williams and his colleagues meanwhile journeyed back into the Thames Valley, and, after promising Waharoa to send him a teacher as soon as possible, passed on to the Bay of Plenty. At Tauranga a large gathering of the inhabitants was held. They had evidently not forgotten the efforts which had been made four years before by Henry Williams to save their settlement from the wrath of the Ngapuhi. They had come to realise that the missionaries actually cared for other tribes as well as for the favoured Ngapuhi; they felt that a mission station would help in the preservation of peace; and they undertook to build houses in readiness for the teachers who should come.

The year 1835 saw the opening of the four new stations. Hamlin and Stack settled at Mangapouri; Brown and Morgan at Matamata; Wilson at Tauranga; and Chapman near Ohinemutu, amidst the hot springs and geysers of Rotorua. It will be noticed that these frontier posts were occupied mainly by the new men who had not acquired much knowledge of the language or of the customs of the Maori. Some misunderstandings were bound to arise from this cause, and Wilson nearly lost his life at Puriri, but soon a more peaceful state of things ensued. Everything seemed bright and hopeful when, on Christmas Day, a horrible murder occurred at Rotorua, which kindled a fresh war, and threw the work into confusion for several years.

The details of the war lie, of course, outside our subject: it will suffice to notice those points at which it touched the missionary band. The Rotorua station was naturally the first to feel its effects. Mr. Chapman did his utmost to check the outbreak of hostilities, and having secured the head of the murdered man he had it conveyed to the relatives. But the victim was a chief of high rank and nearly related to Waharoa. It was incumbent therefore upon that redoubtable warrior to obtain utu for the slaughter of his relative. He was still a heathen, and was deaf to the exhortations of the Christians. "How sweet," he said, "will taste the flesh of the Rotoruas along with their new kumeras!" It was not long before he was able to gratify this wolfish taste, and in the confusion which followed the assault upon the Ohinemutu pa the missionary premises were looted. They were at the time in charge of two young assistants, Knight and Pilley--the former being a nephew of Marsden. Both were felled to the ground, wounded and stripped of their dothes. Chapman and his wife were fortunately absent. Mrs. Chapman after many dangers reached Matamata, but the tide of war rolled thither also, and the mission ladies were hurried through the swamps to the river bank. Here they were met unexpectedly by Fairburn and Wilson, who had been rowing up the Waihou for the last two days in the endeavour to bring help to their colleagues at Rotorua, Wilson in his journal thus describes the meeting: "River covered by a thick fog, everything dripping wet. After rowing a few miles in the early morning we came to a small sandy landing place. Here, under some canvas thrown over the shrubs, we found Mr. Morgan and three missionaries' wives--Mes-uames Brown, Chapman, and Morgan--and with them two or three native girls (bearers of their luggage from Matamata). These poor ladies had all the appearance of fugitives, and such they really were. They had slept in their clothes on the wet ground, and their chief comfort was a little fire struggling for existence with wet green wood. On hearing the noise of our boat landing, I saw from under the canvas a weary pale face, nearly on a level with the wet earth, looking to see what it was. How glad they were to see us! What a change in their countenances from sorrow to gladness! Now--for a time at least--their troubles were over. In a few minutes we had them packed and arranged in our little boat, and sent them down the Waihou on their way to the Puriri."

Though the ladies had escaped unharmed, their belongings had not. The Matamata station was no safe place for anything, on account of the marauding bands who infested the country. As soon as possible therefore the most valuable articles were packed and sent off towards the river. News soon arrived that the convoy had been plundered. Morgan and Knight set out in pursuit and encountered a band of armed men, whose grotesque appearance brought a laugh to the missionaries' faces in spite of the danger of the situation. Most of the party were dressed in white shirts, and "one man was marching before the rest, with the utmost consequence, his head and olive-coloured face being enveloped in a black silk bonnet belonging to Mrs. Chapman, while a strip of cotton print, tied round his neck, formed the remainder of his apparel--he having left his own clothes at home, in order to his being lighter for fighting or anything else he might have to do."

The humour of the moment was not lessened when it was found that the strangely clad procession consisted not of the actual robbers, but of a friendly party who had robbed them in turn. The hero of the bonnet episode was, in fact, a son of Waharoa, who shortly afterwards embraced Christianity, and under the new name of Wiremu Tamihana (William Thomson) witnessed a good confession in the midst of his savage compatriots, and actually built a new pa, in which he allowed no one to live who did not join with him and his followers in worshipping God and in keeping the elementary rules of morality.

Troubles continued to thicken, but the missionaries clung to their posts as long as they could. Wilson went to the help of Chapman at Rotorua, and together they retired across the lake to the island which has become famous through the legend of Hinemoa. The beauty of its traditions could hardly be appreciated by the fugitive missionaries: "The hut in which we live," they wrote, "is small and damp, has neither chimney nor window, and on rainy days, which confine us inside, we construct a lamp with lard and cotton to read by, as best we can." But Chapman, like his wife, never complained. Without a word of reproach or repining, he took his friend over the ruins of the old station, which he had made the most beautiful of all the mission properties. His one desire was to make peace among his people, and for this purpose he sent once and again to Henry Williams for his help. But even Wiremu, with all his efforts, could not soften the heart of Waharoa nor of the Rotorua leaders. The war accordingly went on, though now in desultory fashion. The Matamata station was finally stripped, and its occupants driven to the north. The Committee now withdrew Chapman to Tauranga, and finally with Wilson to the Bay of Islands. They arrived there at about the same time as did the refugees from the Thames.

The forward movement appeared thus to issue in failure. But the abandonment was not for long, nor had the work already done been in vain. Waharoa died a heathen, but he complained before his death that his sons, under mission influence, were becoming too mild and forgiving. The case of one of these--Tamihana--has already been noticed. Still more remarkable is that of his warlike nephew, Ngakuku, whose name brings us to one of the most touching incidents in the history of Maori Christianity.

Ngakuku was not an avowed Christian, but he had sent his little daughter, Tarore, to live with Mrs. Brown--one of the ladies whom we found sheltering by the river bank in their flight from Matamata. In the mission house the child Tarore had learned to read, and had been given a copy of the Gospel of St. Luke. In the middle of October her father took her and a younger brother on a journey to Tauranga. The party consisted of several Maoris, and an Englishman who was connected with the mission. At night they encamped at the foot of Wairere, where a magnificent cascade falls from the high forest land above. After their meal, Ngakuku offered prayers to the God whom he was just beginning to know, and when they laid down to rest, Tarore pillowed her head upon her precious Gospel. But their fire had been noticed by a party of Rotoruas far up the valley. These crept down during the night, and just before daylight made a sudden attack upon the camp. The Englishman's tent was the first to be entered, and while it was being stripped, Ngakuku had time to seize his little son and to escape into the bush. He tried to arouse Tarore also, but the child was heavy with sleep and had to be abandoned. When the enemy departed, the agonised father came down from his retreat and found lying in the hut the mangled corpse of his little girl. He carried it to Mr. Brown at Matamata, with the words, "My heart is sad, for I do not know whether my child has gone to heaven or to the Reinga." After evening prayers in the chapel, he rose and spoke to those present from the words so new to him, "In my Father's house are many mansions." Next day Tarore was buried amidst a scene of the deepest solemnity. The father spoke at the close with strong feeling: "There lies my child; she has been murdered as a payment for your bad conduct. But do not you rise up to obtain satisfaction for her. God will do that. Let this be the conclusion of the war with Roto-rua. Let peace be now made. My heart is not sad for Tarore, but for you. You wished teachers to come to you: they came, but now you are driving them away."

"God will obtain satisfaction," said Ngakuku. Bishop Williams remarks on the notable circumstance that, in an attack made upon Matamata some weeks afterwards, out of five Rotorua natives who were killed, four were concerned in this tragedy. Higher satisfaction still was made some years afterwards when Uita, the man who led the attack, having a desire to embrace Christianity, first sought reconciliation with Ngakuku. Nor did the effects of the little maiden's death stop even here. What had become of her Gospel? Who could tell?

The moment when the refugees arrived in the Bay of Islands was a particularly interesting one. Samuel Marsden was making his last visit to New Zealand. He had come, as he came ten years before, to bring cheer to his missionaries in a time of war and confusion. But the conditions in 1837 were very different from those of 1827. Then, there was darkness everywhere; now, in spite of the troubles in the south, there was gladness and a feeling of success. The older stations had indeed joyful tales to tell concerning the work of the last five years. Whatever might have been the fate of the forward movement, it had certainly coincided with a real religious awakening at the base in the north. At Waimate this was especially evident. Richard Davis could tell of days when he had over a hundred people coming to him with anxious enquiries about their souls. Numbers of converts had been admitted, after most stringent tests, not only to Baptism but to the Holy Communion. At Paihia the schools had undoubtedly suffered through the withdrawal of the teachers for the southern stations, but their work had been done. Large numbers of the people could now read, and those who had learned at the mission schools were teaching others in the villages far and wide. And, above all, a printing press had been received at Paihia in 1835. This event aroused extraordinary interest. The Maoris danced before the ponderous case as it was drawn up the beach, and acclaimed Colenso, the printer, as if he had been a victorious general. Distant chiefs came bringing bags of potatoes for the precious books. Two thousand copies of the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Philip-pians were the first books to be published in this country; then came the Gospel of St. Luke. This booklet was so eagerly sought for that the printers could not bind the copies fast enough. Into regions previously inaccessible the gracious words of divine wisdom penetrated. Tarore's copy was not the only one that found its way into the wild southern lands.

Hence it was that Marsden's last visit bore the aspect of a triumphal progress. Landing at the Wesleyan station on the Hokianga River at the end of February, he was received with the utmost joy by the missionaries, who remembered his constant kindness to them, especially at the time of their flight from Whangaroa. From Hokianga he was carried on a litter by a procession of 70 men for 20 miles to Waimate, where he was met by Messrs. W. Williams, Davis, and Clarke. With pride they showed him the products of native workmanship in various departments--the church, the mill, the flourishing farm, the road to Keri-keri with its solid bridges. Marsden had always believed in the capacity of the Maori for industrial pursuits: now the evidences of this capacity were before him. But more grateful still to him was the sight of people everywhere reading the Scriptures and the Prayer Book. Wherever he went he was received with the utmost veneration. The heathen fired off muskets and executed war dances; the Christians showed their feelings in gentler ways. One chief sat upon the ground gazing upon him in silence, without moving a limb or uttering a single word, for several hours. "Let me alone," he said, when urged to move away; "let me take a last look; I shall never see him again." At Kaitaia, Marsden held a constant levee, sitting in an arm-chair, in an open field before the mission house. More than a thousand Maoris came to see him there, some of them having travelled for many miles.

During this tour the old hero visited all the stations, except those which had been abandoned in the south. John King was the one link of connection between this farewell visit and the first. He had removed his dwelling in 1832 from its original position in the historic bay of Rangihoua to a more suitable spot at Te Puna, on the other side of the hill. His work had been greatly interrupted by a curious Sabbatarian sect which had arisen among his little flock; nor had the faithful man any striking success to show; but he had held the fort amidst manifold discouragements, and he had gained the respect of the people around.

At the departure of the patriarch from our shores, the feelings of his converts reached their climax. From Kerikeri and from Waimate they came in crowds to the Bay to bid him farewell, and the scene on the beach resembled that at Miletus when the people of Ephesus "fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him." A warship conveyed Marsden to Australia, and during the voyage he spoke much of his lately-deceased wife, and of the many friends who had preceded him to the eternal world. On a friend remarking that the separation would not be for long, "God grant it," he replied; and lifting his eyes to the bright moon, which laid a shining pathway across the heaving waters, he exclaimed with intense feeling:

Prepare me, Lord, for Thy right hand,
Then come the joyful day!

That day indeed was not far distant, for he died ¬Ľome nine months later, on May i2th, 1838, and was buried in his family vault in the cemetery at Parra-matta. Seldom, surely, has it been granted to anyone to see such a rich result of his labours before his death. The New Zealand mission, be it remembered, was only one of the fields of his activity: the Tahitian mission of the London Missionary Society was almost equally indebted to his care and generosity; while his own proper work among the convicts of New South Wales was enough to try the most ardent faith. Yet, in every field, he lived to see enormous difficulties overcome, and a plentiful harvest gathered in. Next to his heroic faith must be placed his almost boundless liberality. No one ever discovered the amount of money he provided from his own private funds for the New Zealand work, but it was known to be very great. As to his whole career we may quote the words of Saunders, who would not be likely to show any favour: "He was not a great preacher, nor a great writer, nor a great actor; but he was a good man and wrought righteousness. His patience and courage were unbounded; his unselfish purity was brilliant; his benevolence was universal. He obtained no title, he acquired no landed estate, no monument was erected to his memory, his bones rest not in New Zealand soil; but the blessing of those who were ready to perish has come upon him; and the proud and secure position which the Maori now holds in civilised society is mainly due to the stedfast faith and trust in his ultimate capability, which nothing could drive from the breast of Samuel Marsden.


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