Life and Work of Samuel Marsden
Samuel Marsden, whose life is sketched in the following pages, was not ennobled by birth or rank, nor was he greatly distinguished by splendid talents. Yet he was, in the true sense, a great man; and he was an instance—one of the most striking of modern times—of the vast results which may be accomplished when an honest heart, a clear head, and a resolute mind and purpose are directed, under the influence of the grace of God, to the attainment of a noble object.
While he lived he shared the usual lot of people whose large philanthropy outruns the narrow policy of those around them. His motives were seldom understood, and in consequence he was thwarted and maligned. Nor was it till death had removed him from the scene that either the grandeur of his projects or the depth of his self-denying, unobtrusive piety was generally appreciated. At length, however, his character has begun to be revered. page 2 It is perceived that he was, at least, a farsighted man; and that in his own labours he was laying the foundations for the successes of thousands; while in the Church of Christ he is held in reverence as the Apostle of New Zealand—a title of high distinction, yet by no means misapplied to one who, in the simplicity of his faith as well as in zeal and self-denying labours, was truly an apostolic man.
Of his early life the memorials are but scanty. His father had a small farm at Farsley, in the parish of Calverley, Yorkshire, where he was born; and both his parents are known in the traditions of his family as having been persons of integrity and piety, attached to the ministry of the Wesleyan Methodists. He was born on the 28th of July, 1764, and after receiving the elements of learning at a village school, was placed in the free grammar-school of Hull, of which the celebrated Mr. Joseph Milner, the ecclesiastical historian, and brother to the no less eminent Dr. Isaac Milner, dean of Carlisle, was then head master. Here he was on the same form with Dr. Dealtry, rector of Clapham and Chancellor of Winchester.
Of his early youth little more is known; for his modesty, rather than any sentiment of false shame, to which indeed his whole nature was opposed, seldom permitted him to speak of himself, or to dwell upon the adventures or incidents of his early life. He was removed from school to take his share in the business of his uncle, a tradesman at Horsforth near Leeds; but he now had higher thoughts, and longed to page 3 be a minister of Christ. That he was a young man of more than ordinary promise is at once evident from the fact that he was adopted by the Elland Society and placed at St. John's College, Cambridge, to study for the ministry of the Church of England.
The Elland Society, so called from the parish in which its meetings were held, was an institution to which the cause of evangelical truth in the Church of England was much indebted. In its early days, the funds were supplied by Thornton,* Simeon†, Wilberforce‡, and others like minded with them, and the society was managed by a few devoted clergymen of Yorkshire and the neighbouring counties, amongst whom were Venn,‖ of Huddersfield, and Joseph Milner.
* Henry Thornton, a wealthy London banker, merchant, philanthropist, and member of the House of Commons. He gave large sums of money in charity. He was the first treasurer of the Society for Missions to Africa and the East, which afterwards became the Church Missionary Society, and also first treasurer of the British and Foreign Bible Society.
† Charles Simeon, the eminent evangelical preacher. He was distinguished for an impassioned evangelicalism, which at first was bitterly assailed. Later on he exercised a great influence at Cambridge, where he was perpetual curate of Trinity Church, and, indeed in all parts of England and many parts of Scotland. In his time, his conversation-circles at Cambridge were famous. He took a prominent part in establishing the Church Missionary Society, and it was largely on account of his efforts that Henry Martyn was sent to India.
‡ William Wilberforce, who became famous on account of his exertions to bring about the abolition of the slave trade, and who at the time mentioned by the biographer was about 25 years of age.
‖ The Rev. Harry Venn, Vicar of Huddersfield.
Of his college life we are not aware that any memorials have been preserved. He was, no doubt, a diligent student; and from the warm friendship which existed between him and Mr. Simeon we may infer that he profited from his ministry. He had not yet completed his studies or taken his degree, when, to his great surprise, an offer was made to him by the Government of a chaplaincy in what was then designated “His Majesty's territory of New South Wales.” That a post of such importance should have been offered, unsolicited, to a student hitherto quite unknown, was owing to the influence of Mr. Wilberforce, who was guided in his choice by Joseph Milner. He had already secured the appointment of one pious chaplain to the colony, and from its commencement had always been anxious to promote its moral and religious welfare.
At first, Mr. Marsden declined the tempting offer; for such it undoubtedly was to a young man in his circumstances, although no human sagacity could then foresee its vast importance. He was naturally anxious to complete his studies, and he had a deep and unaffected sense of his own incompetence, while yet so young and inexperienced. The offer, however, was repeated and pressed upon him, when he page 5 modestly replied, that he was “sensible of the importance of the post—so sensible, indeed, that he hardly dared to accept it upon any terms, but if no more proper person could be found, he would consent to undertake it.” The choice reflects, no doubt, great credit upon the sagacity and spiritual discernment of those who made it. “Young as he was,” says one who knew him well in after life, Dr. Mason Good, “he was remarkable for firmness of principle, an intrepidity of spirit, a suavity of manner, a strong judgment, and, above all, a mind stored with knowledge and deeply impressed with religious truth, which promised the happiest results.”
He was accordingly appointed as second chaplain to the settlement in New South Wales, by a royal commission, bearing date 1st January, 1793. He was ordained shortly afterwards, and proceeded at once to Hull, from whence he was to take his passage in a convict transport, the only conveyance, at that period, for the far distant colony, a banishment of half a world.
On the 21st of April, he was married to Miss Elizabeth Tristan, in whom, for upwards of thirty years, he found not only an affectionate and faithful wife, but a companion singularly qualified to share his labours and lighten his toils. Disinterested and generous as he was, even to a fault, it was to her admirable management that not only his domestic comfort, but even his means of assisting others so profusely, was owing in no small degree.page 6
While at Hull, an incident occurred which shows to what an extent, even thus early in life, he possessed the art of gaining the respect and warm affection of those who knew him, however slightly. While waiting for the sailing of the ship, he was frequently asked to officiate in various churches. One Sunday morning, when he was just about to enter the pulpit, a signal-gun was heard; his ship was about to sail, and it was of course impossible for him to preach. Taking his bride under his arm, he immediately left the church and walked down to the beach; but he was attended by the whole congregation, who, as if by one movement, followed in a body. From the boat into which he stepped he gave his parting benedictions, which they returned with fervent prayers and tender farewells.
He now found himself in a new world. What contrast could indeed be greater, or more distressing? The calm, though vigorous pursuits of Cambridge, and the pious circle of warm Christian friends, were at once exchanged for the society of felons, and the doubly irksome confinement of a convict-ship. From his journal, which has been fortunately preserved, we make the following extracts, omitting much which our space does not permit us to insert:—
Sunday, 28th August, 1793.—This morning we weighed anchor, with a fair wind, and have sailed well all the day. How different this Sabbath to what I have been accustomed to. Once I could meet the people of God, and assemble with them in the house of prayer; but now am deprived of this valuable privilege; and instead of living among those who love page 7 and serve the Lord Jesus, spending the Sabbath in prayer and praise, I hear nothing but oaths and blasphemies. Lord, keep me in the midst of them, and grant that I may neither in word or deed countenance their wicked practices.
The ship was first ordered to Portsmouth to receive the convicts and thence to Cork to join her convoy. Whilst she lay off Portsmouth, Mr. Marsden went on shore in the Isle of Wight, and on Sunday asked and obtained permission to preach in the parish church at Brading. His text was, “Be clothed with humility,” 1 Peter v. 5; and amongst the congregation was a young woman, to whom the “word” preached was “quick and powerful,” being carried home to her conscience by the Spirit of the living God. To that sermon “The Dairyman's Daughter” owed her conversion, and the Church of Christ her bright example, as depicted by the loving heart and pen of Legh Richmond.* Mr. Marsden in later life became acquainted with the fact, and was often heard to speak of it with grateful feelings, which the pious reader can imagine far better than we can describe.
* “The Dairyman's Daughter” is one of three notable tales of village life published by Legh Richmond. All were written from information collected during the visit to the Isle of Wight. The heroine of “The Dairyman's Daughter” was Elizabeth Wallbridge, to whom the name was applied. She lies buried at Arreton. The other works of the series are “The Young Cottager” and “The Negro Servant.” All were reprinted together under the title “Annals of the Poor,” and were translated into French, Italian, German, Danish, and Swedish.
Cork, 30th September.—This morning the signal was given by the commodore for all the ships under his convoy to weigh anchor and prepare for sea. About nine o'clock the whole fleet was under sail, which consisted of about forty ships. The wind was very fair, so that we were quickly in the main ocean. I was soon affected by the motion of the vessel; this rendered me quite unfit for any religious duties. Oh! how miserable must their state be who have all their religion to seek when sickness and death come upon them! Lord grant that this may never be my case.
Monday, 23rd October.—I have this day been reading a portion of Dr. Dodd's “Prison Thoughts.” What an awful instance of human infirmity is here! What need of humility in every situation, but more especially in the ministerial office! How needful the apostle's caution, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
The following entries will be read with pain. The mercantile marine of England is still capable of improvement in matters of religion, but we hope the instances are few in which the commander of a first rate merchant vessel would follow the examples they record.*
Sunday, 29th September.—How different is this Sabbath from those I have formerly known, when I could meet with the great congregation! I long for those means and privileges again. “Oh, when shall I come and appear before God?” Yet it is a consolation to me to believe that I am in the way of my duty. I requested the captain to-day to give me permission to perform Divine Service to the ship's company; hepage 9 rather hesitated, said he had never seen a religious sailor, but at length promised to have service the following Sunday.
* This, of course, is a comment by the biographer written about fifty years ago. He refers to a time about 120 years from the present time, 1913.
Sunday, 6th October.—The last Sabbath the captain promised me I should have liberty to perform Divine Service to-day, but, to my great mortification, he now declines. How unwilling are the unconverted to hear anything of divine truth!
But Mr. Marsden was not one of those who are discouraged by a first repulse. The next Sunday relates his triumph, and from this time, Divine Service, whenever the weather allowed, was statedly performed.
Sunday, 13th.—I arose this morning with a great desire to preach to the ship's company, yet did not know how I should be able to accomplish my wish. We were now four ships in company. Our captain had invited the captains belonging to the other three to dine with us to-day. As soon as they came on board I mentioned my design to one of them, who immediately complied with my wish, and said he would mention it to our captain, which he did, and preparations were made for me to preach. I read part of the Church prayers, and afterwards preached from the third chapter of St. John, the 14th and 15th verses: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” etc. The sailors stood on the main deck, I and the four captains upon the quarter-deck; they were attentive, and the good effects were apparent during the remainder of the day.Thursday, 12th December.—I have been reading of the success of Mr. Brainerd* among the Indians. Howpage 10 the Lord owned and blessed his labours to the conversion of the heathen! Nothing is too hard for the Lord. This gives me encouragement under my present difficult undertaking. The same power can effect a change upon those hardened ungodly sinners to whom I am about to carry the words of eternal life.
* David Brainerd, the celebrated missionary. The Scottish Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge appointed him missionary to the North American Indians. In 1744 he took up his residence near the forks of Delaware, in Pennsylvania, but was more successful amongst the Indians of New Jersey. Probably it was his “Account of the Rise and Progress of a remarkable Work of Grace among a Number of Indians in New Jersey” which Mr. Marsden was reading. Brainerd was born in Connecticut in 1718 and died in Massachusetts in 1747.
January 1st, 1794.—A new year. I wish this day to renew my covenant with God, and to give myself up to His service more than ever I have done heretofore. May my little love be increased, my weak faith strengthened, and hope confirmed.”
In this humble yet trustful spirit, Mr. Marsden entered his new field of labour. On board the ship there were a number of convicts, whose daring wickedness—in which, indeed, they were countenanced by the whole conduct of the captain and his crew—grieved his righteous soul from day to day; while at the same time it prepared him, in some measure, for scenes amidst which his life was to be spent. “I am surrounded,” he says, “with evil-disposed persons, thieves, adulterers, and blasphemers. May God keep me from evil, that I may not be tainted by the evil practices of those amongst whom I live.” His last sermon was preached, “notwithstanding the unwillingness there was in all on board to hear the word of God,” from the vision of dry bones (Ezekiel xxxvii.). “I found some liberty, and afterwards more comfort in my own soul. I wish to be found faithful at last, and to give up my account with joy to God.”
To add to his anxieties, Mrs. Marsden was confined on shipboard, in stormy weather, and page 11 under circumstances peculiarly distressing, “though both the mother and daughter did well.” But the same day the scene brightened; the perils and privations of the voyage were drawing to a close, and they were in sight of their future home—that magnificent Australia, destined hereafter to assume, perhaps, a foremost place among the nations of the earth, though scarcely known to Europe when Mr. Marsden first stepped upon its shores: and valued only by the British Government as a settlement for the refuse of gaols. He thus gives utterance to the feelings of a grateful heart:—
March 2nd.—I shall ever retain a grateful sense of the mercies received this day, and the deliverances wrought. The Lord is good, and a stronghold in the day of trouble, and knows them that fear Him…. As soon as I had the opportunity to go upon deck, I had the happiness again to behold the land: it was a very pleasing sight, as we had not seen it since the 3rd of December. We came up with the Cape about noon.
In a few days, Mr. Marsden had taken up his abode in the “barracks” of Parramatta, a few miles from Port Jackson, and entered upon his arduous and toilsome duties as chaplain to the colony. His first Sunday in Australia is thus described:—
Saw several persons at work as I went along, to whom I spoke, and warned them of the evil of Sabbath-breaking. My mind was deeply affected with the wickedness I beheld going on. I spoke from the 6th chapter of Revelation, “Behold the great day of page 12 His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand.” As I was returning home, a young man followed me into the wood, and told me how he was distressed for the salvation of his soul. He seemed to manifest the strongest marks of contrition, and to be truly awakened to a sense of his danger. I hope the Lord will have many souls in this place.
He had, for a short time, a single associate, in the Rev. P. Johnson, the senior chaplain, a good and useful minister, but unequal to the difficulties peculiar to his situation. This gentleman soon relinquished his appointment, and returned to England; and thus Mr. Marsden was left alone with a charge which might have appalled the stoutest heart.