Life and Work of Samuel Marsden
The shadows of evening now began to fall on him whose life had hitherto been full of energy, and to whom sickness appears to have been a stranger. He had arrived at the period when early friendships are almost extinct, and the few who survive are dropping into the grave.
He was still subject to the persecutions of “unreasonable and wicked men,” and was again compelled to vindicate his conduct in a pamphlet, which issued from the Press at Sydney, in 1828. Transmitting a copy to his friend, the Rev. Josiah Pratt, he says: “I consider myself a proscribed person these last few years. All the charges against me are contained in this pamphlet. My public offences, my illegal acts, the charges against me for inflicting torture to extort confession, for which I have been condemned unheard and suffered as guilty. What an ungodly world may think or say of me is of little moment; but I do not wish to lose the good opinion of my Christian friends, and fall in their estimation.”
He returns to the subject in his correspondence with other Christian friends; for the apprehension that in him the cause of religion might seem to have received a wound, lay heavy on his mind. “I should feel much,” he says, writing to Mr. D. Coates, lay secretary of the page 171 Church Missionary Society, “if the cause of religion should suffer in my personal conduct; but I hope it will not. I hope I have said enough to satisfy the Christian world that I am clear in this matter. To justify my public conduct was an act due to my family and to all my Christian friends, as well as the general interests of religion.”
Nor was it merely the breath of slander that assailed him; he mentions in a private letter to the Rev. Edward Bickersteth, an act of grievous wrong inflicted by the British Government. “I and my family were all struck off the public victualling books in the latter part of Governor Macquarie's administration, without any compensation. The Rev. R. Cartwright and the Rev. William Cowper, with their families, were also struck off from the public stores at the same time. They have both had their claims settled since Governor Darling arrived. One received £700, and the other more than £800; but I have received nothing. My claim is equally just, had I only served the same period as my colleagues, though I have served nearly twenty years longer than either of them. I can only attribute this act of injustice to some hostile feeling in the Colonial Office. Governor Darling has always shown me every attention I could wish.”
The year 1830 found Mr. Marsden once more upon the ocean. Neither increasing years nor the vexations through which he had passed damped his ardour in the missionary cause. His mind was steadfastly fixed on the progress page 172 of the Gospel in New Zealand, and there he was anxious once more in person to assist in carrying on the work. He felt that his time was growing short, and hastened, “before his decease,” to “set in order the things which were wanting.”
He perceived, too, with mingled feelings, that New Zealand was about to undergo a great change. His efforts to induce the chiefs to unite under one head or sovereign elected by themselves had totally failed. Shunghie had been slain in battle, and his ambitious projects of gaining a New Zealand throne by conquest were at an end.
War was the natural condition of all the Maori tribes; and this, rendered more deadly, though possibly less ferocious, by the introduction of firearms, was fearfully thinning their numbers from year to year. They were subject, too, to periodical returns of a terrible scourge, a disease resembling the influenza, which cut off multitudes. On the whole, it was calculated that not more than a hundred thousand Maoris now survived; while twenty years before, when the island was first visited, the numbers were at least two hundred thousand.* It was evident that they could not long maintain their independence as a nation.
European ships began to crowd the Bay of Islands. English settlers were already making their way into the choice and fertile lands. To minds less sagacious than Mr. Marsden's, the result could be no longer doubtful—New page 173 Zealand must become an English colony. He foresaw the necessity, and, though at first with reluctance, cordially acquiesced in it, even for the sake of the Maoris themselves.
His concern now was to prepare them for a measure which must sooner or later take place. Everything was in a lawless state; the progress of the missions was greatly interrupted, and his presence was once more highly necessary. His own anxiety was great, first on behalf of the missions which had so long been the especial objects of his care; and then for New Zealand at large that the policy of Great Britain should respect the rights of the native tribes and pledge itself to their protection.
On his arrival in New Zealand, in March, 1830, he was greeted before the ship had cast anchor by the Messrs. Williams and others of the missionary band, who hastened on board, and expressed their joy at his unexpected appearance among them. It was a critical moment, for they were in greater anxiety and difficulty than they had experienced at any former period of the mission. The natives were at open war, and but a day or two before a great battle had been fought on the opposite beach of the Bay of Islands, in which about fourteen hundred had been engaged.
The alleged cause of the war was the misconduct of an English captain who had offered indignities to some native women on board his vessel. One tribe espoused his cause, while another came forward page 174 to avenge the insult. Six chiefs had fallen in the battle, and a hundred lives were lost; several whaling vessels were lying in the Bay, and their crews, as well as the missionary stations, were in the utmost peril from the revenge of the victorious tribe, which now lay encamped at Keri-Keri.
There was not an hour to be lost. Mr. Marsden crossed the bay with Mr. Henry Williams early the nest morning, to visit the camp as a mediator. The chiefs, many of whom, from different parts of the island, formerly had been acquainted with Mr. Marsden, all expressed their gratification at meeting him again. After conversing with them on different points connected with proposals of peace, the two friendly mediators crossed over to the camp of their opponents, and entered at once on the subject of their mission. They spoke to them of the evils of war, and more particularly of the civil war in which they were engaged.
They heard all we had to say with great attention, and several of them replied to the different arguments we had used. They contended that we were answerable for the lives of those who had fallen in the battle, as the war had been occasioned by the misconduct of the captain of a vessel, one of our own countrymen; they wished to know what satisfaction we would give them for the loss of their friends who had been slain. We replied that we could give them no satisfaction, that we condemned his conduct, and were sorry that any of our countrymen had behaved so badly, and that we would write to England and prevent his return.
This the savages requested that Mr. Marsden would not do; they longed for his return, that they might take their own revenge. Mr. Marsden then proceeded to inforrm them that he had an interview with the chiefs on the other side, who were willing to come to terms of peace, and wished him to assist in settling their quarrel. This information was received in a friendly way by the greater part: one or two still wished to fight.
The mediators now returned to the beach, which they found covered with war canoes and armed men. A war council was held, and the Rev. Henry Williams stated the business upon which they had come amongst them. The natives listened attentively. Many of the chiefs gave their opinion in turn, with much force and dignity of address. These orations continued from an early hour in the morning till the shades of evening were closing. It was finally agreed that the mediating party should proceed the next morning to the opposite camp and repeat what had taken place. After a long discussion, it was concluded that two commissioners from each party should be appointed, along with Mr. Marsden and Mr. Williams, to conclude the terms of peace.
Having now urged all that was in their power to bring about a reconciliation, they walked over the ground where the battle had been fought: a dreadful scene under any circumstances, unutterably loathsome, where cannibals were the contending parties. “The remains of some of the bodies that had been slain were lying page 176 unconsraned on the fires; the air was extremely offensive, and the scene most disgusting. We could not but bitterly lament these baneful effects of sin, and the influence of the prince of darkness over the minds of the poor heathen.”
The next day was Sunday. It was spent by Mr. Williams at the camp, for it was not considered safe at present to leave the savage warriors, whose angry passions smouldered. Mr. Marsden proceeded to the station and preached to the infant Church. Never was the Gospel of Christ placed in finer contrast with the kingdom of darkness, and the appalling tyranny of the god of this world. Mr. Marsden's pen thus describes the scene as he sketched it upon the spot:
The contrast between the state of the east and west side of the bay was very striking. Though only two miles distant, the east shore was crowded with different tribes of fighting men in a wild savage state, many of them nearly naked, and when exercising entirely naked; nothing was to be heard but the firing of muskets, the noise, din, and commotion of a savage military camp; some mourning the death of their friends, others suffering from their wounds, and not one but whose mind was involved in heathen darkness without one ray of Divine knowledge. On the other side was the pleasant sound of the Church-going bell; the natives assembling together for Divine Worship, clean, orderly and decently dressed, most of them in European clothing; they were carrying the litany and the greatest part of the Church Service, written in their own language, in their hands with their hymns. The Church Service, as far as it has been translated, page break page break page 177 they can write and read. Their conduct and the general appearance of the whole settlement reminded me of a well-regulated English country parish. In the chapel, the natives behaved with the greatest propriety, and joined in the Church Service. Here might be viewed at one glance the blessings of the Christian religion, and the miseries of heathenism with respect to the present life; but when we extend one thought over the eternal world how infinite is the difference!”
These were trying times undoubtedly. The missions had existed fifteen years, and yet the powers of darkness raged in all the horrors of cannibal warfare, close to the doors of the missionary premises. On the following Tuesday morning, Mr. Marsden was aroused from his bed by a chief calling at his window to tell him that the army was in motion, and that a battle seemed to be at hand. He rose immediately and was informed that thirty-six canoes had been counted passing between the mainland and the island.
He immediately launched the missionary boat and proceeded to meet them. “When we came up to them we found they had left their women and children on the island, and that they were all fighting men, well armed and ready for action in a moment's notice. I counted more than forty men in one war canoe.” Yet amongst these infuriated savages the missionaries felt no alarm. “We were under no apprehension of danger; both parties placed the utmost confidence in us, and we were fully page 178 persuaded the commissioners would be cordially received.”
If the event had turned out otherwise Mr. Marsden and his friends had notice given them by the native commissioners, of whom we have spoken, that they would be seen alive no more. “The three native commissioners accompanied us in a small canoe which they paddled themselves. They brought their canoe between our two boats, and in that position we approached the beach. They told us if they were killed, we must be given up to their friends as a sacrifice for the loss of their lives.”
The missionaries' confidence was not misplaced. “The whole day was spent in deliberation; at night, after a long oration, the great chief on one side clove a stick in two to signify that his anger was broken. The terms of peace were ratified, and both sides joined in a hideous war dance together; repeatedly firing their muskets. We then took our departure from these savage scenes with much satisfaction, as we had attained the object we were labouring for.”
Such scenes did not for an instant disturb the firm faith and confidence of the great missionary leader. Coming from the midst of them he could sit down in the missionary hut and write as follows:
The time will come when human sacrifices and cannibalism shall be annihilated in New Zealand, by the pure, mild and heavenly influence of the Gospel of our blessed Lord and Saviour. The work is great, but Divine Goodness will find both the means and the page 179 instruments to accomplish his own gracious purposes to fallen man. His Word, which is the Sword of the Spirit, is able to subdue these savage people to the obedience of faith. It is the duty of Christians to use the means, to sow the seed and patiently to wait for the heavenly dews to cause it to spring up, and afterwards to look up to God in faith and prayer to send the early and latter rain.”
Even now the “day-spring from on high” had visited this savage race. In no part of the world was the Sabbath Day more sacredly observed than by the converts in the missionary settlements; their lives gave evidence that their hearts were changed. Spiritual religion, deep and earnest, began to show its fruit in some of them; others were at least much impressed with the importance of eternal things.
Mr. Marsden was waited upon one evening by several native young men and women who wished to converse on religious subjects; when they came in their anxious countenances explained the inward working of their minds; their object was to know what they must do to be saved. He endeavoured to set before them the love of Jesus in coming from heaven to die for a ruined world, and mentioned many instances of His love and mercy which He showed to sinners while on earth.
“When I had addressed them at some length,” he adds, “a young native woman began to pray. I never heard any address offered up to heaven with such feelings of reverence, and piety, so much sweetness and freedom of expression, with such humility and heavenly mindedness. I could not doubt but that page 180 this young woman prayed with the Spirit, and with the understanding. She prayed fervently that God would pardon her sins and preserve her from evil; and for all the natives in the room, that they might all be preserved from falling into the temptations by which they were surrounded. Her very soul seemed to be swallowed up with the sense she had of the evil and danger of sin, and the love of Jesus, who came to save sinners. Her voice was low, soft and harmonious; her sentences were short and expressed in the true spirit of prayer. I never expected to have seen, in my day, any of the natives of this barbarous nation offering up their supplications for pardon and grace, to the only true God, with such godly sorrow and true contrition.”
Amongst the audience in the room were the aged widow and two daughters of the great Shunghie. When they rose from their knees the ex-queen exclaimed, “Astonishing, astonishing!” and then retired;” and I confess,” adds Mr. Marsden, “I was not less astonished than she was.” The young woman, he learned, had for some time lived upon the mission premises, and conducted herself in all respects as a Christian, adorning the Gospel she professed.
A few days after, we find Mr. Marsden “marrying an Englishman to a native Christian woman, who repeated the responses very correctly in English, which she well understood; she conducted herself with the greatest propriety, and appeared neatly dressed in European clothing of her own making, for she was a good sempstress.” Mr. Marsden considered, he says, this marriage to be of the first page 181 importance; and the New Zealanders appear to have been of the same mind, and to have done due honour to the occasion, for “the company came in a war canoe and brought their provisions with them, a pig and plenty of potatoes.”
Shortly afterwards, he united a young native man and woman in marriage. They were both Christians, domestic servants to Mr. Clarke, one of the missionaries, and seemed to have a great affection for each other. The young man was free and of a good family; the young woman was a slave, having become such by capture, for all their prisoners of war, if not massacred, were reduced to slavery. Mr. Clarke therefore redeemed her from her master, for five blankets, an axe, and an iron pot. A chief seldom allowed any of his female slaves to marry, always reserving a number of them as wives for himself. We must therefore suppose that the price was a very liberal one.
The effects of Christianity were now apparent in some favoured spots, and Mr. Marsden returned home again full of hope and consolation. He had witnessed already changes far greater than he had ever hoped to see, sanguine as he was of ultimate success. So confident was he in the good feeling of the natives towards himself, that he had taken one of his daughters with him, and she accompanied him in his visits to the chiefs, one of whom, known by the title of King George, demanded her in marriage for his son, “an honour,” writes her father, “which I begged permission to decline.”page 182
Fearful, indeed, had been the condition of females hitherto amongst these savages, as the following extract, with which we conclude our notice of Mr. Marsden's sixth visit to New Zealand, sufficiently attests. He is describing the great change which Christianity had effected among the New Zealanders:—
On one of my former visits to New Zealand, sitting in the room I am at present in, the natives killed and ate a poor young woman just behind the house. But what a wonderful change the Gospel has wrought! In this little spot, where so late hellish songs were sung and heathen rites performed, I now hear the songs of Zion, and the voice of prayer offered up to the God of heaven. So wonderful is the power of God's word.
He returned home greatly cheered and well qualified “to comfort others with the comforts wherewith” he himself “was comforted of God.”
In 1835, Mrs. Marsden died. She had long been patiently looking forward to her great change, and her end was full of peace. Years had not abated his love for his “dear partner”; so he always called her when, after her decease, he had occasion to speak of her. He showed her grave, in sight of his study window, with touching emotion to his friends, and felt himself almost released from earth and its attractions when she had left it.
His own increasing infirmities had led him to anticipate that he should be first removed, and, the parsonage house being his only by a life page 183 tenure, he had built a comfortable residence for Mrs. Marsden, which, however, she did not live to occupy.
By this bereavement he was himself led to view the last conflict as near at hand. Henceforward it constantly occupied his mind, and formed at times the chief subject of his conversation. He sometimes spoke of it amongst his friends with a degree of calmness, and at the same time with such a deep sense of its nearness and reality, as to excite their apprehensions as well as their astonishment. He stood on the verge of eternity and gazed into it with a tranquil eye, and spoke of what he saw with the composure of one who was “now ready to be offered, and the time of whose departure was at hand,” his last text before he had quitted New Zealand.
Yet he was not at all times equally serene. Returning one day from a visit to a dying bed, he called at the residence of a brother minister, the Rev. R. Cartwright, in a state of some dejection. He entered on the subject of death with feeling, and expressed some fears with regard to his own salvation. Mr. Cartwright remarked upon the happiness of himself and his friend as being both so near to their eternal rest, to which Mr. Marsden seriously replied with emphasis: “But Mr. Cartwright, if I am there.”
“If, Mr. Marsden?” rejoined his friend. surprised at the doubt implied. The aged disciple then brought forward several passages of Scripture bearing upon the deep responsibility of the ministerial office coupled with his page 184 own unworthiness: “Lest I myself should be a castaway”; “if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end”; remarking on his own sinfulness,—every thing he had done being tainted with sin,—on his utter useless-ness, and contrasting all this with the holiness and purity of God.
At another time, coming from the factory after a visit to a dying woman, and deeply impressed with the awfulness of a dying hour in the case of one who was unprepared to die, he repeated in a very solemn manner some lines from Blair's once celebrated poem on the grave—
“In that dread moment how the frantic soul
Raves round the walls of her clay tenement,
Runs to each avenue and shrieks for help,
But shrieks in vain. How wistfully she looks
On all she is leaving; now no longer hers.
A little longer, yet a little longer. Oh! might she stay
To wash away her crimes, and fit her for her passage.”
He then spoke on the plan of salvation and the grace offered by the Gospel with great feeling.
The holiness and purity of God appeared at times to overwhelm his soul; contrasting it, as he did, with his own sinfulness, and viewing it in connection with the fact that he must soon stand before His awful presence. Yet he speedily recovered his habitual peace, recalling the blessed truth that “there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” He was still on the whole a most cheerful Christian, joying and rejoicing in the hope of a blessed immortality. And as he drew near his journey's end his prospects were still brighter and his peace increased.
* The total population of the Maoris at the census in 1911 was 49,844.