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Life and Work of Samuel Marsden

Chapter XI

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Chapter XI.

History affords but few examples of a change such as New South Wales had undergone since Mr. Marsden landed from a convict ship in the penal settlement of Botany Bay in the year 1794. The gold fields had not yet disclosed their wealth, nor did he live to see the stupendous consequences which resulted from their discovery in 1851, the rush of European adventurers, and the sudden transformation of the dismal solitudes of Bendigo and Ballarat into the abode of thousands of restless, enterprising men, with all the attendant circumstances, both good and evil, of civilized life.

But Australia was already a vast colony; in almost everything except the name, an empire, self-supporting, and with regard to its internal affairs, self-governed, though still under the mild control, borne with loyalty and pride, of the English Sovereign. The state of society was completely changed. For many years, the stream of emigration had carried to the fertile shores of Australia not the refuse of the gaols, but some of the choicest of our population; the young, the intelligent, the enterprising, and the high principled, who sought for a wider field of action, or disdained to live at Home, useless to society, and a burden to their relatives. Large towns, such as Sydney, Geelong, and Melbourne, page 186 with their spacious harbours crowded with shipping, were already in existence, and English settlers had covered with their flocks those inland plains which long after Mr. Marsden's arrival still lay desolate and unexplored.

The religious condition of Australia was no less changed. All denominations were now represented by a ministry, and accommodated in places of worship not at all inferior to those at Home. The Church of England had erected Sydney into a bishopric, of which the pious and energetic Archdeacon Broughton was the first incumbent, and the number of the colonial clergy had been greatly increased; under all these influences the tone of social morality was improved, and real spiritual religion won its triumphs in many hearts.

Mr. Marsden was now released from those official cares and duties as senior chaplain which once so heavily pressed upon him. Beyond his own parish of Parramatta his ministerial labours did not necessarily extend, and in his parish duties he had the efficient aid of his son-in-law and other coadjutors.

The one spot on which no cheering ray seemed to fall, the sterile field which after years of laborious cultivation yielded no return, was the native population, the aborigines of New South Wales.

The progress of humanity and righteousness was very slow, and Mr. Marsden did not live to see equal justice, not to speak of Gospel truth or English liberty, carried to the Australian page 187 aborigines. In the very year of his death, an effort was made by the Attorney-General of the colony to pass a Bill to enable the Courts of Justice to receive the evidence of the blacks, hitherto inadmissible.

Mr. Marsden was now seventy-two years of age. On every side the friends of his youth were falling, and he was bowed down with bodily infirmities, the natural consequence of a life of toil. He often pointed to an aged tree which grew in sight of his windows, as an emblem of himself. It had once stood in the middle of a thick wood, surrounded on all sides with fine timber, which the waste of years and the ruthless axe had levelled; now it stood alone, exposed to every blast, its branches broken off, its trunk decayed and its days numbered.

Yet he resolved to pay another, his seventh, and, as it proved, his last, visit to New Zealand. It was thought by his friends that he would never live to return. His age and infirmities seemed to unfit him for any great exertion of either mind or body; but having formed the resolution, nothing could now deter him, or divert him from it.

He sailed on the 9th of February, 1837, in the Pyramus, accompanied by his youngest daughter, and he seemed to be cheered by the reflection that if he died upon his voyage he would die in his harness and upon the battle field on which God had chosen him to be a leader.

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And yet his sturdy spirit scarcely bowed itself to such misgivings. As on former visits, he had no sooner landed than his whole soul was invigorated by scenes from which most others would have shrunk. He landed on the western side of the island, at the River Hokianga, and remained amongst the Wesleyan missionaries for about a fortnight, after which he crossed over to the Bay of Islands, carried part of the way in a litter by the natives.

In this way he visited the whole of the missionary stations in the neighbourhood of the Bay of Islands, as well as Kaitaia. On the arrival of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, he accompanied Captain Hobson, afterwards Governor of New Zealand, to the River Thames, and the East Cape, returning at length to Sydney in that ship, where he arrived on the 27th of July after an absence of five months. When entering the heads of Port Jackson, one of the officers of the ship observed: “I think, Mr. Marsden, you may look upon this as your last visit to New Zealand”; upon which he replied: “No, I don't, for I intend to be off again in about six weeks; the people in the colony are becoming too fine for me now. I am too old to preach before them, but I can talk to the New Zealanders.”

Of this, his last visit, we must give some account. Captain Livesay of the Pyramus, in a valuable letter to Mr. Nicholas, has given some interesting reminiscences of his passenger:—

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The Marsden Cross, Oihi, Bay of Islands.

The Marsden Cross, Oihi, Bay of Islands.

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Devonport, November 29th, 1837.

My Dear Sir,—… I looked forward to meeting you with inexpressible delight, to talk about our much esteemed friend Mr. Marsden, and compare notes about New Zealand; but we are born to disappointment, although I shall still look forward to have that pleasure on my return to England.

From the last account I had of Mr. Marsden, previous to my quitting New Zealand, I was informed that the trip had done him much good. When he left the ship, and indeed when I last saw him, which was a month afterwards, he used to walk with a great stoop; he was then able to walk upright, and take considerable exercise. The dear old man! it used to do my heart good to see his pious zeal in his Master's cause. Nothing ever seemed a trouble to him. He was always calm and cheerful, even under intense bodily suffering. His daughter Martha was a very great comfort to him; she was constantly with him, and very affectionate in her attentions. I did hope my next voyage would have been to New South Wales, that I might have the pleasure of seeing him once more, should God have spared him so long; but that thought must now be given up.

Mr. Marsden's record of his farewell visit was probably not kept with his former accuracy; but the want is well supplied by the interesting journal of his daughter, some extracts from which the reader will peruse with pleasure. We have the whole scene placed before us by her graceful pen, and we gain some glimpses into her father's character, which we should certainly not have gathered page 190 from his own modest self-forgetting memoranda.

February 12th, Sunday.—Had service on deck. The Rev. Mr. Wilkinson read prayers, and my father preached. The sailors were very attentive; the service was truly interesting from its novelty and the impressiveness of the scene; nothing around us but the wide waste of waters.

13th.—At the suggestion of Captain L——, reading in the evenings was introduced. We began the History of Columbus, by Washington Irving, and the arrangement is that we are to read by turns.”

The weather proved boisterous, and it was not before the 21st that they made the land.

22nd.—Up early on deck to view the land, which presented a very bold and romantic appearance. Not being able to obtain a pilot, the captain determined, lest he should lose the tide, Hokianga being a bar harbour, to take the vessel in himself. The dead lights were put in, and every arrangement made as we approached the bar. Not a voice was heard but that of the captain and the two men in the chains, heaving the lead. Every sailor was at his station, and the anchors in readiness to let go at a moment's warning. We sounded as shallow as “a quarter less four,” when the ladies became alarmed, though we were obliged to keep our fears to ourselves, as the gentlemen very politely left us. The wind being light, the fear was the breakers would have overtaken the ship, thrown her upon her beam ends, and rendered her unmanageable; but providence guided and preserved us.

I seldom remember a more beautiful scene; the moon is near its full, and the banks of the river are very high, covered with the most luxuriant foliage. We were so delighted with the scenery that we would page 191 willingly have stayed up all night. As we proceeded up, the mountains appeared to lessen into hills. Several native hamlets, and two or three residences of Europeans, show that the busy hand of man has been engaged in the work of redeeming the wilderness from the wild dominion of Nature. Anchored near the Wesleyan mission station, where we were kindly welcomed by Mr. and Mrs. Turner. The mission here has been established nearly nine years; they have a neat chapel and one or two comfortable houses, and are about to form an additional station. The missionaries related several instances of the melancholy death of various New Zealanders who have opposed the progress of the mission. One chief became so incensed against the “Atua,”* for the death of his child, that he formed a circle of gunpowder, placed himself in the centre, and fired it. The explosion did not immediately destroy him; he lingered a few weeks in dreadful agony, and then died.

Saturday.—The natives are coming in great numbers to attend Divine Worship. Mr. Turner preached and afterwards my father addressed them. They listened with earnest attention, and were much pleased. Many of the old chiefs were delighted to see my father, and offered to build him a house if he would remain. One said: “Stay with us and learn our language, and then you will become our father and our friend, and we will build you a house.” “No,” replied another, “we cannot build a house good enough, but we will hire Europeans to do it for us.”

The whole congregation joined in the responses and singing, and though they have not the most pleasing voices, yet it was delightful to hear them sing one of the hymns commencing “From Egypt lately come.”

* The god or demon.

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The journey across from Hokianga to the Waimate, as described by Miss Martha Marsden, shows, in the absence of railroads and steam carriages, an agreeable if not expeditious mode of conveyance:—

Took leave of Mrs. Turner; and, mounted in a chair on the shoulders of two New Zealanders, I headed the procession. My father, Mr. Wilkinson, and the two children, were carried in “kaw-shores,”* or native biers, on which they carry their sick. We entered a forest of five miles, then stopped to dine. The natives soon cooked their potatoes, corn, etc., in their ovens, which they scoop in the sand, and after heating a number of stones, the potatoes are put in, covered with grass and leaves, and a quantity of water poured upon them; they were exquisitely steamed. As I approached one of the groups sitting at dinner, I was much affected by seeing one of them get up and ask a blessing over the basket of potatoes.

Five miles from Waimate I left my chair, mounted on horseback, and reached Waimate for breakfast. Old Nini accompanied us the whole way, and told my father if he attempted to ride he would leave him. The natives carried him the whole way with the greatest cheerfulness, and brought him through the most difficult places with the greatest ease. The distance they carried him was about twenty miles.

The state of all the missions with regard to their spiritual work was now full of hope. Of the Wesleyan mission Mr. Marsden himself reports:—

I found that many were inquiring after the Saviour, and that a large number attended public worship.

* Kauhoa, a litter in which persons were carried.

page 193 The prospect of success to the Church of England Mission is very great. Since my arrival at the missionary station I have not heard one oath spoken by European or native; the schools and church are well attended, and the greatest order is observed among all classes. I met with many wherever I went, who were anxious after the knowledge of God. Wherever I went I found some who could read and write. They are all fond of reading, and there are many who never had an opportunity of attending the schools who, nevertheless, can read. They teach one another in all parts of the country, from the North to the East Cape.

The native tribes were still at war with one another, and with the European settlers. From the missionary station at Paihia Mr. Marsden's daughter counted one morning twenty-one canoes passing up the bay. A battle followed, which she witnessed at a distance, and the Europeans all around fled to the missionary station. In the engagement three chiefs fell. A second fight occurred soon afterwards. “We have heard firing all day,” she writes; “many have been killed; we saw the canoes pass down the river containing the bodies of the slain.”

Mr. Marsden himself was absent on a visit to the southward, or his presence might possibly have prevented these scenes of blood.

Wherever the venerable man appeared, he was received by the converted natives with Christian salutations and tears of joy; the heathen population welcomed him with the firing of muskets and their rude war dances. page 194 Wherever he went, he was greeted with acclamations as the friend and father of the New Zealanders. One chief sat down upon the ground before him gazing upon him in silence, without moving a limb or uttering a single word for several hours. He was gently reproved by Mr. Williams for what seemed a rudeness. “Let me alone,” said he, “let me take a last look; I shall never see him again.”

“One principal chief,” writes Mr. Marsden, “who had embraced the Gospel and been baptized, accompanied us all the way. We had to travel about forty miles, by land and water. He told me he was so unhappy at Hokianga that he could not get to converse with me from the crowds that attended, and that he had come to Waimate to speak with me. I found him to be a very intelligent man, and anxious to know the way to heaven.”

While at Kaitaia he held a constant levee, sitting in an arm-chair, in an open field, before the mission-house; it was attended by upwards of a thousand Maoris, who poured in from every quarter; many coming a distance of twenty or thirty miles, contented to sit down and gaze on his venerable features; and so they continued to come and go till his departure. With his characteristic kindness and good nature he presented each with a pipe and fig of tobacco; and when he was to embark at last, they carried him to the ship, a distance of six miles, upon their shoulders in a sort of easy chair.

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Before leaving New Zealand, he wrote to the Church Missionary Society an account which glows with pious exultation, describing the success with which the Head of the Church had at length been pleased to bless the labours of his faithful servants. Since his arrival, he says, he had visited many of the stations within the compass of a hundred miles. It was his intention to visit all of them, from the North to the East Cape; but from the disturbed state of the country “it was not considered prudent for him to go to the south,” where he still contemplated further efforts “when the country should be more settled in its political affairs.”

He had “observed a wonderful change: those portions of the sacred Scriptures which had been printed have had a most astonishing effect; they are read by the natives in every place where I have been; the natives teach one another, and find great pleasure in the word of God, and carry that sacred treasure with them wherever they go. Great numbers have been baptized, both chiefs and their people.”

He had met with some very pious chiefs, who refused to share in the present war, and avowed their resolution to fight no more. One of them, at his own cost, had built a chapel, or place of public worship, which was visited by the missionaries. In this he himself taught a school, assisted by his son. “Waimate, once the most warlike district in the island, is now,” he says, “the most orderly and moral place I was ever in. My own mind has been exceedingly gratified by what I have seen and heard.”

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Old age, it seems, is not always querulous; its retrospects are not always in favour of the past; the aged Christian walks with a more elastic step as he sees the fruit of his labour, and anticipates his own great reward. “Mine eyes,” he concludes, “are dim with age like Isaac's; it is with some difficulty I can see to write.”

Nor had the weakness and credulity of advancing years led him to take for granted, as in second childhood old age is wont to do, the truth of first impressions, or the accuracy of every man's reports. He still gave to every subject connected with missions the closest attention, penetrated beneath the surface, and formed his own conclusions. While in New Zealand, for instance, he addressed the following queries to the Rev. J. Matthews, one of the missionaries, on the subject of education:—

April, 1837.

… I will thank you to return me what number of native young men there are employed from your station on the Sabbath in visiting the natives, I mean the numbers who occasionally visit their countrymen and instruct them. What schools there are at the station, and who are the teachers? Have you an infant school, or a school for men and boys? a school for women? What do they learn? Do they learn to read and write? Do they understand figures? Have they renounced generally their former superstitions? At what period of the day do they attend school? Have they any meeting in the week-days for prayer and religious instruction? Do they appear to have any views of the Lord Jesus Christ as a Saviour? page 197 Any information you can give me, along with your brethren, will be very acceptable to the lovers of the Gospel in New South Wales.

After describing the happy state of the Christian settlement at Waimate, Mr. Marsden goes on to say:—

On the opposite side of the harbour, a number of Europeans have settled along with the natives. Several keep public-houses, and encourage every kind of crime. Here drunkenness, adultery, murder, etc., are committed. There are no laws, judges, nor magistrates; so that Satan maintains his dominion without molestation. Some civilized Government must take New Zealand under its protection, or the most dreadful evils will be committed by runaway convicts, sailors and publicans. There are no laws here to punish crimes. When I return to New South Wales, I purpose to lay the state of New Zealand before the colonial Government, to see if anything can be done to remedy these public evils.

“I hope in time,” he says again, in a letter, dated the 16th of May, 1837, from Paihia, to Mr. Matthews, “the chiefs will get a Governor. I shall inform the Europeans in authority how much they are distressed in New Zealand for want of a Governor with power to punish crime. The Bay of Islands is now in a dreadful state It is my intention to return to New South Wales by the first opportunity.”

That opportunity soon appeared, and the venerable founder of its missions, the advocate of its native population, the friend of all that concerned its present or spiritual welfare, took his last leave of the shores of New Zealand.

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Preparations were made for his reception on board H.M.S. Rattlesnake. The signal gun was fired, and all the friends from Waimate and Keri-Keri arrived to accompany their revered father to the beach, “Where,” says one of them who was present, “like Paul at Miletus, we parted with many benedictions: sorrowing most of all that we should see his face again no more. Many could not bid him adieu. The parting was with many tears.”

His happy temperament always diffused pleasure and conciliated friendship. On board the Rattlesnake he was welcomed with warm, affectionate respect. Captain Hobson knew his worth, and felt honoured by his company. The chaplain of the Rattlesnake* noted down an affecting conversation with the aged minister upon his voyage:—

We enjoyed a most lovely evening. I had a long conversation with Mr. Marsden on deck. He spoke of almost all his old friends having preceded him to the eternal world; Romaine, Newton, the Milners, Scott, Atkinson, Robinson, Buchanan, Mason Good, Thomason, Rowland Hill, Legh Richmond, Simeon, and others. He then alluded in a very touching manner to his late wife; they had passed, he observed, more than forty years of their pilgrimage through this wilderness in company, and he felt their separation the more severely as the months rolled on. I remarked that their separation would be but for a short period longer. “God grant it,” was his reply;

* The Rattlesnake had no chaplain. The clergyman who was Mr. Marsden's fellow-passenger was the Rev. A. N. Brown, afterwards Archdeacon of Tauranga, from whose journal this extract was made.

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Russell, Bay of Islands (the scene of Mr. Marsden's work in New Zealand), at the present time.

Russell, Bay of Islands (the scene of Mr. Marsden's work in New Zealand), at the present time.

page break page 199 then lifting his eyes towards the moon, which was peacefully shedding her beams on the sails of our gallant bark, he exclaimed with intense feeling:

“Prepare me, Lord, for Thy right hand,
Then come the joyful day.”