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Life and Work of Samuel Marsden

Chapter VI

page 89

Chapter VI.

It was not to be expected that a career of unbroken success and easy triumph should erown the infant mission in New Zealand. Reverses and delays were to be looked for; they were in the nature of the work itself; and for such trials Mr. Marsden was prepared. But he had scarcely arrived at Parramatta before he was involved in sharper conflicts.

The first discouragement was the death of Duaterra. Mr. Marsden had left him sick; and four days after Mr. Marsden's departure he expired, surrounded by his heathen countrymen, from whose superstitions, even to the last, he was by no means free. “He appeared at this awful moment,” Mr. Marsden writes, describing his last interview, “not to know what to do. He wished me to pray with him, which I did; but the superstitions of his country had evidently a strong hold upon his mind; the priest was always with him, night and day. Duaterra seemed at a loss where to repose his afflicted mind; his views of the Gospel were not sufficiently clear to remove his superstitions; and at the same time he was happy to hear what I had to say to him. What horrors do these poor people suffer when they come to die!”

His favourite wife, Dahoo,* was inconsolable; and while Shunghie and his near relatives cut

* Probably Tahu.

page 90 themselves with knives till the blood gushed out, she sought and found an opportunity to put a period to her own life by hanging herself, at a short distance from the body of her husband. None of the natives, not even her relatives, appeared shocked or surprised. “Her mother,” Mr. Kendall wrote, “wept while composing the limbs of her daughter, but applauded her resolution and the sacrifice which she had made for the man she so tenderly loved. Her father observed her corpse without any apparent concern. I could not discover a tear at the time it was brought before him. Two of her brothers smiled on the occasion, and said, ‘it was a good thing at New Zealand.’ It is common for women to act thus when their husbands die; they think that they then go to them.”

Mr. Marsden, for a time, was almost overwhelmed:

I could not but view Duaterra, as he lay dying, with wonder and astonishment; and could scarcely bring myself to believe that the Divine Goodness would remove from the earth a man whose life appeared of such infinite importance to his country, which was just emerging from barbarism and superstition. No doubt but he had done his work and finished his appointed course, though I fondly imagined he had only just begun his race. He was in the prime and vigour of manhood: I judge his age to be about twenty-eight years. In reflecting on this awful and mysterious event, I am led to exclaim, with the Apostle of the Gentiles, “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! page 91 how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!”

He was indeed a noble specimen of human nature in its savage state. His character was cast in the mould of heroes. At the very time of his death, after ten years of as much privation, danger, and hardship as Nature could well bear, his courage was unsubdued, and his patriotism and enterprise unabated. He told Mr. Marsden with an air of triumph: “I have now introduced the cultivation of wheat into New Zealand; New Zealand will become a great country; in two years more I shall be able to export wheat to Port Jackson, in exchange for hoes, axes, spades, tea and sugar.” He had made arrangements for farming on a large scale, and had formed his plan for building a new town, with regular streets, after the European mode, on a beautiful situation which commanded a view of the harbour and the adjacent country. “I accompanied him to the spot,” says Mr. Marsden; “we examined the ground fixed on for the town, and the situation where the church was to stand.”

Other trials followed the death of Duaterra. Fresh wars broke out. One hostile tribe encamped in sight of the mission premises, and, no longer restrained by Mr. Marsden's presence, threatened, not indeed to expel the missionaries, but to kill and eat them. For months the affrighted band kept watch night and day; their children were placed to sleep in their cots dressed, to be ready for instant flight, page 92 and the boat was always kept afloat, with its oars and sail in readiness. The storm blew over, and they remained steadfast at their posts. Soon afterwards, the Wesleyan Methodists established their important and successful mission in the island, and the missionaries gained strength from one another in society and mutual counsel. The first Wesleyan missionary, the Rev. Samuel Leigh, was well known at Parramatta, and Mr. Marsden viewed his labours with thankfulness and hope; but the reports which reached him from time to time of the difficulties to which the missions were exposed still added much to his anxieties.

And now a series of persecutions began, which, while they never cowed his brave spirit, harassed and disturbed him more than those who were acquainted only with the outward features of his strong, dauntless character readily would have believed. It is greatly to his honour that all the sufferings to which he was exposed—newspaper libels, official misrepresentations, and personal abuse—arose immediately out of his endeavours to raise the morals of the colony, and to protect the unhappy women who came out as convicts, and were at that time exposed by most iniquitous neglect to still further degradation.

Just before his departure for New Zealand, he had addressed an official letter to the Governor, calling attention to the present state of Parramatta and its neighbourhood, as far as it related to its public morals and police, and especially with regard to the female page 93 convicts, of whom upwards of 150, besides 70 children, were employed in a Government factory there, and whose condition, as far as we can venture to describe it, may be gathered from the following passage. The scene is painful; it is the dark side of our colonial history; but those who will not listen to these recitals can know but little of the obligations which society is under to such men as Howard and Samuel Marsden, or to heroic women, such as Mrs. Fry. In his letter to the Governor he says:—

The number of women employed at the factory is one hundred and fifty; they have seventy children. There is not any room in the factory that can be called a bedroom for these women and children. There are only two rooms, and these are both occupied as workshops; they are over the gaol, and are about eighty feet long and twenty wide. In these rooms there are forty-six women daily employed, twenty spinning wool upon the common wheel, and twenty-six carding. There are also in them the warping-machine, etc., belonging to the factory. These rooms are crowded all the day, and at night such women sleep in them as are confined for recent offences, amongst the wheels, wool, and cards, and a few others, who have no means whatever of procuring a better abode. The average number of women who sleep in the factory is about thirty in the whole. Many of these women have little, and some no, bedding; they all sleep on the floor. There is not a candle or bedstead belonging to the factory. I do not deem it either safe or prudent that even thirty women should sleep in the factory, which has been crowded all day with working people; the air must be bad and contagious. Were the Magistrate page 94 to compel even half the number of women, with their children, to sleep in the factory which belong to it, they could not exist. Not less than one hundred and twenty women are at large in the night to sleep where they can.

He urges upon the Governor the necessity for at least providing lodging in barracks for these poor creatures.

“When I am called,” he adds, “in the hour of sickness and want to visit them in the general hospital, or in the wretched hovels where they lodge, my mind is often oppressed beyond measure at the sight of their sufferings…. And if their dreary prospect beyond the grave be viewed in a religious light it far exceeds in horror the utmost bounds of human imagination. As their minister I must answer ere long at the bar of Divine justice for my duty to these objects of vice and woe, and often feel inexpressible anguish of spirit, in the moment of their approaching dissolution, on my own and their account, and follow them to the grave with awful forebodings lest I should be found at last to have neglected any part of my public duty as their minister and Magistrate, and by so doing contributed to their eternal ruin.

“So powerful are these reflections at times that I envy the situation of the most menial servant who is freed from this sacred and solemn responsibility, namely, the care of immortal souls…. I am of opinion that no clergyman was ever placed in so painful and trying a situation as far as relates to the moral and religious state of the people committed to his care. I see them devoted to vice, and infamy, and extreme wretchedness while living, and when they come to die suffering all the horror of mind and anguish of spirit that guilt can possibly inspire, page 95 without the means of applying any remedy in either case…. I humbly conceive it is incompatible with the character and wish of the British nation that her own exiles should be exposed to such privations and dangerous temptations, when she is daily feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, and receiving into her friendly, I may add pious, bosom strangers whether savage or civilized of every nation under heaven.”

The Governor courteously replied, acknowledging the receipt of his letter; but no further steps were taken; and after waiting eighteen months “without the most distant prospect of obtaining relief for the female convicts from the colonial Government,” he sent a copy of his own letter, with the Governor's answer, to the British Government at Home. By them it was submitted to a Select Committee of the House of Commons, when, in 1819, the state of the gaols came under the consideration of Parliament, and was afterwards printed in their report, Lord Bathurst, the Colonial Secretary, having previously submitted it to Governor Macquarie, requesting his opinion on the several matters it contained.

Great exasperation followed; it seemed for a time as if the whole colony, with scarcely an exception, had risen as one man to crush the principal chaplain, who alone had dared to expose its profligacy and to check its abuses. The storm indeed had begun to mutter around his head before Lord Bathurst's communication was received. The Sydney Gazette, which was under the immediate control of the Governor, page 96 was allowed to publish from week to week the most scandalous libels upon his character.

At length, a letter appeared signed “Philo-free,” which Mr. Marsden suspected, and at length discovered, to have been written by the Governor's secretary. It was aimed not merely against himself—this he could have borne in silence—but against the conduct and the moral character of the missionaries in the South Sea Islands, whose reputation he felt it his duty at every hazard to protect. He, therefore, appealed to the laws for shelter and redress, and two successive verdicts justified the course he took.

There were at the time many even of his warm friends in England, who were almost disposed to blame him for a too sensitive and litigious spirit. But when the whole case lay before them, the wisest and the mildest men absolved him from the charge, and heartily approved his conduct. In the place of any comments of our own we will lay before the reader, in his own words, some of Mr. Marsden's views upon the subject. They will see the principles by which he was actuated, and they will learn with amazement how great were the difficulties with which the friends of missions had to contend from their own countrymen. The first letter is addressed to the Rev. George Burder, and was read, as appears from the endorsement it bears, before the Committee of the London Missionary Society, on the 10th of July, 1818, having been received on the 25th of June:—

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Mr. Marsden's Church at Parramatta.

Mr. Marsden's Church at Parramatta.

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Parramatta, December 9, 1817.

Rev. Sir,—I wrote to you very fully by Mr. Hassall, and informed you what state I was in at that time. Since that period I have had many hard struggles to maintain my ground. A very shameful attack was made upon me and the missionaries in the South Sea Islands by the Governor's secretary, in an anonymous letter which he published in the Sydney Gazette, and of which you are already informed. Since my last I have brought the secretary to the criminal bar for the libel. Every means were used to pervert judgment that the cunning and art of certain persons could exert. After three days' contest, I obtained a verdict against the secretary. This was a matter of much joy to all who loved the cause of religion, and also to the colony in general. The trouble, anxiety, and expense of the trial were very great, as I had only truth on my side. When I had got a verdict, I hoped to enjoy a little quiet, but the next Gazette in the report made of the trial, being so false and scandalous, and casting such reflections on me and my friends, I was compelled to appeal to Cæsar once more; and last Tuesday the cause was heard before the Supreme Court, when I obtained a verdict again. The Supreme Judge, Justice Field, is a very upright man, and acted with great independence in the cause. A verdict was given in my favour to the amount of £200, with costs. The expense to the secretary will not be much less than £500. None can tell what I have suffered in my mind for the last five years, on account of the missions, from the opposition of those in power.

I must request the Society to use their interest with the British Government to check those in authority here from exposing the missionaries, and those connected with them, to the contempt of the whole world by such scandalous anonymous publications as that page 98 of which I complain. I have been very anxious to leave the colony altogether, from the continual anxiety I have suffered, and the opposition thrown in the way of every measure I have wished to promote, for the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ among the heathen.

The letter continues:—

I am very happy to inform you that all goes on well at the Islands, notwithstanding the contests here. I have forwarded to you, by this conveyance, all the letters; from them you will learn the affairs of the missionaries: I hope all the brethren have joined them. Four thousand of the natives can now read. I send you one of Pomare's letters to me. Mr. John Eyre has translated it. You will see what the views of the king are. He is now writing a dictionary of his own language, and one of the chiefs is employed at the press. I am very sorry they did not meet the king's wishes with regard to the printing press, and set it up at Tahiti, where he lives; taking it away from him was unwise…. The main work is done now, as far as respects the planting of the gospel. Their native idols are burned in the fire, and many have “tasted that the Lord is gracious” amongst the inhabitants. They sing, and read, and pray, and teach one another, so that there can be no fear that religion will be lost in the Islands again. The work has evidently been of God, and He will carry it on for His own glory. They will now also have their vessel, by which means they can visit the different islands and Port Jackson. I should wish much to see them turning their attention to agriculture, etc., so as to induce habits of industry among the natives, so that the natives of the Society Islands may rank with civilized nations. I rely with confidence on the Society for their support and protection. Unless his page 99 Majesty's Ministers will interfere, I may expect similar attacks from the same quarter. If this should be the case, it cannot be expected I should remain in the colony to be ruined in my character, circumstances, and peace of mind. The last seven years have been very dreadful. A solitary individual cannot withstand the influence of those in power, armed with such a deadly weapon as the public papers, and every other means of annoyance at their command. I have written on the subject to Lord Bathurst….

I remain, rev. Sir, yours affectionately,

Samuel Marsden.

To Rev. George Burder.

In the same strain he writes to his friend. Dr. Mason Good, inclosing the letter of “Philo-free,” and other documents. Amongst other threats, representations to the Archbishop and the Bishop of London had been muttered in the colony, with a view, no doubt, of inducing them to withdraw him from his post. “Should you learn,” he says, “that any representations are made to the Bishops, and you should deem it necessary, I will thank you to send them the documents I have transmitted, or any part of them, for their information. I should also wish Mr. Wilberforce to be acquainted with them, if you will at any time take the trouble to lay them before him.”

Then turning to brighter objects, he has the following remarkable passage:—

With regard to New Zealand, I must refer you to the Rev. Josiah Pratt, (secretary to the Church Missionary Society). Great difficulties have opposed the establishment upon that island; but I hope they page 100 will all be overcome in time. We have sent two young men to England, as we think this will greatly tend to enlarge their ideas, and prepare them for greater usefulness in their own country. I have no doubt but that New Zealand will soon become a civilized nation. If I were inclined to become a prophet I should say, that all the islands in the South Seas will afford an asylum for thousands of Europeans hereafter, and New South Wales will give laws to, and regulate, all their Governments in the course of time. The Gospel, humanly speaking, could not be planted in the South Sea Islands, unless our Government had established a colony in New South Wales. The British Government had no view of this kind when they first formed the colony. How mysterious are all the ways of Divine Providence! Yet may the Divine footsteps be traced, if we mark attentively what is passing in the world. God, the Governor of this World, orders all things according to His infinite mind, and all things well.

He soon had reason to adopt a happier strain. The trial was severe, the more so, perhaps, from the ardour of his own temperament, which, no doubt, required the chastisement, which became in the highest sense a blessing both to himself and others. Writing to the same friend on the 3rd of October, 1818, he says:—

When I take a retrospect of all that has passed in this colony since my return, I see, with wonder and gratitude, the Divine goodness overruling the wills and affections of sinful men, and making all things unite in promoting his glory. “Philo-free” will not be without its benefit to the great cause. Had this libel never appeared, the character, constitution and object of the Church and London Missionary Societies page 101 would not have been known in this settlement for many years to come; nor would they have gained the friends which they will eventually do here.

Letters of congratulation flowed in rapidly, both on account of his missionary exploits in New Zealand, and of his personal triumph in New South Wales. In addition to gratifying testimonies from Home, Mr. Marsden received a public mark of approbation from the officers of the 46th Regiment, then stationed in the colony, who, with a high and chivalrous sense of what was due to one who single handed had so long maintained the cause of truth and righteousness, stepped forward to offer their tribute of respect.

A vote of thanks, in the most cordial terms, was also presented to him at the anniversary meeting of the Church Missionary Society, at the Freemasons' Tavern, in 1819. It would have been presented to the annual meeting of the previous year, but it was a mark of respect which had never yet been paid to any individual by the Society. “The circumstances, however, which have lately transpired,” writes his friend, Dr. Mason Good, who was a member of the committee, “the severe and important battle you have fought, and the triumph you have so gloriously achieved, have induced the Society to step out of their usual routine on this occasion, and to show, not only to yourself, but to the world at large, the full sense they entertain of the honourable and upright part you have taken, and their unanimous determination to give you all their support. I agree with page 102 you most fully that your contest has not been a personal one, but that the important objects of the Society have been at stake, and that the victory you have obtained is of more importance to the cause of virtue, honour, and true religion, and more especially to the cause of Christian missions in Australasia, than to yourself.”

We shall conclude our notice of these painful conflicts with two letters, the one from Lord Gambier, the other from the venerable Simeon. The former breathes the warm heart of a sailor and the mature wisdom of an experienced Christian. And thus while British soldiers were ready to acknowledge the integrity of Mr. Marsden, the Navy, as represented by one of her great heroes, stood forward likewise in his behalf:—

Dear Sir,—I was happy to hear of your health and welfare by your letters to me of the 22nd January and the 5th March, 1817, which came to my hands in due time, though they were rather longer, I believe, in their passage than is usual. I deeply lament with you that your very zealous and arduous exertions to extend the kingdom of our gracious Lord, and to diffuse the knowledge of the glorious Gospel of salvation among the inhabitants of the dark regions around you, should meet with the spirit of opposition from the persons in the colony whom you naturally would look to for support and assistance. And very grievous indeed it is that you should stand almost alone and single in a work of charity that exceeds the praises of human language to express its excellence and blessed effects upon the race of mankind.

page 103

Mr. Pratt will have informed you that a special meeting of the committee of the Church Missionary Society was held last month for the sole purpose of deliberating upon the communication you have made to him of the state of the affairs of the Society, and the disgraceful letter that appeared in the Sydney Gazette, signed “Philo-free.” The result of the committee's consultation was that your letters on this subject should be referred to the consideration of the vice-presidents of the Society, requesting them to take such measures as they deemed most advisable to relieve you from the distressing and painful situation in which you were placed. I had the satisfaction of being present at the meeting of the vice-presidents; the Bishop of Gloucester and Mr. Wilberforce were of the number. Mr. Pratt was also present, and as he will communicate to you the judgment that we passed upon the occasion it is unnecessary for me to add anything thereto; but I cannot forbear to express to you the admiration I entertain of your conduct, your zeal, perseverance, and unremitted exertions in the blessed and glorious cause in which you are engaged.

May our gracious Lord be your shield; may His powerful arm protect you against all your adversaries, and enable you to overcome them all with the weapons of a Christian warfare, meekness, patience, faith, and charity; and may He lay them all at your feet! May His Grace be sufficient for you, and give you strength to go on as you have done in His service, to the glory of His name and to the salvation of the heathen nations around! You have achieved great things in New Zealand. May the seed you have sown there be like the grain of mustard, and grow to a large tree; and may you finally receive the bright reward of your labours, and have that blessing pronounced upon you, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” There is a fine field for page 104 missionary labours in New Zealand, and I anticipate the happiest consequences to the race of men in that country from the establishment you have made among them, and I think it very probable that they will make more rapid progress in the knowledge and practice of Christianity and civilization than any heathen nation to whom the Gospel has been preached. May you live to see this verified!

With cordial and earnest wishes for your health and prosperity, I remain, dear Sir, with sincere regard,

Your faithful and humble friend and servant, *


Mr. Simeon, from Cambridge, wrote to him in the same strain of encouragement:—“Last summer I was at Hull, and saw Mr. Scott and other of your friends and relatives. It was a joy to me to see how ardent was their love towards you. I commissioned Mrs. Scott to tell you, in general terms, that your character and cause were duly appreciated by the Government and by the House of Commons. I take for granted that Mr. Wilberforce has given you particulars. It was from him that I was enabled to declare the general result.”

Mr. Marsden had taken up the cause of the degraded female prisoners in New South Wales. Mrs. Fry in England hears of his benevolent exertions, and hastens to express her joy; and thus she writes to the prison-philanthropist of the Southern World:—

* Lord James Gambier, Admiral of the Fleet. His notions of religion and morality were stricter than those of most naval officers of his time. When he was commissioned to the Defence in 1793 the vessel was spoken of as “the praying ship,” and it was questioned whether it was possible for her to be a “fighting ship” as well. She demonstrated the possibility in her first engagement with the French, in which she behaved admirably. Lord Gambier was appointed Governor of Newfoundland in 1802, but returned to the Navy. He died on the 19th of April, 1833.

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Mildred's Court, second month, 11th, 1820.

Respected Friend,—I have received thy letters, one sent by Deputy-commissary-general Allan, and the other written some time before, but only arrived within a day or two of each other. I am sorry that I happened to be out when Deputy-commissary-general Allan called, but I hope soon to see him, and to consult with him as to the steps best to be taken to improve the condition of the female convicts in New South Wales. Much influence has already been used here, and the subject has been brought before the House of Commons. I some time ago obtained a copy of thy letter to the Governor of New South Wales, and the information contained in it has been much spread in this country, and it is quite my opinion that some beneficial alterations will in time take place; but the present Parliament being so soon to be dissolved, owing to the death of the King, I fear will retard their progress; but much is doing in this country, and I trust that much is likely to be done. Many of us are deeply interested in the welfare of the poor convicts as to their situation here, and their voyage, and when they arrive in Botany Bay. And if life and ability be granted us, I trust that much will in time be accomplished; but all these things require patience and perseverance, which I hope we shall be endowed with, both here and on your side of the water. I am sorry thou hast had so many trials and discouragements in filling thy very important station, and I cannot help hoping and believing that thy labours will prove not to be in vain; and even if thou shouldst not fully see the fruits of thy labours, others, I trust, will reap the advantage of them, so that the words of Scripture may be verified, “That both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.” I consider myself greatly obliged by thy valuable page 106 communications, and I think it would be very desirable that thou shouldst let us know exactly what sort of place is wanted for the women, and what would be its probable expense, as it would enable us more clearly to state what we wish for. And I should think our Government would give the necessary directions to have the work done.—I remain, etc., thy friend,

Elizabeth Fry.*

* The distinguished philanthropist and member of the Society of Friends, who was then carrying on her work of reforming the female prisoners in Newgate. She died on the 12th of October, 1845.