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Life and Work of Samuel Marsden


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This work, which gives an account of the life, labours, and difficulties of one of the most notable missionaries of modern times, was written by the Rev. J. B. Marsden, and published by the Religious Tract Society fifty years ago. The original is out of print, but still is found occasionally in second-hand booksellers' shops, in a quaint blue cover embellished with gold letters.

The Rev. J. B. Marsden collected a great deal of his material from Samuel Marsden's correspondence, in the possession of the Church Missionary Society and the London Missionary Society. He also had the use of an unpublished memoir of Samuel Marsden by Lieutenant Sadleir, R.N., for many years master of the Male Orphans' Home near Sydney, and manuscript prepared by Mr. John Liddiard Nicholas, an Australian land-owner, who was an admirer of Samuel Marsden, and who, besides writing an account of the missionary's first visit to New Zealand, dealt with his life in New South Wales. Finally, the biographer was helped by many of Samuel Marsden's friends, who placed in his hands letters written to them.

The Rev. J. B. Marsden was the author of “The History of the Early and Later Puritans” and other works associated with the Church. He was not related to the missionary, but the identity of the two men's surnames led to the conclusion that there was some relationship, and for that reason he was urged repeatedly to write the biography. He declined several times, but ultimately, when the page iv request was renewed by the Religious Tract Society, he was induced to comply with the Society's wishes, “under the conviction,” he says, “that the facts and incidents, as well as the moral grandeur, of Mr. Marsden's life are too important to be suffered to lie any longer in comparative obscurity.”

Some time previous to the publication of the biography, the Rev. W. Woolls published a memoir of Samuel Marsden in a series of articles in the Parramatta Chronicle, and these were republished in book form at Parramatta in 1844. The object was to provide funds for the erection of a church at Marsfield as a memorial to the missionary. In recent years, Dr. T. M. Hocken, of Dunedin, began an extensive research into Marsden correspondence and documents. At the end of 1905, he read papers on “The Rev. Samuel Marsden and the Early New Zealand Missionaries” before the Otago Institute. These were published in different copies of the “Otago Daily Times” at the end of 1905 and the beginning of 1906. The Rev. J. B. Marsden did not pretend to write a comprehensive biography, and it is hoped that, with the information Dr. Hocken collected, a larger work some day will be given to the public.

In editing the Rev. J. B. Marsden's work, I have not preserved the whole of it. Many pages deal with missionary work at Tahiti, in which Samuel Marsden did not take an active part. These, and other portions, have been omitted. I have reproduced letters written to Samuel Marsden by notable or famous persons, amongst them Mrs. Elizabeth Fry, a member of the Society of Friends, who worked amongst the women prisoners of London, and who took a sympathetic interest in Samuel Marsden's efforts to reform the women convicts in New South Wales. page v I have retained the biographer's spelling of Maori names, which is not in accordance with the orthography of Bishop Williams and other New Zealand missionaries who followed in Samuel Marsden's footsteps, but I have added footnotes, showing the method now in use. I have supplied a number of other footnotes, dealing mainly with people who were well known when the biography was published, but who have been almost forgotten by the present generation.

A Marsden Cross has been erected as close as the conditions of the ground permit to the actual place occupied by the novel pulpit built by Ruatara one hundred years ago, when the first Divine Service was held in New Zealand. The idea of erecting this cross originated with the Rev. Dr. J. Kinder, who for many years was Warden of St. John's College, Auckland. It was pointed out that “The Prayer Book Cross,” erected near the Golden Gate at San Francisco, marks the place on which Sir Francis Drake's chaplain held the first Anglican service on the Pacific Coast of America. A New Zealand monument on the same scale was not contemplated, but it was felt that the Dominion could erect in Samuel Marsden's honour a substantial stone cross sufficiently large to be a conspicuous landmark from the decks of vessels that enter the Bay of Islands.

The proposal was not taken in hand in a practical way until some years after Dr. Kinder's death, when his widow offered to pay the sum of £100 to meet the expenses. Mrs. Kinder placed the scheme in the hands of Archdeacon Philip Walsh, of Waimate, who has kindly written an “Appreciation” for this book. His appeal to the Church people of New Zealand resulted in a sufficient sum being obtained, and the page vi cross was unveiled by His Excellency Lord Plunket, Governor of New Zealand, on the 12th of March, 1907, in the presence of representatives of the two races in the Dominion. It is of Celtic design, and it bears the following inscription:—

On Christmas Day, 1814
The First Christian Service in N.Z.
was Held on This Spot
by The Rev. Samuel Marsden.

At the unveiling ceremony, addresses were given by His Excellency Lord Plunket, Bishop Neligan, of Auckland, and Archdeacon Walsh. Mr. J. B. Clarke spoke on behalf of the mission families in the district, and Hare Te Heihei on behalf of the Maori people. Amongst the hymns sung was, “All People that on Earth do Dwell,” the hymn chosen by Marsden at his memorable service.

The simple cross is a memorial to Samuel Marsden's work, but his greatest memorial is the work itself, which is described in these pages.

There are two objects in republishing this little book. One is to follow a policy which has induced Messrs. Whitcombe and Tombs to make a large number of Australasian works, of a high educational value, available to the public. The other is to make a literary contribution to the celebration of the centenary of the first Divine Service in New Zealand, conducted by Samuel Marsden at Oihi, in the Bay of Islands, on Christmas Day, 1814.

James Drummond.

Christchurch, New Zealand,
September 1st, 1913.