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Life and Work of Samuel Marsden

An Appreciation

page vii

An Appreciation.

Samuel Marsden came of good Yorkshire stuff, and by his yeoman blood he inherited the sterling and enduring qualities of mind and body usually associated with the typical Yorkshireman. He was of powerful physique, of remarkable endurance, of undaunted courage, and of boundless perseverance; but the great source of all his success was his profound conviction that he was an instrument in God's hand, that he worked under His divine guidance, and that he lived under His almighty protection.

Although he received a fair education, according to the notions of the times, he was a man of action rather than a student; and, except for a deep and careful study of the Bible, in which his candid mind found a meaning often hidden from much profounder theologians, he does not seem to have wandered very far in the field of learning. Indeed, even if his tastes had run in that direction, he could hardly have found time, amid the busy scenes of his active life, for serious and systematic study. What literary ability he possessed may be judged from his writings. They consist chiefly of letters and reports, together with a very voluminous journal, which supplies a deeper impression of the man than any critical biography could give.

The history of his first years in Parramatta is the history of a man patiently, laboriously, and conscientiously doing his duty. “Nothing is too hard for the Lord,” he says in his journal. “This gives page viii me encouragement in my present difficult undertaking.” He surmounts each obstacle as it confronts him, and solves each question as it arises. In addition to his duties as a minister of the Gospel, he was obliged to undertake those of a Magistrate. In that dual capacity, he was able to right many a wrong, and to bring the light of divine love into one of the darkest places on the earth.

His efforts were not confined to the technical discharge of the duties of his offices. He always was watching for an opportunity to ameliorate the condition of those committed to his charge, whether they were prisoners or soldiers, ticket-of-leave men or free labourers. At one time, he is establishing a school for boys and girls, at another time a house of refuge for the victims of lust and cruelty. Later we find him importing additional clergymen, school masters, artisans, and manufacturers. He induces the Government to make grants of land to deserving settlers. He busies himself in the improvement of stock.

While all this is going on, his sympathies reach out to the Australian aborigines, the South Sea Islands Mission, and the Maoris whose roving spirit left them stranded in a foreign land. From what he saw of those Maoris, he formed a very high opinion of the natives of New Zealand, and he became filled with an eager longing to impart to them the blessings of Christian civilization. The story of how this was accomplished, told by the Rev. J. B. Marsden some fifty years ago, and republished now under the editorship of Mr. Drummond, reads like a most fascinating romance.

The long delays, Mr. Marsden's arrival at Oihi in 1814, the wonderful Christmas service at the place now marked by an imposing stone cross, and the foundation of the little missionary settlement, page ix which was the germ of the future colony, are described in these pages; but the greatness of the enterprise, and the faith and courage with which it was carried out, cannot be fully realised by people who have not seen the locality, or who are not acquainted with the character and customs of the Maoris in those early days. We can only imagine the feelings of the three young missionaries, with their young wives, as they sailed along the cliff-bound coast and into the little bay, with its shingly beach crowded with excited savages. But doubtless they, like their chief, felt secure under the protection of their Divine Master.

Of all the early adventurers in New Zealand, Mr. Marsden was the first to grasp the character of the Maoris, and was the most successful in winning their confidence. Amongst those untutored savages, as amongst the desperadoes of the convict settlement, he bore a charmed life. On his first night ashore in New Zealand, he slept peacefully upon the open ground, surrounded by members of a tribe that had conducted the massacre of the “Boyd,” and on his arrival at Oihi he placed himself unreservedly in the hands of the blood-stained Hongi. “If Hongi tells you to settle on that rock,” he said to some of the missionaries who wanted to remove to a place where the land was more suitable for cultivation, “you must stop there till he tells you to go. Hongi has given me his promise, and as long as you are in his hands I know you are safe.”

This trust was never forfeited. There is not an instance on record where the missionaries were molested. Even in the days of Heke's war, when the Maoris fought against the Imperial troops, the missionaries' lives and property were always respected. Indeed, the missionary station was always a city of refuge in time of trouble.

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Mr. Marsden's connection with New Zealand lasted for twenty-three years. During that time, he made no fewer than seven visits, going over a great part of the North Island in increasing areas, establishing new centres as opportunities offered, and generally supervising the work of the mission. His last visit was in 1837, when he was 73 years of age. His health had begun to fail, and he already was feeling the infirmities of old age, but his visit nevertheless was a triumphal progress. He landed at Hokianga, on the West Coast, and was conveyed across the island by a large company of Maoris. They made part of the journey by canoe, but he was carried overland for twenty miles on a kauhoa, or shoulder litter. At every stopping-place he was received by the Christian converts with tears of joy, and by the heathen population with the wardance and the firing of muskets, while all greeted him as the friend and father of the Maoris. He died on the 12th of May in the following year, worn out by the cares and hardships of his long and arduous life, and he was buried under the shadow of his own church at Parramatta.

Samuel Marsden's name will always stand high on the roll of Christian heroes and amongst the names of those who have helped to build up the Christian Church. His natural gifts, and the wide experience gained in his work, fitted him for a task that few could have accomplished. He lived to see the fulfilment of his hopes and prayers, and he died esteemed and regretted even by those who, during his lifetime, had been his hardest critics and his most bitter opponents.

Philip Walsh.

New Zealand.