The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 2 (May 1, 1940.)
Marsden's First Visit — New Zealand in 1814
There is little doubt that of all the early missionaries Samuel Marsden is the best remembered. It was his investigations that first showed that the Maori attacks on ships and their crews were usually the result of previous assaults by the seamen on the natives. It was in December, 1814, that Marsden first visited New Zealand. It is a striking commentary on the state of the country at the time, that before leaving Sydney he wrote to the Rev. J. Pratt, Secretary of the Church Missionary Society: “I leave my family under Divine protection. If I should be spared to return to them I shall be able to provide for all their wants; but if Providence should otherwise determine, I recommend them to the kind consideration of the Society.”
Marsden was accompanied on his voyage in the brig Active by several Maori chiefs, returning from Sydney, as well as Thomas Kendall, who had been appointed magistrate to remain in the country. This appointment was made on Marsden's recommendation, with a view to effecting some control over the licentiousness of the whalers and seamen visiting New Zealand. Three of the chiefs — Dewaterra, Shunger and Kora Korra—were named in Governor Macquarie's order of November 9th, 1814, as being invested with somewhat similar powers. Incidentally, Marsden uses a slightly different spelling for their names than that quoted in the official order.
On his return to Sydney, Marsden presented to the Church Missionary Society a very lengthy account of his observations. It is characteristic of the age in which he lived that this report opens with much preliminary statement, including even a reference to American Independence. He then proceeds to an historical account of the first missionary contacts with New Zealand, including an account of the visit of various chiefs to Norfolk Island.
On his first voyage Marsden arrived at the North Cape on December 16th, 1814, and left Whangaroa for Sydney in the following February. As was always the case with Marsden, he suffered acutely from sea sickness throughout the voyage. A day was spent off North Cape and whilst the chiefs went ashore many canoes brought out an abundance of fish such as Marsden considered “the finest fish I ever saw.”
Marsden's decision to sleep with the natives at night was a bold one in view of the fact that at the time he was not yet sure of their intentions and did not know whether they would make peace. There is little doubt that his action must have hastened the reconciliation that took place the next day. In his report Marsden says that he did not sleep much and describes the scene on a beautiful starlit night in these words:-
“Around us were numerous spears struck upright in the ground, and groups of natives lying in all directions, like a flock of sheep upon the grass, as there were neither tents nor huts to cover them. I viewed our situation with new sensations and feelings that I cannot express—surrounded by cannibals who had massacred and devoured our countrymen.”
Marsden was mainly desirous of providing for the settlement of those that were to remain behind, but he yet found time to visit a number of other districts. He penetrated where previously no white man had been. His report is full of interesting comments on the customs of the country. He concluded that although all the natives were cannibals it was not due to hunger, but solely as a method of showing “their retaliation and revenge for injuries sustained.” He also tried to convince the natives that their punishment of death for theft was too severe. It was their custom to hang thieves. On one occasion Marsden lost three small articles and had it not been for his intervention the culprit would have been killed outright by his chief.
Prior to leaving the country Marsden desired to secure some sort of legal title to the land on which his Missionary settlement was to stand. This area he estimated to comprise some 200 acres and on February 24th, 1815, a formal deed was drawn up and signed. The price paid was twelve axes. It was signed by a chief styled “Ahoodee O Gunna, King of Ranghee Hoo” with a signature that “contains all the lines which are tatooed on the chief's face, according to their singular and curious mode of making thereon drawings and figures.”
Marsden did not again visit the colony for four years, but he had succeeded in establishing Kendall in residence and arranging for a fairly regular means of communication with Sydney. Considering the short time he spent in the country he accomplished much.