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Historical Records of New Zealand

Rev. S. Marsden to Commissioner Bigge

Rev. S. Marsden to Commissioner Bigge.

Parramatta, 28th December, 1819..


I take the liberty to state to your Honor the following observations, which will put you in possession of all the leading circumstances relative to the missions in the South Sea Islands, from their origin to the present period.

In the year 1795 the Missionary Society was formed for the express purpose of sending the Gospel to the islands in the South Seas. In the following year the Duff, a ship which the Society purchased, was sent out with their missionaries, under the command of Mr. James Wilson. On the arrival of the ship at these islands nine missionaries were landed at Tongataboo, one of the Friendly Islands; eighteen men, five women, and two children were landed at Otaheite, one of the Society Islands.

In 1798, nineteen, under apprehension of personal danger, left Otaheite in the Nautilus, brig, and returned to Port Jackson, where they were hospitably received by those who were friendly to their cause. Admiral Hunter, who was Governor of the colony at this time, was very kind to them, and administered to their wants from His Majesty’s stores. After they had resided in the colony for some time their fears subsided, and a few of them returned to their station.

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In the year 1798, after the Duff had returned from her first voyage, the Society fitted her out again, and sent her with a considerable number of missionaries intended for these islands. Unfortunately, the Duff was taken by a French privateer, and carried into Monte Video, in South America, where the missionaries were landed, from whence they returned to Europe. This was a serious loss to the Society, and great disappointment to the Christian world.

In 1800, the Royal Admiral was taken up by Government to bring male convicts to this colony. The directors having lost their own ship, engaged with the owners of the Royal Admiral to take out twelve missionaries, and land them at Otaheite. One of these died at Port Jackson, and eleven were landed at the missionary settlement at the above-mentioned island. After the nine missionaries who had been landed on one of the Friendly Islands had resided there about three years, three of them were killed in the time of war. The other six escaped in a South Sea whaler, after suffering every privation and hardship. From the time the Royal Admiral landed the eleven missionaries at Otaheite, the body of the missionaries had no communication with the civilized world for five years. They were never visited by the Society, nor received so much as a letter from their friends. Untoward circumstances had prevented any intercourse. The missionaries’ clothes were worn out, they went barefoot, they had no flour, tea, sugar, rice, or any comfort whatever. Sick, hungry, naked, and I may add forsaken, for five years, they continued at their work, living upon the native food in any manner they could. Commiserating their distresses, at length I took up a small sloop, without any instructions from the directors, and sent them some supplies. On the arrival of this little sloop they were much relieved in mind as well as in circumstances.

In the beginning of the year 1807 I returned to England, and on my arrival laid the situation of the missionaries before the directors, who expressed their gratitude for my attention to them in sending the sloop. I wished them to suggest some plan for keeping up a regular communication between Port Jackson and the islands, but the expense of such a measure presented difficulties to the directors that could not at that time be removed; at the same time they gave me authority to relieve the wants of the missionaries as much as local circumstances would admit when I returned to New South Wales again.

In the year 1795 I was ordered to Norfolk Island to do duty there for a short time, when I first formed my ideas of the character of the New Zealanders, two of them having visited that island.

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In about five or six years after my return to New South Wales I had an opportunity of becoming more intimately acquainted with the New Zealanders from some of them visiting the colony, whom I took to live with me, in order that I might gain a perfect knowledge of their characters and natural dispositions. At this time the Church Missionary Society had been formed about seven years. Being fully convinced that the New Zealanders were capable of any instructions that the civilized world would impart to them, I was anxious that the Church Missionary Society should take them under their patronage. I conceived it would then be in my power, being a minister of the established Church, to render more service to the New Zealanders than if they were under the patronage of any society that was not connected with the established Church. Shortly after my arrival in London, with this view, I waited upon the Rev. Josiah Pratt, Secretary to the Society, and stated my wishes to him. The Committee took the subject into consideration, and resolved to send out two or three lay settlers to try the experiment how far a mission to the islands of New Zealand would succeed.

In 1809 I left England for New South Wales, and took out with me as settlers for New Zealand two men and one woman. On my arrival at Port Jackson, in February, 1810, I found all the missionaries, with the exception of two, had left the Society Islands and returned to New South Wales, and that the ship Boyd and crew had been cut off at New Zealand. These were very painful circumstances, and created such difficulties as I was apprehensive it would not be in my power to overcome, as all hope of introducing the arts of civilization and the Christian religion amongst the different islands was now nearly extinguished. I was aware if anything could be done, nothing could be effected without the support of the Christian world, which could hardly be expected from the fatal disasters which had taken place. As far as my own private opinions went, I had no doubt but that the natives of these islands could be civilized; at the same time, no circumstances had occurred that would warrant me to hope that the Christian world would agree with me in that opinion, as the Christian world had not had the same opportunities as I had of judging of the characters of these heathen nations.

My first step after landing at Port Jackson was to call the missionaries together who had returned from the Society Islands, in order that I might know the reasons which had induced them to leave their station. After hearing all that they had to say on the subject of their personal danger, which was the alleged cause, and their declaration that they could never muster resolution page 451 to return, for they totally despaired of ever succeeding in the mission, I clearly saw that they had no solid grounds of fear for their personal safety, nor had they any just reason to despair that their labours would be in vain. I saw that the real cause of their return was that their spirits were broke, their bodily health was impaired, and their missionary zeal dampt from privations and the effects of the climate; and that from the combination of all these together they had sunk under their burden, and souht relief in New South Wales. I pitied their distress, and the sufferings they had endured, but did not intimate to them that it was my intention to prevail upon them, if possible, to return to their work, for they were not able to bear the idea at that time. I was also aware, if they did not return before their report reached the directors; the directors probably would not see the subject in the same light as I did, but would also despair of success, and under that impression direct no further attempts to be made. I therefore resolved to send them back again, before any answers could be received to their letters transmitted to the society. In a few months their strength of body and mind was renewed. Pomare also sent a pressing invitation for them to return. I called them together, laid before them my views, and after mature deliberation they consented to return. I immediately took up two small vessels, fitted them out, and sent them off, previous to any directions being received from the directors.

From the privations which the missionaries at the Society Islands had suffered during thirteen years for the want of a regular communication between the islands and New South Wales, from the murders and robberies which had been committed upon the persons and properties of the natives, and from the Boyd having been cut off at New Zealand, I was convinced no permanent good could be accomplished without a vessel. I knew that without a vessel it would be in vain to attempt anything at New Zealand.

I now entered into a correspondence with the Church and London Missionary Societies on the subject of the societies having a vessel to attend their missions. Three years past in fruitless correspondence. There were difficulties in the way which the societies could not meet. When I found there was no prospect of succeeding in my application for a vessel I recommended the missionaries at the Society Islands to build the Haweis, and I would assist them all I could. Many unforeseen difficulties opposed this undertaking, which is not necessary for me to write; suffice it to say that I found the work was more than the missionaries could do—they had not the means.

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At length the Active was offered for sale for £1,400. I had not the means to purchase her; I sold off nine hundred pounds’ worth of sheep, and raised £500 by other means, and purchased her on my own account. It may be asked why I did not draw upon the Society for the amount of the purchase-money. I communicated to the secretaries of both societies what I had done; and in answer to my letter, I was authorized by the Secretary of the Church Missionary Society to draw upon him for the payment. But when this letter arrived the tide of opposition ran strong against me in this country. Attempts had been made to excite jealousies in the minds of the chiefs at New Zealand respecting the object I had in view. They were taught to believe that it was my sole intention to take their country from them, and reduce them to slavery. I could not calculate how far these attempts might eventually succeed to destroy the mission at New Zealand. I therefore determined to retain the Active in my own hands, and to take the risque upon myself, till these jealousies which had been so artfully kindled in the breasts of the chiefs died away, and length of time and positive experience by the residence of the settlers upon the island had proved the practicability of establishing the mission at New Zealand. After the settlement has now been formed five years, and every circumstance during that period has combined for its success, no doubt now remains upon the public mind but that these islanders can be civilized.

With respect to the brig Haweis, the missionaries informed me they could not launch and rig her when she was nearly built. Mr. Nicholson, master in the Royal Navy, coming out as first officer in a transport, I agreed with him to go to Otaheite and prepare the Haweis for sea, and bring her to Port Jackson. Shortly after her arrival in New South Wales I received instructions from the directors of the Missionary Society to sell the Haweis, wherever she was, or in whatever state she might be in, as they would have nothing to do with her. I was much surprized when I received these directions, and on the impulse of the moment I advertized her for sale; but when I began seriously to reflect upon what might be the probable consequences of such a measure I changed my intention.

I knew that King Pomare had given very considerable assistance towards building the vessel. He had calculated much upon the advantages which he and his people would derive from a constant communication between Otaheite and Port Jackson through the medium of the Haweis. I conceived if he was disappointed in his hopes the whole of the mission would be endangered. He might accuse the missionaries with the want of page 453 public faith, and turn his back upon them. I was also anxious to get the coffee trees planted in all the Society Islands. I considered this an object of such vital importance to the future prosperity of the missions, and the natives in general, that it was worth retaining the Haweis till it was accomplished, whatever the expense might be. I therefore put off the sale of the Haweis and directed Robert Campbell, Esq., merchant, to fit her out again at my expense—her outfit amounted to more than £1,000. When she was ready for sea I gave orders to Mr. Nicholson to proceed to Norfolk Island, and take all the coffee plants he could, and plant them in all the islands. Mr. Nicholson implicitly obeyed my orders, and took five hundred plants with him, and planted some in the different islands, which were growing well when he left the islands. The Haweis returned when I was at New Zealand. Mr. Campbell sold her cargo, according to my directions, to repay the money I had advanced for her outfit. She had not one shilling worth of any article on my private account on board, and the whole of her cargo was disposed of before my return to Sydney.

Having thus explained the circumstances relative to the two brigs employed wholly in the work of the missions, I shall advert now to the time when I first purchased the Active. When I had got the Active I had the means of carrying my original views into execution, and immediately resolved to form a settlement in New Zealand. I made application to the Governor for leave to visit New Zealand for that purpose. His Excellency declined giving me his permission, for fear I should be cut off. I then asked His Excellency, if I sent the Active over to New Zealand to bring some of the principal chiefs to Port Jackson, in order that I might arrange matters with them, would he allow me to return with them for a short time to fix the settlers, who had been waiting at Parramatta for four years. To this proposal His Excellency consented. I sent the Active. The chiefs came over at my request; I returned with them, and visited the different parts of the coast, from the North Cape to the River Thames; explained to the chiefs my object, requested them to be kind to all the Europeans, and protect the ships and their crews when they put into their ports. From that time to the present not an European has been injured on any part of the coast, from the North Cape to the River Thames, and the settlement is prospering which I then formed.

Attacks upon his character. Obliged to defend himself. Mr. Campbell’s prosecution for libel. I can solemnly declare that during the five years I have never directly or indirectly sent one gallon of spirits to any of the natives either of New Zealand or the Society Islands, though I may be charged with doing so; nor do I believe that the natives have ever received to the amount of one gallon of spirits from the page 454 Active since I have had her; nor have I ever sent a single pound of gunpowder to be sold to the natives; nor have I ever sanctioned in any way the barter of muskets or other weapons of war. There have been but five muskets put on the Haweis for the protection of the vessel by me; one of these was given to Pomare, by my permission, and the other four are on board. I beg further to add that no private motives of gain induced me to purchase the Active or to build the Haweis, neither would the former have been purchased or the latter built if the societies could have provided a vessel for their missions. It is well known to the merchants here who have fitted out these vessels, and sold their returns, that there has been a very heavy pecuniary loss attending them, from many untoward and unforeseen circumstances. I may say with truth that for the last five years my character has been defamed in every possible way. Had these attacks upon my reputation been confined within the limits of these settlements where I am known I should have been deaf to all reproaches; but when these calumnies were sent out into the world from the public office, with the apparent public sanction of this Government, I could not, in justice to my own character as a clergyman and officer, be silent any longer without for-feiting the good opinion of the Christian world, the esteem and confidence of my friends, and sinking for the remainder of my days into public contempt, and entailing upon my children everlasting disgrace. After what I have now stated, should any doubt remain upon your mind respecting the purity of my motives in endeavouring to promote the temporal and eternal welfare of the poor heathens in these islands, I beg to refer you to my statement upon oath when called into the witness-box on the criminal prosecution of Mr. Campbell for the libel upon me. I was most minutely examined for two hours the first day of the trial relative to all my private and public transactions with the missions, during which examination I could not help thinking that the Court was trying me, and not the defendant.

In the midst of many difficulties, I trust it has ever been my study to do all I could for these poor ignorant savages, and Divine Goodness has blessed my feeble attempts an hundred fold more than I looked for. Whatever I may have done, I claim no merit; I have done no more than my duty as a minister of the Gospel; but in doing that duty I was not quietly to suffer my public reputation to be torn in pieces by the hand of power, and scattered in blotted scraps by an official engine over the face of the whole earth. I rely with the fullest confidence upon your wisdom and justice, and look forward with confident anticipation to the time when, after the fullest investigation into my public page 455 and private life, you will have sufficient grounds to wipe away these blots and stains which have sullied my character, and also to remove from the minds of His Majesty’s Ministers any unfavourable impressions which those may have made with whom I have had the misfortune to serve His Majesty in this colony during a long period of great trial and difficulty.

I have, &c.,

Samuel Marsden.

The Honourable Commissioner of Inquiry.