Story: Missions and missionaries

Page 2. First missionaries

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Samuel Marsden

After West Africa, New Zealand was the second part of the world to receive missionaries from the Church Missionary Society (CMS). The main person driving that decision was Yorkshireman Samuel Marsden, who had become chaplain to the prison colony of New South Wales in 1794. There he met and hosted many visiting Māori, especially northern chiefs, and felt they were more receptive to Christianity than the aborigines of Australia.

Marsden’s visitors included the Bay of Islands chief Te Pahi and his sons. Impressed with Te Pahi’s ‘clear, strong and comprehensive mind’,1 Marsden decided to set up a mission in New Zealand. He already strongly supported the work of the London Missionary Society and helped its Pacific missionaries. In 1808 he convinced the CMS to begin a mission in New Zealand.

Hall, King and Kendall

The first men chosen as missionaries, William Hall and John King, were tradespeople. They were joined by Thomas Kendall, a primary-school teacher. These men were not ordained ministers but Marsden believed that introducing European civilisation, culture and industry to Māori was the first step towards them becoming Christians. The missionaries sailed from England to New South Wales in 1809.

Te Pahi had already returned to his home at Rangihoua, on the northern side of the Bay of Islands, in 1806. Marsden hoped to use his friendship with the chief to base his mission there. However those plans were postponed when another chief, Te Puhi, of Whangaroa, Northland, instigated the burning of the ship Boyd and the massacre of its crew in 1809. An avenging party of whalers confused Te Puhi with Te Pahi and killed the latter and many members of his tribe. This tragedy delayed the start of the mission for five years.

Blame the horse

Samuel Marsden was a harsh man who had strong disagreements with several of his New Zealand missionaries. One was William Yate, who began working at Paihia in 1826. Ten years later he was dismissed after allegations of sexual misconduct with young Māori men. Yate always maintained his innocence and claimed that ‘to be accused [by Marsden] was always to be found guilty’.2 However Yate’s fellow missionaries were also outraged by his behaviour – they burnt all his possessions and shot his horse.

Arrival in New Zealand

In December 1814 Samuel Marsden finally arrived in New Zealand bringing with him three missionaries and some assistants. The missionaries had prepared the ground in a visit earlier that year. He was accompanied by the young rangatira Ruatara, Te Pahi’s successor, whom Marsden had got to know in 1809 on the voyage back from England. Ruatara invited them to base the mission at Rangihoua. Marsden conducted the first Christian service there on Christmas Day 1814. Ruatara died the following year and the mission then depended on the protection of another chief, Hongi Hika, who hoped it would increase his own power and prestige.

Marsden’s legacy

Marsden did not remain in New Zealand, but in later years he visited several times from his base in New South Wales. Despite the time and energy he put into the mission, his reputation as a stern magistrate in New South Wales has raised doubts about the value of his work in New Zealand. He encouraged the missionaries to develop an extensive trading business with Māori, buying a ship to trade with New South Wales and elsewhere. This helped the mission to run profitably, and also encouraged Māori to learn new skills and develop their own trading operations.

Footnotes:
  1. R. J. Elder, ed., The letters and journals of Samuel Marsden, 1764–1838. Dunedin: Coulls, Somerville Wilkie and A. H. Reed, 1932, p. 59. Back
  2. Quoted in Judith Binney, ‘Whatever happened to poor Mister Yate?’ New Zealand Journal of History 9, no. 2 (October 1975), p. 122. Back
How to cite this page:

Peter J. Lineham, 'Missions and missionaries - First missionaries', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/missions-and-missionaries/page-2 (accessed 6 December 2019)

Story by Peter J. Lineham, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 8 Aug 2018