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Reverend Samuel Marsden preached the first Christian sermon in New Zealand at Oihi Bay on Christmas Day in 1814.
Rough planks and an upturned boat served for seats, and a temporary altar and reading desk were draped with black native cloth and European white duck. Some three weeks later, on the second Sunday in 1815, another service was held, this time in a building sufficiently advanced in construction at the Mission Station to be used as a church. This was probably the first church building in New Zealand.
Turn into Kapiro Road, just south of Kapiro and north of Waipapa on S.H.10 near Kerikeri. Kapiro Road can also be accessed from Kerikeri by following signs to Purerua after passing through the Kerikeri Basin.
Turn into Purerua Road and follow it to the junction with Rangihoua Road and bear left. The walking access through Mataka Station is signposted on the left 5.6km from the junction.
The walk follows a metalled and even farm road for 20 minutes before crossing a stile and descending steadily to Rangihoua Bay (10 minutes). Rangihoua Bay is sometimes referred to as Oihi Bay.
Around the reserve may be muddy.
He had purchased the brig Active to shuttle between Port Jackson in New South Wales and New Zealand. Marsden landed on December 22nd with three lay missionaries, Kendall, Hall and King. Together with Hongi Hika and his nephew Ruatara, Samuel Marsden conducted a service, which Ruatara translated to the many Maori gathered.
New Zealand’s first mission was established near the site and although protected by Hongi Hika, they found living tough in miserable winter conditions, with a lack of timber and arable land. They ended up trading muskets for food.
A nearby headstone marks the memory of those buried in the area from the Rangihoua Mission, which occupied the site from 1814-54.
Nearby is the memorial anchor to Thomas and Elizabeth Hansen, the first non-missionary settlers in New Zealand. They arrived in February 1816.
The late 1700s were a time of expanding horizons. Increased knowledge of the world, in part due to Captain Cook’s explorations, had filled in the gaps in the maps. New peoples inhabited these strange lands with customs and religions of their own. Vastly inferior to the European ways, these so called heathens were in need of nourishment, both physical and spiritual. And the agent for God came in the form of the Church Missionary Society (CMS).
Founded in London in 1796, it’s mission was simple. The Gospel should be spread in the distant lands of India, Africa and New Zealand. And there were plenty of wealthy, influential people who were willing to support the ideals with their chequebooks. Moreover an industrious band of missionaries were on hand to journey afar, relinquishing the comforts of civilisation in the hope of converting the natives to Christianity. Although essentially an Anglican body, it was governed by a central committee in London, with local committees in each region. The Superintendent for New Zealand was Samuel Marsden.
Marsden was born near Leeds, England on 25th June 1765 and trained as a blacksmith in his younger years. Through friendship with William Wilberforce, the well-known emancipator of slaves, Marsden took up the position of chaplain for New South Wales, and set sail for Port Jackson. Marsden’s passion for agriculture grew quickly and he used the profits from his farms to finance schools for both Europeans and Aborigines. During a visit to the penal colony of Norfolk Island in 1795, Marsden befriended Maori whalers, who were now working the Tasman.
His blossoming friendships with New Zealand chiefs, most notably Ruatara and Hongi Hika, developed his understanding of the people and facilitated his ultimate purposes of setting up mission stations in New Zealand and converting the inhabitants to Christianity. He was soon beaming with New Zealand parochialism. This appreciation of New Zealanders served his personal relationships well and through word of mouth he became known as a humble and giving man.
His early plans to establish a mission were delayed by the burning of the Boyd in Whangaroa Harbour in 1809. This horrific event concerned CMS leaders, Australian Governors and prospective emigrants, fears not quelled for nearly five years. Marsden immediately appreciated that to successfully set up a mission he would need the protection, if not the blessing, of local chiefs. His kindliness to dying Bay of Islands chief Ruatara sealed this wish and he was granted rights to buy 200 acres of land at Rangihoua, a neat exchange for 12 axes.
Further missions followed including at Kerikeri (1820), Paihia (1823) and Waimate (1830). Each mission was ruled by an ordained clergyman with lay missionaries as catechists. These were often practical men, the engines of the burgeoning settlements, using their skills as blacksmiths, carpenters, stonemasons, wheelwrights and farmers to break in the land and construct homes for the residents. In the early years of the stations it was these men, more than the high-brow ministers, who got the wheels turning.
All the New Zealand contingent answered to Samuel Marsden, whose job of establishing the missions was directed by his personal views and ideals. He held that before any conversion of natives could take place, they first had to be instructed in industrial ways. They would need to learn the practices of farming, spinning, weaving, carpentry, smithing and masonry, and once they realised the benefits of civilised ways, would more readily embrace Christianity. Furthermore, this healthier approach to life would distract them from their warring ways.
Having bought and kitted out the 110 ton brig Active, Marsden arrived in New Zealand late December 1814 from Port Jackson. Although suffering from chronic sea-sickness, they landed near Whangaroa, where he attempted to reconcile the warring factions in the turmoil ensuing from the burning of the Boyd. Marsden was immediately welcomed, as the canoes which approached the brig were peopled with acquaintances of Ruatara. “In a short time other canoes came to the Active, and brought an abundance of the finest fish I ever saw; our decks were soon covered with them,” he wrote in his journal.
With chiefs Ruatara and Hongi Hika aboard, the welcome to the Bay of Islands was tumultuous, with much weeping and cutting of skin with shells and flints (as was customary with the women). On 24th December they were visited by chief Korokoro and his attending warriors. Marsden was much impressed with both their native attire, red ochre body painting as well as the unison with which the paddlers propelled the waka.
John Nicholas described the scene as the Active was unloaded. “On the arrival of the boats with the cattle, they appeared perfectly bewildered with amazement, not knowing what to conclude respecting such extraordinary looking animals. Cows or horses they had never seen before and, diverted now from everything else, they regarded them as stupendous prodigies. However their astonishment was soon turned into alarm and confusion, for one of the cows that was wild and unmanageable, being impatient of restraint, rushed in among them and caused such a violent terror through the whole assemblages that, imagining some preternatural monster had been let loose to destroy them, they all immediately betook themselves to flight.
“But this cause of their panic being removed, they did not hesitate to return, and Mr Marsden, mounting the horse, rode up and down the beach, exciting their wonder in a tenfold degree. To see a man seated on the back of such an animal they thought the strangest thing in nature, and following him with staring eyes they believed at the moment that he was more than mortal.”
The new settlers were then treated to a sham fight, organised by Ruatara and Korokoro. Korokoro’s canoes advance to shore in battle formation, while Ruatara’s men waited with spears and other weapons. One chief, dressed only in his Birthday suit ran menacingly along the beach, spewing forth a sally of terrible noises, returned in vehemence by the approaching waka. The land-based warriors retreated then recoiled to feign an attack. Ruatara’s wife was included, bearing a whale bone patu (club). After a volley of playground scuffles, with much trampling and shouting, both parties united in a ferocious war dance to conclude proceedings. The missionaries were undoubtedly dumbstruck.
Welcoming formalities over, all set to work preparing for the Sabbath the following day, which coincidentally was also Christmas Day. For the Sunday service, it is best here to let Marsden pick up the narrative. “On Sunday morning (December 25th) when I was upon deck I saw the English flag flying, which was a pleasing sight in New Zealand. I considered it the signal for the dawn of civilisation, liberty and religion in that dark and benighted land. I never viewed the British colours with more gratification, and flattered myself they would never be removed till the natives of that island enjoyed all the happiness of British subjects.
“About ten o’clock we prepared to go ashore to publish the glad tidings of the Gospel for the first time. I was under no apprehensions for the safety of the vessel, and therefore ordered all on board to go on shore to attend Divine service, except the master and one man. When we landed we found Korokoro, Duaterra [Ruatara], and Shunghee [Hongi Hika], dressed in regimentals which Govenor Macquarie had given them, with their men drawn up ready to march into the enclosure to attend Divine service. They had their swords by their sides and a switch in their hands. We entered the enclosure and were placed in the seats on each side of the pulpit. Korokoro marched his men on and placed them on my right hand in the rear of the Europeans and Duaterra placed his men on the left. The inhabitants of the town with the women and children and a number of other chiefs formed a circle round the whole. A very solemn silence prevailed – the sight was truly impressive. I got up and began the service with singing the Old Hundred Psalm, and felt my very soul melt within me when I viewed my congregation and considered the state we were in.”
After the service Nicholas described the scene of Maori parties demonstrating a war dance. “The service ended, we left the enclosure; and as soon as we had got out of it the natives, to the number of three or four hundred, surrounding Mr Marsden and myself, commenced their war dance, yelling and shouting in their style, which they did, I suppose, from the idea that this furious demonstration of their joy would be the most grateful return the could make us for the solemn spectacle they had witnessed.”
All was not pretty amongst the personalities from the outset of the Rangihoua Mission. As Judith Binney notes in her highly readable autobiography of Thomas Kendall, “Three men whose intelligence, personality, and former experiences were fundamentally divergent were thrown together in an artificially created community, in a ‘land of darkness’, against whose people they intended to wage both a spiritual and social war.”
Binney continues: “The settlers had been expected to establish the tiny Christian community on the basis of very vague instructions…..They were to mould their lives on the habits of simple piety, love, and diligence, which would serve as an example to the ‘heathen’……Neither Pratt nor Marsden appreciated the unreality of these apparently simple instructions.”
Friction between Thomas Kendall and the other settlers beset the social atmosphere from the outset. Thomas Kendall and William Hall were both strong-minded and ambitious, Kendall resenting Hall’s desire to establish himself as a solitary trader, a position which by 1818 had severely faltered Kendall’s plans to set up a school. Kendall summarised the situation. “Mr Hall and myself can act no longer in concert together. We must not come near each other in haste lest one of us be dashed to pieces.” John King sided with Hall, scoffing Kendall’s air of superiority, especially as he was prone to bouts of drunkenness.
Hall’s insistence on private trading did little to engender team spirit and the others soon emulated the uncooperative practice. The settlers were similarly unwilling to pool their skills for communal good. As Binney neatly summarises, “Within the first years of the establishment of the mission, King was no longer making shoes for Kendall, Hall had refused to build houses for the other settlers, having completed his own and Kendall was accused of monopolising the trade goods and attempting to rule the settlement with arrogance.”
These spats are understandable, when we consider the life and hardships these folk threw themselves into with abandon. They were arriving to a new country, populated with a race far removed from any in their experience, and were a gruelling and expensive sea voyage of months from the security of their friends and family in Britain. Communication with the CMS in London could take two years for the round trip, obviating any immediate resolution of disputes. Marsden furthermore, continually failed to provide the missionaries with direction or decision, exacerbating the polarisation of the settler families. Isolation initiated introversion, which spiralled petty disputes into all-out arguments.
Further skirmishes occurred when it became common knowledge Kendall’s wife was doing the dirty with Richard Stockwell, a personal servant, who many said even fathered one of Jane’s children. Kendall later came to blows with William Hall in a public fisticuffs and also had a fracas with Walter Hall the blacksmith, which ended in Hall’s wounding by a hurled chisel. The dissent sparked a series of departures aboard the King George in November 1816.
One high note to note was the personality squabbles rarely trickled into how their faith was conducted. Religious evangelizing was their one unifying thread. However tested under the circumstances, it was insufficiently strong to bind them. Apart from establishing a farm, building houses and living together, there were the moral responsibilities of educating their large families or prayer. Enter into the mix stoical personalities whose differences would be exaggerated by isolation and impossibly intimate communal living, then we can well comprehend how it would not all be happy families.
Ploughing through the mix of temperaments, the 30 or so settlers had also to establish a farm for sustenance. Marsden had placed the protection of Ruatara above choosing a fertile site, so the missionaries had to rely on trade to feed themselves. Maori embraced the opportunity – especially as they insisted on trading only goods from the blacksmith (hoes, chisels, axes, war weapons). The missionary community was looked upon, not as an opportunity to blindly discard their ancestral faith, but as an opportunity to trade. They were very savvy to realise preferential acquisition of tools, knowledge and muskets would give them a distinct advantage over other tribes in the area.
Marsden was however correct to assume the new settlement should come under the watchful eye of some protector, as safety was seen as a real issue. Marsden’ views of the New Zealanders may well have been coloured his positive experiences with friendly chiefs. For the men and women at the coal face, it was a different story. William Carlisle, writing to Josiah Pratt, CMS Secretary, illustrates his viewpoint well. “In the present uncivilised and I may truly say barbarous state the natives are in New Zealand is a very improper place, I think, to take women or children to. Mrs Gordon, who died lately in this colony, received so great and sudden shock from a native of New Zealand catching hold of her around the waist while she was at the Bay of Islands in a state of pregnancy, that she never recovered. …At times when fighting parties used to call on us, we were at our wits end, for days together. I have known the women, I mean the missionary settlers wives, much alarmed, and my wife has been so terrified she could not eat, but was crying with my children expecting every moment the natives to creak up on us. Under such circumstances who can truly say New Zealand is a proper place to take women or children to, and I have only spoken of some of the troubles attending the Missionary that has a family in New Zealand – but notwithstanding if the cause is God’s. It shall succeed in spite of Earth and Hell, for the Kingdom of this world, shall become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ.”
Marsden was not to visit New Zealand again until August 1819, accompanied by Reverend Butler who was about to set up a similar mission in Kerikeri. During the preceding time before any form of accommodation could be constructed at Kerikeri population pressures increased with the Butlers, Kemps and Francis Hall also staying at Rangihoua.
Marsden, either deliberately or unknowingly, had managed to separate himself from the shenanigans. Despite indifferent reports of the troubled missionaries, during his seven visits to New Zealand his enthusiasm for the Maori was only ever positively affirmed. “They are a noble race of men: they area very religious in their way, they are men of the first capacity on mind – men of great perseverance and enterprise – who never lose sight of an object that they set their minds upon until they attain it. They are powerful reasoners upon every subject that has come within their knowledge, possess a quick conception, and are well acquainted with human nature. At present there is nothing in New Zealand but war to exercise their active minds. Should the arts of peace in time open to them the field of commerce to find them employment, they will then have less inclination for war.”
These parting words seemed wholly appropriate as he embarked on setting up further missions. However, in the short-term, he could not have been more wrong. Like the experiences at Rangihoua setting up the other missions was to be no stroll in the park.
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