Christianity Among The New Zealanders

By the Right Rev. William Williams, D.C.L.     Bishop of Waiapu.

CHAPTER I     1808-1814


OUR first acquaintance with New Zealand is gathered from the interesting narrative of Captain Cook.  This enterprising navigator did good service in his day by opening to our view many parts of the world, before unknown to commercial enterprise, and thus preparing the way for the introduction of Christianity. Among these the continent of Australia was soon chosen by the English Government, from its remoteness and its seclusion from the rest of the civilized world, as a fit locality for the banishment of that part of the community which had forfeited the right of freedom in the mother country.  A convict settlement was formed in New South Wales, under the control of a governor, supported by a guard of soldiers, and a staff of officers, necessary to conduct the affairs of the colony.  A chaplain was also appointed to attend to the religious instruction of the settlement, and as his duties increased, the Rev. Samuel Marsden was sent out to his assistance in the year 1793.

In the course of time the wants of the colony brought a certain amount of trade, and as the hitherto unfrequented seas came to be better known, it was found that the whale fishery and the capture of seals could be carried on with much profit.  Ships which were engaged in these occupations occasionally touched on the coasts of New Zealand, and as the natives gained confidence, many were induced to take passage in them and visit the neighbouring harbour of Port Jackson.  It was in this way that Mr. Marsden first obtained a knowledge of the New Zealanders, and a growing interest was excited in their behalf, and a hope that one day the way would be open for giving to them the blessings of the Gospel.  He visited England in the year 1808; and it was at this time that he laid the foundation of the Church of England Mission to New Zealand.  In its consequences, civil and religious, this has proved one of the most extraordinary of those achievements which are the glory of the churches in these later times.  This was the great enterprise of his life: he is known already, and will be remembered while the Church on earth endures, as the apostle of New Zealand.  He had formed a high, and we do not think an exaggerated, estimate of the New Zealand tribes.  "They are a noble race," he writes, 'vastly superior in understanding to anything you can imagine in a savage nation."  This was before the mission was begun.  But he did not speak merely from hearsay: several of their chieftains and enterprising warriors had found a welcome at the hospitable parsonage at Paramatta.  Sometimes, it is true, they were but awkward guests, as the following anecdote will show, which is given in the words of one of Mr. Marsden's daughters: "My father had sometimes as many as thirty New Zealanders staying at the parsonage.  He possessed extraordinary influence over them.  On one occasion a young lad, the nephew of a chief, died, and his uncle immediately made preparation to sacrifice a slave to attend his spirit into the other world.  Mr. Marsden was from home, and his family were only able to preserve the life of the young New Zealander by hiding him in one of the rooms.  Mr. Marsden no sooner returned and reasoned with the chief, than he consented to spare his life.  No further attempt was made upon it, though the uncle frequently deplored that his nephew had no attendant to the next world, and seemed afraid to return to New Zealand, lest the father of the young man should reproach him for having given up this important custom."

Mr. Marsden had succeeded in his representations to the Church Missionary Society, and on his return to New South Wales in 1809, he was accompanied by two catechists, Messrs. William Hall and John King, who were to be the pioneers of the work.  His prayers and devout aspirations for New Zealand had been heard on high, and the way of the Lord was preparing in a manner far beyond his expectations, ardent as they seemed.  The ship Ann, in which he sailed, by order of the Government, for New South Wales, carried with her one whom Providence had raised up to act an important part, as leading to the conversion of that benighted land.

The ship had been some time at sea before Mr. Marsden observed on the forecastle, amongst the sailors, a man whose darker skin and wretched appearance awakened his sympathy.  He was wrapped in an old great-coat, was very sick and weak, and had a violent cough, accompanied with profuse bleeding.  He was much dejected, and appeared as though a few days would close his life.  This was Ruatara, a New Zealand chieftain, whose story, as related by Mr. Marsden, is almost too strange for fiction.  And as "this young chief became," as he tells us, "one of the principal instruments in preparing the way for the introduction of the arts of civilization, and the knowledge of Christianity into his native country," a brief sketch of his marvellous adventures will not be out of place.

"When the existence of New Zealand was yet scarcely known to Europeans, it was occasionally visited by South Sea whalers in search of' provisions and water.  One of these, the Argo, put into the Bay of Islands in 1805, and Ruatara, fired with the spirit of adventure, embarked in her with two of his companions.  The Argo remained on the New Zealand coast for five months, and then sailed for Port Jackson, the modern Sydney of Australia.  She then went to fish on the coast of New Holland for six months, again returning to Port Jackson  Ruatara had been six months on board, working as a sailor, and passionately fond of this roving life.  He then experienced that unkindness and foul play, of which the New Zealander has often had sad reason to complain.  He was left on shore without a friend, and without the slightest remuneration.

"He now shipped on board the Albion whaler, Captain Richardson, whose name deserves honourable mention: he behaved very kindly to Ruatara, paid him for his services in various European articles, and after six months cruising on the fisheries, put him on shore in the Bay of Islands, where his tribe lived.  Here he remained some time, when the Santa Anna anchored in the Bay, on her way to Norfolk Island, and other islets of the South Sea, in quest of seal-skins.  The restless Ruatara again embarked; he was put on shore at Norfolk Island in company with fourteen sailors, provided with a very scanty supply of bread and salt provisions, to kill seals, while the ship sailed, intending to be absent but a short time, to procure potatoes and pork in New Zealand.  On her return she was blown off the coast in a storm, and did not make the land for a month.  The sealing party were now in the greatest distress, and accustomed as he was to hardships, Ruatara often spoke of the extreme suffering which he and his party had endured, while for upwards of three months they existed on a desert island, with no other food than seals and sea-fowls.  Three of his companions died under these distresses.

"At length the Santa Anna returned, having procured a valuable cargo of seal-skins, and prepared to take her departure homewards.  Ruatara had now an opportunity of gratifying an ardent desire he had for some time entertained, of visiting that remote country, from which so many vast ships were sent, and to see with his own eyes the great chief of so wonderful a people.  He willingly risked the voyage as a common sailor to visit England and see King George.  The Santa Anna arrived in the river Thames about July 1809, and Ruatara now requested that the captain would fulfil his promise, and indulge him with a sight of the King.  Again he had a sad proof of the perfidiousness of Europeans.  Sometimes he was told that no one was allowed to see King George, sometimes that his house could not be found.  This distressed him exceedingly.  He saw little of London, was ill-used, and seldom permitted to go on shore.  In about fifteen days the vessel had discharged her cargo, when the captain told him that he should put him on board the Ann, which had been taken up by Government to convey convicts to New South Wales.  The Ann, had already dropped down to Gravesend, and Ruatara asked the master of the Santa Anna for some wages and clothing.  He refused to give him any, telling him that the owners at Port Jackson would pay him two muskets for his services on his arrival there; but even these he never received,"

Mr. Marsden was at this time in London, quite ignorant of the fact that the son of a New Zealand chief, in circumstances so pitiable, was on board the vessel in which his passage was taken.  Their first meeting took place, as we have stated, when she had been some days at sea.  His sympathies were at once roused, and his indignation too.  "I inquired,'' he says, "of the master where he met with him, and also of Ruatara, what had brought him to England, and how he came to be so wretched and miserable.  He told me that the hardships and wrongs which he had endured on board the Santa Anna were exceedingly great, and that the sailors had beaten him very much, that the master had defrauded him of all his wages, and prevented his seeing the king."  By the kindness of those on board, Ruatara recovered, and was ever after truly grateful for the attention shown him.  On their arrival at Sydney, Mr. Marsden took him into his house for some months, during which time he applied himself to agriculture.  He then wished to return home, and embarked for New Zealand.  But it was not deemed prudent to allow Messrs. Hall and King to accompany him.  Tidings had recently been brought to Sydney of the fearful massacre of the Boyd at the harbour of Whangaroa, and it was doubtful whether the lives of the missionaries would be safe among this savage people.

Mr. Marsden believed that this outrage had been occasioned by some great provocation; and subsequent inquiry proved that it was so.  The Boyd, commanded by Captain Thompson, had taken a cargo of convicts to New South Wales, when, having completed her charter party, she embarked a number of passengers for England, and then proceeded to New Zealand for a cargo of timber.  Two New Zealanders, one of whom bore the name of George, were together at Port Jackson, and agreed with Captain Thompson to work their passage to their own country.  The native account states that George was taken so ill during the voyage as to be incapable of doing duty; and the captain, not believing this to be the case, but imputing his absence from work rather to laziness than indisposition, had him tied up to the gangway and flogged.  Such treatment, it may be readily supposed, must have sunk deeply into the mind of a savage, and the revenge he meditated was no less terrible than certain.  On their arrival at New Zealand, he induced the captain to run the vessel into Whangaroa, where he was in the midst of his own people, promising to supply all the timber he required.  The captain, with a large party, soon left the ship, for the purpose of examining the neighbouring woods, and all were speedily overpowered and killed.  The natives then arrayed themselves in the clothes of the sailors, and went off to the ship in the boats.  A general massacre of the remaining part of the crew and passengers followed, and with the exception of four individuals, neither man, woman, or child, of all that had left Port Jackson, being about seventy persons, escaped the cruel vengeance of their merciless enemies.

In the face of this sad event, Mr. Marsden did not allow any direct step to be taken towards the commencement of the mission, until 1814, when Mr. Thomas Kendal, having arrived from England, he directed Mr. Kendal and Mr. Hall to proceed to the Bay of Islands, for the purpose of re-opening a communication with Ruatara, and to ascertain the general feeling of the natives.  They were kindly received, and on the return of the vessel to New South Wales, several chiefs accompanied them, among whom were Ruatara and Hongi, a chief who was rising in importance, by reason of his daring acts of valour.  Mr. Marsden wrote at this time to the Secretary of the Church Missionary Society:  -  " I am happy to inform you that the brig Active returned safe from New Zealand, on the 21st of August, after fully accomplishing the object of her voyage.  My wish was to open a friendly intercourse between the natives of that island and the missionaries, previous to their final settlement among them.

"The public prejudices have been very great against these poor heathen, both here and in Europe.  Their acts of violence and cruelty have been published to the world, but the causes that led to them have been concealed.  Many acts of fraud, murder, and oppression, have been committed from time to time by Europeans.  The natives had no means of redress for the injuries they suffered but retaliation.  But as they were considered such monsters of cruelty, I did not think it prudent, in a public point of view, to send the wives and families of the missionaries in the first instance, but rather to bring over some of the chiefs to Port Jackson, and to establish a friendship with them.  My old friend Ruatara, with two other chiefs and some of their relatives, are now at Paramatta, living with me and Messrs. Hall and Kendal.  This intercourse will remove all apprehension, as a cordial intimacy and friendship will now be formed among them."  At length, on the 28th of November, 1814, the schooner Active weighed anchor from Sydney Cove, having on board the Rev. S. Marsden; his friend Mr. Liddiard Nicholas; and the missionaries, Kendal, Hall, and, King, with their wives and families, and a party of eight New Zealanders.  Calling at different places along the coast, they met with a large body of Whangaroa natives, the perpetrators of the massacre of the Boyd.  From them Mr. Marsden gathered the particulars of this sad tragedy, and their account of the causes which led to it.  He spoke much to them of a better way, and of his object in bringing teachers to live among them.  As the evening advanced, and the people began to retire to rest, Mr. Marsden and Mr. Nicholas wrapped themselves up in their great-coats, and prepared for rest also.  George directed me," writes Mr. Marsden, "to lie by his side.  His wife and child lay on the right hand, and Mr. Nicholas close by.  The night was clear, the stars shone bright, and the sea before us was smooth.  Around us were numerous spears stuck 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 present situation with feelings which I cannot express  -  surrounded by cannibals, who had massacred and devoured our countrymen.  I wondered much at the mysteries of Providence, and how these things could be.  Never did I behold the blessed advantages of civilization in a more grateful light than now.  I did not sleep much during the night.  My mind was too seriously occupied by the present scene, and the new and strange ideas which it naturally excited."

They reached the Bay of Islands on the 22d of December, and anchored off Rangihoua, which was the village over which Ruatara was chief. The Sabbath which followed was most remarkable in its bearing on the future destinies of New Zealanders, though it was long before the anticipated fruit was to appear.  Everything presented an auspicious aspect.  On their arrival at the spot which had been long fixed upon, the chiefs of greatest influence came forward with strong assurances of their desire to favour the benevolent object, and the people seemed to enter into the feelings of their chiefs, all being ready to receive with gladness whatever was offered for their good.  In the mean time Ruatara, who was really a man of fine character, proceeded to take a step in the right direction.  He passed the remaining part of the day in preparing for the Sabbath.  He inclosed about half an acre of land with a fence, erected a pulpit and reading-desk in the centre, and covered the whole with some cloth which he had brought with him from Port Jackson.  He also arranged some old canoes, as seats on each side of the pulpit for the English.  These preparations he made of his own accord, and in the evening informed Mr. Marsden that everything was ready for divine service.  On Sunday morning Mr. Marsden saw from the deck of the vessel the English colours hoisted on a flagstaff, erected by Ruatara.  It seemed to be the signal for better days, the dawn of religion and civilization in this benighted land; and it was hoped that under the protection of that flag, the progress of religion and civilization might go on, until all the natives of these islands should enjoy the happiness of British subjects.

About ten o'clock Mr. Marsden prepared to go on shore, to publish for the first time the glad tidings of the Gospel.  There was no apprehension for the safety of the vessel; everybody therefore, went on shore to attend divine service, except the master and one man.  When they landed they found Korokoro, Ruatara, and Hongi dressed in regimentals, which Governor Macquarrie had given them, each wearing a sword, and carrying a switch in his hand, with their men drawn up ready to march into the inclosure.  The English were placed on the seats on each side of the pulpit.  Korokoro arranged his men on the right, in the rear of the English'; and Ruatara's people occupied 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.  Mr. Marsden writes, "I rose up and began the service with singing the Old Hundredth Psalm; and felt my very soul melt within me, then I viewed my congregation, and considered the state that they were in.  After reading the service, during which the natives stood up and sat down, at the signal given by the motion of Korokoro's switch which was regulated by the movements of the Europeans; it being Christmas-day, I preached from the second chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, and tenth verse, 'Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy.' The natives told Ruatara that they could not understand what I said.  He replied that they were not to mind that now, for they would understand by-and-by, and that he would explain my meaning as far as he could.  When I had done preaching, he informed them what I had been talking about.  In this manner the Gospel has been introduced into New Zealand, and I fervently pray that the glory of it may never depart from its inhabitants, till time shall be no more."

A gloom was soon cast over the bright prospect.  It pleased God that this promising chief should be removed by death, and with him for some time disappeared the hope of permanent good to the people.  A few days before Mr. Marsden left New Zealand, Ruatara was taken suddenly ill.  When Mr. Marsden heard of his state he went to visit him, but the superstition of the natives allowed of no interference.  His people had placed a fence about him, and a certain number of persons were tatooed to attend upon him.  For two or three days he tried in vain to see him.  At length, partly by entreaties, and partly by threats, he succeeded, and administered a little food, which his own relatives had studiously kept from him.  He was very ill, and apparently not far from death.  At this awful moment he appeared not to know what to do.  He had a little glimmering of light, and asked Mr. Marsden to pray with him, but the priest was always in attendance night and day, and his influence was in constant exercise to check any better feeling.  Poor Ruatara seemed to be at a loss where to repose his afflicted mind.  His views of the Gospel were not sufficiently clear to cause him to give up his superstitions, but, at the same time, he willingly listened to the little instruction which was given.  As the period of Mr. Marsden's stay was limited, he was obliged to leave him in the midst of his affliction, and four days afterwards he expired.

As soon as Ruatara was dead, the corpse was placed in a sitting posture, according to the native custom, the forehead being encircled with feathers.  On the right hand, Rahu, his wife, was on her knees as chief mourner, and on the left, his sister and two or three female relatives.  When strangers arrived, the mourners commenced their usual bitter cry, beating their breasts and waving their hands, Hongi was uncle to the deceased, and as he approached, he uncovered the face of his nephew, and stood immediately before him.  He appeared to be speaking to the corpse.  In his left hand he held the blade of flax leaf, and waving the other he occasionally took hold of the hair of Ruatara, as if eager to snatch him from the king of terrors.  Tears streamed down his cheeks as he uttered his lamentable wail.  The natives all joined in the crying, but the grief of the relatives was excessive.  Rahu was of all others the most inconsolable; and on the following day, while the people were still mourning and cutting themselves, according to their manner, she found an opportunity of putting a period to her own life, by hanging herself at a short distance from the body of her departed husband.

This account of Ruatara is sufficient to indicate that the New Zealanders were a superior race of savages.  Their language shows that they belong to the general family by which the greater number of the South Sea Islands are peopled, and in common with the natives of Tahiti, Tonga, and the Sandwich Islands, they were in many points superior to the natives of New Holland.  This latter people live entirely by hunting and fishing, and raise no produce of any kind from the soil.  They erect no houses, the warm climate of New Holland allowing them to sleep with impunity in the open air; and the utmost protection they seek for in a heavy fall of rain is afforded by a few short strips of bark, which are placed against a pole supported by two upright sticks.  The houses of the New Zealanders are constructed with a degree of comfort, affording a sufficient shelter from the inclemency of the weather, and have often furnished a welcome refuge to the English traveller.  The New Hollanders have no garment, except occasionally the skin of the opossum and kangaroo, while the mats of the New Zealanders, with which every native used to be clothed, were woven with much labour, and possessed some beauty of texture.  Captain Cook mentions the cultivations of the natives as being attended to with much care when he first visited them; and potatoes and other foreign productions of the earth have always been received with much avidity, and turned at once to the best account.  The natives say that the first potatoes which they obtained were carefully planted as they had been wont to plant the kumara, and the increase was distributed among their friends far and near, until all were supplied.  Mr. Marsden also on his first visit to the country speaks, of Hongi's cultivations with surprise.  "He had near his village one field which appeared to me to contain forty acres, all fenced in with rails, and upright stakes tied to them, to keep out the pigs. Much of it was planted with turnips and sweet potatoes, and was in high cultivation. They suffered no weeds to grow, but with wonderful labour and patience rooted up everything likely to injure the growing crop."  Their agricultural tools were principally made of wood; one formed like a spade, another which they called "ko," a stout pointed stake, with a small piece of wood firmly lashed about twelve inches from the point, upon which the foot treads to force it into the ground, in shape like a boy's stilt.  This forms a powerful lever with which the ground is turned over with ease.  They showed from their earliest intercourse with the English a strong disposition to increase their comforts, and gladly substituted the iron axe and the spade for their own rude implements.

In the eagerness which was shown to receive the first missionaries, it can hardly be supposed that there was much beyond a wish of obtaining a better supply of these treasures, which they saw were possessed in abundance by the foreigners.  We can scarcely think that there was a real desire for any change in their religious creed.  Even the gratifying steps taken by Ruatara for the observance of the first Christian Sabbath, may have been nothing more than a desire to bring his people to approximate to the English in an external rite, which his residence in New South Wales had led him to notice as a part of the system of civilized man.


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