Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
H. E. Marshall

The Apostle of New Zealand

After Cook, the next visitors to New Zealand were Frenchmen. In those days, as soon as a new land was discovered, wonderful stories were told about it. And the Frenchmen, having heard that the British had discovered an island full of gold and precious stones, came to see, and, if possible, get some of it for themselves. They fell into quarrels and misunderstandings with the natives, and horrible massacres took place. Soon tales of the cruel, man-eating savages who lived in New Zealand spread far and wide. It was not long before the islands got such an evil name that sailors avoided the shores with horror. Men thirsting for fresh water, dying for want of fresh food, chose rather to die than to run the risk of falling into the hands of cannibal savages.

But in spite of its evil name, there were still some roving, daring Britons who ventured to the shores to barter with the savages. For New Zealand flax was so soft and silky that manufacturers were eager to buy it. New Zealand timber, too, was sought after, and above all it was found to be a splendid sealing and whaling ground. So for the sake of wealth men were found to brave the terrors of these shores.

But these old sealers and whalers were among the wildest and most reckless of men. They treated the Maoris and their customs with contempt. They carried them off, both men and women, as slaves, and again and again the proud savages repaid such treatment with a terrible vengeance.

Vainly good men, seeing these things, appealed to King George to put a stop to them. The answer was "The islands are not within His Majesty's dominions." The Governor of New South Wales tried to protect the savages, and threatened those who ill-treated them with punishments. That, too, was vain. For in those days many white men regarded a savage as little better than a beast, to be hunted and hounded as such.

Besides being brave and warlike, the Maoris were a roving, sea-loving people like the Britons themselves. Long ages before white men had touched their shores, they, too, had come from far distant islands, and made a new home in New Zealand. The story of their wanderings had been handed down from father to son, and the names of the canoes in which they had come were still remembered among them.

Now that white men came again and again from far over the seas, the roving spirit awoke once more in many of the Maoris. They longed to see the land from which these white-faced strangers came; these strangers who carried thunder and lightning in their hands, and spoke death to their enemies from afar. They wanted, too, to see the great chief of this powerful nation, for they thought he must be indeed a mighty warrior. So some of the Maoris ventured on board the whaling vessels and sailed away to England. Some of them, too, saw King George, but when they saw that he was a feeble, old man and no warrior at all, they were greatly disappointed.

Some Maoris, too, sailed to Sydney. There they met a man whose name stands out in the early story of New Zealand almost more than any other. This man was Samuel Marsden, who has been called the "Apostle of New Zealand."

Marsden was prison chaplain at Sydney. He had done much good work among the rough, bad convicts, and when he came to know the wild, ignorant, misunderstood savages, he longed to help them too. "They are as noble a race of men as are to be met with in any part of the world," he wrote to a friend. "I trust I shall be able in some measure to put a stop to those dreadful murders which have been committed upon the islands for some years past, both by Europeans and by the natives. They are a much injured people notwithstanding all that has been said against them."

Among the Maoris whom Marsden met was a chief called Ruatara. He was one of those who had travelled to Europe. There he had had many adventures, and had been cruelly treated by the white men in whom he had trusted. He was returning home, poor and miserable, when Marsden met and befriended him. And when after more adventures he at length reached New Zealand again, he carried with him the story of Marsden's kindness, making his countrymen believe that all white men were not treacherous and base.

Ruatara also carried home with him a present of wheat which Marsden had told him how to sow.

The wheat was sown, and grew, and ripened. But the Maoris scoffed. They did not believe Ruatara's tale that flour could be made from these thin, yellow stalks. But strong in his faith in his new friend, Ruatara reaped and threshed the wheat. Then he came to a standstill. The Maori savages had no idea of the roughest or simplest kind of mill. Ruatara did not know how to grind his wheat, and laughter against him grew louder than ever. But Marsden had not forgotten his friend, and soon a ship arrived bringing the present of a hand-mill.

In great excitement Ruatara called his friends together. They gathered round him, still scoffing. But when a stream of flour flowed from the mill they were lost in wonder. As soon as enough flour was ground it was carried off, hastily made into a cake, and cooked in a frying pan. Then the Maoris danced and sang for joy. Ruatara had spoken the truth. Henceforth he was to be believed, and they were ready to receive his friend Marsden with kindness.

Soon after this Marsden got leave from his work in New South Wales and visited New Zealand. He landed in the Bay of Islands, on the north-east coast of North Island. In this very bay, not long before, the crew of a British ship had been cruelly slaughtered, and many of them devoured by the savage victors. Yet without one thought of fear Marsden landed among these man-eaters.

Marsden brought with him, as a present from the Governor of New South Wales, three horses, two cows, and a bull. None of the Maoris, except the two or three like Ruatara who had travelled, had ever seen a horse or a cow. They had never seen any animal bigger than a pig, so they wondered greatly at these large, strange beasts. And when Marsden mounted one of the horses and rode along the sands, they wondered still more.

At this time a fierce war was raging in the Bay of Islands between Ruatara and his uncle Hongi on the one side, and a tribe called the Whangaroans on the other side. Marsden was already known as the friend of Ruatara. Now he determined to make friends with the Whangaroans and bring peace between the foes.

These were the very savages who not long before had killed and eaten the British sailors. Yet Marsden made up his mind to spend a night among them. Taking only one friend with him, Marsden went first to the camp of Hongi. Hongi was a very great and fierce warrior, but Samuel Marsden had won his heart, and with him he was gentle and kind. In Hongi's camp the missionaries had supper and then walked to the enemy's camp, which was about a mile away.

The Whangaroan chiefs received the white strangers kindly. They all sat down together, the chiefs surrounding the two white men. The summer sun was setting, night was coming on, they were alone among cannibals, yet they felt no fear.

Marsden began to talk, telling the Maoris why he had come. He was the friend of Hongi and Ruatara, he said, he wished to be their friend, too, and bring peace among them. Marsden could not speak the Maori language so one chief, who like Ruatara had travelled, and could speak English, translated all that Marsden said.

Long they talked. The sun set, the sky grew dark, the stars shone out. One by one the savages lay down to rest upon the ground. At length Marsden, too, and his friend wrapped themselves in their greatcoats and lay down.

But for Marsden there was little sleep. He lay awake, watching and thinking. It was a strange scene. Above twinkled the bright stars, in front lay the sea, calm and smooth, the waves splashing softly against the shore. Far off in the bay shone the lights of the waiting ship, but close around the white men rose a forest of spears, stuck upright in the ground. All over the plain lay huddled groups of man-eating savages, sleeping peacefully. And who could be sure that they would not suddenly spring up and slay the two white men to make a morning feast?

But the night passed, and with daylight came a boat from the ship to take Marsden and his friend on board again. Marsden asked all the chiefs to come too, although he doubted if they would trust themselves in his power, knowing how often they had been deceived by wicked white men. They showed, however, no sign either of fear or anger, and went on board the ship quite willingly. First Marsden gave them breakfast, then he gathered them all into the cabin. Here, too, came Hongi and Ruatara, and having given them each a present of an axe or something useful, he asked them to make friends and promise to fight no more. Then to Marsden's great joy the rival chiefs fell upon each other's necks, rubbed noses (which is the Maori way of shaking hands), and so made peace. The Whangaroan chiefs then went away much pleased with their presents, and vowing always to love the missionaries, and never more to hurt British traders.

The Sunday after this meeting was Christmas Day and Ruatara was very anxious that there should be "church." So without telling anyone, he began to make great preparations.

First he fenced in about an acre of land. Then he made a pulpit and a reading-desk out of an old canoe, and covered them with black cloth. He also made seats for the white people out of bits of old canoes, and upon the highest point near he set up a flagstaff. Then having finished all his preparations he went to tell Mr. Marsden that everything was ready for a Christmas service.

So on Christmas morning 1815 the first Christmas service was held in New Zealand. Everyone from the ship, except one man and a boy, went ashore. For Marsden was so sure that the Maoris meant to be friendly that he felt there was no need for any one to stay to guard the ship.

The Union Jack was run up, and when Mr. Marsden landed he found the Maori chiefs drawn up in line ready to receive him. They were all dressed in regimentals which the Governor of New South Wales had given them, and behind them were gathered their whole tribes, men, women, and children. And thus, following the white men, they all marched to "church."

The white men took their seats, and behind them crowded the dark-faced savages. The ground was carpeted with green fern, the sky was blue above, and a very solemn silence fell upon the waiting crowd as Mr. Marsden and his friends stood up and sang the Old Hundredth Psalm.

All people that on earth do dwell,

Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.

Him serve with mirth, His praise forth tell,

Come ye before Him and rejoice.

Know that the Lord is God indeed;

Without our aid He did us make:

We are His flock, He doth us feed,

And for His sheep He doth us take.

When the singing was over Marsden read the English Church Service. The people stood up and knelt down at a sign from one of their chiefs, for they understood not a word of what was said.

"We don't know what it all means," they said to Ruatara.

"Never mind," said he, "you will understand later."

"Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy," was Marsden's text, and when the sermon was over Ruatara tried to explain in Maori language what it was all about. And if the Maoris did not quite understand all, this they did understand, that Mr. Marsden wanted to be kind to them, and bring peace between his countrymen and theirs.