Samuel Marsden

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For the inaugural Bishop of Bathurst, see Samuel Marsden (bishop).
Samuel Marsden
Samuel marsden.jpg
Born (1764-07-28)28 July 1764
Farsley, Yorkshire
Died 12 May 1838(1838-05-12) (aged 73)
Windsor, New South Wales
Education Magdalene College, Cambridge
Church Church of England
Ordained May 1793

Samuel Marsden (28 June 1764 – 12 May 1838) was an English born Anglican cleric and a prominent member of the Church Missionary Society, believed to have introduced Christianity to New Zealand. He was a prominent figure in early New South Wales history in Australia, not only for his ecclesiastical offices, but also for his employment of convicts for farming and his role as a judge, both of which have attracted contemporary criticism.[citation needed]

Early life[edit]

Marsden was born in Farsley, near Pudsey, Yorkshire in England, the son of a Wesleyan blacksmith turned farmer. After attending the village school, he spent some years assisting his father on the farm. In his early twenties, he won a scholarship from the Elland Clerical Society to train as an Anglican priest. After two years at free grammar school he attended Magdalene College, Cambridge,[1] where he was associated with the reformist William Wilberforce. While still studying, Marsden was offered the position of second chaplain to the Reverend Richard Johnson's ministry to the British colony of New South Wales on 1 January 1793. He married Elizabeth Fristan on 21 April 1793 and the following month was ordained by the Bishop of Exeter (having abandoned his degree). He travelled by convict ship to Australia, his eldest child Anne being born en route. Shortly after arrival in 1794 he set up house in Parramatta, 15 miles (24 km) outside the main Port Jackson settlement.

In Australia[edit]

In 1800 he succeeded Johnson and became the senior Anglican minister in New South Wales, he would keep this post until his death.

Marsden was given grants of land by the colonial government and bought more of his own, which were worked, as was customary in Australia in the period, with convict labour. By 1807 he owned 3,000 acres (12 km2) of land. Successful farming ventures provided him with a secure financial base, although attracted criticism for his over-involvement in non-church affairs.[citation needed]

During his time at Parramatta, Marsden befriended many Maori visitors and sailors from New Zealand. He cared for them on his farm, providing accommodation, food, drink, work and an education for up to three years. He gave one Maori chief some land on which he could grow his own crops and taught other Maori to read and write English. He learnt Maori, beginning an English-Maori translation sheet of common words and expressions.[2]

Marsden was appointed to the Bench of Magistrates at Parramatta, a role that attracted criticism in his lifetime. History has remembered Marsden as the "Flogging Parson" because, even by the standards of his day, he inflicted severe punishments. This view is disputed in some circles as part of an anti-clerical writing of history, in turn attributed to a dislike of Roman Catholics and the Irish.[citation needed]

The 1798 United Irish Rebellion General Joseph Holt left an account of a flogging purportedly ordered by Marsden. Holt never explicitly links Marsden to the flogging, and a careful reading of his memoirs shows the flogging of Fitzgerald was ordered in Sydney by the Judge Advocate, though later carried out in Parramatta.[3]

Early in 1804, Marsden christened the one-year-old George Lilly in St John's Cathedral, Parramatta. Lilly later became the noted pioneer of Melbourne, Portland and Auckland.

In 1809, he was the first to ship wool to England from Australia and is believed to have introduced sheep to New Zealand where he has a gentler reputation.

In 1822 Marsden, along with several other magistrates at Parramatta, was dismissed for exceeding his jurisdiction.

Mission to New Zealand[edit]

Marsden was a member of the Church Missionary Society and remained based in New South Wales. Europeans had known of New Zealand since the 1640s and by the early 19th century there had been increasing contact between Māori and Europeans, mainly by the many whalers and sealers around the coast of New Zealand and especially in the Bay of Islands. A small community of Europeans had formed in the Bay of Islands made up of explorers, flax traders, timber merchants, seamen, ex convicts who had served their sentence and some escaped convicts. Marsden was concerned that they were corrupting the Māori way of life and became determined to found a mission station in New Zealand.

Marsden lobbied the Church Missionary Society successfully to send a mission to New Zealand. Lay missionaries John King, William Hall and Thomas Kendall were chosen in 1809, but it was not until 14 November 1814[4] that Marsden took his brig, the "Active" (captained by Thomas Hansen), on an exploratory journey to the Bay of Islands with Kendall and Hall, during which time he conducted the first Christian service on New Zealand soil during Christmas Day 1814. The service was spoken in English which was translated by Ruatara to the 400 strong congregation. He met Māori rangatira (chiefs) from the Ngāpuhi iwi (tribe), who controlled the region around the Bay of Islands, including the chief Ruatara who had lived with him in Australia, and a junior war leader, Hongi Hika, who had helped pioneer the introduction of the musket to Māori warfare in the previous decade. Hongi Hika returned with them to Australia on 22 August.

At the end of the year Kendall, Hall and King returned to start a mission to the Ngāpuhi under Ruatara's (and, later, Hongi Hika's) protection in the Bay of Islands. Hongi Hika returned with them, bringing a large number of firearms from Australia for his warriors.

A mission station was founded with a base at Rangihoua Bay, later moved to Kerikeri, (where the mission house and stone store can still be seen), and ultimately a model farming village at Te Waimate. The mission would struggle on for a decade before attracting converts, in competition with Wesleyan and Catholic missions. Thomas Kendall abandoned his wife for the daughter of a Māori tohunga (priest), also flirted with Māori religion as well as funding the mission in part through helping to arm Hongi Hika's Ngāpuhi.

The Rev. Marsden was in the Bay of Islands in May 1820 when HMS Coromandel, under the command of Captain Downie, arrived at the Bay of Islands from England for the purpose of procuring a cargo of timber in the Firth of Thames. When Coromandel sailed for the Thames a few days later, Reverend Marsden accompanied them on their voyage. Downie reported that while at the Bay of Islands whalers were in the practice of trading muskets and ammunition for pork and potatoes.[5]

In 1820 Hongi Hika and Thomas Kendall travelled to England on the whaling ship the New Zealander.[6] Hongi Hika met King George IV. When Hongi Hika passed through Sydney on his return to New Zealand, he acquired muskets. In the Bay of Islands the Ngāpuhi demanded the CMS missionaries trade muskets for food. However the Rev. Marsden wanted to end this trade because of the impact of the Musket Wars, which was the name given to inter-tribal fighting in which the Māori used the muskets.

For refusing to stop trading arms, Kendall was dismissed by the Church Missionary Society in 1822. Marsden, who knew of Kendall's affair, returned to New Zealand in August 1823 to sack him in person. When Marsden and Kendall sailed from the Bay of Islands, their ship the Brampton was wrecked.[7] Marsden later went to some trouble talking to all Australian printers to prevent Kendall from publishing a Māori grammar book, apparently largely out of spite.

Despite this, Marsden is generally remembered favourably in New Zealand, which he visited seven times. The Anglican school, Samuel Marsden Collegiate School in Karori, Wellington and also (more recently) in Whitby, Porirua were named after Marsden. Houses at King's College (Marsden House) and at Corran School for Girls (Marsden) are also both named after him.

In 1819 Samuel Marsden introduced winegrowing to New Zealand with the planting of over 100 different varieties of vine in Kerikeri, Northland. He wrote:

"New Zealand promises to be very favourable to the vine as far as I can judge at present of the nature of the soil and climate"

Altogether Marsden made seven visits to New Zealand over many years - the longest trip being seven months.

Later life[edit]

It was on Marsden's last visit to the Reverend Henry Stiles at St Matthew's Church at Windsor when he succumbed to an incipient chill and died at the rectory on May the 12th in 1838.[8]

Marsden is buried beside his old church at Parramatta, St John's.[9]

In fiction and popular culture[edit]

The Australian poet Kenneth Slessor wrote a satirical poem criticizing the reverend, Vesper-Song of the Reverend Samuel Marsden.[10]

A portrait of Marsden based on Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore appears in Patrick O'Brian's book The Nutmeg of Consolation.

In the 1978 Australian television series Against the Wind, Marsden was portrayed by David Ravenswood.

Reggae band 1814 took their name from the year that Marsden held the first sermon in the Bay of Islands.[11]

See also[edit]

Paul-Antoine Léonard de Villefeix


  • Quinn, Richard . Samuel Marsden: Altar Ego. Dunmore Publishing, Wellington, September, 2008
  • Marsden, Rev. J. B. (Ed.). Memoirs of the Life and Labours of the Rev. Samuel Marsden of Parramatta. The Religious Tract Society, London, 1858.
  • Reed, A. H. Samuel Marsden; Greatheart of Maoriland, Pickering and Inglis, London, 1939 (Children's book)

External links[edit]

Samuel Marsden biography from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography


  1. ^ "Marsden, Samuel (MRSN790S)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ He Korero. A Jones and K Jenkins. Huia 2011.
  3. ^ Joseph Holt, Thomas Crofton Croker (ed.), Memoirs of Joseph Holt: General of the Irish Rebels, in 1798 (London: H. Colburn, 1838), vol II, at pp. 119-122.[1]
  4. ^ Source: J.R. Elder, ed., The Letters and Journals of Samuel Marsden 1765-1838, Dunedin: Coulls Somerville Wilkie, 1932, pp.93-94.>
  5. ^ "HMS Coromandel". Early shipping in New Zealand waters. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  6. ^ "New Zealander". Early shipping in New Zealand waters. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  7. ^ "Brampton". Early shipping in New Zealand waters. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  8. ^ A T Yarwood, Samuel Marsden: the great survivor, CarIton 1977, 279
  9. ^
  10. ^ - Vesper-Song of the Reverend Samuel Marsden
  11. ^ 1814 - Reggae runnings in Aotearoa, New Zealand