Life and Work of Samuel Marsden
Scarcely had Mr. Marsden returned to Parramatta when we find him in correspondence with the new Governor on the subject of the aborigines of Australia. They were already wasting away in the presence of the European colonists like snow before the sun. Their restless and wandering habits seemed to present insuperable difficulties, whether the object were to convert or merely to protect them.
His memorandum to the Governor, and subsequent correspondence with the Church Missionary Society, show his anxiety for their welfare and the largeness of his heart. Each new project, as it came before him, was welcomed with serious attention, while at the same time there was no fickleness, no relaxation of his efforts in his old engagements and pursuits.
His interest in the mission to the South Sea Islands continued unabated. The London Missionary Society had deputed the Rev. Daniel Tyerman and Mr. George Bennett to visit these missions, and bring Home in person a report of all they might see upon the spot. On their voyage, they stayed awhile at Sydney, and Mr. Marsden addressed a letter to them, which shows his own zeal in the cause, and the painful apathy or profane contempt of others. Such page 158 memorials, in this day of comparative fervour, ought not to be forgotten.
Sydney, November 4, 1824.
Gentlemen,—I know of no circumstance that has given me more satisfaction than your mission to the South Sea Islands. The attempt to introduce the arts of civilization and the knowledge of Christianity amongst the inhabitants of those islands was confessedly great. An undertaking of such a new and important nature could not be accomplished without much labour, expense, anxiety, and risk, to all who were concerned in the work. The missionaries, for the first ten years, suffered every privation in the islands, from causes which I need not state. They called for every support and encouragement to induce them to remain in the islands, and to return to their stations, after they had been compelled to take refuge in New South Wales.
During these ten years, I used every means in my power to assist the missionaries, and to serve the Society Islands. During the next ten years, the ruling powers in this colony manifested a very hostile spirit to the mission. As I felt it my pleasure as well as my duty to support the cause, I fell under the marked displeasure of those in authority, and had a painful warfare to maintain for so long a period, and many sacrifices I had to make. The ungodly world always treated the attempt to introduce the Gospel among the natives of the Islands as wild and visionary, and the Christian world despaired of success.
In those periods of doubt and uncertainty in the public mind, I suffered much anxiety, as very great responsibility was placed on me. Sometimes, from one cause and another, my sleep departed from me; though I was persuaded God would bless the work.page 159
The work is now done; this your eyes have seen, and your ears heard; in this I do rejoice and will rejoice.
I wish you, as representatives of the Society, to satisfy yourselves, from friends and foes, relative to my conduct towards the mission for the last twentyfive years. You must be aware that many calumnies have been heaped upon me, and many things laid to my charge which I know not. My connection with the missionaries and the concerns of the mission has been purely of a religious nature, without any secular views or temporal interests; and my services whether they be great or small, were gratuitous.
The missionaries, as a body, are very valuable men, and as such I love them; but some of them, to whom I had been kind, have wounded me severely, both here and elsewhere. I have always found it difficult to manage religious men; what they state, though in a bad spirit, is generally believed by the Christian world.
I need not enter into the circumstances which urged me to purchase the Queen Charlotte, as you are in full possession of them; you are also acquainted with the reason why her expenses became so heavy, the fall of colonial produce more than twenty per cent. in so short a period, which no one could have anticipated at that time, and the increased duty of one hundred per cent. upon tobacco. If these two circumstances had not occurred, there would have been no loss to any individuals or the mission. I enclose the statement of the accounts of the Queen Charlotte, and shall leave the matter in your hands, to act as you think proper. I shall also leave the society to make their own account of the interest upon the £600 I borrowed. I have no doubt but the society will be satisfied that I had no motive but the good of the page 160 mission, and that, as Christian men who fear God, they will do what is just and right. I shall therefore leave the matter in your hands.
I have the honour to be, gentlemen,Your most obedient, humble servant,
While thus engaged, he was still a faithful minister of the Gospel in its richest consolations, and a bold opponent of vice. His position as a Magistrate obliged him not only to reprove but also to punish, sin. The task was difficult, when the real offender, in too many cases, was not the wretched culprit at the bar of justice, but some rich and insolent delinquent, beyond the reach of the limited powers of a colonial Magistrate. In consequence of Mr. Marsden's fearless conduct in a case we shall not describe, he was at length formally dismissed from the Magistracy. All that is necessary to be known, in order to vindicate his character, is contained in an extract of a letter written by himself to Mr. Nicholas, dated Parramatta, the 12th of August, 1824:
“My very dear sir,” he says, “I have still to strive against sin and immorality, which brings upon me the hatred of some men in power; this I must expect from those who live on in sin and wickedness… You would hear of the whole bench of Magistrates at Parramatta being dismissed at one stroke, five in number—Messrs…. and your humble servant. We fell in the cause of truth and virtue. If certain individuals could have knocked me down, and spared my colleagues, I should have fallen alone; but there page 161 was no alternative but to sacrifice all at once. I glory in my disgrace. As long as I live I hope to raise a standard against vice and wickedness. We have some Herods here who would take off the head of the man who dared to tell them that adultery was a crime.”
He was still subject to the most annoying insults. Imputations, ludicrous from their absurdity and violence, were heaped upon him. In reading the libels which were published in the colony, and in England, too, about this time, we should suppose that the man against whom they were aimed was some delinquent, notorious even in a penal settlement.
He was openly accused of being “a man of the most vindictive spirit,” “a turbulent and ambitious priest,” a “cruel Magistrate,” an “avaricious man.”
These charges, amongst many more, were contained in a work in two octavo volumes, professing to give an account of Australasia, which reached a third edition, and to which the author's name was attached. As if these were not sufficient to grind his reputation to the dust, further charges of hypocrisy and bigotry were thrown in. These last were easily repelled; to refute the others was more difficult, inasmuch as facts were involved which it was necessary to clear up and place in a just light before the public. It might have seemed magnanimous to despise such assailants, and meet them with silent pity. And yet we doubt whether such magnanimity would have been wise, for with a blemished reputation his usefulness would page 162 have been at an end; since his accusers were not anonymous hirelings, but Magistrates and men of high position in the colony.
He referred the matter to his friends at Home, placing his character in their hands. He was willing to institute an action for libel, if this step were thought advisable; or else to lay a statement of his wrongs before the House of Commons; and he transmitted the manuscript of a pamphlet, in self-justification, to his friend Dr. Mason Good. It was accompanied with a letter, remarkable for the modest estimate of his own abilities, as well as for true Christian meekness:—
I have requested our mutual friend, Baron Field, Esq., to show the documents to you, and to consult with you on the propriety of publishing them. I have much more confidence in your superior judgment than in my own…. Many hard contests I have had in this colony. But God has hitherto overruled all for good, and he will continue to do so. As a Christian I rejoice in having all manner of evil spoken of me by wicked men. As a member of society, it is my duty to support, by every lawful means, an upright character. The good of society calls upon me to do this, from the public situation I hold, as well as that Gospel which I believe; on this principle I think it right to notice Mr. W.'s work. I leave it to you and my other friends to publish what I have written or not, as you may think proper, and with what alterations and arrangements you may think necessary. I do not know how to make a book, any more than a watch, but you have learned the trade completely; I therefore beg your assistance, for which I shall feel very grateful.
But even these anxieties could not engross his confidential correspondence. In the same letter we have pleasant mention of New Zealand and its missionaries:—“I have no doubt about New Zealand; we must pray much for them and labour hard, and God will bless the labour of our hands.” Nor is science quite forgotten:—“I have sent you a small box of fossils and minerals, by Captain Dixon, of the Phœnix, from Point Dalrymple principally; the whole of them came from Van Diemen's Land.”
Mr. Wilberforce and other friends of religion were consulted; and under their advice his pamphlet was published in London, though not till the year 1826. It is entitled, “An Answer to certain Calumnies, etc., by the Rev. Samuel Marsden, principal Chaplain to the Colony of New South Wales.”
It contains a temperate, and at the same time a conclusive answer, to all the charges made against him. To some of these we have already had occasion to refer; others have lost their interest. The charge of hypocrisy was chiefly grounded on the fact that a windmill, on Mr. Marsden's property, had been seen at work on Sunday. But “the mill,” he says, “was not in my possession at that time, nor was I in New South Wales. I never heard of the circumstance taking place but once; and the Commissioner of Inquiry was the person who told me of it after my return from New Zealand. I expressed my regret to the Commissioner that anything should have taken place, in my absence, which had the appearance page 164 that I sanctioned the violation of the Sabbath Day. As I was twelve hundred miles off at the time, it was out of my power to prevent what had happened; but I assured him it should not happen again, for the mill should be taken down, which was done. Very few, it is to be feared, would make such a sacrifice, simply to avoid the possibility of a return of the appearance of evil!”
The case of James Ring we cannot pass unnoticed. It shows the cruelty with which Mr. Marsden's reputation was assailed on the one hand, and his own firm and resolute bearing on the other. Ring was a convict, who for his general good conduct had been assigned as a domestic servant to Mr. Marsden. He was permitted by the latter, in accordance with the usual custom, to work occasionally at his own trade, that of a painter and glazier, on his own account, and as a reward for his good conduct. He was frequently employed in this way by the residents at Parramatta; amongst others by the Chief Magistrate himself. This man having been ill-treated and severely beaten by another servant, applied, with Mr. Marsden's approbation, to the Magistrates of Parramatta for redress; instead of receiving which, he was charged by them with being illegally at large, and committed to the common gaol.
Mr. Marsden was then absent on duty in the country: on appearing before the bench of Magistrates upon his return home, he at once stated that he had given permission to Ring to page 165 work occasionally for himself, and that therefore if there was any blame it lay with him, and not the prisoner. The Magistrates not only ordered Mr. Marsden to be fined two shillings and sixpence per day for each day his servant had been thus at large, under the assumed plea of his transgressing a General Government order, but also ordered Ring to be remanded to gaol and ironed; and he was subsequently worked in irons in a penal gang.
“At this conviction there was no informer, nor evidence,” (we are now quoting Mr. Marsden's words, from a statement which he made before a Court of Inquiry instituted by Lord Bathurst, the Colonial Minister at Home, to investigate the subject at Mr. Marsden's request), “but the bench convicted me on my own admission that I had granted indulgence to my servant to do jobs in the town. There were two convictions, the first was on the 17th of May, 1823. On the 23rd of the same month, without a hearing, or being present, without informer, evidence, or notice, on the same charge I was convicted in the penal sum of ten pounds. On the 7th of June, a convict constable entered my house with a warrant of execution, and levied the fine by distress and sale of my property.”
These convictions took place under an obsolete colonial regulation of 1802, made in the first instance by Governor King, to meet a temporary emergency; but virtually set aside by a general order of Governor Macquarie of a much page 166 later date, granting the indulgence under certain regulations, with which Mr. Marsden had complied.
Mr. Marsden says, in his official defence, that he “was the only person in the colony who was ever fined under such circumstances, since the first establishment of the colony, to the present time.” And he adds a statement which, had it not come down to us thus accredited, under his own hand, would have seemed incredible, namely that “the two Magistrates by whom the fines were inflicted, Dr.——and Lieut.——, were doing, on that very day, the same thing for which they fined me and punished my servant, and I pointed that out to them at the time they were sitting on the bench, and which they could not deny.” Denial, indeed, was out of the question, since, says Mr. Marsden, “one of Dr.—'s convict servants, Henry Buckingham, by trade a tailor, was working for me, and had been so for months. Lieut.——at that very time also had two convict servants belonging to Dr. Harris, working for him at his own house.”
After two years Lord Bathurst ordered the Governor of New South Wales to establish a formal inquiry into the case. A court was summoned at Sydney, before which Mr. Marsden appeared.
The whole affair was investigated, and the result was not only Mr. Marsden's entire acquittal of the charges which wantonness and malice had preferred, but the establishment of his reputation as a man of high courage and page 167 pure integrity, and a Christian minister of spotless character.
More than two years had now passed since Mr. Marsden's previous visit to New Zealand. The close of the year 1826 found him preparing for another, his fifth voyage, of 1200 miles, to the scene of those missions he had so long regarded with all a parent's fondness. A great change had just taken place in the conduct of several chiefs towards the missionaries in consequence of their fierce internecine wars.
At Whangaroa the whole of the Wesleyan missionary premises had been destroyed; the property of all the missionaries was frequently plundered, and their lives were exposed to the greatest danger. The worst consequences were apprehended, and the missionaries, warned of their danger by the friendly natives, were in daily expectation of being at least stripped of everything they possessed, according to the New Zealand custom. For a time the Wesleyan mission was suspended, and their pious and zealous missionary, Mr. Turner, took refuge at Sydney, and found a home at the parsonage at Parramatta.
As soon as the painful intelligence reached New South Wales, Mr. Marsden determined to proceed to the Bay of Islands, and use his utmost exertions to prevent the abandonment of the mission. He was under no apprehension of suffering injury from the natives; and his long acquaintance with their character and habits led him to anticipate that the storm would soon pass away. Accordingly, he sailed page 168 for New Zealand in H.M.S. Rainbow, and arrived in the Bay of Islands on the 5th of April, 1827.
He had reached the period of life when even the most active crave for some repose, and feel themselves entitled to the luxury of rest; but his ardent zeal never seems to have wanted other refreshment than a change of duties and of scene.
He found the state of things improved; peace had been restored; and the missionaries were once more out of danger. He conferred with them, and gave them spiritual counsel. As far as time would permit, he reasoned with the chiefs upon the baneful consequences of the late war, and, at the end of five days from his arrival, he was again upon the ocean, on his way back to Sydney. “He was not wanted in New Zealand”; in Australia, besides domestic cares, many circumstances combined to make his presence desirable. Thus he was instant in season, out of season; disinterested, nay indifferent and utterly regardless of the honours and preferments which even good men covet; and ever finding in the work itself, and in Him for the love of whom it was undertaken, an abundant recompense.
Brief as the visit was, it confirmed his faith, and reassured his confidence in the speedy conversion of New Zealand. He found the missionaries living in unity and godly love, and devoting themselves to the work. “I trust,” he says, “that the Great Head of the Church will bless their labours.” In consequence of page 169 his co-operation with the missionaries, the beneficial labours of the Press now for the first time reached the Maori tribes. During a visit to Sydney, Mr. Davis had carried through the Press a translation of the first three chapters of Genesis, the twentieth of Exodus, part of the fifth of Matthew, the first of John, and some hymns. These were small beginnings, but not to be despised; they prepared the way for the translation of the New Testament into Maori, which was printed a few years afterwards at the expense of the British and Foreign Bible Society. The importance of this work can scarcely be estimated, and it affords a striking example of the way in which that noble institution becomes the silent handmaid, to prepare the rich repast which our various missionary societies are evermore distributing abroad, with bounteous hand, to feed the starving myriads of the heathen world.