Life and Work of Samuel Marsden
The retirement of the senior chaplain left Mr. Marsden in sole charge of the spiritual concerns of the infant colony. He had now to officiate at the three settlements of Sydney, Parramatta, and Hawkesbury without assistance. The nature of the population, consisting as it did of a mass of criminals, rendered his ministerial labours peculiarly distressing. The state of morals was utterly depraved; oaths and ribaldry, and audacious lying were general; marriage, and the sacred ties of domestic life, were almost unknown, and those who, from their station, should have set an example to the convicts and settlers, encouraged sin in others by the effrontery of their own transgressions. Under discouragement such as would have subdued the spirit of most men, did he, for the long period of fourteen years, continue at his post; cheered it is true with occasional gleams of success, but upon the whole rather a witness against abounding vice than, at present, a successful evangelist.
Nor were domestic trials wanting to complete that process of salutary discipline by which “the great Shepherd of the Sheep” was preparing his servant for other and wider scenes of labour, and for triumphs greater than the Church in these later days had known. His page 14 first-born son, a lovely and promising child scarcely two years old, was thrown from its mother's arms by a sudden jerk of the gig in which they were seated, and killed upon the spot. It would be impossible to describe the agonised feelings of the mother under such a bereavement, nor were the sorrows of the father less profound. He received the tidings, together with the body of his lifeless boy, we are told, with “calm, and even dignified submission,” for “he was a man who said little though he felt much.”
A second stroke, still more painful, was to follow. Mrs. Marsden, determined not to hazard the safety of another child, left her babe at home in charge of a domestic while she drove out. But her very precaution was the occasion of his death; the little creature strayed into the kitchen unobserved, fell backwards into a pan of boiling water, and its death followed soon after. Thus early in his ministerial career the iron entered his own soul, and taught him that sympathy for the wounded spirit which marked his character through life.
But from these scenes of private suffering we must turn aside. The public life and ministerial labours of Mr. Marsden require our attention; and as we enter upon the review of them we must notice two circumstances which from the very outset of his career exposed him to frequent suspicion and obloquy, both in the colony and at home, and formed in fact the chief materials, so to speak, out of which his page 15 opponents wove the calumnies with which they harassed the greater portion of his life.
He had scarcely arrived at his post when he was appointed a colonial Magistrate. Under ordinary circumstances, we should condemn in the strongest manner the union of functions so obviously incompatible as those of the Christian minister and the civil Judge. To use the words of a great authority on judicial questions, a recent Lord Chancellor,* “it is the union of two noble offices to the detriment of both.” Yet it seems in the case before us that the office was forced upon Mr. Marsden, not as a complimentary distinction, but as one of the stern duties of his position as a colonial chaplain, who was bound to maintain the authority of the law amidst a population of lawless and dangerous men.
* Lord Brougham.
In both of these objects he succeeded to an eminent extent, though not till after the lapse of years, and a remonstrance carried by himself in person to the Government at Home. Justice was dealt even to the greatest criminals more fairly, and the bench of Magistrates grew at length ashamed, in the presence of the chaplain of Parramatta, of its own hitherto unabashed licentiousness. But the cost was great. He was involved in secular business from day to day, and that often of the most painful kind. His equal-handed justice made him a host of personal enemies in those whose vices he punished; and, still more, in those whose corrupt and partial administration of the law was rebuked by the example of his integrity. In the share he was obliged to take in the civil affairs of the colony differences of opinion would naturally arise, and angry feelings would, as usual, follow. Of course, he was not free from human infirmity; his own temper was sometimes disturbed. Thus for years, especially during his early residence in New South Wales, he was in frequent collision with the Magistrates, and occasionally even with the Governor. Again and again he would have resigned his commission, but was not allowed to do so; meanwhile his mind was often distracted and his character maligned. To these trials we shall be obliged to refer as we trace his steps page 17 through life; but we mean to do so as seldom as we can, for the subject is painful, and, as few men can ever be placed in his circumstances, to most of us unprofitable.
Another point on which Mr. Marsden's conduct has been severely, and yet most unjustly, blamed, is that he was engaged in the cultivation of a considerable tract of land. Avarice and secularity were roundly charged upon him in consequence; for it was his painful lot through life to be incessantly accused not only of failings of which he was quite guiltless, but of those which were the most opposite to his real character. A more purely disinterested and unselfish man perhaps never lived. One who under the constant disturbance of every kind of business and employment, still “walked” more “humbly with his God,” is not often to be found. Yet the cry once raised against him was never hushed; until at length, having rung in his ears through life, as a warning to him, no doubt, even in his brightest moments of success, that he should “cease from man,” it was suddenly put to shame at last and buried with him in his grave.
The circumstances were these: When he arrived in the colony, in the beginning of 1794, it was yet but six years old. The cultivation of land had scarcely begun; it was therefore dependent on supplies of food from Home, and was often reduced to the brink of famine. One cask of meat was all that the King's Stores contained when Mr. Marsden first landed on those shores from which the produce of the page 18 most magnificent flocks and herds the world has ever pastured was afterwards to be shipped. Governor Phillip, as we have seen, had laid the foundation of the colony amid scenes of difficulty and trial which it is fearful to contemplate. In September, 1795, Captain Hunter arrived, and following in the steps of his predecessor, exerted himself in clearing land and bringing it under cultivation. To effect this he made a grant to every officer, civil and military, of one hundred acres, and allowed each thirteen convicts as servants to assist in bringing it into order. Mr. Marsden availed himself of the grant, and his farm soon exhibited those marks of superior management which might have been looked for by all who were acquainted with the energy of his character and his love of rural pursuits. Where land was to be had on such easy terms, it was not to be desired or expected that he should be limited to the original grant.
He soon possessed an estate of several hundred acres—the model farm of New South Wales—and, let it not be forgotten, the source from whence those supplies were drawn which fed the infant missions of the Southern Seas, while at the same time they helped their generous owner to support many a benevolent institution in his own parish and neighbourhood. Years afterwards he was induced to print a pamphlet in justification of his conduct in this as well as other particulars on which it was assailed; and as we copy an extract from page 19 it, our feeling is one of shame and sorrow that it should ever have been required. He says:—
I did not consider myself in the same situation, in a temporal point of view, in this colony as a clergyman in England. My situation at that period would bear no such comparison. A clergyman in England lives in the very bosom of his friends; his comforts and conveniences are all within his reach, and he has nothing to do but to feed his flock. On the contrary, I entered a country which was in a state of Nature, and was obliged to plant and sow or starve. It was not from inclination that my colleague and I took the axe, the spade, and the hoe: we could not, from our situation, help ourselves by any other means, and we thought it no disgrace to labour. St. Paul's own hands ministered to his necessities in a cultivated nation, and our hands ministered to our wants in an uncultivated one. If this be cast upon me as a shame and a reproach, I cheerfully bear it, for the remembrance never gives me any cause of reproach or remorse.
* La Perouse, the distinguished French navigator, anchored in Botany Bay on the 26th of January, 1788. He left Botany Bay in March of the same year, to visit some of the Pacific Islands, but nothing further was heard of him. The mystery of his fate has never been definitely solved, but it is thought that his two vessels were wrecked at the New Hebrides, and that those on board were either drowned or murdered by natives. In 1828, Dumont D'Urville, another French navigator, erected a monument to La Perouse on the Island of Vanikoro, where, it is believed, the wreck took place.
Indeed, it would be no easy task to enumerate all the schemes of social, moral, and spiritual enterprise upon which Mr. Marsden was now employed, and into all of which he appears to have thrown a force and energy generally reserved, even by the zealous philanthropist, for some one favoured project. Thus the state of the female convicts, at a very early period, especially attracted his attention. Their forlorn condition, their frightful immoralities—the almost necessary consequence of the gross neglect which exposed them to temptation, or rather thrust them into sin—pressed heavily upon him, and formed the subject of many solemn remonstrances, first to the authorities abroad, and, when these were unheeded, to the page 21 Government at Home. The wrongs of the aborigines, their heathenism and their savage state, with all its attendant miseries and hopeless prospects in eternity, sank into his heart; and under his care a school arose at Parramatta for their children. The scheme, as we shall explain hereafter, was not successful; but at least it will be admitted “he did well that it was in” his “heart.”
He was often consulted by the successive Governors on questions of difficulty and importance, and gave his advice with respect, but at the same time with honest courage. Amusing anecdotes are told of some of their interviews. A misunderstanding had occurred between Governor King and him, which did not, however, prevent the Governor from asking his advice. Mr. Marsden was allowed to make his own terms, which were that he should consider Governor King as a private individual, and as such address him. Much to his credit, the Governor consented. Mr. Marsden then locked the door, and in plain and forcible terms explained to “Captain” King the faults, as he conceived of “Governor” King's administration. They separated on the most friendly terms; and if we admire the courage of the chaplain, we must not overlook the self-command and forbearance of the Governor. With a dash of eccentricity, the affair was honourable to both parties.
Another instance of Mr. Marsden's ready tact and self-possession may be mentioned. Governor King, who possessed, by virtue of his page 22 office, the most absolute power, was not only eccentric, but also somewhat choleric. On one occasion, when Mr. Marsden was present, a violent dispute arose between the Governor and the Commissary-general. Mr. Marsden not being at liberty to leave the room, retired to a window, determined not to be a witness of the coming storm. The Governor, in his heat, pushed or collared the Commissary, who in return, pushed or struck the Governor. His Excellency, indignant at the insult, called to the chaplain, “Do you see that, sir?” “Indeed, sir,” replied Mr. Marsden, “I see nothing,” dwelling with jocular emphasis on the word “see.” Thus good humour was immediately restored, and the grave and even treasonable offence of striking the representative of the State was forgotten. These trifling circumstances are worth relating, not only in illustration of Mr. Marsden's character, but of the history of the earlier days of the colony.
But graver duties had already devolved upon him. Amongst the unpublished manuscripts of the London Missionary Society there is one document of singular interest in connection with the name of Samuel Marsden. It is a memorandum of seventeen folio pages on the state and prospects of their missions to Tahiti and the islands in the South Seas, dated “Parramatta, 30th January, 1801,” and “read before the Committee” in London—such was the slow, uncertain communication fifty years ago with a colony now brought within sixty days' sail of England—“on the 19th of April, page 23 1802.”* Foremost in the literature of another generation will stand those treasures which slumber, for the most part unvalued and undisturbed, on the shelves of our missionary houses. For men will surely one day inquire, with an interest similar to that with which we read of the conversion of Britain in the dim light of Ingulphus and the Saxon Chronicle, or the Venerable Bede, how distant islands were first evangelised, and through what sorrows, errors, and reverses, the first missionary fought his way to victory in continents and islands of the Southern Hemisphere. And of these, the document which now lies before us will be esteemed as inferior to none in calm and practical wisdom, in piety, or in ardent zeal tempered with discretion.
* It should be remembered that the biographer wrote fifty years ago, and that the time he refers to is more than 100 years ago.
† That of the Moravians to Labrador. The Wesleyans had a mission in the West Indies, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had long had the care of the Danish missions at Malabar. But none of these were missions, in the strict sense, among savages. (Note by the biographer.)
* The elder one was the Rev. Samuel Bradburn, the friend and associate of Wesley. “The younger minister” was the Rev. G. Marsden, a president of the Wesleyan Conference.
It was in the midst of these disasters that Mr. Marsden was consulted, and wrote the memorandum to which we have referred. If in some places he seems to lay too great stress upon what may appear to the reader prudential considerations of inferior importance, let us remind him that on these very points the missionaries had betrayed their weakness. Their own quarrels, and even the gross misconduct of some few amongst them, were not less painful to the Church at Home than their want of success.
We make a few extracts:—
The first and principal object for the consideration of the directors is to select men properly qualified for the mission; unless persons equal to the task are sent out nothing can be done. It may be asked, who are proper persons, and what are the requisite qualifications? To the question I would reply in general terms. A missionary should be a man of real sound piety, and well acquainted with the depravity of the human heart, as well as experimental religion; he should not be a novice; he should not only be a good man in the strictest sense of the word, but also well informed, not taken from the dregs of the common page 26 people, but possessed of some education, and liberal sentiments. He should rather be of a lively active turn of mind than gloomy and heavy. A gloomy ignorant clown will be disgusting even to savages, and excite their contempt. The more easy and affable a missionary is in his address, the more easily will he obtain the confidence and good opinion of the heathen.
In my opinion a man of a melancholy habit is altogether unqualified for a missionary; he will never be able to sustain the hardships attending his situation, nay, he will magnify his dangers and difficulties and make them greater than what in reality they may be. A missionary, were I to define his character, should be a pious good man, should be well acquainted with mankind, should possess some education, should be easy in address, and of an active turn. Some of the missionaries who have come to this colony are the opposite character to the above. They are totally ignorant of mankind, they possess no education, they are clowns in their manners. If the directors are determined to establish a mission in these islands there is another object to be attended to; they must send out a sufficient body and furnish them with the means of self-defence. Unless the missionaries are able to protect themselves from the violence of the natives, they will be in constant danger of being cut off by them. Their lives, if unprotected by their own strength, will hang sometimes perhaps upon the fate of a single battle between two contending chiefs. Can any idea be more distressing than for the lives of a few defenceless missionaries to depend upon the sudden whim or turn of an enraged savage, without the means of self-defence? See them driven, in order to escape the savage fury of the natives, into holes and caverns of the rocks, suffering every hardship that Nature can bear from hunger, toil, and anxiety, without so much as the prospect of relief in time of page 27 danger from Europe, or accomplishing in the smallest degree the object of the mission. Yet this must and will be the case, unless the missionaries are furnished with the means of self-defence, and are able to convince the natives of their superiority in point of skill and protection.
Mr. Marsden continued to be through life the confidential adviser of the London Missionary Society, and the warm friend and, as they passed to and fro upon their voyages, the kind host of its missionaries.
His character was now established. The colony was rapidly increasing in importance; and yet no change had been made in its government, which was still committed to the absolute direction of a single mind, that of the colonial Governor. He, too, was a military officer, and not always one of high position and large capacity, or even of the purest morals; for by such men the governorship of his Majesty's territory in New South Wales would have then been disdained. Mr. Marsden had done much, but much more remained to be done. There were mischiefs that lay far beyond his reach, and spurned control. On the first establishment of the colony all the military officers were forbidden to take their wives with them—the Governor and chaplains were the only exceptions—and there is one instance of a lady whose love for her husband led her to steal across the ocean in the disguise of a sailor, and who was actually sent Home again by Governor Phillip without being permitted to land. Our readers may anticipate the consequences which page 28 followed in an almost general licentiousness. The most abandoned females often appeared fearlessly before the Magistrates, well knowing that they would have impunity even for the greatest crimes; and male offenders used their influence to obtain a judgment in their favour. Expostulation, remonstrance, and entreaty Mr. Marsden had tried in vain. “Of all existing spots in New South Wales the court of judicature at Sydney,” it was publicly affirmed, “was the most iniquitous and abandoned”; and at length a rebellious spirit broke out, and the authority of the Governor, even in his military capacity, was at an end.
The efforts of the faithful chaplain were now thwarted at the fountain head, and his life was not unfrequently in danger. Mr. Marsden's sagacity fastened the conviction on his mind that a crisis was at hand, which could only be averted by the interference of the Government at Home. He therefore asked for and obtained permission to revisit England. His fears were just; he had already assisted in quelling one rebellion, and another of a more serious nature broke out soon after he embarked, which drove the Governor from the colony, and ended in his recall, and the establishment of a new order of things. The spiritual fruit of Mr. Marsden's labours had not yet been great, but already the foundations had been laid for extensive usefulness. On the eve of his departure, he was presented with a gratifying address, bearing the signatures of three hundred and two persons, “the holders of landed estates, public page 29 offices, and other principal inhabitants of the large and extensive settlements of Hawkesbury, Nepean, and Portland-Head, and adjacent parts of New South Wales,” conveying “their grateful thanks for his pious, humane, and exemplary conduct throughout this whole colony, in the various and arduous situations held by him as a minister of the Gospel, superintendent magistrate, inspector of public, orphan, and charity schools, and in other offices.”
They thank him too for “his attention and cares in the improvement of stock, agriculture, and in all other beneficial and useful arts, for the general good of the colony, and for his unremitting exertions for its prosperity,” and conclude: “Your sanctity, philanthropy, and disinterestedness of character will ever remain an example to future ministers; and that God, whom we serve, may pour down his blessings upon you and yours to the latest posterity is the sincere prayer of those who sign this address.”