Life and Work of Samuel Marsden
Mr. Marsden returned Home in His Majesty's ship Buffalo, after an absence of fourteen years. On the voyage he had one of those hairbreadth deliverances in which devout Christians recognise the hand of God. The Buffalo was leaky when she sailed, and a heavy gale threatening, it was proposed that the passengers should quit the ship and take refuge in a stauncher vessel which formed one of the fleet. Mr. Marsden objected, Mrs. Marsden being unwilling to leave Mrs. King, the wife of Governor King, who was returning in the same vessel, and who was at the time an invalid. In the night, the expected storm came on. In the morning, the eyes of all on board the crazy Buffalo were strained in vain to discover their companion. She was never heard of more, and no doubt had foundered in the hurricane.
On his arrival in London he waited on the Under Secretary of State to report his return, and learned from him that his worst fears had been realised, and that the colony was already in a state of open insurrection, headed by the “New South Wales Corps,” who were leagued with several of the wealthier traders. The insurrection, however, was suppressed, and Lieutenant-colonel Macquarie was sent out with his regiment to assume the government. Lord page 31 Castlereagh, the Colonial Minister, was quick to perceive the value of such an adviser on the affairs of Australia as Mr. Marsden, and encouraged him to place before the Government a full statement of his views.
Seldom has it happened to a private individual to be charged with weightier or more various affairs, never perhaps with schemes involving more magnificent results. As the obscure chaplain from Botany Bay paced the Strand from the Colonial Office at Whitehall to the chambers in the city where a few pious men were laying plans for Christian missions in the Southern Hemisphere, he was, in fact, charged with projects upon which not only the civilization, but also the eternal welfare of future nations, was suspended.
Nor was he unconscious of the greatness of the task. With a total absence of romance or enthusiasm—for his mind was wanting in the imaginative faculty on which enthusiasm feeds—he was yet fully alive to the possible consequences of his visit to his native shores, and intensely interested in his work. He aimed at nothing less than to see Australia a great country; and with a yet firmer faith, he expected the conversion of the cannibal tribes of New Zealand and the Society Islands; and this at a time when even statesmen had only learned to think of New South Wales as a national prison, and when the conversion of New Zealanders was regarded as a hopeless task, even by the majority of Christian men, and treated by the world with indifference or scorn. In fact, during page 32 this short visit he may be said to have planned, perhaps unconsciously, the labours of his whole life, and to have laid the foundation for all the good of which he was to be the instrument.
Let us first turn to the efforts he made for the settlements in New South Wales. The improvement of the convict population was his primary object, and his more immediate duty. He had observed that by far the greater number of reformed criminals consisted of those who had intermarried, or whose wives had been able to purchase their passage over, and he suggested that those of the convicts' wives who chose to do so should be permitted to accompany their husbands even at the public expense. This was refused, and it was almost the only point upon which his representations failed; but, as a compromise, the wives of the officers and soldiers were permitted to accompany their husbands, and not less than three hundred immediately went with a single regiment.
To encourage honesty and industry he recommended not only remission of the sentence to the well conducted convict, but a grant of land to a certain extent, with which the Government complied. But he had no weak and foolish sympathy with crime, and long after the period at which we are now writing, he continued to incur the hatred of a certain class by protesting, as he never ceased to do, against the monstrous impropriety of placing men, however wealthy, who had themselves been convicts, on the Magisterial Bench.page 33
Amongst the convicts, he had observed, the greater number were acquainted with some branch of mechanics or manufactures; at present, they were unemployed, or occupied in labour for which they were unfit, and which was therefore irksome to themselves and of no advantage to the colony. He therefore suggested that one or two practical mechanics with small salaries, and one or two general manufacturers, should be sent out to instruct the convicts. But here a serious obstacle presented itself; for this was the age of commercial prohibitions, and it was objected that the manufacturers of the Mother Country would be injured by such a step. Mr. Marsden met the objection at once. If the Government would but accede to the proposal, “he would undertake that the enormous expense at which the country was for clothing the convicts should entirely cease within a certain period.” The wool of the Government flocks and the flesh of the wild cattle were already sufficient to provide both food and raiment for the convicts without any expense to the parent State, and all he prayed for was the opportunity of turning those advantages to the best account. These requests were granted, and on the same night, and at his own cost, he set off by the mail for Warwickshire and Yorkshire in search of four artisans and manufacturers, who were soon upon their way to the scene of their future operations.
The vast importance of Australia as the source upon which the English manufacturer must at some future day depend for his supplies page 34 of wool had already occupied his thoughts. He found that within three years his own stock, without any care on his part—for his farm was entirely managed in his absence by a trusty bailiff who had been a convict—had upon an average been doubled in number and value. With the energy which was natural to him, he carried some of his own wool to Leeds, where he had it manufactured, and he had the satisfaction to learn that it was considered equal, if not superior, to that of Saxony or France. His private letters abound with intimations that before long Australia must become the great wool-producing country to which the English manufacturer would look.
He was introduced to King George the Third, and took the liberty, through Sir Joseph Banks, of praying for a couple of Merino sheep, His Majesty's property, to improve the breed; and his last letter from England, dated from the Cowes Roads, mentions their reception on board. We anticipate a little, but must quote the letter, if only to let the reader see how possible it is to be at once diligent in business and fervent in spirit:—
We are this moment getting under weigh, and soon expect to be upon the ocean. I have received a present of five Spanish sheep from the king's flock, which are all on board; if I am so fortunate as to get them out they will be a most valuable acquisition to the colony. I leave England with much satisfaction, having obtained so fully the object of my mission. It is the good hand of our God that hath done these things for us. I have the prospect of getting another page 35 pious minister. I am writing to him on the subject this morning, and I hope he will soon follow us… On Sunday I stood on the long boat and preached from Ezekiel xviii., 27: “When the wicked man turneth away,” etc. It was a solemn time, many of the convicts were affected. We sang the Hundredth Psalm in the midst of a large fleet. The number of souls on board is more than four hundred. God may be gracious to some of them; though exiled from their country and friends, they may cry unto Him in a foreign land, when they come like the Jews of old to hang their harps upon the willows, and weep when they remember Zion, or rather when they remember England.*
The spiritual wants of the colony were not forgotten. He induced the Government to send out three additional clergymen and three schoolmasters; and happily the selection was intrusted to his own judgment. A disciple in the school of Venn and Milner, he knew that the ordinances of the church, though administered by a moral and virtuous man, or by a zealous philanthropist, were not enough. He sought for men who were “renewed in the spirit of their minds”; who uttered no mere words of course when they said at their ordination that they “believed themselves moved thereto by the Holy Ghost.”
* To Mr. Avison Terry, Hull.
Mr. Marsden likewise urged upon the Home Administration the necessity for a Female Penitentiary; and obtained a promise that a building should be provided. That he was deeply alive to the importance of an institution of this kind is manifest in his own description of the state of the female prisoners in the earlier years of the colony, and the deplorable page 37 picture he draws of their immorality and wretchedness. “When I returned to England in 1807,” he says, “there were upwards of fourteen hundred women in the colony; more than one thousand were unmarried, and nearly all convicts: many of them were exposed to the most dangerous temptations, privations and sufferings; and no suitable asylum had been provided for the female convicts since the establishment of the colony. On my arrival in London in 1808, I drew up two memorials on their behalf, stating how much they suffered from want of a proper barrack—a building for their reception. One of these memorials I presented to the Under Secretary of State, and the other to his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury. They both expressed their readiness to promote the object.” Years, however, passed before the consent of the colonial Governor could be gained; and Mr. Marsden's benevolent exertions on behalf of these outcast women were for some time frustrated.
The variety of his engagements at this time was equal to their importance. He had returned Home charged with an almost infinite multiplicity of business. He was the agent of almost every poor person in the colony who had, or thought he had, important business at Home. Penny-postages lay in the same dim future as electric telegraphs and steamfrigates, and he was often burdened with letters from Ireland and other remote parts—so wrote a friend, who published at the time a sketch of his proceedings in the Eclectic Review—the page 38 postage of which, for a single day, has amounted to a guinea, which he cheerfully paid, from the feeling that, although many of these letters were of no use whatever, they were written with a good intention, and under a belief that they were of real value. He had already been saluted, like the Roman generals of old, with the title of common father of his adopted country; and one of his last acts before he quitted England was to procure, by public contributions and donations of books,” what he called a lending library”—so writes the reviewer,* and the expression seems to have amused him from its novelty—“consisting of books on religion, morals, mechanics, agriculture, and general history, to be lent out under his own control and that of his colleagues, to soldiers, free settlers, convicts, and others who had time to read.” In this, too, he succeeded, and took over with him a library of the value of between £300 and £400.
* Eclectic Review, vol. v., pp. 988–995.
He had formed a high—we do not think an exaggerated—estimate of the Maori tribes. “They are a noble race,” he writes to his friend, Mr. John Terry, of Hull, “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 chiefs and enterprising warriors had visited Australia, and they ever found a welcome at the hospitable parsonage at Parramatta. Sometimes, it is true, they were but awkward guests, as the following anecdote will show, which we present to the reader, as it has been kindly furnished page 40 to us, 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 preparations to sacrifice a slave to attend his spirit into the other world. My father was from home at the moment, and our 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 in 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, to them, important point.
The Church Missionary Society, which now had been established about seven years, seemed fully disposed to co-operate with him; and at their request he drew up a memorial on the subject of a New Zealand mission, not less important than that we have already mentioned to the London Missionary Society on the subject of their Polynesian missions. He still lays great stress upon the necessity for civilization going first as the pioneer of the gospel, “commerce and the arts having a natural tendency to inculcate industrious and moral habits, open a way for the introduction of the Gospel, and lay the foundation for its continuance when once received.” “…. Nothing, in my opinion, can pave the way for the introduction page 41 of the Gospel but civilization.” … “The missionaries,” he thought, “might employ a certain portion of their time in manual labour, and that this neither would nor ought to prevent them from constantly endeavouring to instruct the natives in the great doctrines of the Gospel.”. “The arts and religion should go together. I do not mean a native should learn to build a hut or make an axe before he should be told anything of man's fall and redemption, but that these grand subjects should be introduced at every favourable opportunity, while the natives are learning any of the simple arts.” He adds that “four qualifications are absolutely necessary for a missionary—piety, industry, prudence, and patience. Without sound piety, nothing can be expected. A man must feel a lively interest in the eternal welfare of the heathen to spur him on to the discharge of his duty.” On the three other qualifications he enlarges with great wisdom and practical good sense.
It is no dishonour done to Mr. Marsden if we say that, in mature spiritual wisdom, the venerable men who had founded the Church Missionary Society, and still managed its affairs, were at this time his superiors. Strange indeed it would have been had the case been otherwise. They listened gracefully and with deep respect to the opinion of one so well entitled to advise; they determined on the mission, and they gave a high proof of their confidence, both in the practical wisdom and sterling piety of their friend, in consulting him page 42 in the choice of their first agents. But they did not adopt his views with regard to the importance of civilization as the necessary pioneer to the Gospel. So long ago as the year 1815, they thought it necessary to publish a statement of the principles upon which their mission was established. “It has been stated,” they say, “that the mission was originally established, and for a long time systematically conducted, on the principle of first civilizing and then christianizing the natives. This is wholly a mistake. The agents employed in establishing the mission were laymen, because clergymen could not be had; and the instructions given to them necessarily correspond with their lay character. The foremost object of the mission has, from the first, been to bring the natives, by the use of all suitable means, under the saving influences of the grace of the Gospel, adding indeed the communication to them of such useful arts and knowledge as might improve their social condition.”
The committee's instructions to their first agents in the mission abundantly sustain these assertions. Mr. William Hall and Mr. John King were the two single-hearted laymen to whom, in the providence of God, the distinguished honour was committed of first making known the Gospel in New Zealand. They bore with them these instructions, before they embarked in the same vessel in which their friend and guide, Mr. Marsden, himself returned to Australia: “Ever bear in mind that the only object of the Society, in sending you to New page 43 Zealand, is to introduce the knowledge of Christ among the natives, and, in order to this, the arts of civilized life.”
Then after directing Messrs. Hall and King “to respect the Sabbath Day,” to “establish family worship,” at any favourable opportunity to “converse with the natives on the great subject of religion,” and to “instruct their children in the knowledge of Christianity,” the instructions add: “Thus in your religious conduct you must observe the Sabbath and keep it holy, attend regularly to family worship, talk to the natives about religion when you walk by the way, when you labour in the field, and on all occasions when you can gain their attention, and lay yourselves out for the education of the young.”
Mr. Thomas Kendall followed; a third layman, for no ordained clergyman of the Church of England could yet be found. The same instructions were repeated, and in December, 1815, when the Rev. John Butler, their first clerical missionary, entered on his labours in New Zealand, he and his companions were exhorted thus: “The committee would observe that they wish, in all the missions of the Society, that the missionaries should give their time as much as possible, and wholly if practicable, first to the acquisition of the native language, and then to the constant and faithful preaching to the natives.” It is subsequently added: “Do not mistake civilization for conversion. Do not imagine when heathens are raised in intellect, in the knowledge of the arts and outward page 44 decencies, about their fellow-countrymen, that they are Christians, and therefore rest content as if your proper work were accomplished. Our great aim is far higher; it is to make them children of God and heirs of his glory. Let this be your desire, and prayer, and labour among them. And while you rejoice in communicating every other good, think little or nothing done till you see those who were dead in trespasses and sins quickened together with Christ.” These passages fully exhibit the views of the committee of this evangelical Society with regard not only to the New Zealand, but also to all their other missions.
Before he left England, Mr. Marsden formed or renewed an acquaintance with many great and good men, Mr. Wilberforce, Sir George Grey,* the Rev. Daniel Wilson (Bishop of Calcutta), the Rev. Charles Simeon, the Rev. Josiah Pratt, Dr. Olinthus Gregory, and others whose names are dear to the Church of Christ. But we must particularly notice the friendship which he formed with Dr. Mason Good as productive of the highest blessings to his friend, and of much advantage to himself.
* Sir George Grey was a grandson of the first Earl Grey. His mother was a lady of strong religious convictions, and from her he learnt a simple piety which moulded his character and accompanied him throughout a long life. He originally took holy orders, but afterwards entered public life. As a member of the House of Commons he was regarded as an able speaker and a man of sterling worth. He occupied positions in the Cabinets of Lord Melbourne, Lord Palmerston, and Lord John Russell. When he lost his seat for North Northumberland in 1852, 13,000 working men presented him with a testimonial. He died in 1882.
* The Socinian doctrines, somewhat modified, now are popularly known as Unitarianism. Unitarians were not granted full toleration in England until 1813, about five years after the time referred to in this passage by the biographer. Dr. John Mason Good was well known in his day as a London physician and a poet and writer on philology. He published a large number of books, including “The Study of Medicine.” He was a member of the Unitarian Church of London, and afterwards joined the Established Church.
As a philosopher who loved to trace phenomena to their causes, Dr. Mason Good endeavoured to ascertain the principles from which these unremitting exertions sprang; and, as he often assured his friend, Dr. Gregory, he could trace them only to the elevating influence of Divine Grace. He could find no other clue; and he often repeated the wish that his own motives were as pure and his own conduct as exemplary as those of Mr. Marsden.