Samuel Marsden grew up in Yorkshire. During the religious revivals of the 18th century, he attended Magdalene College, Cambridge. In 1786 he accepted the help of the Elland Society to train as an evangelical clergyman. In Yorkshire and Cambridge, he came in contact with the growing evangelical circle of the Church of England, who were committed to vital personal religion and social reform, including the abolition of slavery.
Before completing his degree, he was invited in 1793, through William Wilberforce, to become chaplain to the penal colony in New South Wales. He and his wife Elizabeth arrived in Sydney in March 1794, and was based at Parramatta, 35 kilometres inland.
Marsden’s thrived there, with a growing knowledge and interest in farming. he was appointed as a magistrate, which allied him firmly with the governor and other officials, but damaged his reputation as a chaplain to the mainly Irish convict population. In reaction to this, and due to his own evangelical convictions, he became closely associated with the (London) Church Missionary Society (CMS), becoming the official local agent for the Pacific from 1804.
It was to Parramatta that some visiting Maori from New Zealand came soon after Marsden’s arrival. He welcomed them, provided them with accommodation, and they visited his new Church of St John, Parramatta. Marsden was impressed, and determined to find some means of reaching Maori with the gospel and the blessings of civilisation. With this in mind, he went to England in 1807 and put before the CMS a proposal for a mission to New Zealand. A mission of artisans who could lay the foundations for civilisation, teach useful skills, and be ambassadors for the gospel. Proposal accepted, Marsden returned to Australia in 1809 bringing William Hall, John King and their families on the “Ann”.
The Nga Puhi chief Ruatara, had travelled to England to see King George III, but had been viciously beaten and was vomiting blood. Marsden had met him at Parramatta and finding him on the "Ann" was shocked at his condition. He nursed Ruatara back to health, and realised that in this encounter, God was opening the door to New Zealand. Back in Parramatta, Marsden faced new difficulties. In the wake of the “Boyd” incident, no Ship's captain would go near New Zealand. He had to buy his own ship. It was 1814, when he finally led his missionary team to New Zealand, under the protection of Ruatara. Marsden gave the 1st Church service there on Christmas Day 1814. After some exploration of the area, he returned to his chaplain duties in Australia.
Marsden sailed on 6 further visits, overseeing the mission, taking more Maori to Parramatta, to teach them agriculture and other skills. His final visit February - June 1837 had the air of a triumphal procession. Now almost 72 years, he was received with great deference by Maori chiefs in the north, and visited as many of the mission stations as possible. He was blunt, plain-spoken and could be touchy, but was without pretensions. Generous with his time and his money in the cause that was so dear to his heart. It was through Marsden’s determination and initiative that the first Christian mission was established in New Zealand, so it is appropriate to name him, the apostle to New Zealand.
BORN: 25 June 1765,
Farsley, Yorkshire, U.K.
DIED: 12 May 1838 (aged 72), Windsor, New South Wales, Australia