Maori Chief Has Doubts
The Reverend Samuel Marsden found the pilgrimage business risky, expensive and trying.
Now, in November 1814, the brig “Active” was on its voyage from Sydney to New Zealand carrying missionaries, New Zealand’s first Justice of the Peace and settlers… and Marsden was faced with yet another deal-breaker.
It was further tribulation for the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in its long-held determination to establish the first mission in New Zealand.
Series of Setbacks
First there was the 5 years’ imposed delay, the period the New South Wales Governor deterred ships visiting New Zealand for fear there was repetition of the “Boyd massacre of 1809 when Maori attacked the ship, killing 60 or so passengers and crew, cannibalising them.
Then, the Governor having relaxed his restriction and allowing the CMS a survey party to visit Bay of Islands in mid-1814, Marsden could not contract a suitable ship for the trip, so purchased “Active” and persuaded Captain Hansen to make the voyage.
That short visit ashore by Thomas Kendall and others was a success in that they found most Maori agreed with the proposed mission and, when told of this on their return to Sydney, the Governor approved the CMS venture under Samuel Marsden.
Once all arrangements were in hand and permission to sail was confirmed, “Active” left the docks on November 19th, 1814, but did not clear the harbour. There was a delay of more than a week while the ship was forced to shelter inside the heads at Watsons Bay, awaiting several violent storms to pass.
It was during this set-back that Marsden was faced with an unexpected episode which could have been the end to the voyage, and the Mission, at least in the meantime. He later recounted that it began with an approach from one of the Maori Chiefs returning to New Zealand aboard "Active".
Ruatara told Marsden that he wanted to leave the mission, to disembark and return to Sydney Town.
He said he was anxious about his role to protect the missionaries when they reached their destination. These misgivings were based on rumours he heard in Sydney saying that the European new-comers, once in New Zealand, would repeat the situation in Australia, ousting the natives, reducing Maori to second-rate citizens. Given this scenario to the cost of his people, Ruatara personally felt he no longer wished to assist the mission and, moreover, he feared he would be held accountable by Maori for any untoward consequences after the coming of the colonists.
Marsden assured Ruatara that the mission wished nothing but cordial relations with Maori and, more or less to prove it, acquiesced to the chief’s request and ordered the ship to weigh anchor and head back to the docks where passengers would be put ashore and the cargo discharged. The implication that this would end the mission, and that Ruatara would be to blame, changed the Chief’s mind. He immediately implored Marsden to continue the venture so that once in Bay of Islands he could look after the mission under his personal care, protection and patronage, as had been planned all along.
Ruatara, however, may have seen the venture as now much more under his control.
Ruatara’s Other Duties
Perhaps Marsden also reminded Ruatara in conversation that he, “Shungie” and “Korra Korra” (Maori names Hongi and Korokoro) had been especially empowered by Government proclamation to help protect Maori and to promote race relations. This, Marsden might have pointed out, would not have occurred if the mission, and settlers, planned to ill-treat the natives.
This move involving the three Maori was made just before the “Active” left Sydney. Governor Macquarie had formally authorised them to support Kendall carry out his orders - that British or Colonial ships were not allowed to discharge and land sailors in New Zealand.
The three were also empowered to ensure no Maori were taken on as crew by visiting ships without Kendall’s prior permission and that of local Rangatira (chiefs). So Ruatara was part of this protection, perhaps one of the first three race relation officers in New Zealand, and at the very start of European settlement, at that.
Ruatara - The Key
In earlier days Ruatara had crewed on ships in the Pacific, and further afield, and had stayed with Marsden at Parramatta for a year or so, during which time the Maori studied agriculture. Ruatara had a vision of converting New Zealand wasteland to productive farmland. Kendall had taken a mill to New Zealand on his earlier recce visit: Ruatara impressed visitors and tangata whenua alike with the results of grinding wheat, harvested from supplies sent by Marsden. With Te Pahi’s death, Ruatara, still in his 20s became the Nga Puhi chief in 1812. His part, accompanying the first mission to Bay of Islands in 1814 and affording protection and guidance, was considered vital to the enterprise’s success. The “Boyd” tragedy was still in everyone’s mind.
The Bigger Picture
Marsden had time during the voyage to New Zealand to go back to N.S.W. Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s letter requesting the mission explore, with all safety, New Zealand’s coastline for sheltered anchorages and potential ports, then to proceed to the interior looking at the soil and its suitability for agriculture. A favourable report, said the Governor, and “I’ll be induced to consider a form of permanent establishment on these islands”. Macquarie saw a colony in the making and the benefits of a nearby trading partner for New South Wales.