14th June, 1814: “Active” Arrives
200 years ago this week a small sailing ship, the Active, arrived in New Zealand on a voyage of discovery. Missionary Thomas Kendall was not to know it at the time, but his visit would pave the way for the first Christian Mission in New Zealand - and his return as New Zealand’s first Justice of the Peace.
Kendall was neither ordained nor a JP when he arrived in the Bay of Islands from Sydney aboard the 110 ton brigantine, Active. Together with fellow missionary William Hall, Kendall had been sent by the Church of England Missionary Society as an advance reconnaissance party. They left Sydney on 14th March, called at Hobart departing there on May 23rd and anchored in Bay of Islands on June 14th.
“Boyd” Massacre Memories
The Society’s Rev. Samuel Marsden had long been impatient to set up a mission station in Bay of Islands. But memories were still raw of the Boyd tragedy at Whangaroa in 1809, when Maori massacred and cannibalised an estimated 60 passengers and crew members and destroyed the ship. Memories of the massacre lingered for years. Ships' captains had no appetite to sail to New Zealand to court a similar fate and, in any case, the Governor of New South Wales, who at the time governed New Zealand as part of his territory, discouraged all departures for New Zealand. He would not release Marsden from his position as Chaplain, thus thwarting the churchman’s vision of journeying to Bay of Islands to set up a Christian mission. Moreover, public opinion in New South Wales still demanded not the evangelization of Maoris, but their extermination. Until the Maori attitude towards Europeans could be ascertained as far as the Governor was concerned, New Zealand was off-limits.
Advance Scouts Arrive
Kendall and Hall were the advance scouts to determine Maori feelings. They travelled on the brig Active which had been purchased by Marsden especially for the purpose. On the ship’s arrival in the Bay of Islands mid-June 1814, the visitors met up with a number of Ngapuhi chiefs, among them Ruatara. Marsden had earlier shown great kindness to this chief when he visited Sydney. This patronage was now rewarded. The two missionaries were escorted some way inland by Ruatara where they were introduced to other chiefs, all of whom said they supported the Christians’ proposition.
On June 12 Kendall and Hall attempted to lead Sunday Service on the deck of the Active but heavy rain curtailed proceedings. The following Sunday, 19th, Kendall conducted a service aboard Active, with some of the ‘congregation’, Maori, sitting in their canoes alongside the ship, while others boarded the ship. “Two or three chiefs were also with us, and the behaviour of the natives during Divine Service was very decent and commendable. It was a new thing with them to see our way of worship and to hear of a day of rest from labour, and they seemed to enjoy the idea very much. The Union Jack was hoisted on board the Active”*
It was probably the first Christian service in the English language in New Zealand.
Kendall and Hall were to get on well with Maori and, as Marsden had requested, Ruatara and three elders accompanied the missionaries on their return voyage to Sydney: testimony that Reverend Samuel Marsden and his assistants would be welcome in Bay of Islands. The way was clear for the first missionaries to travel to New Zealand: they could now make all preparations required of the country’s first mission and settlement.
*Kendall’s writings in Marsden's Lieutenants, Edited by John Rawson Elder, Coulls, Somerville, and Wilkie and A. H. Reed, published by the Otago University Council, 1934.