A (maritime) CMS Station at the Bay of Islands?

In the past few months, I had the opportunity to dive into the history of the Church Missionary (CMS) stations and settlements in Aotearoa/ New Zealand in the early nineteenth century, and in this brief post, I would like to share some observations. Reading and thinking about the Church Missionary stations on the Northern Island of Aotearoa/ New Zealand in the period 1815-1840, I realized not only 1) the importance of the sea for missionaries, but also 2) the maritime background of missionary members, who were sent to Aotearoa/ New Zealand.

As soon as the first Māori persons worked and travelled onboard of colonial whaling ships in the early 1800s or visited Port Jackson such as the Māori rangatira Te Pahi, missionary efforts have been done to establish a CMS settlement on the Islands of Aotearoa/ New Zealand. The first efforts came from Marsden, after he had meet Te Pahi for the first time in 1805. Reverend Samuel Marsden, who had settled already in 1794 in the New South Wales colony and later joined the CMS, was so impressed of him, that he urged the CMS to establish a settlement in Aotearoa/ New Zealand too.

Formed in 1799, the members (and ideas) of the Church Missionary Society quickly spread by establishing mission stations across the world and in the Pacific Ocean.

The ´institutional infrastructure´ of the CMS consisting of a ´headquarter´ based in London and the increasingly growing number of mission stations outside the British islands enabled the circulation of letters, correspondences, goods, and people from one place to another. From 1813 onwards, the CMS office in London forged and brought the local report of each mission station together into Annual periodicals, printed every year, which were then distributed again across the mission stations. These, (highly processed), annual periodicals are today online accessible at the website of the Yale University Library.

In the following 10 years, it were ships, which enabled contacts and interactions between young Māori men, who travelled and worked onboard of European vessels and went across the oceans and as far as London. Te Pahi visited 1808 Port Jackson onboard of European ships in order to complain about the violent behaviour of sailors. Marsden, who was at this time in London, met Ruatara 1809 in a port of London and sailed with him back to Sydney.

During a stopover in Rio de Janeiro onboard of the Missionary ship ACTIVE, William Hall informs Samuel Marsden in a letter, that he had picked up a Person from New Zealand on the Islands of Madeira, in order to bring him back home.1

When he and Thomas Kendall arrived on a ship in Sydney 1810 in order to sail further to the Bay of Islands to install a CMS settlement, they learnt of the so-called Boyd Massacre – named after the ship BOYD, which came under attack during a stopover in Aotearoa/ New Zealand. 2

The Boyd incidence delayed any missionary settlement effort and it took several years until in November 1814, the missionary ship ACTIVE (Capt. Hanson), brought a group of 35 persons to the Bay of Islands. Marsden recorded in his Journal of his first visit from Sydney to Aotearoa/ New Zealand:

On Monday the 28th [Nov. 1814] we weighed Anchor, and got out to sea, the number of persons on board (including women and children), were thirty-five – Mr. Hanson, Master, his wife and son, Messr. Kendall, Hall, and King with their wives and five children; – 8 New Zealanders, – two Otaheitans and four Europeans belonging to the vessel, besides Mr. Nicholas, myself, two Sawyers, one Smith, and one runaway convict (as we found him to be afterwards).

Marsden’s First Visit to New Zealand, p. 41-42.

The diversity of the first missionary settlement as well as the fact that it came under the patronage of several Māori rangatira at Oihi shows that the settlement was included in various networks. Angela Middleton has observed several systematic similarities but also differences among other CMS Stations throughout the Pacific Ocean:

“[1] They all depended on the patronage and support of powerful indigenous people like the Pomares in Tahiti, Kamehameha in Hawaii, and in New Zealand, Ruatara and Hongi Hika. […]

[2.] In all these cases, the missions were reliant to a large extent on the local population for much of their food supplies, as well as labour for building and maintaining the missions.

[3.] The distances between missions and “home” societies in England meant that there were huge delays and difficulties in communication, with replies to letters and requested supplies taking up to 2 years to be received.

[4] Missionaries in these locations found themselves caught up in local wars and internal conflicts and politics.3

Map of the Bay of Islands, drawn in a letter of William Williams to CMS Secretary, in Cadbury Research Library Birmingham, CMS/B/OMS/C/ N O 95/ 23/ p. 3 – Private Picture – 30.09.2021.

From the very beginning, the CMS station members seem to have been included not only in the missionary networks, but were also closely connected with Māori settlements, with Samuel Marsden and the Penal colony in NSW and Van Diemens Land, (therefore connected within the so-called Tasman World)4, and of course with the whaling ships, which regularly anchored at the Bay of Islands. Thus, ships formed the only possible means for the CMS station to remain in touch with the Marsden in NSW but also to the CMS Secretary in London, and also to receive crucial supplies, and information.

While conflicts and a constant lack o supplies shaped the first ten years, the arrival of Henry Williams in 1823 and his brother William Williams in 1826 promised better times. The majority of the CMS members, who arrived either at the beginning or came afterwards to the growing numbers of CMS stations, consisted of carpenters, who had knowledge in designing or constructing ships, had retired from the Navy or had ancestors working in the Navy. At the Bay of Islands, they were in touch with Māori Individuals, who surely had a distinct knowledge of the sea too.

Early after his arrival, Henry Williams instructed William Puckey, one of the Missionaries, to design and built together with Māori a missionary vessel, which they named HERALD, a 55 ton schooner. Their own ship, so the intention, would allow and enable them a certain degree of economic independency. Captains like Gilbert Mair, Hanson or Capt. Peter Dillon (also known with the French title Le Chevalier) were names, that were quite familiar to the Missionaries.

Reading about these “maritime influences” I had to think about the maritime influences of the NSW colony, as David Haines and Jonathan West stress in their articles of 2018 called “crew cultures in the Tasman World”. And indeed, the first four colonial Governors had Navy background, which was “unique among British colonies”.5 Men from the Navy constituted also Sydney’s civil service to an important extent, while also ship “Captains had magisterial authority” with all the consequences and dynamics, which comes with it.


Primary sources:

Hall, William (1809): Letter to Marsden, 28.09.1809, in: Cadbury Research Library, CMS/B/OMS/C/N E/2.

Marsden, Samuel (1814): Reverend Samuel Marsden’s First Visit to New Zealand, In: Marsden Online Archive, MS/ 176/001, http://www.marsdenarchive.otago.ac.nz/MS_0176_001, [last Access: 27.01.2022]

  1. Hall to Marsden, 28.09.1809, in: Cadbury Research Library, CMS/B/OMS/C/N E/2 []
  2. This surely needs to be topic of another post here []
  3. Middleton, Angela (2008): Te Puna – A New Zealand Mission Station. Historical Archaeology in New Zealand. New York: Springer, p. 79-80 []
  4. This needs to be topic of another post here as well []
  5. Haines, David; West, Jonathan (2018): Crew Cultures in the Tasman World, in: Steel, Frances (Ed.): New Zealand and the Sea. Historical Perspectives. Wellington, pp. 181-200, p. 186. []

Author: Haureh Hussein

Haureh Hussein is Doctoral Researcher and Research Associate in the DFG research project ‘Family Business: Creating a “Maritime Contact Zone” in the Colonial Anglo-World, 1790–1840’ at the Trier University. He studied history and political science at Trier and at the Catholic University Leuven in Belgium. He can be contacted via his blog: www.transoceanic.hypotheses.org/

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