Remembering Samuel Marsden, Christmas Day 2014

Celebrating Marsden:

Last Christmas, we commemorated the 200th anniversary of  Rev Samuel Marsden’s 1814 Christmas Day service to Māori.

Marsden's Cross at the Rangihoua Beach, Bay of Islands. The cross marks the spot of the first christian service delivered to Māori, on Christmas Day, 1814.

Marsden’s Christmas service, presented on Rangihoua beach, was the first ever delivered to Māori. Celebrations were held to mark this day of commemoration. But Marsden’s story, and that of the missionaries, is a little more complex.

Land and Axes 

Marsden also purchased land from Māori for a mission station, insisting that the sale be formalized with a ‘deed of sale’, being a document (and a concept) that Māori of course had never seen before.  Marsden paid for the land with steel tools, notably axes.

Marsden, then, introduced or utilized three things –  the word of God, written documents and steel weapons.

The word of God has had an ambivalent history amongst Māori, as we all know. But by the 1860s, and the development of synchretic faiths like Pai Marire, Māori had lost faith in the church.

Memorial to Māori war dead at Battle of Moutoa Island, raised by settlers at Moutoa Gardens in Whanganui, 1865.Written documents, like those used by the Native Land Court, would prove equally problematic. As Māori would soon find out, where the Treaty of Waitangi was concerned, those with the power to write the documents (and control their meaning) would soon emerge the stronger, and it wasn’t Māori.

Steel tools also soon showed their down side, contributing significantly to the extreme bloodletting amongst Māori that soon followed.

Ambivalent Legacy 

In the end, we are told, Marsden’s presence at Rangihoua, preaching on Christmas Day 1814, began New Zealand’s long march to nationhood.

The problem with this populist theory is that, for Māori, Marsden represented the arrival of a new ethos, culture and technology that,  far from enhancing Māori lives, would almost sweep them away.


Further Reading: The literature on the Missions and Māori (and Marsden) is enormous. See Danny Keenan, ‘See The Word, Hear The Word; A Comment on Oral Culture, Literacy and Print In Early New Zealand: The Treaty of Waitangi’  in  John Thomson (ed), Books and Bibliographies; Essays in Commemoration of Don McKenzie, Victoria University Press, Wellington, 2002, pp. 57-68; Keith Newman, Beyond Betrayal. Trouble in the Promised Land – Restoring the Mission to Māori’, Penguin Books, Auckland, 2013.

Keith Newman, Bible & Treaty, Missionaries Among the Māori – a New Perspective, Penguin Books, Auckland, 2010; Robert Glen (ed), Mission and Moko. Aspects of the Work of the Church Missionary Society in New Zealand, Latimer Fellowship of New Zealand, Auckland, 1991; Hugh Morrison, Lachy Paterson, Brett Knowles and Murray Rae, Mana Māori and Christianity, Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2012. 

New Zealand Wars in 100 Objects


The bridge crossing the Waiwakaiho River, north of New Plymouth, fashioned after a fish backbone.Interesting books have recently been published listing objects that, when considered together, represent the telling of a particular history.

Examples of works in this vein are Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects (Penguin, London, 2008) and Gary Sheffield’s The First World War in 100 Objects (Andre Deutsch, London, 2013).

Depicting the New Zealand Wars in ‘objects’ is interesting. Over the next short while, we will be listing some ‘items’ which might comprise ‘100 objects’ though of course the list is probably very long and is certainly subjective.


Object No 1 – The Flagpole on Maiki Hill, Russell, formerly Kororareka.

The flagpole on Maiki Hill, Russell, formerly Kororareka.

The flagpole on Maiki Hill was very famously cut down four times, in the end precipitating the attack on Kororareka that, some argue, began the New Zealand Wars.

The first felling occurred on 8 July 1844, after 3 days of uproar, disobedience and looting in the small frontier town.  Though credited to Hone Heke Pokai, the flagpole was actually cut down by Haratua, chief of Pakaraka.  The second felling occurred 6 months later, on 10 January 1845 when trouble and dissension amongst Māori returned to the area. An American trader Henry Green Smith was blamed for inciting this act of defiance against the British flag.

This second felling moved Rev Henry Williams to advise that the ‘flag should not be flaunted in the face of the natives’, lest it be cut down again, which it was, on 19 January 1845. Two companies of the 58th British Army Regiment were immediately called for, from their base in Sydney. But they arrived too late, on 28 April 1845.

The fourth and final felling of the flagstaff had occurred earlier, at 4am on 11 March 1845, followed by a concerted attack on Kororareka by Hone Heke Pokai and allies, including Kawati. This attack, and subsequent sacking of the town, precipitated the outbreak, some argue, of the New Zealand Wars.


To read more on the Northern War, click here – # The Northern WarTo read Danny’s essay on Hone Heke Pokai, as published in the Mana Magazine, No 51, 2003, pp. 83-86, click here – # Essay on Hone Heke.  To see a map showing the location of the Northern Wars, click here – # Map of Conflicts.  

Further Reading, James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars A History of the Māori Campaigns and Pioneering Period, Volume 1 1845-64, Government Printer, Wellington, 1922, pp. 14-33.


151 Years Ago – Māori Defeat at Rangiriri 1863


The Waikato War started with the British Army invasion at Mangatāwhiri on 12 July 1863.

Entrance to Rangriri Battle Site today, Rangiriri, just north of Hamilton. The Highway north to Auckland cuts right through the old Pā.

The most important battle of the Waikato campaign was fought at Rangiriri on 20 November 1863. Defeat at Rangiriri effectively meant the end of the wars for Māori and, though they would continue for another nine years, the wars had been lost. Māori had also lost their country.

Last year, on 20 November 2013, we commemorated the 150 year anniversary of the battle.

At Rangiriri in 1863, the British Army defeated the Tainui defenders and ‘kicked open the door’ to the Waikato, pushing south to take Ngāruawāhia, the Māori King’s home, by 8 December 1863.

Rangiriri 1863,  just weeks after the battle.

Within five months of the Rangiriri conflict, the invasion of the Waikato was over.

For Māori, then, the loss of Rangiriri effectively signaled the end of the wars which for Maori had also been lost. At Rangiriri, King Tāwhiao and his people had borne a terrible burden for all Māori. They had needed to either turn the British Army back, or at least force terms, but sadly they lacked the numbers and weapons to do either.


To read more of the Waikato campaign, click here – # Invasion of the Waikato. To read Danny’s essay on King Tawhiao, as published in the Mana Magazine, No 40, 2001, pp. 78-79, click here – # King Tawhiao. Also, to read Danny’s essay on the history of the King Movement, as published in the Mana Magazine, No 50, 2003, pp.63-68, click here – # History of Kingitanga. 

Further Reading: James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars. A History of the Māori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period, Volume One: 1854-64, Government Printer, Wellington, 1955 (first published 1922), pp.326-335; James Belich, The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict, Penguin Books, Auckland, 1988 (first published 1986), pp.145-157; Chris Pugsley, ‘Walking the Waikato Wars. Controversy at Rangiriri’ in New Zealand Defence Quarterly, Summer 1996, pp.31-37.

A History of Māori Farming

Ahuwhenua Celebrating 80 Years of Maori Farming

Danny’s latest book was published last year, on 1 November 2013 – Ahuwhenua. Celebrating 80 Years of Māori Farming. 

The book tells the story of Māori farming focused on the Ahuwhenua Trophy which has been presented to winning Māori Farmers since 1933.

The competition was launched by Sir Apirana Ngata, Minister of Native Affairs, and Governor General Lord Bledisloe to encourage Māori to take up farming on remote and difficult land development blocks.

Māori farmers from further afield were later included and encouraged to compete for one of the two ‘Bledisloe Cups’ plus cup replicas and medallions.

Dairy farm and rural scene, Whanganui

In recent years, since 2003, the competition has been expanded to include Trusts, iwi collectives and million-dollar Māori incorporations.

The book was commissioned by the Ahuwhenua Trophy Management Committee to celebrate the trophy’s 80th year of competition. The Trophy Management Committee  manages the annual competition on behalf of the Trophy Trustees, comprising the Minister of Māori Affairs, the Minister of Primary Industries and  the Governor General.


Ahuwhenua Trophy for excellence in Maori farming first introduced in 1933

To view the October 2013 Ahuwhenua Newsletter on line, click the ‘BNZ Māori Excellence in Farming Award 2011’ image (right), especially see page 3.

Ahuwhenua. Celebrating 80 Years of Māori Farming was launched by Dr Pita Sharples, Minister of Māori Affairs, at the Federation of Māori Authorities Conference in Hastings on 2 November 2013.