In the “Oihi Mission Station 1814-1832 - historic heritage assessment

The Reverand Samuel Marsden (Alexander Turnbull Library.
The Reverand Samuel Marsden

The work towards the establishment of New Zealand’s first mission station had its beginnings while the Reverend Samuel Marsden was the principal chaplain of the New South Wales penal settlement.

He met with Maori people on Australian trading vessels and was impressed by their qualities but concerned at the stories of lawlessness from New Zealand. Marsden’s ambition for a mission station was furthered while he was on board the Ann that was bound for New South Wales in 1809. It was on this voyage where he met Ruatara from the Bay of Islands. Marsden found Ruatara unwell and ill-treated and he nursed him back to health1. The friendship that formed between Marsden and Ruatara gave him the necessary local contact in the Bay of Islands to ensure its successful establishment and future survival2.

Marsden had gained the support of the Church Missionary Society for his venture and obtained the services of two men – William Hall and John King, who were later joined by John Kendall a schoolteacher. Marsden purchased the brig Active and in March 1814, he sent William Hall and John Kendall to New Zealand to study local conditions and to report on the attitudes of Maori to the proposal to form an English settlement among them. The investigation was promising and Marsden gained the support Ruatara, Hongi Hika of Kerikeri, Tara of Kororareka, and Pomare nui of Matauwhi Bay3.

On their return to Australia, the Active was fitted with all the essentials and on 19 November 1814 the brig, in the charge of Captain Hansen, sailed to the Bay of Islands. Among the persons onboard were settlers Thomas Kendall, with his wife and three sons, William Hall, a carpenter with his wife and their son, and John King, a shoemaker with his wife and their son, and Hansen’s family. Also on board was Hongi, Ruatara, and as a passenger, farmer J.L Nicholas4.

On Thursday, 22 December 1814, the Active arrived at the Bay of Islands and anchored at the cove of Oihi under Ruatara’s pa, Rangihoua. J.L Nicholas described the scene before them that afternoon:

“We landed at the opening of a narrow valley, through which a small meandering stream made its way to the sea. The hills on each side were very steep; in some places almost perpendicular and covered with fern and trees. On the top of the hill that rose to the left of us with a rugged ascent overlooking the harbour, was the built town of Rangihoua now the residence of Ruatara and lately that of Te Pahi” 5

Ruatara, in preparation for Marsden’s arrival to Rangihoua and for the first sermon, fenced in half an acre of land and erected a pulpit and reading desk in its centre with black Maori cloth covering it, and upturned canoes were used for seats. At 10am on Christmas day Marsden took his place at the pulpit and reading desk and addressed the congregation with Ruatara interpreting for his people (see painting Appendix 3). There were chiefs and people from Kerikeri and Kororareka in attendance and three hundred warriors danced a furious haka around Marsden at the close of the service6.

The next morning work quickly commenced to construct houses for the settlers, and terraces for them were excavated in the steep hillside previously used for Maori gardening. While timber was being sourced a temporary communal building was constructed that was almost eighteen metres long by five metres wide, to be thatched in Maori style with the help of the people of Rangihoua pa7. A workshop and forge were built to burn charcoal for tools to be manufactured as trade items8. And the sawyers of the settlement were kept continuously busy cutting timber in the sawpit located at the foot of the mission settlement9.

The settlers lived together in the thatched hut for a month while the Active was loading timber from the Kawakawa district10. The conditions at Oihi were not favourable and it would have been hard for the new settlers, especially since John King’s wife was expecting their second child11. Following a spell of wet weather John King wrote about the new settlement to a friend in England:

“We are in good health, but our hut is made with rushes by the Maoris’. It has no chimney and will keep neither rain nor wind out. We have no window in it. Mr Marsden gave orders to have it made. He says it is very comfortable indeed. This is a very wet day; it has been so for this three days”12

More comfortable buildings were erected by 1815 using mainly local materials with the help of the people of Rangihoua pa. By 1816, the buildings were complete and land had been cleared for gardening13. On 21 February 1815, Mrs King gave birth to a son at Oihi, Thomas Holloway the first European boy to be born in New Zealand; he lived for only four years14. In May 1815, Mrs Hall gave birth to the first girl of European parentage in New Zealand15 and during this time a deed16 was executed by which the title of the Oihi land was granted to the mission society. The deed describes the boundaries of the land, which on later survey was found to be 60 acres, the price of twelve axes17.

Only months after the settlers had arrived Ruatara was found dangerously ill and likely to die. This was a serious matter, since no other chief was as dedicated to the cause. However, Marsden received assurances from local chiefs and particularly Hongi Hika that if Ruatara should die they would protect the mission settlement18. On the 3 March 1815, Ruatara died19, leaving Marsden and the mission greatly saddened.

On Monday, 12 August 1816 New Zealand’s first school opened at Oihi with Kendall as the schoolteacher and an attendance of 33 Maori and European pupils. The school was one of the clusters of buildings on the high ground on the north side of the creek behind the Marsden cross. The subjects taught were mainly handiwork and the language used was exclusively Maori20. As well as maintaining a school here for nine years, Kendall also wrote books on the Maori language, one of which forms the basis of written Maori, as we now know it21. On occasion lessons were taught outside of the classroom as noted by Kendall in the school register for October 1816:

“We have also been under the necessity of following several of our people into the bush, where we taught them their lessons”22.

At times throughout the mission life at Oihi the settlers lived in great poverty alongside their Maori protectors, and were often dependant on them for food23. The settlement also lacked leadership as it seems that no one was delegated to this role by Marsden and the early years of the mission was marred with personal rivalries. However by the time that Marsden visited again in 1819 the settlers, in spite of their differences, were growing in their understanding of the Maori people24.

The Oihi mission station had been established for twelve years when the suggestion was made that it be closed25. By 1831, five mission stations had been established in the Bay of Islands and Hokianga area and Oihi mission station was in the process of being transferred to the nearby Te Puna. It had been decided by 1827 that Oihi was to produce food to supply the needs of the other stations. However, the lack of suitable lands for agriculture acted as a catalyst in the move to Te Puna. Additionally the mission houses required a great deal repair and the lack of level lands was a limiting factor in constructing new ones. Te Puna had adequate level ground for both buildings and agriculture and in 1832, the move to Te Puna was complete. Oihi was closed after seventeen years of service26.

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1 lands and survey report 1977:6

2 Harvard-Williams 1961:22

3 Lee 1983:62

4 Lee 1983:63

5 Nicholas, 1817, I:170

6 Lee 1983:64

7 Lee 1983:64

8 Nicholas 1817: vol 1 208

9 Bawden 1987:110 

10 Bawden 1987:109

11 Bawden 1987:110

12 Elder 1934:97

13 Bawden 1987:109-110

14 Lee 1983:66

15 Lee 1983:74

16 Elder 1932:123

17 Lee 1983:66

18 Lee 1983:67

19 Lee 1983:73

20 Lee 1983:78

21 Lee 1983:103 (a karao New Zealand, grammar and vocabulary of the New Zealand language and easy lessons in the New Zealand language by john Kendall)

22 Elder 1932: 128 

23 (Bawden 1987:86).

24 Lands and Survey 1977:8

25 Bawden 1987:135 

26 Lands and Survey 1977:9

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