Samuel Marsden.  Picture source: WIkimedia Commons

Samuel Marsden. Picture source: Wikimedia Commons

It still amazes me that I can sit on my couch of an evening (fire crackling, tv blaring, #1 son immersed in the XBox) and yet the miracle that is the Internet means I can read a journal from 1814 in the original.

Shall we pause for moment to consider how brilliant that is?

The particular journal I found belonged to one Rev Samuel Marsden.  In Australia he was more or less reviled as the flogging parson but apparently he was (and, historically speaking, is) pretty big in New Zealand.  As a result, the University of Otago Library has established the Marsden Online Archive.  And what a treasure it is.

Reverend Samuel Marsden (1765-1838), Chaplain to New South Wales, was the driving force behind the establishment of the Church Missionary Society in New Zealand in the early nineteenth century. His relationships of trust with Māori chiefs paved the way for the introduction of Christianity in New Zealand. The missionary settlers brought agriculture and European technology to New Zealand. They also began documenting Te Reo Māori and created the first books in Māori. Their work paved the way for the acceptance of an official Crown presence in New Zealand.

Marsden’s letters and journals, as well as the papers of other early NZ missionaries, are held in the Hocken Collections at the University of Otago Library. 599 of these letters and journals have been made available on the Marsden Online Archive to date.

The item that was of particular interest to me was in fact simply a passing reference within the lengthy and detailed journals.  Marsden was in New Zealand, wanting to establish a mission and wondering how to gain the trust of the relevant Maori Chief.  He watched a war canoe leaping across the water and, as it came closer, was astounded to recognise one of the passengers.

One of the principal Chiefs was in the war Canoe with a number of his attendants, and a young Otaheitian known to Europeans by the name of Jem, whom I had known some years before, as he had resided a considerable time with Mr. McArthur at Parramatta: this Otaheitian had married the Chief’s daughter, and his wife was in the Canoe.— He was much surprised to see me, and I was no less so to meet him there, so very unexpectedly.   He had been in the habit of calling at my house, when at Parramatta, and was well acquainted with my Situation in New South Wales, and he could speak English exceedingly well.

Suddenly Marsden had a conduit straight to the Chief’s ear.

I’m not very surprised that the Macarthurs would have a Tahitian boy living with them.  John and Elizabeth Macarthur were in fact quite open-minded in their hospitality.

  • An aboriginal boy lived with them for a time who, even as an adult, remained devoted to John.
  • A Maori Chief, Te Pahi, visited with the Macarthurs to learn about wool.
  • There is a rumour that the very first Chinese man to live in New South Wales was engaged as a gardener by the Macarthurs.
  • A royalist French Catholic, a refugee from revolutionary France, was tutor to the Macarthurs’ youngest sons.
  • The 1828 census lists 13 servants at Elizabeth Farm: a gardener, a coachman, a butler, 2 grooms, a cook, 4 labourers, 2 maidservants and a footman. All but 2 were convicts with conditional pardons or tickets-of-leave.   According the Historic Houses Trust of NSW in the early 1820s there was an Irish stonemason, a Chinese carpenter,a Chinese cook and another Chinese servant. The footman was a ‘mussalman’ (a Mohammedan, or Muslim).

All this without leaving the house.  Fantastic.



Reverend Samuel Marsden, Journal: Reverend Samuel Marsden’s First Visit to New Zealand in December 1814, Marsden Online Archive, last modified October 3, 2014,

Braodbent, James.  Elizabeth Farm: a history and a guide.  Historical Houses Trust of NSW.