Marsden's generals: The metropolitan roots of Samuel Marsden's mission

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It is difficult to find a missionary figure who better encapsulates the dichotomy of hero and villain - at least in popular and scholarly perceptions - than the Reverend Samuel Marsden. In New Zealand he has of course been lionised as the 'Apostle to the Maori', while in early nineteenth-century London he attracted more mention in CMS committee minutes than any other contemporary. Yet in Australian history the 'flogging parson' mud still sticks, despite a raft of more nuanced studies in recent years. As Marsden's modern biographer, A.T. Yarwood, has shown, Marsden's character and legacy were far more complex than simple heroism or villainy, and his different faces need to be understood in the context of the whole range of his activities in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. In probing the reasons for Marsden's initial (and later) acceptance of the magistracy, historians have understandably focused on the exigencies of colonial Australian life. Thus Yarwood viewed Marsden's acceptance of magisterial powers as a 'disastrously misguided attempt, to supplement his tiny authority as a man of God with the more immediately reliable sanctions of the state'. Moreover, Yarwood argued, Marsden possessed an 'almost pathological detestation of crime and sin'. Additionally, Marsden has been characterised as an imperialist for his advocacy of both a 'civilising mission' to the Maori and a later British imperial presence in New Zealand (from 1830, albeit with some reluctance). These initiatives paved the way for established government and organized European settlement in New Zealand soon after his death. Yet a glaring deficiency in the scholarly literature on Marsden has been a lack of attention to the intellectual and metropolitan wellsprings of his action. Most scholars have gone little further than the observaical magistrates. While any explanation for Marsden's acceptance of the magistracy must take into account the contingent circumstances of near-anarchy in early colonial NSW - not to mention Marsden's own temperament and inclinations - it is clear that this was also very much a product of his metropolitan roots. It is striking that all of Marsden's key mentors, both in their writings and activities, were willing to utilise the state and coercive authority to forward their respective Evangelical aims of conversion, world mission and the reformation of manners. While theirs was a socially conservative worldview, it was one which viewed the outworking of the gospel in ethical, moral and societal terms. It was also a social theory that was forged in a period of unprecedented social, political and economic change, in the shadow of the French and American Revolutions. These were also the men whom Marsden relied on for patronage and advocacy, but, just as importantly, they were the counsellors and role models to whom Marsden continued to turn throughout his career.The Yorkshire connection was also crucial for Marsden's recruiting of clergy for Australia and missionaries for New Zealand. The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to examine who and what shaped Marsden's strong socio-political views and theology. In particular, I focus on four of Marsden's key mentors: Charles Simeon, William Wilberforce, William Hey and Miles Atkinson. Their influence, I argue, is crucial for understanding Marsden's own pivotal decision to accept the magistracy in 1795 and 1796. Their strong emphasis on social order also sheds light on why their young protege in Australia placed so much confidence in the need for a civilizing mission and British imperial power to accompany the gospel to New Zealand. Finally, I consider how the connections of Marsden's mentors - in both Yorkshire and the wider Evangelical world - provided a vital source of manpower for the New Zealand mission.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLaunching Marsden's mission
EditorsPeter Bolt
Place of PublicationAustralia
PublisherMoore College
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventMoore College Library Day - Moore College, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 27 Jul 2013 → …


ConferenceMoore College Library Day
Period27/07/13 → …


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