Christmas Day 1814 (Bay of Islands)

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Mark Grace imagines Christmas Day 1814 from the perspective of a young Maori man…

What an incredible day! The excitement, the warmth, the welcome and the confusion. How do I begin to explain what happened here at Oihi Bay on 25 December 1814?

Chief Ruatara and four other chiefs – Hongi Hika, Korokoro, Tuhi and his brother – along with three others arrived three days ago with the missionaries and their families. Our people watched as their boat sailed into the bay.

With amazement we watched the unloading of their horses. I had never seen such a powerful animal before. We watched as a plump missionary named Samuel Marsden rode the ‘big dog’ – a picture that will stay in my mind as long as I live! 

On 24 December we watched Chief Ruatara organise the warriors. They dragged the canoes up onto the hillside and turned them upside down to form rows for people to sit on. Next they brought up strange looking furniture – a pulpit and reading desk.

On 25 December everyone headed down from our Pa to the upturned canoes. The Pakeha and those from the ship were sitting on the rows of canoes. Around 3400 people surrounded them – standing, sitting, talking and waiting. Most were from my Pa, but many friends, warriors and chiefs from the region came to see Chief Ruatara’s strange visitors.

Chief Ruatara and Chief Korokoro were wearing Pakeha naval uniforms and were helping Samuel Marsden. We all knew something significant was about to happen.

When Marsden rose to speak none of us could understand him! Chief Ruatara helped make his words clear by speaking them in our language. Marsden was talking about great news that is for everyone.

A war dance erupted, and people began to respond to the occasion. There was a sense something big had taken place and confusion about what it meant. It certainly was an extraordinary day!

What does this day mean for us 200 years on?

In the months following the first service at Oihi Bay the missionaries begin to establish their homes and the mission station at the base of the Pa up into the hills. It’s here that the first substantial beginnings of our bicultural journey as a country begin.(i)

It’s here missionary families established the first permanent Pakeha settlement in New Zealand.(ii) It’s here the first European style homes were built. It’s here the first Pakeha school was established.

It’s here sheep farming was introduced to New Zealand, establishing the first pastoral farms. It’s here the first Pakeha child would be born. It’s here in this bicultural settlement that Pakeha would first begin to study the Maori Language intensively. It is here that the Maori language is first committed to writing.  It’s here that New Zealand’s first orchards filled with apples and pears would be planted along with its first grape vines.

The years that followed Marsden’s first sermon were difficult for both Maori and Pakeha. The bicultural journey for both tribes and the mission station will often be characterised by confusion and apprehension.

These firsts led to a new generation of beginnings: in 1819 the CMS missionary John Butler introduced the first plough into New Zealand  and in September 1825 Christian Rangi became the first Maori to be baptized. Maori learned to read and were changed by the gospel, becoming missionaries to their own people.
It’s here at the site of the Marsden Cross in Oihi Bay that the gospel of Jesus Christ is first and forever fused with the foundation of Aotearoa New Zealand.

(i) Stuart Lange “Vision Congress” address 2011

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The Marsden Cross.



The Marsden Cross is located on the Purerua Peninsula. Purerua is a peninsula on the Northwest side of the Bay of Islands in Northland.

To get to the Marsden Cross travel along Rangihoua Rd and turn into Oihi Road where the car park down to the Cross will be signposted.

Coordinates: -35.168862,174.095471
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Marsden Cross
Marsden Cross