19 Dec 2014

Marsden bicentenary in Bay of Islands

9:04 am on 19 December 2014

Big crowds are expected in the Bay of Islands this weekend to mark the bicentenary of the first pakeha settlement in New Zealand.

The Marsden Cross memorial.

The Marsden Cross memorial. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

At Christmas 200 years ago, Anglican cleric Samuel Marsden brought three missionary families across the Tasman at the invitation of Maori chiefs.

Beneath Rangihoua Pa, where the families lived and worked, Reverend Samuel Marsden preached his first sermon, the first pakeha child was born, the first European school was built and cattle farming was introduced to Aotearoa.

Until now the only memorial has been a stone cross.

Nine years work by tangata whenua, DOC and tourism interests has transformed Rangihoua with walkways, information boards and a shelter.

Reverend Samuel Marsden, descendant of the missionary of the same name.

Reverend Samuel Marsden, descendant of the missionary of the same name. Photo: SUPPLIED

The missionary's descendent, also Reverend Samuel Marsden, is visiting New Zealand and told Morning Report said it would be a special Christmas.

Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae will open Rangihoua Heritage Park on Sunday, after a church service, and a second service on Christmas Day will mark the bicentenary of Marsden's sermon.

Anglican Bishop Ross Bay will be one of many dignitaries at the opening and said the bicentenary was a good time to reflect on the missionaries' work.

"They were there very dependent on the hospitality and protection of local Maori, they were there with young children, they had children die there, they were flooded out at times.

"It's a remarkable story of perseverance and of courage as a small group of committed people sought to establish a settlement," said Bishop Bay.