To choose a date for when it all began, we could say 1803. At that time the Ngapuhi dominated the north and among the various hapu, Te Pahi from Te Puna in the Bay of Islands was pre-eminent. In his ability to accept new ideas and in his power to assimilate them, Te Pahi, along with Ruatara and Hongi were striking examples of the height to which the Maori race could attain.

In Britain, the excesses of the French Revolution had led to a reaction among the upper classes and made them think more seriously about their responsibilities. The last years of the old century saw William Wilberforce, the great philanthropist, having already recruited one Samuel Marsden as chaplain for the New South Wales penal colony, persuading the English parliament to abolish the slave trade.

Back in New Zealand, Te Pahi and his sons, eager to learn more about the world outside their home lands, visited New South Wales in 1803 and there met Samuel Marsden. Marsden was at once excited at the prospect of finding a people who, in keeping with the sentiment of the times, must be brought into the fold of Christ.

Years were to pass before active steps could be taken, but the new-born project never died within him. For Te Pahi, contact with the Europeans eventually cost him his life. His enemies conspired against him and in 1809 whalers stormed his island fortress in the mistaken belief that he had been involved in the „Boyd“ massacre at Whangaroa. Te Pahi was wounded but escaped only to be killed soon after by the real perpetrators of the „Boyd“ tragedy.

Ruatara, Te Pahi’s young nephew, became the high chief of his tribe. Like his uncle, Ruatara was anxious to travel and see the world. The outside world treated him badly and Ruatara was repeatedly beaten and robbed, finding great difficulty in ever locating a ship to take him back to his home lands.

In 1807, Marsden was once again in London pacing the Strand promoting his ideas for the welfare of the many races in which he was interested. He appealed for a mission to the Maoris but he wished it to be an industrial mission. He proposed that artisans should be sent out who would prepare the way for ordained clergy. Men of sound piety and a lively interest in the spiritual welfare of the native inhabitants. Carpenter William Hall and shoemaker John King were chosen and given further training in ship-building and rope making .

Chance played its hand when, in 1809, Marsden discovered amongst the crew of the ship on which he, Flall and King were embarked en-route to New South Wales, none other than Ruatara, the nephew of his old friend Te Pahi. Under Marsden’s care, Ruatara soon regained his health and by the time they reached Botany Bay, was again in good spirits and able to sign on a ship bound for his home land.

The story of Samuel Marsden’s eventual arrival at Rangihoua, Ruatara’s pa, on 11 December 1814, is well known. The Christmas day service on 25 December 1814 when Marsden preached, „Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy“ was a momentous day in the history of our land. For Ruatara, however, the occasion had disastrous results, for he caught pneumonia and died soon afterwards. His successor, although not opposed to the missionary settlers, was more interested in warfare. The real power-base shifted to Hongi who lived some miles away. His manner was quiet and gentlemanly. He assured the missionaries of his protection; and he kept his word.

Marsden returned to New South Wales leaving the missionaries behind at Rangihoua. Without Marsden’s strong leadership, problems soon developed among the missionaries -principally over the sale of firearms to the Maori. Marsden did not return to Rangihoua for four years. However in August 1819 he arrived, bringing with him more new recruits for the Mission Station. The Rev. John Butler and his wife, Francis Hall, a schoolmaster and James Kemp, a smith.

New plans were formed for an extension of the mission’s work. Hongi offered Marsden a site opposite the pa of Kororipo. This strategic site had been a fortified pa, perhaps in the time of Hongi’s grandfather, but in 1819 was the seaport for Hongi’s people who had their main pa inland at Waimate North. Here in a sheltered vale amid the sound of waterfalls the new mission was established. Following the settlement of the C.M.S. mission at Kirikiri (Kerikeri), an informal Maori village was soon established on the hills overlooking what is now the Stone Store basin.

In such a way was our tiny town of Kerikeri born. The significance of the event lay in the fact that it became the established stepping-off point for the spread of Christianity throughout the land, and has survived as a memorial to the intrepid settlers who first made their home here in the sincere desire to help their fellow man.

Source: NZ Community Development Trust