A Mixed Blessing – Rangihoua Pa and the Marsden Cross

Marsden CrossWhile we were at Kerikeri I was keen to make another visit to the site of New Zealand’s first European settlement at the mission station established by Rev Samuel Marsden. This was in December 1814, at Oihi Bay way round at what is effectively the north head of the Bay of Islands. We made the first journey back in the winter of 2009. I guess I wanted to see what was a crucial link in the European settlement of New Zealand. We were surprised then by how obscure the location was, and by how little information was available at the site. There was a track and the big memorial cross and that was it. We wondered what recognition would be made of it 200 years on in December 2014 – the first 200-year milestone for European history in New Zealand.

It turns out there was a considerable awakening to the significance of the site. The location has had a big makeover, with a huge amount of information and interpretation available. It is a slow walk down to the site from the big welcoming building if you read much of the information offered. There have been archaeological digs to gain more information on what life was like at the time of the settlement. There is now much greater recognition of the pa that the settlement was a very small part of; the mission occupied only 4000 sq. metres.

Rangihou Heritage Park

Rangihoua Heritage Park welcome sign

Rangihou Heritage Park welcome building

Rangihoua Heritage Park welcome building – the mission location is just visible down the valley behind Wyn while the Pa site is just to the right of her head.

Valley leading down to the Marsden Mission site

Valley leading down to the Marsden Mission site – the Marsden Cross is just visible beyond the ridge leading in from the upper right.

Rangihoua Pa site through information board

Rangihoua Pa site through information board – when a picture is redundant

It was a nice day for the walk down the valley.

Abstract photo of the wetland pond

Abstract photo of the wetland pond – going a bit Monet?

Coastal coral tree Rangihoua Heritage Park

Coastal coral tree Rangihoua Heritage Park

Coastal coral tree flower Rangihoua Heritage Park

Coastal coral tree flower Rangihoua Heritage Park

Marsden Cross and Rangihoua Pa

Marsden Cross and Rangihoua Pa at Oihi/Hohi Bay in the Bay of Islands

It is a nice location but it turned out it wasn’t a good place for a settlement and it was finally moved one kilometre around the corner and other mission settlements became more strategically important. Nevertheless this was the first European settlement in the country with children born and dying and chapels and schools built and used. There is a sense in the information that this was a turning point for New Zealand – the first tiny toe-hold for eventual British takeover of the country. the Rangihoua Heritage Park makeover was funded by what looks like big money from Auckland; it is probably not a milestone that Maori wish to celebrate – the small end of a very big wedge.

This first mission settlement was a sign of troubles to come. Samuel Marsden probably thought he was buying the freehold of the acre of land for the mission settlement – albeit cheaply. Meanwhile the local chief probably thought he was just granting him a right to occupy the land along with some protection, in return for insight into the European ways and some education. Even the name of the bay was taken wrongly – it is now transitioning from Oihi to Hohi. The first mission settlement history provides a portent of all the misunderstandings and troubles that were to shape the next two hundred years.

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2 Responses to A Mixed Blessing – Rangihoua Pa and the Marsden Cross

  1. gay dornbusch says:

    Interesting post and I was surprised to notice how much drier the land is compared to here. It must get seriously dry in summer. Thanks for the abstract pic lol. Maybe not as stunning as the lovely blues you sometimes capture but lovely all the same

    • Ross says:

      It hadn’t occurred to me about it being drier. Maybe that area doesn’t get so much moisture. Interestingly the mission was abandoned in favour of a nearby area which might have been more productive.

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