Sunday sermons shed light on pioneer
A new book on the ‘Flogging Parson’ Samuel Marsden has recently been published, drawing for the first time on Marsden’s own sermons as an historical source examining his roles and faces in both public and church life
The book Samuel Marsden: Preacher, Pastor, Magistrate, Missionary, written by the Rev David Pettet, is the result of a PhD thesis examination into the life of Marsden. Underlying the book’s analysis are 98 manuscripts of sermons by Marsden currently held in the Moore Theological library, which were transcribed by Mr Pettet himself.
“What interested me initially was really coming across some of this about 40 years when I was at Moore myself, “The librarian at the time Kim Robinson showed me the collection of handwritten Marsden sermons in the archives there. I didn’t think of it much of the time, but about ten years ago i decided it was a project I could undertake. There has been an awful lot written about Marsden, he is quite a controversial character in colonial history, but nobody has ever seriously looked at his sermons before. Given his own stated desire leaving England was to ‘preach the everlasting gospel’, it’s quite strange that hasn’t happened to this point.”
There are generally three main sources of controversy that surround the man. The foremost is his relationship with the contemporary governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie. While this has been frequently labelled as an antagonistic one, because of perceived veiled attacks on the governor by Marsden from the pulpit, Mr Pettet argues that the sermons themselves betray nothing of such an attack. Also covered are Marsden’s second job in the colony as a magistrate, as well as the strongly contrasted successes of his missions to New Zealand and Australia.
“Well, like most people, there were things that he did well, and of course others that he simply didn’t,” says Mr Pettet. “He didn’t always see the impact his actions would have, or how people would perceive them. For instance, he had a reputation as a harsh magistrate, one rightly earned I feel, and he didn’t quite see the impact that would have on gospel work. He was also a wealthy man, involving himself in agricultural ownership, and that had an impact. He was inflexible in engaging with Aboriginal people here when they simply didn’t show the same interest in Western things as the Maori. Those things are part of why he was blinkered, I think, but as a visionary he did have a view of of the gospel going out to New Zealand and Australia in particular, and he was quite strategic in that respect. He had a true vision for evangelism.”
The book was formally launched recently at St John’s Cathedral in Parramatta, Marsden’s first church in Australia, the town of his seat as magistrate, and the site of his burial.
Former Archbishop the Rt Rev Dr Peter Jensen spoke at the launch, commending the book as a new perspective on the life of one of Australia’s first, but also most controversial, colonial ministers.
Pictured: Mr Pettett and Dr Jensen at the launch of the Marsden book