Skip to main content


Page 3 – Men of vice or virtue?

Thomas Kendall

On 12 August 1816 Thomas Kendall opened the first missionary school at Rangihoua, with a roll of 33 students. Education was an important way of introducing Maori children to the scripture and European ways. This first school closed at the end of 1818 due to a lack of supplies and trade, but another opened in 1823 under the auspices of James Kemp and George Clark. This time adults were allowed to attend.

The temperamental and driven Kendall was not popular with his fellow missionaries, and he clashed with the more pragmatic and secular approach of William Hall and John King. Kendall increasingly saw himself as the leader of the mission, in part because of his friendship with the powerful Hongi Hika. The dysfunctional nature of the mission was cited as another factor in the slow conversion rate of Maori.

Victims of 'Maoriness'

A constant fear of Marsden and the Church Missionary Society (CMS) hierarchy was that single men and missionary children were vulnerable to 'Maoriness'. Men so far from the safety of civilised society could give in to temptation.

Satan surrounded the early missionaries in the form of naked Maori bodies. Marianne Williams spent her first night in New Zealand thinking of them. "The tall muscular forms of the New Zealanders flitted before my mind's eye whenever I endeavoured to sleep." Missionary women are not known to have succumbed to temptation but some of their menfolk did. They included William White, William Colenso, Charles Creed and Thomas Kendall.

James Belich, Making peoples, p.136

The musket trade: men of vice or virtue?

Of greater concern to Marsden was the trade in muskets and, in particular, the active role played by CMS employees. This was the era of the Musket Wars, and the missionaries were forced to engage in this trade by their Maori patrons. Sitting on the fence proved difficult. On several occasions Marsden had to remind his settlers not to take part in this trade. All except William Hall agreed to desist, but before long other members of the CMS community were at it again. Forced to take action, Marsden dismissed two of the settlers in 1819 and again banned the arms trade.

Marsden had suspended Kendall when he found out about his adulterous affair with a Maori woman. The latter's dismissal by the CMS in August 1822, however, resulted not from this affair but from Kendall's arms dealing. In a letter to the CMS, Kendall maintained that the settlers could not dictate to Maori what 'they must receive in payment for their property and services. They dictate to us! … It is evident that ambition and self-interest are amongst the principal causes of our security amongst them.'

How to cite this page

Men of vice or virtue?, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated