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Samuel Marsden's first sermon


Russell Clark’s painting of Samuel Marsden preaching on Christmas Day 1814 at Hohi (Oihi) Bay in the Bay of Islands is how many New Zealanders have visualised the first Christmas church service in this country.

Clark’s work – painted to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the event – shows Marsden preaching from a makeshift pulpit to a large group of Māori and Europeans. Ruatara, the Ngāpuhi leader Marsden had met in Port Jackson (Sydney), translated the sermon. He can be seen to Marsden’s right. This service marked the beginnings of the Christian mission to New Zealand, but was it the first Christmas service in the country?

On Christmas Day 1769, the French explorer Jean François Marie de Surville and his crew were in Doubtless Bay in the Far North. On board the St Jean Baptiste was a Dominican priest, Father Paul-Antoine de Villefeix. While no records of the event survive, it seems very likely that such an important Catholic festival would have been marked by a Mass on board the ship. But in the absence of hard evidence, New Zealand’s English colonial traditions have favoured Marsden’s claim to this first.


Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington
Reference: B-077-006
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

How to cite this page

Samuel Marsden's first sermon, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated