The Parramatta Legacy

by Rev. Associate Professor Denise Austin
19th February 2015


In 1815, Samuel and Eliza Marsden founded the first seminary and trade training school for Māori in Parramatta. I recently presented a paper in New Zealand about the interesting trans-Tasman parallels between the Marsdens’ seminary and the history of Alphacrucis College (AC).[1] The following is a brief summary which I hope will encourage you to see that our College is contributing toward an incredible legacy for God.

Apostolic calling to ministry

Firstly, the Marsdens modelled an apostolic calling. Samuel and Eliza arrived at the wild outpost of Parramatta in 1794. After meeting some Māori on Norfolk Island, Samuel Marsden referred to Māori as “that Noble Race of People” and had a deep desire to evangelise in New Zealand.[2] Marsden’s historic establishment of Christianity in New Zealand, in 1814, was clearly supported by his mentor, William Wilberforce, who applauded such “Christian heroism.”[3] The Marsdens knew they’d been called by God and were committed to that vision.

Pioneering spirit in Christian education

The strong ties between Australia and New Zealand are shown through the Marsdens’ work in pioneering Christian education. In 1815, they opened a seminary and trade training school for Māori in Parramatta. On an estate they had bought privately, it was just near the parsonage and a short distance from town. Marsden built a two story weatherboard house called Newlands.[4] On the Parramatta River, it also had its own jetty and water supply. Ten young men – eight of whom were chiefs’ sons – enrolled in this first ever European-style school for Māori. Most of the students lived in the Marsdens’ parsonage or in a rented house nearby. In fact, the Marsdens sometimes had as many as 30 Māori at once living in their home. The Marsdens also provided the full living expenses for all their students.

The strategic plan for the seminary included: training Māori in technological development; enrolling high-born young men to cement a bond of trust; providing accommodation for visiting chiefs; encouraging trade; and teaching Europeans the Māori language and culture. One of the students, Ruatara – went on to become a key national leader in New Zealand. The seminary played an integral role in building a close, mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries.

Practical training for leadership

Another feature is the balance between spiritual guidance and practical training. The curriculum included moral and religious instruction, along with practical skills, such as: shoe-making; tailoring; spinning and weaving; flax-dressing; gardening; farming; smithing, carpentry; and brick-making. Marsden spent a lot of his spare time with his students, discussing religion, government and agriculture. He even gave one chief’s son a plough and a team of bullocks to take back to New Zealand.

Between 1817 and 1819, 24 Māori studied at the Parramatta seminary. A free-stone cottage called Rangihou was built in 1818 – named after the Bay of Islands region. The largest enrolment at the seminary was 25 students in 1820. It equipped young leaders with the skills needed for development, supported by a clear Christian worldview.

Unwavering commitment to overcome

The Parramatta seminary faced some difficult challenges but Samuel Marsden maintained an unwavering commitment to overcome. Owing to the different diet, climate and lifestyle, at least 13 students died while in Australia or shortly after returning home. Marsden writes:

I cannot entertain doubt but that the time is now come for these people to be blessed with the Gospel of Peace and that the way is now opened to them. .. I often wish to return to the bosom of my Country and frequently resolve to do this but then I am immediately checked with the thought: What will the New Zealanders do.[5]

By 1826, there were about 12 Māori students, as well as some Tahitian and Tongan students. There was also at least one female student – which was quite a radical innovation for that time. Despite devastating tragedies, Marsden remained determined in the mission of Christian education.

Lasting legacy of transformation

The seminary clearly left a lasting legacy of influential transformation. The first 400 copies of Scripture in Māori were published in Parramatta in 1827 and a printing press was taken to New Zealand. Although the seminary closed that year, owing to low enrolments, the educational programs continued in New Zealand, largely through Māori alumni. Elizabeth Marsden died in 1835 and Samuel died three years later. However, by 1840, there were over 8700 church members in New Zealand and it was considered one of the most successful missionary enterprises in history.

In 1856, some Māori leaders donated a white marble memorial slab for Marsden in St John’s Cathedral, Parramatta. You can still see the memorial there. In fact, in 2012, Parramatta City Council officially recognised Rangihou as a heritage site. Clearly, Marsden’s vision for Christian education has become a lasting legacy.


Although separated by around 200 years, there’s amazing parallels between the Marsden’s seminary and our own AC. We share a divinely-inspired apostolic calling to see Christian education flourish. We have a trademark combination of spiritual formation and practical training for leadership. Devastating challenges are faced with an unwavering commitment to persevere. The legacy of the Parramatta seminary and trade training school brought transformation to Christian education. Today, AC Central in Parramatta and ACNZ in Auckland are powerful symbols of the long-standing symbiotic nature of trans-Tasman Pentecostal education to transform the shape of Christianity in New Zealand, Australia and beyond.


[1] The full paper is under consideration for publication with Australasian Pentecostal Studies and can be made available upon request.

[2] George Mackaness, Some Private Correspondence of the Rev. Samuel Marsden and Family 1794-1824 Volume XII (Dubbo: Review Publications, 1942), 54.

[3] Eric Ramsden, “Wilberforce: Marsden Letters Discovered”, Sydney Morning Herald (Saturday 16 September 1933), 11.

[4] Geoff Barker, “Parramatta’s Rangihou Reserve and its Maori History”, Research Services: Parramatta Heritage Centre,

[5] Mackaness, Some Private Correspondence of the Rev. Samuel Marsden and Family 1794-1824 Volume XII, 69.