Early missionary, Magistrate, schoolmaster.
A new biography of Kendall, Thomas appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Thomas Kendall was born on 13 December 1778 in the parish of North Thoresby, Lincolnshire. Little is known of his family beyond his own statements that his mother was a devout woman who counselled her children in religion, and that his father lived to be 93. He was educated at North Thoresby village school, which was kept by the local clergyman, the Rev. William Myers. When about 18 years of age, Kendall went to live near Myers at the latter's new charge at North Somerscote, assisting Myers with his scholars, studying under him, and keeping a small farm of 15 acres. After two years he moved to Immingham as tutor to the children of three gentlemen. Here he met his bride, Jane, with whom after their marriage he returned to his native village, where he set up as a linen draper and grocer. Being in business difficulties, in the year 1805 he bought hops as a speculation and went with them by sea to London. Here he attended an evangelical service at Bentinck Chapel, and was moved by spiritual and material considerations to return home, sell his property, and come to reside in London. For seven years he continued under the influence and instruction of the Revs. Basil Woodd and William Mann, earning his living as a schoolmaster. He was influenced by a missionary report to offer his services to the Church Missionary Society.
Kendall and his family arrived at Port Jackson in New South Wales in October 1813. Here the Chaplain, the Rev. Samuel Marsden, who had long been anxious to implement a decision by the Church Missionary Society that he should organise a mission in New Zealand, arranged that Kendall, accompanied by another lay missionary, William Hall, should go to the Bay of Islands in Marsden's vessel the Active on an exploratory visit. On their return after a memorable voyage lasting from 14 March to 22 August 1814, Kendall and Hall reported favourably on the prospects of the mission. In November 1814 Marsden sailed in the Active for New Zealand with Kendall, Hall, King (another lay missionary), and their families. On 12 November Kendall had been appointed a Justice of the Peace for New Zealand by Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales. In due course a missionary settlement was established at Rangihoua on the north side of the Bay of Islands, where the Kendalls were to continue in residence for nine uneasy years.
Kendall's relations with his fellow Europeans in the mission deteriorated rapidly. On the other hand his education enabled him to learn the Maori language, and he acquired considerable influence with the local Maori chiefs. His journals and letters give many details of contemporary Maori life.
Macquarie's appointment of Kendall as a Justice of the Peace for New Zealand was made on the assumption that New Zealand was a British dependency, a view that was later refuted. Since, however, British law operates in principle in respect of British subjects everywhere, and Kendall acted as a Justice of the Peace on a few occasions in informations against British subjects in New Zealand, he may reasonably be regarded as New Zealand's first Magistrate. In the absence of a formal Court or means of enforcement, his powers were for the most part nominal.
On 12 August 1816, Kendall opened New Zealand's first schoolhouse, maintaining a mission school for several years, attended by neighbouring Maori children. Kendall prepared a textbook entitled The New Zealanders' First Book, which was of use to Samuel Lee, the Church Missionary Society's language expert at Cambridge, in preparing a grammar and vocabulary of the Maori language. Kendall's moral character showed a progressive deterioration in New Zealand, attributed in some degree by himself to his removal from a Christian congregation and his exposure to the heathen influences of Maori culture. He was accused by his colleagues of drinking too much, of being on occasion violent in his behaviour, and of neglecting his duties in favour of acting as a trading agent between the Maoris and visiting ships.
In August 1819 the Rev. John Gare Butler arrived as superintendent of the mission. Kendall soon fell out with him, refusing to give up his trading activities, including the procurement of muskets and powder for Hongi Hika and other Maori chiefs. On 2 March 1820 Kendall sailed for England with Hongi and Hongi's nephew Waikato, arriving back in the Bay of Islands on 12 July 1821. During this visit Kendall was ordained, and also conferred with Lee, then a professor at Cambridge, over the publication in 1820 of the Grammar and Vocabulary of the New Zealand Language. Kendall earned the disapproval of the Church Missionary Society and Marsden and Butler by going off on this visit without due permission and leaving his wife and eight children.
Kendall's marital relations were at this time uneasy. After his return to New Zealand he took a Maori girl into his home as a “second wife”. In consequence. Marsden suspended him from the mission, an action which was in due course upheld by the Society, as Marsden confirmed to Kendall by a letter dated 9 August 1823. The Kendalls went to live for a time at Matahui, in the south of the Bay of Islands district, under the protection of the chief Pomare. Incidental references, unfortunately scanty, indicate that Kendall had found out many details of Maori ethnology, including the existence of the cult of lo, a supreme being.
Kendall and his wife were reconciled, and Kendall, in a letter dated 25 July 1824, confessed his past errors to the Church Missionary Society.
Early in 1825 the Kendalls sailed for Valparaiso where, until 1827, Kendall was employed as clergyman and schoolmaster to the local British community. They then migrated to New South Wales, where Kendall received a grant of 1,280 acres in the Ulladulla district. Here he traded in timber, which he transported in a small vessel owned by him. He was drowned in the wreck of this vessel in 1832. His grandson, Henry Clarence Kendall (1841–82), was a well-known Australian poet.
Thomas Kendall's tragedy was that he was projected in New Zealand into circumstances which brought out latent weaknesses of character and so proved his undoing. Kendall, William Hall, and John King were the first resident missionaries in New Zealand. Kendall was the first British Magistrate resident in New Zealand, and the first master of an organised school.
by Charles Andrew Sharp, B.A.(OXON.), M.A.(N.Z.), Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Kendall Papers (MSS), Hocken Library
- The Letters and Journals of Samuel Marsden, 1765–1838, Elder, J. R. (ed.) (1932)
- Marsden's Lieutenants, Elder, J. R. (ed.) (1934).