New Zealand Post - official issuer of New Zealand stamps & commemorative coins

Christmas 1997

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The Christmas 1997 stamp issue featured one of the first Christmas services to be held in New Zealand and continued the New Zealand Post tradition of issuing Christmas stamps which had spanned nearly four decades.

Issue information

Samuel Marsden, a Yorkshireman who had been influenced and educated  by Anglican evangelicals, went to New South Wales, Australia in 1794, to be Assistant Chaplain to the colony. Marsden was a complex character who gained a mixed reputation as a farmer, magistrate, Superintendent of Government Affairs and a Missionary. In the face of many difficulties he persisted in his desire to spread the Christian gospel in the South Pacific and increasingly among the Māori of New Zealand.

Marsden lived in Parramatta, some 24km from the main settlement at Sydney Cove in Port Jackson, and often put up Māori in his own home. He taught them and learned of the little-known country from where they came. One of his most prominent contacts was Te Pahi a Ngāpuhi chief. Te Pahi was later killed in fighting between his people and those of Whangaroa following the burning of the Boyd in 1809, when most of the vessel's crew and passengers were slaughtered. After that, shipowners were wary of venturing to New Zealand.

But Marsden, stubborn and intolerant to an extreme, was also convinced of the rightness of his cause and his ability to fulfil the demands God had laid upon him. He returned to New South Wales in 1810 on the convict ship Ann and brought with him William Hall, a joiner and John King, a rope-maker, who along with Thomas Kendall, a school teacher, were to form the nucleus of the church mission to New Zealand. Significantly, Marsden discovered that a Māori, Ruatara, was also a passenger on the ship. Ruatara had travelled to England to see the King, but instead had been harshly treated and was in poor health. Ruatara was in fact a Ngāpuhi chief from the Bay of Islands and his friendship and protection of Marsden were to be key elements in the establishment of the mission in New Zealand.

Delays did not cease when they reached Sydney and eventually Hall and King took up work to maintain themselves and their families. Eventually Marsden bought his own vessel, the Active, for 1,400 pounds. Early in 1814 he sent it with Hall and Kendall, to New Zealand on an exploratory visit, in the course of which they traded in spars and flax. Hall and Kendall returned with Ruatara, Hongi, Korokoro and other influential Bay of Island's chiefs and reported favourably on the prospects of the mission. Eventually on 28 November 1814, Marsden along with Ruatara, Hongi, Korokoro and other Māori, Hall, King and Kendall and their families, together with five ex-convicts and a large consignment of stores, set sail from Sydney for the Bay of Islands.

It was not an easy journey. Ruatara became withdrawn and reserved and began to regret that he had invited the missionaries to come to New Zealand.The techniques and technology of European agriculture had impressed the well travelled chief and he had thought these were benefits which Marsden and the missionaries would bring to his people. However, he now began to wonder if these same missionaries might not rival his own position as a chief. Marsden may have offered to turn the Active back, but Ruatara said "No". On November 1814, the Active reached North Cape. On 19 December Marsden landed on Motukawanui, one of the Cavalli Islands, and the following day, in the company of Ruatara, Hongi and Korokoro, he went ashore at Matauri Bay where they stayed the night. Eventually they reached Te Puna in the Bay of Islands on 22 December.

Ruatara gave the missionaries no choice, and decided they would live at Rangihoua, on the steep slopes above the bay and within sight of his Pā (fortified village). On the morning of Christmas Day 1814, in the presence of a large number of people, Marsden held a Christian service on the beach. He led off with Psalm 100 and then preached from the text Luke, chapter two, verse ten 'Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy'. Ruatara translated for Marsden. Sadly the mission was soon in trouble. Rangihoua's steep slopes were unsuitable for farming, but Ruatara would allow them to live nowhere else. The settlers were unable to  achieve economic independence and they became subordinate to and dependent upon the Māori they had come to convert. Marsden returned to Sydney in March 1815 and Ruatara died four days later. Marsden made six more visits to New Zealand, teaching and preaching as far south as Tauranga. On his last visit he had to be borne on a litter and wherever he went Māori greeted him with reverance. Samuel Marsden died on 12 May 1838 and is buried in the churchyard of Saint John's Parramatta, New South Wales.

An Artist's Impression

By all accounts, the Christmas service conducted by Reverend Samuel Marsden in 1814, was a happy occasion. When he finished, many of the Māori present responded with a haka. "(It was) the most graceful return they could make for the solemn spectacle they had witnessed," wrote one European observer. This Christmas service was featured on the Christmas 1964 stamp, designed by L. C. Mitchell and showed the artist's impression of the service at Rangihoua Bay.

In 1997, New Zealand Post again based the Christmas stamp issue on early New Zealand Christmas. The stamp design used the words of the Christmas carol Te Harinui, which told the story of Marsden's historic service. The stamps were produced as an impressive se-tenant block of six, showing the music for Te Harinui running through the stamps, as well as six single sheet stamps and a self-adhesive.

Product Listing for Christmas 1997

Click on image to enlarge.

Image Title Description Price
Single Stamp

Single 40c 'Not on a snowy night / By star or candlelight' gummed stamp.

Samuel Marsden's ship, Active, was shown arriving in the Bay of Islands with the hillside pa of Rangihoua in the background.

Single Stamp

Single 70c 'But on a summer day / Within a quiet bay' gummed stamp.

Marsden preaches from the pulpit, with the picturesque Bay of Islands in the background. The makeshift pulpit was erected with the help of local Māori using part of a canoe.

Single Stamp

Single 80c 'The Māori people heard / The great and glorious word' gummed stamp.

Several Ngapuhi chiefs were present at Marsden's service, including Hongi Kika. Marsden appeared in this stamp issue extending a hand of friendship to one of the local chiefs.


Single Stamp

Single $1.00 'The people gathered round / Upon the grassy ground' gummed stamp.

Most of the inhabitants of Rangihoua attended the service, including women and children. They all listened intently. "The sight was truly impressive," recalled one of Marsden's companions.

Single Stamp

Single $1.50 'How in this blessed land / United heart and hand' gummed stamp.

Symbolic of the peace and friendship that Mardsen's service engendered, the $1.50 stamp depicted Māori and Pākehā hands extended in goodwill before Marden's memorial cross.

Single Stamp

Single $1.80 'Te Harinui / Glad tidings of great joy' gummed stamp.

The crimson bloon of the pōhutukawa was shown against a backdrop of the bay at Rangihoua.

Single Stamp

Single 40c 'Te Harinui' self-adhesive stamp.

The self-adhesive stamp featured the memorial cross that today marks the site of Marsden's service. Beyond the cross is a pōhutukawa in flower and the blue waters of the Bay of Islands. 

First Day Cover First day cover with gummed se-tenant block and single self-adhesive stamp affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $7.10
Self-adhesive dispenser Dispenser box containing 100 x 40c self-adhesive stamps. $40.00
Self-adhesive booklet Booklet containing 10 x 40c self-adhesive stamps. $4.00

Technical information

Date of issue: 3 September 1997
Number of stamps: Six sheet stamps plus a se-tenant block; one self-adhesive stamp (for booklet and dispenser box)
Denominations and designs: Sheet stamps: 40c Not on a snowy night / By star or candlelight, 70c But on a summer day / Within a quiet bay, 80c The Māori People heard / The great and glorious word, $1.00 The people gathered round / Upon the grassy ground, $1.50 How in this blessed land / United heart and hand, $1.80 Te Harinui / Glad tidings of great joy; Self-adhesive stamp: 40c Te Harinui
Stamps and first day cover designed: Fifi Colston, Wellington, New Zealand
Printer and process: Southern Colour Print, Dunedin, New Zealand by lithography
Number of colours: Gummed: Four process colours plus gold ink; Self-adhesive: Four process colours plus one special
Gummed stamp size and format: 30mm x 40mm (vertical)
Self-adhesive stamp size and format: 30mm x 25mm (horizontal)
Paper type: Gummed: 103gsm gummed stamp paper; Self-adhesive: Harrison's red phosphor self-adhesive stamp paper
Number of stamps per sheet: 100
Number of stamps per booklet: 10
Number of stamps per dispenser box: 100
Perforation gauge: Gummed: 14 x 14; Self-adhesive: die cut
Cost of unadressed first day cover with se-tenant block and one self-adhesive stamp: $7.10
Special blocks: Plate/imprint, positional or value blocks could be obtained by purchasing at least six sheet stamps. There were no marginal inscriptions such as plate, imprint or value blocks for the se-tenant block of six stamps.
Colour blocks: Also known as "traffic lights", these blocks were included in plate blocks.
Barcode blocks: Barcode blocks were available for sheet stamps only and not for the se-tenant block.
Period of sale: These stamps remained on sale until 3 September 1998.