“Such scenes are very afflicting to a European beholder…”: The Papers of Samuel Leigh

In his first letter to the Committee of the Methodist Missionary Society in London, the Reverend Samuel Leigh, a Wesleyan Missionary, wrote:

While the above quote puts more emphasis on the differences of missionary work at home and abroad, it also applies to acclimating to an entirely new world and culture. Having been born and raised in England, Samuel Leigh’s life in Australia and New Zealand – where he served as a missionary – was most certainly different from what he was used to seeing and experiencing back home.

After spending a few years building up a missionary circuit in Australia, Leigh traveled to New Zealand where he was immediately thrust into a civil war brewing between the natives. Upon his arrival in New Zealand, Leigh not only heard of the deaths of thousands of native men, but also the way these “heathens” dealt with their enemies. In his first letter from New Zealand dated February 25, 1822, Leigh writes:

It is with a great deal of confidence that I can say that Leigh had probably never heard or witnessed such a thing, and such a description probably served as a shock to his English upbringing.

Dispersed among his letters from a few years later are extracts from Leigh’s journal, dating from December of 1822 to May of 1823. In them, Leigh reports upon the daily goings on in New Zealand in a very matter-of-fact manner:

Despite Leigh’s seemingly casual attitude to the not-so-common events he observed, his initial feeling from his very first letter still stands. In that letter, Leigh starts off by describing the grief of a newly-slain Chief’s wife:

But it is his observation at the end of the letter that belies his ostensibly indifferent attitude:

In the end, Leigh was just another English boy unaccustomed and unfamiliar with native ways. Unfortunately, his time in New Zealand was cut short due to ill health, and he returned with his wife to Australia after only a few short months.

The completed finding aid for this collection can be found online:  MRL11: Samuel Leigh Papers, 1818-1824.

One thought on ““Such scenes are very afflicting to a European beholder…”: The Papers of Samuel Leigh

  1. Hi, I have found what you have written incredibly interesting, yet when I click on the link to find Leigh’s papers it only gives the first 4 pages of information about him, not the papers themselves. Do you know of another link i could use to find the papers?


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