© 2019 Bicentennial Symposium Organising Committee

Rev. Samuel Leigh

Samuel Leigh was born in Milton, Staffordshire, England in 1785. He had a Congregational upbringing and spent two years at a Congregational seminary at Gosport. Leigh became a Wesleyan Methodist and was sent as their first minister / missionary to New South Wales in 1815. There he gave pioneering leadership to Methodists in Parramatta, Sydney, and the surrounding areas, overcoming the initial hostility he faced from Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Leigh established the first Methodist Circuit and built their first chapels.


Leigh developed good relationships with Anglicans, in particular with Samuel Marsden, the Anglican Senior Chaplain in New South Wales. Marsden in 1814, with Māori support, had inaugurated the work of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) at Rangihoua in New Zealand. Leigh’s friendship with Marsden led to him visiting the Bay of Islands in May and June 1819. The voyage was encouraged to help Leigh recover his health. During his time in New Zealand, Leigh reported that he acted as a mediator among members of the CMS and also began to think of beginning Wesleyan work in the country.


While visiting England in 1820, Leigh was given permission by the Methodist Conference to gather support for a mission to New Zealand. Before returning to Australia he married Catherine Clowes. They arrived in the Bay of Islands in January 1822 and lived for sixteen months at the CMS mission at Rangihoua with William and Dinah Hall where Leigh assisted their work. Leigh was joined by Luke Wade and James Stack.


With the help of the CMS, Leigh, together with Wade and Stack and the newly arrived William White, commenced the Wesleyan Mission near the head of the Whangaroa Harbour in June 1823. They named their station Wesleydale. They were joined in August by Nathaniel and Ann Turner and John Hobbs. Suffering from ill health, Samuel, accompanied by Catherine, attempted to return to Australia in September 1823 but their ship was wrecked on a reef as they left the Bay of Islands. They eventually departed the country in November.


Leigh continued working as a Wesleyan minister in Australia until 1831, when, following the death of Catherine, he returned to circuit ministry in England. He married Elizabeth Kaye in 1842 and they adopted two children. Leigh retired in 1845 and died in 1852.


The major contributions made by Leigh were his pioneering firsts as a Wesleyan minister in Australia and as a missionary in New Zealand. While his enthusiasm generated the support that led to Wesleyan Methodist missionary work in New Zealand, his abrupt departure left the Mission in a difficult situation and his successors struggled to establish their work at Whangaroa. In January 1827 the mission station was sacked, and the missionaries withdrew, recommencing later in the year in the Hokianga.



W. A. Chambers. 'Leigh, Samuel', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1l6/leigh-samuel


Gary A.M. Clover, Collision, Compromise and Conversion during the Wesleyan Hokianga Mission, 1827-1853: a critical study of Hokianga Māori, missionary and kauri merchant interactions. Nelson: Gary Clover, 2018.


R. H. Doust. 'Leigh, Samuel (1785–1852)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/leigh-samuel-2348/text3065


J.M.R. Owens, Prophets in the Wilderness: the Wesleyan Mission to New Zealand 1819-27. Trentham: Auckland University Press / Oxford University Press, 1974.


Elizabeth de Réland. The Samuel Leigh 200thAnniversary 1815-2015: a Parramatta Mission Commemoration. Parramatta Mission, 2015.


Alexander Strachan, The Life of the Rev. Samuel Leigh, Missionary to the Settlers and Savages of Australia and New Zealand: with a history of the origin and progress of the Missions in those colonies.London: Hamilton, Adams, 1863.