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This chapter reconstructs the entanglements that brought Māori and Europeans into sustained connection and which incorporated New Zealand into the discourses and economic networks of the British Empire during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. It demonstrates that this long history of imperial exploration and commerce encoded Samuel Marsden’s plan for the New Zealand mission and his vision of the types of social change that missionaries could enact. It also emphasizes the importance of both labor and consumption in shaping the very divergent readings he developed of Māori and Aboriginal cultural capacity. As well as locating Marsden’s thought within these imperial discourses on civilization and improvement, this chapter argues that the personal relationships that leading Māori rangatira established with Marsden were crucial in convincing him of Māori potential and of the viability of a mission to New Zealand.

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