Project Canterbury

Bishop Harper and the Canterbury Settlement

By H. T. Purchas

Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1909.

Chapter IV. Bound for New Zealand

"Coelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt. "
--Horace. ["The words "Coelum non animum" are the motto of the Harper family.]

"On changing seas, 'neath changing skies,
They keep a changeless mind."

When the tidings of the Christchurch meeting at last reached Mortimer in 1856, it became necessary for the Vicar to make up his mind whether he would accept the call. The time of waiting had been so long that he may well have put the matter into the background of his thought while he attended to the duties of the immediate present. Now that the letter had come, he must go over it all again. One difficulty had been cleared away, but others still remained.

First, there were the authorites of the Canterbury Association in England to consult. He wrote to their Chairman, Lord Lyttelton, who had other ideas in his mind, and was in treaty with the Rev. E. Hobhouse about the bishopric. This difficulty was soon overcome by Mr. Hobhouse himself withdrawing his name, when he heard of the decision of the Christchurch meeting. But questions of a more personal nature were less quickly disposed of. Dean Wellesley thought it not wise to take a large family of daughters to a colony in the pioneering stage of its existence. The fears of the courtly Dean were not shared by the practical parish priest, but he made enquiries and learned that the Canterbury colonists were as cultured and refined as the best society in England itself. This raised a new question. Mr. Harper was not rich. Would not such a select society expect their bishop to keep up the style of the old country prelates? The question was put to Lord Lyttelton for his candid consideration. "I told him," writes the bishop-elect, "that for a time at least I must necessarily be as a poor man in the colony." Lord Lyttelton could not settle this question by himself. He consulted Mr. Godley and Mr. Selfe. Both agreed that a bishop would not have less influence because his means were small.

Thus objections were overcome one by one. Still the great point remained. Was it a call of duty? Lastly, therefore, Mr. Harper consulted his bishop. What would he advise? Bishop Wilberforce's answer was as follows:--

26 Pall Mall,
April 21st, 1856.

My dear Mr. Harper,

I have weighed the question you wished me to solve as carefully as I can, and it appears to me--

I. That you are not bound by any scruple as to Hobhouse to refuse this call.

II. That it has come to you wholly unsought by yourself, and as a distinct call from God.

III. That external circumstances favour your accepting it, and seem to point to it as indications of God's will for you.

IV. That you are possessed, through God's grace, of the needful personal qualifications for such an office. From all which preliminaries I can only gather that to the loss of our diocese, but I trust to your wider usefulness in the Church, you are called forth from your Ur of the Chaldees to a place God will show you, and may He be with you, as He was with His faithful servant of old. I am ever yours, my dear Mr. Harper, Faithfully and affectionately,


This letter settled the matter. Four days later Mr. Harper writes--"My dear Kent, I have accepted the Bishopric,--I trust not presumptuously as regards myself, nor imprudently in respect of my family." Thus deliberately the last turning-point was passed, the last important choice made.

The Vicar of Mortimer resigned his living, and prepared for the new life and high office which awaited him on the other side of the globe.

The undertaking was indeed one which called for no small measure of faith and courage. Macaulay has endorsed and made familiar to us the dictum that "An oak should not be transplanted at fifty." Mr. Harper was fifty-two years old when he was called to the episcopate, and the change which its acceptance was to effect in his habits may indeed be compared to the transplanting of a sturdy tree. Hitherto he had lived a life of quiet and regular routine. He had never been placed in any position which demanded large statesmanship or even much readiness and resource. He had succeeded in his pastoral work by sheer goodness, combined with perseverance and an even temper. Though blessed with a magnificent constitution, and able to bear cold water in winter, he was not an athlete, nor an enthusiast for mountain climbing or other vigorous forms of amusement. His gentle horse exercise had been pretty well limited by the bounds of his parish, and he had reached an age when men usually think of diminishing rather than of increasing the amount of their physical exertion. Yet he was going to a diocese 400 miles long, broken by mountains, and traversed by swift and often unfordable rivers. It would not, indeed, demand the seamanship which Bishop Selwyn loved and in which he so greatly excelled, nor did it present the varieties of climate, nationality, and language which tried the strength of Patteson. But the pastoral oversight of a district whose area equalled that of England (excluding the county of York) was of necessity a heavy task, and when it is considered that over the whole of that area there were almost no roads nor bridges, and further, that the mountains were much higher than those of England, the rivers less navigable, and the climate more uncertain, it will be seen that the duties of bishop of Christchurch were such as might well daunt any man who had already passed the prime of physical strength. The reports of Bishop Selwyn and the letters of his two sons must have made Mr. Harper well acquainted with the severe conditions of New Zealand travelling. He was thus able to count the cost beforehand, but he made no heroic professions, and went forth as one who simply obeys the call of duty, never looking back or thinking of a return to his native land.

The farewell to Mortimer need not be described in detail, but one feature is worth particular notice. Among the presents made by the parishioners was one from "the cottagers and servants of the parish." It consisted of two costly and handsomely-bound volumes--a Bible and a Prayer Book. They had previously been exhibited in the Exhibition of 1851, and are now in use in St. Mary's Church, Timaru.

In leaving the parish Bishop Harper unwittingly left behind him a legacy of strife, which, however, was not of a very acrimonious order, and was of some real service to the development of the colonial church. As in other cases where the appointment to a bishopric had caused a vacancy, the Crown claimed the right to fill it. But in this case Eton College, as patron of the living, contested the claim, and succeeded in obtaining from the legal authorities a verdict to the effect that the Queen had no ecclesiastical jurisdiction in a colony which possessed representative institutions. These had been granted to New Zealand in 1852, therefore Bishop Harper did not really need Royal Letters Patent, and though they continued to be issued for a few years longer, the Mortimer case was one of the series of incidents which at length brought about their discontinuance.

The consecration took place under the Letters Patent, on August 10th, 1856, in the Chape] of Lambeth Palace, Dr. Baring being at the same time consecrated to the see of Gloucester and Bristol. The Archbishop (Dr. Sumner) was assisted by the Bishops of Winchester, Oxford, and Salisbury, the sermon being preached by the Rev. J. Hampden Gurney, Rector of St. Mary's, Bryanston-Square. But on the whole the service seems to have been deficient in impressiveness. Bishop Harper's feelings may be gathered from a letter which he wrote in his old age to a member of his family:--

"I can scarcely call to mind the proceedings when I was admitted to the diaconate by Bishop Hurray, or those when I was priested by Bishop Kaye; even when I was consecrated bishop at Lambeth there was little except the occasion and the service to give that solemnity to it which appeals to our senses, and through them to the higher part of our nature."

One incident connected with the consecration, however, remained long in his memory. The law of that period required that he should pay five guineas for an "alibi," that is, for a dispensation allowing him to be consecrated elsewhere than in Canterbury Cathedral. The Bishop-elect of the new Canterbury would willingly have given the money in order to be consecrated in the historic fane for which the old one is renowned, but the opportunity was never given him. Even his gentle nature felt the hardship of being fined for not doing what he would particularly have wished to do. Not to be without some link, however, between the new Canterbury and the old, he took for the arms of his diocese a design which he found upon a gateway in the ancient city.

It is curious to reflect that whereas Mr. Jackson was to have been consecrated in Westminster Abbey in the presence of a large number of Canterbury pilgrims to whom tickets of admission had actually been issued, and whereas Bishop Jenner was afterwards consecrated in Canterbury Cathedral itself for the southern portion of the Christchurch diocese, the man who actually did the work which the former would not and the latter might not accomplish received his episcopal commission in this private and unpretentious fashion. Mr. Harman and possibly one or two other Canterbury colonists were present at the Lambeth ceremony, but the rest of the flock had to be content with a bare and brief account which appeared in the Christchurch newspapers several months afterwards.

On September 10th, 1856, the whole Harper family, with the exception of the two sons who Were already in New Zealand and of two others who were left at Eton, embarked at Gravesend in the Egmont--a sailing vessel of 787 tons--and early the next morning left the shores of England. [One of these (Edward Paul) was never to be seen by his parents again on earth. After leaving Eton he entered the navy, and was appointed to H.M.S. "Orpheus," then in New Zealand waters. He left England in the "Raglan Castle" in order to join the "Orpheus," but the ship was lost at sea, and no traces of her were ever found.] They had a fair number of companions in the saloon. Among them was a clergyman, the Rev. G. H. Eyre; two laymen, Messrs. E. J. S. Harman and J. M. Heywood, who were returning to Canterbury after a visit to the old country; and a lady, Miss P. Torlesse, whose journal has happily been preserved and affords welcome information concerning the incidents of the voyage. A large number of steerage passengers brought up the whole ship's company to the number of 215. A journey to New Zealand by an emigrant ship, in the days before the era of steamers, was an experience which must have been undergone to be appreciated. The absolute sundering of all outward ties with the great world of men and things, the close intercourse for three months with a few intending colonists brimful of hope and high expectation, the friendships which are thus formed and often prove to be life-long--these are well-known to all who have made the journey. So, too, are the incidents of the voyage. The discomfort and misery of the first week; the cheeriness which succeeds as sickness abates and warmer weather is felt; the Doldrums with their stifling heat and tantalising calms; then the long six or eight weeks of easting in the bitter cold and furious gales of the southern latitudes; the increasing monotony broken only by the possible glimpse of a lonely island, or the hardly more frequent sight of a sail upon the horizon--a monotony which brings a sickness of its own upon the weaker natures, and tries the patience and the morals even of the hardy; finally, the quickening of interest and the revival of health as the ship draws near to land and the end is at length in sight--all this remains vivid in the memory of those who have experienced it. Four deaths occurred upon the Egmont, and the Bishop occupied much of his time in ministering to the sick. At the Sunday services he began to do what he had never attempted till then, viz., to preach without a manuscript--a training which was of use to him in his pioneering work on shore. He did not set himself to emulate Bishop Selwyn's brilliant feat of mastering the Maori language on the voyage, for the Maoris were a mere handful in his diocese, and a knowledge of their tongue would have been seldom called for. But a certain amount of intellectual work went on in the saloon, and a paper of considerable merit, The Egmont Times, appeared every week. The illustrations in this journal were especially good. One of them represents an incident which was too diverting to be passed over. The Bishop, in full episcopal costume, is half-way up the rigging in pursuit of his youngest boy, who has mischievously climbed to the main-top but cannot get back through the "Lubber's hole." The soles of the Bishop's boots are being chalked from below by an audacious sailor, who will doubtless take good care that his lordship does not fail to pay the customary forfeit for thus invading the seamen's territory.

The last number of The Egmont Times breathes a more serious air. It contains a letter from the Bishop which may be quoted here as showing the same spirit which characterised him in the old Eton days:--

December 11th, 1856.

Mr. Editor,--

As the number of this week is, I believe, the last of the "Egmont Times," I will with your permission avail myself of this opportunity to make a proposal to our fellow-passengers which will, I think, meet with their ready concurrence.

My proposal is, that if through God's merey we arrive, as we anticipate, during the next week, safely at New Zealand, public thanks should be offered up to Him, in our name, on the Sunday following.

It has pleased Almighty God to take from us four of our fellow-passengers, and there has been sickness among some of us from time to time, but not more so, I believe, than might have been expected during a long voyage in a community of 215 persons, the greater part of whom are unaccustomed to a sea-faring life.

And when we consider what we might have had to endure, had it been ordered otherwise, and that we have travelled the wide ocean for more than three months, not only in perfect safety, but without even any of the discomforts and alarms which stormy or unfavourable weather would most piobably have occasioned, we must, I am sure, feel that all is owing to Him Who doeth whatsoever pleaseth Him in heaveu and in earth, in the sea and in all deep places, and that it is but fitting that we shew forth our thankfulness for the same by a public acknowledgment of His loving-kindness. I propose, therefore, at the close of our voyage, sending round a paper expressing our thanks to Almighty God for our prosperous passage and safe arrival in New Zealand, to which those of the passengers who concur with me in considering this an act of duty on our part may affix their names; and I will give directions that the same be read at the Morning Service, on the Sunday after our arrival, at the churches of Christchurch and Lyttelton; and may I venture to express a hope that all who on that day may be remaining in these towns and their neighbourhood will give their personal attendance at those churches. I am,

Yours very faithfully,


The hope expressed in the letter of the ship's speedy arrival in port was not fulfilled. Contrary winds were experienced on the coast of New Zealand, and it was not until December 22nd that the Egmont was off Banks Peninsula. The first impressions--always the keenest--of those on board may be gathered from the following entries in the journal already alluded to:--

"Monday, December 22nd.--Disappointed again about landing, though we have made some little progress and have been within sight of Mt. Pleasant and of the mountains which gird the coast as far as Kaikoura in the Nelson province. I cannot conceive anything more magnificent than the view now presented to us. We could see as far as the Kaikoura Mountains nearly 100 miles off. The clearness of the atmosphere is wonderful, and can only be realised by those who have seen it. Mount Torlesse most distinct with its snowy summit, indeed, all the way up to the Kaikouras you see the snowy range.

Tuesday, December 23rd.--Soon after breakfast a fair Wind sprang up and almost imperceptibly at first, then most rapidly, we neared the harbour. The day has been lovely, and as each fresh bay burst upon us new feelings of admiration came over us, and glasses were snatched from hand to hand in an almost frantic manner, many lovely spots being revealed as the various bays came in sight--some with snug homesteads and little patches of cultivation. The European travellers of our party said there was no finer scenery in Europe, while others compared it to the north coast of Devonshire and to the banks of the Clyde. At last we approached the harbour, which is most magnificent, a complete basin surrounded with mountains, on whose sides the light and clouds are forever varying. At 2 o 'clock a gun was fired for the pilot, who presently appeared on board, and delighted we were once again to see a fresh face. We had for some time been gazing at a prettily-decorated little vessel, which we now discovered to be the "Southern Cross," and not ten minutes after the pilot came on board Dr. Selwyn with Mr. L. Harper were greeted by Dr. Harper and his family."

The now historical meeting between the two bishops may be described in the words of another eye-witness:--

"Gradually the boat drew near. I watched the face of Bishop Harper--its joy and anticipation mingled with anxiety. In the subsequent years I knew the Bishop never have I seen him so excited; he was usually so calm, thoughtful, and passive. When within hailing distance Bishop Selwyn raised his hat and waved it. Bishop Harper repeated the salutation. Then followed a waving of handkerchiefs from the passengers clustered on deck, and eventually the boat came alongside. Bishop Selwyn was soon on board, with both hands clasped in those of Bishop Harper. They gazed at each other silently for a few seconds, Mrs. Harper and the family, all smiles, standing closely around. Then followed hand-shaking, enquiries, and congratulations. What a subject for a photograph!

As it was blowing south-west it took some hours for the vessel to beat up to her anchorage. Upon her arrival at the port boats came off containing clergy, friends, and others, who gave Bishop Harper and his family a right good welcome."

The first act of the Bishop and his family was to go ashore in Selwyn's boat and attend service in a room in the Immigration Barracks, which then served as a church for the people of Lyttelton, and had been the scene, on the previous Sunday, of the ordination to the priesthood of the Rev. Leonard Williams, now Bishop of Waiapu. Fervent were the thanksgivings of those who had at length reached the land of their adoption; of those, too, who were able to feel that at last there were two bishops on the shores of New Zealand, and that the long untended flock was now to have its appointed chief pastor. After the service the travellers returned to the ship to spend their last night afloat, and to prepare for the labours of the morrow.

Before 8 o'clock on the morning of Christmas Eve the whale-boat appeared again, and Bishop Selwyn insisted on taking the party to see his trim yacht. As expressed in his own diary:--"Went on board the Egmont at 8, took off the Bishop and his whole family in our two boats; carried them to the Southern Cross; whole Harper family seated round our cabin, fourteen or fifteen happy faces."

But there was little time for visits, however pleasant. Much had to be done before Christmas Day should dawn. The road to Sumner into which Grodley had thrown so much of the Association's money was still unfinished; the Moorhouse tunnel which now permits the traveller to reach the plains in a few minutes, was yet in the future. Heavy luggage might be sent round by boat to Sumner, and might be expected to arrive at its destination in something under three weeks, but bedding and other immediate necessaries had to be taken up the bridle-path, over the pass, and so on to Christ-church. Two hand-carts were borrowed, but how were they to be dragged up the 1100 feet of steep track? Bishop Selwyn's readiness of resource did not fail him. He harnessed his sailors to the trucks, the two bishops with their coats off pushed behind. Some way up the hill relief was brought by a man who was found working with a team of bullocks. These were soon yoked to the load, by mid-day the summit was reached, and three cheers announced that the hardest part of the task had been accomplished.

At this point more clergy and friends arrived from Christchurch on horseback, and all sat down to a picnic lunch provided by Selwyn's foresight. The loads were now packed upon horses, and the procession moved down the hill-side. Another halt was made at Mr. J. Cookson's house in the Heathcote Valley, and the rest of the journey was made in various vehicles. The Bishop himself and some of his family were driven by Mr. Fitzgerald in a large but clumsy carriage. So rough was the road, and so full of holes, that the ladies at the back could hardly keep their seats, and at the same time take care of the precious red leather box containing the Letters Patent. The vehicle moved swiftly behind a pair of horses driven tandem fashion, a fact which gave a double point to the long-remembered "Tandem venisti, my lord," with which the Bishop was greeted at his journey's end by the Head-master of Christ's College. The arrival was witnessed by a child who was looking on from the balcony of a neighbouring house, and her recollections (written many years after) are worth quoting, on account of their freshness and naïveté.

"The great event of 1856 was the arrival of Bishop Harper and his family. Well do I remember watching from our balcony, how they got out of some conveyance (I have forgotten what manner of vehicle it was) at the little Worcester Street footbridge, and each carrying some hat-box or other small baggage, walked one by one over to the house--fourteen precious souls, all told, I believe--the last being a pretty little boy of my own age, with large-patterned tartan stockings. Soon some of them were back at our house begging the loan of pots and pans, and then we were set to spend the summer evening picking gooseberries for them."

On the following day (Christmas Day) Bishop Harrier was installed in the little St. Michael's Church. Seven of the local clergy were present and so was Bishop Selwyn, but, unfortunately he could take no active part because the Letters Patent were found to have placed the new bishop under the authority of the Bishop of Sydney. .Accordingly the proceedings were characterised by great simplicity. Mr. (afterwards Judge) Gresson read the necessary documents, and the Archdeacon declared the Bishop to be duly installed. Then followed the regular Christmas service. Dr. Harper preached the sermon, and the communicants numbered nearly 150. Interesting as was the occasion, the fact must be admitted that upon some of the younger minds the appearance of the new Bishop made less impression than did that of his six daughters, as they moved in procession up the aisle. It has even been said that one or more important marriages were the outcome of that spectacle.

The house which had been provided as a temporary residence for the Bishop and his family, was a small cottage on Cambridge Terrace, which still forms the nucleus of a house which is now flanked on one side by the Canterbury Club, and on the other by the Public Library. At that period it stood alone in the block, which extends as far westward as Montreal Street. Much of the land then consisted of sand-hills, in which the Harper boys sometimes turned up a Maori skeleton or other relic of prehistoric days. The house itself was much too small for the number of its occupants, and for nearly two years the Bishop had merely a small fireless lean-to for a study. Water for all domestic purposes had to be brought from the Avon in buckets, and the family underwent some degree of that "roughing it," which old colonists knew so well. Like many other delicately-nurtured settlers, they threw themselves into their strange tasks with cheerful resolution, and were all the better for the hardships they encountered. Writing from the standpoint of old age, the Bishop remarks:

"Real work is the appointed lot of us all, and if not forced upon us by circumstances should be undertaken for its own sake, as a means for the improvement of our characters, and affording us opportunities of assisting others. I think the emigration of my family to the colonies has been of service to all its members, teaching us among other things to do for ourselves what many are apt to require of others on their behalf."

The cottage by the Avon continued to be the episcopal residence for nearly two years. During that time the pressure upon its house-room was to some extent relieved by a double wedding, which sent forth two young brides to homes of their own in the country. [Mrs. Acland and Mrs. Blakiston. All that the town could furnish in the way of hired vehicles for this ceremony was one omnibus, in which both wedding parties were conveyed to and from St. Michael's Church. It had been imported to run between the town and the Heathcote Ferry, but had never been used owing to the badness of the road.] And in spite of all drawbacks, the stream of life ran faster than it had done in the old English home. The Christchurch of those days was a sociable little place: everybody knew everybody else, and the very makeshifts and inconveniences of their domestic affairs afforded matter for wholesome merriment to themselves and their friends. When in November, 1858, the new Bishopscourt was ready--a house built chiefly by means of a grant of £1000 from the S.P.C.K.--it seemed a veritable "palace." Though only a small timber structure, it was quaintly picturesque, and formed a comfortable home for the Bishop during the rest of his life. But in those early days his absences from home were many and long. We must now pass from his domestic surroundings and watch him at his work in the diocese.

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