Project Canterbury

Bishop Harper and the Canterbury Settlement

By H. T. Purchas

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

Chapter X. Visit to England--The Primacy--New Difficulties

"Who, if he rise to station of command,
Rises by open means; and there will stand
On honourable terms, or else retire,
And in himself possess his own desire;
Who comprehends his trust, and to the same
Keeps faithful with a singleness of aim;
And therefore does not stoop, nor lie in wait
For wealth or honours, or for worldly state;
Whom they must follow; on whose head must fall,
Like showers of manna, if they come at all."

Though the legal bonds which had formerly connected the colonial churches with that of the mother land had been decisively broken, there had been no weakening of the loyalty and affection which the daughters felt for their venerable parent. It was natural, therefore, that a desire should spring up for some new means of representing and strengthening the sentiment of unity. The desire found voice in a suggestion from Canada that a general gathering of bishops should be held, and in 1867 the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Longley) invited all the bishops of the Anglican communion to meet at Lambeth for a "Pan-Anglican Synod."

Bishop Harper had no wish to leave his diocese, but the invitation appeared in the light of a call of duty, and accordingly he and Bishop Selwyn were among the seventy-six prelates who accepted the summons. On the evening of Thursday, July 4th, a service of farewell was held in St. John's Church, Christ-church, at which eighteen clergy were present. On the following Sunday the bishop left for Wellington with Mrs. Harper and their youngest daughter. There he met the primate (still busy with synodical questions), and together they embarked on the S.S. Ruahine for Panama--then the nearest route to England. The voyage was not an eventful one, though it led through regions which had lately suffered much from earthquakes and other convulsions of nature. Bishop Harper obtained his first glimpses of tropical scenery in crossing the isthmus from Panama to Colon, and also while his ship lay at anchor off the island of St. Thomas. On August 26th, the coast of Devonshire was sighted; soon after sunset Southampton was reached; and that night the bishop, after ten years of absence, slept once more in his native county.

Next day he was in London, and soon renewed his acquaintance with old scenes and old friends. The Conference did not meet till September 24th, and there was time for visits to relations in various parts of the country. But the scenes of his past work were naturally the first to engage his attention. He was soon standing on the Playing Fields of Eton, which he reached by boat up the Thames. A few days later he was at Mortimer, and busy among his old parishioners there--visiting them in their homes and addressing them collectively in church or when gathered upon Sir Paul Hunter's lawn. How different the last ten years had been for him from the days of his quiet pastoral labours there. He had forded swift rivers and climbed rugged mountains in the course of his missionary labours. He had slept on a "wool and tarpaulin bed" at a sheep station, and had shared a stockman's hut, not only with its regular occupants, both English and Maori, but also with the four quarters of a newly-slain bullock. He had pioneered among the diggers of the "Westland gold-fields, and had experienced the mingled deference and profanity of many a road-side shanty. But he had lifted a disappointed community out of its apathy, and had taken a leading part in the building up of a strong and well-ordered Church. And now he was back among the old scenes, a man of sixty-four years, but hale and hearty as ever, and with no wish save to return to his distant colonial diocese and to the work which he was still to carry on for more than twenty years.

When the Conference met at Lambeth he gave his whole attention to the proceedings. Though not as prominent a member as his friend, Bishop Selwyn, he yet took an active part in the work of a committee which was set up to consider the question of the organisation of the Church into synods and provincial assemblies. Several months were needed for the collection of information and the interchange of ideas. Ancient precedents had to be consulted and the different colonial systems compared with one another. The committee did not keep together during this time, and much of the business was done by correspondence. But their unanimously signed report was, in Bishop Harper's opinion, one of great value, and he seems to have been much disappointed that it was not adopted by the Conference as a whole. This was doubtless due to the State connection of the English Church, but the two New Zealand bishops found that at least the Irish prelates were keenly interested in their experience, in view of the approaching and inevitable disestablishment of the Irish Church. As a matter of fact, many features of the present constitution of the Church of Ireland were suggested by that of New Zealand.

During the later months of 1867 and the earlier months of 1868, Bishop Harper preached in various parts of the country for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel--thus repaying to some extent the debt which Canterbury owed for monetary help in its early difficulties. We find him also accompanying his old friend Bishop Wilberforce to an interesting service at the Clewer House of Mercy; dining at Eton on Founders' Day with one hundred other guests; meeting Liddon, Bright, and other divines, at Oxford; watching the bestowal of the D.C.L. degree upon his friend Selwyn in the Sheldonian Theatre; and enjoying in his own quiet way the many opportunities of refreshment and stimulus which life in England affords.

After an absence of rather more than a year, Bishop Harper returned to New Zealand with Bishop and Mrs. Selwyn--travelling again by the Panama route. He arrived in Lyttelton on August 19th, 1868. His welcome showed unmistakably the affection with which he was regarded in his diocese and also the progress ] which that diocese had made since his first arrival. After a special service and an address of welcome at the Port, he proceeded by train to Christchurch through the newly-opened tunnel. Here he was met by the Mayor, the Deputy-Superintendent (Mr. W. Montgomery), several of the clergy, and the boys of the Grammar School. Heavy rain unfortunately interfered with the procession which had been arranged; but the streets along the route were decorated with flags, and at Bishopscourt the carriage passed beneath a triumphal arch and between long lines of Sunday-school scholars holding flags and boughs of evergreens. In replying to the children's address, the bishop remarked that when he first arrived in Christ-church there were not so many children in the whole province as were now assembled before him--most of them colonial-born. Other services and addresses followed, and on August 27th, he was received by a large and enthusiastic meeting of all denominations in the Town Hall.

Replying to the address of Mr. E. J. S. Harman (spokesman for the Church officers and lay-members) the bishop confessed that, in spite of his affection for the land of his birth, he felt on this occasion like a traveller returning to his home. His modesty would not allow him to interpret the enthusiasm of the meeting as a personal tribute, he assigned it chiefly to the regard felt for his office. "And I would rather have it so. I would rather not be welcomed on account of any personal considerations, but as a pastor returning to his flock--a father returning to his family."

Bishop Selwyn's return was of a different character. He had come out only to bid his old diocese farewell. In the previous December he had been appointed to the see of Lichfield, and he now came to preside at Auckland over his last General Synod, and to prepare for the appointment of a successor. Of course this meant that the Primacy of the New Zealand Church was now vacant. The election took place at the conclusion of the Synod. Every vote was given for the Bishop of Christchurch. The information, indeed, leaked out that one episcopal vote was cast for the Bishop of Waiapu, but no one who knew the two men had the least doubt as to whose that vote was. It was the vote of Bishop Harper himself.

The position of Primate does not carry with it any large amount of authority or preeminence. Its holder presides at the meetings of General Synod; otherwise his duties are not great. Bishop Harper, with his intense humility, was not likely to make the office more prominent than it need be. But as the principal ecclesiastical personage in the colony, he was bound to be the medium of communication between the Church of New Zealand and that of other countries. For all these duties he was admirably adapted. The general feeling with regard to his appointment was well summed up in a letter which he received in the following year from the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Tait.

"Lambeth Palace,

June 18th, 1869. My dear Lord,

Allow me to express my satisfaction in finding that you have been appointed to the Primacy of the New Zealand Branch of our Church. I will venture to say that I look for the best results under God's blessing from your mild persuasive wisdom. Let me thank you for your very kind expressions towards myself. We are in very anxious circumstances at present while the fate of the Irish Church remains undecided. I hope the House of Lords may solve the difficulties of the situation.

With kind regards to Mrs. Harper,
Ever yours sincerely,

The Lord Bishop of Christchurch."

There were "anxious circumstances" in New Zealand also during the next few years. Some of them were local and temporary, but others were of grave and lasting import. For a due appreciation of Bishop Harper's primacy and of his later episcopate, some preliminary account of these is desirable.

One difficulty which probably caused him more anxiety and pain for a short time than all the others put together was what is known as "the Jenner difficulty." This was one of the most extraordinary and at the same time one of the most painful incidents of colonial church history. Not much will be said about it here: for full particulars the reader is referred to Dean Jacobs' History. But in order to realise what Bishop Harper had to go through it is necessary to recall the fact that in 1869 a bishop arrived unexpectedly in Lyttelton, and without coming through to Christchurch set off at once for Dunedin and claimed to be its lawful bishop. He had some grounds for this confidence for he had been selected by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the post, and had been solemnly consecrated in Canterbury Cathedral. But the Archbishop had acted under a misapprehension, and had quite-ignored the constitutional rights of the New Zealand Church and the wishes of the Churchmen in Otago. The clergyman whom he had selected--Dr. Jenner--was an able and accomplished man, but he favoured an advanced type of ritual, and the knowledge of this fact soon made its way to Dunedin. The people strongly protested against the appointment, and Bishop Harper when in England had warned Bishop Jenner not to come out. When, in spite of everything, he forced his way into the diocese which Bishop Harper had never resigned, it became necessary to take a firm stand. He forbade the new bishop to take any official part in public worship, but he permitted him to hold meetings and to endeavour to win the people over. Being a man of great charm of manner he succeeded to some extent in doing this, but the result was an intensification of party feeling. Bishop Harper at last called a meeting of the Dunedin Synod during which he had to sit in the chair from the evening of April 8th, 1869 until 6 o'clock on the following morning and to endure patiently many insulting remarks. The result was that Bishop Jenner's appointment was not agreed to, and he soon afterwards left for England to publish his grievance there and to talk about the "Bobber-synod" of New Zealand. His case was undoubtedly a hard one, and the sympathies of the multitude are generally with the man on the spot as against the absent. Bishop Harper's reputation consequently suffered in the eyes of the Church at Home for the next few years, but in 1878, when he laid his case before the second Lambeth Conference his brother bishops saw the propriety of his course and the wisdom with which he had acted. In New Zealand itself his action was appreciated from the first, and he was increasingly trusted from one end of the colony to the other. He continued to act as Bishop of Otago and Southland until 1871, when he handed over the diocese to Bishop Nevill with ten clergy and fourteen churches. In the farewell address presented to him by the Dunedin Synod loving mention was made of the hardships and perils which he had encountered; of

the untiring ministrations which had endeared him to the memory of his people; of the wise discretion, gentle behaviour and Christian self-denying spirit which he had displayed in their synods "often under the most difficult and trying circumstances;" and of the many endearing acts which he had exhibited in private life.

The Jenner case affected Dr. Harper both as primate and as diocesan, but when once the diocese of Dunedin was settled by the appointment of Dr. Nevill he had no further difficulties outside the limits of his own diocese.

As primate he was called upon to consecrate four bishops, viz: Dr. Hadfield, to Wellington, in 1870; Dr. Nevill, to Dunedin, in 1871; Dr. John Selwyn, to Melanesia, and Dr. Stuart to Waiapu, both in 1877.

He presided over seven General Synods, and at the Lambeth Conference of 1878 took his seat with the other metropolitans within the sanctuary of St. Paul's Cathedral.

But there were difficulties enough within the reduced diocese of Canterbury to occupy the attention of any conscientious pastor. The character of the settlement was changing. New Zealand was about to enter upon the era of public works and immigration. The stage coach and then the railway, made travelling more easy. The diocese was fairly provided with church buildings. But the new time brought new trials. Hitherto the difficulty had been to bring church ordinances within reach of the people: henceforth the question was to be how to bring the people to the use of church ordinances. Not that the difference was felt all at once, nor even clearly perceived in all its force, but it came about gradually and with ever increasing clearness. The causes of this change were manifold--some peculiar to the colony, others of a more general character.

Within the country itself, as circumstances became more commonplace and the routine of life more easy, there came a certain slackening of moral effort. The isolated settler, long cut off from the church privileges to which he had been accustomed in his youth, would cheerfully make sacrifices in order to attend an occasional service in a distant woolshed, or in order to build a church upon his own estate. But when religious services grew more frequent and more easily accessible, he did not feel quite the same interest; and even if he himself kept up the old habits of piety, he could not always imbue his sons with the same sense of their importance.

The immigration policy of the early seventies added to the difficulties instead of mitigating them. In the desire to swell the population of the colony, the Government and its agents too often paid more attention to quantity than to quality. They accepted any who were willing to come, and many undesirable characters were drawn from the slums of the great cities of the old world and sent out at the Colony's expense to be a burden upon its resources and an addition to its criminal class. Down to the year 1871, though the population had been steadily increasing, the number of convictions for serious offences had been as steadily lessening. But from this date onwards they again increased. Petty offences also became rife. The workman could no longer leave his tools by the road-side, and the householder found it necessary to lock his doors at night. The old unsuspicious freedom gave way more and more before the advance of "modern civilisation."

Greater calls were thus made upon the religious agencies of the community, and at the same time religion itself felt the weakening influence of the movements of modern thought. Competent observers have assigned the year 1869 as marking the beginning of that unsettle-ment of thought which has so profoundly affected modern society. New Zealand was by no means unaffected by these movements. Its people were drawn from the more adventurous spirits of England, Scotland, and Ireland; they were above the average of their class in intelligence and readiness for anything new; and in their new home they missed the restraining power of old associations. Thus they were specially sensitive to the influences of the new time--bad as well as good. The effect of these forces was first to be felt in the department of education--a subject which, on account of its paramount importance, demands a chapter to itself.

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