Project Canterbury

Bishop Harper and the Canterbury Settlement

By H. T. Purchas

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

Chapter XI. The Bishop and the Young

"The world exists only by the breath of school-children."
--Rabbi Judah the holy.

The battle of the schools came to its climax in the seventies, but the contest had been long preparing. The effects of that contest are felt in the present day more acutely than ever, and its history is worth tracing in some detail. In order to do this, it will be necessary to go back once more to the beginnings of the settlement.

It will be remembered that the founders of Canterbury gave to education the second, if not the very first, place in their scheme. Not only was there to be a great university at Christ-church, but every village was to have its parish school for the education of the masses. It will be remembered also, that the founders chose as their first bishop an educational expert, who had been at the head of one of the principal training colleges in England, and that many of the students of this college volunteered to accompany their chief to his new diocese. The bishop-designate did not, it is true, remain long enough in the colony to accomplish any of his ambitious designs, but Mr. Godley himself established schools in the several parishes without delay. When Bishop Harper arrived on the scene, he found himself placed in the position of director-general of most of the educational institutions in the settlement.

This entailed a serious responsibility. In addition to his long missionary tours, to his attendance at conferences and synods, and to his ordinary episcopal work, the bishop was charged with the appointment of teachers, the payment of salaries, the providing of books, and the expenditure (virtually uncontrolled) of a large sum of public money. For in the year of his arrival, the Provincial Council adopted the system of providing for the education of the children of the settlement, by voting a generous sum each year to the heads of three religious bodies--the Church of England, the Presbyterians, and the "Wesleyans. These authorities were not intended to exercise their powers unchecked, for the Ordinance provided for quarterly statements to be made to the Superintendent showing how the money was expended, and also for consultation between the civil and church authorities on the appointment of teachers and the scale of their salaries. These provisions, however, were not enforced, and were for some years almost a dead letter. Nor was there any effective local control. The Synod drew up regulations for a school committee in each parish, but in very few instances was this regulation obeyed, and in still fewer was it made really operative. The fact seems to have been that education was looked upon as a matter belonging to the clergy. The laity were more occupied with the scab which was spreading among the flocks, and the watercress which was choking the streams. Some of the clergy showed themselves alive to the importance of their schools, but the interest of most was of a fitful and languid kind. The real direction was left to the heads of the denominations, and as the Church of England possessed more schools and more scholars than the others combined, the bishop, as has been said, was the principal educational official for the first six years of his episcopate.

Signs of discontent, however, were not wanting. In a summary of colonial progress which appeared in the Lyttelton Times of May 13th, 1857 (a journal entirely favourable to the then existing system), the following criticism is found:--"The statistics of education in the province are tedious to give, and we must confess, reflect anything but credit upon us." Hardly had the bishop sailed for the Auckland Conference in the same month (not five months after his arrival) when a public meeting at Lyttelton met to discuss the subject. At this meeting, Mr. Fitzgerald (a leading churchman as well as Superintendent of the Province), made a long and powerful speech against the denominational system. In spite of the opposition of the incumbent of the parish (Rev. B. W. Dudley), he carried with him the whole of the meeting in support of a resolution which affirmed that "the establishment of schools on a municipal or district system for secular education, reserving to the appointed minister of every denomination the task and duty of religious instruction, is the most satisfactory scheme."

Such an outspoken expression of opinion from so important a centre as Lyttelton then was could not but be regarded as an ominous sign. No important move, however, was made till the year 1862, when an Inspector of Schools was appointed by the Council, and a commission set up to report on the working of the system. Its chairman was Mr. H. J. Tancred, and among its members were Mr. W. Rolleston and other influential colonists. In July, 1863, they presented an interim report. While bearing testimony to the zeal and earnestness which had distinguished those entrusted with the duty of administering the educational funds (i.e., the three "Heads"), the commissioners yet gave it as their opinion that these authorities were not specially qualified for their responsible office; that there was manifest a tendency to use the money in the interests of denominational rivalry rather than of scholastic efficiency; that the school buildings were unsuited to their purpose, "being little better than sheds;" and that the religious instruction (which had undoubtedly been carefully given) was due to the earnestness of the teachers rather than to the efforts of the clergy, most of whom never concerned themselves with the teaching of religion at all.

This was a hard blow for the bishop. It affected him in his public capacity; it might also be taken to affect him as a Christian, and even as a man of honour. The following unique entry in his journal shows how keenly he felt it:--

July 25th.--Mr. Tancred called. Spoke to him on the unfairness of the report towards the Church of England on the following points:--

1. Rivalry in establishing schools,--not true in the case of the Church of England.

2. The appointment of religious masters, the result of the distribution of the fund being placed in the hands of the religious bodies.

3. Not true as regards the ministers of the Church of England, that they have not taken part in the religious teaching in school.

4. Not true that distinctive teaching has not been taught in our schools. Catechism always used.

This protest seems to have been not wholly without effect. At least the full report which the commission presented in the following November, was less outspoken on the question of denominational rivalry. But the report, which is a monument of painstaking industry and lucid analysis, by its careful collection of facts, gives the means for testing the bishop's assertions as compared with those of the former report. As might have been expected, there is abundant proof that the bishop's description of his own action was absolutely correct. So far from establishing schools in a spirit of rivalry, he had perhaps erred a little on the other side. A large number of children belonging to Church of England parents were attending Presbyterian and Wesleyan schools, while the children of those bodies who attended Anglican schools were comparatively few. The report mentions one or two instances which verge on the ludicrous. One Presbyterian school was attended by 26 scholars. Of these, 19 belonged to the Church of England, 4 were Wesleyans, and the remaining three were Roman Catholics. The teacher himself was a Churchman, but taught the Shorter Catechism. In one Wesleyan school the master belonged to the Church of England, and so did the parents of all the children with one or two exceptions. Truly the rivalry had not been on the side of the Bishop of Christchurch!

When, however, we pass to questions affecting the clergy and teachers, it must be confessed that the commissioners make good their contention to a large extent. Of all the Church clergy, they could hear of only two who took any regular part in the religious instruction, and that only once a week. Some of the others gave a lesson occasionally. The Presbyterian and Wesleyan ministers gave no instruction at all. As to the use of distinctive formularies, the commissioners adduced six Church of England schools in which the Catechism was not taught on weekdays, and others in which it was modified to suit the wishes of nonconformist parents. In these particulars the bishop had had to trust to reports, and had, perhaps, been less stringent than he might have been in seeing that his instructions were carried out.

The report of the commission disclosed a state of things which was not altogether unsatisfactory, yet undoubtedly left much to be desired. Some of the schools were efficient, and the religious training of the children good. On the other hand, there was no uniform system or general plan. In some places, two or even three schools had been established when one would have served, yet the total number of scholars in attendance was far below what it ought to have been (2,484 out of 3,500 children of school age). The buildings were always inadequate, frequently overcrowded, and sometimes horribly insanitary; and, in conclusion, the expense was excessive. Whereas in England the cost per average scholar was £1 10s.; in New South Wales, £2 7s. lOd.; and in Victoria, £3 12s. 6d.; in Canterbury it was no less than £7 13s.

Thus the denominational system found itself hard pressed by arguments to which reply was difficult. Population was pouring into the country, new schools were urgently required, and the old ones all needed an additional expenditure of money. The cost threatened to become heavy indeed. This might have been faced, and probably would have been faced, if the system had been satisfactory, and if the teaching of religion could be secured in no other way. But neither of these conditions existed. The education was not efficient, and was becoming less so as the number of children increased, while teaching power and school accommodation remained almost stationary. And so ready were the parents to send their children to the nearest school, whether belonging to their own denomination or not, so small was the amount of distinctive religious teaching in most .of the schools, and so apathetic were most of the clergy and ministers, that the commissioners could argue with much plausibility that undenominational schools under the immediate control of government, would provide religious education as good as that which was already being given.

The result of their report was that the administration of the grant was taken from the three "Heads," and given to a Board appointed by the Superintendent. This Board also inspected the schools and exercised a certain amount of control. The denominational schools were still allowed to continue, and were subsidised as before; but no new ones were established. By the guarantee of one-fourth of the initial cost, any district was enabled to secure the establishment of a public school which should be managed by a committee locally elected. New districts invariably voted for such a policy, and in old ones also, the denominational schools were gradually replaced by those of the new type.

The year 1872 saw the beginning of the final fray. In that year the advocates of denominationalism won a partial victory in the Council, by securing the exemption of the four towns of Christchurch, Lyttelton, Kaiapoi, and Timaru from the operation af the law enforcing the appointment of school committees. But the triumph was short-lived and dearly bought. In the following year (1873) their opponents carried a resolution in the Council which practically affirmed that grants to denominational schools should cease. The contest within the Council was a fierce one, and it was taken up still more fiercely by the public and the press. '.'It continued throughout the year with a bitterness and an energy that have scarcely been equalled since by any public controversy of our history. The advocates of secular education eventually triumphed, and their party was returned at the provincial election by a large majority." ["Lyttelton Times" Jubilee Number.]

The feeling excited by this contest seems to have been hardly warranted, for by this time there were but six church schools left in existence. These of course were now closed. The centre of interest had really shifted to the Government schools, for in regard to them also the year 1873 was a critical one. The Ordinance of 1864 had made ample provision for the religious training of the children attending these schools. The provision might even seem to be excessive. Each school day was to be opened with one half-hour's reading of Holy Scripture, and from this reading no child was allowed to be absent. The teacher might also give religious instruction at other times, if he were authorised by a unanimous vote of the committee, and if the Board were satisfied as to his competency. A child might be excused from attendance at such lessons, but only if the committee were assured that he was "under proper religious instruction elsewhere." And in addition to all this, the committee might set apart one whole day, or two half-days, of the school week, during which ministers of religion might give instruction to the children belonging to their own denomination. Such was the first system framed by the laity of Canterbury when they took the education of the young into their own hands.

In 1871 a fresh Ordinance was passed. It abolished school fees and substituted the ingenious device of compelling every householder to pay £1 per annum, and five shillings additional for every child whether attending school or not. The provisions for religious teaching were not greatly altered, but the undefined instruction by the teacher was exchanged for the compulsory teaching of "history sacred and profane."

Then came the year of conflict, 1873. The heated struggle over the denominational schools was bound to affect the religious character of those controlled by the Board. In the Ordinance passed in the June of that year, no mention is made of the half-hour's Bible-reading. The teaching of "history sacred and profane" was made subject to a conscience clause. The right of entry by ministers of religion was saved only by the narrow majority of 16 to 14. But even so, the system was far from being absolutely "secular." Sacred history was taught in each school as a regular part of the curriculum, and the clergy (unless disapproved of by the local committee) might enter the school at least once each week, and give the distinctive teaching of their own church to such of the children as belonged to it. No change was made in these provisions by the later Ordinance of 1875, and they continued in force as long as the provincial Government itself.

In 1876 the provinces were abolished. But the excellent system which had been so patiently elaborated by the legislators of Canterbury was by no means fruitless. A bill to provide for the education of the whole colony was brought forward in the General Assembly by the Hon. C. C. Bowen, the representative of Canterbury in the ministry of the day. It was based, to a large extent, upon that of the province, and it contained a distinct religious element. But provincial jealousy was still strong, and anything which emanated from Canterbury was viewed with hostility by the more backward settlements of the North Island. After weeks of struggle the bill was carried, but shorn of its religious provisions through the combined influence of Roman Catholics and secularists. The only point which marked any concession to religion was that which fixed 9.30 a.m. as the hour at which the school day should begin. As 9 o'clock was the usual hour throughout the colony, the half-hour thus left unassigned might have been utilised by the clergy for a religious lesson. But the old feelings of hostility to the Government system were still strong. Very few of the clergy availed themselves of the one chance thus left them, and the early hour has been almost everywhere annexed to the regular school day.

This unfortunate hostility was never shared by the bishop. At the end of the troubled year of 1873 he had shown his goodwill to the new order by offering prayer at the laying of the foundation stone of the Normal School. He had always urged his clergy to take advantage of the facilities given them by the Canterbury ordinances. After the passing of the Act of 1877, he issued a pastoral letter, which is one long appeal for greater devotion to the welfare of the young. He advised that every effort should be made to utilise the morning hour, and also the Saturday holiday.

But his chief reliance was upon home training and upon the better organisation of the Sunday schools. To aid these schools he promised the appointment of a diocesan inspector, and was able to carry out this idea a few years later by placing the work in the capable hands of the Ven. Archdeacon Harris. The result was a vigorous development of Sunday school work. United gatherings of scholars were conspicuous features of the All Saints' Festival in the Cathedral. At one such gathering the aged bishop addressed the country children shortly before his resignation, and his earnest words on the text, "He came down to Nazareth and was subject unto them," were such as to leave a permanent impression on many hearts.

It is pleasant to turn from primary to secondary and collegiate education. For with this Bishop Harper was connected still more closely, and for this his previous experience had been one long training. The name of Christ's College calls up pleasing thoughts of the fostering care and unfailing interest of its first Warden.

When the bishop landed in New Zealand, he found a school of about 40 boys, taught by two masters (with the help of two part-time assistants), and housed in what was really the parsonage-house of the one church of Christ-church. It was a very humble establishment, but it was all the realisation there was as yet of the magnificent visions with which the first settlers had set out--visions of a college which should "rival the scholastic honours of Eton and of Oxford," and should diffuse the streams of knowledge over Australasia and the East. Insignificant, however, as the outcome seemed, the "College" had already a history behind it, and no mean potentialities for the future. Established in the first month after that of the landing of the pilgrims, it had struggled from the very first to be something more than a mere school. The first home of its activities was the immigrants' barracks at Lyttelton. There it had the use of two small roughly-whitewashed rooms, one of which was used for the Grammar School, and the other for a college lecture-room. The head of this double institution was the Rev. Henry Jacobs, who was particularly qualified by his sound scholarship for the higher department. He was not only Headmaster, but "Watts-Kussell Professor of Divinity," while the chair of history (Hulsean Chichele) was occupied by Mr. H. J. Tancred. In April, 1852, the college was moved to the house where Bishop Harper found it, and there it struggled on for the next few years. Its scholars were continually changing, as families moved to the up-country stations; but the numbers grew, and the parsonage on Oxford Terrace became inconveniently small. In 1855 Christ's College was incorporated under a Provincial Ordinance (the collegiate ideal being still prominent in theory), and its new governing body began to consider the question of a suitable and permanent home.

First came the question of the site. The central square of the city enclosed a block of land which had been intended for the Cathedral and the University. But its area was insufficient for the requirements even of a good school, and the block was a serious hindrance to the traffic of the town. A bargain, highly advantageous to both parties, was therefore struck between the ecclesiastical and the civic authorities. The former gave up half of their land, and obtained in exchange a splendid site of ten acres on the west side of the city, besides a money compensation of £1,200. The latter obtained a convenient roadway through the midst of the square, an open space in the very centre of the city, and a site for the future Godley statue.

Next came the question of buildings. Bishop Harper had collected nearly £200 in England before he set sail, and other friends in the old country had sent substantial help. But a larger amount was the product of one of those small efforts which sometimes bring about surprisingly welcome results. Before the sailing of the first four ships, Mr. Jackson, the bishop-designate, had conceived the happy idea of making application on behalf of his proposed college to the widow of Mr. Joseph Somes, a former ship-owner and director of the New Zealand Company. The lady readily agreed to lay out £150 in the purchase of 50 acres of land in the new settlement for the founding of a scholarship. A ballot was to determine the order in which the land sections were to be selected; and when this ballot came to be taken, the name of Mrs. Somes was the first to be drawn. The land was chosen in Lyttelton immediately on the arrival of the colonists; and so rapidly did its value increase, that by 1857 it was yielding every year a sum equal to the original purchase money. It now yields considerably more, and many have been the boys and youthb who have had occasion to bless "Maria Somes" for the scholarships which have paid their school or college fees. For the first few years, however, the income was not available, and in 1857 there were accrued arrears of rent which amounted to £1,000, and formed an important addition to the building fund.

So it came .about that on a beautiful winter day, July 24-th, 1857, soon after the bishop's return from the Auckland Conference, a little procession of Warden and Fellows left the old St. Michael's parsonage, and wended its way by gullies and sandhills towards the new site. Psalms were chanted as the ground was neared, and with prayers and benedictions the foundation-stone of Christ's College was laid by the bishop amidst the tussocks on the banks of the Avon. In that year a schoolroom and the sub-warden's house were built. Gradually, as more subscriptions came and Government grants were made, other buildings arose, till the quadrangle began to look something like that of one of the old scholastic institutions of the mother-land. In 1867 a stone chapel was added. As early as St. Bartholomew's Day, 1858, the bishop notes in his diary that the boys chanted the Psalms for the first time. He himself attended the daily service in the chapel with the utmost regularity. In 1873 he fixed his office in the library at the south-east corner of the quadrangle; from this he issued every morning at 8.30, clad in cap and gown, and falling in at the rear of the procession of boys and masters, took his place in the warden's stall, where he sat--a continual example of unostentatious devotion. When the Cathedral was opened in 1881, that stall was vacant for a time, and a sense of loss was felt by all. Great was the pleasure and the sense of triumph when a few weeks later the aged bishop was seen once more pacing along the quadrangle, and taking his old place in the chapel. Some say that the boys themselves had made known to him their wish in the matter; but at all events, they thought it a sign of the bishop's good sense that "he couldn't stand the Cathedral any longer," and that he preferred to be among his boys.

But the bishop's interest was far from being limited to the chapel service. As Warden he had, of course, a principal voice in the management, and in the early days he would sometimes take one of the upper forms when its regular teacher was away. The school had its ups and downs, head-masters were not always equal to the demands of their position, and the Warden was occasionally compelled to exert his authority in a decided manner. But on the whole it grew and prospered. Favoured with an admirable head in the Rev. W. C. Harris, who held the position from 1866 to 1872, it attained the premier position in the colony, and was spoken of as the "Eton of New Zealand." In 1879 it attracted the favourable notice of the Eight Hon. A. J. Balfour who endowed it with an annual divinity prize. In 1873 it was affiliated to the University of New Zealand on account of the collegiate character which it never wholly lost. In 1895 it received an accession of strength from the incorporation into it of the Cathedral School, which had been . established separately in 1881. Other schools have come into existence during the last quarter of a century, and Christ's College Grammar School no longer stands alone, as it did in the olden days. But it still holds an honourable position in the front rank, both in respect of scholarship and of games. Nearly two thousand five hundred alumni have been trained within its walls, and many of the principal men of the Dominion are proud to be reckoned among the number of its "old boys." Among these may be mentioned the present Dean of Christchurch (one of the late bishop's sons), and the first High Commissioner of New Zealand, the Hon. W. P. Beeves, to whom the social legislation of the last seventeen years is largely due. Others have laid down their lives on the battlefields of South Africa, for Christ's College claimed no less than forty-two names among the New Zealanders who won renown in the Boer War. The school chapel (enlarged in 1883 by the addition of transepts and chancel) contains in its east window a portrait of its First Warden, and the "College Rifles" provided a guard of honour on the occasion of his funeral.

The collegiate, or "upper" department never attained the success which has been achieved by the Grammar School. It was not till 1873 that it attained a separate existence, and it now serves as a Divinity School and also as a residential hostel for students attending the University. But as such it plays a useful and honourable part. Many of its old students are working as clergy in the diocese; others are to be found in the mission-field, and in various scholastic positions. The ideals of the founders of Canterbury have not taken the exact shape which was contemplated at the beginning, but their fulfilment has not been altogether unworthy of the high aims which those founders had in view.

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