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Colonial Church Histories: New Zealand

Containing the Dioceses of Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Nelson, Waiapu, Wellington, and Melanesia.

By Henry Jacobs

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1887.

Part II. The Period of Organisation.


Appointment and Consecration of Bishop--His Family and previous Life--Character--Letters Patent--Endowments--Fellow-workers--Departure--Voyage--Arrival.

For some time previous to the date at which the first part of this history closed, the need of a bishop to superintend the growing mission, and to guide and foster the religious life of the rising colony, had been increasingly manifest on both sides of the globe. Bishop Broughton's Report to the Committee of the C.M.S. at the beginning of 1839, closed with these words:--"The Church of England requires to be planted in the full integrity of its system; its ordinances administered by a clergy duly ordained, and the clergy themselves subject to regular ecclesiastical authority." Those whom we have seen to be the leading men among the missionaries themselves recognised the necessity. In particular, Henry Williams, speaking, it will be observed, for others as well as himself, thus writes in a letter dated, October 1st, 1841:--"Many questions of moment frequently [91/92] present themselves, on which we possess no authority to enter. We much hope that a bishop for this colony will soon make his appearance." Writing to his brother-in-law, the Rev. E. G. Marsh, on the 23rd December in the same year, he says:--"I wish there were some one to take general charge of our affairs. A head over our mission, and our numerous churches and schools, is required." His brother, William Williams, in his "Christianity Among the New Zealanders" (p. 296), speaking of the arrival of the bishop, says:--"The appointment of a bishop had long been desired by the members of the mission. The Christian Church had now grown to an extent which made it inexpedient that it should he left under the management of local committees. It needed a presiding authority, to which all could look with confidence, together with the exercise within it of those ecclesiastical functions which are essential to a complete efficiency." These expressions of opinion from New Zealand met with a ready response in England. The Committee of the C.M.S., after commenting on Bishop Broughton's letter in their Report for 1839, proceed to say:--"Should it please Divine Providence to favour their views, and to raise up an individual eminently devoted, and thoroughly right-minded, to exercise his paternal authority in the midst of this infant flock, the blessings to be anticipated to New Zealand would be truly great." The Church Society for New Zealand, as we have already seen, was earnestly bent on securing the appointment of a bishop at as early a date as possible, and the Colonial Bishoprics [92/93] Council placed New Zealand first on the list of thirteen countries which they deemed to stand in most pressing need of the episcopate. The Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Howley), and the Bishop of London (Bishop Blomfield), were especially earnest in furthering the establishment of the bishopric. Lastly, the New Zealand Company brought their powerful political influence to bear in the same direction. The result was that, after some delay, an income of £1,200 per annum was obtained for the bishopric, one-half of which was provided by the C.M.S., and the remainder by parliamentary grant from the public revenue of the country.

And now arose the question, who should be selected to occupy this important post? The nomination was vested in the Crown, and the Crown--that is, the Colonial Office--sought the advice of the archbishop. The history of the appointment is well known, and has been often told; how the offer was first made to the almost equally eminent elder brother of the eminent man actually appointed--namely, to William Selwyn, afterwards Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge; and how, when he felt compelled to decline it, it struck some one as a happy thought, that George Selwyn would accept it, if the call came to him from authority. It was one who knew him well that said this; the condition was an indispensable one; for it was a rule of George Selwyn's life, that a clergyman, like a subaltern in the army, should be prepared to go wherever his commanding officer sent him. Happily, the suggestion was adopted, and Bishop Blomfield, writing on behalf [93/94] of the Crown and the archbishop, made him the formal offer. His letter, accepting the appointment, dated, "Eton College, May 27th, 1841,"is admirable; the following are extracts from it:--"My lord, whatever part in the work of the ministry the Church of England, as represented by her archbishops and bishops may call upon me to undertake, I trust I shall be willing to accept with all obedience and humility. The same reasons which would prevent me from seeking the office of a bishop, forbid me to decline an authoritative invitation to a post so full of responsibility, but at the same time of spiritual promise Allow no to offer my best thanks to your lordship fur your kind letter, and to place myself unreservedly in the hands of the Episcopal Council to dispose of my services as they may think best for the Church."

Some suspense followed and sundry delays, caused partly by a dissolution of Parliament and a change of Ministry; [Footnote: It came out afterwards that one cause of hesitation had been an absurd misapprehension on the part of a Cabinet Minister respecting Mr. Selwyn's opinions, causing the Minister even to speak of him as a "Fire-eater." It turned out to be a case of "mistaken identity." (See "Life and Episcopate of G. A. Selwyn, D.D.," by the Rev. H. W. Tucker, M.A., vol. i., p. 70.) Bishop Selwyn, if he must needs be labelled at all, was, throughout his career, a sound and moderate High Churchman, but a thoroughly independent one,--"Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri," being in fact a magister himself.] but at length, on Sunday, October 17th, 1841, being at the time under 33 years of age, he was consecrated in the chapel of Lambeth Palace, [94/95] by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the Bishops of London, Lincoln, and Barbados, the last-named prelate, Dr. Coleridge, preaching the sermon.

George Augustus Selwyn was born at Hampstead in 1809, and was descended from an ancient family, several members of which had distinguished themselves at various times in their respective callings, mostly either as soldiers or as lawyers. His father, William Selwyn, was an eminent barrister, well known as the author of "Selwyn's Nisi Prius," and had the honour of being selected, shortly after the marriage of Queen Victoria, to be the instructor of H.R.H. Prince Albert in the Constitution and Laws of England. George Augustus was the second of four brothers, of whom the third died at an early age, but not without having achieved high distinction as a scholar both at Eton and Cambridge; the eldest, William, known for many years as Canon Selwyn, and afterwards as Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, was one of the most eminent clergymen of his time in England; and the youngest, Charles Jasper, rose to equal eminence in the legal profession, became one of the representatives of his university in Parliament, and died Lord Justice Selwyn. Eton and St. John's College, Cambridge, claimed the future bishop for their own; and no man ever bore in his heart throughout life a more devoted and enthusiastic love of his old school and college than he did. He took his B.A. degree in 1831, coming out low in mathematics, for which he had a positive distaste, but second in the classical tripos. He afterwards gained a Fellowship at his college. He deliberately [95/96] set himself, both at Eton and Cambridge, to acquire excellence in athletic pursuits, especially in walking, rowing, and swimming; and it is needless to say that his feats of prowess by river and road in England, stood him in good stead in subsequent years on many a bush and hill track in New Zealand, and in crossing its many unbridged rivers, as well as among the coral-reefs of Melanesia. On Trinity Sunday, 1833, at St. George's, Hanover Square, London, he was ordained deacon on his Fellowship by the Bishop of Carlisle (Dr. Percy), on letters dimissory from the Bishop of Ely, and took the curacy of Boveney, in Oxfordshire as a labour of love, carrying on at the same time the work of a private tutor. On the Trinity Sunday of the following year he was admitted the priesthood, in the same church, by the same bishop, and shortly after became curate to the Rev. Isaac Gosset, vicar of Datchet and New Windsor. Mr. Selwyn resided at New Windsor, and there he remained until his consecration. The vicar fully appreciated the zeal and activity of his young curate, and his special talent for organisation; and, while retaining the reins of government in his own hand, wisely gave him full play for the exercise of his energies. The district was at the time labouring under the burden of a heavy debt, contracted some years before for the rebuilding of the church. The failure to meet this liability had become a serious scandal, and was almost paralysing the work of the parish. Mr. Selwyn at once threw himself into the breach with characteristic vigour; he offered to give his whole stipend as curate for two years towards the [97/98] liquidation of the debt, an offer which the vicar enabled him to turn into an immediate donation by paying the two years' stipend in advance. This generous act had its due effect; and the organised scheme for paying off the debt, then set on foot by Mr. Selwyn, resulted in its final extinction, though not till some time after he became Bishop of New Zealand. At the same time he was acquiring an increasing influence in the discussion of the most prominent Church questions of the day. In particular, he wrote and published an important letter to Mr. Gladstone on the "Duties of Cathedral Bodies." His views and suggestions on this subject were in advance of the time, but have since been to a great extent carried out. "Nothing," he said, "was so near to his heart as the restoration of cathedrals to their statutable usefulness." In the course of the last year or two before his appointment to New Zealand, preferment seemed to be pressing upon him from every side, and begging his acceptance. In 1840, the Bishop of London offered him an honorary canonry at St. Paul's, but he declined it, because the bishop distinctly stated that he regarded it as an honorary distinction only, and because no diocesan office or cathedral work was connected with it. The Principalship of a new Training Institution for Masters, established by the National Society, was urged on his acceptance about the same time; but this also he declined, because (says his biographer, the Rev. H. W. Tucker) "he had for many years determined to take no office that was not strictly ecclesiastical and under the immediate control of the [97/98] bishops." Lastly, Earl Powis, to whose son he had acted as private tutor at Eton, had offered him a living, which he had accepted, and on the duties of which he would have entered in the course of the year 1841, but that God had higher work in store for him.

It will be partly gathered from what has been already said, and will partly be shown by the sequel of this history, that the first and only Bishop of New Zealand combined the truest humility with a zeal that even consumed him, the sturdiest independence of character with the most unquestioning submission to authority; and that the high qualities of manliness and resoluteness, of singleness of purpose, self-renunciation, largeness of heart, generosity, and devotedness to God's service, no less than his deeds of magnificent enterprise, declare him unquestionably to have been one of the foremost and greatest men of the nineteenth century. History, above all Church history, may not shrink from pointing out errors of judgment, and recording infirmities of temper, if such there have been, even in her noblest characters, provided her work be done with reverence as well as candour. It may sometimes happen that men of fiery zeal, themselves possessed of uncommon endowments of mind and body, may expect too much of those of average ability, and may spur on even mercilessly those who seem to lag behind. Sometimes, also, men of unusually strong fibre and resolute will may be on the verge of losing temper and patience under opposition, and may even seem overbearing; but those who watched the behaviour of Bishop Selwyn at such times of trial, never failed to [98/99] recognise the strong control which he habitually placed on a naturally strong and domineering will. Few also of those to whom he gave offence by any hastiness:or apparent severity were not ready to do more than forgive--were not completely conquered by his genuine humility and unaffected kindness--his conciliatory advances which would take no denial. The parts of the Wind and the Sun in the fable were combined in him. Men admired him for his very faults, and loved him intensely for his virtues.

But it is time to hasten on with our history. In the interval between his nomination and consecration lengthy discussions took place, to which he often referred in after-years, between himself and the law officers of the Crown, on the form and provisions of his Letters Patent, which, as originally proposed, modelled as they were on those of the Bishop of Australia, appeared to him to be decidedly Erastian and even profane. On some points his views prevailed; in particular, he secured to the bishop the right of appointing his own archdeacons, which in previous patents of colonial bishops, had been vested in the Crown, on the ground that the Crown was "the fountain of honour"; in others, he had no choice but to yield under protest. But, if the Crown lawyers were studiously jealous of enlarging the privileges of the bishop, the officials of the Colonial Office were unintentionally liberal in extending the limits of his diocese; for, through either ignorance or inadvertence, they gave him, by a stroke of the pen 68 degrees more of latitude than were intended to be assigned to him, describing his diocese, as extending [99/100] from the 50th parallel of south latitude to the 34th of north, whereas it should have been south. To this grotesque blunder he would often refer with amusement, as justifying in terms what really needed no justification at all--his adventurous missionary tours to the Melanesian Islands; the humorous allusion, however, being generally coupled with a grave reminiscence of the solemn parting injunction of Archbishop Howley, conveyed to him by his Grace in the following passage of a letter, addressed to him on the eve of his departure from England, in the name of several other members of the episcopal bench, as well as in his own: "Your mission acquires an importance exceeding all calculation, when your see is regarded as the central point of a system extending its influence in all directions, as a fountain diffusing the streams of salvation over the islands and coasts of the Pacific: as a luminary to which nations enslaved and debased by barbarous and bloody superstitions will look for light." (" Life and Episcopate &c.," p.85.)

In a second interval, that, namely, which intervened between the bishop's consecration and his departure for New Zealand, his time was busily occupied in negotiations with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and with the New Zealand Company, with the view of obtaining endowments for his diocese, and partly in looking out for clergy and lay assistants to work with him. The authorities of the New Zealand Company manifested a very cordial desire to work with him in making provision for the spiritual needs of the colonists in the Company's newly-founded settlements. [100/101] The writer has before him an unpublished private letter from the celebrated Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the leading spirit of the Company, written at this period to his sister, Mrs. Torlesse (wife of the late Rev. C. Torlesse, Vicar of Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk), from which, by permission, he makes the following extracts:--"We had a long and very satisfactory interview with the bishop yesterdayThe object of the bishop's meeting with our Committee was to come to some practical determination as to what was to be done for the Church of England and benefit of the natives in the Company's settlements; and it was resolved accordingly, subject to approval of our Court today:--'First, that the Company would advance, on the security of the Native Reserves at Wellington, £5,000 for the purpose of immediately establishing schools for natives, where the children may live away from their parents; the masters to be clergymen of the Church of England; the children of chiefs to board with the masters as private pupils. Secondly, that the bishop and the Company agree to subscribe as much respectively as the other shall subscribe for endowment of the Church of England at Wellington, Wanganui, New Plymouth, and Nelson.' The bishop undertook for the great Societies, and we for the Company. So there is a race between the Church and the Company as to which shall first collect the larger sum; and the more either shall collect, the more precisely must the other furnish. We, having the money in hand, began with £5,000 for Nelson, which secures £10,000, the Church being bound to double our subscription. I shall do my utmost to get a large contribution from the Company for [101/102] Wellington and New Plymouth The Company has already contributed, in land and money, £2,000 towards the endowment of the N.Z. Bishopric." The object of the writer is to urge his sister to use her influence with a certain wealthy person, to induce him to give a large subscription for these purposes; he adds accordingly, "You will see that what I want, as a provision for churches and clergy, is a large subscription from others as a provocative to the Company to be liberal. So pray see Mr. -, and explain the whole matter to him. I think if matters proceed as they promise, New Zealand will be the most Church of England country in the world." In entire agreement with the foregoing letter is the following extract from the Report of the Committee of the S.P.G. for 1842:--"For New Zealand the Society have appointed a Special Committee, consisting of the Standing Committee of the Society, together with several noblemen and gentlemen who take an especial interest in the concerns of that colony; and this Committee have been instructed to make an appeal to the public on behalf of the Church in the diocese of New Zealand. The New Zealand Company, besides offering an eligible purchase of land, have granted the sums of £2,000, £500, and £5,000 for the use of the Church in their settlements at Wellington, New Plymouth, and Nelson, respectively, on condition that the bishop of the diocese shall raise an equal sum for the same purpose; or, until he is able to do so, shall make annual payments, at the rate of five per cent. on these contributions; and they have expressed a hope that they shall be [102/103] able to make still further grants to the same object, and on the same conditions. The Society have gladly undertaken to assist in thus providing for the religious wants of the colonists, and for the instruction and conversion of the native inhabitants. Out of a large annual grant, which they have made for the support of clergymen in the colony, they have allotted £250 to the Company's settlements, and have also paid £2,000 towards the General Fund." The S.P.C.K. also promised substantial assistance towards the furtherance of the bishop's plans. The obligations which the Church of New Zealand owes to these two great and venerable Societies can never be reckoned up in detail; suffice it to say, they are innumerable.

The small company of fellow-workers, which the bishop succeeded in gathering, consisted of the following:--The Rev. W. C. Cotton, student of Christ Church, Oxford, and the Rev. T. Whytehead, Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge, his two chaplains; the Rev. Robert Cole, sent out by the S.P.G.; the Revs. C. L. Reay, and W. C. Dudley, sent by the C.M.S.; and four students for holy Orders, namely, Mr. H. F. Butt, Mr. Evans, Mr. Fisher, and Mr. Nihill. There was one other, who would willingly have accompanied him, an old and dear friend and fellow-Etonian, the Rev. C. J. Abraham; but it was agreed between them that, for the sake of their loved Eton, the noble work of reform, on which Mr. Abraham had entered there, demanded his personal superintendence for some time longer; and it was not in fact until nine years [103/104] had elapsed that he was in a position to perform his promise of joining his friend in New Zealand. The bishop took passages for himself, Mrs. Selwyn, and his party in the barque Tomatin, which was long delayed by contrary winds, but finally sailed from Plymouth on St. Stephen's Day, December 26th, 1841. [Footnote: We must not omit to mention that Mrs. (afterwards Lady) Mitt in, wife of the lief Justice of New Zealand, afterwards so well h known as Sir William Martin, was also a passenger on board the Tomatin, going out under the care of the bishop and Mrs. Selwyn to join her husband. Mr. Martin, like his friend, Bishop Selwyn, had been a Fellow of St. John's, Cambridge.] By a happy coincidence, a Maori lad, named Rupai, who had been residing for two years in a school at Battersea, under the care of Dr. Kay Shuttleworth, was returning to New Zealand by the same ship. Him the bishop engaged as a servant, and made such persevering and skilful use of his services, "as a living grammar and lexicon," [Footnote: See "Life and Episcopate," &c., p. 105. The following extract from an earlier letter to his mother, written on the voyage, is deeply interesting, as showing how the great work of the future was even then in his mind, and how he was ever busy in some useful employment:--"I am compiling from the Rarotonga, Tahitian, and New Zealand translations of the New Testament, a comparative grammar of those three dialects, which are all from the same root, and illustrate one another. I hope to be quite familiar with the three dialects by the end of the voyage, which will much facilitate the plan which I have conceived--and which may God give me grace to carry into effect--of extending the branches of the Church of New Zealand throughout the Southern Pacific."] that, in a letter written to his mother when off Sydney harbour, dated April 10th, 1812, he says, "I can [104/105] now converse with Rupai fluently in New Zealand, and catechise him always in his own language. His company has been of the greatest service to me, as it has guided my pronunciation, and given me a continual reason for talking. All the New Zealand party have made some progress." After what the bishop described in the same letter as "a most delightful voyage," the Tomatin came to anchor on the 14th April. The vessel was bound ultimately for New Zealand, but took the ground in going up Sydney harbour, and the delay caused by the necessity for repairs threatened to be of such duration, that the bishop, eager to begin his work, set sail for Auckland, with Mr. Cotton for his companion, in a small brig, the Bristolian by name, leaving Mrs. Selwyn and the rest of the party to follow in the Tomatin. Before leaving Sydney, however, he enjoyed much happy intercourse with Bishop Broughton, who was able to give him much valuable information and advice. Arriving at Auckland at midnight on Sunday, May 29th, his first act was to kneel down on the sand, and give thanks to God. On the 31st, he went to stay with the Governor and Mrs. Hobson, and on the following Sunday, June 5th, preached his first sermon in New Zealand at the Court House, being assisted in the service by the Rev. J. F. Churton (afterwards Archdeacon, and first incumbent of St. Paul's, Auckland), who was then chaplain to the Governor. We may well imagine the surprise and delight of the Maories and missionaries alike, when they heard the newly-arrived bishop preach in the native tongue.

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