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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.


Synods of Clergy at Waimate, 1844 and 1847--Status of Colonial Church--Commencement of Melanesian Mission--Plan pursued--Conference of Bishops at Sydney--Australasian Board of Missions--The Border Maid--Voyage of 1851.

We must now retrace our steps, and briefly relate some other events of importance in the history of the Church from the year 1844, onwards. Amongst these must be mentioned, first, the bishop's earliest efforts in the direction of synodal organisation. In September, 1844, before removing St. John's College from the Waimate to Tamaki, he convened a synod of the clergy of his diocese. The assembly consisted of three archdeacons, four other priests, and two deacons, and the expressed purpose was "to frame rules for the better management of the mission, and the general government of the Church." What could be simpler and more reasonable? What could be more desirable than that the isolated and autocratic status of a colonial bishop at that date, with no regulations or precedents for his guidance in the novel circumstances in which he was placed, should be broken up, and re-cast after the model of the Primitive Episcopate? That this was the general idea which was working in Bishop Selwyn's mind at that early period, is clear from the following passage of a [165/166] letter to a friend in England, written early in 1844:--"My first charge, if I ever find time to write it, will be an attempt to deduce a plan of operations, suitable to the peculiar case of New Zealand, from the records of the first three centuries of the Church." What he longed for was counsel. At the present time, when men's minds are so familiar with the idea of synods and convocations and conferences, it seems almost incredible that the first attempts at synodal action should have encountered so much unreasonable opposition as they did. The suspicions they excited, and the alarm they occasioned, were in most cases, no doubt, the result of ignorance and confusion of mind. But even the most thoughtful and intelligent Churchmen were perplexed beyond measure when brought face to face with the problems which confronted them. The laws and customs of an ancient Church, many of which had become obsolete in the mother country itself, had to be applied to an entirely new state of society. Church legislation was demanded at every step; but Church legislation had become stagnant at its source. Freedom of movement was an absolute necessity, but was clogged by a conservatism of sentiment, which men respected while they felt hampered by it. The majority seemed to feel insuperable difficulty in shaking themselves free of the ideas and associations connected with the Church as a State establishment, and in realising the similarity of their position to that of provincial or national branches of the one catholic and apostolic Church ill their initial stages in primitive times. Vague [166/167] terrors--and terrors are not the less terrible for being vague--flitted before men's imaginations. The royal supremacy was none the less a bugbear because men were ignorant of its bearing and effect; threatenings of praemunire were none the less formidable because men understood not either what they said, or whereof they affirmed. "As at a dream when one awaketh," we may laugh at these absurdities now, and wonder that people could ever have been troubled by them as they were; but, while a dream lasts, we cannot disentangle ourselves from its strangely haunting perplexities and mysterious terrors. All at once, but upon some sooner than upon others, the light of their actual freedom dawned, and they saw that their bondage had been mainly self-inflicted; like some bed-ridden hypochondriacs, they suddenly believed that they could rise and walk, and they did so.

It is unnecessary to enter into the particulars of the Waimate Synod of 1844, or into those of a more important one which was held in September, 1847, and was opened by the delivery of the bishop's primary charge. The regulations laid down on these occasions proved to be of a temporary and transient nature. The meetings themselves, indeed, are mainly of consequence, as paving the way to the establishment of a settled form of Church government, at which Bishop Selwyn steadily aimed from the commencement of his episcopate, and towards which his efforts were more and more earnestly directed as time went on. The remainder of our history, indeed, will be chiefly occupied with the [167/168] development of his plans for a Church Constitution, and with that orderly growth and extension of the Church which, as far as regards external organisation, has been consequent on its adoption. But, before we plunge into this subject, we must notice some other matters of importance.

In the last month of the year 1847, the first step was taken towards the commencement of the Melanesian Mission. Bishop Selwyn had never forgotten the valedictory letter of Archbishop Howley, in which his Grace bade him regard his see "as a fountain to diffuse the streams of salvation over the islands and coasts of the Pacific"; and he had always had it in mind, so soon as the circumstances of his diocese should permit, to carry his efforts for Church extension into those outlying regions. A favourable opportunity was now opened to him by the Providence of God. A serious affray between the crews of two English ships and some natives of the Friendly Islands having occurred, H.M.S. Dido (Captain Maxwell) was ordered to proceed to that group to enquire into the affair, and, at the request of Governor Grey, the bishop accompanied him as chaplain. He went on board the Dido on the 23rd December, 1847. This first voyage was of great importance as a reconnoitring tour; in the course of it he explored, so far as opportunity permitted, the Friendly, Navigator, and New Hebrides groups, and acquired much valuable knowledge and experience with a view to future operations. He reached Auckland again on the 4th March, 1848. His next trip was made in his own little mission schooner, the Undine (21 tons), [168/169] which he had purchased out of funds contributed by friends in England, the first amount (£50) having been given by Archbishop Howley at the time when he commended him in his ever-memorable letter the evangelisation of the coasts and islands of the Pacific. He set sail on the 1st August, 1849, for Anaiteum, the southernmost island of the New Hebrides group, being his own sailing-master, with a crew of four men. The run of 1,000 miles was made in ten days, "in spite," we are told, "of heavy weather and cross winds." The episcopal log contains this entry under August 11th:--"1,000 miles in ten days. To Him whom the winds and the seas obey, be praise and glory for ever and ever. Amen." [Footnote: "Life and Episcopate of G. A. Selwyn, D.D." by the Rev. H. W. Tucker, M.A., vol. i., p. 285] At Anaiteum he met by appointment H.M.S. Havannah (Captain Erskine). [Footnote: Captain Erskine afterwards published an account of his cruise, in which he makes frequent and admiring mention of the bishop. The book is entitled, "A Cruise among the Islands of the Western Pacific in H. M.S. Havannah," by John Elphinstone Erskine, Capt. R.N. (London: Murray, 1853.)] He visited, also, in company with the Havannah, the large island of New Caledonia, and three smaller ones of the same group (the Loyalty Islands) namely the Isle of Pines, Lifu, and Mare (or Nengone). He reached Auckland, on his return, on the 1st October, bringing with him five lads, from New Caledonia, Lifu, and Mare. His plan of operations was one which demanded extraordinary faith and patience; it was probably the only feasible one under all the circumstances of the case, [169/170] considering the wide extent of the field, and the impossibility, by reason of the climate, of European teachers residing the whole year round in many parts of it. It is thus briefly described by himself in a letter written to his father in May, 1850:--"The plan which I purpose, in the hope of the Divine blessing, to follow for the conversion of the Melanesian tribes, is, in few words, to select a few promising youths from all the islands; to prove and test them, first, by observation of their habits on board a floating school; then take them for further training to New Zealand; and, lastly, when they are sufficiently advanced, to send them back as teachers of their own people, if possible with some English missionary, to give effect and regularity to their work." It was the plan which, as we have seen, had been to some extent followed by Marsden in reference both to the Society Islands and New Zealand itself. Ultimately, it was further developed by the admission of the most tried and approved scholars, after several years' probation, to holy orders. The letter, from which the above extract is taken, was written at New Caledonia, in the course of a return trip to the islands visited in the preceding year, made for the purpose of restoring the five lads to their homes for the winter months; during which it would have been a serious risk to their lives to keep them in New Zealand. The bishop was prevented, as we shall presently see, by the pressure of other engagements from making another voyage to Melanesia in the summer of 1850-51; but Captain Erskine, who entered thoroughly into his plans, sailed in the [170/171] Havannah as far north as the Solomon Islands, and brought back to St. John's College four boys, one from this group, and three from the New Hebrides.

The next event deserving special notice is one which is connected in an equal degree with the two great works of Bishop Selwyn's life--of that portion of it, at least, which was spent in the Southern Hemisphere. It is needless to say that we refer to the Church Constitution and the Melanesian Mission. The bishop had long been in communication with the eminent Bishop of Australia, Dr. Broughton, on the subject of Church organisation, and it had been arranged that a meeting of the Australasian bishops should be held in the spring of this year (1850) at Sydney. This conference met accordingly in that city on October 1st, Bishop Selwyn having sailed thither in the Undine. It was composed of six bishops, Bishop Broughton of Sydney, who presided, Bishop Nixon of Tasmania, Bishop Perry of Melbourne, Bishop Short of Adelaide, Bishop Tyrrell of Newcastle, and the Bishop of New Zealand; and it sat for a month. The doubts to which we have previously alluded, respecting the extent and effect of the Royal Supremacy, caused the Conference to refrain from assuming the name and functions of a Synod. Nevertheless, the practical necessity of common counsel and action had been forced upon them, and they had been advised in the preceding year by no less a person than Mr. Gladstone, to "organise themselves on that basis of voluntary consensual compact, which was the basis on which the Church of Christ rested from [171/172] the first)" [Footnote: "Life and Episcopate," &c., vol. i., p. 350.] It should be mentioned here, as one of the many proofs of the extent to which at that time the necessity of some form of synodal action was occupying the minds of all thoughtful Churchmen, especially in the colonies, that, before Bishop Selwyn left Auckland on his voyage to Sydney, he received an address signed by the Governor (Sir G. Grey), the Chief Justice (W. Martin, Esq.), the Attorney General (W. Swainson, Esq.), and several other men of position and influence among the laity, "praying that the Church might be constituted in some way that would secure to her the power to manage her own affairs, and that in any such constitution the laity might have their full weight." The proceedings of the Sydney Conference are thus briefly narrated by the Rev. H. W. Tucker in his "Life and Episcopate of Bishop Selwyn" (vol. i. p. 350): "They affirmed the necessity of provincial and diocesan Synods, of the subdivision of dioceses and the election of bishops without interference on the part of the secular power; of the laity being represented in each Synod, and consulting and deciding with the clergy on all questions affecting the temporalities of the Church." With regard to spiritual discipline, they "affirmed that, in all cases of ecclesiastical offences, bishops should be tried by the bishops of the province, and priests or deacons by the Synod of the diocese." Neither did they consider that "only the clergy are liable to spiritual discipline," but, in the case of the laity, "they provided [172/173] for spiritual admonition, and, this failing, for the exclusion from Holy Communion, and, in the last resort, for the excommunication of persons living in notorious sin." Another most important act of the Conference was to "constitute an Australasian Board of Missions, charged (1) with the conversion and civilisation of the Australian blacks, and (2) with the conversion and civilisation of the heathen races in all the islands of the Western Pacific." The intention was that the last-mentioned branch of the work of this board should be undertaken jointly by the Australian and New Zealand Churches; and, accordingly, the next Melanesian voyage, in 1851, was taken by the Bishop of New Zealand, in company with Dr. Tyrrell, Bishop of Newcastle, [Footnote: It is an interesting fact, well worthy of record, that the two bishops had pulled together, as undergraduates, in the Lady Margaret racing-boat at Cambridge.] in the Border Maid, a vessel of nearly l00 tons, the little Undine being too small for the number of scholars expected to be brought back. The funds for the purchase of this new vessel were contributed by the bishops, clergy, and laity of the dioceses of Sydney and Newcastle; St. John's College, Auckland, was provisionally recognised as the head-quarters of the mission; and the Bishops of Newcastle and New Zealand undertook to visit, either alternately or together, some of the islands, and bring back scholars for the central school. On the return of Bishop Selwyn to Auckland, a Diocesan Board was constituted in connexion with the Australasian Board; but, since the voyage of [173/174] 1851, no Australian bishop or clergyman has taken any active part in the mission. The Australian dioceses, however, have ever since been among its warmest and most liberal supporters. About Whitsuntide Bishop Tyrrell arrived in the Border Maid, and on July 8th the two bishops sailed from Auckland, taking with them the four Melanesians whom Captain Erskine had brought with him the year before. The first island they reached was Anaiteum, the next Futuna. Thence they steered for Tanna, guided all night by the ever active volcano described by Captain Cook. Thence they visited in succession Niva, Erromango and Maré, all belonging, as well as those before mentioned, to the New Hebrides group. Thence they sailed to the Isle of Pines, which they found preoccupied by a Roman Catholic misson, and thence to Lifu, another of the Loyalty Islands; thence back to the New Hebrides, visiting Faté, or Sandwich Island, and Apia. Some of the Solomon Islands were included in this tour--in particular, San Christoval (or Lidia), Ambrym and Mallicolo. At the last-mentioned island the whole party were in extreme peril of their lives, while engaged in fetching water from a hill a quarter of a mile from the shore, and were probably saved by the rare courage and presence of mind of Bishop Selwyn, escaping to their boat in the midst of a volley of stones. This was on Aug. 26th. The state of the ship's gear forcing them, soon after this, to return homewards, they reached Newcastle, where Bishop Tyrrell landed, on September l0th, and Sydney on the same day. The Border Maid finally arrived at Auckland on October 7th, [174/175] bringing back thirteen scholars in all, of whom five were from the New Hebrides, seven from the Loyalty group, and one from San Christoval. We must here take leave for a time of the fascinating tale of the Melanesian mission, reserving a brief account of its present condition for a subsequent chapter on the "Diocese of Melanesia."

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