Project Canterbury

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.


The Bishop's Visit to England--Its Result--His Return with Rev. J. C. Patteson--Meeting at Christchurch--Resolutions--Mr. Labouchere's Words--Religious, Charitable, and Educational Trusts Act, 1856--Consecration of first Bishop of Christchurch--Arrival and Enthronisation.

Furnished with this definite statement of the views and wishes of the clergy and laity of the Anglican Church in New Zealand, arrived at after long and earnest deliberation under his own guidance, and found to agree in the main, Bishop Selwyn proceeded to England early in the year 1854. He soon found, however, that the alternative courses proposed for obtaining the desired powers of self-government--an Act of Parliament, or a Royal Charter--were both impracticable. But at the same time he found that the most eminent legal authorities of the day were more and more agreed, that no legal impediment existed, barring colonial bishops from holding synods of clergy and laity of their own accord within their own dioceses for the regulation of diocesan affairs. This point was thus stated by the bishop himself in his address to the first General Synod at Wellington in 1859: "In the meantime a change of opinion took place among the legal authorities in England, and the question settled down upon its present basis, that, as the colonial churches must have laws for [214/215] their own government, and as neither the Church nor the State at home can make laws for them, [Footnote: The State could not, having debarred itself from so doing by giving the colonies (Crown colonies excepted) independent legislatures, upon whose rights any such legislation would encroach by giving a legal status to--that is establishing--one particular form of religion. The Church could not; for, being powerless to legislate for herself, how could she legislate for her colonial daughters?] they must be free to legislate for themselves." While in England, he drew up the outline of the Church Constitution under the advice of two eminent English Judges, Sir John Coleridge and Sir John Patteson, adopting provisionally for its framework a Church Property Trust Deed, similar in outline to the Wesleyan Trust Deed, and incorporating the Principles, in the shape in which they had met with the greatest amount of acceptance in the several settlements. Having also made satisfactory arrangements for the division of his enormous diocese, and having settled with the law officers of the Crown the terms of the new Letters Patent he was to receive as Metropolitan of New Zealand--for the legal connection of his diocese and that of Sydney was thenceforth to cease--and having fulfilled, more or less, the other purposes for which he had gone to England--above all, having secured, as the chief fruit of his visit, the gift of Sir John Patteson's son to carry on the other great work he had initiated--the bishop embarked on board the Duke of Portland, and left Gravesend on his return on March 29th, 1855. He reached Auckland on July 5th, and on that day fortnight, the Southern Cross, [215/216] built for him in England for the Melanesian Mission, also arrived.

For nearly three months after his return he was chiefly engaged, at the request of Governor Gore Browne, in endeavouring to make peace between two hostile factions of natives at New Plymouth, and to allay the disturbed state of feeling in that part of the country, which ultimately issued in the Waitara war of 1860. On the 23rd September he ordained to the diaconate Levi Te Ahu, a chief of a Taranaki tribe, being the second of the Maori race whom he had admitted to the sacred ministry, Rota Waitoa, ordained deacon on Trinity Sunday, 1853, having been the first. On the 27th of the same month, that is, as soon as circumstances permitted, he set sail, accompanied by his chaplain, the Rev. J. C. Patteson, in his newly acquired vessel, the Southern Cross, on a visitation tour to the Chatham Islands, and the southern settlements. Arriving in Lyttelton early in November, he held meetings of Church-people on successive days in Lyttelton and Christchurch; also a synodical meeting of the clergy at the residence of the Rev. R. B. Paul at Casterton, on Saturday, November l0th; and preached and held confirmations at Lyttelton and Christchurch on the following day. He also held a conference with the governing body of Christ's College, Canterbury, recently founded and endowed by the Church Property Trustees (as representing the Canterbury Association), and incorporated by ordinance of the Provincial Council of the Province of Canterbury.

The general meetings referred to above were of [216/217] the utmost importance, primarily to the diocese of Christchurch, but also to the whole of New Zealand, because they issued in the appointment of the present Primate of New Zealand to the Bishopric of Christchurch. The Christchurch meeting, which was held in the old mother Church, at that time unconsecrated, and used for both church and school, was presided over by the first superintendent of the province, Mr. James Edward Fitzgerald, and, besides other matters mostly of temporary interest, the following resolutions were agreed to:--I. On the motion of the Rev. Octavius Mathias, seconded by Mr. Conway L. Rose, "That, in the opinion of this meeting, a sufficient and safe endowment has been provided for the Bishopric of Christchurch, [Footnote: The Rev. Thomas Jackson had been designated in England in 1850 Bishop of Lyttelton, the intention being at that time that the capital of the settlement should be termed Lyttelton, after Lord Lyttelton, the chairman of the Canterbury Association, and that the port should be named "Port-Lyttelton"; but, very shortly after the arrival of the first body of colonists in December, 1850, it was decided at a meeting of land purchasers, that the capital should be called Christchurch, and the port town Lyttelton. Consequently, upon the resignation of his appointment by the bishop-designate, Dr. Jackson, the see was christened anew by the name of Christchurch.] and that a memorial be therefore forwarded to the Crown, praying her Majesty to nominate a bishop at the earliest period consistent with her Majesty's royal pleasure." II. On the motion of Mr. William Thomson, seconded by Mr. Richard Packer, it was resolved, "That the opinion of this meeting is, that it is expedient to adopt the Land Investment, proposed [217/218] for the endowment of the bishopric in preference to Government debentures." The proceeds of the Land Investment here referred to amounted at that time to £600 per annum. The bishop drew attention to the fact, that there was an additional land endowment for the bishopric of 200 acres or more, forming part of the Jackson Trust Estate. This endowment had been acquired by Dr. Jackson in England, mainly from the proceeds of subscriptions, to be applied partly to the bishopric, partly to the college, and in part also to general Church purposes. The bishop added that he would write personally to the authorities in England, that he was satisfied with the endowment, and that they need have no hesitation in proceeding immediately to the appointment. III. The foregoing resolution having been agreed to, the bishop proceeded to relate the communications he had held with more than one clergyman in England respecting the appointment, ending with a strong recommendation of his friend, the Rev. Henry John Chitty Harper, M.A., of Queen's College, Oxford, formerly conduct (or chaplain) of Eton College, but, at the time then present, Vicar of Stratfield Mortimer in Berkshire, to which living he had been presented by the Provost and Fellows of Eton. The Rev. J. C. Patteson, having been appealed to by the bishop, expressed his hearty concurrence with the high opinion given of Mr. Harper by the bishop. Whereupon the following resolution was unanimously adopted:--"That this meeting, upon the information now laid before it, has been led to the conclusion, that it would greatly [218/219] promote the interests of the Church in this province"--i.e., the civil, not the ecclesiastical, province, which did not then exist--"if the Rev. Henry Harper should be appointed to the Bishopric of Christchurch; but that, if any difficulty should occur to prevent his appointment, they would thankfully accept any person who might he approved by the authorities in England, acting in communication with the confidential friends of the Bishop of New Zealand." [Footnote: The writer feels sure that the following characteristic incident in the life of Bishop Selwyn, which occurred in the course of this visit to Christchurch, and which, to the best of his belief, has never been before made public, will be read with interest:--The bishop, with Mrs. Selwyn, was staying at the writer's house--the old grammar school in Oxford Terrace, eastward of St. Michael's Church. After breakfast, on the morning of Saturday, November l0th, a small party gathered round the bishop on the lawn outside the house, after very brief consultation among themselves, and, as though they would take him by storm, earnestly besought him to take the bishopric of Christchurch himself. The party consisted, as far as the writer's memory serves him, of the Rev. Oct. Mathias, the Rev. J. Wilson, Mr. J. E. Fitzgerald, Mr. H. J. Tancred, and himself. His lordship, with much warmth and affectionateness acknowledged the goodwill and kindly feeling of those who made the request. and said that there was much in the tone and character of the people to make such an offer acceptable. He instanced, in particular, the remarkable fact, of which he had been informed, that, at the recent celebration of the Holy Communion at the church close on the occasion of the opening of the session of the Provincial Council, all the councillors, without exception, to the number of twenty-four, had communicated. But he added that, as he had always held that it was a clergyman's duty to go where his commanding officer sent him, so it was his duty to remain at his post until a clear call of duty came to withdraw him elsewhere. There did not appear to be any such call in the present instance, therefore he felt it to be his duty to remain where he was. The group of petitioners thereupon dispersed, rather admiring than disappointed; for they had hardly dared to hope for success.]

[220] IV. The meeting then listened with interest to the account which the bishop gave of his efforts, while in England, to obtain powers of self-government for the colonial branches of the Church. After explaining the grounds on which he had determined to abandon the idea of seeking a basis for the proposed Church Constitution in direct legislation either of the Imperial or of the Colonial Parliament, he declared his intention of proceeding upon the property basis entirely, and of endeavouring, with the view of securing a sound and workable property basis, to procure the passing of a general Act through the Assembly, which might be used by all denominations, similar to an English Act not long since passed, for the simplifying of titles to property held by any public body for religious, charitable, or educational purposes. The Act he referred to gave continuance to any body of trustees, without the necessity of a fresh deed being executed on the occasion of every new appointment of a trustee, and so, in point of fact, gave every such body of trustees, for all necessary purposes, the status and powers of a corporate body. Ultimately, under the bishop's direction, the meeting adopted the following resolution:--"Resolved, that, in the opinion of this meeting, an assessor should be elected at a general meeting for the purpose of conferring with the representatives of the Church from [220/221] the other provinces of New Zealand and the bishop of the diocese; with full powers to consent to the establishment of such general principles for the constitution of the Church in New Zealand, as may harmonise the various suggestions embodied in the tabular statement of the opinions of the members of the Church in the various settlements."

Here then was another link of the chain forged; the completion of the machinery was now in full view; for the harmonising of the tabular statement meant the putting together of the framework of the Constitution. In the following year, 1856, further advance was made. In the first place a wonderful light was suddenly thrown on the whole subject by a few simple words in a letter from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Labouchere, to Sir Edmund Head, Governor-General of Canada. The words were, "I am aware of the advantages which might belong to a scheme, under which the binding force of such regulations should be simply voluntary." The words, though the reverse of oracular in the simplicity of their form, had all the effect of an oracle. They were straightway reported in all the council chambers of the Colonial Church, and commented on in all its organs. The effect in New Zealand was, as when some great discovery has been made, and every one feels as if he had always known it; or as when some new invention is made public, and everybody exclaims, "How simple!" Men had been for years laboriously discussing the comparative advantages and drawbacks of legislative enactments and royal charters, of colonial Acts and imperial Acts, [221/222] when the ponderous rubbish was suddenly swept away by this single sentence, as easily and effectually as cobwebs by a housemaid's broom. With many, the oft-repeated cry had been, "Let us go back to first principles; let us do as our Christian forefathers did in the earliest ages"; but, practically, they did not seem to get further than this; now, however, they found, all at once, what they had been seeking for: voluntary and mutual compact--was the one and only bond which held the Christian Church together, as a society, from the first. The letter referred to was written on the 15th February, 1856. Later in the same year, the bishop succeeded, as he had hoped to, in obtaining the enactment, by the General Assembly of New Zealand, of "An Act to render more simple and effectual the titles by which property is held for religious, charitable, or educational purposes in New Zealand"; the short title of which is, "The Religious, Charitable, and Educational Trusts Act, 1856," The Church, under the wise and cautious guidance of her great bishop, was thus, by the blessing of Cod, gradually working her way towards the light. Though she no longer thought of invoking the State Legislature to bestow or sanction powers of self-government, she availed herself of its help, as any other body of citizens might, to obtain protection and facilities in her tenure of, or dealings with, her property, as she has done since of the judicial system of the State for the purpose of giving effect to the exercise of her discipline over her offending members.

In the course of the same year, another long-hoped [222/223] for advance of a different kind was made towards the completion of the organisation of the New Zealand Church. A petition to her Majesty the Queen, and a memorial to his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, signed by the leading clergymen and laymen of the proposed diocese of Christchurch, in favour of the speedy appointment of a bishop, and recommending the Rev. H. J. C. Harper as a fit person to be appointed to the post, backed by the support and aid of the Bishop of New Zealand and his English friends, acting in conjunction with the former members of the Canterbury Association, met with complete success, and Dr. Harper was consecrated first bishop of the new see, at Lambeth Palace Chapel on the l0th August, 1856. Arriving in Lyttelton Harbour with his family by the ship Egmont on Christmas Eve, he was met there by the Bishop of New Zealand, who with Mrs. Selwyn had come down purposely to receive them, came over the hill to Christchurch the same day, and was enthroned on the day following, Christmas Day, at the old mother Church of Christchurch, which thenceforth became the Pro-Cathedral.

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