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A History of the English Church in New Zealand

By H.T. Purchas

Christchurch: Simpson and Williams, 1914.

Chapter VIII.


Replenish the earth, and subdue it.--Genesis.

THE missionaries had worked wonders in New Zealand, but the very success of their work proved to be its undoing. Now that the islands were safe and quiet, they attracted a rush of white settlers who were eager for land and gain. Instead of whalers and flax traders, whose settlements were only temporary, there appeared farmers and artisans who had fled from the misery of the mother country to found for themselves permanent homes in the "Britain of the South."

Many of the immigrants came singly from Australia, but from the year 1839 the New Zealand Company sent thousands of settlers in more or less organised fashion to the country on either side of Cook Strait, to Wellington, Nelson, and New Plymouth. This company was founded by the celebrated Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a man who had read and thought much upon the subject of colonisation. His views reflected fairly the public sentiment of the day. The colonists should be grouped in communities for mutual help and safety; they should have churches and clergy and as much religion as sensible men required at home; the rights of the dark-skinned inhabitants of the soil should not be altogether ignored, but neither should they be allowed to stand in the way of progress and expansion. The world was made for the Englishman: if the Maori came between them, so much the worse for him.

Such projects might well alarm the friends of the Maori, both in England and in New Zealand. They could not blind themselves to the fact that the coming of the white man had almost everywhere led to the disappearance of the coloured races from the earth. The influential friends of the Church Missionary Society accordingly opposed the New Zealand Company's plans in parliament, and prevented it from obtaining government recognition. Its emigrants went forth from their native land against the wishes of the authorities, and they naturally carried with them a prejudice against the cause of missions. On their arrival they were received by the missionaries with mixed feelings. Natural instinct led them to welcome the sight of men of their own race, but their minds misgave them when they thought of the effect which would be produced upon their converts. The Maoris were not yet grounded and settled in the faith: they looked up to their spiritual teachers for guidance in all the matters of life. Their faith was that of children, and for the time their safety lay in their child-like submissiveness to their teachers. How long would this happy state continue, if anything should dispel the veneration in which the missionary had hitherto been held?

The coming of white men had so far brought little but trouble. Kororareka was the one European settlement before the founding of Wellington, and Kororareka was looked upon as a sink of iniquity. A church had been built there by the missionaries, but some of the townspeople had approached Bishop Broughton with a petition that he would appoint someone other than a missionary to officiate within it. At Port Nicholson we have seen how Henry Williams had been roused by the high-handed proceedings of Colonel Wakefield. Hadfield had indeed won the respect of the colonists by his high sense of honour, and his readiness to use his influence with the Maoris on their behalf; but it remains true, on the whole, that the opposite ends of the island were set against each other--missionaries and Government in the north over against colonists and Company in the south.

Such was the condition of affairs on May 2gth, 1842, when there arrived in Auckland the Right Reverend George Augustus Selwyn to take up the position of bishop of the divided flock. This remarkable man was then in the prime of early manhood, and he brought with him not only a lithe athletic frame well fitted to endure hardship; not only the culture of Cambridge and of Eton, where he had learned and taught, and the courtly atmosphere of Windsor, where he had exercised his ministry; but above all he brought with him ideals. These took the form of a strong centralised government in the Church. While yet a curate, he had attracted attention by his vigorous defence of the cathedral system, through which he proposed to govern the whole Church of England. But his thoughts had travelled far beyond the bounds of a merely national Church. Stirred by the spectacle (alluded to in our Introduction) of the dominance of Mohammedanism in the lands of the East, he had dreamed of himself as Bishop of Malta, or some other Mediterranean post, whence he might lead a new crusade into North Africa, and win back the home of St. Cyprian and St. Augustine to the faith of Christ. Curiously enough, some such scheme was actually on foot at the time of his consecration (Oct. 17, 1841), and one of his first episcopal acts was to join in laying hands on a bishop who was sent out to Jerusalem to endeavour to stir the languid religion of the mother city of Christendom. Being chosen to read the epistle on this occasion, Selwyn had selected the passage which tells of the Apostle Paul's last journey to the Holy City; and he had thrown such intensity of feeling into his reading of the words, "Behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem," that some of the other prelates were in tears. But he was not the man to grieve over what could not be altered. If it was not to be his lot to be sent to the ancient city of Zion as its bishop, he would bravely set forth to a very different field, and would endeavour to build a new Jerusalem at the uttermost ends of the earth.

His coming was eagerly looked for by both sides. The Wellington settlers confidently expected that he would fix his residence among them, and give to their colony that seal of legality which it had hitherto lacked. The New Zealand Company had been largely instrumental in carrying the bishopric bill through the Imperial Parliament; it had made large promises of financial assistance: now it looked for the support of the bishop in its struggle with missionaries and officials. [For the right understanding of the subsequent history, the following extract from a letter of Gibbon Wakefield to Mr. J. R. Godley (Dec. 21st, 1847) is of the utmost importance: "I really cannot tell you what the Bishop of New Zealand is. His see was created by us in spite of many obstacles put in our way by the Church and the Government. Indeed, we forced the measure on the Melbourne Government; and in that measure originated all the new Colonial bishoprics. If our views had been taken up by the Church, great results would have been obtained both for the Church and colonisation. I will not say that Dr. Selwyn turned round upon us, and joined our foes, the anti-colonising 'Church Missionary Society'; but I am sure he is not a wise man."] But the new bishop was not minded to become a dignified ornament of the Wellington settlement. To build his new Jerusalem he needed "an entrenched camp," and for this he must have a spiritual atmosphere, and he must have living material and suitable buildings. Instead, therefore, of going to the colonial south, he turned first in the direction of the missionary north. In less than a month after his arrival in his diocese, he had reached the Bay of Islands; he had captivated Henry Williams (who wrote, "I am afraid to say how delighted I am"); and had resolved to make his entrenched camp at Waimate, the most eligible and beautiful of the missionary stations. Here were fertile land and a farming establishment; here was a school for missionaries' children, which he might easily convert into a college; here was a church whose spire rose gracefully above the surrounding trees; here was a religious atmosphere already in existence.

But the bishop had no intention of leaving the European settlements untended. Before forming his central establishment at Waimate, he undertook a thorough visitation of his diocese, or at least of every part of it in which church work was being carried on. In order to appreciate the magnitude of his task, it will be well to take a bird's-eye view of the whole scene.

The North Island was by this time fairly well known. Though the Maori race had been terribly reduced in numbers since the coming of Marsden in 1814, still their pas were to be found in every fertile bay round the coast, up every river valley, and round the lakes of the interior. Large areas of uninhabited country were to be found in the inland regions, but these were either too mountainous, too barren, or too heavily timbered for such an ease-loving race. The Maoris clustered in greatest numbers round the warm springs of Rotorua, on the coast to the east, and in the extreme north; but their most powerful warrior was Rauparaha, who had migrated (as before explained) to the island of Kapiti. The tribes were all Christian, or ready to become so, and Selwyn in all his travels seldom found a professing heathen.

The South Island was still little known, except at the extreme north and the extreme south. At the north, the town of Nelson had just been founded, and farming had begun on the Waimea Plains. In the south, Maoris and whalers lived an isolated life on the harbours and islands of Foveaux Strait. A few whaling stations were dotted along the east coast of the island, but the maps of the time show the ignorance that prevailed. The sea is represented as covering the whole district in which the town of Christ-church now stands; mythical bays indent the coast; while the interior is marked simply by "high mountains supposed to be covered with perpetual snow," and "greenstone lakes" which occur in unexpected places.

The one spot in this region which might have re-deemed its otherwise inhospitable character was the harbour of Akaroa, where a French colony had lately made its home. But this bit of old France had nothing to do with the rest of the country. The settlers went their own way, planting their vines and their fig-trees, propagating the willow slips which they had gathered on their outward voyage at Napoleon's grave, and turning their eyes to the French warship which lay in their harbour, rather than to the Union Jack which floated on the shore.

Of the two races which formed his flock, there could be no question as to which needed the bishop's attention first. The Maoris were well cared for by the missionaries, but for the white settlers very little had been done. The number of these was considerable. There were over 3,000 of them at Wellington and Petone, over 2,000 at Nelson, and 1,900 at Auckland; while the smaller towns of New Plymouth and Wan-ganui contained some hundreds of inhabitants. Not being "heathens," they did not come within the regular sphere of the Church Missionary Society, and the English bishops did not show themselves eager to cooperate with Wakefield and his Company. The old Church Society "for the Propagation of the Gospel," which was afterwards to give generous help to the New Zealand settlements, had sent out one chaplain (the Rev. J. F. Churton) with the first Wellington settlers; but he had received so little support that after nine months he had left the town, "an impoverished man." Making his way to Auckland, this clergyman had there met with a much better reception, and his congregation had at once commenced to build a large and substantial church. This church (St. Paul's) was in process of erection when the bishop reached Auckland.

Meanwhile the Company's settlements were left without any regular clerical ministrations. The bishop had brought out with him from England a band of clergy, and these he resolved to plant in the various colonial towns. Leaving one of these, with a student, to proceed direct to Wellington, he himself sailed for Nelson on July 28th, 1842, with the Rev. C. L. Reay. Arriving on the following Sunday, he preached at once in the immigration barrack. For the next Sunday's services he availed himself of a large tent which an English friend had given him. This was fitted up with every requisite for divine service, and the bishop saw it filled with a good congregation. One of the colonists (the Rev. C. Saxton) was found to be a clergyman who had already provided occasional services. The bishop therefore, having chosen a site for a church on the beautiful elevation in the heart of the town, was able to leave this lovely spot with a good hope of its future progress.

Very different were his feelings when he crossed the strait to Wellington. It seemed as though the cause of the Church were doomed to disappointment in this most populous of the New Zealand towns. The two men whom the bishop had sent in advance, he found at death's door from typhus fever, contracted amidst the insanitary conditions of a new settlement. The bishop devoted himself to nursing the invalids, and had the happiness of seeing one of them (the Rev. R. Cole) restored to health. But Willie Evans, the student whom he had hoped to have with him on his travels, died on October 3, leaning on the bishop's arm. Nor was this the only disappointment which Wellington afforded. "There appears to be neither school nor chapel connected with the church," wrote the bishop, "nor provision for either." He had hoped to place there a clergyman "of high character and standing" as archdeacon, and to have provided him with ample resources, but the New Zealand Company railed to provide its promised quota, and the scheme fell through. The residents of the town gave the bishop an address--and but little else. He could but leave his newly-ordained and just convalescent priest to occupy this arduous post, with no nearer human support than that of Hadfield at Waikanae.

After the funeral of Evans, the journey overland to Taranaki was begun. On the way the bishop of course met Hadfield, who had struggled manfully along since he had been left there by Henry Williams three years before. He still looked like a man doomed to death, and lived on little but biscuit, but he had acquired a wonderful influence over his Maori flock. Passing on to the Wanganui, the bishop had what proved to be his last interview with Mason, whose zeal and activity elicited his admiration; he also received an address of congratulation from the small English community of the town. At New Plymouth also everything looked bright. This settlement was almost exclusively Anglican, and good sites were at once offered for churches and schools. Having thus visited all the English towns, the bishop took ship down the west coast and again reached Waikanae. Here he prepared for the more arduous part of his journey--the visitation of the mission stations throughout the island.

This expedition may be compared with that of Henry Williams three years before, but Selwyn avoided the difficult mountain region of the centre by taking a more southern line and following up the valley of the Manawatu. The Maoris poled him up this river in their canoes, and, after carrying him in this way through the well-known gorge, deposited him on the eastern side of the ranges on November n. A day's journey through the Forty-Mile Bush brought the party to the open plains of Hawkes Bay when again native habitations began to appear. Three days later he was met by Mr. William Williams, whose society he much enjoyed on the way to Ahuriri, where he found (about 6 miles from the site of the present town of Napier) a substantial chapel containing 400 persons, though this community had only once before been visited by a missionary. Proceeding northwards along the coast, he was struck with the results of Mr. Williams' labours in the orderliness and devotion of the converts. At Turanga (7 miles from Gisborne) he preached to "a noble congregation of at least 1,000 persons," who gave the responses in a deep sonorous manner, which was most striking. During the service the bishop installed William Williams as archdeacon of the eastern district.

Northwards still proceeded the tireless bishop on foot, until he reached Stack's mission station in the Waiapu valley; then turning across the rugged mountain ranges, he emerged into the Bay of Plenty. The grand sweep of its coast line was bordered with native cultivations, and relieved with the crimson blossoms of the pohutakawa trees, while on the blue horizon rose a cloud of sulphureous steam from White Island. Mission stations now appeared at frequent intervals, and the rest of the bishop's journey was a succession of pleasing experiences. The rose-clad cottage of Mr. and Mrs. Brown, at Tauranga; the comfortable abode of Chapman on Hinemoa's island in Lake Rotorua; the thermal springs which promptly healed the sprains and bruises of the arduous journey; the coloured pools in which healthy Maori children bathed and played; the wheat-fields and the English fruit of the central plateau; the mission stations of Morgan and Ashwell on the Waipa and Waikato; the easy canoe journey down these rivers until once more the western sea was reached: all this was delightful in itself, and prepared the traveller for a keen discussion on Bible translation with the expert Maunsell at the Waikato Heads.

The last stage was again a painful one, for boots and clothes had well nigh given out, and it was with blistered feet that the bishop tramped along the sandy coast to Hamlin's cottage on the Manukau, whence a sail across the harbour brought him to Onehunga, with just one suit sufficiently decent to enable him to enter Auckland by daylight, though his broken boots compelled him to avoid its central street.

This journey, which lasted exactly three months from the day when he left Wellington to that on which he arrived at Waimate (Oct. 10, 1842--Jan. 9, 1843), must be pronounced a great one. Even now, with all the aids of railways, roads, and steamers, it would be no easy feat. To cross the island not once but twice--first from west to east, and then from east to west--besides skirting the coast for some hundreds of miles, and to do all this on foot, except where rivers could be utilised with native canoes, was surely a remarkable achievement. The results of his investigation were thoroughly satisfactory to the bishop. Wherever he went he had preached to the Maoris in their native tongue, and had won golden opinions from them. The missionaries had everywhere given him a hearty welcome, and had generally come some miles to meet him when they had heard of his approach. Of them, as of their converts, he had formed a favourable opinion. Whatever might formerly have been his yearnings for the ancient Jerusalem, they were now quite overpowered. The words which kept rising to his lips were words of thankfulness: "The lot is fallen unto me in a fair ground; yea, I have a goodly heritage."

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