Project Canterbury

A History of the English Church in New Zealand

By H.T. Purchas

Christchurch: Simpson and Williams, 1914.

Chapter XI.


We must suffer for the sin of others as for our own; and in this suffering we find a healing and purifying power and element.

THE land-grant controversy did not, of course, occupy the whole of Bishop Selwyn's time during the years of its painful and weary course. The journeys by land and sea were still carried on, and were even extended in their range. In 1848 the bishop sailed away eastward, out of sight of land, in a small schooner of 21 tons, and after ten days reached the Chathams; in 1849 he even ventured in the same vessel far to the northward among the coral islands of Melanesia. In 1847 he had held a second synod, and there were some cheering occurrences among the Maoris, especially in the south-west district. At Otaki, for instance, the bishop found 300 men, with Rauparaha at their head, engaged in raising the great pillars of a splendid church, around which a town (to be called "Hadfield") was being laid out. At Wanganui the Rev. R. Taylor held remarkable Christmas gatherings each year. From every pa on the banks, a contingent, headed by its native teacher, would come down the river to Wanganui. The thousands who thus assembled were publicly examined for some days as to their Christian conduct, and some hundreds were admitted to the Holy Communion, which had to be celebrated in the open field. At one of these meetings two chiefs volunteered to carry the Gospel to a hostile tribe at Taupo. They went, and were both murdered. One of them, after being disabled, lingered from morning until sunset, and all through these hours of agony was praying for his murderers that they might receive the light.

But, on the whole, a note of sadness makes itself heard throughout the period. Some of the missionaries, like Maunsell, can "watch the clouds pass overhead," and thank God that the storms of war and of false accusation leave them untouched. But none can feel altogether happy amidst the troubles of his brethren. Hadfield is stricken with a mortal illness, and lies helpless for four years in Wellington. Reay dies at Waiapu, and Bolland at Taranaki. This last-named excellent priest was a brother-in-law of the saintly Whytehead, and carried some of the elder man's inspiring influence into the building and furnishing of the stone church at New Plymouth. His death was greatly mourned by his people, as well as by Selwyn, who confessed a special regard for this beautiful portion of his diocese, and now felt that a holy memory had shed upon it a peculiar lustre. Nelson was hardly keeping up to its early rate of progress, and its central mound, instead of a church bore an ugly fort, into which the nervous townsfolk passed over a drawbridge for their Sunday worship. Wellington was still unsatisfactory, its one wooden church serving for a congregation which was "neither so regular nor so good" as might have been wished. Altogether the diocese appeared to the bishop as "an inert mass which I am utterly unable to heave."

The fulcrum upon which the bishop depended in his efforts to heave the mass was St. John's College, and the college at this time was bringing troubles of its own. In 1847 it suffered a terrible visitation of typhoid fever. The bishop's own two little boys were stricken, and a son of Archdeacon W. Williams died. At one time no less than forty cases were calling for the attention of the staff. Through the care of the medical deacon, Dr. Purchas, the epidemic proved less deadly than had at one time seemed inevitable; but its appearance showed the unwisdom of combining a public hospital with an educational establishment. Even without this special plague, the daily routine was too rigorous to be maintained. English parents began to withdraw their sons from an institution in which Maoris so largely predominated; the Maoris could be kept at work only by constant supervision; the deacon schoolmasters, to whom the duty of superintendence was committed, were more eager to begin preaching than to perform thoroughly the humbler duties of the kitchen and the field. Those who were willing to do the humble work found that they had little time or energy left for intellectual pursuits. The ideal was not practical. More and more it became evident that the very continuance of the scheme depended upon the bishop himself. "Everything in the way of system," he wrote, "from the cleaning of a knife upwards, passes in some form or other through my mind." The result was "a turmoil of much serving, which had in it more of Martha than of Mary"; and he has to face the possibility of the failure of plans "conceived, it may be, in pride rather than in faith."

But the communistic ideal still held the bishop's mind, and at one time (1848) there seemed a prospect of its realisation in an unexpected spot--the Chatham Islands. To this lonely field a Lutheran mission had come in 1846, and the bishop sailed thither with great hopes of bringing it into his system. He visited these German folk--five men and three women--and found them indeed "living in that simple and primitive way which is the true type of a missionary establishment. They seem to "be as one family, and to have all things in common." At first, it looked as though their chief might consent to receive Holy Orders in the English Church; but the negotiation fell through, and the bishop left the house in sore vexation, being careful to wipe the dust of his feet on the doormat as he passed. However admirable may have been its constitution, this mission was never a success. Many churches were standing in the island at this time, but the native Christians were either Wesleyans, or they looked rather to far-distant Otaki than to the German community at their doors.

Otaki itself was the other spot where a prospect offered. The Maoris there gave to the bishop 500 acres at Porirua for a college, which was to be similar to St. John's. The gift was thankfully received, and hopes were entertained of an establishment from which the deacons would go forth to serve the chapelries around Wellington, as those at St. John's ministered to the outlying suburbs of Auckland. But the attempt was never seriously made. No man could carry on two such undertakings. The bishop's words show the chastened feelings with which he approached the project: "I have selected a site at Porirua, on which I hope, in submission to Divine Providence, that Trinity College may be built; but I have learned this lesson by the losses with which we have been visited, not to presume upon anything that is not yet attained."

Such was the aspect of affairs in the critical year, 1850. Never had the Church been less able to stand a shock, and the action of the C.M.S. might have led to a dangerous schism. For Henry Williams was not the only man who was affected. Two other agents, Clarke and Fairburn, were included in the sentence of dismissal. The mission families were large, and were so bound together by the ties of intermarriage, that a separation on a large scale seemed possible. But, thanks be to God, no schism occurred. Some of the best of the missionaries, indeed, resolved to leave the country, unless the intolerable imputation of treason and bloodshed could be removed. William Williams ventured to England without leave in order to vindicate the character of the mission, and, especially, that of his own brother. The statement which he laid before the authorities in London (1851) was so full and conclusive that the committee at once passed a resolution absolving the mission from all guilt in connection with the war. The archdeacon therefore resolved to return to his post, although he could not induce the Committee to remove the sentence which still lay upon his brother.

Henry Williams was thus marked out more distinctly than ever as the piacular victim or scapegoat of the mission. And, indeed, his deprivation seemed to have an expiatory effect. Once his dismissal had been made, an improvement began all round. In the first place, the bishop seems to have been genuinely sorry for the harsh action which he himself had done much to bring about. The Society had gone further than he intended, and now his pity was roused. He took no offence when his archdeacon began to hold services in a barn at Pakaraka, nor when (in 1851) he opened a church which his sons had built and endowed with one-tenth of their property. Patience had its right result, and by 1853 the ecclesiastical relations between the two were entirely cordial. Henry Williams was no longer an agent of the C.M.S., but he was still one of the diocesan clergy, and he was still an archdeacon. His own ministrations seemed to gain in power and effectiveness. Stubborn old pagan Maoris came to the services of his new church at Pakaraka. Kawiti, the main upholder of ancient superstitions in the north, was there baptised, and thither the remains of Hone Heke were brought to be deposited near his old master. On one occasion no less than 130 Maoris were baptised by Williams at one time.

With the bishop and the church also, there was a new beginning in a more chastened spirit. Before the end of the same year (1850) the bishop had attended an episcopal meeting in Sydney, where he was able to secure the support of the Australian Church for his infant mission to Melanesia. A few months later he welcomed his old Eton friend, C. J. Abraham, to whose able charge he committed St. John's College.

But greater than either of these events, if regard be had to the permanent progress of the Church, was the arrival in New Zealand, during the month of December, of the first instalment of the Canterbury Pilgrims.

The colony which they had come to found was intended to be something different from anything yet seen in New Zealand or in any other part of the British Empire. It was to be a reproduction on a small scale of England itself, as England might be supposed to be if its poverty, its crime, and its sectarian divisions could be eliminated. It was not a missionary undertaking in the ordinary sense of that noble word, nor was it intended as an outlet for revolutionary spirits. It was rather an attempt to get away from revolution, and to return to something of the feudal organisation. The settlement was to have a bishop, but he was to have nothing in common with the occupant of an ordinary "vulgar" colonial see. He was to be a scholarly and well-endowed prelate, with a small and compact diocese in which there should be no dissenters, but where an aristocratic gentry and a loyal peasantry should be watched over by a numerous and well-paid clergy. To attract such a class there must be not only fertile land and easy means of communication, but also good churches and good schools. Churches and schools must therefore be provided, and that on a generous scale. The price of land must be fixed high enough to allow of a large sum being set aside for the endowment of religion and education.

Such were the views of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, in whose fertile brain the scheme originated. But he alone could never have carried it out. The New Zealand Company, with which he was still co-operating, had become discredited, and Wakefield himself did not stand well with Selwyn, whom he had never forgiven for going over (as he expressed it) from the side of the colonists to that of the missionaries. He must therefore secure the help of someone who would be trusted by the class which he wished to attract. The person whom he called to his counsels was John Robert Godley, a man of acute intellect and wide knowledge, of aristocratic connection and of real religious conviction. He was something of a dreamer, but his dreams were always noble ones. By his enthusiasm he was able to enlist the sympathies of several influential men among his old Christ Church (Oxford) friends. The revolutionary year, 1848, helped the project, and in the year following, Godley himself went out to New Zealand to prepare for the emigrants. This was an opportunity for trying to bring about an understanding with Bishop Selwyn. Mr. Gladstone, who was then Colonial Secretary, wrote to Godley: "You are the man, if any, to put colonising operations from this country into harmony with the bishop. If he can be got to look at the New Zealand Company propitiously, I hope all may go well."

One part, then, of Godley's mission was to "capture" the bishop. It was not long before the bishop captured Godley. The natures and ideals of the two men were, in fact, fundamentally akin. Simplicity of life, a self-denying clergy, the spiritual independence of the Church--these were no less dear to the Canterbury leader than they were to the bishop himself. There was all the greater necessity for insistence upon them from the actual circumstances of the colonists. In spite of its aristocratic patrons, the Association was not successful in selling much of its land. There was no money wherewith to build the promised churches and schools nor to pay the clergy. Instead of finding themselves in the receipt of assured stipends, these luckless men were often reduced to something like destitution. The trouble had been partly foreseen, and the Association had tried to find clergy possessed of private means. Some of the clerical immigrants were thus endowed, and they were able to render considerable service. But the system was repugnant to Godley. He found himself confronted with the same problem as had met Selwyn in the north. To the Association it appeared that such a body of clergy "with their possession of private estate, and its necessary occupation and management, would resemble the condition of a large portion of the English clergy as holders of glebe and tythes." To Godley, on the other hand, it appeared that such men would be "primarily settlers and landowners, and but secondarily priests."

This was not the only point on which Godley found himself at variance with his friends in London. In their eagerness to secure clergy of position for their colony, these had actually taken upon themselves to appoint a dean and canons for what was still a part of Selwyn's diocese. This step excited the indignation of the bishop. He was further angered by what he considered an unworthy attempt to interfere with the spiritual functions of the episcopal office. In a letter to Godley he complains bitterly of the "Erastianism" of this action, and of the attempt to make him an accomplice in such proceedings. "It is not my business," he wrote, "to censure the Association, but I must decline all further correspondence with them." This letter was written on May 6, 1851, and it seems to have kindled into flame Godley's smouldering wrath. On the 20th of June he sent off a despatch in which he took up exactly the same ground as the bishop, and resigned his office as a protest against the policy of the Association. His action had the desired effect; the shadowy "dean and canons of Lyttelton" vanished into obscurity, and the Association itself shortly afterwards came to an end. It was composed of many noble and high-minded men; but, as one of them put it, they were an "association of amateurs," and they made mistakes more through ignorance than through design. Wakefield taunted his former ally with the "delirious inconsistency" of his behaviour, but Godley himself felt (like Browning's Rabbi) that

This rage was right in the main--though he regretted the vehemence of his language: 'That I protested abruptly, rudely, unfeelingly, and in such a way as justly to annoy those whom I ought to have cut my right hand off sooner than give pain to, I shall never cease to deplore; but of the protest itself I cannot repent. And if (as I believe) it had the effect of determining the Association to resign its functions immediately and entirely, I shall always hold that I have by that step conferred a greater benefit on the colony than by any other step that I have ever taken in its concerns."

Though helping thus to break up the government of the new colony, Bishop Selwyn fairly captured the affections of the colonists themselves. He arrived at Lyttelton within a few days of their landing, and held a meeting with the four clergy who had then arrived. He was with them again in February, and again in the following November, when he laid down directions for the management of their ecclesiastical concerns. In the bitter disappointment caused by the repeated failure to secure a bishop of their own, the clergy and laity of Canterbury were all the more ready to welcome the help and advice of one who, like Melchizedek, met them with the bread and wine of human kindness and of divine ministration. They were jealously sensitive of their independence, and of their reputation as being the Church Settlement par excellence, but Selwyn treated them with wise consideration. He removed one inefficient priest to the North Island; he urged the Christchurch clergy to interest themselves in the few Maori villages of Banks Peninsula; he gave his warm approval to the establishment of daily services at Lyttelton; but for the most part he left the direction of affairs (after the departure of Mr. Godley) in the hands of his commissary, Archdeacon Mathias. So charmed were the colonists with the bishop's personality that it became a constant saying among them that "the fractional part we are actually enjoying of Bishop Selwyn is better than a whole new bishop to ourselves."

The limits of this book permit of little beyond a bare mention of the Melanesian Mission, which during the years 1850 to 1853 was being successfully prosecuted. This was Bishop Selwyn's own idea; the islands were virgin soil; and their teeming peoples afforded an abundant outlet for the bishop's missionary zeal, which was rather hampered in New Zealand itself by the presence of the older missionaries. Every voyage resulted in some dark-skinned youths being brought to St. John's College for Christian education with the Maori and English scholars.

Vigorous and successful, however, as were the operations in the distant corners of the field, they were balanced by heavy trials nearer home. In 1851 the bishop lost by an early death his only daughter, and in 1853 a storm of evil swept through his college, and nearly broke the spirit of its founder. Two of his most trusted helpers flagrantly betrayed their trust; their evil influence spread to others, and for a time the whole establishment was dispersed. Indeed the Maori portion never reassembled. One student had stood out with conspicuous faithfulness amidst the general falling away, and this man (Rota Waitoa) the bishop now ordained to the diaconate--the first of his race to receive Holy Orders. On the last day of this "year of sorrow," the bishop and his family left the now partially dismantled college for a visit to England. They never lived in the old home after their return, and this moment may be considered as the end of the communistic experiment which had been so hopefully begun at Waimate in 1843. Like Marsden's seminary at Parramatta, this also had failed, and for the same reasons.

When the bishop arrived in London on May 5th, 1855, he met with a warm reception, and forthwith proceeded to carry out his policy of conciliation. Together with Sir George Grey, he visited the Church Missionary House, and pleaded with the Society for the reinstatement of Archdeacon Henry Williams. The Society had by this time come to realise the error of its action, for many of its supporters throughout the country had been agitating for an enquiry. The Committee were therefore not unwilling to accede to the wishes of the two august visitors, and a letter was soon sent to New Zealand, asking the archdeacon to overlook the past, and to take once more his honoured place on the staff of the mission. Henry Williams accepted the overture--tardy as it was--and from his residence at Pakaraka continued to carry on his old work during the remainder of his life.

But the bishop did more than render justice to one ill-used helper. He won over the Society itself to his side by proposing to establish three new bishoprics in New Zealand, each of which should have a missionary as its first head. The scheme was never fully carried out, as the course of our history will show; but its non-fulfilment was due to circumstances which could not at the moment be foreseen.

In the larger world of English life, also, the bishop made his mark. A course of Advent sermons before the University of Cambridge had a wonderful effect in stimulating the interest of the Church in foreign missions. An appeal for funds for Melanesia resulted in £10,000 being raised within a few weeks, and also in the gift of a new ship for the island work; a letter to a young friend who remembered Selwyn's parting sermon in 1841 secured the noble and saintly Patteson for the same mission; an interview with another of his early friends--Henry Harper, vicar of the Berkshire village of Strathfield Mortimer--won from this humble parish priest the promise to come out to New Zealand for the bishopric of Christ-church, as soon as a duly authorised request should be forthcoming. Altogether, Selwyn was able to feel that his visit had been successful in its objects, and he returned to his diocese in 1855 with new heart for the work, and new means for its effective prosecution.

As soon as possible after his arrival he proceeded to Canterbury, and once more convened a meeting of its principal churchmen. Ecclesiastical affairs had not prospered in this settlement as its promoters had anticipated. Godley had left in 1852, and the diocese had become wearied with the continual disappointment of its hopes of seeing a bishop of its own. The meeting at first urged Selwyn himself to take the position of Bishop of Christchurch, and on his refusing this offer, a unanimous resolution was carried in favour of his friend and nominee, the Rev. Henry John Chitty Harper. By Christmas, 1856, the new bishop had arrived, and was installed on Christmas Day in the little pro-Cathedral of St. Michael, Christ-church, amidst the eager expectation of the community. Selwyn was present at the arrival of his friend, and also at the installation service. At last he was able to hand over some part of his diocese to an episcopal colleague: that colleague, moreover, being a man whom he had known in his early days, and from whom he had received his own first impulse towards the work of the ministry.

At peace with Henry Williams and the other missionaries; at peace with the Church Missionary Society; at peace with the Canterbury colonists, and secure in the loyal friendship of their bishop; he could now press forward with a project which had long occupied his thoughts, viz., the binding together of the varied elements of the Church into one united and organised whole.

NOTE.--As throwing light upon the proposed bishoprics mentioned in this chapter, and also as showing the thoughts which were at this time passing through Bishop Selwyn's mind, it may be well to quote the following passage from a letter written by him in England to his friend the Rev. E. Coleridge (Aug. 14, 1854):

"If the organisation of the New Zealand Church had been a little more advanced towards completion, I should gladly have availed myself of the consent already obtained to the appointment of the Venerable Archdeacon Abraham to succeed me in the See of Auckland; the archdeaconries of Wellington, Waiapu, and Tauranga being, as it is proposed, erected into bishoprics, and placed under the episcopal care of the present Archdeacons Hadfield, W. Williams, and Brown. Knowing the difficulties which are thought to stand in the way of the creation of missionary bishoprics, I should then have gladly undertaken the charge of Melanesia as my own diocese, retaining only such an interest in New Zealand as might connect me still with the councils of its Church, and give me a central home and resting-place among my own countrymen."

The boldness and grandeur of this scheme have hardly been sufficiently realised. An ecclesiastical province divided into small dioceses, with missionaries at their head, and its primate spending his time in the foreign mission field: what an object lesson to the whole Church New Zealand would hare presented!

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