Project Canterbury

A History of the English Church in New Zealand

By H.T. Purchas

Christchurch: Simpson and Williams, 1914.

Chapter XVI.


The heart less bounding at emotion new;
And hope, once crushed, less quick to spring again.
--M. Arnold.

IF the religious condition of the Maoris was such as to cause lasting grief to their teachers, there was not much in white New Zealand to relieve the picture. For the crash of the war period had been even greater than the foregoing pages have shown. Nothing has been said about the troubles at Nelson, where the earnest and faithful Bishop Hobhouse broke down under the factious opposition of his laity; nothing of the depression which stopped the building of Christchurch Cathedral, and led to the proposal for the sale of the site for government offices; nothing of the closing of St. John's College at Auckland, as well through lack of students as through lack of funds. But something must be said about one trouble which had begun before Selwyn's departure, but reached its acutest phase during the years that followed:

The colony of Otago, though founded as a Presbyterian settlement, contained from the first a few English churchmen; and at the beginning of 1852 an Anglican clergyman, the Rev. J. Fenton, began work in Dunedin. He was greatly helped by the famous whaler "Johnny Jones," who afterwards gave 64 sections of land in his own township of Waikouaiti as an endowment for a church in that place.

When Bishop Harper was appointed to the see of Christchurch in 1856, Otago and Southland formed part of his diocese, and his long journeys on horseback through these districts were among the most arduous and adventurous labours of his episcopate. He retained them until June 4th, 1871, when, as primate, he consecrated the Rev. S. T. Neville to the bishopric of Dunedin; and on the same day, as bishop, resigned these southern portions of his original diocese.

But there was another claimant to the office--one, moreover, who was considered by the English episcopate to be its rightful occupant. How could such an extraordinary situation have arisen? The blame must lie (as Bishop W. L. Williams points out) somewhere between Bishop Selwyn and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Longley). Something that was written by the former in 1865 caused the latter to select, and eventually to consecrate, one of his clergy, the Rev. H. L. Jenner, for a diocese which was not yet formed, and for a people who always protested against his appointment.

A mystery still hangs over the precise motives which actuated the archbishop. But perhaps they can be conjectured with a fair degree of probability. The letter upon which he acted arrived in England not long after the news of Volkner's murder. It was hard for those who had never left England to realise the difference between the Hauhau-ridden north and the law-abiding south of such a distant country as New Zealand. The archbishop might well think that his best course was to send out another bishop as soon as possible, without waiting for compliance with constitutional formalities. Accordingly he consecrated the Rev. H. L. Jenner "to be a bishop in New Zealand"--leaving the local authorities to determine the exact locality of his labours.

But no such ignorance can be pleaded for Bishop Selwyn. When he wrote the letter to the Primate of All England he was fresh from the great synod of 1865, where the whole constitution had been revised, and the procedure in the election of a bishop made more clear and precise. How could he violate a law which he himself had just subscribed? The only answer is that he did not violate it. His letter can have contained no such request as the archbishop imagined. Selwyn himself was as much startled as anyone, when he found what his letter had led to. But obedience to authority was the ruling principle of his life, and, like another Strafford, he determined to take upon himself the whole responsibility for what was done. It was doubtless an act of heroism, but a simple insistence upon the plain truth would have prevented much misunderstanding, and saved the New Zealand Church some years of trouble.

For the appointment of a bishop there must be the consent of the local synod, and also that of the General Synod of New Zealand. Dunedin had no synod, but its church people were represented by a small assembly called a Rural Deanery Board. Bishop Selwyn brought all his influence to bear upon this body, and in 1867 secured a small majority on a motion of acquiescence in the appointment of Mr. Jenner. But the tide soon turned again. Mr. Peter Carr Young, who had moved the resolution of acquiescence, Was called to England, and found Bishop Jenner taking part in a service (at St. Matthias', Stoke Newington) whose extreme ritual was quite sufficient to bewilder an old-fashioned churchman. In his alarm he sent protests both to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to New Zealand. The archbishop expressed his deep regret, and soon afterwards died. The people of Otago were excited and indignant. The case was remitted to the General Synod (1868). In spite of Selwyn's vehement and farewell advocacy, that body refused to confirm Bishop Jenner's claim to the see of Dunedin, though recognising him of course as a bishop in the Christian Church.

Dr. Jenner was still unsatisfied. In the following year he came in person to Dunedin, and won over several church people to his side. A regular synod had now been formed, and everything depended upon its action. The meeting was held in April. It was the most stormy synod of our history. From 4 p.m. on April 8 to 6 a.m. on April 9 it debated Dr. Jenner's claim. Of the seven clergy, four finally voted in his favour, but the laity, by 15 to 10, negatived the motion of acceptance. Bishop Harper occupied the chair all through the night, and was subjected to vehement attacks from the Jenner side. But he showed such admirable temper and Christian forbearance that the leading opponent, who, on the first day, refused to join in a simple motion of congratulation to the new primate, was conspicuous at the end of the session in supporting the vote of thanks to the president.

Bishop Jenner left the country soon afterwards, but he never withdrew his claims. In this attitude he was supported by the Bishop of Lichfield and by the rest of the English episcopate. The synodical system of the New Zealand Church is justly looked upon as one of the greatest achievements of Selwyn's life. There is something tragic in the reflection that he ended by flouting its authority.

The consecration of Bishop Neville on June 4, 1871, raised the episcopal bench to seven--its present number. But a sore trouble was impending. The New Zealand bishops were full of anxiety for the health of their young colleague in Melanesia, and before leaving Dunedin they wrote to him an affectionate letter, in which they urged him to leave his work for a time and to seek rest in England. They little thought how soon he was to find his rest, not in his earthly home, but in the heavenly Fatherland itself.

Their anxiety for Bishop Patteson's health was amply justified. During the previous year he had come to Auckland to be treated for some internal inflammation. Here his patience and sweetness had won all hearts, and his friends saw him off to his distant diocese with sad misgivings. He accomplished a lengthy voyage amongst the islands, amidst most favourable conditions, but he did not feel well enough to attend the General Synod which met in Dunedin in Feb. 1871. "I regret very much," he wrote, "that I am unable to attend the meeting of the General Synod. I know full well how the very life of the mission is involved in its connection with the Province of New Zealand, and I earnestly wish to express in every way that I can my sense of the value of this connection, and my respect to the General Synod." The mission, he said, was flourishing, and was able to pay its way. But his heart was sore at the labour-traffic which was carrying off his islanders to the plantations of Queensland and Fiji. On this subject he sent to the synod a powerfully-worded memorandum, which, as we read it now amongst the synodical documents, seems to be written with his heart's blood. The synod passed a warm motion of sympathy with himself and his labours. The motion was forwarded to Norfolk Island by the primate, and reached the bishop on the day before that on which he began his last voyage. His reply deals with so many points of importance that it must be given at length:

"My dear Primate,--Your kind letter of March 7th has just reached me. The Southern Cross arrived to-day; and we sail (D.V.) to-morrow for a four or five months' voyage, as I hope. I am pretty well, always with 'sensations,' but not in pain; and I think that I shall be better in the warm climate of the Islands during the winter.

"I did not at all suppose that the Synod would have taken any notice, and much less such very kind notice, of my absence. Many dear friends, I know full well, think of and pray for me and for us all.

"The point in my memorandum that I ought to have pressed more clearly, perhaps, is this, viz., the mode adopted in many cases for procuring islanders for the plantations. I am concerned to show that in not a few cases deceit and violence are used in enticing men and lads on board, and in keeping them confined when on board. I don't profess to know much of the treatment of the Islanders on the plantations.

"I am very thankful to hear that the Dunedin question is settled at length, and so satisfactorily.

"The synod papers are not yet brought up in our things from the Southern Cross. And as I am off (D.V.) to-morrow, and am very busy now, I shall hope to read them quietly on board.

"I must end. Melanesians and English folk are streaming in and out of my room.

"Yours very truly,


How the voyage ended is well known. The heavy mallet of one islander at Nukapu gave the brave and saintly bishop instantaneous release from his sufferings; the poisoned arrows of others caused the death, after lingering agony, of two of his companions, the missionary Joseph Atkin and a Melanesian teacher. The bishop's body, as it was found floating down the lagoon, bore five wounds, inflicted doubtless in vengeance for the violent capture of five islanders by the very traffic against which the bishop had sent his protest to the synod.

For nearly six years the Melanesian Mission remained without a bishop, under the faithful leadership of Dr. Codrington. But Patteson's loss could not be replaced, nor could that of Atkin, who had managed the navigation department. Many years elapsed before the lost ground--especially in the Solomons--could be recovered.

Much good work was done in many of the parishes of New Zealand during the decade of the 'seventies, and Patteson's martyrdom was not fruitless. But, outwardly, the Church continued weak. Wellington had lost Bishop Abraham in 1870, and, in his place, elected Archdeacon Hadfield in recognition of his magnificent services. But the new bishop's health was still precarious, and he failed to acquire amongst the settlers the influence which he had formerly wielded amongst the Maoris. Dunedin was still torn by the party spirit of the Jenner controversy; in Waiapu, Bishop Williams was drawing toward the end of his long and arduous life.

The weakness of the Church was revealed in a sad and startling manner when the Provinces were abolished in 1876. The civil government became centralised, at a time when the ecclesiastical organisation had lost its central unity, and its power of bringing pressure to bear on national legislation. When, in 1877, an Education bill was introduced into parliament, the Church not only found herself outvoted, but was not even represented in any effective way. The only parts of the colony which could take up a strong and consistent position were Nelson and Westland. In these districts the English Church, under Bishop Suter and Archdeacon Harper, had co-operated with the Roman Catholics and other bodies under their respective leaders, and had carried on an effective and successful system of denominational schools. But nothing like this could be shown elsewhere. Canterbury had renounced church schools in 1873, an< na( reduced the religious instruction in its provincial schools to a minimum of "history sacred and profane"; Otago and Wellington had retained Bible-reading, but were greatly divided as to the necessity of its continuance; Auckland had compromised with the Roman difficulty by adopting secularism pure and simple.

Three solutions of the "religious difficulty" were thus before the House of Representatives. No reference was made by any of the speakers to the blessings which the Christian religion had conferred upon the country. The torn and bleeding state of Maori Christianity prevented one side from pointing to it as an example; the other side--if mindful at all of its existence--was too generous to point at it as a warning. Fear of Rome seemed to be the dominating motive with most of the members, but a small secularist minority made itself conspicuous. The Nelson, or de-nominationalist, system had broken down in the larger settlements through want of good leadership and generous co-operation; the government scheme of elementary Bible-reading, though more widely favoured, was so feebly advocated that its opponents could with some justice pronounce it a "farce"; and finally the secular party won the day by a considerable majority. Nothing was left to the Churches of the land but the opportunity for their ministers to enter the schools, before or after school hours, and to give instruction to such children as might choose to attend.

But the period through which we have been passing was not all gloom. In the diocese of Auckland, Bishop Cowie was able to re-open St. John's College, and to place it under the charge of Dr. Kinder. Immigrants were pouring into his diocese to settle upon the confiscated lands, and the bishop set himself to follow them up into the remotest settlements. In small schooners and rough cattle-boats he journeyed round the coast; on bullock-waggons and on horseback he traversed the almost impassable roads. Thus he made himself the friend of the settlers, and gradually provided them with the ministrations of religion.

In the South Island, Bishop Suter, who was appointed to succeed Bishop Hobhouse in 1866, worked vigorously and successfully in the rough mining settlements of the west coast, as well as among the sheltered valleys around Nelson, and the sheep stations on the eastern coast. In Canterbury, Bishop Harper laboured on with much success, and saw a number of churches built during this decade.

Early in the year 1877 the long interregnum in Melanesia came to its close. Bishop Patteson's death had stirred (among others) John Richardson Selwyn, the great bishop's New Zealand-born son, to offer himself for missionary work. He was too young at the time for the episcopal office, and even when he reached the canonical age his friends were doubtful if his health would bear the strain; but he threw himself with ardour into the work of the mission, and soon came to be regarded as its future head. He was consecrated at Nelson on Feb.18th, 1877, and soon proved his fitness for the difficult work he had undertaken.

In the previous year, Bishop Williams had just concluded a half-century of devoted and apostolic labour in New Zealand, when he was stricken with paralysis, and shortly afterwards (May 31, 1876) resigned his see. After a considerable interval, an Indian missionary, Edward Craig Stuart, was elected to succeed him, and was consecrated at Napier in December, 1877. The retiring bishop lived long enough to welcome his successor, but was not able to join in his consecration.

In the following year, George Augustus Selwyn died at Lichfield. He had never ceased to take an interest in New Zealand: in his palace chapel he had put up a memorial window to the heroic Henare Taratoa; he had taken the retired bishops Hobhouse and Abraham as his coadjutors; and, in the hours of unconsciousness which preceded the last breath, he murmured two sayings which seemed to go back to the old days of toil among the Maoris and at St. John's College. One was, "They will come back." The other, "Who's seeing to that work?"

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