Project Canterbury

A History of the English Church in New Zealand

By H.T. Purchas

Christchurch: Simpson and Williams, 1914.

Authorities for the History of the Church in New Zealand

The student of New Zealand Church History needs to glean his information, bit by bit, from many quarters, but there are certain outstanding authorities to which he will go at the outset. These are not all of equal value, and they need to be used with discrimination.

For the life and work of Samuel Marsden, the promised volume by the late Dr. Hocken should take the first place. Meanwhile, the "Memoirs" published by the Religious Tract Society in 1858 are of primary importance. The book has been reprinted in modified form by Messrs. Whitcombe and Tombs (1913). The editor, Mr. Drummond, has been able to correct a few mistakes, and has supplied some additional information. The original author, the Rev. J. B. Marsden, had no personal knowledge of his hero nor of the scenes of his labours. He consequently falls into error here and there, but his book gives a faithful and interesting picture of the religious side of the great missionary's life and work. Another side is presented in the "Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand" (1817) by John Liddiard Nicholas, whose book has the high authority of an eye-witness. Much useful information on the work of Marsden and his helpers has been collected in Brett's "Early History of New Zealand" (Auckland, 1890).

For the subsequent history of the mission, the chief available authority is "Christianity among the New Zealanders," by the first Bishop of Waiapu (London, 1867). Living on the spot, and being one of the principal actors in the events which he describes, the bishop is able to give a detailed account whose value is only marred by the mistakes made by the English printers in the spelling of Maori names.

For the Selwynian period, the "Life and Episcopate" of the great bishop by Prebendary Tucker (two vols., London, 1879) is a primary authority. Its value is seriously diminished by the author's want of acquaintance with New Zealand geography, and still more by his studied disparagement of the Church Missionary Society, but his book remains indispensable for its collection of letters. A useful corrective to Tucker may be found in Dr. Eugene Stock's History of the C.M.S.--a book which, in spite of some startling inaccuracies, throws a welcome light on many obscure passages of our history.

More reliable than either of these varying presentations of the bishop's policy and work is the small volume of "Annals of the Colonial Church. Diocese of New Zealand" (London, 1857), which contains the bishop's journals for the first years of his episcopate. Lady Martin's unpretending little book on "Our Maoris" is extremely valuable as coming from one who was a devoted member of the Selwyn circle.

The unhappy controversy between Bishop Selwyn and Archdeacon Henry Williams had at least this good result, that it led to the compilation of a full and authoritative life of the latter by his son-in-law, Mr. Hugh Carleton (two vols., Auckland, 1874 and 1877). When allowance is made for the personal bias of the talented author who fights both governor and bishop "with the gloves off," the book remains an authority of the first rank.

The Rev. J. King Davis' "History of St. John's College" (Auckland); Bishop Cowie's "Our Last Year in New Zealand" (London, 1888); and Canon Mason's "Round the Round World on a Church Mission" (London, 1892), may also be mentioned as supplying interesting details of church work, especially in the mother diocese of Auckland.

On the whole, it must be said that in contrast with the Melanesian Mission, which possesses its biographies of Bishop Patteson and Bishop J. R. Selwyn, its detailed history by Mrs. Armstrong, and several other books of a descriptive and historical character, the New Zealand Church is meagrely provided. The early missionaries themselves published little. Yate's "Account of New Zealand" (1835), and Taylor's "Te Ika a Maui" (London, 1855), and his "Past and Present of New Zealand" (1868), stand almost alone. Some journals have been printed for private circulation; others are only available in MS.; others again have been destroyed. No biography exists of any of our bishops except those of Selwyn by Tucker and Curteis, and that of Bishop Harper by the present writer. Yet where could be found a better subject for a memoir than Bishop Hadfield? Bishop William Williams also should surely have his biography, but the materials for such a book seem to have been used as fuel by the British soldiers during the siege of Waerenga-a-hika in 1868. Archdeacons Brown and Maunsell also deserve that their life histories should be told. The founders of Canterbury should not be allowed to pass into oblivion. Altogether there remains much work to be done by the historical student of the future.

Project Canterbury