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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 3, November 1958

Nelson's Three First Clergymen

page 10

Nelson's Three First Clergymen

The work of three of the earliest clergymen in the Nelson district was traced by Archdeacon H. F. Ault in an address given at the annual meeting of the Nelson Historical Society.

Archdeacon Ault pointed out that the privations and hardships of the times portrayed in early letters and records were tremendous. Physical exertion was nothing to these early pioneers, he said, and it was nothing for them to walk miles to conduct services and administer to the needs of their parishioners.

The first clergyman to come to Nelson was the veteran Bishop Hadfield, Archdeacon Ault said. He came over to Nelson by open boat in March, 1842, slightly later than the settlement in February. He travelled around conducting services.

The first resident clergyman was the Rev. C. W. Saxton, who came out as a settler originally, not as a clergyman, and he settled at Stoke with his wife and a child who was born aboard ship, in May, 1842. Both Bishop Hadfield and Captain Arthur Wakefield had conducted services periodically before Mr Saxton arrived.

Archdeacon Ault read two letters written by Mrs Saxton, one on board the ship Clifford, on the way out from England. The letter contained several humorous references to shipboard conditions of those days.

According to the other letter, on arrival at Nelson Mr and Mrs Saxton found that the poor people lived in huts made of fern with whole families in one room. Wages of 6/- a day were paid to labourers, but the difficulty was there were not sufficient moneyed gentry to provide the work.

Prices were high with pork at 9d. lb., potatoes very scarce and 1/- a lb., and groceries very dear.

This letter was written on July 16, and just a month later Mrs Saxton died of fever. Mr Saxton buried her at Nelson South on August 15, and conducted the service himself. The funeral expenses were £16 and doctor's fees £12/12/-, Archdeacon Ault related.

When Bishop selwyn arrived in Nelson he brought with him the Rev. C. L. Reay who was given charge of the district. He had brought with him a tent in which to conduct services.

Mr Saxton was offered the curacy. During the time of the Wairau massacre Mr Reay was away in Auckland and Mr Saxton ministered the people in their distress.

Mr Saxton later had a distinguished career after serving a curacy for a period. He was appointed headmaster of the Grammar School at Newport on his return to England after two years in Nelson and in 1847 took his Doctor of Divinity degree.

Early in 1847 Mr Reay was transferred by Bishop Selwyn to the east coast of the North Island, where he died a year later.

Archdeacon Ault referred to a third early clergyman, the Rev. H. F. Butt, F.R.C.S. The son of a clergyman, the Rev. J. M. Butt, he was trained as a surgeon and came to New Zealand as a medical missionary with Bishop Selwyn.

Mr Butt was remembered in Nelson as the man who laid the foundation stone of the first Christ Church on the hill at the head of Trafalgar street on July 25, 1850. This was the first of three churches to be erected there.

In 1887 Bishop Harper laid the foundation stone and named the first Cathedral there. The present Cathedral, begun in 1925, was still to be completed.

Mr Butt, who first taught medicine at Auckland, was ordained in September 1843, and came to Nelson, where he served for 10 years, to relieve Mr Reay.

There were several memorials to him in the Blenheim church, as he was subsequently transferred to a large parish at Wairau, Archdeacon Ault said.