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Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911

Hokitika, June 1st, 1875

Hokitika, June 1st, 1875.

My dear St. John,

Thlings are changing here; many have left for other fields in Australia, and the population, which once ran into tens of thousands, is rapidly diminishing. This seems to be the story of all goldfields, as the production of alluvial gold declines, and deep sinking or quartz mining takes its place. Capital is needed; companies employ labour; individual enterprise disappears, and, for a time at any rate, the yield of gold is small.

Moreover, this country of forest and soil, like the primary formations of Scotland or Wales, gives little promise of successful agriculture. Coal, which is found here of excellent quality, and timber, will in future be largely exploited, but at present they are only used for local needs.

With this in view, the Bishop came to the conclusion that, as the pioneer work of the Church in Westland, to a great extent, had led to a well established order of things, my services were needed in South Canterbury, where hitherto little beyond mission work has yet been attempted. He wishes, therefore, to remove me to Timaru, the centre of South Canterbury, a large agricultural and pastoral district, but page break
Henry W. Harper, M.A.Archdeacon of Timaru and Westland.

Henry W. Harper, M.A.
Archdeacon of Timaru and Westland.

page 187at the same time to retain Westland under my supervision as Archdeacon.

You will understand my reluctance to leave a place and people of such unique character as this; nine years of experience that few can have had; a sphere of work that promised so little, yet has yielded such results. "Going there?" said an old Missionary in London, who had heard a good deal of the wilderness of forest in Westland, and its rainfall; "Take an old hand's advice, don't be discouraged, and if it rains, let it rain." "Have you any idea," said another, "of the sort of parishioners you'll find on a goldfield?" and he insisted on presenting me with a pair of pocket pistols! Another expressed his opinion to a mutual friend that an Eton and Oxford man was not the sort for gold diggers. For some time after coming here, the problem was always haunting me how to influence such men as I had to deal with, and to lead them to higher things than the love of gold, adventure, and the joy of full-blooded strong life; men of independent habits of life and thought, who had travelled, seen the big world, rough and ready for any enterprise; amongst them all sorts and conditions, meeting you with a sense of the common equality of manhood,—so different to the inherited subserviency of men who labour with their hands in the old country. Was it right, as I often asked myself, to let the man come first, and the parson second? I may have been wrong, but I found myself instinctively in that attitude. I am tempted to tell you something in illustration of this:

Meeting a friend who had lately come by coach across the hills from Christchurch, he remarked that, on the top of the coach my name had been mentioned, page 188and he thought I might like to hear what was said; "your character was freely discussed."

"Do you know the Archdeacon? I hear him so well spoken of." "Yes," said another, "he's a good man, but I doubt,—I don't think he's a converted man."

"Converted man!" said a miner, "I don't know much about your converted men; I take a man as I find him, and with us chaps the Archdeacon comes and goes, as if he were one of us, and he's always welcome. 'What do you say of him?'" addressing the driver.

"Yes," he said, "I agree with you; I take a man as I find him; he's been with me, often, on the coach, helping me with the brakes, and in some tight places, too, and when there's any trouble, I'd as soon have him with me as any man."

This set me thinking; perhaps it amounts to not much more than a natural aptitude for human fellowship which opens the door to men's hearts; perhaps only that, without any further entrance to the inner sanctuary. And yet; now and then there is something by the way, a chance word of encouragement, such as met me not long ago from a visitor to Westland. "I am glad to meet you. I've been here a short time, and am much interested in the place. I'm no Churchman, and not much of a Church goer; but I believe in all that makes for bettering the world. How is it? I find that the Church is a regular Institution here; how do you manage it? How do you do it?" It is this sort of message which makes me slow to leave a place, where, with all that has been left undone, and the best so imperfectly done, the work, in God's good providence, for which I was sent, has prospered so well.