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Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911


page 335


Timaru, December 1st, 1907.

My dear St. John,

For some time there has been a general desire to complete St. Mary's Church. We have occupied the nave, with a temporary chancel, for many years. The times are favourable; business is prosperous. At a Parish Meeting lately held the project was discussed, as our laymen are wont to discuss financial matters, in a thoroughly practical way, and, as a leading parishioner put it in most generous terms to myself, "We want to see the work completed in your lifetime, and of those who still remain with us of the original pioneers of the place."

I need not say what pleasure this proposal gave me, but knowing that it would mean some £10,000 of expenditure, all of which must come from the people, and thinking of the ordinary claims upon them for the maintenance of Church work, I thought it right to hesitate. "Were they prepared for the cost? I would, as before, do all I could, but they must take the responsibility of it. Had the scheme been well thought out? After so long a period as their Vicar, I could not expect many more years of effective working power. If I could be sure that such a venture would not impair the revenue necessary for the Spiritual work page 336of the Parish, I should count it the greatest privilege and reward to see St. Mary's completed. There would be few, if any churches, either in New Zealand or Australia, to excel it, whether for beauty of design or solidity of structure. It would be, so far as any material building can be, for many a century a witness to God's glory, and the loyal devotion of St. Mary's people. But facts must be faced. Could they reasonably expect to meet the cost?" There was no doubt as to the answer. The scheme had the support of the Churchwardens and Vestry, including clear-headed business men, Captain Wray, Messrs. M. J. Knubley, C. H. Tripp, C. Perry, J. Shepherd, and others. A Building Committee was chosen to act with the Vestry, Mr. R. W. Simpson being Secretary and Treasurer, who had given much thought and time to the matter.

Mr. Armson, the late architect of the church, had left sketch plans for its completion in the hands of Messrs. Collins and Harman, his successors. These provided for the completion of the tower on foundations already laid, with a broached spire, a chancel and sanctuary with apsidal end, organ chamber and vestry, all in keeping with the Early English style of the nave. We decided on certain changes: a square ending to the sanctuary instead of an apse, more after the style of Early English than the apse, which is distinctly French. Moreover, it admits of far more light, and by its height of roof greatly increases the dignity of the sanctuary. In place of the original plan of vestry and organ chamber, which were too small, a transept has been designed, or, strictly speaking, a side-chapel, opening into the chancel by a large archway, with room for the organ and a number of sittings. From this a cloister passage leads to a vestry page 337detached from the main building, octagonal in shape, twenty-five feet in breadth at each angle, with plenty of space, not only for a numerous choir, but for church meetings. Underneath the passage is a crypt, with a chamber for heating apparatus, organ water-power machinery, and church properties. On the northern side of the sanctuary a second vestry for the clergy is provided; and in place of the tower and spire, as designed by Mr. Armson, we have substituted a tower, later in date than the rest of the church, in the Perpendicular style. Although Timaru has always been free from earthquakes, which in Christchurch have twice damaged the cathedral spire, we though it best to avoid risk, and build a tower instead of a spire.

Architecture has been one of my fads, most useful I have found, not only when travelling on holiday, but for the material of lectures, and especially in a new country when one has to deal with church building. In regard to that, I am, of course, the merest amateur, but one's knowledge, such as it is, has often enabled me to give useful advice. I have a large collection of photographs and some instructive books. I have also gone in for the study of stained glass, and the mechanism of organs. It all works in well with my professional business as a parson, to say nothing of the recreation it affords. And when the chance of a holiday ramble in the old world comes, there is, I think, nothing like some particular purpose, whatever else comes in your way. Mine has been architecture, glass, and the history enshrined in the great buildings of past centuries.

The new plans prepared by Messrs. Collins and Harman are very satisfactory. A contract has been entered into for the work with Mr. S. McBride, a local page 338builder. It will probably take two years to complete. By way of illustration of the manner in which church-people here are entering on what is certainly a considerable venture of faith, I should like to mention an incident which occurred during a long discussion in the Building Committee, just a few words from one of them, a shrewd business man. "I should be the last to make light of the business aspect of this question; lately I had to decide for myself whether or not to take the risk of considerable expense in developing my own particular business, and I took it. I had good reason for doing so. In the matter now before us, ought we not to remember that it is no ordinary concern, but that it is God's business? From all I can see, I have no doubt that we may count on His blessing, whatever the risk may be."

We have had a great function at the laying of the foundation, or rather, corner-stone of the new part of the church. The Bishop was present, and at his request I laid the stone myself. It was our weekly Thursday half-holiday, and a great concourse of people were present. All the new work will be of the same construction as the nave; the walls of solid ashlar work, squared blocks of our hard dolerite stone outside, with similar blocks of Oamaru limestone inside, no rubble being used except in the core of the massive tower walls. The natural foundation of the church is a very stiff clay, almost as hard as rock, but the architects have provided for deep stone and concrete foundations, with good drainage. The chancel arch has been temporarily blocked up to enable us to use the nave still for service. Mr. Panton, a resident architect, has been appointed to superintend the work.

You can understand that our venture, which in-page 339volves the expenditure of many thousands, has aroused a good deal of comment. Is there not good reason for limiting the cost of a church, so long as it is sufficient for its purpose, and thus setting free your resources for the better development of the Church's real work in its influence on men's hearts and lives? The general opinion, I think, is with us. A noble building is a public witness to God's glory, perhaps all the more so in a new country where the material interests of life predominate. The silent teaching of cathedrals and churches in the old country has been of great influence; we need it even more here. I am tempted to quote Ruskin's words of those great buildings: "All else which the builders aimed at has passed away; all their living interests and achievements, victory, wealth, authority, happiness, all have departed, though bought by many a bitter sacrifice. But of them and their life and their toil upon the earth one evidence is left to us in these grey heaps of deep wrought stone. They have taken with them to the grave their powers, their honours, and their errors, but they have left us their Adoration."

I have lately had some visitors on their way to the Alpine district of Mt. Cook, for which Timaru is the point of departure. It is becoming a great holiday resort for Australians as well as New Zealanders. Years ago, in 1882, the Rev. W. S. Green, a well-known member of the Alpine Club, came out here, with two Swiss guides, Boss and Kaufman. In those days there were no facilities, such as exist now, to aid the climber, no local guides, no huts, no experience, except that of a few shepherds who had, in course of their work, ascended some height. The icefields in the Southern Alps are on a larger scale even than page 340those in Switzerland. The Great Tasman Glacier, which Green and his companions had to traverse from end to end, is longer and wider than the Mer de Glace. Like most New Zealand glaciers of its kind, its surface is covered with rock and stones, the débris of the mountains, which made the journey very toilsome. Mt. Cook is 12,350 feet in height, but as the perpetual snow level is much lower here than in Switzerland, there is as much ice and snow to be tackled as in a mountain of fifteen thousand feet elsewhere. After trying in vain to make an ascent from either end of the mountain, they made their way across the slopes which descend from the highest peak, and thence on to the southern shoulder, from which they reached the ice-cap on the top, but were brought up by a deep. steep-sided trench in the ice, within about one hundred feet of the actual summit. It was nearly dark; bad weather was coming on; there was no time to cut steps down and up again out of the trench, so they reluctantly turned back and found a sort of shelter all night under a projecting rock. "There," said Green to me, as he sat in my study, on a Sunday evening after Service, on his return, "There, we had just as much standing ground as you might have on your hearth-rug holding on to the mantelpiece,—three of us, roped together, all night, with nothing but a few meat lozenges, pipes without tobacco, and an abyss of thousands of feet behind us." In the dim morning light they made their way down to their nearest camp, but with great risk, having to cross snow bridges over crevasses which were rapidly thawing. For a month they had not been heard of, since their departure from the nearest sheep station. Green published an account of his ascent, illustrated by excellent sketches of his page 341own, full of interest, not only to the climber, but for its description of the general features of the Mount Cook country.

Since then several successful ascents have been made by New Zealanders and others, not only of Mt. Cook, but of other peaks, only a little lower, but as difficult. There are a great number of them, and every opportunity for those who wish for new heights to conquer. Very few accidents have as yet occurred, none, I think, fatal, but unless great care is taken there will be many. Avalanches and falling stones are frequent. The Nor'west winds, which seem to be generated in these Alps, are especially dangerous in the Autumn season, when climbing takes place. They are hot and strong, with the natural result of melting snow. Much discussion has taken place as to their origin. At one time it was held that they came from Australia. I doubt it. A thousand miles of ocean would surely deprive them of heat. When I was in Westland, which lies all along the western flanks of the Alps, heavy rain always took place when dry Nor'westers were at work on the eastern side of the mountains. It was not a lee shore, no westerly wind from Australia; and often, when I have been riding in early morning in the high country on the eastern side of the Alps, a perfectly still morning till about ten o'clock, suddenly, with a great blast, a Nor'wester would spring upon you, as if it were brewed there and then. Maybe it is due to the heat of a southern sun acting on the immense surface of rock and ice and snow, causing a vacuum in the air, into which the colder air of the western forest-covered slopes would rush.

There is much to attract holiday makers in our page 342Alps besides the snow and ice and the exhilarating peril of climbing. As a matter of sport which calls out all the most active energies of foot and hand and eye, there is much to be said for it. But for those who care for something more than physical fitness there is much to be seen and learnt, especially on the western slopes of the Mountains. Instead of bare rock and snow and ice, it is a land of forest and fern, waterfalls and streams, luxuriant undergrowth of evergreen shrubs, and, unlike, I believe, any other Alpine country, glaciers bordered by trees and bush, which might suggest a semi-tropical climate. A botanist will find there much to interest him. I believe that out of more than a thousand plants, many flowering, found there, three quarters are found nowhere else. It is a matter at present of walking, and readiness to rough it, but it may safely be asserted that there are no finer walks in the world, and, save for a good amount of rain, no better climate for hard exercise.

I am,
Yours ever,

H. W. H.