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Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911


page 151


Hokitika, Westland, N.Z., May 4th, 1869.

My dear St. John,

I was lately in Auckland, having been elected one of the clerical representatives for the Diocese of Christchurch in the General Synod, which met a few months ago. So I can break new ground, and tell you something of the North Island. It differs much from the South; a comparatively warm climate; sparsely traversed with roads, mostly covered with dense forest, and well watered; a more recent formation than the South Island, with two active volcanoes of great height. Also, the real home of the Maori race, some sixty thousand in number, amongst whom the early missionaries worked with unparalleled success, until the unfortunate outbreak of war, which led to the alienation of many from Christianity.

I went to Auckland by sea, by one of the steamers from Australia which make Hokitika their first port of call, proceeding thence to Wellington. There I met many bound on the same errand as myself; Bishop Abraham of Wellington, the Bishop of Christchurch, the Dean of Christchurch, and several Clerical and Lay representatives of Synod from Christchurch and Dunedin. Thence we sailed to Auckland, a long journey of some three days at sea, much of it in very page 152rough water. The coast line is grand, densely timbered, with a background of high mountain ranges. Most of us weathered the rough passage well, save Bishop Abraham, who lay prostrate in his cabin till we entered the heads of Auckland harbour, a spacious inlet leading up to Auckland, thirty miles distant. Going down to try and induce him to come on deck, as the water was calm, he assured me that he was recovering, for, see, "I've been translating the Nunc Dimittis into Latin Elegiacs." Knowing our old tutor's special hobby, and his stern criticism of our efforts at Eton, you may imagine my amusement.

Auckland is already a considerable town at the head of the harbour, which is said to rival Sydney in its beauty of site; shut in by low volcanic hills, well grassed, which are indented with bays and deep inlets; the cliffs rich with vegetation, in which the scarlet clianthus gives fine patches of colour. It forms a magnificent sheet of water, with abundant and safe anchorage. Already it has a history, being the first spot in New Zealand chosen for permanent settlement. The climate, compared with the South Island, is warm and damp.

General Synod was held in the Library attached to the Bishop's residence, a fine room, with open timbered roof, already with something of the dignity of age about it. Six Bishops: Selwyn, the Primate, Williams of Waiapu, Abraham of Wellington, Harper of Christchurch, Suter of Nelson, and Patteson of Melanesia, were present, together with three Clerical and four Lay representatives from each Diocese, except the Missionary Diocese of Melanesia, which is entitled only to two Clerical and two Lay representatives.

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It was the fourth meeting of Synod, the first having been held in 1859. The business occupied eleven days. I was especially glad to have been a member, as it was an occasion of historic importance in the annals of the Church, Bishop Selwyn, having accepted the Bishopric of Lichfield, presiding for the last time.

Moreover, in the inevitable course of things, the Church in New Zealand, being the daughter of the Established Church at Home, at first tied to the apron strings of its Mother in all that concerns Ecclesiastical Law, has practically come of age, and is obliged to be a Law unto itself, and to accept the responsibility of managing its own household. I give an instance of this. Necessity had arisen for the appointment of a Bishop in Melanesia, and the formation of Melanesia into a Diocese, under the jurisdiction of the Church in New Zealand. Hitherto Bishop Selwyn had exercised episcopal oversight of Melanesia. Accordingly, Patteson, the acting head of the Mission, had been duly consecrated Bishop of Melanesia, without any legal authority from Home, which, indeed, would not have been given, had it been asked. His consecration involved the omission in the Service for Consecration of Bishops of the Oath declaring the Supremacy of the Queen, or the necessity of any Royal mandate to the New Zealand Church for the consecration.

Further, the see of Nelson being vacant by the resignation of Bishop Hobhouse, who had been consecrated at Home under Letters Patent, was filled by the appointment of Bishop Suter, the choice of the Diocese of Nelson, who was consecrated in London, but without Letters Patent, as a Bishop in New Zealand, not as a Bishop of the Established Church page 154at Home. All this has come about naturally from the fact that, in Colonies which are not Crown Colonies, as e.g. in the West Indies, but which have had a Legislative Constitution granted to them, the Ecclesiastical Law of the State Church at Home does not run.

This state of things, it appeared in Synod, was very distasteful to many, especially laymen who cling to the idea of membership in the old Church, but are slow to recognize that, whilst the Church in New Zealand is in true spiritual communion with the Mother Church, she is no longer subject to its Ecclesiastical State Laws. Much debate arose on this question, in which I took part, having had the advantage, during my late residence in London, of discussing the status of the Church in the Colonies with eminent Ecclesiastical Lawyers. The occasion of the debate was the fact that the Bishops in New Zealand, some months ago, realizing the true state of affairs, had offered to the authorities at Home to surrender their Letters Patent, in order to make the position of the Church in New Zealand quite clear. No reply had been received, and, from what I had learnt in London, I was able to state that legal opinion was to the effect that the Crown is not likely to withdraw such Letters, although no fresh ones could be issued. However, the Bishop of Nelson, at first, refused to accept the view of his being merely a Bishop of the Church in New Zealand, and not of the Established Church at Home. My reply was that as a Bishop he could have no entry into the Ecclesiastical Courts in England, if he wished to deal with any criminal clergyman, and that the present position of the Church here, and elsewhere in the Colonies, is incomplete in regard to Ecclesiastical discipline. The whole idea page 155of our Church Constitution is that of mutual compact. We have constituted our own Ecclesiastical Courts; we agree to obey their decisions, and yet such of our Bishops as possess Letters Patent could have any of us into the Ecclesiastical Courts at Home. To test the matter, I moved that the Bishops should again petition the authorities in England to repeal all Legislation which enables a Colonial Bishop to appeal to the jurisdiction of the Courts Spiritual there. After long discussion the motion was negatived, and I give figures to illustrate our method of voting: Bishops, Ayes 3, Noes 3; Clergy, Ayes 8, Noes 9; Laity, Ayes 6, Noes 8; a total majority of three against the motion.

Synod is a great time for hospitality, and of all men Bishop Selwyn is one of the most hospitable. Every evening, during the dinner recess, he entertained a large company at Bishopscourt. Luncheons also, and the Saturday half-holiday, afforded the Church folk of Auckland opportunity of making much of their visitors. Sundays were utilized for special sermons. As General Synod is held every third year in a different Diocese, the Church as a whole becomes familiar, not only with its Bishops, but with its system of Church Government. This is embodied in the "Constitution and Statutes of General Synod," as agreed to at a General Conference of Bishops, Clergy, and Laity in 1857, and revised at the Session of Synod in Christchurch in 1865. It is a masterly and statesmanlike piece of legislature, due in the first instance to Bishop Selwyn, aided by the invaluable advice of Chief Justice Sir William Martin, and Mr. Swainson, barrister-at-law; it is also said that Sir George Grey, Governor of New Zealand, had a hand in it. With page 156its fairly complete provisions for Church order and discipline, it will in future probably be a model for Colonial Churches, who have to look to themselves for the management of their own households.

Synod, amongst many matters, had to deal with one thorny question which needed careful handling. The Diocese of Christchurch includes the whole of the South Island, with the exception of the Nelson district. The time has come when it would be desirable, if it can be so arranged with due regard to finance and other matters, to sub-divide the Diocese and create one in the district of Otago and Southland, hitherto under the care of a Rural Deanery Board, responsible to the Bishop of Christchurch. Bishop Selwyn has taken steps in the matter, as Primate, but, owing to some inadvertence and misunderstanding, a serious difficulty has occurred. The subdivision of the Diocese of Christchurch needs the consent of its Bishop and Synod, and the creation of a new See, together, with the appointment of its Bishop, must have the authority of General Synod. Somehow these necessary preliminaries have been ignored, and an appointment has been made in England, followed by the consecration of a Bishop for the not yet constituted diocese of Dunedin. Much trouble has arisen in Otago, where Church people are unwilling to accept the appointment, no sufficient financial provision having been made, nor their consent in any way obtained. Their representatives came to Synod to plead their case, so emphatically, that Synod was in a dilemma. It was a serious matter to refuse a Bishop already consecrated and designated, though informally, for a See in New Zealand, yet not less serious a matter for Synod to waive its own authority, page 157to say nothing of the quite inadequate financial provision for the proposed See.

After much discussion, a resolution, moved by myself, and seconded by Bishop Patteson, was unanimously passed: "That whereas the General Synod is of opinion that it is better for the peace of the Church that Bishop Jenner should not take charge of the Bishopric of Dunedin, this Synod hereby requests him to withdraw his claim to that position."

Afterwards Synod proceeded to the Election of a Primate in place of Bishop Selwyn, the unanimous choice of Synod falling on the Bishop of Christchurch, H. J. C. Harper, D.D.

Then came a striking scene: the farewell of Synod, and in that, the farewell of the Church in New Zealand, to its first Bishop, George Augustus Selwyn. First, an address drawn up by Bishop Patteson on behalf of Synod, in singularly touching and effective words. It dealt on the extraordinary work accomplished by the Bishop during his Episcopate of twenty-seven years; his mission journeys by land and sea throughout New Zealand, and in the Pacific Ocean; the establishment of the Melanesian Mission work in the Islands; of the Native Church in New Zealand; the organization of Synodical government; and his great personal influence. It ended with the prayer "that the mind and spirit of its first Bishop may be stamped for all generations on the Church of New Zealand, and that the multitude of the Isles may learn in years to come the name of their first great Missionary, and may rise up and call him blessed."

The Maori address was so characteristic that I give its translation in extenso:

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"Sire, the Bishop: Salutations to you, and to Mother (Mrs. Selwyn).

We the people of the places to which you first came still retain our affection for you both.

Our not seeing you occasions us grief, because there will be no seeing you again.

Sire, great is our affection for you both, who are now being lost amongst us. How can it be helped, in consequence of the word of the Great One, the Queen?

Sire, our thought with regard to you is, that you are like the poor man's lamb taken away by the rich man.

Go, Sire, may God preserve you both. May He also provide a man to take your place of equal powers with yourself.

Go, Sire; we shall no more see each other in the body. Such is the nature of this short life, to sunder our bodies; but in a little while, when we shall meet in the assembly of Saints, we shall see each other face to face, one fold, under one Shepherd.

This is our lament for you in few words:

Love to our friend
Who has disappeared abruptly from our ranks.
Is he a small man that he was so beloved?
He has not his equal among the many;
The food he dispensed is longed for by me."

On the day of the Bishop's departure, after a celebration of Holy Communion, in which many participated, his carriage was drawn by stalwart Maories to the wharf, where he went on board for Sydney, thousands watching as the "Hero" steamed slowly page 159down the harbour, the Bishop standing alone at the stern, looking for the last time at the scene of the great work of his life.

Shall I venture to appraise it, and what seems to me its real significance? It lies, I think, above all other things, in the personal influence and character of the man; that which is summed up in the untranslatable Maori phrase, his "Mana." To Selwyn belongs the unique distinction of the impulse given years ago to Missionary enterprise and work. His heroic example, his endurance of hardship, his marvellous courage and patience, his splendid Christian character, touched the imagination of the Maori as keenly as it did that of the Church at Home. In organization, too, he was great, but less so, it would seem, in administration. Possessed of ample private means, and generously liberal, he scarcely anticipated the future. The Diocese of Auckland under its new Bishop, from what I hear, will find itself none too well equipped either in the matter of men or money.

Leaving Auckland, I took my passage in a small steamer which runs by the west coast to Wellington. Auckland has a large western harbour as well as that on the east, which is chiefly used. This Manakau harbour is hampered by a dangerous sand-bar lying outside the heads, on which the H.M.S. Orpheus was lost with nearly all hands. It extends for some miles, and its tumbling surf proved too much for the equanimity of most of the passengers, including myself and Mr. Poole, one of the most effective and humorous speakers in Synod. We had to give in to Neptune, though Poole did his best by flinging quotations from Horace at me, and challenging response. In vain! We subsided on to the settees which are used at night page 160for beds, as there were no cabins, and had to witness those who could eat at their dinner. One of these, apparently a commercial traveller, to Poole's great indignation, ate pork chops, whilst expressing his sympathy for us. Next morning, being Sunday, after breakfast, which we could not touch, down came the eater of pork chops, and said to Poole, "Won't you or your mate give us a service?" "How can you ask?" said Poole. "You've had a good breakfast, and we haven't touched anything since we came on board." Soon after noon we entered the Wanganui River, delighted at the chance of a night ashore, and when the gangway was in place, who should step on to it to go ashore, but our friend, in full clerical dress—a Presbyterian minister! Poole laid his hand on his shoulder: "Sir, you eat pork chops for dinner, dress in plain clothes, and ask us to have a service! Sir, you are an impostor. Good morning, sir!"

Arriving at Christchurch, I crossed the mountains to Hokitika by coach, a lovely journey, in fine weather, of two days, twelve hours coaching each day. Below the Otira Pass there are miles of red birch, its growth almost that of a cedar, straight reddish stems, and horizontal branches, peculiar, too, in the forest, as having no underwood; it only flourishes at a high altitude. Very noticeable below it, too, is the magnificent fern, the Todea Superba, commonly called the Prince of Wales fern, from the shape of its feathery fronds, covered with bright green velvety pile, which cannot be preserved in dried specimens. Curious, too, that it flourishes near the snow line, but if brought down to the lowlands must be kept under glass.

I am, yours ever,

H. W. H.

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West Coast Road. Cedars.

West Coast Road. Cedars.