Title: Octavius Hadfield

Author: Barbara Macmorran

Publication details: 1969, Wellington

Digital publication kindly authorised by: G. H. Macmorran

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Octavius Hadfield


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"I would prefer him to become a chimney-sweep rather than a missionary," Joseph Hadfield said of his youngest son, Octavius when the latter announced his intention of sailing to New Zealand under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society. "But he is a sincere enthusiast," he told the rest of the family, "and it's useless to annoy him by making any objection to his plans."

There never seemed to be any doubt whatever in Octavius Hadfield's mind that his plans were the right ones—in his 65 years in New Zealand his faith in his God never wavered—and perhaps if Joseph could have seen ahead to the important part his son would play in civilising and moulding this new country he would have had other thoughts on the matter. Able to pen trenchant comments on matters varying from "the rich man in this venal world" to American slavery, and never an admirer of the "mask of religion", he must have admired his youngest son's forthrightness in matters secular as well as religious in the days to come.

Joseph Hadfield was a silk merchant, but would have preferrecd a professional career, either in medicine or law. He himself wrote of his education—"As I and the younger sons of my father were destined to mercantile pursuits we were confined to elementary knowledge, that is the first principles of the Latin grammar, English French, writing and accounts, with the accomplishments of music and dancing: all these were to be acquired by the time I was 14 years old."

So at 14 Joseph Hadfield entered his father's Counting House Some four or five years later a Philosophical Society was formed in Manchester, where the family lived, and the young Joseph was invited to join this. He had spent many nights in reading and studying since leaving school; he was fairly proficient at languages and helped the Society by translating their reports from Paris. Now he became deeply interested in natural philosophy, and especially electricity. He became friendly with a mechanic, and together these two passed many hours in making experiments. After the first ascent of Montgolphier in his balloon, the Manchester Philosophical Society page 5 received an account of this event, together with detailed plans of the balloon's construction and theory. Hadfield and two friends, after much experimenting, made a balloon of their own which was eventually sent up, unmanned, from the gardens of the Manchester Public Hospital and later recovered near Matlock in Derbyshire. This was, Joseph Hadfield thought, the first balloon sent up in England.

After some years in Manchester, and after having journeyed through most of England on business, he was sent to Europe to learn the trade there. Here he also spent a considerable time, travelling through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In Ghent he met the Emperor Joseph II; in Paris, which was his base for some years, he met Voltaire.

Returning eventually to England he was not there long before being sent to America in 1784 to collect debts owing to his firm prior to the Revolutionary war. Some years later he again visited America, travelling extensively through the eastern states. Among the many people he met was George Washington, and he stayed at his home at Mt. Vernon, overlooking the Potomac. In 1795 Joseph married Amelia White, daughter of a General White, and not long afterwards took his family to live at Bonchurch in the Isle of Wight.

Octavius was the tenth child of Joseph and Amelia Hadfield's twelve children. He was born on October 6, 1814. For ten years, from the age of four, he lived in Europe with his parents and various brothers and sisters. During these ten years abroad the family lived progressively in Brussels, Lille, Paris and Tour. At the latter two places Octavius went to school. In Brussels he was taken to see the field of Waterloo, only a few short years after the famous battle, and here also he saw such important people as the Emperor Alexander and the Duke of Wellington. Sometimes the young Prince of Orange played in the park that Octavius and his brothers and sisters were taken to by their nurse.

In Paris he was taken to see museums, picture galleries and churches as part of his education. He saw too a review of 60,000 men in the Champ de Mars, with Louis XVIII in his carriage and his brother, afterwards Charles X, on horseback. Joseph had a wide circle of friends from his previous years in Paris, and many eminent men visited the house, including some of Napoleon's high-ranking officers whose talk was a fascination to young boys. Two of these officers were Baron de Nom, who accompanied Napoleon page 6 to Egypt, and General Donadiero who was in the disastrous expedition to Moscow. Octavius Hadfield through the years had a high regard for Napoleon's qualities of statesmanship—probably his interest in the man was born as he listened to the stories of campaigns and people and places, and above all of their leader, told by these Frenchmen. Perhaps some of his interest in military matters stemmed from this same time.

In Tour the family lived in a house on the banks of the Loire, where the boys fished. In 1828, the year in which they returned home, an older brother, George, who had taken his degree at Oxford, came to stay with them. He was there for three months through the summer, and during this time Octavius read with him Latin, Greek and mathematics to prepare for school in England.

They returned to Bonchurch in October, and the following January Octavius went to Charterhouse where his brother George was now a master. He spent two years there before his health broke down so badly that he was forced to leave. For the remainder of 1831 he lived at home, reading "but not very steadily, as I had a boat and used to go on the sea to fish and sail. I also was fond of shooting."

The following year he went to Oxford, residing in Pembroke College, but here again he was attacked by severe asthma, and some time during 1833 he was advised by his doctor to leave. He was so ill for some months at home that the doctor from Newport who came to see him occasionally hardly expected him to live through the winter.

He was advised the next autumn to leave England. He was invited by a friend of his father's to visit him at Pontadelgada in the Azores, and so Octavius sailed for the Island of St. Michaels and there spent seven months. He recovered rapidly in this much warmer climate and continued his reading, varying his studies by learning the Portuguese language. For recreation he rode a mule over the rough roads of the island, and found sport in quail shooting.

Returning to England he found that his father had sold the Bonchurch house and moved about a mile away to Ventnor. Here some of the older Hadfield girls had started a school, and for a while Octavius helped them with the teaching. He also entertained and instructed the local inhabitants by delivering suitable lectures in the school, until the Lord of the Manor, who owned the site, objected that the lectures pertained too much of sermons.

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Meanwhile his brother George now held the perpetual curacy of Whitchurch in Hampshire, and Octavius was invited to live with him and to study. He had decided by this time that if his health recovered sufficiently he wanted to be a clergyman, if not in England somewhere abroad. So together they read Aristotle, the Greek Testament and Theology.

In some notes that he wrote many years later he stated—"Early in 1836 I made up my mind that if my health improved I would go to work somewhere as a missionary among the heathen. I have been asked how this came about. I did not attend any missionary meetings or read any missionary literature, which was not so available to all at that time, but I studied the New Testament. I was deeply impressed with the fact that after the lapse of eighteen centuries our Lord's command at the close of His work, St. Matt. 28, 19-20, had been very imperfectly obeyed. This strong impression seemed like a duty to me. I further felt that to have a strong conviction of a duty and not to act upon it must be morally wrong. September 11, 1837, I wrote to the Church Missionary Society offering myself as a missionary and saying that I was prepared to go to any part of the world."

Doctors had advised Octavius Hadfield to leave England, but as his own words show it was not only his health which brought about his decision to leave the country of his birth for the distant and almost unknown land of New Zealand. He could have found a much more equable climate in southern Europe with a great deal more comfort than his journey to New Zealand would afford. The winter following his sojourn in the Azores he had been invited to the south of Spain by a friend, but feeling so much better he had decided to remain in England. So it was not only in search of other climes that he was sailing to the far end of the world; it was largely because of a growing sense of dedication.

After writing his letter to the Church Missionary Society he was requested by the committee to visit London. There he was accepted as a missionary on the understanding that he was ordained by the Bishop of London, but the Bishop objected to this as Octavius did not have a university degree, and so it was proposed he should go to New Zealand as a layman. Octavius, in turn, declined to do this. The matter was solved by Mr. Venn, a member of the committee, who Octavius was to write to for many, many years. He had a letter from Bishop Broughton, the Bishop of Australia, offering to page 8 ordain men for Australia and New Zealand, and so it was arranged that Hadfield would travel to Sydney, be ordained there and then proceed to New Zealand.

He sailed on February 12, 1838, from Gravesend on board the John, an old ship of 600 tons. He was twenty-three, a tall, thin young man with handsome, clean-cut features, severe countenance, blue eyes and erect carriage. A purposeful young man. It was to be twenty years before he returned to the land of his birth, and by then he was an important figure in the far distant land of his adoption.

The voyage took just over four and a half months. There was a heavy gale in the Bay of Biscay and Octavius Hadfield was very ill as were many others. The live-stock was all washed overboard and the cargo shifted so the ship had a list to starboard. In the tropics the crew broke into the cuddy one night and got drunk, and violence was only avoided the next day by the captain, mates and some of the passengers appearing armed. By an incredible coincidence a man-of-war overtook them during the height of this trouble. On being signalled by the John a boat was lowered and an officer came on board, who lectured the crew and took away some of the worst offenders.

On May 10 the John put into Simons Bay for provisions and stayed there six days. At a later date Octavius Hadfield wrote about this—"I rather unwisely, after being confined so long, took a walk over the hills gathering lovely flowers—varieties of heath. The result was that I had a serious attack of asthma which confined me to my bed."

The British were now in possession of the Cape and there were many more of them than of the original Dutch settlers. At the time that the John was provisioning in Simons Bay and Hadfield was walking the Cape Hills, the Dutch people in their hundreds were trekking into the interior, taking their wagons and oxen, their women and children and all their scanty possessions; facing incredible hardships and dangers, determined to get as far away from British rule as possible and make a new life of their own. But however far they went it was never far enough, and some sixty-two years later a son of Octavius Hadfield was to land in this same spot to take part in the Boer War. It was to be practically exactly the same span of time again before the Afrikaner finally severed all connection with British rule by forming the Republic of South Africa.

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The John sailed into Sydney Harbour at daybreak on July 1. Hadfield had five months in Sydney. While there he studied and preached at Parramatta, and learned what he could of New Zealand and of the Mission Station at Paihia. The Rev. Samuel Marsden had opened the Mission in 1814, having for several years before that befriended any Maoris he had met, either in Sydney or while travelling. His home in Sydney had been home also for any of these people finding themselves alone and helpless in this strange land. Samuel Marsden had died seven weeks before Hadfield arrived in Sydney.

The Mission at Paihia had laboured under many difficulties and setbacks under the men Marsden left in charge, and it was not until the Rev. Henry Williams arrived almost ten years later, August 3, 1823, that things began to prosper. Williams, who had served as an officer in the English navy, was a forceful man and had set about restoring order and discipline to the lax Mission Station. He had been followed to New Zealand some years later by his brother, William Williams, a clergyman also and a scholar of note. Both these men had wives and large families, and with various other assistants the Mission was now quite a populated place.

On September 23, 1838, Hadfield was ordained deacon by Bishop Broughton in Sydney, and in December he sailed with the Bishop on board the naval ship H.M.S. Pelorus for the Bay of Islands, arriving at Paihia on December 21. Travelling on the ship Hadfield discovered that the captain and another officer had known two of his brothers on past voyages.