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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In 1889 Octavius Hadfield was elected Primate of his country. He had travelled a long way from the young man, suffering from ill health and not even an ordained priest, who had landed on a sandy beach in the Bay of Islands over fifty years before. He was not elected unanimously. In fact, owing to some vigorous opposition, in particular from the Bishop of Nelson who was the senior Bishop, he resigned and was elected a second time at a special session of General Synod held in Wellington.

He had seen many things in his fifty years. Cannibal chiefs still powerful in the land; Christianity spreading among them; settlers from England pouring into the country; collision and collusion and war; land being tamed for the farmer and the townsman. He had seen the capital of the country when it had been no more than a bush-ringed harbour inhabited by birds and Maoris. He had seen houses and churches built from the massive trees, roads and railways and bridges constructed where he could remember only bush and rock and river. He had watched the Maori people acquire the dress and thoughts and habits of the European newcomers, and grieved that much had been undesirable.

During his years in Wellington Hadfield had missed his Maoris. He had seen them when travelling his province, he had helped them whenever possible and pressed tirelessly for adequate funds for the Maori clergy: but in the main his life in the capital had been among the European. Although he had opened new churches and preached to European congregations, in St. Paul's and St. Peter's and further afield; although he had opened fetes and addressed many meetings, he had never lost his capacity to fight injustice. A capable Bishop, well-loved by most, highly criticised by some, he was nevertheless an exhausting one for many. There was no complacency about Octavius Hadfield. Having reached the top he continued to work as hard as ever, to speak his thoughts as freely.

When he judged himself right he gave no quarter to his opponents. Many thought he rode too hard over his subordinates— was intolerant and unnecessarily harsh. But his standards were page break
Bishop Hadfield before retirement.

Bishop Hadfield before retirement.

page 129 high, and he could see no reason to brook inferior work or foolishness. Above all he had no patience with a fool. In a newspaper article entitled 'A Personal Portrait', a friend recalled a Synod meeting when Hadfield had been rather harsh on a young clergyman. Mentioning it to him afterwards, Hadfield had rejoined—"I have more patience with vice than with stupidity. You can do something with the vicious, but nothing with the stupid." Doubtless it was not the way to win friends, but Octavius Hadfield seemed always to be supremely indifferent to the effect his words would have on those destined to hear or read them.

The same 'Personal Portrait' also said of him—"By sheer force of will he mastered all who came in contact with him. He was a severe disciplinarian. . . ."

Another article, written after his resignation, stated further— "He has been all along somewhat masterful, but to be masterful was an essential element of success in the peculiar circumstances of his long missionary career, when at times the lives of himself and his fellow settlers depended on his mana among the Maoris. It is also an essential in the Bishop of a new see in a young colony, where society is forming, but not formed, and where there is a tendency to break through all kinds of church barriers, for the sake of the expediency of the moment, regardless of future consequences. If on occasion he has been over-masterful, and this perhaps in matters of smaller moment, that might have been left to others to settle, one can but say, Humanum est errare, and that in this respect he has but shared an infirmity of the noblest of New Zealand churchmen. His actions have sometimes been a matter of public dispute. . . ."

As Bishop, Hadfield had many stormy sessions, but he did keep clear of politics. However in two obituaries his part in the early political field was mentioned. One stated—"Though the late Bishop's services were not broadly Imperial, they were nonetheless of great and far-reaching importance. His influence, exercised in the political arena as well as in the religious sphere, did much towards preserving New Zealand to the Empire, preventing bloodshed and protecting the Maoris against spoliation."

The other writer remarked on his humility. All his life Hadfield shunned publicity, although for a great part of it, due mainly to his courage and uncompromising outspokeness, he loomed large in the public eye. After the Waitara crisis had died down somewhat he asked his brother Charles in a letter not to publish any more of page 130 his statements as he did not want his name before the public any longer.

This second writer began his article—"How strangely a great and over-shadowing personality—if it be humble—can fade from the history of a few short decades! In the making of New Zealand Octavius Hadfield played a statesman's part. In the history of Wellington he looms co-equal with Fitzherbert, Featherston, and Wakefield. And yet what a quiet, secluded evening terminated his long life."

In all these busy years of high office he still found time to write to any of his family who happened to be away from home. To his youngest daughter, Amy, he wrote in 1891—"I do not care very much about our politics. I think the late ministry were so unwise in advising that Parliament should meet that I lost all interest in what followed: when leaders are so weak they utterly discourage their supporters. . . . Public men ought to have pluck and be ready to fight an apparently losing game until they are absolutely beaten."

The following year, on a visit to Otaki, he wrote again to Amy. "This is no longer the Otaki which I once knew. Strange things have occurred during 52 years. Some of these pass through my mind as I look about me."

And to his eldest son, Henry, starting work at the age of seventeen in Napier, he wrote in 1870—"Each person, young or old, must answer before God for his own conduct, and will not be excused because he has followed the bad example of many others. The best preventative of all sin is the daily study of some portion, however small, of the Holy Scripture, and prayer. Together with this the regular habit of going to church on Sunday. I say habit, because sometimes one may feel disinclined, but it is much better not to give way to such a feeling unless one is really ill. You know very well that I am not one of those who would wish people—especially young ones—to make display of religion. This should be the work of their hearts and to a certain extent private and secret. But then their conduct in life should show that they have a right principle within. One principle which should always guide us whether as Christians or as gentlemen, and that is, to be unselfish—to be ready to do any act of kindness whether great or small for anybody—to be ready to give way or concede any advantage to another."

In another letter to Henry two years later he wrote—"There is a wonderful tendency in the present day in people to lose sight of page 131 the great truths of the Gospel and to doubt the constant over-ruling preserve and power of a Heavenly Father. But if we had nothing else, the very feeling of dependence on Him which we all have in the hour of need would be convincing proof of its reality."

Hadfield was Primate only four years; then, feeling too weak and unwell to carry on, he resigned his office and left Wellington. Before leaving Bishopscourt to live in retirement after 55 years of work in New Zealand, he destroyed the bulk of his journals and papers and letters. According to his daughter Amy, he chose a day when his wife and family were all out and then, with no one to disturb or hinder him, had a beautiful bonfire in the garden. Much of great interest must have been destroyed in that fire. Apparently he decided that as he had been involved in so many controversial matters, what written evidence he had was better struck from the record. And perhaps he thought too that the days for such extreme outspokeness among personalities as he and others had indulged in were past, and better wiped from the slate as far as possible. It may well be that there were matters concerned of which there is now no record or knowledge. Archdeacon Towgood, who was the vicar of Marton during Hadfield's retirement there, said in a sermon in St. Paul's after his death—"Bishop Hadfield was, I may say, a wounded and worn-out lion when he resigned the charge of this diocese."

And the same man, in an article 'In Piam Memoriam' in the Church Chronicle, January, 1905, said also of Hadfield—"He was most fearless in expressing his own opinions where he thought right, and incurred much odium in vindicating what he believed to be the rights of the Maoris. He also incurred much odium in a public matter, where a few words would have set him right with the public, but from a delicate sense of honour he would not speak them, and what was too delicate a matter to divulge in the Bishop's lifetime would be even more so now."

His printed pamphlets and letters to papers can all be read, and a very small part of his early journal was preserved. Copies of his letters to the Church Missionary Society are all back in New Zealand, and a number of letters written to him by the leading personalities of the country's colonisation days escaped the bonfire on that day in 1893. Also preserved are some letters written by him to various figures of the day, and others written during his retirement were kept by the recipients. But the fact that so many of his page 132 thoughts and views, expressed very freely, can now be read and quoted is due to Amy Hadfield who, on several prolonged visits to England, acquired many of her father's letters to his English family which they had preserved through the years. He may not have known these had been kept, although with two visits to the Ventnor home over the years this is perhaps unlikely.

An article in the Marlborough Press after his death, entitled 'Not Understood,' began—"There passed away in retirement at Marton, Rangitikei, on Sunday last, at the ripe age of 91, one who for eleven years had withdrawn himself from the public gaze, but who was, nevertheless, one of the most remarkable men the Colony has ever known, one to whom she owes more than the present generation are aware of—the Rt. Reverend Bishop Hadfield— Pioneer Missionary, Apostle of the Southern Maoris, second Bishop of Wellington, and third Primate of the Church of the Province of New Zealand. We are inclined to think, however, he was by the generality of latter day colonists 'Not Understood,' and so we lay this little palm leaf on his grave. What a link with the past he was— for sixty-six years resident here, coming to the Colony before many, who now call themselves old settlers, were born! How great the changes he lived to witness, what times of storm and stress he passed through, never counting his life dear unto him, but for long years risking it daily and hourly for the Master's sake. Many who knew him in later days, knew little of what he had gone through, what he had faced, what he had done for New Zealand, or they would have held him in even higher estimation. It is ancient history now, but may well be told again. . . ."

The article concluded—"He retired to Marton, where he passed away as we have recorded on Sunday last, full of years and honours. Though the only one of the New Zealand Episcopal bench that had not taken a degree, he was second to none in scholarship, and master of them all in logical power, though he had never the presence, the voice, the eloquence, or the personal magnetism of an orator. The late Mr. Justice Richmond, his warm friend and often opponent, said 'no matter what life calling the Bishop had adopted, he would have been bound to come to the front in it. Had he chosen the law he would have been Chief Justice or Lord Chancellor. Had he devoted himself to politics he would have been Prime Minister.' As one who turned many to righteousness, Bishop Had field's name will shine with an undying lustre in the annals of page 133 the New Zealand Church, even though it was his fate, we fear, for many years of his later ministry, to be very generally 'Not Understood'."

With this story of his life we lay a further little palm leaf on his grave.

On Hadfield's retirement the Rev. James McWilliam preached a sermon in St. Paul's in which he said—"It was among the Ngati-raukawa, with their allies the Ngatiawa and the Ngatitoa, that our Primate about to retire at his advanced age to a well-earned rest, laboured almost alone for over 30 years. Very few of you present probably know how zealously and how successfully he laboured in that field. Few know or now care to know how much Wellington was indebted for its safety to his influence in the early days. Few are aware that it was the ready tact and well won influence of the Bishop and Mrs. Hadfield that prevented the Ngatiraukawa and their related tribes from joining the King movement, and thereby perhaps saved the lives of all the settlers from Otaki upwards to Taranaki. Undoubtedly at that time, with the help of the Ngatiraukawa, the Maoris could have cut off the English settlers on the West Coast to a man with little loss to themselves. . . ."

Kate Hadfield's part in the life of her husband was considerable. During the seventeen years of their married life at Otaki she taught in the school at times, she looked after the Maori girls boarding with them, and she raised a large family of her own. Her influence and personality extended to many places. She supported her husband through all the storms of his days. During the troubled times referred to above by James McWilliam, when many missionaries left their posts due to Hauhau interference, Hadfield wrote of her in a letter to England—"Fortunately Kate is no coward." And they did not leave Otaki. During their years in Wellington she was a kind hostess, according to her daughter Amy, and entertained many guests. She also travelled round the diocese quite frequently with her husband. Her sons, as they grew up, teased her unmercifully at times over a variety of embarrassing predicaments, but judging from letters she would appear to have had the necessary sense of humour to cope with these situations.

A further tribute to Hadfield's early work was published in a newspaper column after his death. "During the thirty years the late Bishop Hadfield lived at Waikanae and Otaki, his life was one of constant and unremitting labour. His district extended from the page 134 Rangitikei in the north, to Wellington and the Hutt in the south. He visited and made considerable stays at each of the Maori centres throughout that wide area, and he taught men, women and children the truths of Christianity, converted them, baptised them, taught them to read and write, and made them living working Christians. . . . Everyone of those converts—and the great majority were adults —were well and carefully taught and tested before baptism. Besides two or three Sunday services, often at long distances apart, he conducted morning and evening services, often followed by classes and lectures, every day of every year, so I leave you to judge if his life was an idle one. Besides his regular duties in his own district, he made many visits to more distant parts. He repeatedly crossed the straits in an open boat, and attended to the spiritual wants of the Maoris on the other island, while he also frequently visited Wanganui and the intermediate places, as well as the Wairarapa, Napier and elsewhere."

Perhaps an incident connected with the consecration of Bishop Julius, before Hadfield's retirement as Primate, best sums up the value and meaning of his life's work. It was recorded in the Lyttelton Times, May 5, 1890. It reads—"Few of those who attended the consecration service on Thursday last were aware of the appropriate position taken up by a group of Maoris, who were clustered round the steps of the Selwyn memorial pulpit. These representatives of the race amongst whom the Anglican Church was first planted in this country, had so placed themselves that the Primate, in going to the pulpit, had to pass through them. Their presence in the Cathedral must have awakened strange thoughts in the mind of one who, as a pioneer missionary, helped to found that Church over which he now rules as the third Primate in succession. What a contrast the building, the congregation, the service in which he was then taking so prominent a part must have presented to his surroundings, when alone and single-handed he raised the banner of the Cross amongst the wild and warlike Maori tribes on the shores of Cook's Straits more than fifty years ago. As the Primate proceeded with his sermon, one Maori, sitting near die clergy, robed in a surplice—whose intelligent face and reverent demeanour had attracted particular notice —became visibly affected; the tones of the preacher's voice, doubtless, recalling to his mind the time when, as a slave in the household of the great warrior chieftain, Te Rauparaha, he heard from the Primate's lips the Gospel which ultimately freed him from the bonds page 135 of slavery and heathen superstition, and conferred upon him the liberty of the children of God and a place among civilised men."

* * *

So Kate and Octavius Hadfield, and three daughters, settled in a house in Marton, only a few miles from their son-in-law's farm. Here they lived a rural life once again, kept in touch with the news of the country and the world by newspapers, letters and visitors. Occasionally, at the beginning, Hadfield travelled to Hawke's Bay, to Wanganui, back to his old haunts at Otaki, or a little further south to visit his son's farm at Otaihanga. According to Amy Hadfield her father never returned to Wellington. There were times when he took a sendee, performed a confirmation or a baptism, but as he grew older and weaker he tended to leave his house and garden less and less. People came to him instead, and there was a constant coming and going of family and friends in the home.

Kate and Octavius Hadfield had ten children. The eldest son, Henry, worked for some years in a bank. In the late 1870's he bought a farm with the help of his uncle, Sam Williams. The land looked out over the coast where his father had first lived and worked in 1839. A familiar area to Octavius Hadfield. He had walked every acre of this district; had studied the hills and valleys of Kapiti across the water in rain and shine, sunrise and sunset. He had covered all the miles of the long, sweeping beaches by foot and by horse, and later by coach. It must have been rich in memory for him.

For many years after buying the farm Henry worked in Wellington during the Parliamentary sessions as Maori interpreter, first to the General Assembly and later to the Legislative Council, returning to his land whenever opportunity offered. The Hadfield children, especially the older ones, all spoke Maori from infancy, as had their mother before them. Writing once of Annie in a letter to England, her father reported—"She begins to talk, but all in Maori!" In 1895 Henry married Bessie Tuckey, daughter of the Rev. H. E. Tuckey ,a founder of Wellington College.

The second son, George Joseph, died as a baby. The third son, Octavius, died when he was twenty-one. The fourth son, Aleck, was a lawyer who went to the Boer War. He later returned to the Transvaal to live, and in 1908 married in England a nurse, Marion Fulford, whom he had met in South Africa. He was a page 136 magistrate in the latter country for some twenty years before retiring to England. The fifth son, Ernest, had his secondary education at Trent College in England, as did Aleck also after two years at Christ's College in New Zealand. Ernest stayed on to take his law degree at Cambridge University before returning to Wellington. From 1930-1946 he was Diocesan Chancellor. In 1902 he married May Wood of Napier, daughter of the headmaster of Napier High School. The sixth son, Frank, the youngest of the family, was a farmer, and never married. He was educated at Wanganui Collegiate School.

Annie, the oldest girl, married a farmer, John Marshall, in 1882, and lived first at the Ridges and then at Tutu Totara, Marton. It was largely to be near her and her first child, Kate and Octavius' only grandchild at that stage, that the family chose Marton as their home. The second daughter, Nina, married a widower with four daughters, Arthur Alloway, some time after her parents' death. The third daughter, Kate, married Julian Dove, a clergyman and later the headmaster of Wanganui Collegiate School. This was just after the turn of the century, but it was a short-lived marriage as Kate died not very long after having a son. The fourth daughter, Amy, never married.

Octavius Hadfield read as extensively as failing eyesight would allow. According to his letters this must have been quite extensively. Henry often asked questions of his father about the days of the past, days that were fast becoming history now, and Octavius wrote back, expressing his thoughts and views in writing instead of the conversation which he loved. It would appear from correspondence that pressure was put on Henry in Wellington to persuade his father to write some memoirs, and he in turn wrote to Octavius on the subject, who replied—"I never was a writer, Henry. But I will try to jot down a few notes for you if you wish it."

On the same subject, Kate Hadfield wrote to Henry in 1898— "Have you seen Mr. Reeve's book on New Zealand? If you bought a copy for yourself and sent it to Father he would write some corrections which would be useful to you. Mrs. Wallis lent it to him but he could not make any marks in her book. It might be the means of getting some of the information about old times that you want. He is good at that sort of thing. I have often thought that the way to get him to write would be for someone to write something full of mistakes and he would have to correct it. Mr. Reeve's is not bad page 137 but there are some things that should be corrected." Kate obviously knew her husband very well.

On having this proposed to him, Octavius wrote back to Henry, reiterating his views on writing. "I am afraid my days for writing are past. I never was a writer: it always went against the grain to write: when business had been attended to my pen had a rest. However I will write notes on Reeve's book. It is well written and is very fair to all parties. It has raised him in my estimation. Of course he has fallen into a few mistakes on what happened in old times."

Even as early as 1841 Hadfield's English family must have asked him to write a diary for publication, for he wrote on July 20 of that year to a sister—"I could state much that would interest you in a kind of diary, but I have no time for it, and after all one is in danger of being very egotistic and I am afraid this is a great fault of mine, though in letter writing it is in some degree desirable. However, I like to let you know my concerns but do not wish to have them published to die world."

That Octavius Hadfield could still be roused, even though in his eighties and secluded from the public gaze, is shown in a letter to Henry from his mother in 1898—"Father is greatly disgusted with the article in Monday night's Post about the School Trusts. I didn't want him to notice it—others must fight the battles now." And that he had a firm grip of the events of his own country and of the world, both past and present, and ideas for the future, are shown in extracts from his letters to Henry written between the years 1894-1903. These extracts, printed in the Appendix, range from memories of his earliest days in the country through politics, theology, literature to the loveliness of the Rangitikei countryside in Spring and the suggestion that, because of the drop in the demand for wool in England, New Zealand merchants should try to find a market in Japan. He discusses affairs in Greece, India, Cuba, China, France and South Africa. On September 23, 1902, three weeks before he turned eighty-eight, he wrote to Henry—"It is sixty-four years today since I was ordained in Sydney. How much has occurred since then! I suppose I have been kept alive for some purpose, though it is little more that I can now do."

The excerpts show a wide-ranging interest in the world and age in which Octavius Hadfield was living in his retirement. He could still quote long passages from history, from the classics page 138 and the Bible and the metaphysical works he had studied so thoroughly—yet in every letter he proves by his comments that the world about him claims his attention quite as much as the past. The correspondent for the Herald who wrote—"Little perhaps of the present world's life and thought remains or fixes itself in his mind," was possibly mistaken in this. All through his life he would appear to have been thoroughly informed on current affairs as they concerned not only his own province but a much wider sphere.

"To be interested only in what concerns one's own time would be contemptible selfishness," he wrote to Henry. His thoughts as conveyed in his letters during this final period of his life maintain a well balanced interest between the old and the new, the near and the distant.