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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A new century had dawned.

The Boer War, like all wars, took its toll of life and happiness. For New Zealand it was the first time her soldiers had left their own shores to fight on behalf of their Mother country. Bands played rousing music as men and horses embarked on their ships to be carried to the southern tip of the African continent, there to travel inland and fight in the heat and dust of the South African high veld. Women wept, as they were to weep many more times for the heart-break of war before the century was even half way through. Aleck Hadfield sailed on one of the ships, together with two of Bessie Hadfield's brothers.

The country was slowly being welded into a more solid community in this new century. Although reduced by war and immigration to a very small percentage of the population, the Maoris were beginning to take part in the life of the land once more. They now had their own representatives in the Parliamentary Councils. Te Kooti, who was never recaptured after his escape from the Chatham Islands, had been officially pardoned when the General Amnesty was announced in 1883, and now lived in legal retirement.

Refrigerated meat, butter and cheese had been sent to England for the first time in 1882, ushering in a new era for the farmers. The unwholesome methods practised by many squatters in the past years were gradually being exposed. In the days when leasehold had been converted into freehold, those without the ready money to buy all the land they wanted had overcome this by buying the gorge of a river, thereby gaining access to the land beyond. Or perhaps they had bought a strip of land keeping others from water or other desirable pasture. But the needs of men, and the Government's land tax, were beginning to break down such systems.

In the home at Edale, Marton, Kate Hadfield was the first to die, on January 8, 1902. An In Memoriam spoke of 'her quiet strength and force of character, her wise counsel, her helpful sympathy, and her faithful friendship.' She was buried in the little churchyard beside the church at Tutu Totara, among the fields of page 140 her son-in-law's farm. Octavius had been very fortunate in having Kate Williams for his wife.

On December 11, 1904, almost three years later, Octavius Hadfield's long life drew to a close. His faith in the will of his Maker was undimmed. On his death-bed he answered a remark made by a close friend—"The thoughts that come oftenest into my mind are expressed in the first verse of the hymn, 'Just as I am without one plea, But that Thy Blood was shed for me, And that Thou bidd'st me come to The, O Lamb of God, I come.' All my theology is given in those lines. If only we could get men to receive them."

His had indeed been a long life and a rewarding one. Begun in the capitals of long established civilisations in Europe, transplanted from this element to a small and practically unknown land at the far end of the earth, Octavius Hadfield had adapted himself at every step and never faltered. From the comfort of an affluent home life he had gone forth to teach in the wilds, and never had he regretted his decision. Faced by pain and danger, by dispute and abuse and at times near despair, his faith had remained intact. And now, in a small country village in the land which he had done so much to mould and influence, he was dead. He was buried beside Kate at his own wish early in the morning, with only his family and closest friends to share this last parting. He had particularly asked that his funeral should be a private occasion.

As has been shown, at the time of his death Hadfield's part in New Zealand's colonisation was already forgotten or unknown by a large segment of the population. The ensuing years have done little to remedy this. Even present day history text books largely ignore the fact of his existence. Indeed, even before his death, history concerning him was being written inaccurately, as he stated in one of his letters to Henry.

In 1939, R. G. C. McNab wrote an unpublished biography which he called "Octavius Hadfield—Bishop and Pioneer—A Memoir." Bishop Sprott, who had worked a few short months with Hadfield before the latter's retirement, stated in the foreword—"I think it is true to say that Octavius Hadfield was one of the greatest men New Zealand has ever had."

Eric Ramsden, publishing his book "Rangiatea" in 1951, was the first to quote from Hadfield's letters and other writings, and the surviving fragment of his journal, and he wrote of him—"In view page 141 of the important role he played in subsequent years it is perhaps surprising to find that Hadfield should have remained so long among New Zealand's forgotten men. . . . New Zealanders of today (including the Maori people) know little of what they owe to Hadfield."

Archdeacon H. W. Monaghan, who also quoted from his letters and journal, dedicated his story of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Wellington, "From Age to Age," published in 1957, to the memory of Octavius Hadfield, and wrote of him—"The history of the whole Province cannot show a greater missionary, a wiser Bishop, a more devoted servant of the Church than Octavius Hadfield. He must ever be accounted one of New Zealand's greatest men."

Mr. Harold Miller has written of him and quoted him, and his life has been briefly surveyed in newspaper columns by Cecil and Celia Manson and others, in historical books, in "An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand", on television and in the pulpit, but he is still largely a forgotten man.

In a letter to one of the Hadfield daughters after the death of her mother, Bishop Abraham told her—"The only difference in your father's letters is that he is more entirely engaged in meditations on spiritual subjects and less occupied on merely intellectual questions, but on these, if they occur, he is as clear as ever—I never knew a man like him. I used to think that he was more like Frederic Robertson, the Vicar of Trinity Chapel, Brighton, 1845-60, than anyone else—a most original thinker, a most fearless lover of truth and a hater of shams, malleus falsi, vindex veri. Both of them were soldiers at heart. I have heard your father combat military men on subjects that Napier's "Peninsular War" touched upon. His accuracy was reliable—his real monument of course should be in Otaki Church in Maori, written by a Maori who knew him well and could appreciate what he had done for the Maori race and especially for the Ngatiraukawa and Ngatiawa."

Of his earliest days with these two tribes Octavius Hadfield once said in a speech—"There was a strong predisposition on the part of the Ngatiawa to attend to the message of peace. The very opposite was the case with Ngatiraukawa. They were a rough, proud and turbulent people. Scarcely a week passed without some disturbance, often ending in bloodshed."

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So we come to the first words of Archdeacon Towgood's 'In Piam Memoriam' "With Bishop Hadfield has passed away the last of the great pioneers of the Colony of New Zealand. He was also the first. When he arrived the Whitakers, the Hursthouses, the Rich-monds, the Foxes, the Featherstons, the FitzHerberts, the Tolle-maches ,the Petres, the Cliffords, the Welds, the Riddifords, the Staffords, the Monros, the Godleys, the Tollies, the Moorhouses, the Cargills, Bishop Selwyn, Sir William Martin, Sir George Grey, were not here—some of them not for several years after."

These names mentioned by Towgood exclude the Bay of Islands settlement, some of whose inhabitants had been in residence for up to twenty years before Hadfield arrived.

Towgood ended his tribute—"He was not so effective a preacher as he should have been from his great abilities, though on occasions he preached memorable sermons. . . . And the reason for his sermons not being as effective as they should have been was, he was afraid of his statements being misunderstood, and therefore he proceeded to explain them; whereas the original statements were generally as clear as crystal, and therefore the explanation of them was an impediment to the progress of the argument, and sometimes an irritation. He was by nature an exceptionally clear thinker, and a clear thinker almost of necessity expresses himself clearly.

It used to be said that he spoke more fluently in Maori than in English, and let himself go more. At one time, I fancy, he used to think more frequently in Maori than in English; and the Maori poetic illustrations were dear to him and came home to them. As a debater he was free from over explanation. He generally got hold of the essential elements of a question, marshalled his arguments with impetuous rapidity in clear and logical order, occasionally pausing to let some word tell, and would seize like lightning the weak points in the argument of an opponent, or any undue proportion in the presentation of them. As a debater he had no one approaching him in the Wellington Synod, until within a short time of his resignation; nor in any General Synod one has been a member of; though Mr. Still was a more polished speaker. He was somewhat intolerant of other people's opinions in matters he had thought out thoroughly; and would sometimes attack an argument with great vehemance, and in almost unmeasured terms, as though it were a person; but the heat was purely intellectual, there was noth- page 143 ing personal about it, though the person whose argument was thus attacked did not always realise this. This partly arose from the clearness of his vision, and the intensity of his conviction, and from not perceiving that the aspect of a question might be altered from another point of view; and partly from his many years of isolation from his intellectual equals at Otaki and, indeed, outside Otaki; he was among most of us, intellectually, a big fish among minnows.

He was an accurate scholar, which perhaps was natural to a Charterhouse boy of ability under Dr. Russell; and I suppose there was no first rate authority on mental philosophy within the last 500 years with whose writings he was not thoroughly familiar. He bulked as a large figure in New Zealand in his prime, whether with friends or opponents, as a force that had to be reckoned with, and he certainly solely and alone saved the Wanganui Industrial School estate from being confiscated when it was attacked by the combined forces of Mr. Ballance and Sir William Fox. But he would have been a greater man in England, constantly rubbing up against his intellectual equals and sharing with others intellectual interests which here he mused over in isolation.

He had the manners of fine breeding, was courteous to everyone, and was by nature modest and retiring. He had an upright figure to the last, handsome clean cut features, with a certain nobility in the pose of his head, and general aspect and carriage. As the Maori chief said of Bishop Selwyn, he was a Rangitira every inch of him. He was withal an humble Christian. With him the Word of God was the Word of Life, and his Greek Testament his most intimate companion. The most intimate friends of his life were Sir William Martin, the St. Hills, Bishop Selwyn, Bishop Abraham, the Sewells, Bishop Cowie, Major and Mrs. Marshall, Archdeacon Dudley, Judge Richmond and Archdeacon Fancourt. One does not mention his connections, or his life-long companion, and intimate in Maori work, Archdeacon S. Williams.

He is buried beside his wife, in the sequestered Churchyard of St. John's, Tutu Totara, where the neighbouring bush still speaks of the old New Zealand he was conversant with over sixty years ago, where he would most have liked his body to have been laid; while his soul lives in a light that gives a meaning to the life behind it and a great hope to the life that lies before it, and an inner voice whispers that all is well."

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The bush is sparser now, but sheep crop the grass of the fields surrounding the churchyard near Marton, and in the Spring daffodils bloom among the graves. And on Octavius Hadfield's headstone are engraved the words—

"I have finished my course
I have kept the faith."