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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The ship which Henry Williams and Octavius Hadfield had missed by five weeks when they arrived at Wellington at the beginning of November, 1839, had indeed been the prelude to colonisation. Edward Gibbon Wakefield's plan of populating New Zealand was well under way. His brother, Colonel William Wakefield, and his son, Edward Jerningham Wakefield, sailing round the country in the Tory, had bought large tracts of land from the Maoris, handing out in exchange blankets and clothing, fire-arms and nightcaps and umbrellas. Hard on their heels arrived the first ships carrying the immigrants, and the shores of Port Nicholson were strewn with bricks and ploughs, tents and saucepans, millstones and cases, people and stock.

For the first few months Hadfield's only white companions out on the coast were the whalers living on Kapiti, and an occasional traveller or trader. He was hundreds of miles from his nearest fellow missionary. But already, as the summer of 1840 cooled into autumn, some of the colonists were beginning to push beyond the cramping hills of the future capital of the country. He had been told that he was considered headstrong by many at Paihia for coming alone to this part of the country, but all too soon civilisation was coming to meet him.

The arrival of the colonists, under the auspices of the New Zealand Company, forced the British Government to recognise this country at the far end of the earth which up to now it had been steadfastly trying to ignore. Trouble was rife enough, both at home and in other parts of the British Empire, without the extra responsibility of New Zealand and its Maori inhabitants. But now, with hundreds of Englishmen making homes on its shores, with a Frenchman trying to proclaim himself King of New Zealand and another group of Frenchmen preparing to colonise Akaroa, something had to be done.

In January, 1840, eleven days after Henry Williams returned from his trip to the south, Captain Hobson arrived unexpectedly in the Bay of Islands, bringing with him a proclamation asking for page 28 the cession of the Maoris' sovereignty of their country to the Queen of England. In return they were to be granted all the rights of British subjects and the protection of the British crown. Their land could only be sold with the consent of the Maori owners, and to none other than an agent of the Queen. This was to be a bitter blow to the settlers who had paid for their land in England, and who were now laboriously felling trees and clearing spaces on which to build their homes and their lives.

On February 6, 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by forty-six head chiefs. It was some little time before Octavius Hadfield heard of this in the south, but in the meantime his work continued. His area of ministration was very large. It stretched a hundred and fifty miles up the coast beyond Wanganui to Taranaki and Mt. Egmont, and across Cook Strait to the South Island, where in time he visited Cloudy Bay, Queen Charlotte Sound, D'Urville Island and Nelson. It reached many miles up the Manawatu River, and across the Rimutuka Ranges to the Wairarapa. As it grew he was also expected to help at Port Nicholson; the new settlers there were for a considerable time without a chaplain. E. J. Wakefield commented on this in his book—"Mr. Hadfield had, during this period, kindly travelled from Waikanae more than once, to marry couples and to perform service on the Sabbath-day. During his short sojourns in Wellington, he had acquired the respect of the colonists as much by the polish and affability of his manners, as on account of the universal knowledge of the worthy way in which his missionary duties were performed."

As the white population increased an attempt was made to persuade Hadfield to stay in the town, but he much preferred the work he had chosen among the Maoris. In a letter from Wellington to his family, July 20, 1841, he wrote—"The respectable people are very civil to me and wish me to remain here till the Bishop makes his arrival. Had I not such abundant employment among my own people I should be inclined to do so, as the flock is becoming scattered and marriages etc. are taking place in an irregular manner, and all kinds of evils are likely to ensue. The inhabitants also think that I ought to be more with them under present circumstances."

A month later he wrote again from Wellington—"I have been called over here by the arrival of the Governor. ... I have had a good deal of conversation with the Governor about the Maoris. He is very civil and kind, I dined with him a day or two ago. . . . Here page 29 are 3,000 persons (English) and no clergyman. I have had some strong hints to induce me to remain here, till someone comes, but I cannot. . . . There are a Mr. and Mrs. St. Hill with whom I am residing, who are always remarkably kind."

In a letter the following year he refers to this family again. "I am very comfortable here, everybody without exception is civil and kind to me, wherever I go, and my friends the St. Hills are particularly so." Henry St. Hill was the newly appointed magistrate in Wellington, and he and his wife, Anne, were always to be among Hadfield's closest friends. When he was ill early in 1842, Henry St. Hill went up the coast to visit him, and later, when Hadfield was sufficiently recovered to be moved, had him brought into Wellington. Hadfield wrote home—"I am happy now to be able to give a more favourable report." (Than his last letter). "I then stated that I had been confined to my bed for three weeks, but was recovering. Since that I have been brought by my friend Mr. St. Hill to his house here, where by the very kind and assiduous attentions of himself and Mrs. St. Hill, I have been supplied with every comfort. He has the best house in the colony and they have spared no pain in making me comfortable. ... I have been in the hands of Dr. Fitzgerald, who I think is a clever man."

Dr. Fitzgerald, a Roman Catholic, was to be a good and faithful doctor to Octavius Hadfield. In 1849, at the end of the latter's four and a half year illness in Wellington spent in the St. Hills' home, he wrote of him—"Dr. Fitzgerald, my kind, attentive, unwearied adviser, induced me to try it (the water treatment), often having performed some wonderful cures in the hospital over which he presides and which was built by Sir G. Grey at my suggestion."

Writing letters home about the earlier illness in 1842 he told his family—"I suffered for some weeks from pain in my left side, and great weakness. . . . Feeling rather better on the 5th December, (1841), I started in my boat to go across to Queen Charlotte Sound, but having gone down the coast about 25 miles I felt so ill that I was obliged to land, have my tent erected and go to bed. I then found myself in a violent fever, which increased so rapidly that in the night about 11 o'clock I told my boat's crew, the wind being fair, to cover me well with blankets and take me back home, which we reached about dawn of day. I was then put to bed where I lay ill till Jan. 2nd. Mr. Mason kindly came from Wanganui as soon as he heard of my illness and remained with me for a week. Mr. St. page 30 Hill, a particular friend of mine, likewise came from Port Nicholson and wished much to convey me to his house, but I thought it too far to be carried. Col. Wakefield and others called and were very civil." As was seen earlier, when he was sufficiently recovered St. Hill had his way and he was conveyed to the town.

In a very short time Hadfield's life was firmly anchored among his Maori people, and no amount of persuasion would induce him to leave them for the English communtiy in Wellington. Although he was making some firm friends in the town he was strongly attached to his Maori flock, and they in turn were developing a great respect for this slim young missionary. E. J. Wakefield in "Adventure in New Zealand" wrote—"I had not yet been introduced to Mr. Hadfield's acquaintance; but I had already begun to feel sorry for the prejudices which I had entertained against him on first hearing that he had come with Mr. Williams. All the Maoris, whether converts or not, spoke in the highest terms of his conduct in every particular. I knew, intimately, many of his more immediate followers at Waikanae, some of them of high rank among the tribe; and could not help imbibing from them some of that respectful admiration for his character which they were proud of acknowledging. His scholars were plainly anxious to deserve his praise and affection, rather than bound to their duties by an irksome restraint. . . . The heathen Maoris, too, who had enjoyed an opportunity of observing or conversing with Mr. Hadfield, confessed that he had all the qualities of a chief, and that he was a 'mild white man', who did not discourage their ancient customs by anger or coarse tokens of disgust, but by gentle reason. They also admired his manly courage, of which they had noted more than one proof, and his art of gaining the love of the Maoris even before he had converted them to his creed. Even the corrupt and profane beachcombers and whalers of Kapiti would go out of their way to say a good word or do a service for Mr. Hadfield. . . . With this voluntary and unanimous testimony from all quarters, who could help feeling rejoiced that one good missionary had already acquired so much influence in the immediate neighbourhood of the settlements?"

In a further passage Wakefield continued his dissertation. "These trips procured me the advantage of an intimate acquaintance with the Rev. Octavius Hadfield," he wrote. "It was at this time that I learned more fully to appreciate the excellent qualities of this genuine missionary of the Gospel. He was a perfect enthusiast in page 31 his vocation. A highly educated gentleman, gifted with an extraordinary share of talents, and the most delicate and honourable feelings; mild and forbearing, persuasive and unassuming in his manners; of distinguished address and personal appearance; possessed of very extended information on most general subjects: endowed, in short, with all the necessary qualifications for being known and admired in the highest circles of the old world, or for enjoying the luxuries and comforts which attend upon the most self-denying pursuits in a highly civilised society, he had nevertheless devoted his every thought and energy to the reclamation and amelioration of savages, who were but little advanced from their most warlike and ignorant state when he arrived amongst them."

It is an extraordinary thing, and must furnish ample proof of Hadfield's character, that Edward Jerningham Wakefield wrote so glowingly of him. For he appears to have been an impetuous young man with a decided bias against missionaries, in fact against all authority that did not entirely agree with him, and he was extremely unpopular with many of the men in authority in the country. Writing of Wakefield's book, "Adventure in New Zealand", George Clarke in his own book, "Early Life in New Zealand", stated—"The young man spared no-one on the other side (of the N.Z. Co.) from the lash of his scorn. The successive Governors, the Chief Justice, the Commissioners, the Police Magistrates, the Bishop, the Missionaries, with the single exception of Mr. Hadfield, the protesting Maoris, and even the captains of the English ships of war, were all included in his satire. But George Clarke, junior, the Maori advocate and protector, was very specially his bete noir and he never missed a chance of giving me a cut as he passed me in his narration."

Hadfield's sympathies were very largely with the Maori in all the land troubles that ensued through the years with the Government and the colonists if he thought there was the slightest exploitation of the Maori, yet even Colonel William Wakefield, head of the New Zealand Company in the country, wrote of him in 1842— "Mr. Hadfield, who was educated at Oxford, and is a single-minded and sincere minister of the Gospel, well deserves the estimation in which he is held by all parties."

A further recorded description of Hadfield in these early years comes from Captain G. F. Moore of the schooner Jewess, which broke from her anchorage at Kapiti one stormy night in August, 1841, and was driven ashore on the coast north of Paekakariki. Two page 32 people were washed overboard and drowned, but the rest were able to camp on the beach and on the ship while awaiting help from Wellington. One day a party of Maoris came down the beach, led by a "tall, straight, slender, active, sinewy, sunburnt and smiling pakeha who, in a pleasant voice, politely introduced himself as the resident missionary of the VVaikanae district. He was attired in brown moleskin trousers, blue overshirt and leather belt, a blue cloth cap with leather peak, and carried a long flax stalk as a toki or walking stick." This was written by Captain Moore in his journal, and he added—"I found the Rev. Mr. Hadfield an agreeable, intellectual, cheerful young gentleman, well versed in the Maori language, habits and manners, and he had gained the respect and regard of the Maoris of his district."

Captain Moore, after scrutinising his new companion on first meeting him on the beach, felt he had seen him before and enquired to that effect.

"I don't remember meeting you anywhere in New Zealand, Captain Moore. My name is Hadfield," was the reply.

Captain Moore was the one to remember, and it transpired they had met in Sydney in 1838 through the Rev. Hart Sparling. The Rev. Hart Sparling had been at Oxford with Octavius Hadfield, and they had travelled together on the John from England. And furthermore the Rev, Hart Sparling was Captain Moore's modier's first cousin. Having got all that sorted out, and marvelling at such meetings, the two "sat down to some coffee and pleasant general conversation." On the Paekakariki beach in 1841.

* * *

Hadfield's first long trip from Waikanae was north up the coast to Taranaki. This was early in 1840. He was away four weeks, a walk of about 350 miles, among Maoris who mostly had not seen a missionary before. Of the people generally he wrote—"I am disposed to take a different view of the Maoris from that generally taken by the missionaries here. I think them a most pleasing, interesting, intelligent set of people." In another letter he commented—"The Maoris vex me much at times but I feel much love for them."

Within four months of this journey to Taranaki he had two more trips to Wanganui. Though the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed by the forty-six chiefs in the Bay of Islands, there were still many more signatures to be collected throughout the country. Henry page 33 Williams was one of the people entrusted with this task and so, much sooner than he had expected, he was back at Waikanae, and Hadfield accompanied him up the coast to witness the signatures. "All I did was to witness them, but I would rather have nothing to do with the Government," he wrote at the time.

The second journey was with Mr. and Mrs. John Mason, from the Mission at the Bay of Islands. They stayed a week with Hadfield before going with him to their station at Wanganui. John Mason was the first European assistant Hadfield had—unfortunately he was drowned three years later while crossing the Turakina River.

Writing after these three journeys, in July, 1840, he told his family—"Since my removal from the north I am quite satisfied. I have been living alone and had many difficulties to encounter, especially from my ignorance of the language. It is now eight monthis since I came down here and I can speak the language tolerably, at least I speak it badly enough, but Mr. Williams and the Maoris say I speak it well so I have lately taken courage and am improving. My health is also improved, my chest is much better. I can undergo a great amount of fatigue and hard work. I frequently sleep out in my tent for a fortnight together in frosty nights and am also often wet in crossing rivers, but never take cold."

Shortly after his arrival in Waikanae, a large party of Maoris from Queen Charlotte Sound had come across the Strait to visit friends and relatives, and to meet the man who had come to teach their people. They stayed some months and constantly attended school and church. When the time came for them to leave, Hadfield supplied them with what books and slates he could spare, in order that they might continue their learning.

At the end of 1840 he decided it was time to visit these people. If he did not go they had all threatened to come back to him. So, assisted in his boat by a Maori crew of five, and accompanied by a canoe, he set forth across Cook Strait. For the actual crossing they left from a point about twenty miles down the coast, probably Mana or Titahi Bay. Hadfield wrote—"I started at 8 o'clock with a light breeze which soon died away, we then rowed for about three hours, the canoe left us, when a breeze sprang up and we were obliged to run for the north entrance of the Sound, which from the ebb tide made the sea very rough. We however reached it at 6 o'clock in the evening when I was thankful to land safely."

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Hadfield was extremely pleased with the people of Okukari. He found they had been studying hard and were eager to hear him and learn more from him. They had built a large whare which they used as a church. From Queen Charlotte Sound he was asked to go to Cloudy Bay, where he had Divine service on Christmas Day with the English whalers there, "and preached for the first time in English for the last 14 months." Returning to Queen Charlotte he eventually recrossed the Strait, sailing "at 2 o'clock with a fine breeze, accompanied by four large canoes, and reached Mana Island at 7 o'clock."

Six months later he made another trip to the Sounds, and "was more refreshed and delighted than I have been before since I have been in N.Z. ... At Okukari I found they had built me a house where I made myself very comfortable, and the kindness and attention of these dear people delighted my soul. ... I have a congregation of about 800, some of whom came from neighbouring places."

From there he went to Rangitoto (D'Urville Island), where he had also been on the previous trip. "I baptised eight," he wrote, "among whom was the chief of the place, a man of about forty, and three young women who, though they heard the Gospel for the first time in February, seemed to have remembered all that I said during the few days I was with them. They seemed exceedingly clear on doctrinal points, election, justification, sanctification, etc., so that I was amazed. They had built a nice place of worship according to my instructions." On the way home he was "caught in a breeze and slept by the side of my boat on the rocks on an uninhabited island without water and only a small fire during a frosty night, and nothing to eat—so much for variety."

A third trip in March, 1842, was even more hazardous. As before he visited Queen Charlotte Sound and D'Urville Island, and then carried on through French Pass to the new settlement at Nelson in Blind Bay. This had been recently established by the New Zealand Company and was headed by Captain Arthur Wakefield, a brother of Edward Gibbon and of Colonel William Wakefield. Captain Wakefield was to die the following year in the Wairau Massacre.

After a rather tricky entrance into Nelson harbour, hindered by a strong ebb-tide and watched by the newly arrived settlers through telescopes, Hadfield was well received by Wakefield. He was the first clergyman to visit Nelson. His crew were complimented on their handling of the boat through the narrow passage into the harbour— usually, they discovered later, this was only attempted at full tide.

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A more hazardous part came on the way home when a gale carried the sail away, and in trying to hold her head into the wind the rudder broke. All the crew lay down flat in the boat in terror, awaiting the end. For hours Hadfield attempted to steer and hold the boat steady. Fortunately, and miraculously one feels, they at length drifted into the beach at Paekakariki, just clear of the rocks, where anxious Maoris waded into the surf to assist them. Years later Hadfield's family attributed his heart strain, which in turn was a cause of his long illness in Wellington during the latter half of the forties, to this episode.

In a letter home he wrote—"I went in my boat but in it I go no more for two reasons, first because in crossing the Straits I was nearly being lost in a gale of wind, breaking my rudder and being considered mad by the seamen about the coast, and secondly because our Committee at the North, taking compassion on my eccentric propensities which they find it impossible to cure, have sent me down a pretty little craft which is safe as anything of the kind can be."

In May of that year he attempted a voyage in a small schooner down to the "Southward". He may have been bound for Banks Peninsula, or perhaps Kaiapoi. However of this he related—"After leaving Port Nicholson and being out for seven days in incessant gales of contrary wind during which a large brig in company with us was dismasted, I gave up the attempt and put back into Cloudy Bay, considerably reduced by sickness ,etc, and thus I have failed for the present in carrying the Gospel to those parts in person, though my books and letters have already gone and have been well received."

Twice in 1840 Hadfield journeyed up the Manawatu River, the second time travelling 40 miles from the mouth and returning by canoe. We have seen that three times he journeyed on to Wanganui and once beyond, and at the end of the year made his first trip to the South Island. And in a letter to the paper many years later he stated that in those early years he mostly crossed over to Kapiti once a week.

Yet in a letter in 1840 he accuses himself of indolence. In another one, dated July 6, 1840, he wrote—"I have too much to do here and consequently can do nothing properly. I have two houses ten miles apart and am absent from both a great deal, so that I never satisfy myself or anybody else. Some of the chiefs told me the page 36 other day that if I had not come here die war would not have ceased and that many ere this belonging to both sides would have been dead."

Another war was avoided through his presence the following year when Te Heuheu, chief of the Taupo tribes, led a war party down the coast to avenge some wrong. Te Heuheu was famed both for his imposing stature and for his commanding oratory and resounding voice. E. J. Wakefield in "Adventure in New Zealand" recorded that he met a large body of Port Nicholson Maoris who had been to a conference at Waikanae on the subject of a threatened attack by the Taupo war-party. "Mr. Hadfield had succeeded in frustrating all these warlike preparations," he wrote. "This gentleman had, after very laborious efforts, and in one instance at the peril of his life, managed to acquire a very extensive and honourable influence over the hitherto fierce chiefs of the Ngatiraukawa. Whatanui and part of his family had become mihanere, as well as several other chiefs of rank; and Mr. Hadfield had wisely managed to introduce the new doctrine without destroying the Maori aristocracy. He thus dissuaded Whatanui and through him the great part of the tribe from fighting. Heuheu, I heard, had been furious at this successful interference with his designs; but had ended by confessing himself fairly beaten when Mr. Hadfield calmly and courageously presented himself before him in the midst of his anger, overthrew his reasoning, and reproached the old chief in the conclave of his people with a want of the dignity and deliberation suitable to his place of patriarch."

Only a few years later a landslide engulfed Te Heuheu's village, killing him and his people in a mountain of mud.

In January, 1841, Hadfield recorded in a letter—"I this time of the year attend school at 4 o'clock in the morning daily and my evening lectures close at about 9—during all this time I am liable to be interrupted. I yesterday added up a list of my schools in different places around me and found that about 600 (this is under the mark) meet daily to learn to read, write and also to learn the catechisms they have in use. About one half of them can read and write tolerably, but there are many hundreds who have learnt without any regular schools."

It is hard to know in this brief glimpse of a year's work what time could have been left for indolence.