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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Wellington waited over eighteen months for its first visit from Governor Hobson. According to E. J. Wakefield—"To the question 'what news from the north?' the invariable answer was 'Hobson's coming!' and it became the custom to say of a waiter, a ship, or anything else proverbially dilatory, but which was 'coming', instead of 'so's Christmas', 'so's Hobson!' This was in fact a better figure of speech, for Captain Hobson, unlike Christmas, had been 'coming' for more than a year."

However, he did arrive, and it has already been recorded that Octavius Hadfield was called into Wellington to meet him. In the same letter, dated August 31, 1841, he wrote—"He seems inclined to uphold religion in the land, to the best of his power. He was at church on Sunday when I preached, though it was a miserable day."

Hadfield's illness at the beginning of 1842 has been alluded to. In a letter to his sister, Octavia, on January 5, 1842, while still sick, he wrote—"George says my father wants a statistical account of how I pass a day, etc. The truth is I never pass two days alike and never two weeks together in the same place. I sometimes have a dinner and sometimes go without. In fact you cannot well imagine anything more irregular than the life and adventures of O.H." George was the older brother who had coached Octavius in so many of his studies.

Writing three weeks later from Wellington where he was recuperating with the St. Hills, to his mother, he gave some views on the country. "It has been rather painful to me to be unable to live among my dear people and to continue my instructions to them, but the Lord's will be done. They have appeared very anxious for my recovery and appeared much attached to me. I wish I had some help, my time is much wasted in moving about from place to place. I begin to fear that the rapid influx of whites to this country must eventually prove pernicious to the Maoris. This part of the country will shortly be overrun with settlers if colonisation proceeds as it has hitherto done. I cannot but fear that there will be bloodshed here before long, that a collision will take place between the settlers and page 38 the Maoris. Nothing I firmly believe at the present moment restrains the Maoris but the power of the Gospel. How long that may continue to act generally as a restraint I cannot conjecture. I see no reason why such an event should take place; the Maoris are very easily managed, but the impetuosity of some settlers will probably act as a firebrand to cause a general conflagration, and should such a thing happen some of the settlers (tho' they do not think so) must be the sufferers.

I do not think that there is fair play here. For instance, on the arrival of the Lieut.-Governor it was stated that he came to make a treaty with the New Zealand chiefs. In this treaty all their lands and rights were guaranteed to the latter who allowed the Governor to take quiet possession. This treaty which the Governor made with them they looked upon as a bona fide act, and they understood that lands which should be taken possession of by settlers were to be purchased from them. But now that a footing has been obtained here, a different ground is taken and it is broadly hinted that the treaty was not a bona fide act, but a mere blind to deceive foreign powers. The Queen takes possession of the soil and the Maoris are looked upon as nonentities, and what the result must be requires not any extraordinary measure of foresight to determine. What opinion the unsuspecting simple New Zealander will form of settlers from this act of civilised Christian diplomacy remains to be seen—that it will not be a very favourable one I presume no one will question. This is a fine country, its capabilities have no bounds, the Maoris are a fine, tractable race, Christianity has its influence among them, and settlers may come here to any extent; there is plenty of room, but a strong Government, that which we read of as a matter of history (for such a thing scarcely exists in these days) is wanted, but under a weak, vacillating Government nothing can prosper.

But enough perhaps of these subjects which though they engage and occupy my thoughts may not interest you. We have nothing however to fear for ourselves, for though some of the Maoris look upon us missionaries as feelers sent out to prepare the way for colonisation, and the colonists on the other hand view us with suspicion, considering that we influence the Maoris to oppose their interests, we are nevertheless considered by both parties too useful to be dispensed with at present. I am also bound to say that personally I have met with great civility and kindness from all the leading settlers.

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I often wish to pay you a visit but I could be of no use in England, and I think as soon as we cease to be useful life becomes a burden. Here, if possessed of a very moderate measure of health I might be materially useful in various ways both among Maoris and others, and therefore I make up my mind to live here, though I may some day pay you a visit, in which case I should probably persuade you all to accompany me back to N.Z."

From the beginning Hadfield studied the affairs and management of his adopted country, and prepared himself to fight where he saw injustice. He was to earn much unpopularity for this, for at various periods in his long life he found a great deal that he considered unjust, and it was always a difficult task for him to keep silent on these occasions.

In July, 1842, he wrote to his sister, Amelia—"On Sunday last at Otaki I baptised 30 adults, and have been this week occupied in examining about 56 persons whom I purpose to baptise on Sunday at this place." The letter was written from Wellington. "They are recommended to me for admission into the church from their holy and blameless conduct and I examine them in order to ascertain their knowledge of the doctrines of the Gospel. I can assure you that their knowledge of these is equal if not superior to that of the generality of pious persons at home."

Bishop Selwyn, first and only Bishop of New Zealand, arrived in the country on May 31, 1842, and in August reached Wellington, bringing with him a resident clergyman for that town. From there he crossed over to Nelson, and Hadfield did not see him until his return the following month. Hadfield at the time was paying his first visit to the Wairarapa, of which he wrote on August 30—"I was at Wanganui about five weeks ago. On my return from that place I went to Port Nicholson and then went about 50 miles beyond it to a place called Wairarapa, which I had never visited before. The residents there are newcomers who, having been beaten formerly in their wars had deserted their land, but who have lately returned. I did not see many of them as they were in the woods looking for food, having not yet any regular plantations. I had an uncomfortable trip as there was cold rain every day and some of the cliffs could only be passed by wading into the sea up to my waist. I passed another week at Port Nicholson. I officiated there as usual to an English congregation to whom notice was given in the public papers. People came to hear me preach, though I hear that page 40 many consider me an enthusiast. I am happy to say that I an relieved of the charge now, as Mr. Cole is appointed there. . . The Bishop I hear is much interested in the Maoris and has ahead; some knowledge of the language. Maunsell has published a gramma: which however I have not seen. He is a clever fellow, the only mar we have who knows the language well. Many of our good friend; here fancy that William Williams knows the language and the) leave the translations for him, while they underrate Maunsell'; ability which annoys me. ... I now keep a goat and a great many fowls, so that I have milk and eggs in abundance. I am able also to eat potatoes which I have not tasted for years."

Five years later Hadfield again praised Robert Maunsell in a letter to the Church Missionary Society, March 8, 1847. "He is by far the ablest Maori scholar in the country, and his translation, especially from the Hebrew, is really beautiful—perhaps even more so than scholars in England would consider possible . , . they are at once idiomatic and literal. Mr. Maunsell has a very accurate knowledge of the language, though he has not very clear views on the philosophy and the metaphysical part of the grammar. Archdeacon W. Williams comes next to him, though at some distance, and after him nobody."

Bishop Selwyn arrived back in Wellington from Nelson on September 10, the same day that Governor Hobson died a very early death in Auckland. On September 17 Hadfield wrote to his mother from Wellington—"I came over here yesterday with Mr. Mason to meet the Bishop and am highly delighted with him. I breakfasted with him this morning and he was very kind, saying that he had sufficient introduction to me from the Bishop of Australia who had spoken to him of me. He appears to be a man of great latent energy and activity, in fact a first-rate man."

Bishop Selwyn was a tall man with an athletic figure and a handsome face. Still in his early thirties he was only five years older than Octavius Hadfield. All that the wealthy class in England could offer had been his—friendships in the highest quarters, acclaim in the most aristocratic schools and universities. As well as a certain similarity in their backgrounds, these two men must have had much in common.

George Augustus Selwyn was to prove a strong friend to Hadfield, even though their views on church matters were to differ quite widely at times. For the whole of the twenty-five years that page 41 the former stayed in the country they worked together for the good of the Maori race. When Hadfield died, a newspaper article entitled "Glimpses of the Past", December 16, 1904, stated—"The ruling powers today are the friends and protectors of the Maoris; and while every credit is given to the present Government for its wise and benevolent policy towards the native race, it must not be forgotten that Selwyn and Hadfield led the way in showing that the true way to pacify the Maoris was to treat them with even-handed justice and good faith, and to educe and develop their higher qualities."

While Hadfield and Mason were in Wellington, John Mason was ordained by the Bishop. The ordination took place before a large congregation of Maoris, and was performed in Maori, Hadfield having translated the service for the occasion.

Two months later he wrote further of Selwyn. "I have had much conversation with the Bishop. He is devoted to his work and is a pattern of self-denial, diligence and activity. His great talent is too manifest to be questioned by anybody. He delights in being with the Maoris and enters into all their concerns and wants with unwearied attention and patience. The knowledge which he has already attained of the Maori language is surprising. He has passed through my place twice on his way to Taranaki, and then again on his road to Hawke's Bay. On this latter occasion he was accompanied by the Chief Justice, Mr. Martin. I went with them about a hundred miles up the river Manawatu, and then, having procured about thirty Maoris to accompany them to Archdeacon Williams at Hawke's Bay, I took leave of them. I was with them a week, and left them with regret, thankful however, that I had enjoyed the society of the two most talented men in New Zealand for so long a time. They are both attached in a most extraordinary manner to the Maoris and seem determined to defend the Maoris' interests, and as they have the power to do so, being joint trustees for all Maori property, etc., much good will no doubt be done by them. I cannot express how delighted I have been with them both." William Martin, later Sir William Martin, was to be a close friend of Hadfield's from this time on.

He continued later in this same letter—"The Bishop has given me more work to do, but whether I shall obey him or not I have not yet determined. He wished me and Mr. Maunsell to go through all the Maori New Testament and correct all the mistakes and then page 42 to have a large quantity printed by the Christian Knowledge Society. I endeavoured in vain to persuade him and the Judge that I knew but little of the language. Nothing would do but I must give myself to the work. I know however that I am unequal to the work, and therefor shall leave it for Maunsell. A little fluency in speaking with a tolerable pronunciation is mistaken for a knowledge of the language, when in truth there is no real connexion between the two."

As has been seen already, he had translated the ordination service of John Mason into Maori, and later, during his long illness in Wellington, he completed a new Maori catechism which was then printed.

John Mason, living at Putiki across the river from the settlers' new township of Wanganui, had run the Mission station there since his arrival in the middle of 1840. He and Hadfield had frequently met and visited each other. Then, in January, 1843, just over three months after he was ordained, Mason was drowned in the Turakina River while he and Hadfield were attempting to cross it on their horses. Hadfield had been to Wanganui and John Mason was returning south with him. It was raining at the time, and being turned back by quicksand in the shallow part of the river they decided to swim their horses across at the mouth. After going only a few yards Mason fell from his horse. Both horses immediately returned to the shallow water at the edge, where Hadfield threw off his coat and waistcoat and swam back in. He managed to reach the sinking man, but hindered by his clothes, and by tide and wind driving them further towards the deep water, he eventually had to give up, and only reached the shore again himself with great difficulty and in an exhausted state. Two young Maori boys who arrived on the beach at the time of the accident did nothing to assist in the rescue, but when Hadfield had to give up his attempts and get himself to the shore they helped him by taking off his wet clothes and lending him their blankets and kindling a fire.

After a few hours he had recovered sufficiently to return to Wanganui to break the sad news of Mason's death, and later took his burial service in the brick church at Putiki. Richard Taylor, who had taken Hadfield's place in the Mission school at Waimate, was sent to replace him, and until his death thirty years later did important work there.

Hadfield's people were delighted to see him back. They had heard garbled reports of the accident, including one that he himself page 43 was dead. It had all been a very great shock to him. In a letter describing the tragedy he writes—"Thus while my friend is taken away I am still preserved. The Lord's ways are mysterious. We were riding quietly on talking about the state of the Church at home and in N.Z. and within five minutes one was taken to his rest and the other left."

The anxiety of his Maoris touched him deeply and helped him continue with his normal work. He spent more time in the fields, encouraging the people to cultivate their land better and to plant a greater variety of crops. E. J. Wakefield, wanting to develop the flax trade, wrote—"Mr. Hadfield thoroughly appreciated the advantage of introducing among the Maoris a more permanent and profitable employment than their rude cultivation of potatoes and the rearing of pigs, in both which pursuits they would soon be outrun by the white settlers themselves, and both which tended to supply a market very fleeting and uncertain in its demand. He had early taught them how to cultivate wheat; and he gladly used his best endeavours to support the establishment of the flax-trade."