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 1850 Charlotte Godley and her husband John Robert Godley, of the Canterbury Association, spent some months in Wellington. There they met Octavius Hadfield, and eventually visited him at Otaki, events which Charlotte Godley described in letters to her mother which were published some years ago as "Letters From Early New Zealand."

"In the evening we went to Mr. St. Hill's to tea," she wrote on August 23, "and to meet Archdeacon Hadfield who has been in Wellington for a few days, but was going off the next morning to Otaki. He only comes down here now and then on business to see after the different Maori settlements about the town, and on Sunday last he baptised three adults, whom he prepared when he was down before, and then left in charge of a clergyman at the Hutt to see how they would go on, as he is very much against their being baptised immediately on their conversion, and without thoroughly understanding what they are about."

On September 17 the family, Charlotte, John and their three-year-old son, Arthur, plus two attendants, began their journey to Otaki in a bright yellow dog-cart they had been loaned. "We went along the Porirua road, which I think you must know now by name, through about 16 miles of beautiful bush, down at last on to the beach of the Porirua harbour which has a very narrow entrance, and stretches inland, like a lake with tide, and surrounded with low wooded hills, for several miles."

They stayed the night in the public-house at Pauatahanui. "The next morning we were up betimes, as we had (with a slow horse) rather a long journey before us. We began with 8 miles of gradual ascent through the Horokiwi valley, still more striking in bush scenery and sharp cliffs than anything we had seen before. ... At the top we went through a short cutting, and then came suddenly upon a magnificent view. . . . The chain of thickly-wooded hills, which we had been winding up and through, leaves the coast at this point, and goes a mile or two inland, still running parallel with the sea. On the other side, the island of Kapiti, though 8 miles before page 71 us, seemed nearly under our feet, at a distance of 2 or 3 miles from the shore; and immediately below us lay a strip of low land, and sand-hills, running down to a sandy beach that, with its lines of white surf, stretched away further than the eye could reach; the country, to my surprise, dotted over with little cultivations and Maori pas, some deserted, but many in full activity. . . . We had then to descend the hill, the road winding down, but pretty steep, for more than 2 miles. ... At the bottom of the hill there is a 'resting' place for man and horse. . . . We did not rest long, as we were not to dine till Waikanae, our next stage after 8 miles along the beach, which, when the tide is at all low, makes a beautiful road of hard sand. . . ."

Charlotte Godley was not impressed with the coastal scenery around Waikanae. "Waikanae is the most desert-looking place that perhaps ever was seen except the Manawatu further on," she wrote. "It is a collection of hills of loose sand, through which a river winds into the sea, and about it are a few very small attempts at houses, nearly all thatched and covered with a kind of coarse grass, all about the same colour as the sand; then there is a large church, built by the Maoris for themselves, and the old pa which looks at first sight something like a garden (without the plants) and the palings of the fence are many of them painted of a dull red, and some are ornamented at the top with great carved figures in wood, as monstrous as any you can conceive. You must understand that the Maori huts are never built high enough to be visible over their paling. . . ."

Having dined at Waikanae they continued their journey, the horse even slower than before and a cold wind blowing. "It was a wild scene indeed, on that misty afternoon, threading our way along the unending line of beach. We could see the tops of the blue hills, through clouds running parallel, a few miles inland, over the low sand-hills that began immediately after high-water mark; with here and there stunted-looking vegetation like hay growing, and this, mile after mile, till evening came on, without a single land-mark, except the little streams, which were none of them above the horse's knees, (except the Waikanae river, but as the tide was low we managed to ford that too). At last to our great joy we saw our dear Mr. Hadfield coming down to meet us. . . .

Mr. Hadfield's house is a little low cottage, built of reeds, and thatched with a long reedy grass that the Maoris call toi-toi. There page 72 is a door in the middle, and on one side his bedroom, and on the other his sitting-room; and through the sitting-room, a bedroom with a little bath-room, larger and better than the other rooms, with a large French bed with white curtains, carpet all over the floor, quite luxurious. This last apartment was all new since my husband was at Otaki, two months before, and indeed was I believe finished at that time expressly to contain me. I was the first lady who had ever paid Mr. Hadfield a visit, and was made much of accordingly; he questioned the servants, and then, wherever it was possible, had everything for us exactly as we had it at home. His only servant is a Maori boy of about fourteen, who was baptised a few years ago by the name of Cole; very good and intelligent, and of course very unlike anything you ever saw in the way of a servant; his long black hair unbrushed, his brown feet bare, black trowsers. and always a very clean white shirt, and over that one of blue serge; the regular colonial working garments. He, of course, cannot speak English, and, though very respectful, talks to his Master quite in a different way from our button-boys at home; addresses him as Harrawidda, their version of Hadfield, and in all his difficulties he had only to speak, and his voice, without opening the door, was perfectly audible from a little pantry formed by die end of the passage where the mysteries of preparing the tea-tray were gone through. Mr. Hadfield only drinks water, so this was all new to him, and the first night it would have made anyone laugh, after many consultations through the wall, to see him come in with the tray, a knife, a Rockingham teapot, a slop-basin, and two cups without saucers, all looking as if they had lost their way, and didn't know where to stand upon it. He came just inside the door with this, and then, seeing me sitting in the corner expecting it, he was quite overpowered, and with the Maori for 'Oh', he disappeared. Mr. Hadfield had to go and help him, and we all to keep our countenance as well as we could. . . .

We have quite agreed that he is the nicest person we have yet seen, out of England. But I think I have already given you long descriptions of him." Here she writes of some of Hadfield's early experiences, and of his illness in Wellington. "At last he took to cold water," she continues, "and, after a year's treatment, is able to do almost anything. For instance, during this winter he had to go a long way (73 miles) up the coast, beyond where we went, and after a fatiguing day, when it was quite dark, arrived at a river page 73 to be crossed, without a canoe; so he took off his clothes, put them on his head, and walked through with the water up to his shoulders; then dressed, in a bitterly cold wind, and went on again to another river, which however he crossed in a canoe, and was not at all the worse. However, as you are not so much interested in him as we are, I will excuse any more 'biography'.

When the Maoris at Otaki heard of his coming back, they came together in numbers, and built him his present house in two days, refusing any payment, and Otaki is now his home. . . . The village is very pretty, and stands on a flat, with a brook, or small river, running through it. The bush, with very fine trees, comes close up to the cultivations, and has, so far, been left in patches of wood that ornament the country very much, but as anyone can go and cut for firewood Mr. Hadfield is afraid that they will gradually, as it were, melt away. Besides that, the trees so left generally die of their own accord, when they lose the protection of the bush around. There is everywhere a beautiful background of well-wooded hills, and good high ones too, and the village is quite scattered, and no two houses standing together, each one has about a quarter acre, if not more, for garden and potatoes. . . . Mr. Williams went, for the Sunday, to a place about ten miles off. There is always some place wanting a visit from him, or from Mr. Hadfield; there are only Maori teachers, besides themselves, in the whole district, and so, wherever they go for Sunday, the Maoris assemble for many miles round, often in hundreds. Mr. Hadfield proposed to us to make an expedition to one of these places of meeting thirty-five miles from Otaki, to shew us a little more of the country and to give us, as he said, 'a night in the bush'. Of course, we joyfully acquiesced, and putting the 'needful for a night' in my husband's saddle bags, started one fine morning for another drive along the beach road. After six miles we came to a river, which, the tide being high, was to be crossed in boats. The horses had their saddles taken off, ropes tied to their heads, and were swum across, two going with each turn of the boat. . . . Fifteen miles further, in a northerly direction, brought us to a much larger river, the Manawatu, where we were to leave the vehicle and proceed riding; it is never fordable, being about (vaguely) as wide as the Thames in London, and quite a sea running when there is much wind. We crossed in a canoe and had some trouble with the horses, my husband's swimming so fast ahead that he broke loose and turned and swam back to the shore again. . . .

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Nothing can exceed the dreariness of the country at the mouth of the Manawatu. At low tide shores are left of mixed sand and mud, and there is nothing to be seen but little hillocks covered with loose sand, or else coarse stunted rushes. Then we came to swamp, with some tall reeds, and flax ten or twelve feet high. Mr. Hadfield led the way along a little track easy enough to follow, and after five or six miles it ran very much up and down steep hillocks which began to be covered with bushes, and something like vegetation; for our course was inland towards the hills. Just as it got dark we came suddenly into a considerable pa, and a large patch of bush, and I never saw anything nicer than the way in which the Maoris came flocking out to meet Mr. Hadfield, whose coming was unexpected. We had to pass quite through the village to get to the house we were to sleep in, which turned out to be a pretty little reed cottage, with two rooms and a passage, and so well-built as to be a beautiful specimen of the style. The only imperfection was that it had as yet, being unfinished, neither furniture nor fireplace, and that the French windows were a good deal broken. . . .

There was, in the space before the house, a round hole dug about a foot deep, such as they use for ovens and fireplaces; and by this we sat on the ground, wrapped in blankets like themselves. . . . Mr. Hadfield's time was fully occupied in listening to all the stories they had to tell him, and giving answers to their many questions, etc. They could not have seemed more pleased if their nearest and dearest relation had just returned. . . . There was a young man most fashionably dressed, and even understanding a few words of English, who was the builder of the house . . . and he had an old Father, as Mr. Hadfield said 'quite an old Maori', dressed in an old red blanket, with a face tattooed till it was nearly black, who would come and look in at us when we were in the house, and at breakfast next morning there was the black face applied to the largest hole in the window and watching everything we did with the deepest attention. . . .

At the first dawn of day we were up, and at seven were in the canoe which was to take us back to the mouth of the Manawatu, by a winding course of more than thirty miles down the river. . . . The banks of the river were in some places very pretty, and the woods beautiful, hung over in some places with bunches and garlands of a gigantic white clematis; and another tree which is something like laburnum was nearly out. All the way down we page 75 passed a succession of little Maori settlements, the inhabitants all rushing out to salute Mr. Hadfield, and get a few words in return."

These descriptions of Charlotte Godley's were of the countryside that was Octavius Hadfield's home. The people and their dwellings, the hills and rivers and beaches and bush were completely familiar to him. Her route from Wellington to Otaki and beyond was one that he had walked and ridden many3 many times. In a newspaper article after his death, one of these journeys was recalled. "On one occasion his presence was required at an important meeting at Wellington, but the notice barely gave him time in which to accomplish the journey. However, he rode off from Otaki, reaching Wellington, 53 miles distant, in five hours and a quarter, just in time for the meeting. Considering the road was but half formed, and such portion very difficult and hilly, it may be judged that the rapid journey was a cruelty to the horse; but the rider was a light weight, and the horse noted for his great endurance and spirit—sometimes running away with his rider during the journey." This newspaper cutting is in a family scrapbook, and a pencil entry in the margin states that often this horse went for a gallop when he came home from Wellington.

So Hadfield continued travelling these familiar routes, teaching, preaching and organising, writing to his family in England, and writing also to the Church Missionary Society on the affairs of the church and the country. Although Charlotte Godley was the first woman to stay in his new Otaki home, others had been his guests earlier. Back in 1840 John Mason and his wife had stayed with him at Waikanae for a week on their way to Wanganui. Mrs. Selwyn had accompanied her husband, the Bishop, to the area, and following the Godley's trip the journey to Otaki became quite popular, according to Charlotte.

"The Governor and Mrs. Eyre are gone up the coast," she wrote on October 25, "and Mrs. McCleverty and child, and Mrs. St. Hill and Mr. and Mrs. Petre and three children have all been, since we came back, as far as Otaki. They say I set the fashion. . . ."

Eighteen months later the home described by Charlotte Godley was to have its own mistress.