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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"He was one of the most remarkable men the Colony has ever known, one to whom she owes more than the present generation are aware of."

Two generations after the Marlborough Press wrote this on December 14, 1904, the name of Octavius Hadfield is still not widely known in New Zealand. Yet in the forming of the Colony and of the Anglican Church in New Zealand he played a leading part.

When Hadfield first joined the Church Missionary Society late in 1837, it seemed probable that after a year or two of training he would be sent to India. In the event, owing to a sudden vacancy in the Waimate Station in New Zealand, he was appointed there and left England much sooner than he had expected. He was told that his main job would be to learn the language so that he could translate the scriptures. He had five months in Sydney en route, and later, after ten months at Waimate which he did not enjoy, he was tempted to return there. Then he was offered the chance of accompanying William Williams to Turanga, now Gisborne— but before this came about the request for a missionary to be sent to Kapiti was made and he offered himself for that. Later still he toyed with the idea of going to China, but various circumstances combined to ensure that New Zealand remained his home.

Probably the most rewarding years were the early ones on the coast north of Wellington facing Kapiti Island where Hadfield arrived to live at the end of 1839. Here he was in territory dominated by Te Rauparaha, a powerful and much feared chief. Though Rauparaha never accepted the Christian faith, he grew to trust and like the young missionary, and thereby helped to smooth the way for a new life in his domains.

When Hadfield, accompanied by Henry Williams, reached Wellington harbour on November 7, 1839, from the Bay of Islands, their arrival was only a few weeks after that of the Tory which, page 2 sent out from England by Edward Gibbon Wakefield to buy land for the New Zealand Company, had first dropped anchor there in September. They were some two and a half months ahead of the first ship, the Aurora, which came into Wellington harbour, loaded with settlers, on January 22, 1840, closely followed by four more ships. Even before the arrival of the Tory, a small schooner, the Hokianga, had been into the harbour in July of 1839 carrying a party of Maoris from the north and a young Wesleyan missionary who held the first recorded service on the shores of Port Nicholson

Hadfield studied the Maori, not as so many of his fellow men did as a primitive native with whom one could have nothing in common, but as a member of "the genus man." He was called a rebel for supporting Wiremu Kingi Whiti in his refusal to sell the land that led to the Taranaki war—and of the war he wrote three pamphlets, "One of England's Little Wars", "The Second Year of One of England's Little Wars", and "A Sequel to One of England's Little Wars". He became an authority on the Maori people and their strong champion, especially during the "little wars" of the 1860's when he became extremely involved in the affairs of the country and highly unpopular with the Governor and Governmen of the day.

He read extensively when time permitted, more especially during his long illness in Wellington, on church history and church government and theology, on chemistry and physiology and metaphysics—and he studied Hebrew and Greek that he might understand the Bible more thoroughly and translate into Maori more precisely. In 1850 he was asked by Sir George Grey for his advice and assistance in forming a Church constitution for New Zealand He acclaimed those who would think for themselves—in his opinion far too many did not.

Hadfield's influence seems to have been considerable, especially in his earlier years, and his mana strong. In the weeks following the Wairau Massacre in 1843 he was credited as being largely responsible for preventing Te Rauparaha and his excited followers from sacking Wellington and its inhabitants, and three years later when the town was again in danger due to much unrest it was his presence there, even though as an invalid, that was widely held responsible for peace being kept in the town. Bishop Selwyn dearly wanted him to be Wellington's first Bishop, an office he refused at the time. Perhaps if he had accepted then instead of twelve year; page 3 later his passage through the sixties might not have been so stormy and full of recrimination. But even that is doubtful.

Bishop Abraham, his contemporary and friend, wrote of him— "a most original thinker, a most fearless lover of truth and a hater of shams." Eric Ramsden in his preface to "Rangiatea" called him "hard-hitting, far-seeing, absolutely intolerant of humbug, a man who resented injustice with every fibre of his being." Hadfield himself wrote—"I marvel at the lukewarmness of people who profess to love justice and hate iniquity."

Yet he was a humble man, in spite of the publicity he generated for a time, and seems in some odd way to have erased himself from the public memory even before his death. His story is worth knowing—it is an important part of die history of New Zealand.

The name Maori has been substituted for Native in works quoted in the actual text. Many of Hadfield's existing letters or copies thereof are in the Alexander Turnbull Library. Others, and a small portion of his early diary, belong to the Wellington Public Library but have recently been copied by staff of the Turnbull Library.