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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 1981

When Bishopdale was at Spring Grove

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When Bishopdale was at Spring Grove

The Parish of Spring Grove, as it was known until Ihe nineties when the name became Brightwater, will always be associated with the name of Edmund Hobhouse, first Bishop of Nelson, and his wife Mary. In fact, for a short period in the early sixties. Spring Grove Church and parsonage was the Bishopdale of Nelson Diocese.

When the first Bishop of Nelson arrived in 1859 the episcopal headquarters was set up in the house built by Dr Richardson in the Wood. "You get into Bridge Street and drive along the whole length which brings you not to a bridge – but to where a bridge is wanted – and there your careful driver plunges into a shallow river with a stony bed (the Maitai).… At the corner of a new fence which skirts the road you see imposing gates… and within innumerable roofs and gables, indications of the episcopal abode. Well, into these grand gates you soon find you are not going to drive, but a few yards further on you see a small gate for foot-passengers, overhung with almond trees and vines – there you stop and have to descend … There can be no question now as to where you should go, for a straight footpath leads right up to the house." So Mrs Hobhouse described the first Bishop's house in 1860.

Thomas Bowden, a clergyman who served the Bishop as secretary and schoolmaster at this time, tells us "the property in the Wood which the Bishop rented, was a moderate sized wooden dwelling, mostly upon one floor, but with an upper storey to one portion of it, to which the builder had forgotten to provide a staircase and which could be reached only by a ladder. There was however, quite a number of small mud outbuildings scattered over the grounds which the Bishop utilised for various Diocesan purposes. Thus, one of them was known as the 'Bishop's Study', another as the 'Diocesan Library' and so on. But the largest of them all, a two roomed building, was dignified as 'Mud Hall'." It was here that Mr Bowden, his wife and several children had to live for a time. He continues, "There was another small mud building, a sort of satellite to Mud Hall. It was about twelve feet square and had been used by the Bishop, who loved to turn everything to account, for a 'Sunday School Library', and he had permitted an elderly lady of rather weak intellect to live there and look after the books." When she had to be transferred later to the jail, because as yet there was no Lunatic Asylum, the Bishop decided to use the empty room as a school. "We collected into this little building six or eight lads and one girl, mostly Taranaki refugees, and my days' work was taken up between teaching them and doing clerical work for the Bishop." From this Diocesan Centre the Bishop set forth on marathon journeys, to the goldfields at Aorere in the west, to the Wairau in the east and south to the Canterbury border.

During 1863, in addition to the responsibilities of his Diocese, the Bishop assumed the duties of the parish of Christ Church, but his health and hostility from a number of people opposed to his views, led him to seek solitude in a country atmosphere at Spring Grove.

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Soon afler the Bishop came to Nelson, his former curate, the scholarly Dr R. H. Codrington, had offered to work for three years without stipend and wherever the Bishop thought fit. After some months at the Aorere goldfields, he had come to the parsonage at Spring Grove and from there ministered to the three churches of the Waimea: St. John's. Wakefield, St. Michael's, Waimea West and St. Paul's. To this old Oxford friend the Bishop and his wife had come for a change in April 1861. Mary Hobhouse writes: "Two days ago Edmund and I left home to have a little country holiday. It was impossible to take Baby for only one room besides the kitchen has any fireplace in this Eden.

"On Thursday, then, Edmund preceded me on foot. I set forth in a cart (not a dog cart, but a real cart) in which were piled bedstead, mattresses, folding chairs, a washtub full of provisions and innumerable blankets. Leaning luxuriously on this pile 1 jogged on for the space of twelve miles on the only road out of Nelson that boasts of much length.

"Having crossed the river safely, Mr Codrington put spurs to his horse, and on reaching the Parsonage I found him and his Swede (servant) ready with refreshment for man and beast." However, the Parsonage had been without bread for a week and, although Mrs Hobhouse had brought "beef, cheese, rice, tea, sugar, coffee, even spice, plums and suet to show them how to make plum pudding, bread there was not! And when Edmund arrived hungry and we were all to sit down to tea, one and a half scones was all the farinacious food that could be mustered.

"Before this, however, we had furnished our room – a very simple process. It is what people here call an unlined room, in plain terms a shed with nothing to conceal the uprights or rough boards. Edmund and the Swede put up the bedstead, the chairs and table were unfolded, the tub installed as a bath and some nails driven into the wall on which to hang pockets, dressing-gowns, etc … "

Their memories of this holiday must have been pleasant for in November 1863 the Hobhouse family came and established themselves in the Spring Grove Parsonage and here the Bishop remained until his departure for England in 1866. He had hoped to gain relief from his crippling headaches by retiring from the town and by devolving on a secretary "that weight of small secular duties which," he told his Synod, "has always absorbed so undue a proportion of my time and strength."

The parsonage household consisted of the Bishop, his wife, two sons and their nurse, Hill. Mrs Hobhouse's English maid and two local servant girls. Both the children had been born in Nelson. Edmund in 1860, Walter in 1862. During 1864. in the country retreat the Bishop had sought, Mary Hobhouse, in her forty-fifth year, was expecting the birth of their third child. The Bishop took the services at St. Paul's and noted the names. Sunday by Sunday, of the communicants. Miles. Tuckey. Cox, Hodgson and John Smith. Mrs Hobhouse's name always headed the list. At a meeting on 25th August the Bishop declared Spring Grove a parochial district including all the neighbourhood from which the congregation was drawn. John George Miles page 31and William Hodgson were chosen as wardens. The Bishop "exhibited the Chalice Flagon and Paton of silver, gilt within, presented by Mr Miles of London, the father of the newly appointed warden, who was thanked for his Christian bounty". Arrangements were made for the safekeeping of the churchyard, for cleaning and bell-ringing and charges imposed for erecting monuments in the churchyard. A "sitting" in the church was to cost at least five shillings. Name cards were to be attached and seatholders to be directed to their places by the Churchwardens, but seatholders who were absent lost their rights.

Earlier that month, on the third of August, Bishop Hobhouse had summoned a special session of the Diocesan Synod to announce his resignation. "The one cause of my retirement is an affection of the head, provoked by severe over-study at Eton, thirty-four years ago. My medical adviser would have entirely dissuaded my taking this Diocesan charge if he could have foreseen the nature and amount of the duties. He recommended it in the belief that I should be released from the duties of a town cure, and that I should be invigorated by the free life of a Colonial Bishop, in an infant Diocese and a mountain region". He referred to his retirement to the country at Spring Grove in the previous summer and continued, "At the end of eight months of comparative relaxation, I find myself less competent for any duties which require sustained action of mind and wholly unable to meet any excitement or anxiety."

Tragically he was soon compelled to summon all his resources of courage and will to face a cruel blow. On Sunday, 25th September, his wife was in her usual place at the service. It was for the last time. Two weeks later she gave birth to a still-born son, and two days later she herself died. The Examiner announced the news in a black-bordered inset which began, "A gloom has been cast over the town by the death of Mrs Hobhouse, wife of the Bishop of Nelson.

"Mrs Hobhouse was universally beloved and respected in our community. She was humanly speaking, the perfect Christian lady, and leaves behind among a wide circle of sorrowful friends, a precious image that time can never efface."

On the day of the funeral, 15th October, 1864, a large concourse of people from Nelson and the neighbourhood of Spring Grove came to the picturesque little church, "which is situated in close contiguity to the parsonage where the Bishop and his family have resided for some time past. Among the crowd of mourners were His Honour the Superintendent, the parochial clergy and, almost without exception, the representatives of all the leading families in this community, accompanied by a goodly sprinkling of ladies. A large number of the parishioners of Spring Grove were also present, anxious to pay their last tribute of respect to one whose name was synonymous in their minds with charity and kindness of heart."

The little church overflowed for the service and the whole congregation sang Rock of Ages accompanied by the harmonium. Then the coffin was carried in procession, "to the grave which was, we believe, selected by Mrs page 32Hobhouse herself for the purpose, in the event of her decease in New Zealand, and there the remainder of the ceremony was gone through. The scene was indeed, in every sense a most touching one, its solemn stillness being only broken by the voice of the officiating clergyman … and by the artless prattling of the two little fair children, whom the Bishop, kneeling at the foot of the grave, held in his arms."

The day after, being Sunday, the Bishop took the usual services at St. Paul's, with apparently perfect composure and continued his pastoral duties with admirable fortitude. It must have been a great comfort to have the companionship of his friend, Bishop Palteson of Melanesia, who arrived from Auckland on the following Friday to stay at Spring Grove, where he and Bishop Hobhouse took services together. After he had returned to England, the Bishop arranged for the attractive porch to be added to St. Paul's Church as a memorial to his wife.

Although he had formally resigned, Bishop Hobhouse struggled on for another year and a half, while poor communications led to interminable delays in the appointment and departure from England of his successor, Bishop Andrew Suter, who did not arrive in Nelson until September 1867. During this time Bishop Hobhouse continued to plan and provide for the future and to lay a splendid foundation for his successor to build on. He had already, in 1862. endowed the Diocese with "an Estate lying to the south of the city, about one mile and a half from the church. This estate," he told the Synod, "will furnish a site for the Bishop's house and for the church, which it may fall to the lot of my successors to rear to God's honour and glory, as the Cathedral of an expanded Diocese." It was Bishop Suter who benefitted from the new Bishop's house, built on this estate in 1868, and who added, in the next decade, the theological College and Chapel to make the "Bishopdale" diocesan centre Bishop Hobhouse had dreamed of. Two smaller buildings were completed in rhe Diocese, in his last year the Bishop opened the little church of St. Andrew at Wakapuaka on 27th April, 1865, and in May, at Mararewa in the Molueka Valley, the Church of the Ascension.

In June 1866 the Bishop and his family finally returned to England. On the site where, owing to their father's generosity and foresight, the new Bishopdale would rise, the two small Hobhouse boys planted two oak trees which still flourish on either side of the gates. From England the Bishop continued to support Nelson Diocese by donations of money and prizes for the Bishop's School and Bishopdale College. In spite of the bitter trials he suffered his memory of Nelson must have been mellowed by the deep and genuine sympathy with which the community surrounded him after his wife's death.

One contemporary wrote. "His Lordship is wonderfully supported and bears with calm and patient resignation the heavy trial which has been laid upon him." Another, a woman, with perceptive insight, commented, "He is a sad and lonely man from his shy and reserved habits. His good wife was his right hand … She seems indeed So have been one of the excellent of the earth, ready to every good work. She is universally lamented."