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A History of the English Church in New Zealand

The anti colonising 'Church Missionary Society'


was the condition of affairs on May 29th, 1842, when there arrived in Auckland the Right Reverend George Augustus Selwyn to take up the position of bishop of the divided flock. This remarkable man was then in the prime of early manhood, and he brought with him not only a lithe athletic frame well fitted to endure hardship; not only the culture of Cambridge and of Eton, where he had learned and taught, and the courtly atmosphere of Windsor, where he had exercised his ministry; but above all he brought with him _ideals_. These took the form of a strong centralised government in the Church. While yet a curate, he had attracted attention by his vigorous defence of the cathedral system, through which he proposed to govern the whole Church of England. But his thoughts had travelled far beyond the bounds of a merely national Church. Stirred by the spectacle (alluded to in our Introduction) of the dominance of Mohammedanism in the lands of the East, he had dreamed of himself as Bishop of Malta, or some other Mediterranean post, whence he might lead a new crusade into North Africa, and win back the home of St. Cyprian and St. Augustine to the faith of Christ. Curiously enough, some such scheme was actually on foot at the time of his consecration (Oct. 17, 1841), and one of his first episcopal acts was to join in laying hands on a bishop who was sent out to Jerusalem to endeavour to stir the languid religion of the mother city of Christendom. Being chosen to read the epistle on this occasion,
Selwyn had selected the passage which tells of the Apostle Paul's last journey to the Holy City; and he had thrown such intensity of feeling into his reading of the words, "Behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem," that some of the other prelates were in tears. But he was not the man to grieve over what could not be altered. If it was not to be his lot to be sent to the ancient city of Zion as its bishop, he would bravely set forth to a very different field, and would endeavour to build a new Jerusalem at the uttermost ends of the earth.

His coming was eagerly looked for by both sides. The Wellington settlers confidently expected that he would fix his residence among them, and give to their colony that seal of legality which it had hitherto lacked. The New Zealand Company had been largely instrumental in carrying the bishopric bill through the Imperial Parliament; it had made large promises of financial assistance: now it looked for the support of the bishop in its struggle with missionaries and officials.[5] But the new bishop was not minded to become a dignified ornament of the Wellington settlement. To build his new Jerusalem he needed "an entrenched camp," and for this he must have a spiritual atmosphere, and he must have living material and suitable buildings. Instead, therefore, of going to the colonial south, he turned first in the direction of the missionary north. In less than a month after his arrival in his diocese, he had reached the Bay of Islands; he had captivated Henry Williams (who wrote, "I am afraid to say how delighted I am"); and had resolved to make his entrenched camp at Waimate, the most eligible and beautiful of the missionary stations. Here were fertile land and a farming establishment; here was a school for missionaries' children, which he might easily convert into a college; here was a church whose spire rose gracefully above the surrounding trees; here was a religious atmosphere already in existence.

[5] For the right understanding of the subsequent history, the following extract from a letter of Gibbon Wakefield to Mr. J. R. Godley (Dec. 21st, 1847) is of the utmost importance: "I really cannot tell you what the Bishop of New Zealand is. His see was _created_ by us in spite of many obstacles put in our way by the Church and the Government. Indeed, we forced the measure on the Melbourne Government; and in that measure originated all the new Colonial bishoprics. If our views had been taken up by the Church, great results would have been obtained both for the Church and colonisation. I will not say that Dr. Selwyn turned round upon us, and joined our foes, the anti-colonising 'Church Missionary Society'; but I am sure he is not a wise man."

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