ABRAHAM, Charles John

by Maurice Russell Pirani, formerly Minor Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral Church, Wellington.

THATCHER, Frederick


Architect and cleric.

A new biography of Thatcher, Frederick appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Frederick Thatcher was born at Hastings towards the end of 1814, and came of a long-established Sussex family. His father and grandfather had both been riding officers, and his mother was Mary Ann, née Stanford. Frederick was the youngest of four children, two daughters and two sons. At the age of 21 he was working in an architectural office in London, where he continued in practice until his departure for New Zealand. He was one of the earliest associates of the (now Royal) Institute of British Architects, being admitted in February 1836. In 1841 he exhibited at the Royal Academy his design for the present vicarage of St. Clement's Church at Halton, Hastings.

On 23 December 1843 he arrived in the Himalaya at New Plymouth where he took up land. For the following five years his occupations included, in addition to architecture, wheat farming, auctioneering, dispatch carrying, the positions of Superintendent of Public Works, assistant secretary to Sir George Grey, acting clerk of the Executive Council of New Ulster, and a lieutenant in the Auckland battalion of militia (an honorary position). His services as an architect were in constant demand, in particular by Bishop Selwyn. In 1848 he entered St. John's College to train for the ministry, and was ordained deacon the same year and priest in 1853. He was the first incumbent of St. Matthew's parish, Auckland, and at the same time was Chaplain to the Forces. In December 1856 he was obliged to leave on account of ill health. The next four years he spent in England, and from December 1859 he was curate at Winwick in Northamptonshire. He returned to New Zealand in July 1861 and was appointed to St. Paul's parish, Wellington, where he remained until 1864, when he had to resign again for health reasons. His numerous parish and diocesan commitments in Wellington included the designing of the new St. Paul's Church, the interior of which is a fine example of colonial wooden Gothic derived from the late Early English period.

After a second term of office as secretary to Grey, he returned to England in 1868 and settled in Lichfield where he became secretary first to Bishop Selwyn and then to Bishop Maclagan. He retired in 1882 and in the following year was made a prebendary canon of Gaia Major. Along with Bishop Abraham, he worked enthusiastically to establish Selwyn College, Cambridge, and was treasurer of the College. He died on 19 October 1890 at Bakewell, Derbyshire, where his son, Ernest Grey Thatcher, was curate. His body was taken to Lichfield and buried in the cathedral grounds. He married, first, Elizabeth Watt, daughter of Isaac Watt of Holborn, and second, Caroline Wright, a sister of Mrs William Bolland of New Plymouth. One son was born of the second marriage.

Thatcher's major pieces of building in New Zealand were: St. Mary's Church, New Plymouth (1846); the colonial hospitals at Auckland (1847) and New Plymouth (1848); Christ Church, Nelson (1851); St. Matthew's schoolroom, Auckland (1853); St. Mary's Church, Parnell (1860); and St. Paul's Church, Wellington (1866). He assisted Selwyn in planning some of the “Selwyn” churches, but the original concept was probably the Bishop's.

Thatcher was persevering, businesslike, and conscientious – qualities that were appreciated not only by the Governor and the two bishops, but also by the many societies and institutions to which he gave his services as secretary and treasurer. His genial nature, calm and unruffled temper, and his enthusiasm made him always a desirable companion. His buildings reflect a disciplined character. They were faithful inter-pretations of the Gothic Revival in architecture, and his churches appear to have kept to the principles of the Ecclesiological Society. The hospitals, like the vicarage at Halton, were designed in the popular domestic Tudor style of the day. As one of the first professional architects in New Zealand, Thatcher made a special contribution to nineteenth-century architecture in the field of church building which showed his sympathetic adaptation in wood of the salient features of the Gothic Revival.

by Margaret Hilda Alington, B.A., formerly Reference Librarian, Turnbull Library, Wellington.

  • Frederick Thatcher Papers (MSS), Turnbull Library
  • Reminiscences, 1809–1867 (Typescript), Selwyn, Mrs S. H. (1961)
  • Lichfield Mercury, 25 Oct 1890 (Obit)
  • Lichfield Diocesan Magazine, Nov 1890 (Obit).


New Zealand is one of the few countries of the world where the history of the acclimatisation of various foreign plants and animals can be recorded with any degree of accuracy. Records of the wildlife of the islands of New Zealand at the time of the visits of early European explorers are reasonably accurate and, although the records of introductions since the commencement of European settlement of the country are by no means complete, they are sufficient to enable us to draw a fairly accurate picture of the changes which have occurred. Because of long isolation from the nearest land masses, New Zealand possessed a remarkable and unique fauna which has since been greatly modified and altered by man and his activities.

Early Years

The history of acclimatisation experiments, whether intentional or accidental, dates back to the arrival of man on these shores. The Maori brought no herbivorous animals with him, but the Polynesian rat and dog were introduced during this period and it is probable that the Maori hastened the disappearance of the moa and the native swan. The first intentional introductions were made in the years following the second and third voyages of Captain Cook who landed several animals in New Zealand after he had discovered on his first voyage (1769–70) that there were no large animals available for food. Whalers, sealers, the early explorers, and first emigrants introduced pigs, goats, horses, cattle, and sheep between 1774 and 1840. Accidental introductions which occurred at the same time were the black and brown rats, mice, cats, and dogs. All of these animals, with the exception of rats, mice, and pigs, were restricted initially to the small settled localities and consequently had little effect on native flora and fauna.

Motives for Introduction of Exotic Species

During the first 20 years of organised European colonisation the main motive for the introduction of animals and birds was to establish a plentiful food supply since the New Zealand fauna provided little food and there was little land, except in Canterbury, immediately suitable for the growing of crops. With the advent of the 1860s the settlements had become sufficiently established for the colonists to turn their attention to other matters and new motives for acclimatisation appeared. For the most part the colonists came from a country where the taking of deer, grouse, pheasants, hares, partridges, rabbits, and salmon was the prerogative of a small privileged class to a country free of such restrictions but lacking game mammals and sporting freshwater fish and with few species of wildfowl. They quickly set about altering this situation. Further incentives for acclimatisation came to the fore and remained the main features of the majority of introductions and liberations until the first decade of this century when a new attitude towards introductions and their potential effects on native flora and fauna began to make itself felt.

A number of birds, including many which today are taken for granted–thrushes, blackbirds, starlings, sparrows, finches, yellowhammers, redpolls and skylarks–as well as others which did not become established–nightingales, woodlark, black cap, and titmouse–were introduced for sentimental reasons. Several animals and most fish were introduced for sport and food–rabbit, hare, deer, black swan, mallard duck, California and brown quail, pheasant, and brown and rainbow trout. Chamois, thar, wapiti, Canada goose, and chukor were all later importations. The opossum was introduced for the main purpose of establishing a fur industry. Some animals, for example, stoat, ferret, weasel, introduced as biological controls (i.e., to control other animals) have in their turn become pests. A few animals, such as wallaby and kookaburra, appear to have been introduced purely as curiosities.

Formation of Acclimatisation Societies

During the second half of the nineteenth century a wave of introductions swept over the country. The 1860s witnessed a tremendous burst of enthusiasm for acclimatisation experiments which took virtually no account of any of the scientific aspects involved. In the 1860s and 1870s people all over the country formed acclimatisation societies for the purpose of introducing what seemed to them desirable animals. The main objects of these societies were the introduction and acclimatisation of all innoxious animals, birds, fishes, insects, trees, plants, and vegetables, whether useful or ornamental, and the propagation of newly introduced species. The first annual report of the Otago Acclimatisation Society, one of the earliest societies to be formed, stated that “the sportsman and lover of nature might then enjoy the same sports and studies that make the remembrance of their former homes so dear, the country rendered more enjoyable, our tables better supplied, and new industries fostered. To this object the Society is devoted and earnestly appeals to all to render their assistance and support.”

Some Results of Introductions of Exotic Species

Private individuals and acclimatisation societies have introduced over 130 species of birds, about 40 species of fish, and over 50 species of mammals into New Zealand. Of these only about 30 birds, about 10 species of fish, and about 30 mammals have become truly established in the wild. Among birds introduced were Australian bellbirds, cirl bunting, diamond sparrows, jager birds, Java doves, ortolans, Wonga pigeons, and Australian shrikes, to mention a few of the more unusual varieties. Brown and rainbow trout were established in this period, and various other species such as whitefish, alpine char, and Tahoe trout were introduced but failed to become established. All the mammals established in the wild in New Zealand, with the exception of domestic species, have increased to such an extent that protection has been removed from them because of damage done, and active steps have been taken to control them. The fur value of the opossum has been scant compensation for the damage caused to forests. Rats, cats, and dogs preyed on native birds and the introduction of stoats, ferrets, and weasels to prey on the rabbit swung the balance further against those species which had already become rare as a result of changed ecological conditions. These varied and numerous introductions produced a profound disturbance in the balance of nature, additional to the direct effects of settlement and development. Browsing and grazing animals modified the vegetation and it is now difficult to find vegetation which has not been modified to some degree. In many cases introduced birds competed for food and habitat with native birds. While there is no doubt that some introductions have been entirely beneficial and are valuable assets, whether as food, for sport, or for aesthetic values, other acclimatised animals have become major economic problems and have necessitated control measures. Acclimatisation societies were not responsible for the introduction of all the animals which subsequently became pests. The majority of introductions were carried out in a haphazard manner with little consideration of ultimate effects. Few people realised the potential dangers of indiscriminate importations. Private individuals, acclimatisation societies, and the Government all bear some responsibility for the more undesirable importations.

Wildlife Legislation

Most acclimatisation societies received recognition and in some instances financial aid from provincial governments, but it was not until 1867 with the passing of an Act “to provide for the Protection of Certain Animals and for the encouragement of Acclimatisation Societies in New Zealand”, that provisions were made for the registration of acclimatisation societies at the Colonial Secretary's office. The aim of most early legislation relating to wildlife was the encouragement of the introduction of foreign birds and plants and their protection. In 1867 the introduction of “any fox, venomous reptile, hawk, vulture or other bird of prey” was forbidden, but it was not until 1895 that it was necessary to obtain written consent to introduce “any animal or bird whatsoever”. It is doubtful whether this legislation was successful in preventing undesirable importations as the onus for preventing illegal introductions was placed on the ship's master, who had few means of enforcing this law even supposing he were interested in doing so. With the passing of the Animals Protection Act of 1907, responsibility for the administration of this legislation passed from the Colonial Secretary to the Minister of Internal Affairs.

The present century has brought various new trends in the field of acclimatisation and a growing awareness of the need for the conservation of national resources. The belief, commonly held in the late nineteenth century, that the native birds and plants would inevitably disappear to be replaced by introduced species was gradually supplanted by the idea that, while a few species might be doomed to extinction for various reasons, it was possible for some native fauna to be preserved, although in a restricted form. Following the introductions of the 1860s it had been found that imported species needed protection against poachers and consequently early legislation was concerned almost entirely with the welfare of imported species. In 1864, however, some protection was given to native species with the declaration of a closed season for native ducks and the native pigeon which previously could be hunted at any time. The fact that the fine for taking imported game out of season was £20 whereas that for taking native game was only £1 is indicative of the importance placed on the respective species. In 1886 power was granted to the Governor to give absolute protection to any indigenous bird, but it was not until the passing of the Animals Protection Act of 1907 that this prerogative was first exercised with the appendage of a special list of absolutely protected birds. The introduction, in the Animals Protection and Game Act of 1921–22, of the principle of absolute protection for the majority of native birds and a few land animals–two species of bats, the tuatara, and native frogs–was a major step in the conservation of the wildlife of the country, although the main concern was still with acclimatisation societies and the administration of game for sport. Protection of native fauna was extended still further with the passing of the Wildlife Act (1953) by which all native birds, except the large black shag, the harrier hawk, and the kea are protected in some way. This protection includes regular migrants, such as godwit, and vagrant species from Australia and elsewhere. No introduced mammals or birds, except seven species of game birds and the white swan, are protected. This Act reflects the growth of a popular movement which favoured the native before the introduced species and resisted the effort to turn New Zealand into a piece of transplanted England. The aim of the present laws relating to wildlife is the preservation of native birds and animals; the conservation of game birds and fish by management involving the taking of a yearly crop; and the control of introduced mammals.

Acclimatisation Societies and their Activities

With the decrease in the number and scope of introductions, the functions of acclimatisation societies have altered considerably. Although they have ceased to carry out the purpose for which they were formed, they are still known by their original titles. Since 1900 their activities have been very largely limited to the management of game birds and game species of freshwater fish, although until about 1930 they were responsible for a wide range of game animals. The number of societies has varied between 25 and 35 as subdivision and amalgamation of districts has occurred; since 1960 there have been 24 societies. The size of these societies varies from the Tauranga Acclimatisation District, covering 650 square miles, to the Auckland Acclimatisation District covering 9,940 square miles. Membership of societies is open to all holders of fishing or shooting licences who elect councils to direct activities. There are two districts not administered by such societies–Rotorua and Southern Lakes–taken over by the Department of Internal Affairs in 1930 and 1945 respectively. These acclimatisation societies are charged with responsibility for the local administration of certain aspects of the Fisheries Act (1908) and the Wildlife Act (1953). As their membership stems from game shooters and anglers, their chief interests naturally lie with these classes of wildlife, although under the Wildlife Act one of their functions is the protection of various absolutely protected species. The main activities of acclimatisation societies today are the conservation of fish and game including restocking programmes, ranging duties for law enforcement, and the issue of angling and shooting licences. The many small acclimatisation districts are a result of the poor communications and isolation of the period when most societies were formed. Certain societies cooperate in order to employ a full-time field officer and some North Island societies have formed loose federations. North Island and South Island councils which meet once or twice a year provide opportunities for society delegates to consult on common problems. These councils administer funds comprised of moneys levied from all game and fishing licence holders, which are used to subsidise various research and management projects.

Wildlife Problems and Administration

New Zealand is faced with many wildlife problems, the greatest of which is probably one of control. Unlike many other countries New Zealand suffers from an overabundance rather than a lack of game animals. The introduction of browsing animals such as deer, rabbit, and the Australian opossum, exposed to browsing a type of vegetation which had not previously been subjected to such treatment and which was not adapted to it. The browsing habits of these animals interrupted and in some cases hindered the regrowth of native forests and damaged tussock grassland. The deterioration of vegetative cover in turn accelerated erosion and so indirectly affected the country's economy. None of the introduced mammals is protected. All the game mammals are regarded as noxious animals and may be hunted all the year round without a licence. New Zealand's wildlife problems are handled by many Government organisations; privately administered acclimatisation societies also have certain administrative responsibilities. New Zealand is possibly the only country in the world where the administration and control of wildlife is not the sole responsibility of the Government. Government organisations and Departments with responsibilities for research, management, and control of wildlife are the Rabbit Destruction Council, the Wildlife Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs, the Fisheries Branch of the Marine Department, the Animal Ecology Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Protection Forestry Division of the New Zealand Forest Service, the Department of Lands and Survey, and the Department of Agriculture. Several private organisations also have a direct or indirect interest in various forms of wildlife. These include the Ornithological Society of New Zealand, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, rod and gun clubs, and the Deerstalkers' Association.

The history of acclimatisation in New Zealand is an interesting one. In the numerous acclimatisation experiments, from early settlement days, very little thought was given to the possible effects of introductions. The introduction of species is now strictly controlled and it is difficult to introduce new species, although the importation by the Government and acclimatisation societies in 1959 of the common partridge in an attempt to establish a new game bird shows that it is not impossible. While there is no doubt that the introduction of certain animals has had a deleterious effect on indigenous flora and fauna, it must be remembered that several introduced species have proved of value for one reason or another; for example, the humble bee, certain small insectivorous birds, and trout. When the wildlife established in New Zealand today is compared with that prior to the arrival of the white man, it will be realised that some good has been accomplished. But the damage caused by an overabundance of game mammals poses a serious problem, which is scarcely balanced by the pleasure hundreds of young men derive from the outdoor recreation. We, today, enjoy the benefits of the early successes of acclimatisation; we have also inherited the problems which have arisen from the mistakes made.

by Janet Fay Swann, M.A., formerly of Wildlife Branch, Department of Internal Affairs.

  • The Naturalisation of Animals and Plants in New Zealand, Thomson, G. M. (1886)
  • Introduced Mammals of New Zealand, Wodzicki, K. A. (1950)
  • Trout Fisheries in New Zealand. Their Development and Management, Hobbs, D. F. (1948)


New Zealand is one of the few countries of the world where the history of the acclimatisation of various foreign plants and animals can be recorded with any degree of accuracy. Records of the wildlife of the islands of New Zealand at the time of the visits of early European explorers are reasonably accurate and, although the records of introductions since the commencement of European settlement of the country are by no means complete, they are sufficient to enable us to draw a fairly accurate picture of the changes which have occurred. Because of long isolation from the nearest land masses, New Zealand possessed a remarkable and unique fauna which has since been greatly modified and altered by man and his activities.


ABRAHAM, Charles John 22-Apr-09 Maurice Russell Pirani, formerly Minor Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral Church, Wellington.