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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


HADFIELD, Octavius


Missionary, Bishop of Wellington, and Primate of New Zealand.

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

Octavius Hadfield was born at Bonchurch, Isle of Wight, on 6 October 1814, the last of a family of 16. The Hadfield family traced its lineage through Derbyshire forebears to a Yorkshire seat. Octavius's father, Joseph Hadfield, married the elder daughter of General White, an Indian Army officer, and lived in affluence in London until a bank failure led to the removal of the family, first to Bonchurch and, later, to Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. The Hadfield family was remarkable for its longevity. Joseph Hadfield lived to the age of 93, his wife to 85; and the average age of their 12 children who survived to adult years was over 80. Octavius was a chronic asthmatic and his life was several times threatened by illness, but he survived until his ninety-first year.

At the age of four, Octavius left England with the rest of his family and for the next 10 years lived on the Continent, first at Brussels where, following the fashion of the time, he walked over the field of Waterloo, and then paid visits to Lille, Paris, and Tours. He returned to England in February 1829 and was admitted to Charter house. Two years later, while in the sixth form, he suffered ill health and returned home to recuperate. In 1832 he went up to Pembroke College, Oxford, where he lived in rooms once occupied by Samuel Johnson, but in May 1833 his health again broke down and he was forced to give up formal university studies. Eighteen months in the Azores restored his health and he returned to England in the summer of 1835 resolved to become a clergyman.

Early in 1836 he decided that, given health and strength, he would offer himself for missionary service. With the assistance of a brother who held the perpetual curacy at Whitchurch, he prepared for ordination. In October 1837 the Church Mission Society accepted him for mission work, but his lack of a university degree proved an obstacle to ordination. It was learned, however, that Broughton, the Bishop of Australia, was prepared to ordain suitable men without a degree for work in Australia and New Zealand. Hadfield left England in February 1838, arrived in Sydney in July, was admitted to deacon's orders in September, crossed the Tasman with Bishop Broughton at the end of the year, and was ordained priest at Waimate on 6 January 1839.

Hadfield lived at Waimate for some months, assisting in the work of the mission and learning to speak Maori. He was intended for the mission station on the East Coast, but when, in October 1839, Tamihana Te Rauparaha and Matene Te Whiwhi arrived at Waimate, seeking a missionary for the Kapiti-Waikanae district, Hadfield volunteered his services. Accompanied by Rev. Henry Williams, senior missionary, he arrived at Waikanae in January 1840 and found himself witness to a battle between the Ngati Awa of Waikanae and the Ngati Raukawa of Otaki. After Williams had negotiated a peace, Hadfield commenced his mission and, in order to avoid any appearance of partiality towards either tribe, established two headquarters and lived alternately at Otaki and Waikanae. The Ngati Awa were well disposed but Ngati Raukawa at first looked upon the Book as a poor substitute for rum and guns and it took two years to win them over. Except for breaks of three months in 1841, five years between 1844 and 1849, and a year between 1858 and 1859, when he was forced by illness to leave his mission, Hadfield lived and worked in the district for 30 years.

Hadfield's influence touched the life of his Maori flock at almost every point. His first contribution was as a peacemaker. In the troubled weeks after the Wairau Affray the Wellington settlement owed its safety largely to his restraining influence on Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata. Hadfield believed that the teachings of Christianity and the arts of civilisation should proceed together in mission work. “Next to the communication of direct religious instruction”, he wrote in 1847, “the object of the missionary ought to be the civilization of the natives in every way”. As well as preaching, teaching, and catechising, he instructed in diet, clothing, building, agriculture, and animal husbandry. By 1850 the Otaki mission was looked upon as a model. Selwyn, Grey, the Godleys, and others who worshipped at Rangiatea, the Maori church at Otaki, and inspected the new village, with its weatherboard houses and private gardens, were amazed at what had been achieved so quickly. They were observing Hadfield's mission at the moment of its greatest impact. In later years, when the European population at Otaki increased, when negotiations over the sale of land made for distraction, and when liquor was sold in the district, the mission was unable to retain the single-minded devotion of its converts.

The crucial testing time for the mission occurred during the Taranaki and Waikato Wars. Ngati Raukawa sympathies were strong for Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitaki who, before his return to the Waitara in 1848, had lived at Waikanae. Several times during the war years emissaries, first from the Maori King and later from Te Ua, appealed to the Otaki Maoris to join them against the Europeans. A few joined roving war parties, others lapsed into apostasy; but there were no hostilities at Otaki.

The early years of the Maori Wars were for Hadfield himself a time of great personal anguish. He was an acknowledged authority on the language, life, and customs of the Maori. Grey, during his first governorship, had sought his opinions on the administration of native affairs and was particularly indebted to him for his elucidation of the complexities of native tenure. Gore Browne bowed to his reputation, but heeded other counsels. When fighting broke out at Taranaki Hadfield astonished the settlers and confounded the Government by publicly defending the validity of Wiremu Kingi's claim to the disputed land. With Selwyn, Abraham, Martin, and Swainson, he pressed for the re-examination of the Waitara purchase and the recall of Governor Browne. For many months Hadfield was, as he said himself, very nearly the most unpopular man in the colony. He was attacked in the press as a “pious firebrand” and accused of “something not very unlike treason”. His own analysis of the Waitara dispute is cogently expressed in his letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, which was later published under the title of One of England's Little Wars; his replies to his critics are to be found in The Second Year of One of England's Little Wars and the transcript of his examination before the Bar of the House of Representatives. So great was the consternation caused by Hadfield's criticism of the Government that, on 14 August 1860, Parliament took the unusual step of summoning Hadfield and McLean, the Chief Land Purchaser, for judicial questioning. Hadfield stood for four hours before the Bar of the House and, relying solely on memory, answered the 89 carefully prepared written questions that were presented to him. No one in the House disproved his assertions, which were later fully vindicated when the Waitara purchase was studied afresh. It has been claimed of the period July 1861 – May 1863 that this was the last time when the policy of the country was modified by the voice of the Church of England.

Hadfield was for 30 years a missionary; but first and always he was a churchman. His correspondence with Selwyn on the subject of the constitution of the Church of England in New Zealand dates from 1844; he was a member of the select committee that prepared the draft constitution and of the conference of bishops, clergy, and laity that adopted it.

Hadfield began his ministry as a missionary priest and ended it, 55 years later, as Primate of New Zealand. Throughout this entire period his association with the district and diocese of Wellington was continuous. His missionary district at first extended as far north as Cape Egmont and included the Wairarapa and the Marlborough Sounds. Selwyn appointed him Rural Dean of the Western District in 1844 and Archdeacon of Kapiti in 1849. Upon the creation of the diocese of Wellington in 1858, he was offered the See, but his health was precarious at the time and he declined. In 1870, when Abraham followed Selwyn to Lichfield and the office fell vacant, it was again offered to Hadfield and he accepted. He was elected primate in 1890, but retired three years later when he felt himself unequal to the responsibility. He retired to Edale, near Marton, where he lived until his death on 11 December 1904. His wife, Kate, third daughter of Archdeacon Henry Williams, whom he had married in 1852, died two years earlier. There were three children of the marriage.

Hadfield was a man of wide intellectual interests. In his youth he learned to read Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, and to speak French, Spanish, and Portuguese. He became a master of Maori dialects and idioms. He was a keen student of metaphysics. As the century progressed he found himself out of sympathy with the sceptical tendencies prevalent in philosophy, science, and Biblical criticism. John Mill's system of morals he once dismissed as one of the most marvellous instances of the abuse of human ingenuity which could be produced. Darwinism he reprobated. Essays and Reviews revealed him as a fundamentalist.

His public reputation as a fearsome controversialist arose partly from his passion for truth and his determination that right should prevail, partly from his refusal to suffer fools gladly. He had, as he once said himself, more patience with vice than stupidity, for something could still be achieved with the vicious. “I believe”, he wrote, during the controversy over the Waitara purchase, “that great crimes ought to be called by their proper names and that the interests of truth and justice ought to be paramount to every other motive.”

Hadfield was called many things during his long public career. Jerningham Wakefield, who witnessed the first months of his missionary work, wrote that the Maoris named him Rangatira Pae, the mild white man, because he opposed their ancient customs not by anger or disgust but by gentle reason. Whalers at Kapiti thought he was a gentleman in spite of his being a missionary. Settlers who disagreed with his views on the rights of the Maoris or with his opposition to secular education spoke of him contemptuously as “a political parson”. In his later years he earned a reputation for being austere and dictatorial; but as bishop and primate he felt it his special duty to preserve the Church in New Zealand from changes that were perhaps unnecessary and might prove harmful. With it all he was a shy, reserved man, much loved and admired by those who knew him intimately.

Hadfield's formal writings were concise, transparently logical, and always to the point. They included: One of England's Little Wars (1861); The Second Year of One of England's Little Wars (1861); A Sequel to One of England's Little Wars (1861); various sermons and addresses; and Maoris of By-gone Days (1902). His analysis of Maori land tenure is in the Grey Collection; his evidence before the Committee of the House is printed in A.J.H.R., E-No. 4, 1860; his Letters to the Church Missionary Society 1838–1868 and the Hadfield Family Papers are in the Alexander Turnbull Library; and his Journal, 1839, and Letters to the Hadfield Family 1833–1890 are in the Wellington Public Library.

No satisfactory study of Hadfield has yet been published. He appears prominently in Rangiatea, Eric Ramsden (1952), and From Age to Age, H. W. Monaghan (1957). A useful chronicle of his life is given in Octavius Hadfield: Bishop and Pioneer, A Memoir, R. G. C. McNab, which was printed in instalments in The Press in 1931, and may be read in typescript in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

by William Leslie Renwick, M.A., Inspector of Primary Schools, Wellington.


William Leslie Renwick, M.A., Inspector of Primary Schools, Wellington.