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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.


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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).


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