Page 1: Biography
Campbell, William Rickarby
This biography, written by Simon Rae, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
William Rickarby Campbell was born at Ratnagiri, in the Bombay Presidency, India, on 6 February 1840, the son of Agnes Campbell and her husband, Adam Campbell, of the Bombay civil service. William was educated in Ayrshire and Edinburgh, Scotland, graduating BA and working in a family law office before studying theology at the Free Church College, Edinburgh. He worked as a probationer and assistant minister in England and Scotland, and married Anne Cairncross Carpenter, daughter of an Anglican clergyman, at Bloomsbury, London, on 15 April 1873. They were to have two daughters.
Campbell had accepted an appointment by the Colonial Committee of the Free Church of Scotland to work in Timaru, New Zealand, and the couple sailed on the Helen Denny, arriving in Timaru via Wellington and Dunedin on 6 August 1873. Campbell was ordained there on 24 September but resigned a year later. Diffident and lacking the authoritarian manner and pulpit oratory then favoured, he found Timaru, with its serious internal divisions, incompatible.
In September 1874 Campbell was appointed for three months to the then remote region of the Amuri. Extending from the Waipara River to the upper Clarence River and from the Southern Alps to the sea, the Amuri in 1874 was a rugged, diverse parish without church or school, its roads unformed and its perilous rivers mostly unbridged. Extensive but sparsely populated it called for active, itinerating ministry.
William Campbell made a base at Neville's inn, Waiau, leaving Anne in Christchurch for some months. His ministry was soon successful, although he felt confused at first, constantly moving among people he hardly knew and whose way of life was unfamiliar. Campbell was formally inducted as pastor to the Amuri district in the Waiau court house on 2 February 1875 and went on to win the respect of runholders, shepherds and workers by sharing their hardships and dangers, as Anne shared the difficulties and anxieties of travel and isolation.
The qualities that made Campbell different from other pioneering clergy were his catholic spirit, his lack of cant or sectarianism, and an unfailing kindness in the practical expression of his Christian faith. His generosity went far beyond expectations. At times the Waiau manse was filled with swaggers, the ill or victims of accidents. A man of strong personal convictions, Campbell was also tolerant and shrewd. He was able to accept that Sunday farm work – and Sunday cricket – was appropriate in this rural community. He was a cheerful man who looked for good, not evil, in those he met. Tall, and white-haired by his 30s, William became 'Father Campbell' to all in the Amuri. The Anglican bishop of Christchurch, Churchill Julius, is said to have called him 'The Apostle of the North'.
Campbell pioneered education in the Amuri, as a teacher before a school was established, and later as Waiau school committee chairman for 21 years. In 1900–1901 he was moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. The Campbells served the Amuri until 1902, then Hanmer and Hanmer Springs prison until 12 February 1913, when they retired to Christchurch.
William Campbell died in Christchurch on 20 August 1918. Anne Campbell died on 31 August 1924. They were buried at Waiau, in the heart of the Amuri.