Page 1: Biography
Anglican clergyman, tutor, organist
This biography, written by Allan K. Davidson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
Ernest Chitty was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 6 December 1883. There is some mystery over his birth, and he did not know the names of his parents. Blind from birth, he was apparently sent to the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind in Melbourne. In 1892 he was placed in the Jubilee Institute for the Blind in Auckland. His teacher, Jane Collier, championed his cause when because of his blindness he was not allowed to take the examinations for a scholarship. She taught him to type, and when he sat the scholarship exams he gained better marks than many sighted students. Chitty entered the Methodist Prince Albert College in February 1900, passing his matriculation exam after two years. He attended Auckland University College, graduating BA in 1906 – the first blind graduate in New Zealand.
Chitty had been raised a Baptist, but he was baptised at the Anglican pro-cathedral in Auckland on 20 July 1902. He offered himself for the Anglican ministry in 1906. Although there was some doubt whether canon law permitted ordination of those with a physical disability, the governors of the College of St John the Evangelist nevertheless gave him a Marsh scholarship. He was at the college from 1907 to 1909 and completed the Board of Theological Studies exams with a first-class pass and in 1911 was awarded a licentiate in theology.
In 1909 Chitty graduated MA in Classics and was ordained a deacon. He never became a priest. (Archbishop Alfred Averill wrote to England in 1926 seeking advice and was given a number of precedents, including the ordination of blind priests, but took no action.) Chitty was a curate at the Church of the Epiphany in Newton (1909–12), Holy Trinity, Devonport (1920), All Saints, Ponsonby (1922–28), and St Columba, Grey Lynn (1928–36); and was an honorary curate at St Mary's Cathedral, Parnell (1936–40) and All Saints, Ponsonby (1941–48). He married Margaret Alice Brown at Auckland on 3 January 1923; they had one daughter, Nancy.
Ernest Chitty returned to St John's College as a tutor on four occasions between 1912 and 1946, and taught Latin, Greek, music and apologetics. During his first period at the college, the warden referred to his 'great ability' and the way he took 'infinite pains with the Students'. One student recalled that he read from his New Testament and notes in Braille and took his turn in the chapel services preaching extempore. Another student told of how Chitty's wife read the set text in apologetics to him and from this he made notes that were the basis for his lectures. Students remembered his habit, when it was raining, of throwing his gown over his head and walking to the chapel, a disturbing sight for those unaware of his blindness. Chitty was an accomplished organist with a phenomenal memory. He played at the three-hour services at St Mary's, Parnell, on Good Friday, and on one occasion at Devonport accompanied Stainer's Crucifixion.
Edward Chitty retained a close link with the Jubilee Institute for the Blind (later renamed the New Zealand Institute for the Blind). In 1905, together with Mary Blythe Law, he established a library of braille books. He was the institute's official visitor, travelling in the greater Auckland area and as far as Hamilton. He was appointed as a teacher at the institute's school in 1936.
Ernest Chitty died at Auckland on 8 June 1948, survived by his wife and daughter. Described as 'One of the most loved and admired ministers of the Church', he was respected for the way in which he had faced the challenge of blindness and become a good scholar and teacher, a proficient musician, and, as a visitor and deacon, a friend to many.