Page 1: Biography
Sprott, Thomas Henry
This biography, written by John H. McCaul, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
Thomas Henry Sprott was born on 26 September 1856 at Dromore, County Down, Ireland, the son of Catherine Berry and her husband, William Sprott, a linen merchant. Sprott entered Trinity College, University of Dublin, in 1876 graduating BA in 1878 and MA in 1882. While there he won the Hebrew Prize on two occasions. In 1879 he was awarded a first-class divinity testimonium and won the Church Formularies Prize as first in the Divinity School. He was made deacon at York Minster at the end of 1879. Six months later, on 2 June 1880, he married Edith Christina Campbell at Monkstown, Dublin. They were to have three children.
Sprott was ordained priest at York on 19 December 1880. He served as a curate in Kingston upon Hull and in Waterloo Road, London. In 1887 he emigrated to New Zealand to be curate in charge of St Barnabas' Church, Mount Eden, Auckland; in 1890 he became first vicar of the church.
From 1892 to 1911 Sprott was vicar of St Paul's Cathedral Church, Wellington. In addition to his duties as parish priest he was involved in wider pastoral concerns. He supported the Bible in schools movement, and during university holidays lectured at Victoria College at the invitation of the Christian Union. Some lectures given in St Paul's during Lent 1902 were expanded and published by Cambridge University Press in 1909 under the title Modern study of the Old Testament and inspiration. In a diocesan synod sermon in 1906 he suggested what became the General Mission of Help – a team of missioners from England who visited New Zealand during 1910 and made a major impact on church life. Sprott also served as an army chaplain.
In March 1911 an electoral meeting of the Wellington diocesan synod elected him Anglican bishop of Wellington. He was consecrated in St Paul's Cathedral Church on 6 June. In the same year his old university recognised the election by conferring on him its degrees of bachelor and doctor of divinity. Sprott was to be bishop of Wellington for nearly 25 years. Throughout this time he was always concerned about the welfare of his clergy and with making Christianity understandable to ordinary people.
A key issue during his episcopate was the building of a new cathedral. A design was drawn up for the site of St Mark's Church near the Basin Reserve but it was not pursued. Other developments were the social service work of the diocese, notably the St Peter's Mission (which became the Wellington City Mission in 1930) and the St Mary's Guild which provided care for young women and children. There was also a revival of interest in missionary work.
Because many Anglicans believed that religious and secular education should be integrated they wanted the church to establish its own schools. While Sprott was bishop the diocese took over Nga Tawa School, Marton, Croydon School, Days Bay, and Miss Baber's Fitzherbert Terrace School, Wellington, which was renamed the Samuel Marsden Collegiate School. Several smaller schools were also established throughout the diocese and the Wellington Diocesan Church Schools Board was formed in 1916.
Sprott was slight in stature and frail. Although he had a habit of coughing as he spoke, he was a noted preacher and apologist, with a strong prophetic instinct. He was described in 1911 as 'well known throughout New Zealand as the leading exponent of modern thought in its religious aspects'. He was a member of the General Synod from 1907 to 1940, and preached several General Synod sermons. After his death, a selection of his sermons and addresses was published by a memorial committee under the title Redeeming the time. He was made an OBE in 1919.
Although highly regarded for his ecclesiastical scholarship, Sprott was also known for his kindness, sense of humour and common sense. Throughout his ministry he was ably assisted by his wife, Edith, who took a particular interest in the work of the St Mary's Guild. A home in Karori for schoolgirls, administered by the guild, was named after her in 1938. Sprott House is now a home for the elderly.
Thomas Sprott retired on 31 January 1936. He died in Wellington on 25 July 1942. Edith Sprott died in 1945.