Story: Taylor, Thomas Fielden

Page 1: Biography

Taylor, Thomas Fielden

1879–1937

Anglican priest, city missioner

This biography, written by John H. McCaul, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Thomas Fielden Taylor was born in Chelsea, Middlesex, England, on 12 June 1879, the son of Richard Fielden Taylor, a professor of music, and his wife, Annie Philadelphia Williams. Fielden studied law and at the age of 20 was articled to a firm of solicitors in London. Later he trained at the Church Missionary Society college at Islington. However, his health deteriorated and he emigrated to New Zealand for the climate, arriving in November 1904. Assigned to work in several West Coast mining towns and camps, he was lay reader in Murchison and then layman in charge of Reefton parish in 1906. The following year he went to Runanga where he organised the building of St Thomas' Church, which was opened in March 1908.

Fielden Taylor was made deacon on 24 February 1908 and ordained priest in the Anglican diocese of Nelson in 1909. After studying at Bishopdale College, Nelson, he gained his licentiate in theology in 1913. From 1908 to 1911 he was curate of Greymouth while continuing his work at Runanga. On 26 June 1911 at Nelson he married Eleanora Sophia Mules, the only daughter of Charles Oliver Mules, bishop of Nelson, and his wife, Laura Blundell. There were no children of the marriage. Taylor served as vicar of Brunnerton and Grey Valley from 1910 to 1913, then worked for a year as vicar of Suburban North, Nelson, and in charge of Port Mission Hall. From 1916 to 1919 he was canon of Nelson cathedral.

When the First World War broke out he went to Tapawera as chaplain, then sailed for Egypt on 16 October 1914 with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. In May 1915 he was wounded at Gallipoli, narrowly escaping death, and in July 1916 was mentioned in dispatches for distinguished gallant service. A popular padre, he returned to New Zealand at the end of the year and worked as chaplain to Trentham Military Camp while still holding his position at Nelson cathedral.

In 1919 Fielden Taylor went to Wellington as acting vicar of St Peter's Church, Willis Street, and served for 11 years as missioner of St Peter's Mission in Taranaki Street. He established a boys' hostel in the early 1920s. In 1928 Taylor was arrested and in the Wellington Magistrate's Court faced 11 charges of indecent assault on boys between the ages of 14 and 16. Taylor denied the charges, which were then dismissed by the magistrate because he believed that the young witnesses were unreliable. The mission was separated from St Peter's in 1929 and Taylor continued as missioner of Wellington City Mission until his death.

He is best remembered for his work during the depression, and his became a household name for helping the poor and bringing hope to many people. He had a large following and his services at King's Theatre on Sunday nights were attended by crowds of over a thousand. During these years of rapid expansion of the mission and its work, a men's shelter was established and a mission headquarters in Taranaki Street built. Taylor organised Christmas and summer camps and night schools, cared for the aged and infirm, instituted daily old people's meals and assisted those in need.

The founder of the St Barnabas' Babies' Home in Khandallah in 1922, Taylor was closely involved with the Wellington Diocesan Social Service Board, which he chaired from 1921 to 1927. He was a keen supporter of the Boy Scouts' Association and the Collingwood Sea Scout Troop, founded the Stop-Out Club and helped to found the New Zealand Anglican Bible Class Union in 1921.

Fielden Taylor had an unfailing sense of humour, a dynamic personality, and an unconventional approach to his work. Never strong in health, he suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and painful war wounds. He died in Wellington on 29 May 1937, survived by his wife, Eleanora. More than 7,000 people lined the street to pay tribute at his funeral. Taylor was considered to be almost a legend in the life of the church in New Zealand and one of its most 'forceful and magnetic' representatives. His work with boys was commemorated by the building of Fielden Taylor Memorial Boys' Hostel in Taranaki Street in 1940.

How to cite this page:

John H. McCaul. 'Taylor, Thomas Fielden', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3t11/taylor-thomas-fielden (accessed 18 November 2019)