Octavius Hadfield and the Growth of the Gospel in Central New Zealand (Kapiti/Manawatu)
By Bruce Patrick
- Additional editing by Brian Carrell and Sophia Sinclair
Nearly 200 years ago a sickly teenager from the Isle of Wight committed his life to serve and follow Jesus Christ. Convicted by Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew – ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ – he committed to serve as a missionary in New Zealand. Although he was not expected to live out his 20s he sought to trust God and serve wherever there was need. The life of Octavius Hadfield is a testament to God’s faithfulness in provision.
Octavius Hadfield was born 6 October 1814 at Bonchurch, Isle of Wight, UK, and became a Christian as an unwell teenager. Within a year Hadfield heard God speaking to him through the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18). This led him to offer himself to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) for service that would take him first briefly to Australia and then permanently to New Zealand.
Upon arrival in New Zealand in January 1839 Hadfield was retained at the CMS base at Paihia because of his precarious health. He underwent language and culture studies and began to the teach missionaries’ children. It was there that he first met his future wife, Catherine, the daughter of prominent CMS missionaries Henry and Marianne Williams.
That same year two young Maori chiefs, Katu (Tamihana) Te Rauparaha and his nephew (Matene) Te Whiwhi, travelled from the Kapiti Coast to ask for a missionary in their area. They had been brought to faith through learning to read at Waikanae. The only text available to them was the battered copy of Luke’s Gospel in te reo Maori that had once belonged to Tarore of Waharoa.
Henry Williams turned down their request as he had no fit missionary available to send. Seeing the need and opportunity Hadfield offered to go. His acute asthma and physical frailty from childhood had left him with a very low life expectancy, but his deep faith called him to use whatever life he had in the service of Jesus, so he answered Henry Williams’ protestations: “I can only die once and I’d rather die in a Maori pa than in a missionary’s house”. Accompanied by Henry Williams, he left Paihia in 1839 to set up the Anglican mission on the Kapiti Coast.
After sailing in the CMS Herald to Port Nicholson they walked north from Wellington over the hills. Hadfield’s physical suffering is evident in his journals: “In much pain today”. While in Waikanae Hadfield made the mistake of breaking tapu (a type of sacred restriction) by walking in a chief’s garden. The tribe’s tohunga (priest) told Hadfield he would be dead by the morning. Hadfield replied that he had no intention of being dead by the morning. Next morning, when the tohunga was found dead, Hadfield’s mana leapt and the gospel of the all-powerful Creator God was taken seriously.
As the first clergyman to be ordained in New Zealand, Hadfield served on the Kapiti Coast for 30 years. He became Bishop of Wellington (he served from 1870-1893) and in this position also served as Primate (Archbishop) of New Zealand (1890 -1893). He gained recognition as an authority on Maori customs and language and was frequently consulted by politicians. Over time many Maori in his area became practising Christians. It was said there was no violent crime in the Manawatu for 20 years. Following the Wairau Affray in 1843, where a confrontation between Te Rauparaha and group of settlers left twenty-two Europeans dead, an attack on the undefended settlement of Wellington was possible. Hadfield intervened and his mana was such that hostilities were prevented.
Five years into his ministry on the Kapiti Coast Hadfield collapsed and spent five years mostly confined to bed in the Wellington home of Magistrate Henry St Hill. During this time Governor George Grey visited him often to draw upon his knowledge and wisdom regarding Maori affairs. Bishop Selwyn also developed a good friendship with Hadfield and drew heavily on his insights. Hadfield recovered miraculously in 1849 and returned to his post in time to bury his old friend, the once-cannibal chief Te Rauparaha.
Octavius Hadfield married Catherine Williams in 1852 when she was 21. In their first year of marriage she gave birth to a son named Henry (born in the Bay of Islands). When Henry was just 9 months old the family river-canoed and walked from the Bay of Islands to Otaki in 22 days with Catherine carrying Henry – a feat in which she justifiably took great pride!
Hadfield was regarded by many as an authority on Maori customs and language and was frequently consulted by politicians. His views on Maori rights were based on the Treaty of Waitangi, for which he had helped gather signatures. When the Taranaki Wars erupted and Maori were dispossessed several small books written by Hadfield were published by the Times newspaper in London. In these he outspokenly criticised the actions of the New Zealand Government and especially Governor Gore-Brown. Eventually, after being mercilessly vilified in New Zealand and England, Hadfield’s account of events was vindicated and Gore-Browne was withdrawn.
Hadfield became bitterly unpopular in 1860 when he upheld Wiremu Kingi’s claim to the Waitara block. Wiremu Kingi was a close friend of Hadfield, and the chief of Ngati Awa from Waitara, though living with his people on the Kapiti Coast. Hadfield urged Kingi to return to Waitara to assert rightful ownership over their land and argued Maori rights against the political powers of the day. He was deemed ‘the most unpopular man in the colony’.
Though having been born sickly and weak, and not expected to survive into his twenties, Hadfield outlived every one of his contemporaries and died 11 December 1904 at Edale, Manawatu, at the age of 84 after a remarkable career in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The graves of Octavius Hadfield, his wife Catherine and some of their family are in the St John’s churchyard at Tututotara, a few kilometres north of Marton and only a few hundred metres from State Highway One. Some of their descendants still live and farm nearby.
Octavius Hadfield’s grave, Porewa Rd, Rangitikei.
- Follow St Highway 1 North of Marton
- Turn right on to Porewa Rd
- On your right there will a stone church and a grave yard
- Octavius is buried here
Location in google maps
The Anglican Rural Dean Elizabeth Body can be contacted about groups visiting the gravesite.