A feature of the history of the church was the consecration of Bishops – particularly of course Bishops of Wellington, but occasionally also of Nelson and Melanesia. Bishop Octavius Hadfield (1814? – 1904) was the first Bishop of Wellington to be consecrated there, in 1870, followed by Wallis, Sprott, Holland and Owen. The last Bishop to use St Paul’s as his cathedral, Henry Baines, was already a Bishop in Singapore, so did not need to be consecrated as Bishop, but was enthroned there in 1960.
The enthronement of Bishop Hadfield, the second Bishop of Wellington, in 1870, caused some controversy. St Paul’s sister church, St Peter’s Te Aro, had no service that day, in order to allow its vicar to take part in the consecration service. This meant a large crowd (described by one letter writer as ‘excited and not very quiet’) gathered outside St Paul’s prior to the service.
The Evening Post described the scene as being
‘more like one at the doors of a London theatre, on a Pantomime night, than one outside a place of Christian worship’.
At play were issues more nuanced than just a large crowd trying to see the bishop’s consecration. As the newspaper maintained, on days when a church was acting as a cathedral, it is usual to open all the seats up to the public, rather than keep them for those who had paid for them on a normal Sunday. (This, of course, had been the subject of lengthy discussion between the St Paul’s congregation and Bishop Selwyn, when he was trying to establish the ground rules of the use of the church).
Instead, on this day the main doors were kept shut until minutes before the service, but the choir door was open and policed by two churchwardens, who admitted the seat holders, plus allegedly
‘their friends, and some other favoured individuals, a few of whom had tickets issued by some authority unknown’.
The paper noted that both the St Paul’s congregation, who were used to being accommodated once the seat-holders had gone in, and the St Peter’s congregation, for whom no accommodation had been made at all, were both equally aggrieved about the process.
Octavius Hadfield was Bishop of Wellington from 1870 to 1895, and Primate of New Zealand from 1890. He was first ordained in 1839 in the Bay of Islands, and was steeped in missionary work to Maori and played an important part in the early colonial history in New Zealand, long before he became Bishop. In the late 1850s and 1860s, however, he made himself deeply unpopular by his position on Maori land, in the lead up to the New Zealand Wars, and in the eyes of many he did not recover.
Keith Sinclair wrote of him ‘He was one of the most remarkable men who have lived in New Zealand, brilliant, fearless, highly educated and snobbish. Meekness and patience to him were suitable for personal hardships, but boldness and plain speaking were called for in the hardships of others’.
Hadfield lead the battle between the church and government regarding the need for religion in education during the drafting of the Education Act: ‘there is no intermediate position between religion education and irreligious education’. Having lost the battle, he exerted himself in improving Sunday Schools including those of St Paul’s. He resigned from his position as Primate and Bishop in his 80th year.