Frederick Thatcher (1814-1890), the architect of Old St Paul’s, was by all accounts a remarkable man. He had a triple career – as architect, priest and private secretary. Thatcher had previously been an architect in the United Kingdom, and came to New Zealand in 1843. He then trained to be a priest at St John’s College, Auckland, and worked at various parishes, and designed a number of buildings. He was appointed priest of the first St Paul’s in Wellington in 1861.
He designed the new St Paul’s (the church we now know as Old St Paul’s) while he was priest of the church, having previously altered the rather ugly first St Paul’s to make it larger. At the same time, he worked as the parish priest and raised the £2,000 he needed as the parish contribution for the church.
Unfortunately, his poor health made him resign after three years in the post, before the church was completed. He was able to be present at the laying of the foundation stone of the beautiful church he designed, but was never its parish priest.
Thatcher made a huge contribution to New Zealand architecture. However, as his biographer Margaret Alington, has noted, when he died, his biographies in the UK talked little about his architectural career. Instead, they talked of his character: one wrote of his time in Wellington ‘he managed the finances of the diocese, he built the Cathedral, but his chief work was a remarkable influence over the hearts and lives of his flock. His own life and character were a magnet that few could resist’.
Margaret herself, who knew Thatcher so well, through her 50 years of studies of him and his work, wrote that, considering his varied career, ‘A life of service and spiritual awareness were his priorities … one is led to conclude that he was a very dedicated man, and a man who was at peace with himself and with the world’.
Thatcher’s biography by Margaret Alington, An Excellent Recruit, is an great read. A shorter on-line version, also by Margaret, is available here. Image: Frederic Thatcher. Ref: 1/2-110423-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22377415