In 1868, two years after the church opened, the first vicar of the church, Patrick Hay Maxwell, died of typhoid. His replacement was Rev William Harris Ewald, who had most recently been the chaplain to the Bishop of Nelson, but before that had been a chaplain in Constantinople (now Istanbul), having trained at Wadham College in Oxford.

He had a fascinating father – he had been born Jewish in Germany, but converted to Christianity and became an Anglican minister, and spent much time in Jerusalem and North Africa working to convert Jews, for the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews.

William himself also become an Anglican minister, and obviously also enjoyed a peripatetic life. While he was the chaplain for the Bishop in Constantinople he wrote to the ‘Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts’ and as a result travelled to New Zealand in 1867 with the newly appointed Anglican Bishop of Nelson, Andrew Suter (who came to New Zealand with his family, three English clergyman and 120 other people to join him in his colonial endeavour).

Ewald turned out to be a very controversial appointment at St Paul’s. In the early years of the city, the St Paul’s congregation were strongly ‘low church’, and deeply disliked anything that hinted of Catholicism or ‘high church’.

Ewald reformed the form of service at the church, leading to bitter arguments between him and the vestry.  Ewald asked for six months to trial his style of service, such as monotoning to lead the congregation and the chanting of prayers.  At the end of the trial the services ‘elicited an almost unanimous expression of disapproval’ from the parish and vestry.

As one letter-writer to the newspaper (signing himself ‘Anti-Rome’) stated:

‘I have viewed with alarm the evident partiality shown by our pastor for a mode of service as closely similar to that of the Romish Church as possible, and the successive steps by which the service at St Paul’s has been gradually drawn nearer to that Church, while its beautiful simplicity has been desecrated and spoilt’.

He also complained of Ewald’s sermons, and stated that:

‘it remains for the congregation to show plainly whether they are going to be led by an inexperienced young clergyman … through the mazes of Ritulism, into the arms of the Romish church’.

At the end of the trial, Ewald was told by the vestry he could not continue – whereupon he asked what right the vestry had to interfere with how he wanted to run the church.  The arguments continued, and were only resolved by Ewald’s resignation in 1871.  Ironically, one newspaper reported that during his time at the church the music had ‘considerably improved’.  He promptly left New Zealand, and continued his career in the United Kingdom, and was for 30 years the vicar of St. John’s, Lancaster.

Sources: Wellington Independent, 24 April 1869, p5; Evening Post, 28 April 1869, p2; Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 22 May 1869, p2; Wellington Independent, 24 July 1871, p.2; The Blain Biographical Directory of Anglican Clergy, 

Image: Wellington in c.1868, by Caroline Harriet Abraham, wife of Bishop Abraham.  Ref: A-329-009. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.