On display at Old St Paul’s is an ornate silver teapot that was given to the architect and priest Frederick Thatcher by the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Grey. This teapot tells the story of many people: Governor Grey, Frederick Thatcher and his family, and his biographer Margaret Alington.
Frederick Thatcher trained as an architect in London, but when he came to New Zealand he did a range of different jobs, and he first came in contact with Governor Grey in Auckland when he was his secretary for two years in the 1840s. Frederick and his wife Caroline’s only child was named Ernest Grey, in honour of Sir George and Lady Grey, who were Ernest’s godparents. Thatcher trained for the priesthood from 1848 and worked in Auckland and England, but was convinced to return to New Zealand by Bishop Selwyn in 1861, and became the priest of the original St Paul’s church in 1861, and then designed the Old St Paul’s we know today.
In 1864 he had to leave his position because of illness, so he returned to Auckland and to the employ of Governor Grey, as his private secretary, nearly 20 years after he’d worked for him the first time. Both Grey and Thatcher left New Zealand in 1868, when Grey’s second term as governor ended.
The silver teapot was made in 1846 by Charles Lias in London. It has a crest with a Greek Cross, which is apparently the Thatcher crest used on wax seals on family letters.
The teapot is inscribed:
Kind remembrance of long & faithful public
Services, from his attached friend
Governor-in-Chief of the Islands of New Zealand.
There is no date on the teapot, so we can’t know exactly when Grey gave it to Thatcher. However, Thatcher’s biographer Margaret Alington believed that the teapot was probably presented to Thatcher around the time the two men left New Zealand, because it mentions ‘long’ service.
Grey was by all accounts a difficult man to work for. The wife of Old St Paul’s Bishop, Caroline Abraham, described him as being in want ‘of all warmth of feeling or capacity for friendship on any equal terms’. However, this teapot serves as evidence that Grey had a lot of affection for Thatcher. Their friendship was probably due to Thatcher’s character: Margaret Alington wrote that a friend had called him a ‘rare man … attracting all by the sweetness of his nature’, and combining ‘strong good sense with no lack of backbone.’
Return of the Teapot to New Zealand
The fact that the teapot is even at Old St Paul’s today is a story of dedication and luck. The teapot fortunately stayed in the Thatcher family, passed from Thatcher to his son Ernest, who had three children while in Brisbane, Australia, but who finally settled in British Columbia, Canada. The teapot then passed down to one of his three children, and was held by the family until 1993, when Thatcher’s biographer Margaret Alington made contact with Thatcher’s great-grandaughter Doris Patocha. She was still living in British Columbia, and she had the teapot!
Doris generously donated the teapot to the Friends of Old St Paul’s Society in 1993. Doris even visited Old St Paul’s in 2000 to see what her great-grandfather had left behind from his time in New Zealand. Without Margaret’s thoroughness and dedication, this piece of history, representing a strong friendship, and tangibly linking one of New Zealand’s early politicians to Thatcher and Old St Paul’s, would not have been discovered. It has now found a home in Old St Paul’s, on loan from the Friends.
Sources: Margaret Alington, An Excellent Recruit, Auckland, 2007; Margaret Alington. ‘Thatcher, Frederick’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t92/thatcher-frederick; Keith Sinclair. ‘Grey, George’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 2-Oct-2013, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/1g21/grey-george.
Images: Frederic Thatcher. Ref: 1/2-110423-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22377415; Governor Sir George Grey, accession no: 1998/40/2. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Auckland. http://www.aucklandartgallery.com/explore-art-and-ideas/artwork/8134. Teapot image: Heritage New Zealand