1884 - Cox, A. Recollections - CHAPTER XXXVI. Christchurch Cathedral

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  1884 - Cox, A. Recollections - CHAPTER XXXVI. Christchurch Cathedral
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CHAPTER XXXVI. Christchurch Cathedral.

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Christchurch Cathedral.

A FEW pages in speaking of the Christchurch Cathedral, and I will bring these written "Recollections" to a close.

I remember well the long and weary years that passed away before St. Andrew's Cathedral, in the city of Sydney, was finished and opened for service. Bishop Broughton, the first Bishop in Australia, exerted himself to the utmost to move moneyed men to contribute to the completion of the great and good work, and it was a matter of regret to his many friends and admirers that its actual completion was not accomplished during his life. I am now writing of a time before the day of the great revival in church building had set in. Much, however, had been done up to this time in the building of good and substantial churches throughout the colony; but in those earliest days of the colony of New South Wales, the idea of a cathedral, the church of the whole diocese, seemed to be fading from the minds of Churchmen. St. Andrew's Cathedral is a handsome structure, and was thought all things of when first built. It is now beginning to be spoken of as hardly equal to present requirements. Six pillars in the nave bear the names of Bishop Broughton and his suffragan bishops, who met in Sydney in conference in 1850. In it is also to be seen the recumbent figure of Bishop Broughton.

St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral, in the same city, is--or will be when completed--a stupendous pile, being nearly 400 feet in length by an entire width of 130 feet.

In some unpublished notes by an old Christchurch colonist, I find the Christchurch Cathedral thus spoken of:--"The eastern side of Cathedral Square is occupied by the Cathedral, the protracted building of which was a very sore subject with Canterbury folks. Such little progress was made for nearly two years after the laying of the foundation-stone, that at one time proposals for the sale of its valuable site were seriously entertained; but sentiment and the old British feeling that would not--could not--admit of defeat, resolutely put aside the tempting offers. After this resolve, an energetic attempt was made to proceed with the building, but after spasmodic efforts

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without any great result being attained, the following trifling incident had a remarkable effect in reviving public interest in the work, which for a while had got to be spoken of as too ambitious an undertaking for so small a community." And now for the "trifling incident," so-called, which seemed to have led to a final and successful effort to complete the glorious work. "Early one summer morning a journalist was wending his way home from an office in the neighbourhood where he had been preparing 'copy,' when his attention was attracted by what appeared at the time a singular phenomenon. Passing the Cathedral, he was musing upon its unfinished condition, and whilst under the influence of a softened abstraction, happening to cast his eyes upon the Godley statue, he was startled and profoundly moved by observing big round tears rolling down its bronze cheeks, which he at once ascribed to the picture of apparent neglect and want of effort in the unfinished, roofless walls of the Cathedral opposite."

He then goes on to say that renewed efforts were made to do away with the reproach and scandal of leaving so important a work in an unfinished state, and that the further appeal to the public resulted in a respectable flow of contributions which had dwindled, he says, "to a mere trickling stream. But the grand climax," as he says, "was achieved when a generous artesian flow welled forth from a stratum that had not been previously reached." These efforts ended in the completion of the Cathedral as it now stands.

Mr. Robert Heaton Rhodes, the man to whom Canterbury has been so largely indebted for a helping hand in building up the tower of the Cathedral, has within the last few days disappeared from amongst us, after a long and painful illness. This enterprising colonist came into the land in 1848-1849, before the birth of provinces--before even the days of a settlement--and has given many proofs of his enterprise, intelligence, and energy in helping to develop the resources of the colony. His experience in Australia in all matters connected with stock and stations qualified him to make the most of opportunities that lay in his way. The Canterbury plains, then a wilderness, an unoccupied waste, were at that time open to all the squatting world; but very few were well informed of their extent and quality. It very likely did not enter into his calculations that during his life such great results would come out of his enterprising venture; but he possessed in all their strength the gifts that ensure success in life. He was active-minded, practical, persevering, and thrifty, and

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never, up to within a few weeks of the close of his busy life, outgrew his engrossing habit of personally looking into all his extensive business transactions. That he was quite equal to such a strain is well known to all who had to do with him in matters of business. Men who were financially connected with him in large undertakings speak of him not only as a just man, but as one who, when circumstances rendered it becoming, could deal considerately--even liberally--with those in whom he had confidence. Many men who worked under him in old days, and had been largely indebted to him for a fair start in their life's business, have long since developed into prosperous settlers; and amongst these are to be found not a few who deeply sympathised with him in his late sufferings, and who faithfully and stoutly maintain that he had much to do with pushing on to prosperity the land of his adoption.

The final touch has yet to be given to the noble building which, when fully completed, will certainly be spoken of in the words of Pope: "Here stands a structure of noble frame."

In 1870, Anthony Trollope, then visiting Christchurch, writes thus of the Cathedral, and the prospect of its completion: "In a few years the very idea of Canterbury being specially the province of one denomination of Christians will be lost to the memory of the colonists themselves--unless, indeed, it is perpetuated by the huge record of their failure which the town of Christchurch contains. In the centre of it there is a large waste space in which £7000 have been buried in laying the foundations of a Cathedral; but there is not a single stone or a single brick above the level of the ground. The idea of building a Cathedral is now abandoned. Opposite the spot where the door would have been stands a statue by Woolner of my old schoolfellow, the great ornament of the city of Christchurch." The Saturday Review, in describing it, writes thus: "The head is full of vivacity and firmness, the face looks keenly forward, the mouth set, the eye fixed on the horizon with the air of a man who foresees at once the immediate labours of the settlement and its long future career."

I remember, on the occasion of Sir George Grey's visit to Canterbury in 1867, that it was thought well to mow the envious grass that was matting itself over and had well-nigh obliterated the stone foundations; and that there might be no mistake made as to the fact of a foundation, whitewash was used to retrace its outline.

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The writer of the notes already appropriated speaks enthusiastically and sentimentally of the peal of bells that, on the completion of the Cathedral, were set up and rang out merrily. He says, "What a dear old familiar sound they have to all whose childhood and youth were passed in old England, where every town and village can boast of a set of bells and an emulative band of sturdy ringers." That is one view of the matter; now for another. A little more than a year ago, an anecdote was being told which I trust is true. If not strictly true, I trust that the Very Rev. the Dean of Christchurch will see his way to forgiving me for doing my best to circulate it. A friend from the country meeting the Dean at the Cathedral gate, rushed at him with outstretched arms, eager to embrace him, and obviously quite ready to listen to what he was saying. But the din--the sharp, ringing, clanging sound of the Cathedral bells, was too much for him; he could hear nothing else. The Dean spoke, but he was not understood; the man from the country spoke, but he failed in his attempts to make himself heard. But what they said was of course overheard and telephoned to all the world, and it amounted to this:

The Dean: "How beautiful are the tones that proceed from our Cathedral bells."

The Friend from the country: "Indeed, Dean, it is very serious; we are sadly in want of fine weather."

The Dean: Does it not re-awaken in your heart sensations that moved us in the old country?"

The Friend from the country: "I haven't seen him for a considerable time; I rather think he has left the country."

The Dean beginning to suspect that he had not been perfectly heard or apprehended, said: "I am asking for no one; I am speaking only of the beautiful and thrilling tones that proceed from our Cathedral bells."

The Friend from the country: "Yes, confound those bells ! I haven't heard a word that you have said all this time."

But the outpouring of sentiment proceeding from the writer of the notes, strangely enough, comes from the pen of one who does not write himself down as belonging to the flock shepherded by the Bishop of Christchurch. Is it much of a wonder then that the hearts of Church-people brim over with glad rejoicings at the sight of this beautiful structure, and love to hear the well-toned bells summoning Christians to worship?

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Not all members of the Church of England in Canterbury were at the outset of one mind as to the importance or necessity of a church on the scale of the Cathedral, or fully sympathised with those who made sacrifices in early days to contribute a stone towards its erection. I was among those who, living in a remote part of the province, thought that their first duty was to see to the building of churches at their own doors, before contributing to the building of a cathedral church in the metropolis of the province. We felt that it was somewhat of a reproach to the Church of England even to wish to build a cathedral before the necessary work of building and endowing churches throughout the province was done with. It is well that all Church members were not of one mind at that time--or it would perhaps be more correct to say that, doing the work that we attached importance to, they at the same time had it in their hearts and found means to help to build up the walls that now beautify our city. In holding this view, I erred in pretty good company, for I find the Press newspaper at that time writing thus: "In our opinion such a work is, in the present state of the colony, pure folly. Fifty years hence, £10,000 will be as easily raised as £1000 now. Nothing that we could possibly build now would satisfy our posterity a few years hence."

I have lately heard a whisper that there is something like the prospect of the possibility of a fresh start being made in the direction of the completion of the Cathedral, by the addition of the transepts and chancel. That such a work may be undertaken and completed during the episcopate of Bishop Harper is the hope of a large number of Church people.

Of the Bishop of Christchurch, who has certainly got to be regarded by his numerous flock, not as a "lord over God's heritage, but as an ensample to the flock," whose labours never seem to slacken; "whose praise is in all the churches," and whose genial ways shed light and happiness upon the lives of so many of the community, I may, in bringing these written "Recollections" to a close, be allowed to write a few lines.

The difficulties encountered by the promoters of the Canterbury settlement in their first attempts to establish and endow a bishopric, are matters of history to old Canterbury colonists. Finally in 1857, all difficulties--constitutional, political, and financial--being removed, Bishop Harper was nominated, consecrated, and instituted to the

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important office. It was most important that in the selection of the first bishop for Canterbury, the necessity of appointing a man of colonising and liberal instincts as well as of sound church principles, should not be lost sight of; for the province of Canterbury was growing with a rapid growth, and was destined to be the home of settlers professing to belong to every denomination of Christians. The Church News, in 1879, twenty-two years after his first appearance in Canterbury, spoke truthfully as well as proudly of him when they said that "he had the hearty sympathy of his flock, and the unfeigned respect of those not included therein."

In addition to the ordinary duties of a bishop, there was work to be done in organising and nursing into a vigorous growth Christ's College, already referred to. Without wishing to convey the impression (which, indeed, would be a very erroneous one) that only the Bishop of Christchurch anxiously strove to make the College a success, one may say in speaking of his share in the undertaking, that the desire to see it established, utilised, and appreciated, was ever present to his mind. He has witnessed during these twenty-seven years the passing through the educational mill of two generations. Three at least of his sons passed their early life at this College. His grandsons, all born in the colony, are many of them to be seen at the same school, some of them having already been sent to England to complete their education at Oxford or Cambridge.

A very interesting incident may be recorded here, showing to what extent the College boys appreciated the Bishop's personal supervision and daily attendance at the early service of prayers held in the College Chapel. This had been his habit for a very long time. The boys had got to regard the Bishop as an essential part of the gathering, realising that he was their shepherd, and that they were his home flock. When the Cathedral was finished and opened for service, the Bishop was to be seen there daily at early prayers--no longer appearing regularly at the early College chapel services. The boys soon noticed his absence, and were not slow in making known their earnest desire that he should come back to his young flock, and leave others to attend service in the great church in Cathedral square. His being able to gratify their wish {which he at once did) must have been one of the happiest moments in his happy life.

Few taking an interest in the cause of higher education in the colony need to be reminded that the Bishop of Christchurch has done

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quite his share of work in connection with the Canterbury College, and that he has always been rightly regarded by the governing body as a useful and liberal-minded member.

Whilst representing and governing the Church of England in Canterbury, he has never forgotten, and has never allowed others to forget that he is a colonist and an Englishman, and therefore as much interested as laymen in the fate and fortunes of his countrymen throughout the vast world ruled by England. Turn up the records of 1858, and you will see that he took a prominent part in the proceedings at a meeting called to consider the proper steps to be taken to express sympathy with and to afford relief to the sufferers by the Indian Mutiny. And turn over a few more pages of Provincial history until you come to the year 1860, and you will see that he also attended a meeting called to consider what was best to be done to provide for the relief and maintenance of those who were at that time suffering from the consequences of wounds, the loss of property, or other troubles following the disturbances in the North Island. There were many settlers, old and young, suffering age on the one hand, and helpless infancy on the other, who during the Taranaki troubles were well-nigh ruined.

Mr. Ollivier, at that time Provincial Secretary, brought forward a motion in the Provincial Council to set apart 2000 acres of land, to be applied in some form in the interest of the sufferers; but there were said to be difficulties in the way which led to his withdrawing the motion. But what red-tapism was strong enough to strangle in the Provincial Council, was readily and successfully taken up in another form by the public--hence the meeting referred to. At this meeting the Bishop of Christchurch, the Rev. Mr. Fraser (Presbyterian), and the Rev. J. Buller (Wesleyan), spoke. Their eloquent appeals were answered by substantial contributions. The Rev. Mr. Buller said, "I have the privilege of belonging to the somewhat despised class of missionaries; but I am not the less an Englishman because I am a missionary. In my intercourse with the Maoris, during a long experience, I have never allowed an insult to pass unreproved. And so well-disposed are a large section of the Maoris to ourselves that I fully expect to see contributions from them towards our ruined countrymen." And in thus speaking, he spoke with the prescience of a prophet, for a few days after the meeting he was addressed by a considerable number of Canterbury Maoris who.

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seemed somewhat aggrieved at not having received notice of the meeting called to express sympathy with the unfortunate. They, however, sent a contribution accompanied by the words--"For our European relatives and the poor widows of Taranaki."

Those who know the Bishop of Christchurch intimately, and have long enjoyed the privilege of his friendship will tell you that his feelings towards his friends are not grown cold; and that neither his head nor his heart has yet relaxed its firm hold of the great truths that he has proclaimed and lived under the influence of during his long and useful life.

Whitcombe and Tombs (Limited), Printers, Cashel Street, Christchurch.

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