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The Right Reverend George Augustus Selwyn (5 April 1809–11 April 1878) was the first Anglican Bishop of New Zealand. He was Bishop of New Zealand from 1841 to 1858, Primate of New Zealand from 1858 to 1868 and Bishop of Lichfield from 1868 to 1878. The colleges named in his honour include Selwyn College, Cambridgemarker (1882) and Selwyn College, Otagomarker (1893).

Early years

Selwyn was born at Church Row, Hampsteadmarker, the second son of William Selwyn (1775–1855). At the age of seven, he went to the preparatory school of Dr. Nicholas at Ealingmarker, where the future Cardinal Newman, and his brother Francis were among his schoolfellows. He then went to Etonmarker, where he was distinguished both as scholar and athlete, and knew William Ewart Gladstone. In 1827 he became scholar of St. John's College, Cambridgemarker. He came out second in the classical tripos in 1831, graduating B.A. 1831, M.A. 1834, and D.D. per lit. reg. 1842, and he was made a fellow of his college. He was a member of the Cambridge crew which competed in the first Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race at Henley on Thamesmarker in 1829, losing to Oxford.

After graduating Selwyn settled at Eton as tutor to the sons of Lord Powis. In 1833 he was ordained deacon, and acted as curate to the Rev. Isaac Gossett, vicar of Windsor. Both at Eton and at Windsor, Selwyn displayed much organising talent. In 1841, after an episcopal council held at Lambeth had recommended the appointment of a bishop for New Zealand, Bishop Blomfield offered the post to Selwyn.

Life as bishop

He was consecrated at Lambeth on 17 October 1841, and sailed on 26 December. He appointed William Charles Cotton as his chaplain.The missionary party of 23 members set sail from Plymouthmarker late in December 1841 on board the barque Tomatin. On the ship, in addition to their luggage, were various animals and four hives of bees. On the voyage out he so far mastered the Māori language with the help of a Māori boy returning from England, that he was able to preach in that language immediately on his arrival, and acquired enough knowledge of seamanship to enable him to be his ownsailing master among the dangerous waters of the Pacific. In April 1842 the Tomatin arrived in Sydneymarker. The boat was damaged by a rock on entering their landing place and, rather than wait for its repair, some of the party, including Selwyn and Cotton, set sail for New Zealand on the brig Bristolian on 19 May. They arrived in Aucklandmarker on 30 May. After spending some time as guests of Captain William Hobson, the first Governor of New Zealand, Selwyn and Cotton set sail for the Bay of Islandsmarker on the schooner Wave on 12 June, arriving on 20 June. Amongst the party was a clerk, William Bambridge, who was also an accomplished artist and was later to become photographer to Queen Victoria.

Selwyn had decided to set up residence at the Waimate Mission Station, some inland from Paihiamarker where the Church Missionary Society had established a settlement 11 years earlier. On 5 July 1842 Selwyn set out on a six month tour of his diocese leaving the Mission Station in the care of Sarah, his wife, and Cotton. By October 1843 more missionaries had arrived at Waimate, and Selwyn, accompanied by Cotton, embarked on his second tour, this time to mission stations and native settlements in the southern part of North Island. Their journey was made partly by canoe but mainly by walking, often for large distances over difficult and dangerous terrain. Part way through the tour Selwyn decided to split the party into two sections with one section led by himself and the other by Cotton. After being away for nearly three months, Cotton arrived back at Waimate early in 1844 and Selwyn returned a few weeks later.

Later in 1844 Selwyn decided to move some south to Tamaki near Aucklandmarker where he bought of land, giving it the name of Bishop's Auckland. The party left on 23 October and arrived in Auckland on 17 November. During the first six months of 1845 Selwyn was away for much of the time and management of the settlement, and particularly the schools, fell to Cotton.

Bishop Selwyn's see was an early foundation in the series of colonial sees organised by the English church, and his organisation and government of his diocese proved of special importance. In six years he completed a thorough visitation of the whole of New Zealand, and in December 1847 began a series of voyages to the Pacific Islands, which were included in his diocese by a clerical error in his letters patent. His letters and journals descriptive of these journeyings present the reader with a vivid picture of his versatility, courage, and energy. His voyagings resulted in 1861 in the consecration of John Coleridge Patteson as bishop of Melanesia.

Selwyn elaborated a scheme for the self-government of his diocese, and in 1854 visited England for the purpose of obtaining power to subdivide his diocese, and permission to the church of New Zealand to manage its own affairs by a "general synod" of bishops, presbyters, and laity. His addresses before the university of Cambridge produced a great impression. On his return to New Zealand four bishops were consecrated, two to the Northern and two to the Southern Island, and the legal constitution of the church was finally established.

The first general synod was held in 1859. Selwyn's constitution of the New Zealand church greatly influenced the development of the colonial church, and has reacted in many ways on the church at home. By 1855, the Land Wars interrupted the progress of Christianity among the Māori, and caused an almost universal rejection of the Church of England. Selwyn was a keen critic of the unjust and reckless procedure of the English land companies, and was misunderstood by Englishmen and Maoris alike. His efforts to supply Christian ministrations to the troops on both sides were heroic and indefatigable.

Final years

In 1867, he visited England a second time to be present at the first Pan-Anglican synod, an institution which his own work had done much to bring about. While he was in England he accepted the offer of the see of Lichfield. He was enthroned as ninety-first bishop on 9 January 1868. In 1868 he paid a farewell visit to New Zealand. He governed Lichfield till his death at the age of 69. He died at the bishop's palace, Lichfield, and was buried in the grounds of Lichfield Cathedral.

Selwyn College, Cambridge, was erected by subscription in memory of Bishop Selwyn, and was incorporated by royal charter on 13 September 1882. The bishop's portrait by George Richmond, R.A., belongs to St. John's College, Cambridge.

Personal life

Selwyn married Sarah Harriet Richardson, only daughter of Sir John Richardson on 25 June 1839. They had two sons, William, prebendary of Hereford, and John Richardson Selwyn (1844–1898), Bishop of Melanesia. John Richardson Selwyn also rowed for Cambridge in the Boat Race and later become master of Selwyn College.

Selwyn was brother of Sir Charles Jasper Selwyn, and of William Selwyn (1806–1875). His great uncle, Major Charles Selwyn (d 1749), was an associate of General Oglethorpe, and a prominent benefactor of the church in Jamaica early in the eighteenth century (ANDERSON, Colonial Church, iii. 544–5).


Besides numerous sermons, letters, and charges, Selwyn was the author of:
  1. Are Cathedral Institutions useless ? A Practical Answer to this Question, addressed to W. E. Gladstone, Esq., M.P., 1838; written in answer to an inquiry from Mr. Gladstone.
  2. Sermons preached chiefly in the Church of St. John the Baptist, New Windsor, privately circulated, 1842.
  3. Letters to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel from the Bishop of New Zealand, with extracts from his Visitation Journals; printed in the society's series entitled Church in the Colonies, Nos. 4, 7, 8, 12 and 20.
  4. Verbal Analysis of the Holy Bible, intended to facilitate the Translation of the Holy Scriptures into Foreign Languages, 1855.

See also


The Selwyn churches of Auckland by C R Knight (1972, Reed, Wellington)

Further reading

External links

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