Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Henry John Chitty Harper

Bishop Henry John Chitty Harper. 1804-1893


The first actual Bishop of Christchurch was Henry John Chitty Harper, appointed in 1856. Six years earlier, during the long debates from which the Canterbury Settlement evolved the Rev. Thomas Jackson had been designated for the post. He did in fact come out to New Zealand, but, lacking the missionary spirit, he was dismayed at the prospect, the bare trackless hills and the bleak immigration buildings, and he turned to England for good. 

Henry John Chitty Harper was born at Gosport. Hampshire on January 9th, 1804, and educated in the first place at Hyde Abbey School. Winchester. Going then to Queen’s College, Oxford, he proceeded B.A., in 1826. and M.A. in 1834. After his first degree he went as "conduct” or chaplain to Eton College, where his coadjutor was George Augustus Selwyn. When at Eton that Harper evinced the characteristics which pointed him out as a man for high was the loading spirit in many reforms which, were carried through at the college in those days, and when he left he received testimonials from college authorities, and from the people of the parish of Eton, which showed the very high esteem in which he was held. He was at Eton College from 1831 to 1836, and curate in charge of the parish of Eton till 1840. There was no vicar at the time, the College holding the vicariate. Meanwhile he had been ordained deacon in 1831 and priest in 1832. In 1840 Eton College presented him with the living of Stratfleld-Mortimer, in Berkshire, where he remained until he was designated Bishop of Christchurch in 1856. 

While curate at Eton College Harper took private pupils, many whom (including Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) became famous in the public life of England. In those days, too, he made a close friend of Selwyn, and it was on his advice that the future bishop of New Zealand read for holy orders. Selwyn was ordained deacon in 1833. He was the first to go to a bishopric, and twelve years later he strongly recommended Harper as the right man for the bishopric of Christchurch. Accordingly a meeting of churchmen, held in Lyttelton in 1855 decided to send a petition to the Queen asking that Harper should be appointed. The Royal letters patent were duly issued, and on August 10th, 1856, he was consecrated in the chapel at Lambeth Palace by Archbishop Sumner. At the same time he became a doctor of divinity. With his wife and family he sailed in the ship Egmont, and on December 23rd, 1856 she dropped her anchor in Lyttelton Harbour.

Bishop Selwyn had come down to Lyttelton in his mission yacht to meet his old friend, and the scene at their meeting is faithfully depicted in one of the sculptured panels of the pulpit in Christchurch Cathedral. The Bishop and Mrs Selwyn accompanied the party across the hill from the port to the Cooksons' house at Heathcote, and thence into Christchurch. On Christmas Day Harper was duly enthroned In the old mother church of Christchurch City, the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, which became the pro-cathedral of the diocese. By letters patent of the same date as Harper's, Selwyn was appointed Metropolitan of New Zealand; and before he left Christchurch on the far-flung duties of his see he spent the whole evening of New Year's Eve discussing with the new bishop his project of a constitution for the Church of England in New Zealand.

Bishop Harper took up his residence first of all in house in Cambridge terrace, which was afterwards occupied by Dr. Turnbull. One of his first episcopal acts was the consecration on January 24th, 1857, of the Church of the Holy Trinity at Avonside. Six months later he laid the foundation stone of Christ's College, of which he was the first Warden. The organisation of his vast diocese was a man's work, and many a day he spent in the saddle, travelling the long journeys between the river Hurunui on the north and Stewart Island on the south. Almost every year while it remained in his charge he visited the farthest settlements of Otago and Southland. Like Selwyn, he spent many nights under the starry sky, sometimes with only a saddle for pillow. For ten years his task covered the whole of this vast territory. In 1866 the separation of Otago as an independent bishopric was initiated, and Harper was called upon to act a difficult part as mediator and peacemaker when the opinions held by the bishop-designate (the Rev. H. L. Jenner) caused his appointment to be challenged. Harper presided at several meetings in Dunedin, and on every occasion, by his tact and sympathetic advice endeavoured to induce the people of Otago to accept their bishop. When this was found impossible he had to admit that the appointment was not valid until it was confirmed by the General Synod of New Zealand. The controversy was still raging when its subject arrived in New Zealand in January 1869. Bishop Harper convened the Synod to meet in Dunedin, and presided throughout five or six days of anxious and difficult debate. One whole night he occupied the chair from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. It was unavailing. The Synod declined by a decided majority to accept the Bishop, and he (Jenner) returned to England. In due time Bishop Nevill arrived, and he was consecrated by Bishop Harper in 1871. There were several other controversies, which disturbed the even tenor of Dr. Harper's episcopate, but they were such as his genial temperament and tactful judgment were able to overcome. There was the charge of heterodoxy against the Rev. H. E. Carlyon; and there was the long discussion between 1862 and 1865 on the demand of the Christchurch Synod to be allowed full control of their own church property. Harper's opening addresses at the many Synods, diocesan and general, at which he presided, were always marked by practical common-sense. In 1867 and 1878 he attended the Lambeth Conferences in London. 

With the resignation of Bishop Selwyn, Harper was elected to the primacy of the Church in New Zealand, but he declined to enter upon it until July 1869, when he was informed by Bishop Selwyn that he had laid down the office of Metropolitan of New Zealand. The first General Synod that Harper presided over was that at Dunedin in 1871; thereafter he controlled many in different towns of New Zealand. Several new bishops at least he consecrated personally. In 1877, at Nelson, he had the great pleasure of consecrating the Rev. J. R. Selwyn, son of his old friend and chief, to be Bishop of Melanesia. In December of the same year, in the Cathedral at Napier, he consecrated the Rev. E. C. Stuart as Bishop of Waiapu. Meanwhile the work of his own diocese went steadily ahead, and the twenty-fifth year of his episcopate was marked on November 1st, 1881, by the consecration for public worship of the fine Christchurch Cathedral, a permanent memorial of the life and work of the first Bishop of Christchurch.

In 1887 Bishop Harper announced his intention of laying down his episcopate at the earliest convenient moment. He presided at another General Synod, and on September 26th, 1889, the Diocesan Synod was informed that his resignation had been accepted. On the following day Archdeacon Julius, of Ballarat, was elected to the See, and on May 13th, 1890, Bishop Harper consecrated his successor. Meanwhile Bishop Hadfield was elected to succeed him in the primacy.

Bishop Harper married in 1829 Emily, daughter of Charles Wooldridge, registrar of the diocese of Winchester. Their golden wedding was celebrated On December 12th, 1879, and Mrs Harper died in 1887. Bishop Harper died on December 28th, 1893, leaving a family surviving him of six sons and six daughters. The sons were the Ven. Archdeacon Harper, M.A., of Westland and Timaru, who died in 1922; Leonard Harper, barrister-at-law and sometimes M H.R. for Cheviot and Avon (who died in 1915). Charles John Harper, for many years chairman of the Ashburton County Council (who died in 1920); the Very Rev. Walter Harper, sometime vicar of St. Michael's and Dean of Christchurch (who died in January, 1930); Gerald Harper, M.D., (who died in London in October last); and George Harper, 0.B. E., barrister-at-law, Christchurch. The six daughters were married to the Hon. J. B. Acland M.L.C., Hon. C. R. Blakiston, M.L.C., Charles George Tripp, Charles Percy Cox, Thomas James Maling and Thomas Douglas. Mrs Cox and Mrs Douglas and Mr G. Harper are still alive. 

Some of his old pupils at Eton erected in the chapel there a monument to the memory of Bishop Harper, the Latin inscription being by the late Dr. Hornby, then Provost of Eton.
Press, Volume LXVI, Issue 19948, 7 June 1930

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