Frederick Augustus BenneTt
The first Bishop of Aotearoa
The story of Frederick Augustus Bennett is connected to many great stories of the Rotorua region.
He was born in Ōhinemutu in 1871 to Raiha Ratete of Ngāti Whakaue and Irishman Thomas Bennett. His mother gave him his Māori culture and whakapapa, and his father, a love of the English language and a passion for the church.
This upbringing prepared him very well for his life’s work. Frederick’s early years were spent at Maketū where he was baptised by the American missionary Reverend Seymour Spencer.
He went to school at Te Wairoa Native School during the years when Rotorua was booming from the tourist trade. This was when eager Victorians travelled across the world to see the fabled Pink and White Terraces of Rotomahana.
At the age of 14, Frederick Augustus joined the temperance movement. At Te Wairoa, this group worked to discourage the local people from drinking alcohol, which was becoming a problem since Europeans introduced it to the area.
At the small church at Te Mu in 1886 Frederick met Bishop Suter of Nelson who was very impressed with his singing voice and other qualities. He asked Frederick to come to Nelson to continue his education.
With permission obtained from his parents, Frederick Augustus left Te Wairoa just days before the Tarawera eruption of 1886.
He was ordained a priest in 1897 and served in Bell Block, Taranaki. Again he attacked the liquor trade showing great persistence even though he had many people who opposed him. Then in 1905 with his young wife Hana Unuhi Mere Paaka of Ngāti Awa, Frederick Augustus moved to Rotorua as superintendent of the Māori mission.
He formed a Māori concert party, and built halls with the funds they raised.
Frederick Augustus spoke out about the 1907 fining of Manihera Tumatahi for fishing on his own lake frontage. The fish had been liberated into the lake without consent of the owners. The fight was taken all the way to the Supreme Court and in 1922, 15 years later, Frederick Augustus’ persistence saw the government agree to pay Te Arawa six thousand pounds per year from then on.
Frederick Augustus knew great sadness in his life. His first wife Hana died in 1909 leaving him with three children. He remarried in 1911 to Arihia Rangioue Pokiha of Ngāti Pikiao who, for the rest of their lives together, was his constant helper.
All but one of Frederick Augustus’ 19 children survived to adulthood. Seven sons served in the armed forces during World War II.
After many years of conflict over the issue, Frederick Augustus was finally ordained the first Bishop of Aotearoa in 1928. In 1946 he celebrated the 50th anniversary of being made a priest and in 1948 he attended the Lambeth Conference in London.
Frederick Augustus Bennett died on 16 September 1950. As a mark of respect he was buried beneath the sanctuary of St Faith’s Church, Ōhinemutu, just a stone’s throw from where he was born. Whakarongo ki te Kupu was sung at his funeral service.
Qualities: wellbeing, diligence
More to read:
From Rotorua Library:
About St Faith’s Church, Ōhinemutu:
St Faith’s Church, Ōhinemutu, Rotorua (Ngarangi T. Te Hau)
St Faith’s Anglican church: Te Hahi o te Whakapono + Ōhinemutu, Rotorua (Andrew Warner)
The Anglican Church in the hot lakes district: an historical survey (R. G. Webb)
More to listen to:
This entry is related to these other entries:
28 Māori Battalion;
Rotorua Museum Te Whare o Taonga Te Arawa