Bishop Bennett Family

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Bishop Frederick Augustus Bennett

Biography from website –

Frederick Augustus Bennett was born on 15 November 1871 at Ohinemutu, Lake Rotorua. His mother, Raiha Ratete (Eliza Rogers), a high-born woman of Ngati Whakaue section of Te Arawa, gave to her son the culture and whakapapa of her race. His father was Thomas Jackson Bennett, a storekeeper, who had emigrated to New Zealand from Ireland in 1849. He had a splendid command of the English language and was a keen church worker. Frederick’s dual ancestry equipped him powerfully for his life’s work.

His early years were spent in Maketu, where he was baptised by S. M. Spencer. He attended Maketu Native School, and, on the family’s return to Rotorua, Ohinemutu Native School. In 1883 he gained a scholarship to St Stephen’s Native Boys’ School in Auckland, and in 1884 studies were continued at Te Wairoa Native School at Lake Tarawera. The Pink and White Terraces there were the centre of the tourist trade; consequent problems developed with liquor traffic and a temperance organisation was formed. Frederick, at 14, was secretary of this society, and the interpreter for guests. It was here that Bishop A. B. Suter of Nelson met him. With parental consent he took Frederick back to Nelson to continue his education at Bishop’s School, then Nelson College where he was a prefect and member of the First XV. He sang in the Nelson cathedral choir, taught Sunday school, and assisted at services in outlying areas.

From the 1890s Bennett was associated with Te Aute College Students’ Association (precursor of the Young Maori Party). He attended their conferences and resolved to devote his life to mission work, supporting the association’s aims of improving the physical, intellectual, social and spiritual condition of Maori people.

On 11 May 1899 he married Hana Te Unuhi Mere Paaka (Hannah Mary Park) of Te Ati Awa at Motueka. She had been educated at Hukarere Native Girls’ School and together they accepted a call to Bell Block in Taranaki. Bennett’s first task was to raise funds, through concerts, for the erection of a hall as a centre for mission work. In 1903 he was involved in the opening of the first native school in Taranaki, at Puniho. Bennett showed considerable courage in going as a representative of a Pakeha religion to a territory where Pakeha were scorned and hated following the conflicts of the 1860s. He attacked the liquor traffic and appealed to James Carroll, the minister of native affairs, to introduce legislation against the sale of liquor to Maori for consumption off licensed premises. This led to the Licensing Acts Amendment Act 1904. The time and energy he gave to this campaign brought him into conflict with his diocesan superiors. Despite support from local Maori and Pakeha, Bennett’s resignation followed.

Hana Bennett died in August 1909. She and Frederick had had three sons and two daughters. On 14 December 1911 at Gisborne Frederick remarried. His wife, Arihia Rangioue Pokiha, the daughter of Hemana Pokiha of Ngati Pikiao, was his constant helper.

After 13 years at Rotorua Bennett went to carry out Maori mission work in Hawke’s Bay. He was installed in 1917 as pastor at Waipatu, and his mission area extended from Nuhaka to Waipawa. He was elected a member of the standing committee for the diocese of Waiapu, and served on the Te Aute Trust Board. Throughout his ministry Bennett devoted much time to the publication of pamphlets and periodicals. This began in Nelson with He Kupu Whakamarama and Te Pipiwharauroa, and continued with Te Kopara, Te Toa Takitini and later Te Reo o Aotearoa. These publications provided a link between Anglican Maori throughout New Zealand, to communicate ideas, opinions and news.

The choice fell on Frederick Bennett. On 2 December 1928 he was consecrated bishop of Aotearoa, the first Maori bishop in New Zealand’s history. His work was to minister to Maori in all the dioceses of New Zealand, under licence from diocesan bishops, but many bishops refused to license him. They preferred to carry on Maori pastoral work themselves, a sad hindrance to Bennett’s vision of a reorganised Maori mission. (These conditions were to survive until 1978, when the bishop of Aotearoa was licensed by the primate.)

In August 1946 Bennett celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination. In 1948 he attended the Lambeth Conference in London, and during this visit preached at Westminster Abbey. He then proceeded to the first assembly of the World Council of Churches at Amsterdam. Along with these overseas commitments he was engaged in the revision of the Maori Bible. In the New Year’s honours in 1948 he was made a CMG. His work was complex and beset with difficulties, calling for talent, infinite patience and an ungrudging sacrifice of time. Bennett’s loyalty to his church never flagged and he maintained a constant faith, a catholicity of outlook, and a quiet, unruffled calm.

All but one of Bennett’s 19 children survived into adulthood. Seven sons served in the armed forces during the Second World War and were commissioned; the service of Charles with the 28th New Zealand (Maori) Battalion was particularly distinguished. Bennett was determined to give his children the best advantages his meagre resources would allow, and most graduated from tertiary institutions. All were active in public life and many received honours and awards. His son Manuhuia became the third bishop of Aotearoa.

Frederick Augustus Bennett died at his home at Kohupatiki, Hawke’s Bay, on 16 September 1950, survived by his second wife and 18 children. He was buried beneath the sanctuary of St Faith’s Church, Ohinemutu, a stone’s throw from where he was born.


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