- Selwyn, George Augustus
- (1809-1878)Protestant pioneer in New Zealand and MelanesiaSelwyn was born at Hampstead, England, on April 5, 1809. He received his M.A. from St. John's College at Cambridge University in 1834, and was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1834. In 1841, he accepted appointment as the first bishop of New Zealand. Selwyn learned Maori on the sea voyage, and began to develop a facility with languages that later enabled him to learn other island languages.From his base at the Bay of Islands station of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), Selwyn traveled widely to organize the churches in his diocese, developing a structure similar to that of the church in England. His effort brought him into competition with the CMS. Its authority undermined, the CMS expelled Selwyn, and he moved to Auckland.Selwyn refused to accept an extra diocesan church structure for the native Maori people, under CMS control. When he opened the College of St John the Evangelist (commonly known as St. John's College), native students shared classes and other activities with European students, provoking hostility from both settlers and clergy, some of whom boycotted the college.In 1857, after extensive consultations, Selwyn called a constitutional conference that culminated in a Constitution of the Church of the Province of New Zealand. A unique act for its time, Selwyn offered both laity and clergy equal rights to manage the affairs of the church in New Zealand. He subsequently established several new dioceses and appointed new bishops. He assumed the office of primate/metropolitan and held the first general synod in Wellington in 1859.Selwyn accepted responsibility for the vast area of Melanesia, apparently assigned to him due to a clerical error, when the northern boundary of the New Zealand diocese was erroneously recorded as the 34th parallel north of the equator, instead of 34 degrees south. Selwyn began to travel through the region, gathering young people to be educated in New Zealand. In 1861, he consecrated John Coleridge Patteson (1827-71) as the first bishop of Melanesia.Building up enemies in his quarter of a century as head of the New Zealand church, Selwyn was "asked" to give up his post at the 1867 Lambeth Conference, and he returned to England permanently the next year. Once in England, he introduced his ideas on lay leadership to his new Litchfield diocese, where he died on April 11, 1878. Four years after his death, Selwyn College at Cambridge University was founded in his memory and the Theological College in Dunedin, New Zealand, was named after him.See also South Pacific.Further reading:■ F. W. Boreham, George Augustus Sel-wyn, D. D. Pioneer Bishop of New Zealand (London: S. W. Partridge, 1911)■ Allan K. Davidson, Christianity in Aotearoa: A History of Church and Society in New Zealand (Wellington, N.Z.: Education for Ministry, 1997)■ W. E. Limbrick, Bishop Selwyn in New Zealand 1841-68 (Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press, 1983)■ H. W. Taylor, Memoir of the Life and Episcopate of George Augustus Selwyn, D. D. Bishop of New Zealand, 1841-1869■ Bishop of Lichfield, 1867-1878, 2 vols. (London: William Wells Gardner, 1879).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.