50-year Vicar generous, worked towards racial harmony

September 14, 2017

When the first Vicar of St Mary's, William Bolland, died in 1847, his cousin The Revd Henry Govett was appointed as his successor. His fruitful ministry was to last 50 years. 

Govett walked immense distances over Māori tracks to visit all parts of his huge parish, holding services in districts as far apart as Opunake and Waitara.

Like Bolland, Govett was an Oxford graduate who had come to New Zealand to seek adventure. He found New Plymouth an isolated community.

In 1855 troops were stationed in the district, and five years later the many differences between Māori and European over the possession of land erupted into open conflict. For a time St Mary's was taken over by the British armed forces, and Govett wrote: “The churchyard has been turned into a bullock yard for transport teams, and for a while it served the purpose of a military magazine.”

Expansion in the parish was frustrated by the wars. Govett had made every effort to bring about a better understanding between the races, but received some abuse from both sides.

The original small church building was enlarged on three occasions during Govett's tenure. An organ was built and installed in 1864, and added to in 1896.

In 1898 Govett celebrated the 50th anniversary of his appointment as Vicar, and he died in 1903 at the age of 71. He was buried with military honours beside his predecessor and friend, the Revd William Bolland.

Govett's generosity to St Mary's was monumental. He gave to the church the 986 pounds he received from the War Office for his work as military chaplain, and he returned the 600 pounds paid to him for the vicarage in Vivian St which he built and in which he lived.

He was said to have been an outstanding pastor, “able naturally, simply, and through the incommunicable gift of personality, to make all feel what his church and faith mean to him and could mean to them.”

At his death his Māori friends said “A great totara in the forest has fallen.”

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