BENNETT, Frederick Augustus, C.M.G.
First Bishop of Aotearoa.
A new biography of Bennett, Frederick Augustus appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Bennett was born on 15 November 1871 at Ohinemutu, the son of Thomas Jackson Bennett, a merchant and insurance agent, and of Elize, née Rogers. His grandfather on his father's side was Dr John Boyle Bennett (1808–80), editor of the New Zealander and the first Registrar-General, and his grandmother was Horatia Marian Carlisle. Young Bennett was educated at the Native School, Ohinemutu, at St. Stephen's, Auckland, and at Wairoa, near Lake Tarawera. About two months before the Tarawera eruption (1886) Bishop Suter visited a temperance meeting at Wairoa and was impressed by Bennett's singing and by his skill as an interpreter. Two weeks later the Bishop offered to take him to Nelson and to educate him. Bennett obtained his parents' consent and accompanied Suter to Nelson, where he spent the next four years at the Bishop's school. He attended Nelson College for one year (1891) and, afterwards, went to Wanganui, where he assisted Rev. A. O. Williams as a lay worker. He was stationed at Putiki and, while there, organised a series of concerts to raise funds for a school building. In 1894 he returned to Nelson and entered Bishopdale Theological College. He was ordained a deacon on 24 August 1896 and a priest on 1 November 1897, completing his L.Th. in the latter year. From 1896 to 1899 he was curate of All Saints Church, Nelson, and took charge of Maori work in the diocese. During these years he organised the building of the Maori church at Motueka and the mission school at Croisilles. In 1899, when the Maori mission in the North Island needed Maori clergy, Archdeacon Samuel Williams asked Suter to release Bennett for this work. He was stationed at Wanganui, but later moved to Bell Block, near New Plymouth, where he helped to revive mission work which had been at a standstill since the Maori Wars. Bennett's parish was the thickly populated district bounded on the north by White Cliffs and on the south by the Waitotara River. During this period he induced the Government to establish a Maori hospital in New Plymouth. As he was convinced that the existing liquor laws were not in the best interests of the Maori people, Bennett took an active part in petitioning Parliament to insert a clause to make it an offence to supply Maoris with liquor for consumption off licensed premises. In this connection he was once returned at the top of the poll in the New Plymouth licensing elections.
From 1903 to 1905, Bennett served as chaplain to the Bishop of Auckland, but he relinquished this post to become superintendent of the Maori mission at Rotorua. There, because the district was a tourist centre, he found many unexpected complications to his work. He had much support, however, from members of both races. In the liquor problem he received considerable assistance from Ernest Davis who instructed local hotel proprietors to close their bars to all Maoris whenever Bennett requested them to do so. Another major problem Bennett tackled was that of raising the level of entertainment given to tourists. He encouraged the formation of the Rotorua Maori Choir, which afterwards became famous for the quality of its singing and for the educational value of its performances. In his mission work Bennett set his people the task of erecting small churches in Maori villages with the “mother” church at Ohinemutu as the acknowledged focal point of the Arawa people. During his 12 years at Rotorua he arranged the erection of 13 churches and mission halls. The last of these was the church at Ohinemutu which has a carved interior of interest to visitors. In 1918 Bennett accepted a position as assistant superintendent of the Maori mission in Hawke's Bay and he held this office until his appointment as a bishop. He also acted as a member of the Standing Committee of the Waiapu Synod and was a diocesan representative at the 1928 General Synod.
When the Maori diocese of Aotearoa was erected Bennett became its first bishop. He was consecrated at St. John's Cathedral, Napier, on 2 December 1928 and became Suffragan Bishop to the Bishop of Waiapu. From this time onwards diocesan affairs consumed much of his time. In 1938 he was elected president of the New Zealand Alliance; and, during the war, while the Bishop of Waiapu was serving with the forces, Bennett looked after the affairs of both dioceses. He was awarded the C.M.G. in the New Year Honours in 1948 and, in the same year, attended the Lambeth Conference (London) and the World Conference of Churches (Amsterdam). After his return to New Zealand Bennett's health began to fail and he died at Kohupatiki pa, near Clive, on 16 September 1950.
Bishop Bennett was twice married: first, on 11 May 1899, at Motueka, to Hannah Te Unuhi Mary (who died on 10 August 1909), daughter of Huta Pomariki Paaka; and, secondly, on 14 December 1911, at Te Rau College Chapel, Gisborne, to Rangioue Ariki, daughter of Hemana Pohiha. He was survived by his second wife and by 14 sons and four daughters. Seven of his sons served in the forces during the Second World War and six of these served overseas. One son, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Moihi Bennett, D.S.O. (q.v.), commanded the Maori Battalion for a time and later became New Zealand's first High Commissioner to the Federation of Malaya. Another son, Para, was the first Maori to obtain a commission in the Royal Navy.
From his earliest days Bishop Bennett displayed great ability as an organiser. In his youth he was associated with Sir A. T. Ngata and Sir Maui Pomare in the Young Maori Party, and from this association he gained many of the ideas he later put into practice in his mission work. Bishop Suter had been attracted by Bennett's qualities as a singer and interpreter; in later years this gift developed into a flair for oratory which placed him high among the public speakers of his day.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Yearbook 1929, Diocese of Waiapu (1929, Diocese of Waiapu (1929)
- Dominion, 16 Aug 1928
- Church and People, 2 Oct 1950 (Obit).