Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

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This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

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WADDELL, Rutherford

(1849–1932).

Presbyterian minister and social worker.

A new biography of Waddell, Rutherford appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Rutherford Waddell was born in 1849 at Glen-arm, County Antrim, Ireland, a son of the Rev. Hugh Waddell. His mother was a sister of Captain Mayne Reid, the novelist. He was educated at the Royal Academical Institution, Belfast, and, after serving his apprenticeship as a draper, entered Queen's University (M.A., 1875) and studied at the Presbyterian Theological College in Belfast. In May 1877 he came to New Zealand under the auspices of the Canterbury Presbyterian Association and spent 18 months ministering to congregations at Lincoln and Prebbleton before being inducted into St. Andrew's Church, Dunedin, on 18 April 1879. Waddell brought to his new position a prophetic radicalism and introduced so many innovations that he was, on one occasion, forced to defend himself against a charge of “heresy”. Early in 1888 the appalling working conditions of the Dunedin seamstresses attracted his notice and he preached a fiery and outspoken sermon on “The Sin of Cheapness”. The Otago Daily Times took up the matter, and its capable reporter, Silas Spragg, conducted investigations which more than confirmed Waddell's allegations. Waddell received further support from George Fenwick, then managing director of the Otago Daily Times, who used the paper to good effect in the campaign. As a result of the disclosures, and of the great popular interest generated by their publication, the Government set up a Royal Commission – of which Waddell was a member – to look into the question of sweated labour. In 1890 this Commission reported, confirming Waddell's original charges, with the result that the Government introduced far-reaching legislation, tightening such matters as hours of work, conditions of apprenticeship, and creating the Arbitration Court. Among the many innovations Waddell made in his Church were: a Church cricket club (1880s); a missionary sustentation scheme (1905); and the first scientifically designed and equipped Sunday school (1911). In 1894 he founded and was first editor of Outlook – the official weekly of the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand. For these and similar services the Theological College of Belfast awarded him an honorary D.D. in 1897. Waddell was also active outside his Church: he founded the Prison Reform Association and, with the aid of Mark Cohen and Mrs W. E. Reynolds, launched the Free Kindergarten movement. He also campaigned actively to reform the land laws and abolish the liquor traffic. In aid of the latter cause he undertook several lecture tours abroad.

Waddell possessed a wide knowledge of English literature and his literary lectures attracted a considerable following in Dunedin. He had a natural dramatic gift which he exploited with great effect in the pulpit and on the public platform. In 1919 ill health, and especially increasing deafness, obliged him to retire from St. Andrew's. He died at Dunedin on 16 April 1932.

Rutherford Waddell was twice married: first, in Ireland, about 1883, to Kathleen Newman; and, secondly, at Melbourne, in 1924, to Christabel Duncan, who had been the deaconess he had brought to New Zealand in 1901. He had one daughter by his first marriage.

Like many other social reformers who were of slight physique, Waddell was sustained by the strength of his convictions. Although he was courteous by nature, with personal charm and a quiet and sympathetic humour, he took an uncompromising stand on those questions which he believed were vital issues. He unhesitatingly rejected the Victorian belief in democratic individualism which, to the alarm of certain of his colleagues, he found incompatible with the needs of a poverty-stricken community. Thus Christianity was a creed for life itself, and the social crusade an expression of Christian service. Closely associated in much of this work with his fellow minister, D. M. Stuart, Waddell soon spread his influence far beyond the boundaries of St. Andrew's Church. “It is at once humbling and inspiring to think of the length and never-failing quality of the service that he rendered to the Church and to the whole community in Dunedin from the date of his induction to the day of his death”– so wrote Collie, his biographer.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington and Alexander Hare McLintock, C.B.E., M.A., DIP.ED. (N.Z.), PH.D.(LOND.), Parliamentary Historian, Wellington.

  • History of Otago, McLintock, A. H. (1949)
  • Rutherford Waddell, Collie, J. (1932)
  • Outlook, 25 Apr, 2 May 1932 (Obits)
  • Otago Daily Times, 18 Apr 1932 (Obit)
  • Evening Star (Dunedin), 18 Apr 1932 (Obit).


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