Story: Suter, Andrew Burn

Page 1 - Suter, Andrew Burn

Suter, Andrew Burn

1830–1895

Anglican bishop

This biography was written by Katherine W. Orr and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

Andrew Burn Suter was born in London, England, probably on 30 November 1830, and baptised on 29 December 1830. From his father, Richard Suter, an architect, he inherited an interest in art. His mother, Ruth Anne Burn, was, like her husband, an evangelical. Andrew was educated at St Paul's School, London, moving to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1849. He took his BA in 1853, and was senior optime in the mathematical tripos. A short period as a tutor followed.

Suter was ordained deacon in 1855, and priest in 1856. From 1856 to 1859 he was curate at St Dunstan in the West, Fleet Street, London. In 1859 he became perpetual curate (vicar) of All Saints, Spitalfields, where the congregation grew dramatically during his ministry. On 7 August 1860, at Barham, Kent, he married Amelia Damaris Harrison.

The Synod of the Diocese of Nelson, New Zealand, had delegated the choice of a new bishop to the bishop of London, and Suter was offered the bishopric in 1865. He was consecrated at Canterbury cathedral on 24 August 1866. He had gained his MA from the University of Cambridge in 1857, and in 1867 received his doctorate of divinity. A campaign to raise funds and recruit clergy to meet the pastoral needs generated by the influx of people to New Zealand's West Coast goldfields kept him in England until June 1867, when he left for Nelson on the Cissy.

Suter helped the Nelson diocese to grow in a number of ways. During his episcopate the number of clergy roughly tripled, and the number of churches, vicarages and Sunday schools also grew markedly. He usually visited every area of the diocese annually. A strong constitution was invaluable, especially in the early years as he travelled to assess changing needs in goldmining areas.

His other principal preoccupation was the training of men for ordained ministry. Early in his episcopate Suter foresaw that the diocese would not be able to continue to rely on recruiting English clergy. He enlarged the bishop's residence at Bishopdale at his own expense to accommodate theological students, and initially undertook the teaching himself. He was the driving force behind the establishment in 1874 of a Board of Theological Studies for the Anglican church in New Zealand. He became its secretary, and Nelson students regularly entered the theological examinations which were held annually from 1875. Bishopdale College's affiliation to the University of New Zealand also enabled some students to study for university degrees.

The diocese also needed to become more self-reliant financially. As well as trying to convince his people to give more generously, Suter himself provided finance for many projects. He tried to provide for the spiritual and educational needs of Maori in the diocese, despite the low priority the Church Missionary Society seemingly gave to the area. In 1886 he visited Samoa, Fiji and Tonga to assess the question of their episcopal supervision.

Particularly in the earlier part of his episcopate Suter harboured strong feelings of antipathy towards Roman Catholicism and Anglican ritualists. He tried to strengthen the evangelical tone he found in the diocese, for instance through the monthly diocesan magazine, The Church Messenger, which was published from December 1870 until June 1891.

Suter saw culture and the general well-being of his community as very much the church's concern. He argued for the basic compatibility of science and religion, and urged the Nelson Philosophical Society, of which he became president, to devote itself particularly to the natural history of the Nelson area. Concern for conservation led him to lease an area near Cable Bay to prevent its destruction by fires and cattle. An amateur artist with a critical eye – 'a bad drawing is a kind of sin', he wrote – he was first president of the Bishopdale Sketching Club (later the Suter Art Society). He was chairman of the Nelson Education Board and president of the Nelson Harmonic Society. In 1878 he fought for a railway for Nelson and Marlborough, and in 1890 tried to ameliorate stresses caused by industrial unrest by holding a Protestant ecumenical cathedral service and a series of public meetings, in which he called for sympathy and tolerance.

In 1889 Suter questioned the validity of Octavius Hadfield's election as primate before H. J. C. Harper had actually resigned. Himself a strong contender for the position, Suter felt deeply hurt when his integrity was questioned. Some contemporaries linked the cerebral haemorrhage which he suffered in late 1890 to the controversy, although overwork in the diocese was also blamed. Continuing ill health led to his resignation in late 1891. He died in Nelson on 29 March 1895. Amelia Suter died in Barham, England in 1896. They had no children. Amelia Suter bequeathed a collection of paintings to form the nucleus of the collection of the Bishop Suter Art Gallery, which opened in Nelson in 1899.

Suter found the diocese of Nelson dependent on England for clergy and finance, and left it a more independent institution. His long episcopate also strengthened Nelson's evangelical tradition, which made the diocese distinctive for many years. The narrowness he sometimes displayed was offset by his many-faceted love of culture and his concern for the welfare of everyone resident in his diocese.