Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Selwyn, George Augustus (1809-1878)
SELWYN, GEORGE AUGUSTUS (1809–1878), primate of New Zealand and bishop of Lichfield, born 5 April 1809, at Church Row, Hampstead, was second son of William Selwyn (1775–1855) [q. v.], and brother of Sir Charles Jasper Selwyn [q. v.], and of William Selwyn (1806–1875) [q. v.] His father's uncle, Major Charles Selwyn (d. 1749), was an associate of General Oglethorpe, and a prominent benefactor of the church in Jamaica early in the eighteenth century (Anderson, Colonial Church, iii. 544–5). George, was sent, when seven years old, to the preparatory school of Dr. Nicholas at Ealing, where the future cardinal, Newman, and his brother Francis were among his schoolfellows. Thence he went to Eton, where he was distinguished both as scholar and athlete, and made the acquaintance of Mr. Gladstone, and in 1827 he became scholar of St. John's College, Cambridge. He came out second in the classical tripos in 1831, graduating B.A. 1831, M.A. 1834, and D.D. per lit. reg. 1842, and he was made a fellow of his college. After graduating he settled at Eton as tutor to the sons of Lord Powis. In 1833 he was ordained deacon, and acted as curate to the Rev. Isaac Gossett, vicar of Windsor. Both at Eton and at Windsor Selwyn displayed much organising talent. In 1841, after an episcopal council held at Lambeth had recommended the appointment of a bishop for New Zealand, Bishop Blomfield offered the post to Selwyn. He was consecrated at Lambeth on 17 Oct. 1841, and sailed on 26 Dec. On the voyage out he so far mastered Maori by the help of a native lad returning from England, that he was able to preach in that language immediately on his arrival, and acquired enough knowledge of seamanship to enable him to be his own sailing master among the dangerous waters of the Pacific. Bishop Selwyn's see was an early foundation in the series of colonial sees organised by the English church, and his organisation and government of his diocese proved of special importance. In six years he completed a thorough visitation of the whole of New Zealand, and in December 1847 began a series of voyages to the Pacific Islands, which were included in his diocese by a clerical error in his letters patent. His letters and journals descriptive of these journeyings present the reader with a vivid picture of his versatility, courage, and energy. His voyagings resulted in 1861 in the consecration of John Coleridge Patteson [q. v.] as bishop of Melanesia. Selwyn elaborated a scheme for the self-government of his diocese, and in 1854 visited England for the purpose of obtaining power to subdivide his diocese, and permission to the church of New Zealand to manage its own affairs by a ‘general synod’ of bishops, presbyters, and laity. His addresses before the university of Cambridge produced a great impression. On his return to New Zealand four bishops were consecrated, two to the Northern and two to the Southern Island, and the legal constitution of the church was finally established. The first general synod was held in 1859. Selwyn's constitution of the New Zealand church greatly influenced the development of the colonial church, and has reacted in many ways on the church at home. In 1855 the Maori war interrupted the progress of civilisation and Christianity among the natives, and caused an almost universal apostasy. Selwyn was a keen critic of the unjust and reckless procedure of the English land companies, and was misunderstood by Englishmen and Maoris alike. His efforts to supply Christian ministrations to the troops on both sides were heroic and indefatigable. In 1867 he visited England a second time to be present at the first Pan-Anglican synod, an institution which his own work had done much to bring about. While he was in England he accepted the offer of the see of Lichfield. He was enthroned as ninety-first bishop on 9 Jan. 1868. In 1868 he paid a farewell visit to New Zealand. He governed Lichfield till his death on 11 April 1878. On 25 June 1839 he married Sarah Harriet, only daughter of Sir John Richardson [q. v.]; he had two sons, William, prebendary of Hereford, and John Richardson Selwyn [q. v.] (1844–1898), bishop of Melanesia and master of Selwyn College (1893). Selwyn College, Cambridge, was erected by subscription in memory of Bishop Selwyn, and was incorporated by royal charter on 13 Sept. 1882. The bishop's portrait by George Richmond, R.A., belongs to St. John's College, Cambridge.
Besides numerous sermons, letters, and charges, Selwyn was the author of: # ‘Are Cathedral Institutions useless? A Practical Answer to this Question, addressed to W. E. Gladstone, Esq., M.P.,’ 1838; written in answer to an inquiry from Mr. Gladstone.
- ‘Sermons preached chiefly in the Church of St. John the Baptist, New Windsor,’ privately circulated, 1842.
- ‘Letters to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel from the Bishop of New Zealand, with extracts from his Visitation Journals;’ printed in the society's series entitled ‘Church in the Colonies,’ Nos. 4, 7, 8, 12 and 20.
- ‘A Verbal Analysis of the Holy Bible, intended to facilitate the Translation of the Holy Scriptures into Foreign Languages,’ 1855.
[In Memoriam: a Sketch of the Life of the Right Rev. George Augustus Selwyn, by Mrs. G. H. Curteis, 2nd ed. 1879; Memoir of the Life and Episcopate of George Augustus Selwyn, D.D., by the Rev. H. W. Tucker, 2 vols. 1879; Bishop Selwyn of New Zealand and of Lichfield: a Sketch of his Life and Work, with some further Gleanings from his Letters, Sermons, and Speeches, by G. H. Curteis, 1889; Rusden's New Zealand; Hist. MSS. Comm. 15th Rep. App. vi.; Times, 12 April 1878.]