Canon Thomas Albert Hamilton, 1849-1919

Vicar of Fendalton

One of St Barnabas’ early vicars was Canon Thomas Albert Hamilton who served the parish 1899-1919 and who is remembered with the naming of Hamilton Avenue.

Arrival in New Zealand

Born in Yorkshire in 1849, Canon Hamilton joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman in 1863. After his retirement because of poor health in 1874, he came to New Zealand intending to take up sheep-farming but he and his brother started saw-milling at East Oxford where they were disastrously burnt out. After this he turned his attention to teaching and was successively headmaster of East Oxford, Carleton and West Eyreton Schools. At the same time he studied theology and was ordained in 1881. He obviously took his duties seriously and by 1884 had compiled a system for regulating and testing Sunday School work. After serving in the parishes of Ross, Temuka and Ashburton, Canon Hamilton was appointed vicar of Fendalton in 1899, following Canon Stack.

Suburb of Fendalton

Fendalton at the time was still a relatively isolated area. For many years there had been only a handful of settlers, most of those the owners of large estates. In the late 1890s land in the area was beginning to be cut up into building sections. The trams were yet to begin running; the service to Fendalton did not begin until 1909. St Barnabas had opened as a chapel-at-ease of St Peters in Upper Riccarton and at this time people of all denominations attended. The wooden church stood in front of tower of the present one and was consecrated in 1876, enlarged in 1884.

As in most parishes in the early days, the church and the vicarage were a considerable distance apart. The vicarage was in Clyde Road near where Medbury School is today. It was considered a very fine building, of ten rooms, built in 1886 of heart kauri on very high concrete foundations. Clyde Road was on the rural fringe: it was a metalled road with no kerbs or gutters and hedged with gorse. Sheep grazed on open fields nearby. Tay Street (later Hamilton Avenue) extended only a small way.

Family life

Canon Hamilton had married a Miss Woodfield at Oxford in 1871 and they had produced twelve children. They all travelled everywhere on bicycles which must have presented an awesome sight.

Canon Hamilton recorded his impressions of his time in Fendalton in his autobiography The years that are past. Even then he felt that a large population would settle here in years to come. He describes very little of his actual work in the parish but includes quite a few chatty reminiscences about his parishioners - James and Elizabeth McCombs who lived where Tui Street is now, Mrs George Murray-Aynsley who gave land to extend the church property, Kate and Annie Gerard who lived where Willowbrook Place is now and whose land was purchased for Fendalton Park.

At the end of the First World War Canon Hamilton, assisted by several members of the congregation, planted a peace oak near the east end of the church. In his address he pointed out how the oak - indigenous to Great Britain - had been used for centuries to designate great events, and how it had come to symbolise the power typical of the Empire and the British character.

It had been Canon Hamilton’s great wish that a new church be built in stone on the site of the original church. Planning for this had begun in 1912 but was delayed because of the war and the building scheme was not actually launched until 1919. In his Easter report of that year Canon Hamilton made the suggestion that the permanent church should be built as a memorial to the men and women who had died in the war.

In 1911 a section of land had been bought at Strowan Road, Wroxton, and a mission-room to be used for services and Sunday-school was built, later becoming St. Thomas’s. This proved so successful, additions had to be made shortly after.

The Hamiltons retired from Fendalton in 1919, disappointed that the new church had not been at least started. They received a great farewell, being presented with a purse of sovereigns. Mrs Hamilton was given a set of furs and a handbag with a little padding in it as Mr T.D. Harman said in making the presentation. The Hamiltons had wanted to retire in Fendalton but found property too expensive to buy.

Although 70 years of age, Canon Hamilton did not immediately retire but went on to take up various relieving positions including acting-chaplain of the Public Hospital for a year in 1922. He published his autobiography in 1935, the year he turned 86.

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