A Bench[1] of Bishops

Don’t ever believe a date on a photograph when you find one written in pencil on the back.

This photograph of the Bench of New Zealand Bishops is dated 1888, but when some background research is undertaken, it turns out that it is just not possible.

I first compared the photograph with others in the Diocesan Archives to make sure the names on the back of the photograph matched other visual images. They did.  Then I checked  the scanned copies of the Proceedings of General Synod  that are available online on  the John Kinder Library website https://kinderlibrary.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/1.

That confirmed that the Bishops of New Zealand in the 1880’s met every three  years at General Synod.  There was no Synod in 1888. The two years when General Synods were held either side of 1888 are 1886 and 1889, so with that information as a starting point, I found the tables of attendance for each year.  Synod was held in Auckland in 1886 and in Dunedin in 1889.  There was only one day in those two years that all the Bishops were not present, and that was 13 February 1889 when the Bishop of Wellington was absent.

There was one other clue, that did not come from the photographs, but from knowledge of the Diocese of Christchurch.   Henry John Chitty Harper’s formal resignation took place on 31 March 1890, and therefore 1889 was his last appearance at General Synod as Diocesan Bishop and Primate.   Was this studio photograph of the Bishops in their frock coats, ecclesiastical aprons, gaiters and breeches taken to acknowledge this?

Back row L-R; Samuel Tarratt Nevill (Dunedin), John Richardson Selwyn (Melanesia),  William Garden Cowie ( Auckland),  Edward Craig Stuart (Waiapu) Front row L-R; Andrew Burn Suter (Nelson), Henry John Chitty Harper (Christchurch & Primate), Octavius Hadfield (Wellington)

[1] The collective noun Bench is used to refer to Bishops when they are gathered  formally eg at General Synod.