George Augustus Selwyn was born on April 5, 1809, at Hampstead, London. He was prepared at Eton, and in 1831 was graduated from St John’s College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow.
Ordained to the diaconate in 1833 (and later to the presbyterate), Selwyn served as a curate at Windsor until his selection as missionary Bishop of New Zealand in 1841. A Tractarian in his convictions, he protested against a clause in his civil Letter Patent that gave him “power to ordain”, signalling the beginnings of a less Erastian conception of episcopacy in the British colonies. On the voyage to his new field, he mastered the Maori language and was able to preach in it upon his arrival. In the tragic ten-years’ war between the English and the Maoris, Selwyn was able to minister to both sides and to keep the affection and admiration of natives and colonists alike. He began missionary work in the Pacific islands of Melanesia in 1847.
Selwyn’s first general synod in 1859 laid down a constitution, influenced by that of the American Church and for which Selwyn was himself largely responsible, which was important for other subsequently-established English colonial Churches.
After the first Lambeth Conference in 1867, Selwyn was reluctantly persuaded to accept the See of Lichfield in England. He died on April 11, 1878, and his grave in the cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage for the Maoris to whom he first brought the light of the Gospel.
Bishop Selwyn twice visited America, and was the preacher at the 1874 General Convention.
His son, John Richardson Selwyn, was Bishop of Melanesia and master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, which had been founded in memory of his father in 1881.
- From Lesser Feasts and Fasts, amended and enlarged with material from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.
Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant George Augustus Selwyn, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of New Zealand, and Melanesia, and to lay a firm foundation for the growth of your Church in many nations. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand, and of Lichfield, are published on the Lectionary Page website.
The image of the painting of Bishop Augustus Selwyn is taken from the webpage of the Selwyn College Archives.