Bishop Henry James Chitty Harper was the first Bishop of Canterbury. He started his religious career as the Chaplin of Eton and then was the Vicar of Stratfield Mortimer in Berkshire. It was there that he was approached by Bishop George Augustus Selwyn (who was the Bishop of New Zealand) who asked him to become the Bishop of Canterbury. Henry accepted.
Consecrated by Dr. Sumner, the Archbishop of Canterbury, he arrived in Lyttelton on the 23rd December 1856. Bishop Selwyn met him right there on the jetty and together, they got the Harper family and their belongings over the Bridle Path. Henry Harper Junior later writes, “Two hand-carts were obtained, duly loaded, and drawn by sailors with ropes, the two Bishops with their coats off, helping to shove the carts up the rough, steep track.”
Enthroned by Selwyn on Christmas Day, Henry took his place at Christ’s Church. The church wouldn’t be called St Michael and All Angels until 1859.
It didn’t take Henry long to touch base with his flock that couldn’t make it to church. On foot, Henry walked out into the Plains where there were few roads and few rivers bridged. There he visited isolated homesteads and preached…performed marriages, baptisms and opened new churches.
“Pity there’s no artist handy,” a sheep inspector called out during one of Henry’s walkabouts near Bluff…here he was, this Bishop, caught out naked, up to his waist in mud and water, carrying his clothes up over his head. Surveyor Charles O. Torlesse summed up Henry perfectly, “He was the right man in the right place.”
Henry’s life wasn’t always about church. He also was a stock-owner. He purchased the Malvern Hills Station – opposite of Homebush – off Henry Tancred and this station was passed down in the family for quite a few years.
In 1864, Henry laid the foundation stone at the Cathedral. The following year, he was preaching in the gold fields of the West Coast.
At the time of his death, Henry had consecrated 90 churches just in Canterbury alone. He fathered 22 children and enjoyed 60 grandchildren. By 1955, Henry had 632 descendants.
Henry resigned in 1889 and consecrated Christchurch’s next Bishop, C. Julius. He died in his home in Christchurch in 1893.
Canterbury wished for Bishop Harper’s remains to be moved to a crypt in the Christchurch Cathedral when it was completed in 1904, but his family chose for him to remain in the family plot at Barbadoes Street Cemetery.
So his crypt sits as an empty memorial in the northern corner of the Cathedral. Henry is also remembered in the naming of Harper’s Lawn in the Botanic Gardens.