William Wellington Willock and the founding of Canterbury, New Zealand

William Wellington Willock was a Fellow of Magdalene College Cambridge who emigrated to New Zealand in 1850, becoming one of the founders of the province of Canterbury.

He was born in 1815, on the day of the battle of Waterloo, which explains his resplendent name. Willock's father was a textile manufacturer. More noteworthy was his relationship to Conservative leader, Sir Robert Peel, who was a first cousin once removed. Willock became a pupil at Leeds Grammar School in 1829, and entered Magdalene five years later. He graduated in 1838, as 44th Wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos, a First Class Honours performance if some way from topping his year. Magdalene elected him to a minor Fellowship that carried only a notional stipend, but Willock remained formally a Fellow of Magdalene College until his death in 1882. He was quickly ordained and left Cambridge for a series of minor Church appointments, which included a tough assignment in Manchester from 1847 to 1850, at the height of the Chartist agitation. His distinguished cousin, who was prime minister from 1841 to 1846, supported  Anglican Church reform, and declined to use either personal or official ecclesiastical patronage to benefit family members, and this  may explain why Willock emigrated to New Zealand. Unusually for a Cambridge man, Willock was attracted to the High Church practices of the Oxford Movement, and this too may have limited his career options in England. In 1850, and recently married, he joined the First Four Ships, as Canterbury's pioneer fleet was called, and became one of the first clergy in a settlement that was designed to be an Anglican-dominated replica of Merrie England. Unlike other notable founders of Canterbury, Willock remained in New Zealand, and had to adjust to the unravelling of the original vision. In 1873, he sardonically observed that, in the eyes of the local authorities, the Church of England was no more than 'a band of organised jumpers'. His strong opinions earned him the nickname 'The Iron Priest'.  His Cambridge mathematical training and perhaps also his business inheritance marked him out as an administrator rather than a pastor.

For an extended biographical essay, see Ged Martin and Jim McAloon, The Iron Priest: William Wellington Willock and the Vision of Anglican Canterbury (2014), on the Project Canterbury website:

http://anglicanhistory.org/nz/martin_mcaloon2014.pdf

 

 

 

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