“The voyage (from San Francisco to Honolulu) was one of pleasure throughout, the weather beautiful, and our passage only thirteen days.”
“We had choral service morning and evening every day, which served as a practice for the future Honolulu ‘cathedral;’ and the passengers always gladly attended, without exception.”
“On Friday, October 10th (1862,) we sighted, first, Molokai – a most picturesque island, with bold precipitous rocks to the sea down which glided many a waterfall, and broken by ravines and caverns; then Maui appeared in view, and at daybreak on Saturday we were off Oahu.”
“Our voyage was now at an end, and we offered up our hearty thanksgivings to Him who had borne us in safety, health, and comfort to our new island-home.” (Thomas Nettleship Staley Journal; AnglicanHistory, 1863)
Let’s look back …
Thomas Nettleship Staley was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, on January 17, 1823, the son of Rev William Staley. Staley entered Queens’ College, Cambridge in 1840, earned his BA in 1844, his MA in 1847 and his DD in 1862.
From 1844-1850 he was tutor at the Training College of St Mark, Chelsea; from 1851-1861 he was principal at Wandsworth collegiate school, and Chaplain Wandsworth Union.
The Revd William Denton, parish priest at St Bartholomew Cripplegate London, recommended the appointment of Staley as 1st
Bishop (appointment of a missionary bishop was deemed possible under the legal ruling delivered in support of the appointment of missionary bishops to territories outside the reach of British rule.)
In November 1861, Staley was not consecrated as announced, as his appointment lacked necessary legal status which would have been provided by a (British) Crown license – which was ‘not available.’
Queen Victoria’s license for the consecration of Staley on December 11, 1861 empowered John Bird, Archbishop of Canterbury, to make him “Bishop of the United Church of England and Ireland in the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands, and all other the dominions of the King of Hawaii.” (Mammana)
From 1862‐1871 the Sandwich Islands diocese was legally incorporated as ‘the Hawaiian Reformed Catholic Church;’ Staley was the first Bishop for missionary district of Honolulu (which included Hawaiian islands, Guam, Okinawa, Taiwan and Kwajalein.) (Blain)
Staley set to work in building a diocese from scratch along strong Anglo-Catholic lines. He began the use of eucharistic vestments and established daily worship; he wore a cope and mitre on episcopal occasions — acts that would have been all but impossible at the time in England. (Mammana)
(Back in Europe the ‘Great Church Crisis’ was going on and Roman Catholic ritualism, including vestments) in the Anglican Church was frowned upon by many. (Tanis))
He baptized Queen Emma and confirmed her along with King Kamehameha IV. Staley laid the foundation of what is now the Cathedral Church of St Andrew in Honolulu.
He oversaw the printing of the king’s translation of the Book of Common Prayer into Hawaiian. He advised the royal family on educational matters, and recruited the Anglican nuns of the Society of the Most Holy Trinity (the Devonport Sisters) to open a school for girls.
The nascent Diocese of Honolulu became a brief test-case for the viability of a missionary model that planted a complete diocese on foreign soil. (Mammana)
But Staley’s stay in the Island was not without conflict – Rev Rufus Anderson, a Congregationalist minister and foreign secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions referred to him as a ‘ritualist.’
But it wasn’t just the members of the ABCFM that were concerned, the king’s promotion of dancing and traditional customs (and Staley’s tolerance of that) outraged the Catholics and Mormons, as well. (Blain)
Even journalist and novelist Mark Twain weighed in, describing the Anglican diocese of Honolulu as ‘a pinchbeck thing, an imitation, a bauble, an empty show. It had no power, no value for a king.”
“It could not harry or burn or slay… It was an Established Church without an Establishment; all the people were Dissenters”. Twain attacked Staley in a newspaper article, noting …”
“… Staley has shown the temerity of an incautious and inexperienced judgement, rushing in here fresh from the heart and home of a high civilization and throwing down the gauntlet of defiance before a band of stern, tenacious, unyielding, tireless, industrious, devoted old Puritan knights who had seen forty years of missionary service.” (Twain, 1866)
“Mr. Staley, my Lord Bishop of Honolulu – who was built into a Lord by the English Bishop of Oxford and shipped over here with a fully equipped “Established Church” in his pocket – has frequently said that the natives of these islands are morally and religiously in a worse condition to-day than they were before the American missionaries ever came here.”
“It is easy to see, now, that the missionaries have made a better people of this race than they formerly were; and I am satisfied that if that old time national spree were still a custom of the country, my Lord Bishop would not be in this town to-day saying hard things about the missionaries.”
“For forty years before the Bishop brought his Royal Hawaiian Established Reformed Catholic Church here the kings and chiefs of this land had been buried with the quiet, simple, Christian rites that are observed in England and America, and no man thought of anything more being necessary.” (Twain, 1866)
If I may speak freely, I think this all comes of elevating a weak, trivial minded man to a position of rank and power – of making a Bishop out of very inferior material – of trying to construct greatness out of constitutional insignificance.”
“He gossips habitually; he lacks the common wisdom to keep still that deadly enemy of a man, his own tongue- he says ill-advised things in public speeches and then in other public speeches denies that he ever said them …”
“… he shows spite, a trait which is not allied to greatness; he is fond of rushing into print, like mediocrity the world over, and is vainer of being my Lord Bishop over a diocese of fifteen thousand men and women (albeit they belong to other people’s churches) than some other men would be of wielding the world-wide power of the Pope …”
“… and finally, every single important act of his administration has evinced a lack of sagacity and an unripeness of judgment which might be forgiven a youth, but not a full-grown man – or, if that seems too severe, which might be for given a restless, visionary nobody, but not a Bishop. My estimate of Bishop Staley may be a wrong one, but it is at least an honest one.” (Twain, 1866)
Staley defended his actions in an 1865 New Year’s Pastoral Address, noting, “The bitter hostility which ‘the American Board’ displays to our mission is doubtless accounted for, in part, by the fact that the two bodies of which it is composed, have ever been the most relentless in their hatred to the Anglican Church, whether in England or in America.”
“We have read many discussions of late on the action of the royal supremacy in matters spiritual in the English church. But our Puritan friends in America seem to stretch its prerogatives to the very furthest conceivable limits …”
“… when they suppose that the Primate of the church is under a ‘political necessity’ to consecrate, whenever he is ordered to do so by the British Government! …”
“… while the British Government is under a ‘political necessity,’ to grant whatever favours the King of Hawaii may choose to ask! It would therefore seem possible, that the supremacy of the English Crown over the church, might, under given conditions, be found flowing from the sole will ‘of the Hawaiian Monarch, a view which has, at least, the recommendation of novelty.”
“I shall not condescend to follow the author (Rufus Anderson) through his remarks on the ritual and teaching of the Church in these islands. Suffice it to say that they are strictly in conformity with the laws and usages of the Church in England and America, and that no where can be found services heartier, more devotional, and more regularly frequented. “
“Let me Say Once For All, That On No Occasion Whatever Have I Ever Offered His Majesty Political Advice, Or Influenced His Measures in the slightest.”
“I will say further, that were I to attempt to use the sacred relation in which I stand to the King as a means for political intrigue, or for influencing his Government in any way, I should lose whatever respect or weight that relation now carries in the estimation of his Majesty.”
“The only serviced which I render to the State in the Privy Council, are as its acting Chaplain and as a member of the Bureau of Public Instruction, the King having been pleased to make use of my familiarity with the subject of popular education, acquired in England. (Staley, Pastoral Address, January 1, 1865)
Staley was frustrated with the politics and sought to resign; he hoped to be replaced by an American Episcopal bishop, but none could be found.
The bishop left Honolulu for the last time in mid-1870, leaving behind a diocese with High Church-Low Church fault lines that would continue to crack well through the beginning of the 20th century and the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands by the United States. (Mammana) He was replaced by Alfred Willis.
Staley retired with his large family to England, where he served a succession of parishes. He resided in Croxall and never returned to Hawaii. Staley died on November 1, 1898, at Bournemouth.