Unsung Methodist Personalities: Biographies from the history of New Zealand Methodism by Donald Phillipps

One Thousand Square Miles on Four Legs

At the 1875 Conference in Auckland it was proposed that the names of Home Missionaries be included on the Stationing Sheet. A laudable innovation, surely, but of the four people concerned there was a quibble about one of them – Henry Flamank – and in the time-honoured way, more information was required.

By then Henry had already been in active service for over 10 years. Why couldn’t Conference decide there and then?

Henry Flamank is a hero. There’s never been a ‘missionary’ quite like him, certainly in the service of settler Methodism in this country.

He was born in Newlyn, Cornwall, on May 10th, 1835, a younger son of John Flamank and Catherine Endean. He was brought up in humble circumstances. His father died in the local Union Workhouse, having been a farm labourer all his life.

In the 1851 census, Henry was recorded as a servant, and not too long after, like others of his siblings, he made his way to Victoria during the gold-rush. He spent nearly seven years there, and married Elizabeth Davis at Sandhurst (Bendigo) in 1860.

Whether he was born a Methodist or became one in Victoria, Henry spent the rest of his life in the service of his denomination. He may even have had the idea of becoming a minister. It was recorded that he had preached a trial sermon before Joseph Dare, the minister at Sandhurst from 1857-1860.

Nothing came of it at the time but Henry would have brought his credentials as a local preacher with him when he crossed the Tasman on the Hydra in April 1863, to try out his shovel in Central Otago.

The minister responsible for the whole of Otago at that time was Isaac Harding, who had been a minister in Melbourne when Henry was at Bendigo. Knowing the way information circulates among Methodists it is possible that Isaac Harding knew of Henry Flamank, and his years as a miner would have commended him as having the experience to help with the establishment of Methodism in North Otago.

Henry was initially based on Stotfold (1863-1864), and then spent a year at Oamaruin the very earliest years of that town’s establishment. The next five years were based on Goodwood/Waikouaiti, where he has had oversight of the Dunstan goldfields.

It is hard to imagine one man managing so wide a Circuit – travelling up through the Maniototo and Ida Valley to the Dunstan, and back. The trip was 120 miles each way, with little if any public accommodation on the way.

It is hardly surprising that in March 1870 the Dunedin Quarterly Meeting reported that Henry Flamank “now retires to Hyde”.

In fact, he didn’t retire. For the next 17 years, until 1887, he appears on the stationing sheet as a home missionary. What made this ‘officially’ possible was the support of district chairman Alexander Reid, an independent man, who was prepared to bend the rules to meet the needs of people.

There were virtually no churches in the Maniototo at that time, althoughat Hamiltons and at Sowburn (now Naseby) there were ‘Union Churches’ erected by a local committee and available to whoever wished to conduct worship.

Henry never really had a Methodist church of his own. The spiritual needs of the people were provided in their homes, or a local hall, or a school, or, maybe, even, a room in the pub. Just as likely, the preacher stood on an empty box, sang a hymn, and the curious came along.

He was perfectly willing to do all or any of these things for the sake of the Gospel. He had taken up farming at Hyde, but not too successfully.

Normally this would have meant giving up his work as a preacher but Alexander Reid thought otherwise. That’s why the 1875 Conference was in two minds. But Henry was a man with a mission and there was the Lord’s work to be done. So he offered Sunday worship and made pastoral visits.

He rode everywhere, conducting services at Waihemo, Woolshed, Macraes Flat, Moonlight, St Bathan’s, Gladbrook, and Cottesbrook Station, all of which were quite some distance from his farm at Hyde. This was in addition to the more regular services at Hamiltons, Naseby and Kyeburn Diggings. Altogether these places cover about 1000 square miles.

At his death, the Otago Witness obituary said: “He was always ready and willing to cheer and comfort the afflicted, to share the sorrows and joys of his charge, to speak a word in season, and no matter what denomination or sect a man belonged to, to extend to him the right hand of fellowship.”

What more need be said? He died at Hamiltons on February 1st 1887 of a lung complaint brought about, so his tributes said, to the rigours of his high calling. Let’s light a candle to Henry Flamank’s memory.

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Last updated on 30 September 2020, 8:00 PM