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School of Radiant Living

Page 5 – The Havelock work

Havelock North and 'The Havelock work'

Havelock North has long been a centre of 'alternative thought' or liberal theology in New Zealand. Some 19th-century landowning families like that of John Chambers were Quakers (members of the Society of Friends). Quakers have a long history of challenging established religious traditions and promoting gender, race and class equity, and religious tolerance. Other families in the Havelock North area were liberal Anglicans who encouraged mysticism and ceremony in their rituals.

Into this setting came an English medical doctor and High Mason, Robert Felkin and his family. The Felkins were Theosophists and brought with them an English movement, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. They set up the Smaragdum Thalasses temple of Stella Matutina in their house, Whare-Ra (House of the Sun) which was specially built for them by architect J.W. Chapman-Taylor.

Theosophy, popularised in the late 19th century by Russian mystic Helena Blavatsky and others such as English feminist socialist Annie Besant (who visited New Zealand), was a philosophical belief system which incorporated Eastern ideas of karma, reincarnation and nirvana, and was commonly known as spiritualism. The Felkins also incorporated the colour therapy ideas of Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925) and other ideas of Anthroposophy which Steiner founded in 1913 when he broke with Theosophy.

This liberal philosophical/spiritual grouping of like-minded people was known as the 'Havelock Work'. Their journal The Forerunner, (1909-14), discusses philosophical questions and documents gentle rituals, village fetes and Shakespearean pageants. The Havelock Work involved a large number of Havelock North residents mainly from the wealthy, educated and powerful landowning class.

Bessie Spencer and Amy Hutchinson were involved with the Havelock Work. They lived a few miles south at Rissington but probably attended meetings at the Quaker-owned home Swarthmoor (which many years later became Peloha). Originally intending to set up a school, they turned their attention instead to empowering rural women and are remembered as the founders of the Country Women's Institutes.

Steiner ideas were also popular. It is not surprising therefore that the first Steiner and Hohepa Schools in New Zealand, incorporating the educational philosophies of Steiner, began at Havelock North.

After Felkin's death, his wife and others decided to buy land at Taupo and the Tauhara Centre there is their legacy. However, the elderly Harriot Felkin and her step-daughter were still living in Whare-Ra when Herbert Sutcliffe came to stay with them about 1940.

How to cite this page

The Havelock work, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated