St George's Church (Anglican)

228 State Highway 6, Motupiko

  • St George's Church (Anglican).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 1/06/2009.
  • View towards cemetery from the northwest corner of the church.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 1/06/2009.
  • External belfry.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 1/06/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1655 Date Entered 30th October 2009


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1-2 DP 627 (CT NL40/236) and Pt Sec 23 Sq 5 (CT NL15/181), Nelson Land District and the building known as St George's Church (Anglican) and its fittings and fixtures, and the structures of the associated cemetery and churchyard thereon. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Tasman District


Tasman Region

Legal description

Lot 1-2 DP 627 (CT NL40/236), and Pt Sec 23 Sq 5 (CT NL15/181), Nelson Land District

Location description

When travelling along the straight stretch of State Highway 6 which passes through Motupiko, St George's Church is located at the southern end on the west side of the road after a gentle bend. There is a sign directing people to Quinney's Bush approximately 100m south of the church.


St George's Church (Anglican), situated on the main highway between Nelson and Murchison and constructed in 1892, was the first Anglican church in this rural area. Like many other farming areas around New Zealand, the establishment of this church in the rural community of Motupiko signalled that the population had reached the point when a purpose built religious building was desirable and tenable, and as such the construction of St George's Church in the late nineteenth century is an indicator of the maturing of this remote settlement.

The Nelson region was initially settled from the 1840s as part of the New Zealand Company's planned settlement programme. However, remote areas such as Motupiko were slow to develop, due to distance and difficult access from the main nucleuses of settlement. Therefore, despite sporadic visits by explorers and then isolated gold-mining and timber-milling settlements from the mid-1840s, it was not until the Nelson to Glenhope railway was being constructed in the late nineteenth century that any concentrated settler penetration into this remote area began in earnest. An indicator of the growth of this rural community during this time was the construction of St George's Church. The railway later had a direct effect on the form of the building, with the increase in population necessitating the extension of the church in order to compensate for the growth in congregation. Prior to 1913 St George's Church was a peripheral place of worship in the Wakefield Parochial District. However, at this time the church became the centre of the Motupiko Parochial District and has been cared for by this community since that period through the donation of money, materials, and labour.

St George's Church is typical of many country churches in New Zealand of the period, which reference Gothic Revival architecture but within a New Zealand vernacular. The building is a simple design consisting of a nave, chancel, porch and vestry, these latter two aspects being the only additions to the church subsequent to its original construction, with the exception of the lengthening of the nave in 1910. The timber structure and the board and batten cladding, as well as other features like its steep pitched gable, emphasis the verticality of the building, a characteristic of Gothic Revival country churches.

St George's Church is a historically and socially important place because its construction and subsequent extension in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries marks the maturing of this farming community, which was aided by the construction of the Nelson to Glenhope railway. While the church is significant locally as a place of worship, it also facilitates social interaction, a function that was particularly important within the diffusely populated Motupiko area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, before technical developments enabled ease of transport and communication. St George's Church is still identifiably a country church in its form and because of the retention of the pastoral nature of its surroundings, and it is mostly because of this that it is a local landmark which has considerable aesthetic significance as well as architectural value.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Because of its relative isolation, it was not until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that Motupiko developed from a sparsely occupied and populated rural district into an established farming community. St George's Church's construction in 1892 is one of the key indicators of the settlement's maturing as traditionally one of the first things a coalesced community in New Zealand endeavoured to do was create a purpose-built place in which to worship. Private homes and school buildings were used for religious services in the district in the period before St George's Church was constructed. However, the construction of the Nelson to Glenhope railway in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries stimulated growth which was reflected by the extension of St George's Church in the early twentieth century, as well as the creation of other features, and the establishment of the Motupiko Parochial District in 1913.

Aesthetic Significance or Value:

The aesthetic value of St George's Church comes from the fact that, due to a lack of residential build-up in its immediate vicinity, its rural setting has been maintained. Country churches are appealing because their presence in the landscape is not overstated due to their modest scale, but by the same token they provide a point of reference in the landscape which enhances a feeling of tranquil isolation and pastoral beauty. In this way St George's Church is a landmark of the countryside between Nelson and Murchison and has aesthetic significance.

Architectural Significance or Value:

St George's Church has architectural value as a proponent of the Gothic Revival style of church architecture which was adapted to New Zealand conditions and materials, becoming a vernacular style. Typical rural examples of these churches are characterised by their modest size, simple design, and timber construction, all of which describe St George's Church. Although a relatively simple structure, the dramatic use of elements that emphasise the verticality of the building cement it within the Gothic tradition and contribute greatly to this building's overall architectural significance.

Social Significance or Value:

Because of its rural setting St George's Church was socially significant, particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, because the bringing together of the disparate families of this rural area for the purpose of Anglican worship and other religious events also created occasions where the community could interact and network, which would only have occurred infrequently otherwise. The social significance of St George's Church is enhanced by the presence of the small churchyard cemetery which is a direct link to previous generations of congregants and is still visited by people associated with these individuals as part of grieving rituals and acts of remembrance.

Spiritual Significance or Value:

As the first purpose-built church for Anglican worship in the Motupiko district, St George's Church has considerable local spiritual value within this rural district. Since its construction St George's Church has been the venue of innumerable Anglican religious services, events, and celebrations and therefore has been directly associated with the spiritual aspect of thousands of local residents lives since its construction, which means it is of considerable local spiritual importance.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

St George's Church is an important site because it physically represents the concurrent spread of European settlement and the Anglican faith in New Zealand. It also reflects the determination and commitment of the faithful in rural districts such as Motupiko, in their efforts to create these symbols of their religious convictions.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:

As the centre of a rural periphery of Nelson's Anglican Diocese since 1892, St George's Church has been attended by thousands of local people since its con-struction and therefore many have a close personal and family connection with the building. It is also a local landmark and the combination of these factors has meant that at times when the building's physical integrity has been in question, or in the lead-up to important anniversaries, the community has rallied around it donating money, materials, and labour in order to assure its continuance.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The country churches affiliated with Anglicanism and other denominations, which dot the landscape throughout the Nelson Province, mark the historical progress of this New Zealand Company settlement and are indicative of its spread, development, and maturing by the late nineteenth century.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Ellis, Stead

Stead Ellis was born in 1833 in Leeds, England. While an architect in England, he designed many buildings in West Yorkshire, including churches, market halls and warehouses. He emigrated to New Zealand in 1879, and became secretary of the Nelson Education Board in 1880, and held that role until his death in 1908. Architect Guy Marriage sums up his importance: ‘As secretary (formally) and architect (informally) for the Nelson Education Board from 1880, Ellis was responsible for the design and construction of over 50 small schools in the Nelson area, and was also responsible for several houses and a church. Gothic ideals of church architecture created in stone in Britain were translated into a new vision of architecture created in timber in New Zealand. Ellis’ greatest unsung architectural feat was his tutelage of a young intern, Joshua Charlesworth, who became one of New Zealand’s leading classical architects and the architect of the Wellington Town Hall.’ (Guy Marriage, ‘Stead Ellis and Joshua Charlesworth, Architects,’ in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 31, Translation, edited by Christoph Schnoor Auckland: SAHANZ and Unitec ePress; and Gold Coast, Queensland: SAHANZ, 2014, p. 749.)

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The settlement of the Nelson region is said to have begun with the landing of the prominent early iwi, Waitaha, in the waka Uruao. This travelled from Hawaiki and the voyagers made landfall on the Boulder Bank circa.850, near what would become Nelson city. From there scouting parties set out to explore the interior while others continued their journey by sea down the east coast of the South Island. Maori later developed a series of trails inland around the Murchison and Nelson Lakes area such as that through Tophouse Pass. For Maori, and eventually the Europeans who used it in the mid nineteenth century, this and other tracks in the area were vital passages providing access to the West Coast as well as eastern and southern districts.

A European association with the Nelson area was first established in 1642 when Abel Tasman anchored in what was to be called Murderer's, then Massacre, and now Golden Bay. The result of this first visit was a lethal exchange between the Dutch sailors and Ngati Tumatakokiri. It was centuries after this initial encounter that European interest in the area began in earnest with explorative visits from Captain James Cook and Dumont D'Urville and a few others. Then in the late eighteenth early nineteenth century flax traders and sealers began to frequent the coast around Nelson. However, because there were few whaling stations in the immediate area there was no substantive European settlement until the New Zealand Company's establishment and settlement of Nelson from 1841.

The company explored the potential of several sites for its settlement but Nelson was chosen as the nucleus, despite the generally swampy nature of the low lying areas, because of its harbour and the plentiful supplies of game and fish. It was then a matter of Captain Arthur Wakefield meeting with the various iwi of the region to persuade them to agree to the proposed settlement. This was essentially a confirmation and extension of a land sale organised by the Tory expedition in 1839. The meeting took place at Kaiteriteri and Wakefield eventually negotiated a deal with those in attendance. However, subsequent events demonstrate that in regard to this and some later transactions there were discrepancies in what each party believed they had agreed to. This led to several instances of conflict in the Nelson region during the 1840s, in particular. Perhaps the most well-known occurrence was the 'Wairau Affray' in 1843.

It was not until the 1850s that the Nelson community and other towns in the area began to coalesce. Provincial government was established in 1853, and most of the farm land from Wakapuaka to Brightwater was occupied by this date. By the 1850s all of the major Christian denominations could also boast of clergy and associated buildings in and around Nelson. Between 1853 and 1858 the European population of the district had risen from 4,587 to over 7,000 and continued to grow and prosper into the 1860s and 1870s with the aid of the local gold rushes and the nationwide demand for the area's produce. This growth in population can be seen in the coinciding increase in churches and school buildings which were necessary to supplement those already established.

The extension of settlement beyond Nelson town and the established of farms was a recognised necessity in order for the town to progress. However, this was problematic because much of the surrounding district was mountainous, densely forested, or was covered in fern or swamp, and of inconsistent levels of fertility. Another difficulty was that on the rare occasions when there were access roads these were often rudimentary and bridges were not common which made transport difficult. It was not until the construction of the Nelson to Glenhope railway that the interior of the Tasman district began to be readily accessible. Until the 1920s the condition of the roads was such that the dominance of rail as a means of transport was unchallenged by road based transport.

Rural religion and St George's Church:

Nelson in the 1840s seems to be what one would expect of a 'frontier' society; horribly unhygienic by modern standards and rough behaviour abounded. One solution to this, which the New Zealand Company approved of, was the influence of religion. Unlike the later settlements Canterbury and Otago, Nelson was not founded around denominational lines and as such all the major Christian sects were able to gain a foothold, although the Church of England was by far the most popular. In the early 1850s Nelson, with its disparate religious communities was accorded the distinction of being the seat of the Anglican Diocese. This confidence was rewarded by the 1870s with Anglicanism becoming more ingrained in the city and throughout the district.

The first divine service in Waimea was reported to have taken place at the home of a Mr Kerr in 1842, but it would take several decades for an Anglican church to be built in Motupiko primarily because it was not until the 1850s that the first European settlers moved into the Motupiko area. This was a gradual process as people previously living in the Waimea Plains began to take advantage of land that was becoming available further inland. While early settlers in the area ideally would have liked a church and religious services from the start of settlement, the reality was that the population was too sparse and widely distributed to make it feasible. However, from 1858 the minister of the Wakefield parish was also known to sporadically travel to Motupiko to hold services.

Like other country churches, the construction of the building relied greatly on the community being motivated to see it happen and then to back this up with financial or other contributions. The closest local Anglican church prior to the construction of St George's in 1892, was in the Motueka Valley settlement, although the children around Motupiko had the benefit of a Sunday School in the village from 1868. With the building of St George's there was no longer a need for the 32 Anglican families in the area to hold services in private homes or the school rooms. It was actually the schoolmaster, Mr Evans, who is credited as the main force behind the establishment of this first local church. From 1908 to 1956 four other churches were built in the district. It has also been suggested that the idea of dedicating the church to St George was a result of the martyr sharing the name of the late husband of one of the local women who worked tirelessly to see the church built.

The land for the church was acquired by the Church Building Committee from F. Brewerton. The committee entrusted Stead Ellis with the design of the church and the construction was undertaken by Tomlinson's of Waimea West. The timber used in building was bought from a local supplier, Quinney Brothers. They had set up a timber dressing shed close to the church site and used water from a well to drive the steam engines. The final cost for the church was approximately £100 and initially services were held monthly.

Small country churches 'made a statement that religious belief was important to country folk. Moreover, the country church often became the focus for community activity well before the advent of the community hall.' Despite steady population growth many of the rural settlers still lived in relative isolation. Therefore occasions such as church openings and services were important social gatherings, particularly for women and children who did not have the same opportunities as many of the men to mingle. The consecration ceremony of St George's was an example of this with a very large congregation being in attendance to celebrate the completion of the building which was described as 'one of the prettiest in the diocese.' The ceremony was conducted by Bishop Mules in 1892.

The church was later enlarged between in 1910 with the addition of a vestry and the extension of the building by 10 feet at the western end. The schoolmaster in Motupiko at the time remembered 'how surprised I was when at 3 o'clock on the first day the end of the church had been cut off, put in position in new piles, and good progress made with the framework of the new portion.' The expansion of the church was possibly motivated by the influx in the population and congregation, by the building of the Nelson to Glenhope railway to Motupiko, which was completed in early 1899. The building of the railway and the prospect of the easier access it would provide to the area meant that several new businesses were established in the town at that time. This seems to have been a boom time in the area and is also reflected at the church with the construction of the external belfry in 1908.

In 1913 the church became the centre of the Motupiko Parochial District whereas it had previously been included in the Wakefield district. The new district incorporated the recently completed church of St James at Tadmor and then St Peter's Church, Tapawera in 1937. It was only after this change in status that a cemetery was laid out in the churchyard in 1922. Later in the century a porch was added to the church in 1957; this is a memorial to the parents of Mr O. Randall. In preparation for the centenary of the church it was painted by a community service worker using paint paid for out of the church maintenance fund. Other repairs and maintenance over the years have been consistently carried through voluntary labour and with money from donations.

Physical Description

St George's Church is situated among farmland which is surrounded by hills and abuts State Highway 6 in Motupiko, between Nelson and Murchison. The churchyard occupies a triangular section within which the church building is central on an east to west axis and the church's external belfry is in line with this axis on the west boundary of the churchyard, as are the entrance gates on the east. This set of timber double gates which have decorative lancet features that reference similar aspects on the church itself, are flanked by plantings of various trees which define much of the boundary, with the exception of the south and west edges south of the church building. The boundary plantings enclose a relatively level and unlandscaped grassed space, in which the cemetery section is in the north area of the churchyard, and a utility shed is close by along the eastern boundary. This setting contributed to Geoffrey Thornton's assessment that St George's Church possesses 'an engaging informality.'

The church features a nave featuring a high stud and corrugated iron steep pitched gable with bell cast eaves, entrance porch and vestry, which are positioned in the west side of the building, and angle buttresses along its length. The combination of these features in this simple style of the church building as well as other aspects that emphasis the height in this modestly sized church, such as lancet windows and crosses on each gable end bargeboard, mean St George's Church can be firmly placed within the tradition of the New Zealand translation of Gothic Revival church architecture. This vernacular architectural form is also characterised by the use of readily available and local materials which explains the predominance of rimu and matai used in the board and batten cladding and other timber work of St George's Church, and river boulders forming the foundations.

The economic considerations and priorities of the clients, the local community, which Stead Ellis, the church's architect, would have taken into account in the design meant that the building does not feature any excessive decoration although there are small touches that rescue the building from austerity, such as the arched hood above the triple-light altar lancet window in the eastern façade and the vestry entrance, the notched bargeboards on each gable except that of the porch, and the corbel courses under all the eaves.

The current form of St George's Church is largely that of its original construction in 1892. However it also underwent a period of significant alteration and additions between 1908 and 1910. This included the extension of the nave by 10 ft which also saw the replication of the original lancet windows and buttresses in the new section. This period also saw the construction of the vestry on the south façade and the external freestanding belfry. This belfry is an unusual feature of the church and consists of 'a braced bent with raking props on both sides and a small pitched roof over the bell.'

The other aspect of the west side of St George's Church is the entrance porch which was added in 1957. This is constructed in a similar manner to the rest of the building except it is distinguished as a later addition because it does not have bell cast gable eaves, and unlike the rest of the building the porch sits on a solid concrete pad. The entrance porch does not have an exterior door, only a square opening which leads into the covered area and has inbuilt bench seating which flanks either side of the porch and the main entrance into the nave.

The verticality of the building on this western façade is emphasised through the series of features which draw the viewer's eye upwards through a central line. These aspects include the small window in the porch which has panels of diamond shaped glass of various colours and is an original feature which actually pre-dates the construction of the building. The window was originally at the Church of Ascension at Mararewa, built in 1865, which was deconsecrated in 1887 at which time the window was removed, and then the building was burnt down. The bargeboard cross and gable apex then lead the eye upwards to a triangular window in the gable end and subsequently up to the point of the steep pitched nave gable.

The condition of St George's Church is generally good, although moisture build up is adversely affecting some areas of the timber especially, that on the south and west sides of the building. Evidence of this has recently been cosmetically covered with paint on the lower part of the vestry walls, however, a long term solution to this problem will need to be formulated if the heritage fabric and structural integrity of the building are to be protected.

The interior of the church was unable to be viewed as part of the preparation for this report. However, it should be noted that the church is unlined and the roof is supported by scissor trusses. As a result of this it was essential for the comfort of the congregation to install a small stove with a copper flue in 1943, which is in the south east corner of the nave.

Construction Dates

1910 -
Church extended

Original Construction
1922 -
Churchyard cemetery established

1957 -
Porch added

1992 -
Church painted

Original Construction
1892 -
Church constructed

1900 -
Vestry added

1908 -
Exterior belfry constructed

1908 -
Church reroofed in corrugated iron

Construction Details

Concrete, corrugated iron, glass, steel, stone, timber,

Completion Date

14th October 2009

Report Written By

Karen Astwood

Information Sources

McAloon, 1997

Jim McAloon, Nelson: A Regional History, Whatamango Bay, 1997

Mitchell, 2004

J and H Mitchell, Te Tau Ihu o te Waka - A History of Maori of Marlborough and Nelson, Wellington, 2004

Newport, 1966

J N W Newport, A short history of the Nelson Province, RW Stiles ad Co Ltd, Nelson, 1966

Wells, 2003

A. Wells, Nelson's Historic Country Churches, Nelson, 2003

Newport, 1962

J N W Newport, Footprints, The Story of the Settlement and Development of the Nelson Back Country District, Whitcomb and Tombs Ltd, 1962

Quinney, 1992

R. Quinney, A Centennial History of St George's Church, Motupiko, 1892-1992, Motupiko, 1992

Rogers, 1968

St. Alban's Church, Appleby: A centennial history 1868-1968, Appleby?, 1968

Thornton, 2003

G. Thornton, Worship in the Wilderness: Early country churches of New Zealand, Auckland, 2003

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.