St Paul's Church, situated on Fairfax Street in Murchison, was completed in 1905; it was town's first church. Like many other towns around New Zealand, the establishment of a church signalled that the population had matured to a point that a purpose built religious building was desirable, and as such the construction of St Paul's is indicative of the coming of age of Murchison.
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 Murchison 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 1865 that Murchison, then named Hampden, was surveyed and formally established. Access continued to be a main impediment to the development of the town and until the twentieth century it was very much a frontier village. However, the fortunes of Murchison changed in the early years of the twentieth century, which can be seen in the construction of more public facilities, and also churches. In the late nineteenth century Anglican residents of Murchison had infrequent access to religious services and instruction and relied on visiting ministers, both Anglican and Methodist, to fulfil their needs, or lay readers. However, after the Anglican community rallied together to make their church building a reality, St Paul's was the base for their resident minister to work from. As the district base of Anglican faith, St Paul's Church has enjoyed the benefit of a proactive congregation in regard to its maintenance, and therefore is in exceptional condition.
St Paul'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 porch, nave, chancel and vestry, this later aspect being the only addition to the church subsequent to its original construction. The building is an unabashed timber structure with extensive, and dramatic, use of native timbers on the interior which enhance its Gothic aesthetic.
The building has architectural significance because of this interior feature. It also has significance as a good representative example of a small, vernacular Gothic Revival country Church, in spite of some surrounding residential build-up which has detracted from its context. The well-maintained condition of St Paul's Church points towards the status with which the building is held by the congregation it has, and continues to, serve. Early churches were historically and socially important to towns and areas they served; often being markers of the progress of that community's transition from disparate settlement into an established town, and this is certainly the case with St Paul's Church, the first church in Murchison.
Historical Significance or Value
Because of its relative isolation, it was not until the early twentieth century that Murchison developed from a frontier settlement into an established town. St Paul's Church's construction in 1905 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. Halls and other venues were used for occasional religious services in the district in the period before St Paul's Church was constructed, but the growth in status of Murchison is indicated by this church becoming the centre of a large Anglican parish, rather than an outpost, which is also demonstrative of the building's historical significance.
Architectural Significance or Value:
St Paul'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 Paul's Church. The extensive and dramatic use of native timber for the interior lining and fittings cements it within the Gothic tradition and contributes greatly to this building's overall architectural significance.
Spiritual Significance or Value:
As the first purpose-built church for Anglican worship in Murchison, St Paul's Church has considerable local spiritual value within the town and the large surrounding rural district. Prior to this first church in Murchison being built the local population had intermittent access to religious services and would sometimes attend services held by visiting clergy from other denominations in order to satisfy their spiritual needs. Since its construction St Paul's Church has been the venue of innumerable Anglican religious services 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 Paul's Church is an important site because it physically represents the spread of the Anglican faith into isolated areas. It also reflects the determination and commitment of the faithful in rural districts, such as Murchison, in their often prolonged efforts to create these symbols of their religious convictions.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:
As the base for a large rural parish, St Paul's Church has been attended by thousands of local people since its construction and therefore many have a close personal and family connection with the building. It was the efforts of the community which enabled it to be built in 1905, and their esteem for the building has been shown over the years through their passive or active donations of money for its maintenance, or through working bees and the like. That the church is extremely well-maintained is a testimony to the community regard for St Paul's Church.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
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 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. The gold rushes also saw the development of small trading and supply settlements further inland.
Early explorations into the Murchison area were undertaken in the 1840s by Charles Heaphy (1820-1881), Thomas Brunner (1821?-1874), and William Fox (1812?-1893). Until the discovery of gold in the proximity there was little to entice people into the area, but by 1865 there was sufficient interest in the area for Brunner to return and survey the town, which was initially called Hampden. This name was changed to Murchison in 1882 to forestall confusion with a town in Otago and also one in Hawke's Bay, which later became Tirokino. However, at this time and indeed until the twentieth century, Murchison was considered a frontier settlement and its continuance relied on small-scale gold mining operations and its timber industry. Roads in the area were rudimentary, if they existed at all, and so access was minimal and difficult. This isolation did not foster commerce and as such the standard of living of most local residents in the late nineteenth century was barely above subsistence.
However, Murchison seems to have come of age in the early twentieth century. An indicator of this is that in 1909 the town became the centre of Murchison County, an area that had been previously incorporated into the Inangahua County. This was a status symbol, but also a result of the growth of Murchison's identity as dairy farming area, as opposed to that in Inangahua County which was characterised by mining and milling. The transition from frontier community to established town and seat of local governance was physically marked in Murchison by the building of the Council Chambers (1913) and other civic buildings.
Local religion and St Paul'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 of 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 in the 1870s with Anglicanism becoming more ingrained in the city and throughout the district, and also coincided with a second wave of church building in the area.
The first Anglican divine service in Waimea was reported to have taken place at the home of a Mr Kerr in 1842 but it would be over half a century before Murchison gained its first church, St Paul's. This comparison is indicative of the late transition of Murchison from a frontier settlement into an established town. In the late nineteenth century the Anglican vicar or his curate based in Reefton would venture over to Murchison and conduct services in whichever suitable venue was available, for example a local school or in the town's library. The situation for local Methodists was similar and so adherents from both denominations were known go to the services of the other and take the opportunity of attending any of the infrequent religious services they could. Inter-denominational participation in services continued when St Paul's Church was completed, until the Methodist congregation was able to build their own house of worship a few years later in 1909.
Like other 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. This modest church was estimated to cost £200, which would have been quite an undertaking for the local community and those in outlying areas to collect. The foundation stone was laid in September 1905 in the presence of a large crowd. The architect was David Greg from Nelson with a local man, John Downie, being engaged as the builder. It was planned that the church would be completed within a few months so the celebrations would coincide with the Bishop's visit to the district. This schedule was adhered to and the church was dedicated on 17 December 1905.
Many Murchison and local families have had a long standing association with the church. One notable example is the Downie family's initial and ongoing connection with the St Paul's. As noted earlier, John Downie was the contractor who built the church. The Downie family were well-known locally especially since one of the largest hotels in town from 1900 was Downie's Hotel. Charles Downie even leased the Commercial Hotel for a period. Other family members have also made recorded contributions to the church, such as the carved communion table which was created by Ian Wilkinson and donated by Winifred Downie on the occasion of the church's 50th anniversary. This followed an earlier donation of the lectern from the Downie family in commemoration of a relative who was a casualty of World War Two.
The rise in status of Murchison and the presence of an Anglican church meant that it shifted from being on the periphery of religious activities in the district to being a nucleus. St Paul's became the home base of local ministers whose district covered 4,500 square miles of rugged terrain. In the early twentieth century the ministers such as Rev. S. Corney and Rev. R.W.W. Alexander would frequently cover this area on horse back attending to outlying settlements, people still working the gold dredges, Public Works Department workers engaged on the railway and other projects, sawmillers, and those on isolated farms.
Church buildings are largely reliant on the contributions of their congregants for their maintenance, whether this be monetary or through volunteering at working bees and the like. The condition of St Paul's suggests that over the years the local community has engaged in this task readily. While timber buildings are more demanding in their maintenance schedules than materials such as brick and stone, this construction was perhaps a saving grace for the building on at least one notable occasion. On the morning of 17 June, 1929 the Murchison Earthquake struck, toppling buildings and chimneys made from brick and concrete, as well as inflicting other severe structural damage to many buildings and structures. Photographic evidence suggests that St Paul's withstood the earthquake remarkably well. The component of the church which would have been most susceptible to damage was the belfry, and its retention is also indicative of the relatively unscathed state of St Paul's after the earthquake.
The Gothic influenced style St Paul's Church is located about one metre above the street level of Fairfax Street in Murchison, several hundred metres south of the commercial area of the town. Although the original churchyard has been subdivided, the section is sufficiently large enough, with no building directly on the property line, to maintain a sense of the prominence the building has had in the streetscape since its construction in 1905. The 1959 Church Hall which is a few metres away from the east elevation of the church is of discreet proportions and does not impinge upon the church to a substantial degree. The churchyard compliments the simple design of the church through the minimal, but well maintained, landscaping around the building.
The church comprises of a gabled entrance porch, accessed by a set of shallow concrete steps, on the west elevation of the building, which is the main access point into the modestly sized nave. The gable of this main body of the building mirrors the pitch of the entrance porch and towards the west edge of its ridgeline it is interrupted with a compact bell tower. This is a four sided tower which features louvered cavities on each elevation, and with its corrugated iron gambrel roof this forms a well proportioned steeple. Both the apex of the porch, main gable and spire form a clear central focal point on the front façade of the church which is enhanced by the placement of the circular, porthole shaped, ventilation cavity in the gable end. This ventilation cavity is a distinguishing feature of the church. When the Methodist church, close by on Fairfax Street, was built the circular ventilation cavity on the front façade of St Paul's was mimicked in the new church's design. The motivation behind this is unknown.
The building is clad in rusticated weatherboards and its roofing is corrugated iron and has stout single lancet windows either side of the entrance porch and then spaced between each of the two external timber amortisement buttresses along the nave's length. On the north east corner of the nave is a vestry which does not appear to be an original feature of the building because of the unusual shape its lean-to roof forms on the side of the chancel, and also because the glazing here is a standard multi-paned window. The chancel is distinct from the nave because of its reduced height, width and broad lancet window that contains two lancet shaped sashes. As with the other gable ends of the building, the gable is finished with simple, plain bargeboards.
The interior of the porch, nave and chancel are entirely lined with native timber, which is most likely matai. Each section of this lining is positioned on diagonals which help to emphasis the height of the church. Several crossing trusses, also constructed from native timber, brace the roof of the nave, which houses seven rows of timber pews either side of a central aisle. The interior door to the vestry is on the northeast corner of the nave behind the lectern. The communion table is on a slightly raised platform in the chancel, which is separated from the nave by a low carved communion rail.
The combination of the high stud, steep pitched gables, steeple, lancet windows, buttresses, and dramatic interior are all consistent with the Gothic Revival style, albeit a New Zealand translation of it, which made the most of readily available local materials.
Communion table installed
New Church Hall constructed
Concrete, corrugated iron, glass and timber
14th October 2009
Report Written By
Jim McAloon, Nelson: A Regional History, Whatamango Bay, 1997
J and H Mitchell, Te Tau Ihu o te Waka - A History of Maori of Marlborough and Nelson, Wellington, 2004
J N W Newport, A short history of the Nelson Province, RW Stiles ad Co Ltd, Nelson, 1966
M C Brown, Difficult Country: An informal history of Murchison, Murchison, 1976
J R Grigg, Murchison, New Zealand: How a settlement emerges from the bush, Murchison, 1947
Murchison Centennial Committee, 1976
A Pictorial Record of the Murchison Centenary, April 1st to 4th 1976, Murchison, 1976
Murchison District Historical and Museum Society Inc, 1979
Stories of Murchison Earthquake 17 June, 1929, Murchison, 1979
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.