St Stephen's Church (Anglican)

16-18 Church Street And Walsh Street, Reefton

  • St Stephen's Church (Anglican), Reefton. CC Licence 3.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Mattinbgn - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Mattinbgn. Date: 29/11/2011.
  • St Stephen's Church (Anglican), Reefton.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Mike Vincent. Date: 20/06/2012.
  • St Stephen's Church (Anglican), Reefton. Image included in Field Record Form Collection.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Trish McCormack. Date: 1/01/1989.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1691 Date Entered 22nd August 2008


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Sec 451-452, Town of Reefton, Nelson Land District and the building known as St Stephen's Church (Anglican) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Buller District


West Coast Region

Legal description

Sec 451-452 Town of Reefton (CT NL2D/372), Nelson Land District.

Location description

North-east corner of Walsh Street and Church Street, Reefton.


St Stephen's Church at 16 Church Street in Reefton was built in 1877-88 as the first Anglican Church in the township and in 1889 it became what may have been the first church in New Zealand to be lit by electric lights.

Built in a simple Gothic style of timber with a corrugated iron roof, the building was enlarged to create a cruciform plan church in 1898-99. Various other alterations have taken place, including the covering of the exterior weatherboards with Fibrolite.

St Stephen's Church (Anglican) reflects the rapid growth of mining settlements on the West Coast during the latter half of the nineteenth century and in particular the influx of Anglican miners and their families, as part of a mix of miners of other denominations, to the West Coast. Reefton was the first town in New Zealand to have a public supply of electricity, and contemporary newspaper accounts record that in May 1889 St Stephen's Church was the first of the churches to have electric lighting installed. This was in the form of eleven 16 candle power lamps, ten on the interior and one illuminating the exterior. The installation of electric lighting was widely publicised and celebrated. The church remains a place of worship today.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

St Stephen's Church has historical value as the first Anglican church to be erected in Reefton. While the first Catholic church in Reefton had been built in 1873, St Stephen's Church was built four years later, less than seven years after the establishment of the gold-mining town of Reefton. It reflects the rapid growth of mining settlements on the West Coast during the latter half of the nineteenth century and in particular the influx of Anglican miners and their families, as part of a mix of miners of other denominations, to the West Coast. Despite financial set-backs, it also reflects the determination in public fund-raising to build the church. Masonic ritual associated with building and celebrating the completion of the church demonstrates the close association between the church and the Masonic Lodge.

Technological Significance or Value:

St Stephen's Church was one of the first, and indeed may be the first, church in New Zealand to be lit by electricity. Reefton was the first town in New Zealand to have a public supply of electricity, and contemporary newspaper accounts record that in May 1889 St Stephen's Church was the first of the churches to have electric lighting installed. This was in the form of eleven 16 candle power lamps, ten on the interior and one illuminating the exterior. The installation of electric lighting was widely publicised and celebrated.

Social Significance or Value:

This place has social significance or value as an important community gathering point. The congregation grew rapidly and its capacity was so stretched that two decades after it was built the church was enlarged. Today the church is still considered important to the Reefton community.

Spiritual Significance or Value:

St Stephen's Church (Anglican) has been a place of worship for 130 years and remains so today.

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

St Stephen's Church (Anglican) reflects the influx of miners to settlement on the West Coast during the nineteenth century, a number of whom were Anglican. In this, it is a representative aspect of New Zealand's religious and industrial history.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

The place is significant as being associated with very early use of electric lighting in churches in New Zealand, representing the introduction of electric illumination of public, commercial and domestic buildings on a scale hitherto unseen in New Zealand. St Stephen's Church was the first of the denominations in Reefton to have had the electric lighting installed and it may well be the first church in the whole of New Zealand to be so lit.

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

St Stephen's Church (Anglican) has been held in high regard and continues to be used as a place of worship. Especially in its early days, the church was often full to capacity which is a measure of the number of Anglicans living in the area.

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

St Stephen's Church (Anglican) is part of the NZHPT registered Reefton Historic Area (record number 7050). This historic area comprises: Penington House and Fountain, the School of Mines and the Masonic Lodge on Shiel Street; the Oddfellows Hall, the Courthouse and the Surveyors' House on Bridge Street; the Sisters of Mercy Convent [although destroyed by fire in 2007], the Sacred Heart Church and St Stephens Anglican Church on Church Street and the War Memorial on Buller Road. Several of the places included in the historic area are also individually registered historic places. Currently these are as follows: Reefton School of Mines Building (record number 263), Reefton Courthouse (former) (record number 1685), Sacred Heart Catholic Church (record number 1689), Oddfellows Hall (record number 3035), Penington House (record number 5037), Horse Trough, Pennington House (record number 5038), War Memorial Obelisk (record number 5039), and the Clerk of the Court & Survey Office House (record number 5068).

Summary of Significance or Values:

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e, k.


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


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Reefton (or Reef Town) developed in 1870 with the discovery of alluvial gold in the area. With the influx of miners of different religious denominations, pressure soon mounted to build churches as dedicated places for worship. A small Catholic church was built in Reefton in 1873, and around this time the Anglican community was also looking to build a church.

Lay Anglican services had been held by visiting clergymen and a committee was formed in 1872 to work towards building an Anglican church in Reefton. The first permanent vicar, the Reverend Thomas Flavell, was the first vicar of the Reefton Parochial District. In 1873 a new church committee was formed and a Mr Parer supplied plans and specifications for a new church. By this time, the church committee had a harmonium, forms, reading desk and church bell, even before a church was built. New plans were supplied to the committee in October 1874, and there was good support in the form of subscriptions from the town. However, the committee soon experienced financial difficulties. Church services, being held in a hall, were closed down during 1875 and 1876 due to debts.

Interest in the diocese surged, however, in October 1876 when the Bishop of Nelson gave Reefton the opportunity for Lay representation on the Diocesan Synod. Mr H D Jackson of Nelson became Reefton's first Synodsman.

Plans for building a new church had recommenced by June 1877 and on 24 July 1877 the foundation stone of St Stephen's Church was laid. This ceremony was undertaken in the presence of the Right Reverend A B Suter, Bishop of Nelson and, with full Masonic ceremony, was headed by W McLean. A contemporary newspaper account of the event recorded that files of 'the latest papers' were deposited before the stone was lowered into position. The event was a noted occasion for the township of Reefton and all business was suspended for the afternoon and all banks were closed.

The church was constructed over the following months and it opened, free of debt, with a dedication service on 17 February 1878. A new church bell, purchased in 1878, was installed on April 1879. A new harmonium was acquired in the 1880s.

An important technological innovation came to Reefton in 1888 in the form of electricity. Reefton's supply of commercial power and electric light, generated by a small hydroelectric scheme, was the first in the southern hemisphere. The event was widely publicised and celebrated. Various buildings and areas in Reefton introduced electric lighting, and by May 1889, St Stephen's Church joined with this technological wave.

The Inangahua Times of 20 May 1889 recorded the momentous occasion as follows:

The Committee of St Stephen's Anglican Church have led the way amongst the religious denominations in adopting the electric light. In all eleven 16 cp [candle power] lamps have been employed, ten inside, and one outside, in illuminating the building. The congregations have grown so large of late, more particularly on Sunday evenings, that in the over-crowded condition of the church the ordour [sic] from the kerosene lamps had become very offensive. The situation of the electric light will therefore confer a double advantage. It is expected the other churches will also adopt the light without delay.

The vestry agreed with the Electric Light Company to use 10 lights on Sundays and three at mid-week choir practice for 3/6 per week.

By the end of the 1880s the church had become too small for its congregation. William Hindmarsh, the vicar's warden, submitted plans for expansion but little happened for several years. The church worked through financial difficulties in the early 1890s and by 1896 they again investigated the matter of enlarging the church using Hindmarsh's plans. Hindmarsh's design for the enlargement and interior decorative work involved changing the plan form from a rectangular to a cruciform shape. Transparencies were imported from Scotland as part of the interior design. The church was finally consecrated in January 1899.

William Hindmarsh was a gold rush immigrant from Sydney, Australia, who had arrived in Greymouth in 1867. In 1881 he moved to Reefton where he was a sharebroker, commission agent and legal manager of several goldmining companies. It is believed that Hindmarsh's architectural and artistic skills were probably self-taught. Other works by Hindmarsh included Reefton's Masonic Lodge (1891-2) and Reefton's second Methodist church, completed in 1906.

An altar was donated in c1908. In around May 1910 the church was repainted and renovated and during this time services were held in the Parish Hall. It was during this time that the hall burned down and some of the seats and the harmonium were destroyed. A new organ was subsequently purchased.

In 1910 the Church of England Men's Society formed a branch in Reefton, providing a stimulating fellowship for men of the St Stephen's congregation. In 1934 women were admitted to the Vestry for the first time. St Stephen's Ladies Guild had been established in the late 19th century and in 1927 the Mothers Union was formed to provide spiritual and moral fellowship among members of the church.

A number of changes have taken place in recent decades, notably on the exterior of the building such as the addition of Fibrolite cladding. In 1974-5 a new concrete block porch was added, which involved the removal of a window at the point where the porch overlaps, and at the same time the bell tower was removed and some interior doors were widened. In 1990 a dividing wall was installed in the interior and the rear of the church was altered to become a parish lounge. In 1993 a toilet room was added on the north side, off the 1990 lounge.

Electric Lighting:

Although electricity had been in use in New Zealand since it had been established in 1861 for the private electric telegraph line between Dunedin and Port Chalmers, the first substantial use of electricity in the country was for lighting. Professor Bickerton of Canterbury University College was a great exponent of electricity and promoted its use through a demonstration of electric light at the Christchurch Exhibition in July 1880. Illumination by electric light began to be used for individual places or displays and by the early 1880s the development of technology allowed the use of electricity on a commercial stage. In July 1882 the factory of Roslyn Mills in Dunedin was lit, making it the first practical use of electricity in New Zealand beyond demonstrations and displays. The first private house to be lit by electricity may have been a house at 29 Princes Street in Auckland in November 1882. Certainly by early 1883 several home owners in various parts of the country had made the claim that they were the first to introduce domestic electric lighting. Before long electricity was being considered for municipal street lighting and a number of electric lighting companies in various parts of New Zealand were established to explore possibilities for such lighting. It was a Reefton company, however, who in 1888 were the first in New Zealand to run an electrical system selling power to the public. Consumers were able to purchase electricity for a set charge of £3 per light whether power was used or not. Reefton was described as leading the way above all cities in the Southern Hemisphere and had a brilliantly lit Christmas in 1888, with some 500 lights being supplied. It is not surprising therefore that religious buildings followed the electric lighting trend in the town, with St Stephen's Church being the first of the denominations to do so.

Physical Description

Construction Professionals:

Mr Parer supplied plans for a new church in 1873 but it is not clear if these plans were used for the church as built in 1877-8.

William Hindmarsh designed the additions of 1898-9.

St Stephen's Church is located on a small rise, at the north-east corner of crossroads where Buller Road joins with the Walsh Street and Church Street intersection, within the township of Reefton. Its immediate setting comprises a small gently sloping grassy area and sealed pathway, with several shrubs and trees to the north and west of the building. A modern skyline garage is situated to the east of the building. Across the road, at 1-17 Church Street on the south-east corner of Church Street and Walsh Street, stands the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Other historic features located very close by include a war memorial obelisk on Buller Road, and the vacant lot at the north-west corner of Church Street and Bridge Street is the site where the former Sisters of Mercy Convent stood until its destruction by fire in late 2007.

The building is of simple Gothic design and is constructed of timber, with a corrugated iron roof. The exterior weatherboard walls have been reclad in Fibrolite. Windows are simple lancet style with sashes, and carved bargeboards at the main gables echo that Gothic style with a pointed arch at the apex. A simple metal structure adjacent to the concrete block main entrance porch on the south elevation holds the church bell. A small diesel shed added on the north elevation has a lean-to roof and flue.

The plan is cruciform. The interior walls are matchlined, with hardboard below a dado rail. The timber wall lining of the eastern wall comprises panelled timber with simple trefoil decorated arches. The ceiling has diagonal match-lining and the trusses comprise paired cross braces. Windows are leaded and the central lancet in the altar windows is also partly coloured. A painted Gothic arch near the altar contains the following painted words: 'Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness'. A modern dividing wall, of timber and glazing, with glazed double doors at the centre, separates the main body of the church from a parish lounge.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1877 - 1878
Church constructed

1879 -
Bell tower added to roof

1889 -
Electric lighting installed

1898 - 1899
Church enlarged to cruciform plan

1974 - 1975
Addition of concrete block porch, removal of bell tower, widening of interior doors

1990 -
Dividing wall added to interior to create parish lounge

2004 - 2005
Addition of diesel heating shed

Construction Details

Timber, corrugated iron, Fibrolite, concrete block.

Completion Date

23rd May 2008

Report Written By

Robyn Burgess

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1906

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 5, Nelson, Marlborough, Westland, 1906

Machell, 1948

Rev. B J Machell, C J Lawn, HJL Walseben, Seventy Glorious Years. Being the History of St Stephen's Church, Reefton, New Zealand, The Grey Star, Greymouth, 1948.

Martin, 1998

J. Martin, People, politics and power stations: electric power generation in New Zealand 1880-1998, Wellington, 1998

Porter, 1983

Frances Porter (ed), Historic Buildings of Dunedin, South Island, Methuen, Auckland, 1983.

Other Information

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.