Church of the Holy Innocents

Mount Peel Station, Mount Peel

  • Church of the Holy Innocents.
    Copyright: Church Property Trustees. Date: 4/05/2007.
  • Church of the Holy Innocents. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 1/12/2013.
  • Church of the Holy Innocents. Image shows damage following 2010 earthquake. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 1/12/2013.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1976 Date Entered 11th December 2003


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes church on its site.

City/District Council

Timaru District


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt RS 7953 and 12804 (CT CB406/288), Canterbury Land District


John Acland and Charles Tripp, two lawyers from Devon, arrived in Canterbury in January 1855 to find that much of the accessible Canterbury land had already been taken up. They formed a partnership and purchased land in South Canterbury near the Orari River and along the foothills of the Mt. Peel range. This was the first high country station taken up in Canterbury. By 1862 they had decided to separate, with Acland retaining the Mt. Peel section while Tripp took over the Orari Gorge Station. The two friends each married daughters of Bishop Harper.

At Mt. Peel church services conducted by John Acland, who was licensed as a lay reader, were regularly held at the homestead. In 1866 he gave land near the homestead to the Church Property Trustees for a church and burial ground. Plans and specifications prepared by Edward Ashworth of Exeter were donated by Rev. P.L.D. Acland , vicar of Broadclyst and Sub-dean of the Exeter Cathedral. On December 14th 1868, Emily Acland, John's wife, laid the foundation stone for the church. William Brassington, the highly regarded Christchurch stone mason whose sculptural work is seen at the Provincial Council Buildings (1865) and the Canterbury Museum (1876-7), was responsible for the construction. He used large stones gathered from the nearby Rangitata riverbed with Mt. Somers limestone for quoins and dressings and had the church completed for its first service on May 30th 1869 when Bishop Harper was present to preach the first sermon. On December 12th that year the Bishop returned, once more welcomed by his grandchildren, daughter and son-in-law, for the consecration. The name, "the Church of the Holy Innocents" was chosen to commemorate the four small children, including an Acland daughter, who were buried nearby.

The church's interior is graced by a fine range of stained glass. A memorial window over the altar commemorates John and Emily Acland and the north-west window was installed in 1889 as a memorial to Michael Mitten who served for 15 years as the manager of Mt. Peel Station. In 1943 a window was donated by the Sheepowners Federation of New Zealand in recognition of Henry Dyke Acland's contribution to the sheep industry. An Acland tradition has evolved since 1882, with a family member tolling the church bell to ring in the New Year.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Church of the Holy Innocents was built in 1869 by the Acland family of Mt. Peel Station to serve their own community and neighbouring settlers. John Acland envisaged the creation of a rural village, centred on the church, similar to those he knew in Devon. Its historic and cultural values relate to its association with this notable South Canterbury pioneer family and the original settlement of this part of the South Island.

It is architecturally and aesthetically significant as the design of an English architect, Edward Ashworth, skilfully constructed from local materials in Gothic revival style and enhanced by a fine range of memorial stained glass windows

The Church of the Holy Innocents, 1869, merits Category II registration as it meets many criteria. It can be seen as part of the complex of historic buildings at Mt. Peel Station, first settled in 1855 by Acland and Tripp and then the home of the Acland family. (The present homestead [Cat.I] was built in 1865.) The church was built for the family's needs, but also, typically, because the prominent land owner John Acland felt a paternalistic obligation to provide for the spiritual well being of workers on his and neighbouring properties. It is thus representative of an aspect of New Zealand history and is associated with Bishop Harper and notable early settlers.

It has technical vales as it is a particularly fine structure, filled with elements which relate its history and the achievements of those who are commemorated. These provide symbolic and commemorative value. Built in 1865 the church dates from the earliest years of South Canterbury's settlement and is part of the historic group of building at Mt. Peel Station.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Brassington, William

William Brassington (1837-41?-1905) is described as being Canterbury's most notable early stonemason and craftsman. Born at Nottingham, England he and his family arrived in Lyttelton in 1863. Brassington established a stonemason's yard near the Barbadoes Street cemetery and his talent as a headstone carver was soon noticed by Benjamin Mountfort, the noted Canterbury architect. Mountfort commissioned Brassington to carve the decorative stonework in the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings stone chamber and this is seen as Brassington's finest work. Between 1866 and 1867 Brassington carved the pulpit at St John the Baptist, Latimer Square, the font at Flaxton Church, and was responsible for the construction of the pedestal for the statue of John Robert Godley erected in Cathedral Square. He was also responsible for the portico of the Canterbury Museum. When the opportunities for decorative carving declined, he turned to stonebuilding, and constructed a number of private residences as well as the Church of the Holy Innocents at Mt Peel (1869) and the Timeball Station at Lyttelton (1876). It is assumed that he was employed in the construction of the nave and tower of Christ Church Cathedral during the 1870s. He moved to Australia around 1889 and died there in 1905. (DNZB, vol.1, pp.38-39)

Ashworth, Edward

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The church has a steeply pitched gabled roof over a vaulted nave, topped with small bell turret at the eastern end. The design for the bell turret was suggested by Emily Acland. The chancel is a lower, separately roofed space. Internally, the roof structure features timber beams with alternating totara and white pine panelling. Stained glass memorial windows have been installed over the years.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1869 -

Construction Details

Local river stone and Mt. Somers limestone exterior, timber interior.

Completion Date

6th September 2004

Report Written By

Pam Wilson

Information Sources

Williamson, 1978

E Williamson, Hearts, Hands and Voices, Geraldine: St Mary's Anglican Church, 1978

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust


Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern 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.