St Stephen's Church

Peel Forest Road, Peel Forest

  • St Stephen's Church. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 1/12/2013.
  • St Stephen's Church. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans . Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 1/12/2013.
  • St Stephen's Church. Interior. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 1/12/2013.
  • St Stephen's Church. Bell Tower. 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 1994 Date Entered 11th December 2003


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the church on its site.

City/District Council

Timaru District


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 6 DP 92 (CT CB22/235), Canterbury Land District


The information below is from the original report considered at the time of registration. Minor, subsequent changes are noted in square brackets.

Two of the first runs in the Geraldine district were taken up by John Acland and George Tripp, two lawyers who arrived from England in 1855 and initially worked in partnership. By 1862 Acland had settled on the Mt. Peel Station while Tripp was established at Orari Gorge. Apart from the community which clustered around Mt. Peel an associated township developed at Peel Forest with settlers involved in farming as well as felling and milling timber in the region.

In 1868 Acland [provided] a piece of land for the erection of a small church in the developing Mt. Peel village as he had had strong views about his responsibilities to the community, as the largest landowner in the district. St. Stephen's, a small timber building, was completed that year. It was never consecrated as it was available for all denominational services. On 14th May 1884 a whirlwind struck Peel Forest and St. Stephen's was completely demolished. However, the sturdy harmonium survived, being blown over an adjoining gorse fence and it continued in use until 1897.

The new church designed by Mr. Marley, a Christchurch architect, was built on the same site which had been transferred by Acland to the Church Property Trustees in 1881. A tender was accepted in 1885 for a wooden church with a concrete foundation for £272. Totara and black [and or white] pine timber was supplied by the local mill. The new St. Stephens first service was held in June 1885 and it was consecrated by Bishop Harper on 16 January 1887.

The church is described in Hearts Hands and Voices:

The new church was 38 feet [c. 11.6 m] long and 18 feet [ c. 5.5 m] wide, the walls above the foundation 10 feet [c. 3 m] with the elevation to the gable 24 feet [c. 7.3 m]. On the east end was a small wooden cross and on the west a bell turret topped with a neat iron cross. The Sacrarium floor was raised 6 inches [c. 15 cms] and the rail enclosing it was moulded black pine with a hinged portion. The church was ventilated by pipes built up the walls to a height of 7 feet [c. 2.1 m] and these allowed fore sliding ventilation inside.

There are 4 casement windows in the north and 3 on the south side with diamond shaped frames of cathedral green and white glass... Outwardly the appearance of St. Stephen's as it stands today is altered by the removal of the bell tower. This proved too light for the weight of the bell and was blown down in October 1914. In 1915 a separate and most attractive bell tower was built to the right of the church... (Page 22)

The long history of the church is marked by the interior plaques and memorials. The community support for it has always been generous. Like many of the churches in the Geraldine parish, it features some notable examples of stained glass. In 1923 Mrs G. J. Dennistoun from the Peel Forest Station commissioned Joseph Nuttgens to design and execute the triple lancet window in the sanctuary. This is a memorial to her recently deceased husband, George, and her son James, who had died in W.W. I. Nuttgens, a renowned English stained glass artist, depicted St. Mary the Virgin and the Christ Child with St. John the Baptist as a child. They are flanked by St. George and the Archangel Michael with the face of St. Michael copied from a photograph of [James] Dennistoun.

[James Dennistoun] was a well respected mountaineer, recorded as the first white settler to climb Mitre Peak and Nuttgens has included an image of the mountain at the base of St. Michael's figure. At the church's west end is a depiction of St. Francis of Assisi designed by Roy Entwistle, a Geraldine parishioner, and made by Miller Studios of Dunedin. Completed in 1977 it is a memorial to the Barker family. St. Francis is seen against a background of New Zealand foliage, ferns and kowhai with accompanying native birds together with a lamb and sheep dog. A depiction of St. Brendan was designed by Roy Entwistle in 1995 to commemorate G. H. and B. Dennistoun. Executed by Graham Stewart it is a contemporary image with references to Captain Dennistoun's service in the Royal Navy.

St. Stephen's is a highly regarded church, central to the small Peel Forest community and a significant feature of the rural townscape. The various memorial features which have been installed document aspects of the district's development.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

It has historical value in its links with the early settlement and growth of the district from the early sawmilling focus to the farming development.

St. Stephen's Church has technological and architectural significance as an example of the simple timber churches built for the early South Canterbury settlers in the 1880s when limited funds were available to provide an appropriately styled and finished place of worship. The use of timber which was locally available is a typical feature as are the subsequent donated memorial elements which now enhance the building.

With its attractive sylvan setting, the church has aesthetic significance providing an important contribution to the rural village environment.

The Church of St. Stephen at Peel Forest can be assigned Category II status because it reflects an important aspect of South Canterbury history, the desire of the early settlers to have a community place of worship and the paternalistic attitude of John Acland of Mt. Peel Station in ensuring that this church was built.

The church's construction, use, maintenance and enhancement are closely associated with people who were important in this area's history. They include the Aclands, the Tripps, the Barkers and the Dennistouns. Because Bishop Harper had two daughters (Mrs Tripp and Mrs Acland) living in the area, he was a frequent visitor.

The community association and esteem for the place has been demonstrated by the care that has been given to the church by a shrinking community during even difficult times. The soundly built church made from the finest local timber has lasted well over its 120 years and its design still serves its function. These factors are a testament to its technological accomplishment and value. The memorial windows as well as plaques and elements of furnishing contribute to the symbolic and commemorative values which are associated with the building and its century of community use.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Marley, William Henry

William Henry Marley (1816-96). Marley and his family arrived in Lyttelton aboard the Charlotte Jane in December 1850. He became prominent among the Christchurch settler community as a carpenter, builder and architect. Other projects by Marley include additions to Riccarton House (1874, NZHPT record no. 1868), stables and other buildings for C. G. Tripp at Orari Gorge (1876, NZHPT record no. 7763), Waikonini Homestead, Peel Forest (1881, NZHPT record no. 2011) and St Stephens Church, Peel Forest (1885, NZHPT record no. 1994).

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The timber clad church has a steeply roofed nave with separate eastern chancel and entrance porch on the northern side of the west end. A small bell tower surmounted the roof at the west end but this was too light to carry the bell and it was blown down in 1914. The iron cross which had topped the bell tower now sits in its place and a separate tower was built alongside the church in 1915.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1886 -

Construction Details

Timber (totara and black pine).

Completion Date

6th September 2004

Report Written By

Pam Wilson

Information Sources

Ciaran, 1998

Fiona Ciaran, Stained Glass Windows of Canterbury, New Zealand. A Catalogue Raisonne, Dunedin, 1998

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.