Historical Significance or Value
St John’s Church (Presbyterian) was built during a transitional phase in Arrowtown’s history as it developed from a transient frontier town to a permanent settlement. The church has local historical significance as a building in permanent materials from early in the settled period of Arrowtown’s development. Building in stone attested to the permanence of the settlement and the strength of Presbyterianism in the region. The church was recognised for this association at the time of its construction, especially as the only other church in Arrowtown and the earlier Presbyterian church in the Wakatipu parish, at Queenstown, were both timber.
The bedroom is an unusual and possibly unique feature of the church that reflects its origins as part of a broad parish requiring an itinerant minister who travelled great distances.
St John’s Church (Presbyterian) has further local significance to the Arrowtown parish as the history of its development - from the construction of the church in 1873 to the opening of the church hall in 2011 - records their independence from the Otago-Southland Synod to initiate and manage building activities and the ability to raise funds within the community.
Aesthetic Significance or Value:
St John’s Church (Presbyterian) and its setting - including the two mature Wellingtonia trees that flank its entrance - form a major landmark at the entrance to Arrowtown from the Wakatipu Basin. Known popularly as the ‘Citadel at the Gate’, the church is renowned for its aesthetic appeal.
Architectural Significance or Value:
St John’s Church (Presbyterian) has architectural importance as the first stone church and one of the earliest stone buildings in Arrowtown. It is the oldest stone church in the Queenstown-Lakes district. The church is a representative example of stacked schist construction that became a typical building method in the region, though is unusual for being rendered in Portland cement at the time of its construction - an early use of this material. It has further significance as an early ecclesiastical design by the architect, Frederick William Burwell (1846-1915) who grew to prominence in Otago and Southland.
St John’s Church also has architectural value as a modest rural church in Gothic Revival style of church architecture that became popular in New Zealand in the late nineteenth century. The key characteristics of this form of building are all present at St John’s Church, such as vertical emphasis created through steep pitched gables, lancet and traceried windows and buttresses. The extensive and dramatic use of native timber for the wall and ceiling linings and church furniture also reflect the Gothic tradition.
The church and vestry/bedroom have high integrity with the retention of much original fabric. Intrusive materials and structures were removed in the recent restoration project and the addition of the new church hall was designed in sympathy with the church’s architecture and setting.
Spiritual Significance or Value:
As the second church in Arrowtown and the second Presbyterian church in the Wakatipu Parish, St John’s Church has considerable local spiritual value. The construction of a permanent church building ensured the regular provision of services in the town and a venue for innumerable religious services and celebrations. The church maintains a regular and active congregation and continues its association with the spiritual aspect of generations of local residents’ lives.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
St John’s Church (Presbyterian) represents the importance of Presbyterianism in Arrowtown and the Otago/Southland region. As the second church to be built in the town, its construction early in Arrowtown’s settled period indicates the early presence of Presbyterian among settlers and the contribution of the Presbyterian church to the development of the town and the region. The physical development of the buildings associated with the church reflects the evolving demands of the parish and changes in church administration.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:
The appreciation of the church’s landmark presence and the efforts of the congregation and community in recent restoration and building projects attest to the special public esteem for St John’s Church.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic place:
The church is believed by the congregation to be rare, if not unique, for having a bedroom annex to the vestry. This is a special feature of the church relating to its early history as an outpost of the Wakatipu Parish with a travelling minister who was required to sleep at the church prior to Sunday services and for student minister accommodation. A manse was not acquired by St John’s Church until Arrowtown became a separate parish in 1901.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:
From its highly visible location at the entrance to Arrowtown from the Wakatipu Basin, St John’s Church contributes to this nationally significant historic settlement. It occupies an historic cluster of ecclesiastical buildings, opposite St Paul’s Anglican Church (1871) and near the former Wesleyan Methodist Church (1898) on the corner of Berkshire and Wiltshire Streets.
Summary of Significance or Value:
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, e, j and k.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 2 historic place.
The lakes region of interior Central Otago including Arrowtown was traditionally important to Kai Tahu whanui who travelled to sites throughout the region to mahika kai (food and resource gathering sites) to gather resources for their own use, as well as for trade. The hunting of moa, weka, eels, ducks, the digging of fern root and ti root, gathering of taramea, and precious stone resources such as pounamu and silcrete, were a main focus of activity. Numerous ara tawhito (traditional pathways) passed through the area and a number of sites of permanent residence were located near lakes Whakatipu-wai-Maori, Wanaka and Hawea. Ka-muri-wai (the Arrowtown Flat) and the Haehaenui (Arrow River) area were particularly noted as hunting grounds for weka. The Kawarau River which drains Whakatipu-wai-Maori to the south of Arrowtown was part of the major ara tawhito linking the interior with the east coast of Te Wai Pounamu by way of the Mata-au (Clutha).
The land in the Arrowtown area was alienated through the 1848 Kemp’s purchase for the Crown and subsequent declaration as part of the Otago goldfields. Today tangata whenua for the area retain strong connections to the land, and this is borne out by the names and stories of the area.
Gold was first discovered on the Arrow in 1862 by William Fox. In the same year the goldfield was opened and miners poured into the region, many from Victoria, Australia. During the goldrush years the total population of the Shotover and Arrow districts was estimated at about 3000.
The Arrow township (originally called Fox's) was established and Fox remained in the district as proprietor of the 'Golden Age' hotel. Like other goldfield towns in Central Otago, Arrowtown grew rapidly. In the early years accommodation for the miners consisted merely of calico tents, but this gradually changed with the erection of more permanent structures of timber and iron, and later in stone. At the end of 1864 Arrow contained 19 wholesale and retail stores, 10 hotels and several private dwellings. Arrowtown was constituted a borough in 1867 and was declared a municipality on 14 January 1874.
When the goldrush ended the town's economy centred on wheat and cereals grown in the vicinity. Today the town is a popular tourist attraction providing information on its goldmining past.
Opened in July 1873, St John’s Presbyterian Church was the second church in Arrowtown. The first, St Paul’s Anglican Church, opened on the opposite side of Berkshire Street in 1871. Presbyterianism arrived in New Zealand with settler communities, particularly those of Scottish descent. Reflecting the Scots Presbyterian origins of the Otago province, Presbyterian communities grew in mining settlements around the Wakatipu goldfields as the population became more permanent. A Presbyterian minister had preached in the Wakatipu District since 1865, with the visit of the Reverend Andrew Hamilton Stobo, first minister of the First Church, Invercargill.
Otago and Southland presbyteries abstained from participating in the first general assembly of regional presbyteries held in 1862, and subsequently resisted amalgamation into a national church. In 1866 a Southern Synod (council) was formed for the area south of the Waitaki River to administer church endowments, properties and to oversee church affairs. In 1867 the Synod sanctioned an application for Queenstown to be made a ministerial charge. The parish was served intermittently until 1869 when the Reverend Donald Ross was appointed minister for the Wakatipu parish, remaining in the position until 1891.
The Wakatipu Parish covered a broad geographical area including Glenorchy, Frankton, Gibbston, Skippers, Macetown and the Crown Terrace, in addition to Queenstown and Arrowtown. A timber church was erected in Ballarat Street, Queenstown in 1869, with services held in schools at Arrowtown, Gibbston and the Crown Terrace. At Ross’ request, in 1871 a manse was built at Frankton, believing this to be a central location in the parish. However, Ross was inconvenienced by the distance between the manse and the Queenstown church and a new manse was built in Queenstown.
A church at Arrowtown was first seriously proposed in 1871 and an Arrow Church Committee was formed of Arrowtown locals with the Reverend Ross as Chairman. The committee commenced fund-raising immediately among the local congregation and wider community. In September 1873 freehold title for four adjacent sections fronting Berkshire Street was acquired by the church, issued to William Paterson, a member of the congregation and church committee. However, it seems likely that a lag occurred between securing of title and the land transfer as by November 1872 sufficient funds had been raised to encourage the parish committee to proceed with building. Tenders were invited in mid-November 1872 for the construction of a stone church to specifications by notable Invercargill architect Frederick William Burwell (1846-1915). The contract was awarded to Queenstown builder Mr Walker at an agreed price of £550. The church was thought to be built by Chinese labour - miners who remained in the district following the decline of the initial gold rush.
The church was officially opened on 6 July 1873, by the Reverend Stobo. Unusually, the foundation stone was laid on the completion of the building and the day before its dedication and opening on 6 July 1873. An aperture was left beneath the church’s porch for the foundation stone to be laid. As part of the ceremony a bottle was embedded behind the stone containing a document detailing the background to the church’s construction, a copy of the Presbyterian newspaper, the Evangelist, other local newspapers and current coins. The church was opened in debt, but continued to fundraise until all debts were cleared.
On the completion of St John’s Church the Warden H. A. Stratford, described the ‘handsome stone church’ among a number of stone stores and a public library that were completed in the same year and contributed to the greatly improved appearance of the town. The construction of the building in stone and its architectural style and detailing further contributed to the architectural character of the Queenstown lakes district. Rather than the wood, iron and canvas of earlier years of settlement, the erection of buildings in stone attested to the permanence and ‘importance’ of the district. In contrast to Queenstown’s timber Presbyterian church, St John’s stone church was considered ‘of much greater importance’. St John’s was commended for the choice of English gothic revival style and traditional architectural elements such as the belfry and buttresses. A contemporary news report noted that the stone walls were finished in Portland cement on the exterior and plastered on the interior with an exposed timber ceiling.
An unusual, possibly unique, feature of St John’s is a fully-equipped bedroom within the timber vestry that was added to the rear of the church around 1880. Given the distributed nature of Reverend Ross’ parish, a bedroom was required to allow for overnight stays in advance of Sunday morning services. The bedroom was also used to accommodate visiting missionaries and students. The Reverend Ross’ son, Charles Ross, recalled that the vestry included a small sitting room and separate bedroom that was ‘fully and well-equipped’ with a four-poster double bed, ‘cosy mats’ on the floor and other furniture and fittings all prepared and maintained by the women of the congregation. Synod minute books indicate that the vestry was funded by a grant from the Southern Synod, awarded in September 1879. Outbuildings to accommodate the minister’s horses were also included on the church property.
The Reverend Ross resigned from his position in late 1890 and in 1891 was replaced by the Reverend Thomas Paulin. In 1895 the Reverend Paulin was called to the North Taieri congregation and he was replaced in 1896 by the Reverend R H Blair. The Reverend Blair held the position until 1901 when he was called to the Clinton district, at which point the Arrowtown congregation sought independence from Queenstown as a separate Parish. In April 1901 the division was approved by the Synod and the Arrow Parish was formed, serving Arrowtown and the surrounding area including settlements at Macetown, Crown Terrace, Gibbston, Skippers and Speargrass Flat.
The separation from Queenstown required that a manse be secured in Arrowtown. An existing house was acquired for the purpose, near the Chinese Settlement on the street now known as Manse Road, funded by a grant from the Synod. Once the manse was secured a call was made to the Reverend D K Fisher who was inducted at Arrowtown in December 1901.
The next major changes to the church property occurred in the 1930s and 40s. In 1934 a manse was erected on the church’s land at Berkshire Street, designed by W A McCaw of Invercargill. The manse was completed and dedicated in 1935. In 1939 the bell tower was removed from the roof of the church - following concerns for its stability - and remounted on the ground adjacent to the church. Some internal modifications were carried out in the 1940s, including the installation of electric power in 1945.
In 1959 the timber church at Speargrass Flat was gifted to St John’s Church for use as a church hall and Sunday school. The church was originally built at Malaghan Road, Millers Flat (Wharehuanui) in 1871 and had been relocated to Speargrass Flat Road in 1950. The building was relocated again to Arrowtown and was installed perpendicular to the vestry, extending from the northern wall. The church was removed from the site in 2010 to allow for the restoration of the vestry and the development of a new church hall and community centre, and relocated to the Buckingham Street historic area.
In February 2011 a new hall and ancillary facilities were opened at the rear of the church, designed in sympathy with the existing buildings. The modern building was designed by Arrowtown architect Jackie Gillies who also oversaw restoration of the church and vestry at the same time. In accordance with the church’s past history of independence, the improvements were funded and managed by the congregation, with grants from the Central Lakes Trust, the Community Trust of Southland and the Otago-Southland Presbyterian Synod, in addition to a public fundraising appeal.
Architect - Frederick William Burwell (1846-1914)
Contractor - Mr Walker, Queenstown
Architect - Unknown
Contractor - Unknown
Physical Description and Analysis:
St John’s Presbyterian Church sits on an elevated corner site that is highly visible on the main approach to Arrowtown from the Wakatipu Basin. The Berkshire Street elevation is dominated by two mature Wellingtonia trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum) that, with the church, form a landmark at the entrance to Arrowtown. The church contributes to the nationally significant historic settlement at Arrowtown and occupies an historic cluster of ecclesiastical buildings, opposite St Paul’s Anglican Church (1871) and near the former Wesleyan Methodist Church (1898) on the corner of Berkshire and Wiltshire Streets.
The church is a rectangular building measuring seven metres wide by 12 metres long with an attached vestry to the rear measuring approximately four metres wide by seven metres long. Constructed of locally-sourced stacked schist, the church was originally rendered in Portland cement - an early use of this material. However, a photograph of the church in the 1880s shows the church with exposed stonework on the exterior. It is possible that the church was not fully rendered at the time of its construction.
The church is set back on its section and fronts Berkshire Street with a prominent gable end and a shallow porch containing the main entrance and punctuated by a traceried trefoil window. Built in a Gothic revival style, the church features lancet windows and a prominent arched entranceway carved from Oamaru stone. The building is arranged in three bays with four pairs of buttresses projecting externally from the side elevations and corners. The steep pitched roof is clad in corrugated iron though was originally shingled.
The adjoining vestry and bedroom is built in timber and follows the Gothic revival style with pointed lancet windows throughout. The building is timber framed and clad in narrow ship-lap weatherboards. The vestry part-conceals the north-west external wall of the church, including an Oamaru stone decorative rose window set into the gable.
The church’s interior is dominated by the diagonally sarked timber roof supported by timber trusses. The stone walls are plastered on the interior and lined with a timber dado rail and panelling on the lower half. Decoration is restrained and is limited to the decorative windows on each gable (with coloured glass at the altar end), carved roof vents and ornate cornices supporting the roof trusses. Fleur-de-lys carvings on the pew ends were removed in the modifications of the 1940s as parishioners often caught their clothing on them. The original wooden floor was replaced and carpeted wall-to-wall for the church centenary in 1973. The carpet was renewed as part of the restoration project in 2011.
The pews are original, despite the truncation of the pew ends. In 1949 the pulpit was shifted from the centre to the side of the church and a new communion table was installed at the altar to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the church. On the right hand side of the altar, a four-panelled door links the church with the vestry.
Restoration work carried out on the church in 2011 included stripping particle board that concealed part of the timber wall-panelling, restoration of woodwork throughout, the installation of new skirting boards to conceal services, recarpeting and the installation of ceiling mounted panel heaters. Other remedial work to the structure of the church during its recent past includes steel brackets added to the timber trusses in the 1990s and the placement of concrete foundations, also conducted in the 1990s. As part of this work one metre deep concrete foundations were sunk beneath the walls on three sides to prevent the roots of the giant Wellingtonia trees from undermining the building, which was erected without foundations.
The most extensive restoration work was conducted on the vestry building which required the reconstruction of a wall following the removal of the Millers Flat Church. The former juncture of the vestry with the Millers Flat Church remains legible in the corrugated iron roof on the eastern elevation. A mid-twentieth century extension housing a lobby and toilet facilities was also removed from the rear of the building at this time. Internally the timber wall linings were renewed throughout, replacing intrusive Pinex wall and ceiling linings. Original wallpaper was exposed as part of this activity and a small section has been conserved and left exposed. The original double-fronted schist fireplace and chimney was restored, though the opening on the bedroom side is now concealed by timber panels. The vestry now operates as a small meeting room and the bedroom as an office.
The vestry is connected to the new building through a glass covered-way. The brief for the hall and amenities block was to create a new space to accommodate modern worship and large church events, while allowing a flexible space for mixed community use. The architect, Jackie Gillies, endeavoured to design a modern building in sympathy with the existing heritage buildings that did not dominate the site or the view of the church on the approach to Arrowtown. Her solution was to position the new complex at the rear of the section with a design that echoed, though not imitated, the architecture of the church and vestry with simple gable forms, weatherboard cladding and high-pitched corrugated iron roof.
The addition of this building has been celebrated by the congregation and the wider Arrowtown and Queenstown Lakes communities and it promises to continue St John’s contribution to the district for many years to come.
Internal modifications to church
Addition of former Millers Flat church to vestry
Church. Officially opened 6 July 1873.
Church: Schist, timber, corrugated iron
Vestry/bedroom: Timber frame, timber weatherboard, corrugated iron
6th June 2012
Report Written By
Christine Whybrew and Helen Brown
F.W.G Miller, Golden Days of Lake County, 5th edn, Christchurch, 1973
Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Schrader, Ben. 'Presbyterian Church - Church building and missions', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 27-Apr-11
Heritage New Zealand
Heritage New Zealand
Numaguchi, Annabelle. ‘The butcher, the baker, the history-maker’, Heritage New Zealand, Summer 2011
Jardine, D G and J S. Mountain Parish, 1867-1990, Queenstown: D G and J S Jardine, 1990
Salmond, J D. The Citadel at the Gate: the story of St John’s Presbyterian Church, Arrowtown. Dunedin: Printed by the Otago Daily Times, 1968
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area 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.