St Dunstan's Church (Catholic)

61 Sunderland Street And Fraser Street, Clyde

  • St Dunstan's Church (Catholic), Clyde. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Heather Cuthill. Taken By: Heather Cuthill.
  • St Dunstan's Church (Catholic), Clyde. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 20/02/2013.
  • St Dunstan's Church (Catholic), Clyde. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 20/02/2013.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2387 Date Entered 24th June 2005


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the land in certificate of title OT11B/1014 and the building, fixtures and fittings thereon. See Plan in Appendix 4.

City/District Council

Central Otago District


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 20231 (CT OT 11B/1014), Otago Land District



The history of the town of Clyde is intrinsically linked with the history of the discovery and mining of gold in Central Otago. The first post office building dates to the beginning of the town in 1863. Although it was officially named Clyde in 1864, the town was first known as Dunstan in the 1850s and as Hartley's township after his discovery of gold in 1862.

Gold mining began in Central Otago with Gabriel Read's discovery of gold in Gabriel's Gully, near present-day Lawrence, in 1861. The following year Hartley and Reilly left this gully and travelled further into Central Otago. They spent the winter prospecting in the now-flooded Clutha Gorge between present day Clyde and Cromwell, finding enough gold in the area to travel back to Dunedin and lodge 87 pounds with the Gold Receiver.

The 1862 discovery precipitated a rush to the area, with the first passenger-carrying coach travelling from Dunedin to Clyde in November of that year. Six weeks earlier, the first gold escort had left Clyde for Dunedin with packhorses. Subsequent gold escorts consisted of a solid covered wagon with armed guards. A ragged canvas town quickly sprang up, and by December of that year between six and seven thousand miners and settlers occupied Clyde and the surrounding areas. Sunday afternoons would see up to 4000 men congregate in the town. At Christmas 1862, 320 people sat down to dinner at one of the "innumerable" hotels, the cost of the meal being 10s 6d. While Clyde was itself the centre of mining activity in 1862, as gold was quickly discovered in other parts of Central Otago such as Arrowtown and Queenstown it was also the source of supplies for those travelling on to other areas.

A photograph dated c.1862 shows a profile of canvas and wooden buildings along the terrace above the river where the town now stands, and a small collection of wooden structures on the lower beach. McCraw gives a date of 1865 for the same photograph, a more likely date given the number of structures and roads visible, and has annotated it with details of the infrastructure used to mine a seam of coal along the riverbank. By the late 1860s photographs show a row of single-storied wooden buildings running cheek-by-jowl along the main street, now known as Sunderland St. The buildings all feature flat-fronted facades with business signs, among them one named the Dunstan Hotel, and the Hartley Arms Hotel can be seen several doors along. These were just two of many hotels in the town.

Catholic advances into the Presbyterian stronghold of Dunedin began in 1861, when Father Delphin Moreau made a four-week visit to Otago. This coincided with the announcement of the first gold strike in Central Otago, and the consequent increase in the number of Irish Catholics amongst the digger population, perhaps as many as 13 percent according to Catholic historian Michael King. In 1862 Father Phillipe Martin joined Father Moreau in Dunedin before moving to his base at Tuapeka, and the following year visited Catholic families at Clyde, evidently without a church at this time as Martin baptised a number of infants in their homes, as well as in the Shamrock and Galway Hotels, and in a restaurant. By 1864 four more priests had joined Moreau at work in Dunedin, and in this year a Catholic church was standing at Clyde. In August 1864 a number of baptisms are recorded in the church registry.

In November Bishop Viard of Wellington arrived in Clyde during a tour of Otago with attendants including his vicar, chaplain and forty horsemen to bless the new St. Mary's Church. Unfortunately the building only stood for four years. In 1869 it disintegrated in a storm. After this event parishioners heard mass in the school until the more substantial stone St. Dunstan's church was opened in October 1903 by Bishop Verdon.

The architect of St. Dunstan's, Francis William Petre, known as Frank, was born at Petone on 27 August 1847, the third of 16 children of Henry William Petre and his wife, Mary Anne Ellen Walmsley. His father, one of the founders of Wellington and colonial treasurer of New Munster, was the second son of the 11th Baron Petre, a director of the New Zealand Company. The Petres were one of England's oldest and most influential Catholic families, and Francis Petre's Catholic faith played a major role in his career. Petre designed a number of significant Catholic churches including the simplified Gothic style St. Dominic's Priory and St. Joseph's Cathedral in Dunedin and the Basilica (later Cathedral) of the Sacred Heart, Wellington. Petre's best-known work is the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch. The work of Petre was also significant for his innovative use of concrete, and he is considered a pioneer in the development of this material. Petre also designed houses and commercial buildings in Dunedin and


The builder and stonemason of St. Dunstan's, Thomas Wilkinson and John Holloway, were local men responsible for the construction of a number of stone buildings in Clyde, including the Dunstan Hotel (now known as Dunstan House) and the Commercial Hotel (now known as the Dunstan Hotel), as well as buildings in other towns in the region. St. Dunstan's was built with shallow foundations common for the period. The altar end of the building, sited on rock, was firm while the entrance, standing on sandy soil, subsided. This resulted in cracking in the walls, broken windows on both sides of the church and warping of the leadlights. These problems were remedied with a grant from the Dam Amenity Fund in 1989, allowing restoration work to be carried out.

In November 2003 St. Dunstan's celebrated its centenary, when over 120 people attended mass. For this event, the organ was restored, a new altar was built and the bell, broken since 1967, was repaired. As there is no longer a priest located permanently at Clyde, mass is now held at St. Dunstan's during holidays and when additional priests are staying at Alexandra.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

St. Dunstan's is historically significant both because it was the work of an important New Zealand architect and because it marks the history of the Catholic Church in Clyde. It represents the history of Catholicism in Otago gold fields towns.

Its architect, the New Zealand born Francis William Petre, is well known for his work designing significant Catholic structures including St Dominic's Priory and St Joseph's Cathedral in Dunedin and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch, as well as many other commissions. St. Dunstan's Church demonstrates typical aspects of Petre's design features, such as the simplified Gothic style and the early use of concrete. The church's setting and rose garden make it a much-photographed property. The use of schist provides a vernacular aspect to Petre's elegant design.

It is spiritually significant for the same reasons, located on the site of the first Catholic Church in Clyde, associated with the first years of the gold rush, and blessed by Bishop Viard in 1864. It has served as place of worship for the Roman Catholic community for over 140 years.

Category of historic place (section 23(2)) Category II

Criteria: a, b, c, e, k

St. Dunstan's Church demonstrates the significance of religion in New Zealand's colonial history, and specifically the presence of Irish Catholics as an important presence among the diggers from the first announcement of the discovery of gold in Central Otago in 1862.

St. Dunstan's is also significant for its association with its architect, Francis William Petre, the first New Zealand-born architect to rise to national prominence.

The local community holds this building in esteem. This is apparent in the restoration work that was carried out in 1989, as well as the further restoration and repairs carried out in preparation for the building's centenary in 2003 and this event itself. Guardian John Shand considers this to be one of the most photographed buildings in Clyde.

While the building is important for this association, at the same time it forms part of the wider historical and cultural landscape of Central Otago generally, and the township of Clyde more specifically. It is one of a number of historic buildings that date from the early years of the town, and the local schist from which it is built demonstrates this commonality. Its builder, Wilkinson, and stonemason, John Holloway, were also responsible for other significant buildings in Clyde such as the Commercial Hotel and the Dunstan Hotel.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Petre, Francis William

Petre (1847-1918) was born in Lower Hutt. He was the son of the Hon. Henry William Petre and grandson of the eleventh Baron Petre, Chairman of the second New Zealand Company. Petre trained in London as a naval architect, engineer, and architect, returning to New Zealand in 1872. During the next three years he was employed by Brogden and Sons, English railway contractors, superintending the construction of the Dunedin-Clutha and the Blenheim-Picton railways.

He set up office in Dunedin in 1875 as an architect and civil engineer. He designed a house for Judge Chapman (1875), followed by 'Cargill's Castle' (1876) for E B Cargill and then St Dominic's Priory (1877), all in mass concrete.

It is for his church designs and for his pioneering use of concrete that Petre is most recognised. His church buildings include St Joseph's Cathedral, Dunedin (1878-86), Sacred Heart Basilica (now Cathedral of the Sacred Heart), Wellington (1901), St Patrick's Basilica, Oamaru, (1894 and 1903) and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch, (1904-05), which is the outstanding achievement of his career. Petre's commercial buildings include the Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance Building (1881-82) and Pheonix House (now Airport House, c.1885), both in Dunedin.

Wilkinson, Thomas

Thomas Wilkinson the stonemason lived at St. Bathans and had worked on the restoration of Edinburgh Cathedral before coming to New Zealand in search of gold.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The church was designed in the early English Gothic revival style favoured by its architect, Francis William Petre. At the time of its opening it was described as having high pointed gables for both the main building and the porch, matched with narrow pointed window openings with splayed reveals. Internally, the building consists of a porch over the main entrance, a nave, sanctuary and a sacristy opening into the nave through a 16 ft high arch, finished with splayed reveals, label mouldings and decorated drops. The interior is plastered with a cement dado to the height of the window sills. The inside of the roof of both knave and sanctuary is timber-lined, laid diagonally.

Stonemason: John Holloway

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1864 -
Original building on the site

1869 -
Original building disintegrated in a storm

Original Construction
1903 -
New (current) building completed

1989 -
Restoration: sealing of cracks in the stone works, ties in the roof to prevent further damage, retiling parts of the roof, repainting, leadlight repairs

Construction Details

Schist stone with a Marseilles tile roof with concrete foundations.

Information Sources

Gilkison, 1978

R. Gilkison, Early Days in Central Otago Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1978

McCraw, 2003

J. McCraw, Gold on the Dunstan, Square One Press, Dunedin, 2003

New Zealand Tablet

New Zealand Tablet

October 22 1903 'Opening of a new church at Clyde'

Otago Daily Times

Otago Daily Times

16-17 August 2003 'Truly moving music from organ'

24 November 2003 'Contrasting ceremonies'


The Press

24 January 1994 'Spirit of St. Dunstan near Clyde Dam'

Veitch, 1976

B. Veitch, Clyde on the Dunstan, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1976

King, 1997

Michael King, God's Farthest Outpost - A History of Catholics in New Zealand. Penguin Books, Auckland, 1997.

Other Information

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.