Historical Significance or Value
St Mary’s Church (Anglican) has historical significance representing the importance of religion, particularly of the Anglican Church in the Palmerston community. The history of community support evident in the construction of the first church and the congregation’s fundraising efforts shows the support of the wider community. St Mary’s has stood as the bastion of the Anglican faith in Palmerston for 138 years. The Church represents the history of the small Church of England community in Palmerston and their determination to build their own place of worship. Its solidity and picturesque design is also representative of the hopes and dreams of a small rural community and the confidence they showed in the emerging township and its future prospects.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
St Mary’s Church (Anglican) has aesthetic appeal. This small church makes a strong visual impression. The setting is picturesque and the church’s attractive stonework, which includes a rusty hue, makes for a visually charming picture. Lawson’s design on this small scale has special appeal.
Architectural Significance or Value
St Mary’s Church has architectural significance as an early example of the work of prominent Dunedin architect Robert Arthur Lawson. Particularly renowned as an ecclesiastical architect, St Mary’s represents Lawson’s early work in the colony which has largely been demolished or modified. It also represents Lawson’s typical use of the Gothic architectural style.
Social Significance or Value
St Mary’s Church (Anglican) has social significance. Its existence demonstrates the importance of Christianity in emerging colonial townships. Its rural setting ensured the importance of the church building as a community gathering place for Church of England worship and other religious occasions, including marriages and funerals. It provided a place where the community could interact and network, which would have occurred only infrequently. The addition of the Sunday School Hall would have provided further opportunities for drawing the community, particularly its young people, into the scope of the church. The ongoing fundraising work of the congregation and community towards building costs also illustrates the importance of the relationship between community support and the church.
The Sunday School was a socially important addition for women and children. A Sunday School legitimised women’s nurturing role and promoted its importance. Children were no longer to be seen and not heard but were recognised as the religious leaders of tomorrow.
Spiritual Significance or Value
St Mary’s Church (Anglican) and the Sunday School Hall have spiritual significance as the focus of Anglican worship and religious education in Palmerston for 138 years. They continue to be the centre of Church of England religious contemplation for Palmerston and surrounding districts in 2010.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
St Mary’s Church (Anglican) reflects the importance of established religion in nineteenth century Otago, and the community support for providing a formal place of worship. Its stories exemplify the determination and commitment of the faithful in rural districts, such as Palmerston, in their efforts to create the physical representation of their religious convictions. The history of the Church not only speaks to the importance of Christianity, but the development and optimistic expectations of small rural townships as they looked into the future.
The provision of the Sunday School Hall in 1913 can be seen as part of an international movement to provide a religious training ground for children. It also provided women with a recognised leadership role in the church structure, beyond fundraising activities and food and drink providers. As religious education gained a higher profile, so did women leaders.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
St Mary’s Church (Anglican) is associated with eminent Otago architect, Robert Arthur Lawson. Lawson was one of Dunedin’s earliest noted architects designing a number’s of the city’s major buildings. He was also particularly known for his ecclesiastical architecture.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
St Mary’s Church (Anglican) is held in high public esteem. It is one of the district’s most notable and aesthetically pleasing buildings. Built entirely of local materials it is a testament to the wealth of the district’s natural assets. Palmerston has lost many of its historic buildings and those that remain are often tired and in need of restoration. In contrast, the original character of St Mary’s has been well maintained and is the one of the few historic buildings in the township which is still used for its original purpose. The history of community support is evident in the construction of the church and in its ongoing maintenance. Community association with the building was further enhanced as it served as a community meeting place for social entertainments and life events such as baptisms, marriages and deaths.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
St Mary’s Church is a representative example of ecclesiastical architecture, in particular the popular Gothic style. It is also a rare representation of the early ecclesiastical design work of noted architect Robert Lawson.
(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place
Through plaques, stained glass windows, and the memorial gates the lives of past parishioners are commemorated. The interment of ashes beside the western elevation of St Mary’s Church also has commemorative value as does the millennium tree planted in 2000.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
St Mary’s Church (Anglican) is a significant feature in the historical and physical landscape of Palmerston. The building, along with the nearby St James Presbyterian Church stands as a representation of the importance of Christianity settlers. More broadly, it represents the entrepreneurial efforts of early settlers to establish and grow their place of settlement into a busy and bustling centre. As one of the few historic places still standing and fulfilling the purpose for which it was first envisioned, St Mary’s is a significant landmark representing the early settlers who staked their claim in the remote hills of Otago.
Summary of Significance or Values
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e, g, h and k.
Traces of human occupation in Murihiku can be dated back to around 1250–1300. The first Polynesian arrivals in New Zealand soon found their way to the eastern and southern South Island, where moa were found in large numbers. By the time of European settlement, however, moa were extinct and Maori were clustered on the coast. Key coastal settlements were at Shag Point, Waikouaiti, and Huriawa (Karitane’s original name). They identified themselves as Ngāi Tahu, and also with that tribe’s predecessors, Ngāti Māmoe and Waitaha.
Circular depressions revealing the presence of Maori umu can be seen inland in the Waihemo area. This was part of a well used route to inland Otago, a rich source of moa and greenstone. Archaeology indicates, however, that these sites were occupied only temporarily. Indeed it has been suggested that from the mid 1830s there were no permanent Maori settlements in inland Otago. Certainly there are no recorded Maori archaeological sites on the land on which St Mary’s Church sits.
The Waihemo area is connected with the traditions surrounding the wreck of the Arai Te Uru canoe. The canoe was on a return trip from Hawaiki but was wrecked at Shag Point. The canoe’s crew explored the southern South Island but if the explorers did not return before dawn they turned into hills and other natural features. One of these explorers was a woman, Puketapu, who travelled too far. Dawn broke as she came through the Waihemo Valley and she was turned into the hill Puketapu which overlooks the township of Palmerston.
The story of the Anglican Church in East Otago begins with Maori. Tamihana, the only surviving son of Te Rauparaha, was converted to Christianity and wished to spread the Word to Kaitahu who had been badly treated by his father. He set out to Otago in 1842 and was reportedly well received by local Maori. Many converts were made and when Bishop Selwyn visited in January 1874 four were baptised. Selwyn then visited Waikouaiti and visited many of the local English. Despite this early activity, it was several years before Anglican services were held in Waikouaiti.
Palmerston lies 50 kilometres to the north of Dunedin at the junction of two major transport routes – State Highway 1 linking Dunedin and Christchurch and State Highway 85 (known locally as ‘The Pigroot’) which is the principal highway to the Maniototo and Central Otago beyond. One old Palmerston resident remembered the development of the settlement.
At the inception of the Dunstan Rush the country in the Shag Valley had not been surveyed. The sheep and cattle belonging to Mr John Jones…roamed unheeded over the wide expanse of the valley…The land was open tussock country, affording fine natural grazing. ..There were no settlers resident on the site of Palmerston. The earliest farmhouses were near Goodwood... [Following the gold rush] It was not long before an accommodation tent was erected here [in Palmerston] at a spot near ‘Johnny’ Jones’ cattle yard, and that represented the real start of Palmerston.
Following the development of this temporary camp site at the beginning of the gold fields’ route, the township was mapped in July 1862. Later that year the first Crown grants of surveyed sections were issued. In April 1864 town sections were laid out and sold. Farms had previously been taken up and the township now began to move ahead. Trade soon sprang up with the Dunstan diggings in the transport of stores and supplies. On occasion there were as many as thirty wagons preparing to leave on their journey to the interior. Shops and hotels began to open and ‘Palmerston began to assume an air of importance’.
The Anglican Church
Otago and Southland were unique from the rest of New Zealand as the only regions where the Church of England was not the major denomination. Anglicans made up 40% of the population nationwide in the colonial era but in Otago and Southland they represented only 25%. The south was the stronghold of Presbyterianism and this was even more so in rural areas. Some Otago Presbyterians called the Church of England ‘The Little Enemy’. Anglicans responded with the label ‘The Old Iniquity’.
Otago and Southland were incorporated in the Diocese of Christchurch from its inception. The advent of gold, however, brought such an influx of people into Otago that a new diocese was required. The Diocese of Dunedin was created in 1869, although the first bishop, Bishop Samuel Tarratt Nevill, did not arrive until 1871.
In the early days of settlement the enormous parish of Otago was under the sole care of Rev. J.A. Fenton. St John’s Church in Waikouaiti, funded by Johnny Jones, was opened in 1858. It was the second parish created in the Diocese of Dunedin, the first being St Paul’s in Dunedin in 1852. The church drew its congregation from as far afield as Goodwood and Palmerston. Certainly by 1868, however, there were local services held at Palmerston in the school room, with the occasional district service incorporating Waikouaiti. For example, on 15 February 1869 the first Bishop of Dunedin, Henry Lascelles Jenner, wrote in his journal that he ‘…rode to Palmerston, 10 miles (from Waikouaiti) for a service at 3 and returned in time for Evensong at 6.30’. Replacing Fenton in 1863, Rev Alexander Dasent took over the parish. Under his charge St Mary’s Church was erected.
St Mary’s Church
Considerable building activity was taking place in the Anglican Church, during the 1860s and 1870s, particularly in the South Island. In January 1871 three members of the Church of England congregation in Palmerston applied to purchase sections 1, 2, 3 and 4, Block XVII. The purchase was agreed to by the Waste Lands Board subject to payment being made within the month, according to section 29 of the Waste Lands Act 1868. The title was issued to Francis Dyer Rich, Henry Orbell and Joseph Preston, presumably as Church trustees, on 15 February 1871.
In January 1871 a report appeared in the Otago Daily Times concerning the proposed new church.
‘A church is about to be erected at Palmerston for the Church of England congregation there, who now meet in the school-room. The building – the contract for the erection of which has been accepted – has been designed by Mr R.A. Lawson. It is to be built of stone, in the early English style of architecture, and is to consist of nave, chancel, vestry, and entrance porch. The nave is to be 38 feet by 24 feet [11.6 x 7.3 metres], and it is estimated will comfortably seat about 150 persons, the chancel is to be 16 feet by 15 feet [4.9 x 4.6 metres], and a vestry of an octagonal form is to be annexed to it. The building, though small, will, judging from the drawings, be a pretty one. Its estimated cost when finished is somewhat under £700.’
On 12 June 1871 an advertisement was placed in the Otago Daily Times inviting tenders for the erection of a Church of England at Palmerston in stone. Particulars could be obtained from R. A. Lawson, architect.
The church’s designer, Robert Arthur Lawson (1833-1902), became one of Dunedin’s leading architects. Born in 1833 in Scotland, Lawson commenced his architectural training in Perth around 1848, completing his studies in Edinburgh in the early 1850s. Lured by greater opportunities, Lawson immigrated to Australia in 1854. He spent the next seven years in various occupations including gold mining and journalism, but by 1861 he was an architect in Melbourne. Under the pseudonym 'Presbyter', he won a competition for the design of the First Church of Otago. In June 1862 Lawson set up in practice in Dunedin. Lawson received commissions for commercial, public and domestic buildings, including the Bank of Otago, the Union Bank of Australasia, the Dunedin Municipal Chambers, Otago Boys' High School, Seacliff Lunatic Asylum and Larnach’s Castle. As an active Presbyterian, Lawson became predominantly a church architect designing and supervising the construction of over forty churches. Examples include St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Trinity Wesleyan Church (later the Fortune Theatre), and his most celebrated building, First Church. His designs demonstrate a wide range of styles based on the needs of the individual congregation. St Mary’s Church is an early example of Lawson’s work in eastern Otago. It was completed prior to some of his more major undertakings, particularly First Church which was still under construction.
Construction began at the end of September 1871 and by November the foundations of the church were laid. The Bruce Herald reported that St Mary’s was opened on Tuesday 2 April 1872. On a journey from Oamaru to Dunedin, Bishop Nevill stopped at Palmerston and officially consecrated the church on 28 May 1873.
St Mary’s was Gothic in style, like most of Lawson’s churches, and built in stone. The stone was grey but flecked with a soft ginger hue adding to its character and giving warmth to the exterior. The stone was probably limonitic sandstone and likely came from one of two sites. A report into the building stones of Otago in 1875 noted that sandstone quarried near Horse Range Road, eight kilometres from Palmerston, was smooth-grained with dark red ferruginous stone which would make an excellent building material. Indeed this stone was used by architect David Ross in 1875 for Palmerston’s Presbyterian Church which weathered to a remarkable ginger hue. Alternatively, the stone may have come from the northern slope of Puketapu. This was a hard stone, generally coloured a light blueish gray, occasionally merging into yellow. Although found in large blocks, the deposit was deemed to be limited. Certainly contemporaries regarded the local stone highly, and as one newspaper report explained local ‘Waihemo Stone … is regarded as of even better quality than the Oamaru Stone’. The report concerning the nature of these building blocks was dated 1875, but it seems Lawson may have earlier discovered the properties of this local stone as St Mary’s, built in 1872, soon weathered to a blueish grey with soft ginger tones.
As much of Lawson's early work has since been either demolished or heavily altered, St Mary’s is an interesting example of Lawson’s early period of work in the colony. It is a remarkably aesthetic building for such a young and rural community, although Lawson’s best work was always in the ecclesiastical field. Certainly contemporaries considered the small church to be particularly appealing. Indeed in 1892 one travelling journalist felt St Mary’s was the only local church worthy of note. He wrote that the ‘English Church here is a handsome building of bluestone with white facings and the cure is in the charge of Rev. W.S. Lucas.’
As with most small rural churches, local fundraising was central to the erection of the church. A concert, for example, was held in aid of St Mary’s in the Palmerston Assembly Rooms in October 1872. In May 1873 a bazaar in aid of the building fund was held over two days in the schoolroom. Presided over by the women of the congregation, the takings were £170. Efforts to clear the debt continued into the next decade. In July 1888 an entertainment consisting of a concert and waxworks exhibition was given in aid of the building fund. Reportedly, it was a most successful affair with the building being crowded to its maximum capacity. ‘Neither trouble nor expense was spared by those taking part in the entertainment’ although the takings amounted to only £20.
On 13 September 1892 the property was transferred to the Diocesan Trust Board. In 1974 Lot 4 was transferred to the Waihemo County Council. In 1984 Lot 1 was sold to private ownership. Lot 2 and 3 remained in the ownership of the Diocese.
The Waikouaiti Parish, incorporating St Mary’s, was extensive, extending from Waikouaiti to Seaclifff, and then inland to Dunback and Macraes. Yet it was not until 1907 that a curate, Rev. P.T. Jones, was stationed at Palmerston. Jones was followed in 1909 by Rev. G.W. Harding. In 1913 Palmerston became a parish and its first minister was Rev. George Stubbs. For the first time, the vicar had a workable parish in geographical terms.
Under the charge of Rev. Stubbs, a Sunday School Hall was erected in 1913. The Sunday School movement was a growing international trend. In England, nineteenth century Sunday Schools evolved for children of the poor. The aim was ‘the inculcation of moral and religious truth, for the reformation of life and manners, which was the great object and final purpose of the Sunday School.’ Studies indicate that Sunday Schools became an important social institution not only for children but for women, who predominantly served as teachers. At the heart of the movement were the feminine philosophies of nurture and guidance and it was here that women found opportunities to use their abilities. Sunday School teaching was considered to be a fitting womanly role that became central to women’s Christian reform work. It was in the last quarter of the nineteenth century that churches adopted the Sunday School as part of the church programme. By 1900, over 5 million children in Britain attended Sunday School. By the early twentieth century a new international movement arose to see the Sunday School as a training ground for future church leaders. Religious education took a higher profile.
Rev. Stubbs took the lead for the Church of England in Palmerston and at his impetus a Sunday School Hall was built. The wooden structure consisted of a small entrance porch through which the main hall was accessed. Three sets of windows were set into the side elevations and a fire place set into the eastern elevation.
On 29 October 1950 memorial gates were erected in memory of past parishioners. A lean-to was added to the rear of the Sunday School Hal incorporating kitchen and bathroom facilities. While the Hall was clad in horizontal timbers, the lean-to’s cladding was vertical boards.
In 1984 the Ministry of Works conducted a review of the building. The contractor noted the church had been kept in good repair although the timber trusses appeared extensively riddled with borer and required treatment.
In the early 1990s a new stained glass window was added to the western elevation of the church. It is in three panels and features Mary holding the Christ child with Puketapu Hill beyond. In 1993 a new stained glass window was installed in the eastern elevation. It also features three panels. The middle panel shows a small cross with ‘St Mary’s’ inscribed below. Beyond is the view of Puketapu Hill with the monument on its crest. A banner flows across the three panels reading ‘To the Glory of God’. These windows were installed to the memory of all benefactors of St Mary’s, in particular May and Jack Wheeler and Edna Heckler (1918-1990). The windows were made by Donald Harman of Dunedin.
St Mary’s Church experienced a number of short term and temporary ministers until 1934 when the Palmerston parish was reunited once again with Waikouaiti as a parochial district. In 1945 the Waikouaiti-Palmerston parochial district once again resumed full status as a parish. St Mary’s Church is now part of the East Otago Parochial District.
The approach to St Mary’s Church is through the memorial gates flanked by a hedge on either side. Walking up the stone path, the church’s aspect is extremely appealing with grey stone warmed by ginger tones. The foundations, gables, quoins, attached buttresses, and window surrounds are all painted creamy white. The corrugated iron roof is red.
There are two sets of doors, painted green, on the northern elevation which faces the street. The double doors near the eastern elevation, featuring strapped hinges, are the main doors to the church. A single door towards the west elevation and on a slight angle, leads to the vestry. The vestry is an unusual octagonal shape which breaks the straight line of the northern elevation. It is accessed by three concrete steps and its roof forms a turret. Above the lancet shaped doors, a common Gothic feature, is a trefoil motif. Atop the pointed arch roofline is a small stone cross. A similar cross is atop the roof of the western elevation.
The exterior of the chancel on the western elevation sits behind the turreted vestry. It is smaller than the nave and both its exterior wall and roofline form a smaller wing to the main body of the church.
The gables are formed by overlapping stones which are painted white. They stand higher than the roof and add character. The church bell is hung in a free standing belfry with the wording ‘Their sound is gone out into all lands’.
The north elevation contains of the nave contains three single lancet windows. The vestry contains two lancet windows. The western elevation contains a triple lancet window and two attached buttresses. The southern elevation includes two lancet windows in the chancel portion, both painted over, and four single lancet windows in the nave. A small buttress juts out from the middle of the nave’s exterior wall. The east elevation also contains a three panelled lancet window and two attached buttresses. A trefoil decoration sits above this window.
Three commemorative elements are visible on the exterior. First is the memorial gates erected in 1950 to past parishioners. On the east side of the pathway to the church is a tree and a plaque which reads ‘Millennium Tree. Planted by Bishop Penny Jamieson 1.10.00’. On the western elevation of the church is a small plaque which reads ‘May those whose ashes lie here, rest in peace’. In the ground below is a plot where ashes are scattered.
Through the main entrance doors is a small entrance foyer. Access to the nave is via a single door, originally wooden but now replaced with a glass door, perhaps to lend more light to the foyer. The original decorative arch above the doorway remains. The nave is small but beautiful. The stone walls are white and punctuated with stained glass windows, sometimes in memory of past parishioners, and memorial plaques. The wooden pews are original and the original pew numbers are still visible on some. The floor is wooden with carpet running down the central aisle to the chancel. At the rear of the nave, is the baptismal font. The dark stained wooden roof is a king post design with arched braces, resting on large stone corbels.
Towards the chancel, up a step, and against the southern elevation is a small pew seat with a lectern, probably where the Scriptures are read from. On the opposite side, toward the northern elevation is the lectern-pulpit where the sermon is delivered. Behind the lectern-pulpit is a decorative wooden railing which separates the altar from the body of the church. The large wooden altar is covered by a heavy white cloth but may be original. On the northern elevation of the chancel are narrow double doors which lead through to the Vestry. An ornamental memorial chair also stands in the chancel and flowers decorate its northern and southern corners. The effect of the interior is delightful and, apart from the new stained glass windows on the western and eastern elevations, appears remarkably unmodified.
The Sunday School is situated to the west of the church and closer to the street. It is a small wooden building, painted white, with a corrugated iron roof. It is lined with horizontal timbers and rests on visible concrete piles. The entrance foyer is reached up a few steps and through a single wooden door. The foyer is small, lined with horizontal boards and features a window on the western elevation. Through narrow double doors door is the hall. It is also lined with horizontal boards painted white. It features three windows on the eastern elevation and two windows on the western elevation in the middle of which is a wooden mantel piece. The fire place is now bordered up. On the south elevation are two doors which go through to a flat roofed lean-to added at a later date. The lean-to houses kitchen and bathroom facilities.
1871 - 1872
St Mary’s Church built
Sunday School Hall built
Memorial Gates erected.
1950 - 1950
Lean-to addition to the rear of the Sunday School Hall
1990 - 1995
Stained Glass window installed in west elevation
Stained Glass window installed in east elevation
Stone - limonitic sandstone; Timber; Iron
17th September 2010
Report Written By
J. Evans 1968 Southern See: The Anglican Diocese of Dunedin New Zealand, J. McIndoe, Dunedin
R. Gilkison, Early Days in Central Otago Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1978
Hardwicke Knight, Church Building in Otago, Dunedin, 1993.
C.W.S. Moore, 'Northern Approaches', Otago Centennial Historical Publications, 1958
A. Anderson, When All the Moa-Ovens Grew Cold, Dunedin, Otago Heritage Books, 1983
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.