St John's Presbyterian Church

1 Ord Street And Cromarty Street, Herbert

  • St John's Presbyterian Church, Herbert. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 25/12/2012.
  • St John’s Presbyterian Church, Herbert.
    Copyright: Photograph © Don Donovan. Taken By: Don Donovan.
  • St John’s Presbyterian Church, Herbert. Watercolour of Church (Presbyterian).
    Copyright: Photograph © Don Donovan. Taken By: Don Donovan.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2416 Date Entered 7th April 1983


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes the land described as Lot 2 DP 21555 (CT OT13B/369), Otago Land District, and the building known as St John's Presbyterian Church thereon, and its fixtures and fittings.

City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 21555 (CT OT13B/369), Otago Land District


St John’s Presbyterian Church is a landmark in the small town of Herbert in the Otepopo district of North Otago.

Otepopo recalls the small hill nestled on the back of a larger one (0-te-popo, a child carried on the back of their mother), what is now known as Mt Charles. The land alienated from Ngai Tahu by the 1848 Kemp purchase, was taken up by pastoralists and small settlements developed at Otepopo in the mid-1850s.

Presbyterian services were held in pastoralist Edward McGlashan’s woolshed in 1858. With the survey of the town of Herbert in 1862 parishioners were keen to have a permanent place to worship. The parish was initially looked after by a visiting Dunedin minister, but in November 1863 Herbert, Hampden and Oamaru decided to call a minister of their own. The Rev. Charles Connor was ordained on 1 November 1863. By 1864 the Otepopo parishioners wanted regular services and John Ryley was appointed as Home Missionary while he completed his theological studies. Services were held in John Cormack’s barn before a church and manse were built in 1866 and 1867.

Prominent Dunedin architect Robert Arthur Lawson provided designs for both buildings. The foundation stone of St John’s was laid on 30 January 1866. Otepopo became a separate charge in 1871. The contractor was Robert McDonald of Dunedin, at a price of around £600. The builder was variously reported as Robert or Thomas King. The building was described as ‘tasteful, most appropriate to its purpose, and suitable to the means of the congregation.’ The church was opened on 7 May 1866.

The Church quickly became too small. An additional 250 seats were needed, and in 1875 an addition designed by Mason and Wales was built. The builder was Thomas King and the carpenter Mr Smith. William Mason had bought land in Otepopo and was well known to the church managers. The building was opened on 26 December 1875. Transepts provided extra accommodation. The additions included a tower and spire.

In 1998 St John’s was badly damaged by fire. Roof sarking was damaged as were the arch elements. The damaged elements were replaced and matched where possible. Damaged roofing was also replaced.

St John’s is cruciform in plan. It has a tower and spire tucked into the angle between the transept and nave. The Church is constructed of Oamaru stone. The exterior is plainly detailed with trefoil lancet windows alternated with fixed buttresses along the nave. The tower has two levels with paired windows on the first level and a belfry above. Entrances are found at two corners of the transept and the end of the nave.

In 2012 St John’s is still used for weekly services for the consolidated Otepopo-Maheno parish of the Presbyterian Church.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Lawson, Robert Arthur

Born in Scotland, Lawson (1833-1902) began his professional career in Perth. At the age of 25 he moved to Melbourne and was engaged in goldmining and journalism before resuming architectural practice. In 1862 Lawson sailed for Dunedin, where his sketch plans had won the competition for the design of First Church. This was built 1867-73. Lawson went on to become one of the most important architects in New Zealand. First Church is regarded as his masterpiece and one of the finest nineteenth century churches in New Zealand.

He was also responsible for the design of the Trinity Church (now Fortune Theatre), Dunedin (1869-70), the East Taieri Presbyterian Church (1870), and Knox Church, Dunedin (1874). He designed Park's School (1864) and the ANZ Bank (originally Union Bank, 1874). In Oamaru he designed the Bank of Otago (later National Bank building, 1870) and the adjoining Bank of New South Wales (now Forrester Gallery, 1881).

See also: Ledgerwood, Norman, 2013. 'R.A. Lawson: Victorian Architect of Dunedin'. Historic Cemeteries Conservation NZ.

King, Robert

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

1875 -
William Mason, architect

1998 -
Fire damage and repair

Original Construction
1866 -

Completion Date

7th May 2012

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Knight, 1999

Hardwicke Knight, Church Building in Otago, [Hardwicke Knight, Dunedin], 1999

North Otago Times

North Otago Times

1 Feb 1866, p.3

McKenzie, 1988

Dorothy McKenzie, Otepopo and Herbert Township, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1988

Otepopo Presbyterian Church

Otepopo Presbyterian Church, Jubilee Souvenir 1865-1915, March 1915, Oamaru, [1915]

Other Information

A fully referenced Upgrade Report is available from the Otago/Southland Area office of NZHPT.

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.