St Paul's Church (Presbyterian)

178 Dee Street, Invercargill

  • St Paul’s Church (Presbyterian). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 1/01/2014.
  • St Paul's Church (Presbyterian). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 1/01/2014.
  • St Paul's Church (Presbyterian). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 1/01/2014.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2517 Date Entered 23rd June 2011


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Sec 7 Blk LXXIII Town of Invercargill (CT SL3/543), Southland Land District and the building known as with St Paul's Church (Presbyterian) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Invercargill City


Southland Region

Legal description

Sec 7 Blk LXXIII Town of Invercargill (CT SL3/543), Southland Land District

Location description

The church is located towards the northern end of Invercargill’s central business district, on Dee Street/State Highway One. The building is just north of the corner of Dee and Leet Streets.


Initially constructed in 1876 to a design by eminent Invercargill architect, Frederick William Burwell (1846-1915), St Paul’s Church was the second Presbyterian church constructed in Invercargill and its Gothic Revival style grandeur reflects the importance of this denomination in Southland from early in its history.

Invercargill was founded in 1856 and it was only a few years before the first purpose-built churches were constructed. All of these were built from timber, therefore when it was recognised that the town required a further Presbyterian church, the congregation made an optimistic statement about the financial progress and growth of Invercargill’s population by constructing a substantial brick building. As anticipated by Burwell, the church was soon able to be expanded through the installation of a gallery in 1878, and then the 1881 construction of the transept, also in brick.

The long history of St Paul’s Church continued to be punctuated with instances of alteration and addition which were largely paid for by donations and the fundraising efforts of its community. When a new organ was purchased in 1900 another leading Invercargill architect, Edmund Richardson Wilson (1871-1941), was employed to undertake the necessary interior alterations. Other key building projects included the construction of a Sunday School Hall next to the church in 1908, and later the Hardie Hall was connected to the rear of the church building. While the Sunday School Hall has subsequently been demolished, St Paul’s Church still remains a place of worship and continues to be maintained by its loyal congregation.

The Gothic Revival style features of St Paul’s Church are expressed through its steeply pitched gables, buttressing, ornate entrance portal, and impressive geometric tracery windows. Traditionally orientated on a west to east axis, the church consists of an entrance porch and bell tower, narthex, large nave, and a raised sanctuary within the transept. To the rear is a utility area which leads into the concrete Hardie Hall on the northwest corner of the building. St Paul’s Church underwent a substantial strengthening and repair project after its centenary, and recently in 2002 the utilities were modernised and offices upgraded.

This landmark building has considerable social and spiritual importance because of its 135 year legacy as one of the key Presbyterian churches in Invercargill. This denomination has been dominant in Invercargill since its inception and the construction of St Paul’s Church in permanent materials was an important indicator of the growth and maturing of the settlement. St Paul’s Church also has importance because of its association with several prominent local architects, including Burwell whose architecture is credited with transforming Invercargill from a frontier settlement, and Edmund Richardson Wilson (1871-1941) who also had an on-going relationship with the building.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Although Southland was not founded on a denominational basis, by the 1870s Presbyterianism was the predominant religion in the region. The building of St Paul’s Church coincided with a second wave of church building in the Invercargill district, a phenomenon that indicated the coming of age of the province. The construction of the church is also demonstrative of Invercargill’s emerging status as the leading town in the province, as it was constructed as a result of the community outgrowing the first Presbyterian church in the town.

Aesthetic Significance or Value:

St Paul’s Church is a landmark in the northern section of Invercargill’s central business district primarily because of its height, but its ornamentation also creates a point of interest in the streetscape. The aesthetic values of St Paul’s Church also stem from its interior; its lofty nave gable, and the prevalence of beautiful stained glass and carved furniture and fixtures within the ceremonial space, create an exalted atmosphere.

Architectural Significance or Value:

St Paul’s Church has architectural value as a moderate sized proponent of the Gothic Revival style of church architecture, popular in New Zealand in the late nineteenth century. The key characteristics of this form of building are all present at St Paul’s Church, such as vertical emphasis created through steep pitched gables, a tower, lancet windows, and buttress. The extensive and dramatic use of native timber for the ceiling lining and fittings also cements St Paul’s Church within the Gothic tradition, and the impressive set of tracery windows contributes greatly to the building’s architectural significance.

St Paul’s Church is also of local architectural importance because, not only was it the earliest permanent materials church in the vicinity of Invercargill, but it was the first that prominent architect, Frederick William Burwell (1846-1915), built in the area. Burwell later designed the 1881 transept additions, and the church is also associated with Edmund Richardson Wilson (1871-1941), who is another important local architect that, among other interior work at the church, created the impressive rood screen which still graces the sanctuary.

Social Significance or Value:

St Paul’s Church was a socially significant building, particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, because the bringing together of families for the purpose of worship, and other events, created occasions where the community could interact and network. The importance of this social aspect for the congregation was physically expressed in the 1950s with the extension of St Paul’s Church through the construction of Hardie Hall.

The church also has local social value as a place where not only spiritual, but community, support was available to people in times of crisis, such as World War One and Two. The social impact that these wars had on the congregation is manifest in the entrance porch memorial and Roll of Honour. This feature was of considerable social value to the community because it provided a point for people to grieve for, and honour, those buried overseas, as well as acknowledge the contribution of those who were fortunate enough to return to New Zealand in the aftermath.

Spiritual Significance or Value:

Before the construction of St Paul’s Church the capacity of the original First Church building was stretched and some congregants had to travel considerable distance to get there. As such, since 1876 St Paul’s Church has been one of the key of places for the large Invercargill Presbyterian community to worship. Therefore, this place has considerable local spiritual value as the venue of innumerable religious services and celebrations, and for being directly associated 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

Built in 1876, St Paul’s Church was the second Presbyterian church to be constructed in Invercargill, and its scale, design, and materials reflect the importance of this denomination in the lower South Island. It is also representative of the determination and commitment of the faithful in New Zealand, whatever Christian denomination, in their often prolonged efforts to create these symbols of their religious convictions, and then to expand and maintain them. St Paul’s Church is an important site because it physically represents the concurrent spread, and then consolidation, of European settlement and the Presbyterian faith in New Zealand.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The building’s original architect, Frederick William Burwell, is an important historical figure in Invercargill because he is credited with the conversion of Invercargill from a frontier town into a visually impressive locale worthy of its position as capital of Southland. The pivotal nature of this work was recognised in Britain with Burwell becoming a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1880, at the age of just 34. Although better known for his commercial buildings, St Paul’s Church is important because it is thought to be the first, and largest, church of the group he designed around Southland in the late 1870s and early 1880s.

St Paul’s Church is also associated with architect Edmund Richardson Wilson. From a prominent Southland family, Wilson became one of Invercargill’s preeminent architects in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but he was also influential within the profession nationally through his senior roles within the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

St Paul’s Church has been attended by thousands of people since its construction and therefore many local people have a personal or family connection with the building, some of which are physically evident in the church with tributes such as memorial windows and plaques. It was the efforts of the community which enabled St Paul’s Church to be built in 1876, and their esteem for the building has been shown over the years through their passive or active donations of money for its maintenance, expansion, and adornment.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

St Paul’s Church features many memorial tributes to individuals, however, the Roll of Honour on the entrance porch has broader commemorative value and is reflective of a the general outpouring of grief and anxiety within New Zealand during, and immediately following, each of the two World Wars of the twentieth century. Its position in one of the most public spaces of the building has also meant that its commemorative message has been recognised by an incalculable number of congregants and visitors to the church since it was first erected in 1919.

Summary of Significance or Values

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e, and h.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Burwell, F. W.

F.W. Burwell (1846-1915) is noted for designing many buildings in Invercargill, transforming the centre of the town between 1874 and the mid-1880s. Born in Scotland, Burwell served his articles with the architect John Matthews and immigrated to New Zealand in the late 1860s. By 1873, he had established his practice in Queenstown. He moved to Invercargill the following year. Once established there, he began designing elegant two and three-storey buildings in the Renaissance style. He designed almost all the buildings in Dee Street, including the hospital. 'The Crescent' was another notable Invercargill streetscape created by Burwell. In recognition of his work, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1880. The depression in the 1880s saw his commissions decline and he moved to Australia in 1887 where he practised in Melbourne, Perth and then Fremantle. He was particularly successful in the last, as Western Australia was in the middle of a building boom, and a number of his commercial buildings in central Fremantle are now classified by the Australian Heritage Commission. Burwell returned to Melbourne in 1910, and died there five years later. (Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, 'Burwell, Frederick William (1846-1915)' in Jane Thomson (ed.), Southern People: a dictionary of Otago Southland biography, Dunedin, 1998, p. 74.)

Ramsay, John

Scottish-born Ramsay (c.1835-1919) arrived in Auckland in 1859. Hearing about the gold rushes in the South, he journeyed to Dunedin before joining the hopefuls at the Tuapeka goldfields. After his marriage to Elizabeth Allen he took up residence at Longbush where he set up as a sawmiller in conjunction with John Laidlaw and James Strang. After that partnership was dissolved he moved to Invercargill and worked as a builder, active from the mid 1870s. He was the builder for F.W. Burwell’s St Paul’s Church (Presbyterian) and the Bank of New Zealand building in Invercargill, as well as building additions to the Fleming and Company Flourmill in 1881. He worked on many significant buildings including the AMP buildings, the first government buildings, the first part of St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, the race and turbine of the Mataura freezing works, as well as his own Ramsay’s Hall on Tay Street, later incorporated into the Thomson and Beattie’s drapery concern. However, bankruptcy in 1887 seems to have ended his contracting career.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Maori History

Ancient stories tell the origins of southern Maori, with the waka of Aoraki becoming Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island), and its sternpost, Te Taurapa a Te Waka o Aoraki becoming Bluff Hill (also known as Motupohue). The Maui traditions are told in the south, with Maui arriving in his waka Maahunui, and pulling up the stone to be used as an anchor - Te Puka o Te Waka a Maui (Rakiura). Maui's achievements are recognised in place names in the south, including Omaui near Bluff, and Te Tapuwae o Maui and Te Rereka o Maui in Fiordland (Maui's footstep and Maui's leap).

Stories of the original explorers of the south are also told. The explorer Rakaihautu journeyed through the south with place names recalling his journey.

After Rakaihautu came the Takitimu waka with Tamatea Pokai Whenua. The waka was overcome by three waves O-te-wao, O-roko and O-kaka, coming to rest near the mouth of the Waiau (Waimeha). The three waves continued across the low lying lands and ended up as features of the landscape.

The early generations learnt about the land and its resources: stone sources were found, and stone (especially pounamu) became an important trading item. Kaika were established close to resources. Rights and resources and places were established, and traditions established which protected the manawhenua.

When traditions were written down Kati Mamoe and Kai Tahu dominate the history after Waitaha, with stories of war and peace, and intermarriage that spread through the south. In the early 1820s there was further fighting, with muskets first being used at this time, with major sieges in the more northern area of the South Island leading a retreat to the south. Ruapuke Island became the centre of leadership in the south, its isolation giving a measure of security. The final fight with the northern taua of Te Puoho and his followers at Tuturau in 1835-1836, where Te Puoho was defeated, saw the end of warfare in the region.

According to the Ngai Tahu Statutory acknowledgments in the settlement important villages along the south coast included: Te Wae Wae (Waiau), Taunoa (Orepuki), Kawakaputaputa (Wakapatu), Oraka (Colac bay), Aparima, Turangiteuaru, Awarua (Bluff), Te Whera, Toe Toe (mouth of the Mataura River) and Waikawa. Mokamoka (also known as Mokemoke or Mokomoko) was a settlement at the Invercargill estuary sustained by the rich resources found there. Tauranga waka occur up and down the coast linking land and sea trails with mahinga kai resources. Whaling boats plied the waters from the 1820s leading to changes in settlement patterns and resource use.

1853 saw the Murihiku purchase which left Maori south of the Waitaki (excluding the Otakou Block) with only 4,630 acres, the start of a long quest by southern Maori for justice questioning the legality of the purchase as well as the inadequacy of the land reserved. It was soon after these land purchases that Invercargill township was laid out by Otago Province Chief Surveyor John Turnbull Thomson (1821-1884) in 1856.

Southland religion and St Paul’s Church

The Otago Province originally encompassed Southland, and within this the first planned European settlement was at Dunedin in 1848. Being established by disaffected Presbyterians from the Free Church of Scotland, it is not surprising that Presbyterian churches were among the first to be constructed in Southland. However, despite the strong Presbyterian settler influence, it is important to note that Southland, and its capital Invercargill, was not a religious colony like Dunedin, and in the 1860s Presbyterians only nominally outnumbered Anglicans. By 1921 the Invercargill census clearly showed the dominance of Scottish Presbyterian heritage in the wider region, with 44 per cent of people reporting Presbyterian affiliation, compared with the next largest group, the Anglicans at 25 per cent.

The Presbytery of Otago was the first established in New Zealand in 1854, and within a few years Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury provinces followed. Therefore, it was not long after Thomson started his survey of Invercargill that the first Presbyterian clergyman arrived in the burgeoning settlement, and Rev. Alexander Bethune (1812-1893) is attributed with preaching the first Christian sermon in Invercargill in late 1856. Prior to this a Christian presence had been introduced in the general area by Maori Anglican missionaries from the North Island, and there were also early Methodist missionaries active in Southland in the 1840s. By the late 1850s it appears that most of the major Christian denominations had established a presence in Southland, but it was not until the early 1860s that the first purpose-built churches were constructed.

Invercargill’s First Presbyterian Church received its founding minister, Andrew Hamilton Stobo (1832-1898) in 1860. At this stage no church had been constructed and services were held in a variety of locations, such as shops, the Courthouse, and the school on Tay Street. However, like elsewhere in New Zealand, the construction of a church building was a high priority among the congregation and work towards this soon began. The result of this effort was completion of the timber First Church in 1863, on the site currently occupied by its much grander circa 1913-15 replacement.

By the 1860s Invercargill’s population numbered around 1000. The town continued to flourish reaching 2400 over the next 15 year period, by which time Invercargill had overtaken Riverton as the main town in Southland. As such, in late 1875 it was recognised that the capacity of First Church was not great enough to cater for the burgeoning population. Soon after, the Presbytery of Southland granted permission for the enterprise of constructing a second Presbyterian church in the town, and a building committee was immediately formed. Once it had been decided to branch off from the First Church congregation, the new community of St Paul’s Church made a clean start, even holding separate services in the Exchange Hall on Dee Street while their church was being constructed. However, the connection with the parent church was not severed and its congregation were generous donors towards the new church project.

The building committee engaged up-and-coming architect, Frederick William Burwell (1846-1915) to design St Paul’s Church, which was the area’s first church building constructed from permanent materials. Lured by the prospect of numerous lucrative contracts in the flourishing town, Burwell quickly established himself in Invercargill after he moved there from Queenstown in 1874. Burwell is intimately linked with the conversion of Invercargill from a frontier town to a ‘city of magnificent edifices’ over the subsequent 12 year period. Until Burwell began to assert his architectural influence it was said that Invercargill, was a ‘standing joke at Dunedin and elsewhere in New Zealand,’ hardly living up to the expectation of the southern capital because it was characterised, among other negative aspects, as being ‘the ugliest and the worst built in the colony.’ It appears that Burwell had a vision of Invercargill’s potential and contributed greatly to cohesive commercial streetscapes, such as the impressive buildings which made up the concave of The Crescent. It was the profound effect that Burwell had in Invercargill by 1880 which led to him being elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, at the age of just 34.

Aside from commercial and public buildings, Burwell also designed many Southland ecclesiastical buildings. St Paul’s Church seems to have been his first and largest local foray into this sphere, and this was followed with other commissions for all the major Christian denominations around Southland. Among his other Presbyterian churches were those in Roxburgh and Cromwell in 1879, and Riverton (1881); Anglican churches included All Saints’ Church (1877-78) in the north Invercargill suburb of Gladstone, as well as in Gore (1881) and Thornbury (1882-83); and Burwell also designed a Methodist church in Invercargill (1881) and an early Catholic church in Gore (1882).

The construction of the Gothic Revival-influenced St Paul’s Church, by local builder John Ramsay, was begun in March 1876 with the laying of the foundation stone. The ceremony, led by the First Church’s Reverend Stobo, was well attended with approximately 150 people present to witness it. While a time-capsule consisting of coins, local newspapers, and an account of the events determining the construction of the building, was being imbedded in the foundation stone, Stobo gave a lengthy address regarding the history of Invercargill and its Presbyterian community. Stobo finished his speech by noting that he had every confidence that when St Paul’s Church was completed it would be ‘a credit to the church, the town, and the architect.’

St Paul’s Church was eventually preached open by Professor William Salmond (1835-1917) in December 1876. At the foundation stone ceremony a member of the building committee had made the, some thought, rash comment that he hoped that the church would be debt-free when it opened. Support for the project was such that a few months into construction only ten per cent of the £3000 was outstanding. Just two weeks after opening, the church became known as St Paul’s Church. Up until this time it had been referred to as the Second Presbyterian Church. The building was the centre of northern Invercargill’s parish which initially encompassed West Plains, Collingwood, Grasmere, Gladstone, and the northern portion of the town proper.

Churches are generally constructed as a result of intense fundraising by their potential congregations and wider community, and often reflect the absolute maximum can be afforded at the time. However, like his smaller church in Gladstone a few years later, Burwell seems to have been conscious of the potential future demands on capacity of St Paul’s Church based on the foreseen on-going growth of the surrounding area. Therefore, both St Paul’s Church and All Saints’ Church were designed to fit within the contemporary budgets of the church building committees, with the possibility of future expansion as congregations increased and finances became available to allow expansion. In the case of St Paul’s Church this meant that it could originally accommodate 360 people and was minus its planned spire. However, this capacity could be increased to a possible 750 seats at a later date through pre-planned additions. Indeed, the building momentum at St Paul’s Church continued with the gallery being added in 1878, and the transepts in 1881, which were built by F. Smith with Burwell again involved as architect.

Because of the difficult economic circumstances of the last few decades of the nineteenth century, it was not until the early twentieth century that another significant building programme was launched, this time in the section next to the church on the corner of Dee and Leet Streets. By the early twentieth century, the Sunday School teachers were finding it difficult to conduct classes within the church, and as such the Deacon’s Court was asked to consider building a separate facility for this important aspect of the church’s operations. After being deferred because of lack of funds, in 1907 the building project was begun, and was completed in 1908. The Sunday School Hall was designed by leading Invercargill architect, Edmund Richardson Wilson (1871-1941) who had previously been engaged by St Paul’s Church to accommodate their new organ into the church in 1900.

Some of the young men who attended the Sunday School in its first years were soon called upon to serve their King and country during World War One. The impact on the congregation and wider community was considerable and in 1919 a Roll of Honour was unveiled in the porch of St Paul’s Church. Several decades later this painful situation was repeated with the advent of World War Two, and a total of 101 members of the St Paul’s congregation took part in active service. No doubt an anxious time, the church was open daily for prayer and is reported to have been widely used for those seeking solace. At the conclusion of the war a further Roll of Honour was constructed in the porch of St Paul’s Church, which also commemorated the 13 members who had died during the conflict.

As St Paul’s Church approached its fifttieth anniversary it was decided to progress the completion of the bell tower, a slight diversion from the spire that Burwell had envisioned. The church’s original architect had left Invercargill in 1887, and had died by the time the tower was being planned in 1925. Therefore, another local architect, N. R. Lightbody, was asked to undertake the project. The tower was completed in September 1926. The following year saw the installation of bells into the tower. Like the World War One memorial, the bells had special significance as they related to that dark period in history, being forged in Italy from the bronze of a captured Austrian Mountain Gun. Dedicated on 5 June 1927, the peal of nine bells was operated from a keyboard, making H. P. Weston the first carillonneur of the first carillon in New Zealand.

Although some interior alterations were undertaken in 1935 with Wilson again employed as architect, the next significant addition to St Paul’s Church was the building of Hardie Hall. Plans to build the hall had originated before the end of World War Two, however, war and post-war building restriction meant that it was delayed several years. Eventually constructed in 1951, this social hall was dedicated to the memory of George Hardie, who had been a longstanding Superintendent of the North Invercargill Branch of St Paul’s Sunday School. Earlier in the twentieth century Hardie had died after a brief illness leaving vacant the position of Session Clerk which he held between 1888 and 1909. The building of the social hall was mostly funded by a generous legacy from Hardie’s daughter. The congregation, which is said to have numbered approximately 500 people, was particularly strong at this time and the hall quickly became a valuable asset within the social life of the church, being an important meeting place, and one where events such as the church’s ninetieth anniversary celebration lunch was held in 1966.

In the 1970s a variety of social and economic changes impacted on Southland’s religious life, no matter which denomination. Country churches were among the hardest hit by the economic recession, whose effects continued into the 1980s. A similar situation existed in larger towns and many parishes were also merged. Therefore, when St Paul’s Church was faced with the prospect of a considerable building strengthening project and the expense that this entailed, serious consideration was give to the demolition of the church and reintegrating with First Church. However, the necessary $80,000 was raised through donations, grants, and loans, and the contract was undertaken by A. D. Geiseg. It was also during this period that a new organ was installed in the south transept of the church.

In the early twenty-first century the Sunday School Hall was sold to a developer. The sale was initiated as a means of raising funds to support the on-going maintenance of the church. When the Sunday School Hall was demolished in 2007 it brought to an end the century long history of the St Paul’s Church complex, and the location of the former Sunday School Hall is currently used as a car park. In 2011 St Paul’s Church remains the place of worship for its congregation and a landmark building on Dee Street in Invercargill.

Physical Description


St Pauls’ Church is a prominent landmark at the north end of Invercargill’s central business district, along the main arterial route of Dee Street. The church is orientated traditionally on a west to east axis on the section immediately north of the vacant lot which was formerly the site of the church’s Sunday School Hall. Another car park area is located directly to the north of the church and the surrounding buildings are single or double storey commercial buildings. The height of St Paul’s Church’s main gable and its bell tower means that the building is a focal point within its streetscape. The building consists of the main church, which underwent several key periods of construction beginning in 1876, and the 1951 Hardie Hall which is connected to the northwest corner of the church.

The most recent comprehensive work undertaken at the church was between 1979 and 1980 when a major strengthening and repair project was undertaken. The original slate roof tiles were replaced with concrete equivalents in 1959, only to be again changed in 1979 to lighter weight decramastic tiles. Also as part of this project the gables were tied together and stress-relieved wires were installed the length of the nave and sanctuary. Many of the windows in the church were also repaired, re-leaded, or re-glazed where deemed necessary.

Church exterior

Predominantly constructed in brick to a design by prominent local architect Frederick William Burwell, the exterior of the church was plastered over with concrete in 1935 and is currently painted an off-white colour with its lancet-shaped window hoods picked out with maroon paint.

One of the key features which places this church within the Gothic architectural tradition is the impressive geometric stone tracery window in the east wall, which is the street-side façade. Toward the west end of the building is transept added in 1881, also to a Burwell design, and each main exterior wall has a scaled down version of the east window. The design for this size window is a repeat of that which Burwell had used in his 1877-78 All Saints’ Church in Gladstone. These transept windows are the second tier of fenestrations at St Paul’s Church, with the next level being the basic geometric tracery windows lighting the nave, and lastly, the simple lancet windows which are present in places such as above the transept doors. However, even these smaller windows include leadlighting.

Another aspect common of New Zealand Gothic Revival churches which we find at St Paul’s Church are the angle buttresses interspersed between the nave windows, and also at the corners of the building. Not only a structural necessity, these buttresses create an impression of strength and stability while also contributing to the vertical emphasis which is characteristic of Gothic architecture.

Aside from the steeply pitched gables and the buttresses, another prominent feature of the building which contributes to the vertical emphasis of the church is the tower over the entrance porch on the southeast corner of the building. While the entrance porch was part of the original construction, the completion of the tower did not occur until 1926. Despite being constructed in the twentieth century construction the tower’s quatrefoil above the entrance, and two levels of ascending lancet windows, are sympathetic to the overall Gothic character of the building.

The gable roofed main entrance portal at the base of the bell tower is another notable aspect of the church’s exterior. Receding back to the doorway are three sets of flanking columns with foliated capitals. Of these tiers, which continue above a string course to form a lancet shaped portal, only the central one has ornamental plasterwork continuing the foliate motif of the capitals.

Contained within the main entrance portal, in the spandrel directly above the door, is a plaster depiction of the Burning Bush. Such a symbol clearly delineates the building as a Presbyterian church and this version of the emblem is particular to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. While the Burning Bush is used in the Presbyterian churches internationally, the accompanying motto, Nec Tamen Consumebatur, ‘it was not however consumed,’ is that of the Church of Scotland.

This main entrance portal was the inspiration for a simplified version at the northeast corner entranceway, added in 1905. This is now enclosed as the office window, although the original doors are still located behind the glazing.

Church interior

Upon entering the porch visitors are immediately confronted with a solemn reminder of the two World Wars of the twentieth century which had a considerable impact on the church’s community. The marble Roll of Honour Memorial on the west wall was erected in 1919. Positioned towards the ceiling, the Roll of Honour has a plastered decorative surround, including flanking columns with Corinthian capitals and foliated lancet architrave. Because much of the wording in the memorial is above eye level, the memorial looms over the viewer, automatically creating a reverential interaction. In 1949 further names are inscribed onto a plinth the length of the west wall, beneath the Roll of Honour.

In the south wall of the porch is a lancet window with scalloped leadlighting. This window is predominantly glazed with green glass, except for a couple of instances where it has been replaced with clear glass. Green glass is also a feature of the trefoils surmounting some of the nave windows, and the large windows of the transept too.

To the north of the porch is the access into the church’s narthex, and in turn the church proper. The narthex has a timber dado and floorboards and spans the breadth of this main gable section. Containing utility and office areas, the sloping ceiling of this vestibule echoes the line of the gallery above, which was constructed only a few years after the original construction of the church. The gallery is accessed by the quarter turn stairwell at the north end of the narthex. Previously more like a passageway, this area has undergone several instances of alteration, the most recent being in 2002. In 2002 an office was added at the entrance and the original layout restored.

The bottom section of the large east wall window is visible in the narthex. When in the nave the full splendour of this impressive original fenestration is impeded by the gallery. However, from the gallery the stained glass can be appreciated at close quarters. The stained glass, which was installed in 1958 and is confined within the tracery, consists of multi-coloured floral motifs. This glazing was created as a tribute to the long ministry of Reverend Cecil James Tocker (1885-1968), who had led the St Paul’s Church congregation from 1926 to 1954, before retiring due to ill health.

From the gallery one achieves the best view of the nave and sanctuary, and the contained grandeur of the building is revealed. Entrance into the nave is through a set of centrally placed double doors from the narthex. The nave contains many rows of pews, either side of a central aisle, before reaching the sanctuary which is defined by a raised stage. High above the church’s timber-lined gable roof is supported by substantial king post trusses with consecutive heavy arch brackets, whose pendant posts terminate below the roof level into moulded corbels. Once again, this roof formation was repeated in Burwell’s next church at Gladstone. Above a dado which encircles the main church space the walls are plastered and painted white.

As already intimated, an impressive feature of the interior of the church is its stained glass windows. Because the sanctuary is the focal point of church services special attention seems to have been paid in creating a striking Rose window behind this area in the west wall. In 1876 this was described as ‘a large circular window, with rich tracery, having quatrefoil incorporated into the design.’ Restoration work was carried out on this feature in 1985.

Other stained glass includes a window depicting Jesus in the northwest wall of the transept. The north wall stained glass window, showing Jesus holding a child and addressing a crowd, was added in 1935, as was that in the south wall. This window depicting a sower was donated by the church’s Senior Young Mens’ Bible Class to commemorate several members of their group who had died in the preceding few years. It was also at this time that the Communion Table was donated by a congregant. There are many other commemorative features, such as plaques, within the building. These include two in the rear south transept wall to John Turnbull and John Corbet. Corbet had been Clerk of the Deacon’s Court for the 23 years between 1891 and 1914. As a result of this service the Deacon’ Court instigated the installation of the memorial plaque to him.

All of the stained glass mentioned above is located in the sanctuary, or at the sanctuary end of the nave. Indeed the sanctuary is the focus for the decorative features within the building. There is choir seating either side of the sanctuary, but predominantly located in the north transept. To the front of the stage is a large carved pulpit, which is opposed on the south side by an elaborately carved lectern.

Immediately beside the pulpit is a font which stands out from these other features because it is made from stone and not timber. Originally the font for the church had been donated by St Paul’s Church’s architect, Burwell. This Oamaru stone font was described as having lettering saying ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.’ The basin topped a ‘pillar, resting upon a foliated capital of rich design below. The leaves of New Zealand ferns in a variety of forms are introduced as the ornaments.’ This description fits the current Italian marble font, suggesting that this version, which was donated by J. R. Fraser in the 1930s, is a close replica of the original font.

However, the main focus of ornamentation in the sanctuary is the rood screen which was created in 1900 in conjunction with the acquisition of a new organ for the church. This organ was installed in front of the west wall, and the current rood screen had its genesis in the organ’s flanking screen. The screen was designed by notable local architect, E. R. Wilson. The current organ was commissioned in the lead up to the church’s centenary and was installed in the south transept in 1971. The space in the rood screen previously occupied by the organ, now directly behind the trio of altar chairs, seems to have been filled with similar carved panels at this time. The screen has one door towards each of the outer walls of the building. The northern-most door leads directly to the vestry which was expanded when the organ was removed from the area, while that located at the end of a narrow passage, between the sanctuary platform and the organ, provides general access to the utility spaces of the church, and also Hardie Hall.

Utility space and Hardie Hall interior

Through the southern rood screen door is a small passage through a storage area, which then connects to the main passage within this backstage area of the church. Opposite this access point are toilet facilities which were upgraded to include paraplegic access in 2002. The church’s lounge, Hardie Hall, is located on the northwest corner of the church and is internally accessible by way of this latitudinal corridor, which also provides another access point for the vestry on its east side. The high veneer dado along the hallway seems to coincide with the period when the hall was constructed, and the passage terminates at the north with an external door.

The building permit for the construction of Hardie Hall, using concrete foundations, walls, and concrete roofing tiles, was approved in late 1950. Designed by Smith and Rice Architects of Invercargill, the construction of Hardie Hall included encompassing part of, and adding to, an existing double gable extension connected to the west end of the main building. It is unclear when this brick addition dated from, but it was in place by 1935 when E. R. Wilson undertook interior alteration work at the church.

Hardie Hall is a large addition at the rear of the main church building and is distinguished from the earlier ecclesiastical section of the building through its three sets of large squared sash windows on the north façade. In general, Hardie Hall is also differentiated from earlier parts of the building because its gable is much shallower. The south façade is absent of windows. Inside, the building forms a large simple open space with kitchen facilities adjoining it to the south.

Construction Dates

1878 -
Gallery added

1881 -
Transept constructed

1905 -
Entrance on northeast corner added

1919 -
Roll of Honour Memorial created in porch

1949 -
World War Two Memorial Shrine created in porch

Original Construction
1876 -

Construction Details

Brick, concrete, glass, stone, timber

Completion Date

23rd May 2011

Report Written By

Karen Astwood

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1905

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 4 Otago and Southland, Cyclopedia Company, Christchurch, 1905

Deaker, 1960

A.J. Deaker, Centenary of First Church: The Story of First Presbyterian Church, Invercargill, New Zealand, Invercargill, 1960

Elder, 1940

John Rawson Elder, The History of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand 1840-1940, Presbyterian Bookroom, Christchurch, 1940.

Sorrell, 2006

P. Sorrell, (ed) Murihiku: The Southland Story, Southland to 2006 Book Project Committee, Invercargill, 2006

Thomson, 1998

Jane Thomson, (ed)., Southern People: A Dictionary of Otago Southland Biography, Dunedin: Longacre Press/Dunedin City Council, 1998.

Grant, 1976

A.D Grant, Centenary of St Paul’s Church, 1876-1976: The history of St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Invercargill, Invercargill, 1976

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.