St Patrick's Catholic Church, built of mud brick in 1892, sits within the bounds of its historic cemetery overlooking the small Central Otago settlement of St Bathans.
St Bathans, known in the 1860s as Dunstan Creek, was settled by gold miners in 1863, with 2,000 miners following the call of gold to the area. As early as October 1864 the Otago Witness reported that the Roman Catholic Church was holding services in St Bathans, and that a Catholic Cemetery had been established, but St Patrick's itself was not constructed until some thirty years later. In 1892, under the guidance of parish priest Father John Sheehan, St Patrick's Church was completed, constructed of mud brick, and set within the cemetery grounds.
Throughout the twentieth century St Patrick's Church has been a place of worship even as the population of the small township dwindled after mining operations ended. In 1992 St Patrick's Church celebrated its centenary. Restoration work was carried out on the exterior around this time and headstones in the cemetery were repaired. In 2005 further work was undertaken with a grant from the Central Lakes Trust. In 2008 St Patrick's Church remains a focus for the Catholic community within the Omakau Parish. Although the church is now only used several times a year, local families spend considerable time voluntarily maintaining the church and its grounds.
St Patrick's Church is sited at the top of Cross Street, a short gravelled road, several sections back from the Loop Road, the main thoroughfare through the settlement. St Patrick Church, constructed from sun dried mud brick, sits in its own cemetery on a grassed section surrounded by mature trees. In the arid Central Otago region earth construction, in its various forms (mud brick, sod, and cob) was a common building method and is part of the vernacular architecture of the region. The church is very simply detailed, as would be expected with a mud brick building, with narrow lancet windows inset with coloured glass, along the length of the nave. A larger lancet window is located at the sanctuary end of the Church. The interior is plastered and painted white, with the Stations of the Cross and the coloured windows providing the decoration. The ceiling is coved and timber-lined. An ornate light fitting hangs centrally in the nave.
St Patrick's Church and Cemetery has historical, spiritual and technological significance. Built in 1892 and set in its own cemetery reserve, with burials dating back to the 1860s the Church provides insight into the history of the Catholic community of St Bathans, and has been the centre for worship for over a century. The Church has significance as an example of mud brick construction, once common in Central Otago, and a significant part of the vernacular architecture of the region.
Historical Significance or Value
St Patrick's Church has historical significance. It demonstrates the importance of Christianity on the Otago goldfields, and in particular the importance of the Roman Catholic religion to St Bathans' many Irish residents, and recalls these cultural affiliations in its name after the patron saint of Ireland. The story of the perseverance of the Christian communities in the face of a storm which destroyed a number of St Bathans' churches in the 1870s shows the strength of community in the town. St Patrick's Church represents the history of the Catholic community in St Bathans and their determination to build a place of worship.
AESTHETIC SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:
St Patrick's Church has aesthetic value. The Church sits on a prominent site overlooking the dramatic St Bathan's landscape. Its setting within its historic cemetery and mud brick construction fits well in the landscape and has significant aesthetic appeal.
TECHNOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:
The Church is significant as an example of mud brick construction. This method of construction was common in Central Otago where timber was scarce. Mud brick was a cheap and readily available material. The Church is one of three significant mud brick buildings remaining in St Bathans. Relatively few complete mud brick buildings survive because they are vulnerable to the weather if they are not kept watertight.
SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:
The church has spiritual significance for its embodiment of the Catholic faith in St Bathans since the first days of the town's settlement. St Patrick's Church has been the centre of worship for over 110 years. The cemetery is also a place of remembrance for the Catholic community with burials dating back to the 1860s.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
St Patrick's Church represents the importance of the Roman Catholic religion on the Otago goldfields, with the Irish Catholic influx so significant that a separate diocese was created in 1869. The history of the Roman Catholic community in St Bathans provides insight into the struggles of a local parish to draw together the necessary resources to build and maintain both the Church and its associated cemetery, and the continued importance of the Church as indicated by the ongoing restoration of the building.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:
The local community hold the Church in high esteem, as does the broader Otago community. This was demonstrated in the centenary celebrations of St Patrick's in 1992 and the publication of a booklet detailing the history of the Church. The value of the Church to the community is also demonstrated in the care taken to conserve the historic features of the building, such as the significant paintings and the original light fittings now adapted to electricity, and by the recent restoration programme in 2004-2005, with substantial funding from both the Central Lakes Trust and the Community Trust of Otago.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:
St Patrick's Church is significant as an example of a mud brick church. Mud brick buildings were relatively common in Central Otago, but few survive intact as they are vulnerable to weather damage if not maintained and kept watertight. The Church is an important surviving example.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:
The Church forms an integral part of the historical and cultural complex of St Bathans. The building's simple design and mud brick construction identify it as a vernacular structure, similar to other historic buildings in the town where mud brick was a common construction material. St Patrick's Church sits on a prominent site above the small settlement, and with its cemetery form a significant element in the landscape of St Bathans.
SUMMARY OF SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUES:
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, e, j, k.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
St Patrick's Church, situated within the bounds of its historic cemetery in the small Central Otago town of St Bathans, demonstrates the importance of the Catholic religion to the town's largely Irish early gold mining inhabitants. As early as October 1864 the Otago Witness reported that the Roman Catholic Church was holding services in St Bathans, but St Patrick's itself was not constructed until some thirty years later.
Gold mining began in Central Otago with Gabriel Read's discovery of gold in Gabriel's Gully, near present-day Lawrence, in 1861. Gold was quickly discovered in other parts of the region, and at Dunstan Creek in 1863, leading to the birth of the town. First known as Dunstan Creek, the name was changed to St Bathans in 1866, after St Bathans in the islands of Iona in Scotland, famous from the time of early Christians. At the height of the rush, the population in the area numbered around 2,000, with thirteen hotels catering to local demands during the 1860s. The town had two banks, a police station, courthouse, jail, hospital and many businesses. A photograph dated c. 1864 shows, as it was then known, Dunstan Creek's main street with timber, stone and corrugated iron buildings fronting directly onto the footpath.
As the first gold mining population of St Bathans was largely Irish Catholic, a Catholic church was an early requisite for the community, and there may have been a temporary structure in use on the diggings before that noted in the Otago Witness in 1864. It was later reported, in 1866, that a corrugated iron building was erected for use as a church. Father Emmanuel Royer was appointed by Bishop Philippe Viard (1809-1872) to the Dunstan, Mt Ida and Taieri mission in 1865, and apart from a period on the West Coast in 1871, was resident priest in St Bathans until 1873, when he shifted to Naseby.
By September 1870 a structure intended to be more permanent, built out of weatherboard and with a corrugated iron roof, was erected in the main street, along with a residence. This church was also used as a school. A photograph dated 1879 shows the church at the end of a row of ragged structures, the neighbouring Montezuma Hotel with a flat fronted weatherboard façade, a large corrugated iron hall-like building behind this.
The first visit of Bishop Patrick Moran (1823?-1895) to St Bathans was a cause for general inter-denominational celebration in March 1871. In 1869 Moran had been appointed bishop of the newly created diocese of Dunedin, which included the provinces of Otago and Southland. In 1873 Bishop Moran appointed Father Walsh to the Ecclesiastical district of St Bathans, which included responsibility for many of the surrounding areas including Clyde and Alexandra. Father Walsh was informed that he was to reside at St Bathans, but to visit all the other parts of his mission regularly.
The Catholic cemetery was probably established in the 1860s, and was definitely in use prior to 1871. In October of this year a letter to the Mt. Ida Chronicle noted that the St Bathans Catholic community 'had at last taken action in the matter of obtaining a grant for their cemetery' and were planning to fence the area, provided the run holder gave his consent to the grant. Land Information New Zealand records show a grant made to Patrick Moran [i.e. the Bishop] and two others in September 1874.
A church was opened in 1870, built according to the rather inadequate methods of the time, with wall studs driven directly about twelve inches into the earth.
On a stormy night in February 1877 the already rotten structure blew over and collapsed. On the same night the Anglican Church was also blown down. After the storm, the vestry alone was left standing, in which Father Walsh celebrated mass the next week, with the congregation standing outside. A meeting was held the same day to plan the construction of a new church out of more durable materials.
The ruins were dismantled and re-erected close to the priest's residence at the lower end of town, serving as a temporary church, school for Catholic children and also as a public hall until another hall was built in the 1890s. A separate school building was opened during the 1880s.
In 1892, under the guidance of parish priest Father John Sheehan, fifteen years after the loss of the earlier church, the second St Patrick's Church was completed, set within the cemetery grounds. Bishop Moran, who travelled to St Bathans from Dunedin for its opening and dedication, reported in The Tablet in May 1892:
'The church is built of adobe bricks and roofed with corrugated iron. It consists of a nave and sanctuary with vestry and porch, the confessionals being constructed like those at St Josephs Cathedral in the wall. The length is 70 feet, with a proportional breadth. The woodwork of the ceiling and floor has been particularly well executed.'
Mass was celebrated both morning and evening. On both occasions, 'the church was crowded, the seats, accommodating 100 adults, being filled, and many people standing, both within the nave and the porch.' A special feature in the church interior is an old painting of Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland after whom the church is named. The Stations of the Cross were recorded at this time. A plaque was erected commemorating ''The Stations of the Cross' erected to the memory of Thomas Gallagher, Pray for Him. 1892.'
Throughout the twentieth century St Patrick's Church continued to be used, even as the population of the small township dwindled after mining operations ended. By 1934, the Kildare Lead mine was abandoned as the local council was concerned that the further excavations would endanger St Bathans' main street and buildings, located less than 100 metres away. The huge hole (known as the Glory Hole), created where Kildare Hill once stood, eventually flooded forming the Blue Lake and is now a notable feature of St Bathans mining heritage landscape. Mining operations ceased after the 1930s and as the population dwindled buildings were either demolished or moved elsewhere.
In 1967 the title for the land was transferred to the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Dunedin.
Following the reorganisation of the parish, St Bathans resident priest was relocated to Omakau. In 1992 St Patrick's Church celebrated its centenary. Some restoration work was carried out on the exterior around this time and headstones in the cemetery were repaired. In 2005 further restoration work was undertaken with a grant from the Central Lakes Trust. Weather and damp had undermined the stability of the building, and urgent work was needed to address issues of water penetration and associated subsidence. Father Ward of the Omakau parish considered that the building would have collapsed without the urgent attention. While the Church remained on the parish's asset register it was no longer used for regular services. It was however recognised as having historic value as was the associated cemetery.
In 2007 St Patrick's Church remains a focus for the Catholic community within the Omakau Parish. Although the church is now only used several times a year, local families spend considerable time voluntarily maintaining the church and its grounds.
St Patrick's Church is located on a hillside overlooking the small Central Otago settlement of St Bathans. The Church is sited at the top of Cross Street, a short gravelled road, several sections back from the Loop Road, the main thoroughfare through the settlement. St Patrick's Church is part of a small cluster of historic structures in this part of St Bathans, including the Gaol and Constable's House and the school ruins. The Church overlooks the dramatic sluicing landscape and Blue Lake.
St Patrick Church, constructed from sun dried mud brick, sits in its own cemetery on a grassed section surrounded by mature trees. In the arid Central Otago region earth construction, in its various forms (mud brick, sod, and cob) was a common building method. With few trees, and stone available only in particular localities, mud brick was cheap and readily available. In some areas, such as Matakanui, mud brick was the most common method, with several houses, a store and walled yards, as well as a public hall built of mud brick. In St Bathans the stables of the original Vulcan Hotel, the Ballarat Hotel, the public hall, as well as St Patrick's Church were built of mud brick. Earth construction (along with the use of local stone) was part of the vernacular architecture of the region. Churches were generally built of stone, and where this was not available, timber framing clad in corrugated iron was often used. Hardwicke Knight's survey of Otago churches records only three churches constructed of mud brick, with St Patrick's Church the only nineteenth century one remaining.
The Church is oriented in north-west/south-west direction. The entrance is through the porch on the south west elevation, and there is a vestry at the north-west end of the building. The porch, nave and sanctuary are all single gabled. The sacristy is a lean-to addition to the north east elevation of the sanctuary. The building is very simply detailed, as would be expected with a mud brick building, with narrow lancet windows inset with coloured glass, along the length of the nave. A larger lancet window is located at the sanctuary end of the Church.
The interior is plastered and painted white, with the Stations of the Cross and the coloured windows providing the decoration. The ceiling is coved and timber-lined. An ornate light fitting hangs centrally in the nave. At the time of the site visit, the building was undergoing restoration work.
Cemetery first used for burials
First Roman Catholic church in use at St Bathans
Corrugated iron building erected for use as a church
Weatherboard and corrugated iron church erected in the main street
Church in the main street blown down in a storm
St Patrick's Church completed
Application to Lotteries Grant Board for restoration of the headstones in the cemetery as a centenary project. The Church was 'renovated.' Photographs indicate that there was repair work completed on the foundations and walls
St Patrick's exterior and interior: reinforcing foundations, drainage work, stabilisation, fencing and external painting.
Mud brick with lime mortar and corrugated iron roof
6th May 2008
Report Written By
Angela Middleton/Heather Bauchop
Janet. C. Cowan, Down the Years in the Maniototo: A Survey of the Early History of Maniototo County and Naseby Borough, Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Whitcombe and Tombs, Dunedin, 1948
R. Gilkison, Early Days in Central Otago Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1978
N. Harwood and P. Woodmansey, Historic buildings appraisal, St Bathans, Otago, Department of Conservation Science Internal Series 185, 2004
New Zealand Tablet
New Zealand Tablet
P. Shea, St Bathans: St Patrick's Church Centennial 1892-1992, Dunedin, 1992
A fully referenced version of this 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.