Built in 1897 St Magnus Presbyterian Church (Former) in the small Waitaki town of Duntroon served its congregation for over 110 years before its closure in 2010. The modest stone Church stands as a reminder of the importance of faith in this small rural community in the late nineteenth century.
Built in 1897 on land donated by prominent runholder the Hon. Robert Campbell, the Church provided a home for the Presbyterian congregation of the Duntroon parish which had been constituted seventeen years earlier in 1880. The Parish worked to raise money for the new Church with the ladies of the congregation organising events including a bazaar for which a special train from Oamaru was put on. Invercargill architect Charles Henry Roberts of Invercargill’s design was selected, and was built by carpenter J. Rosie of Oamaru and stonemason was Robert Gibson of Duntroon. Roberts designed important buildings in Invercargill including the Southland Times Building, as well as churches, including Waipahi Presbyterian Church. The Church provided a spiritual home for the Presbyterian congregation in Oamaru until 2010 when falling numbers forced the closure of St Magnus’.
Sitting on Rees Street in Duntroon amidst scattered houses, St Magnus Presbyterian Church (Former) is a simple stone building, rectangular in plan, made up of what was the main body of the Church (the nave), the entrance porch and vestry. It sits alongside the former hall. The porch, nave and vestry are in their own gables. Lancet windows alternate with attached buttresses on the side walls of the nave. The windows are plain frosted glass.
St Magnus Presbyterian Church (Former) has historical and architectural significance. It represents the importance of faith to the Presbyterians of Duntroon in the nineteenth century and shows the role of the community in raising the money for the new building. Architecturally it is a representative example of a nineteenth century church designed in simple Gothic style.
In 2011 St Magnus Presbyterian Church (Former) is in private ownership.
The Maerewhenua area, in the Waitaki River Valley inland of Oamaru is significant in the traditions of the Ngai Tahu Whanui, and was on an ancient pathway near the Waitaki River between the mountains and the sea. The headwaters of the Waitaki River are fed by ka roimata o Aoraki - the tears of Aoraki - the ancestral mountain of Ngai Tahu. The people of Ngai Tahu are descended from Aoraki - the most sacred of their ancestors - who was the first child of Raki (the Heavens) and Poharua Te Po (the breath of life found in the womb of darkness).
This tradition asserts that local limestone outcrops are the legacy of Tamatea-Pokai-Whenua. During his exploration he traversed the land, using this sacred flame for making fire as he went; as the fires cooled, mounds of pale white ash were left in their place, which became the limestone features that are so prominent in the landscape of this region.
Since the European occupation of the Maerewhenua area first began in the 1854, the area has been used for pastoral purposes. Stevenson describes the area between the Maerewhenua outcrop and the river as previously being covered by ‘a dense growth of flax and toe-toe.’
In the mid-1860s European settlements were becoming established up the Waitaki River Valley, north, and inland from Oamaru. The settlements grew around accommodation houses, set up at regular intervals up the valley. In the late 1860s gold was discovered at nearby Maerewhenua, and by 1869 small parties were working at Otekaieke and Maerewhenua. Duntroon was on the longer, but easier route, from Oamaru to the gold workings.
The town of Duntroon was surveyed in the mid-1870s, and named after the hometown of prominent settler Robert Campbell. Town sections were offered for sale in July 1875.
The Presbyterian Church
The Hon. Robert Campbell, local runholder and politician, presented the Presbyterian Church with a site for a church at Duntroon around 1879. The town, located on the inland route up the Waitaki River Valley to the Mackenzie country, was in its infancy and its residents were keen for schools and businesses and places of worship to be established there. The Presbyterian Church had a missionary working in the area since the late 1860s, and the Duntroon parish was constituted in 1880.
From the mid-1880s Rev. Peter Scott Hay ministered to the Presbyterians of the district. The parish of Duntroon stretched from Omarama in the west to Tokarahi in the south. His congregation was keen for a larger accommodation for worship. The women of the congregation worked hard to raise money for a church, including a bazaar for which a special train was run from Oamaru for the occasion. A competition was held to choose a design and won by C.H. Roberts of Invercargill.
The Church was designed by Invercargill architect C.H. Roberts with W.H.S. Roberts of Oamaru overseeing the construction. Charles H Roberts (1869-1942). Roberts had established his Invercargill practice in 1895 and was responsible for a range of buildings in the area including the Waipahi Presbyterian Church (1896), the Y.M.C.A Hall (1896), Southland H. and C.A. Board Home (1898), Victoria Memorial Home in Tweed Street (1903), as well as the Royal Arcade between Tay and Esk Streets (1904).
In 1897 the tender of carpenter J. Rosie of Oamaru was accepted to build the Presbyterian Church at Duntroon. The stonemason was Robert Gibson of Duntroon, whose family were parishioners. The foundation stone was laid in July 1897 by Mrs Hay, wife of the first minister Rev. Peter Scott Hay.
The Church was opened by Rev. James Gible of First Church in Dunedin in mid-December 1897. The total cost with furniture was £748-5-3d. Its name commemorated a church on the island of Egilsay in the Orkney Islands, with many of the early parishioners having come from those far northern isles.
In the 1930s the pulpit was removed from its central position and placed to the side, as was common practice in the Presbyterian Church at that time. This gave space for a communion table and chairs. Cabinet maker Mr Steele made the table and chairs as a memorial to early elders. The McCully family presented the Baptismal Font in memory of Hugh McCully in 1936.
Two memorial stained glass windows were installed in the 1940s. One was in memory of Douglas Peterson and Tom McLean, erected by their families, and the other commemorated the contributions of Mr Steele.
In the mid-1960s there were alterations to the building. The windows were replaced with frosted glass; new carpet was laid and an electrically illuminated cross was mounted on the centre of the front wall. The renovations were carried out by E. Beattie of Weston. Owen Jenkin made a carved lectern, and an oak table was presented by the descendents of parishioners John and Agnes Pringle.
The centenary was celebrated in 1981 with a booklet published to commemorate the occasion.
In 2010 declining attendance numbers led to the closure of St Magnus. A closing service was held on 25 April 2010. The memorial windows were removed and gifted to other churches - St Peters Presbyterian Church at Tokarahi and St Martin’s Anglican Church at Duntroon, where they were rededicated.
The Church was offered for sale and attracted strong interest. The Church and Hall (which is on a separate title) were offered together.
In 2011 the former St Magnus Presbyterian Church is privately owned.
Memorial windows installed
15th November 2011
Report Written By
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
K C McDonald, 'White Stone Country', Oamaru, 1962
G B Stevenson, Maori and Pakeha in North Otago, A.H. & A.W.Reed, Wellington, 1947
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.