Knox Church (Presbyterian)

453-463 George Street, Dunedin

  • Knox Church (Presbyterian). Photo taken after a snowstorm in 2007, has been a place of worship since 1876.
    Copyright: Ian Thomson. Taken By: Ian Thomson.
  • Knox Church (Presbyterian).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 4/02/2014.
  • Knox Church (Presbyterian).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 4/02/2014.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4372 Date Entered 26th November 1987


City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Lots 1/2 DP 12040 Lot 2 DP 3774


The brief description that follows is from the Field Record Form attached to the Proposal for Classification that was considered by the Board at the time of registration.

It may seem surprising that two large Presbyterian churches were built in Dunedin between 1868 and 1876. First Church was opened in 1873 and Knox Church in 1876. First church was built by the Free Church under the Rev. Thomas Burns and Knox by a group of Congregationalists, Methodists and United Presbyterians. In 1858 the latter joined amicably with First Church to form a committee under the chairmanship of John Gillies. Resident Magistrate, to establish Knox Church, John Gillies wrote to Edinburgh that because of the diverse backgrounds of the members, the new minister would need to be large-minded, prudent and affable. The Rev. D M Stuart filled their requirements from 1860 to 1894. The first Knox Church was erected on the corner of Great King and Frederick Streets in 1859-60. With only 600 seats it was soon found to be too small for the growing community and the present church holding 1000 people was built. The old church was demolished to make way for a new Sunday school. The committee accepted a design by David Ross, but had to dismiss Ross for insisting on employing an inspector of works who 'could be bought at any time with a pot of beer'. Ross was a good architect and designed the older block of the Otago Museum, the Fernhill Club building for John Jones and the Moray Place Congregational Church. To preserve his reputation he took the Knox Church committee to court but lost his case. The committee had to start again and accepted a more expensive design from R A Lawson. By letting contracts to smaller firms and employing day labourers the committee managed to cut costs. The Ballyhulish Slate Company provided the slates free of charge at the quarry mouth. The church was free of debt by 1892. The church has no foundation stone because the original one for Ross's design had to be removed.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The second major Presbyterian church in Dunedin, built for a mixed group of United Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Methodists. It represents the academic and professional Presbyterians and has always been the church with the closest ties to the University of Otago. (First Church was built by the free Church of Scotland).


Knox Church is an important example of Lawson's work with a better interior than First Church.


The spire is an important landmark at the north end of the Dunedin's commercial centre and the only large church on the main street.


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.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The style is thirteenth century gothic with high arched windows and a spire 165 feet high. It repeats in a heavier form Lawson's grand concept for First Church, but the problem of providing a plain large space for the congregation is better solved in Knox Church by circling the whole interior with a sweeping gallery.


The large stained glass window in the south wall was installed in 1896 in memory of Dr Stuart. A minister's vestry was added in the 1930s. A new organ was installed in 1931, involving some alterations to the interior, which was further re-modelled about 1960 to reveal the northern arch window which had been behind the organ. The organ was split and moved into the gallery. The pulpit was moved, the choir moved to under the west gallery and the communion table made more central. The moves were designed to express the view that the congregation was a company worshipping together rather than group addressed by a preacher in splendid isolation.

Notable Features

The striking black and white patterning of the stone work, the 165 foot spire and the elaborate hammer-beam ceiling. The cast iron railings above a bluestone wall surrounding the church are impressive and included for classification.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1876 -

1930 - 1940
Minister's vestry added.

1931 -
New organ added, involving some alterations to the interior.

1960 -
Further remodelling to organ area. Organ was split and moved to the gallery to reveal the northern arch window, which was behind the organ. Pulpit and choir also moved.

Construction Details

Materials used were Port Chalmers breccia for the basement, Leith valley andesite for the walls with Oamaru stone facings, and slate from the MacKerras Creek Slate quarry for the roof. Inside four cast iron pillars help support the gallery and the roof. The roof is constructed on the hammer-beam principle.

Information Sources

Ross, 1976

A Ross, They built in faith, 1976

Porter, 1983

Frances Porter (ed), Historic Buildings of Dunedin, South Island, Methuen, Auckland, 1983.

Somerville (ed)

Royden Somerville (ed), 'They continue in faith, the last 25 years: celebrating 150 years, 1860-2010', Knox Church, Dunedin, 2010

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.