St Paul's Presbyterian Church Complex

11 Deal Street And 104 West End, Kaikoura

  • St Paul's Presbyterian Church Complex.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.
  • St Paul's Presbyterian Church Complex. Image courtesy of .
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 26/11/2013.
  • St Paul's Presbyterian Church Complex. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 26/11/2013.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7714 Date Entered 22nd June 2007


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes St Paul's Presbyterian Church and the former Manse, their fittings and fixtures, (including the 1900 Sandford Pipe Organ) and the land on Certificate of Title MB1B/66; and the former Manse Stable, its fittings and fixtures, and part of the land on Certificate of Title MB6B/1175. The registration excludes all other buildings on these titles. See Registration Report Appendix 1 for a boundary of the extent of registration.

City/District Council

Kaikoura District


Canterbury Region

Legal description

St Paul's Presbyterian Church and former Manse: Sec 300-301 Town of Kaikoura (CT MB1B/66), Marlborough Land District.

Former Manse Stable: Lot 1 DP 11830 (CT MB6B/1175), Marlborough Land District.


St Paul's Presbyterian Church Complex consists of St Paul's Church, the former Manse and the Manse's concrete former Stable. These pragmatic buildings may be seen to both express the unadorned nature of the Presbyterian faith and the strong desire of Kaikoura's Presbyterians to have their own minister and place of worship, despite the limited resources available to what was in the late nineteenth century, an isolated rural community in the early phases of its development.

After several years of attendance at Anglican services, Kaikoura's Presbyterian congregation acquired a minister, a manse and a church in rapid succession over a brief two-year period, 1877-79. This frenetic burst of activity was due to the enthusiasm of the nascent congregation; the energy and ability of the new minister, the Rev. William McAra; and the beneficence of local pastoralist George Bullen. Burgeoning attendance and the ongoing support of Bullen saw a church hall constructed in 1892, and the church extended in 1899. A pipe organ by Christchurch organ builder George Sandford was installed at this later date. Just over a decade later, a substantial new stable was constructed beside the manse.

St Paul's Presbyterian Church is significant as a good representative example of a simple colonial church, recalling the faith of its founders. With its trinity of gables, the building is a landmark in Kaikoura, presiding over the busy West End commercial district. Its former manse and former manse stable commemorate the contribution that the Rev McAra made to the establishment of St Paul's, and the noteworthy period of selfless pastoral service that he gave his parish.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The St Paul's Presbyterian Church Complex has historical significance as a representative example of a simple colonial place of worship. It also has historical significance for its associations with the Presbyterian student evangelist scheme, and founding minister Rev. William McAra, who served his parish for 41 years. It also has historical significance for its association with church benefactor, businessman and local pastoralist George Bullen; and with many other pioneers of the Kaikoura region.

The St Paul's Presbyterian Church Complex has architectural significance as a representative example of a simple colonial manse and church pair. Alterations have been carried out over the years, but have on the whole been sensitive, and the church in particular retains much of its original character and many fittings.

The St Paul's Presbyterian Church Complex has social and spiritual significance as a focus of worship and social activity for Kaikoura district's Presbyterian congregation for over 125 years. Emerging from a remarkable burst of activity over a short period in the late nineteenth century, the church and its associated buildings have weathered the vicissitudes of time and fluctuating congregations to remain a vital centre of the community today. The former manse and former stable together reflect the life of a nineteenth century rural clergyman, and particularly the amount of travel routinely undertaken in the execution of their duties.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The place reflects the efforts of the Presbyterian Church to effectively serve the needs of far-flung members of the denomination in the late nineteenth century through the evolution of the student evangelist scheme. The place thus broadly reflects the spread of organised religion to outlying parts of New Zealand, and represents the centrality of faith in the lives of most pioneers.

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

The place is associated with founding minister Rev. William McAra, who served this Kaikoura parish for the whole of his forty-one year active career. In addition, he served as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand in 1913, and filled the role of Home Missioner in Sumner, Christchurch, in retirement. The complex is also associated with George Bullen, a wealthy businessman significant for his commercial and mining enterprises in Central Otago, as well as extensive pastoral activity centred on The Elms estate at Kaikoura.

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

The congregation of St Paul's hold their church in high esteem, and have spent considerable sums of money on the building in recent years to ensure that it remains the focus of the parish for another 125 years. The church is a landmark in its central position above the commercial area of Kaikoura, and is regularly used by the wider community as a performance space.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The church's pipe organ, installed by Christchurch organ builder George Sandford in 1900, is a generally well-regarded instrument, and has received the highest grading (A+++) from the New Zealand Organ Preservation Trust.


St Paul's Presbyterian Church Complex has significance as an expression of the energy, enthusiasm and simple faith of its founding congregation; its founding minister, the Rev. William McAra; and generous benefactor, pastoralist George Bullen. The former manse and manse stable also serve to commemorate the long and faithful service to his parish by McAra. A central feature of St Paul's Church itself is its pipe organ, a generally well-regarded instrument that adds to the significance of the building.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

St Paul's Presbyterian Church Complex at Kaikoura consists of three buildings: the former Manse, constructed in 1878 and extended in 1881; the Church, constructed in 1879 and extended in 1899-1900; and the former Manse Stable, constructed in 1912. Together the three buildings commemorate the energy and enthusiasm of an isolated pioneer Presbyterian congregation and their long-standing minister, Rev. William McAra; and the philanthropy of local pastoralist George Bullen. The church's organ is a substantial instrument for what was a small and remote parish at the time of its installation in 1900. The instrument is treasured by St Paul's present congregation.

The rich waters of Kaikoura have been a favoured kai moana source for Maori since the beginnings of settlement 900 years ago. By the seventeenth century, the Ngai Tahu pa of Takahanga was the dominant pa in the area, protecting both the coastal trade route and an inland route for the collection of pounamu for more than 200 years. In the summer of 1827-1828 however, Takahanga was sacked by Ngati Toa chief Te Rauparaha. During this battle, known as Niho Manga (the Barracouta Tooth), perhaps as many as 1,400 Ngai Tahu were killed or enslaved. Some survivors of the battle returned from Kapiti in the late 1830s, and a small kainga was formed on the former pa site. Twenty two acres of the site were set aside as Maori reserve in the 1859 Kaikoura Purchase, and occupied until the end of the 1870s.

During the 1860s and 1870s, the early years of European settlement in Kaikoura, the small number of Presbyterians in the region were in the pastoral care of Blenheim's ministers: the Rev. Russell until 1868, and then his successor Rev. Shirriffs. As these clergymen would only visit three or four times a year, Kaikoura's Presbyterian congregation did not have a strong separate identity, but pragmatically supported the local Anglicans in obtaining a minister in 1870, and building the churches of St James and St Peter in 1873 and 1874 respectively. Despite the convenience of this arrangement however, the Presbyterians envisaged having their own church eventually, and by 1872 had subscribed enough to enable Rev. Shirriffs to buy an acre in the township and twenty acres in the Suburban area. After the Anglican Rev. Porritt resigned his charge in 1874, there was no longer a Protestant minister resident in Kaikoura. This motivated the Presbyterians to attempt to procure their own minister. The Rev. A. Murray was engaged, but was prevented by ill health from taking up his appointment.

At this time the extension of the activity of the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand was constrained by a shortage of fully trained ministers. In response, the Presbyterian Church Extension Committee developed a 'student evangelist' scheme whereby young men were recruited from Britain to work in un-served districts, where they could carry out the duties of ministers whilst continuing their studies. Failing to find a ready replacement for the Rev. Murray, the first recorded meeting of the Kaikoura Presbyterian Church Committee in October 1877 agreed to consider such a candidate. Soon after, and within a few days of his arrival in Auckland from Scotland, William McAra agreed to accept the charge. The appointment of a student in lieu of a minister was not however universally welcomed, and McAra gave his inaugural service at Kaikoura in November that year to a congregation of only 13.

Following McAra's appointment, Bishop Suter gave approval for Kaikoura's Presbyterians to use the churches of St Peter and St James for their own worship on alternate Sundays. Given the small number of Presbyterians in Kaikoura (154), the prospect of the congregation being able to build a manse for their minister, let alone a church, remained remote. Wealthy pastoralist George Bullen, of The Elms then stepped forward, offering to stand the cost of both manse and church if the youthful evangelist made a commitment to stay. McAra agreed, and was officially ordained a missionary on 8 January 1878. That same evening, a committee resolved to spend £300 on a manse, and appointed a subcommittee to consider appropriate sites. The subcommittee announced on 21 January that it had accepted the offer of Captain J. Davidson to exchange the two town sections already owned by the congregation for two of his that were more conveniently located. Adjacent to the Maori reserve land of Takahanga, these long sections encompassed both beachfront and high terrace. The seaward end of these sections, which fifty years earlier had seen some of the heaviest slaughter of the Battle of Niho Manga, was the site chosen for the new manse. Tenders were called for a five-room house, which was completed by W. Robb in August 1878 at a cost of £450. Three further rooms were added to the manse in 1881 at a cost of £140.

At a meeting in the recently completed manse, the church committee decided to site their new place of worship on a spur above the house, at the western corner of the two sections. Several designs were considered before a request was relayed to Blenheim for the plans and specifications of a church 36 by 24 ft (11 by 7.3 M) with seating for 100. Five tenders were received, with the lowest - that of William Hoult for £357 - accepted. Site preparation and fencing lifted the final cost of the new building to £500. The opening service of St Paul's took place on 2 November 1879, with the Rev. Shirriffs and the Rev. J. Paterson of Wellington officiating. A year later, the former student evangelist William McAra attained full ministerial status. The Rev. McAra gave his first communion service at St Paul's on 28 November 1880.

Over the next twenty years St Paul's grew steadily, with communicant membership doubling between 1880 and 1891. The need to re-house the burgeoning Sunday School was met in this latter year, when George Bullen provided funding for a purpose-built building to seat 200. The new concrete Sunday School opened on a site adjacent to the manse in 1892. Seven years later, when the requirement for extra church accommodation was becoming pressing, it was the philanthropic Bullen who again came to the rescue.

In 1899, after the church organist Mrs Sandford had lobbied him for a new instrument, George Bullen offered to meet the expense of the necessary additions to St Paul's if the congregation undertook to purchase a good pipe organ. His generous offer was accepted at a congregational meeting on 24 March, when a 29 ft (8.8 M) addition to the church was approved, the calling of tenders for the organ authorised, and £80 subscribed towards the organ fund. The successful tenderer for the organ was George Sandford of Christchurch, who signed a contract on 23 May 1899 for £156/10. Perhaps not co-incidentally, George Sandford also happened to be the organist's brother-in-law. It had originally been intended that the renovations would be completed for the celebration of the church's twentieth anniversary that November, and both the minister and organist of St John's in Wellington were invited with this in mind. However although the alterations to the building had apparently been completed by this time (at a cost of £300), the organ had not. Six months later the congregation were still anxiously awaiting their instrument, and in June 1900 Rev. McAra was despatched in person to Christchurch to facilitate its completion. The organ had finally been installed in the enlarged church and tested by late September that year. Unfortunately it would appear that Mrs Sandford never had the opportunity to play the instrument, as she had resigned her position in June 1900 after twenty year's service and left the region.

In 1912 a substantial concrete stable block was constructed beside the manse on Maori reserve land, to house both a horse and gig. Rev. McAra had apparently never ridden a horse before his arrival in the district, but in the fulfilment of his pastoral duties he travelled regularly from Greenhills, 25 miles to the south of Kaikoura, to Kekerengu, 45 miles to the north. The parish history records that the minister was a familiar figure at all the region's runs, 'where he was welcomed by adherents of all denominations'. In recognition of his long years of faithful service, McAra was elected Moderator of the General Assembly in 1913; a great honour for St Paul's. Finally in 1919, at 72 years of age and after 41 years at the helm of his isolated parish, McAra reluctantly retired to Sumner, a seaside suburb of Christchurch. Even then, he was unable to abandon active work entirely, and was in charge of the Home Mission at Sumner until just before his death eleven years later.

The departure of the Rev. McAra marked the end of an era for St Paul's. The new incumbent, Rev. Miller, replaced McAra's horse and gig with a parish car, and in the early 1920s electric lighting was installed in the Church, Sunday School and Manse. With the intervention of depression and war however, little further work was carried out on the buildings of St Paul's until the late 1940s. During the incumbency of Rev. Mann (1944-48), some overdue maintenance took place, and the organ was electrified. On the arrival of his successor, Rev. Melville, plans were drawn up to build a new manse. Circumstances were not favourable however, and a house was purchased in 1951 to serve in its stead. The old manse was let until 1978, and then stuccoed and adapted internally to serve as social rooms for St Paul's congregation. Towards the end of the 1950s, the interior of the church itself received some attention. In line with contemporary ideas of worship, the heavy central Victorian pulpit (which probably dated from the 1899-1900 alterations) was dismantled and replaced. The curtains either side of the organ were also replaced at this time with varnished plywood screens and doors. Further alterations to the church were carried out in 1989, when the south-western entrance porch was rebuilt to provide facilities and mingling space.

Beginning in the late 1990s, a major restoration and renovation of the fabric of St Paul's was embarked upon. In 2000 the plywood screens and doors installed in the 1950s were themselves replaced with more sympathetic timber-panelled equivalents. A large clear-glass window was installed in the west wall in place to allow more natural light into the interior. During 2002, the two small trefoliar windows above the organ (long since painted-over to prevent the morning sun shining into the faces of parishioners) were re-glazed with stained glass in order to achieve a similar effect.

The most high-profile aspect of the renovations however was the full restoration of the Sandford pipe organ, a century after its original installation. Aware of the special nature of their historic instrument, the congregation of St Paul's founded a group called Friends of the George Sandford Organ (FOGSO) to involve members of the wider community in fund-raising and managing the project. The restoration itself was carried out during 1999 by the South Island Organ Company in their Washdyke (Timaru) workshop, at a total cost of $127,367. One interesting aspect of the work was the discovery that provision had originally been made for the fitting of extra stops. These stops were added during the restoration, giving the instrument additional range. The pitch of the organ was also altered to facilitate accompaniment of other instruments. As a consequence, the organ today not only accompanies worship, but is employed on occasion by the community for concerts and recitals. Vindicating the commitment of the parish, the New Zealand Organ Preservation Trust has given St Paul's Sandford organ its highest grading: for its originality, uniqueness and musical character. This honour has been extended to only about thirty instruments nationwide.

St Paul's Presbyterian Church is in 2007 a treasured place of worship, for a small but active congregation. The former manse, McAra House, remains in church ownership, but is partly let for storage and office space for the café-bar that has occupied the neighbouring old Sunday School building since the mid 1990s. A deck for the bar was constructed across part of the front of the old house in the early 2000s. Having been unused for many years, the former stables on the other side of the manse are vacant and in poor condition.

Physical Description


Kaikoura is a small coastal town on the eastern seaboard of the South Island. It is geographically isolated from other centres of population but sits astride State Highway 1. Consequently the township has served through much of its history both as a rural service centre and as a transit point between Marlborough and Canterbury. The older part of Kaikoura township is located in a long ribbon below a former sea cliff, book-ended by areas known respectively as the East and West Ends. The West End has formed the hub of the commercial district since the 1920s; the East End terminates at the port area. The East and West Ends are bisected by the former site of Takahanga Pa, an area that today is a combination of reserve and Maori land. On the northern (West End) boundary of this area are the buildings of the St Paul's Presbyterian Church Complex.

The Manse and Stable

At the foot of the cliff, facing onto the Esplanade, are the former Sunday School/Hall, Manse and Manse Stable. The manse is a wide, shallow, double-bay villa, with a faceted bay window in each bay. Much of its finer architectural detail has been either removed or obscured by stucco. Several of the manse's rooms have been opened up to provide larger spaces. Part of the building is used by the neighbouring café for storage and administration, and the remainder by the church. Immediately to the south of the manse is the former stable. This derelict concrete building contains three main spaces that were presumably originally stable, gig shed and tack room. Facing into the cliff at the rear is a toilet - probably the w.c. for the manse at the time. The building may also originally have contained a washhouse.

The Church

On the top of the sea cliff above the Sunday School, Manse and Manse Stable is the neo-gothic St Paul's Church. A steep path ascends to the north of the former hall, providing foot access to the church from below. Road access is gained from Deal St, behind the church. A modern manse is situated at the south-western corner of the church. The church itself sits at right angles to the buildings below, with its principal façade facing east. This façade has a gabled central porch containing the original main doors. The porch is flanked by two small gabled vestries, each with a lancet window. The porch and vestries are surmounted by a pair of triple lancets, and at the apex of the gable, a small quatrefoil ventilator. The triple lancets contain modern leadlights. Both north and south elevations feature lancet windows, opaquely glazed with a minimum of glazing bars. The south elevation also contains the modern entrance porch. Both elevations are supported by board and batten-clad buttresses. The western elevation contains a large rectangular clear-glazed modern casement. Above the casement is a ventilator similar to that on the eastern elevation, decorated with a quatrefoil pattern and pierced with a crucifix. The simple light-flooded interior of the church is finished in oiled paneling. Each panel is crowned with a blind cusped arch, let into the cornice. The roof structure consists of multiple plain scissor trusses. The floor is raked towards the eastern end, where the organ and lectern stand.

Notable Features

St Paul's Bell (at rear of church)

1900 Sandford Pipe Organ.


Construction Dates

Original Construction
1878 - 1879
Church and manse

Original Construction
1912 -

1899 - 1900
enlargement to west, doubling size of church. Remodeling of pulpit and installation of plywood screens.

1960 -
re-roofed, and roof vents removed.

1989 -
New entrance porch to south and west window.

2000 -
New entrance porch to south and west window.

2002 -
Re-glazing of east windows with stained glass; sprinkler system.

Construction Details

Manse: stuccoed weatherboard, with a corrugated iron roof.

Church: vertical board and batten, with a corrugated iron roof. The timbers are apparently matai and totara.

Stable: poured concrete, with a corrugated iron roof.

Completion Date

2nd March 2007

Report Written By

Gareth Wright / Pam Wilson

Information Sources

Davidson, 2002

M. Davidson An Historical Account of the Pipe Organ in St Paul's Presbyterian Church, Kaikoura, 1899-1900 St Paul's Presbyterian Church: Kaikoura, 2002.

Newton, 1996

R. Newton, Organ Building in New Zealand: A Documentation of Cultural Context A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Music in the University of Canterbury, 1996.

Sherrard, 1952

J. Sherrard et. al. St Paul's Presbyterian Church, Kaikoura: Seventy-fifth Anniversary 1877-1952 (souvenir booklet) 1952.

Sherrard, 1966

J. Sherrard, Kaikoura: A History of the District Kaikoura: Kaikoura County Council, 1966.

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region 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.