St Patricks Church School and Hall

13 Colonsay Street, Lawrence

  • St Patricks Church School and Hall, Lawrence.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Sarah Gallagher. Date: 2/12/2020.
  • St Patricks Church School and Hall, Lawrence.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Sarah Gallagher. Date: 2/12/2020.
  • St Patricks Church School and Hall, Lawrence. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Hugh McCall. Taken By: Hugh McCall – Braxholm. Date: 7/04/2012.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2248 Date Entered 19th April 1990 Date of Effect 19th April 1990


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes the land in Certificate of Title 242708, and the building, fixtures and fittings thereon.

City/District Council

Clutha District


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 27477 (being sec 8 Blk III Town of Lawrence) (RT 242708), Otago Land District


St Patrick's Church School, designed by prominent Dunedin architect Robert Arthur Lawson, and officially opened by Bishop Moran on 17 March 1872, stands on the northern side of Colonsay Street, overlooking the main street of Lawrence.

The building served a dual role of church and school for twenty years (until the present church was erected in 1892). By the 1870s this was the largest school in the diocese. From 1893 until its closure as a school in 1927, the School was run by the local order of Dominican Sisters. The former School was then used as a hall for community gatherings.

The building has special and outstanding architectural and historical significance. The elegantly proportioned design is a rare example of school architecture, particularly in its association with the Roman Catholic Church, and a unique example in Lawson's oeuvre. It is Lawson's only known building for that church, with all other designs completed for the Presbyterian Church. In both its design and its historical significance, as one of the first and largest schools outside Dunedin, developed under the mantle of Bishop Patrick Moran, it illustrates the importance of religious education to the Catholic community, at a time when the argument on state support of Catholic Schools was hotly debated, a debate driven by Bishop Moran.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

St Patrick's Church School (former) has outstanding historical significance. It illustrates the importance of Roman Catholic education in the nineteenth century. Through its history, and the debates of the period centred around Bishop Moran's call for the state support of Catholic education, it provides insight into the climate of the times and the central place Catholic schools held in their communities of faith. The substantial building with its striking design also illustrates the central place Lawrence held in the history of nineteenth century Otago as the location of the first gold rush in the province, and the impact this had on the development of the town. As a result of the wealth and population Lawrence has a significant collection of buildings associated with this period, St Patrick's Church School being outstanding among them.

St Patrick's Church School has outstanding architectural significance. It is designed by pre-eminent Presbyterian Church architect Robert Arthur Lawson. It is the only known example of work completed by him for the Roman Catholic Church and is therefore considered a most unusual example of Lawson's work. It is a rare timber Lawson building, one of only three known to have survived. In addition the purpose designed church school, which functioned as both for over twenty years is a unique building type.

St Patrick's Church School has aesthetic value. It is a landmark building with its unique style and positioning occupying a prominent position in the town of Lawrence. It is an iconic building in Lawrence, and a much commented on attraction in the town.

St Patrick's Church School has social and cultural significance. The building was associated with the Roman Catholic community for over 120 years and served as a focus not only for education and religious services during that period, but also served as a community meeting place. As a hall it was used for important community events, including welcomes and farewells for members of the clergy, and to those going to war, weddings, parish meetings and other significant social gatherings.

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

St Patrick's Church School reflects both important and representative aspects of New Zealand History. While the building of schools is a typical story in the history of the development of communities, the building of St Patrick's Church School and the gathering of community support around the efforts illustrates the fundamental importance of a Catholic education for members of that faith. The call for state support of the Catholic education system was a passionate and highly significant element in the debates surrounding education particularly in the 1870s led by Bishop Patrick Moran. St Patrick's School was founded at a time when these issues were being played out on a local and national level.

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

St Patrick's Church School is associated with several significant individuals: architect Robert Arthur Lawson, J.J. Woods, composer of the national anthem and headmaster of St Patrick's Church School at the time he composed the work, and with the Bishop Patrick Moran who supported the campaign for state support of Roman Catholic education at the time the school was being constructed.

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

St Patricks School is held in high esteem by the local community. This is evidenced by the concern by local groups about the building.

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

The design of St Patrick's School is especially significant. It is the only building for the Roman Catholic Church designed by pre-eminent Presbyterian Church Architect Robert Arthur Lawson. The elegantly symmetrical design with the pointed windows, and detailed system of bracing is unique, particularly as a school building.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

As a building type, representing purpose built church schools St Patrick's School is a rare example illustrating the importance of both the religious and educational functions the building served.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

St Patrick's Church School makes an outstanding contribution to the wider historical landscape of Lawrence. It is a vital element in the grouping of buildings associated with the Roman Catholic Church (which include the 1926 school, the presbytery and St Patrick's Church across the road); Colonsay itself is notable for its architecture associated with the 1860s and 1870s in Lawrence, which in addition to the Catholic buildings, includes the Lawson Post Office and Presbyterian Church, and David Ross' Warden's Court. These buildings as a group overlook the main route through Lawrence and make an outstanding contribution to the historic landscape of Lawrence.


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.

Mackney, John

Constructed St Patrick's Church School, Lawrence between 1871and 1872.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The growth of Roman Catholicism in New Zealand was part of the revival of mission expansion in the nineteenth century. The growth of the church was at first confined to northern areas, focused on Pompallier's mission at Hokianga in 1838 and centred on the conversion of Maori. As the European population increased there was desire for community churches. The French colony at Akaroa, with two Catholic priests and a brother there brought the church presence formally to the South Island.

The discovery of gold in Otago in the early 1860s changed the direction of ministering to European Catholics. Thousands of miners poured into the province, a large proportion Irish or Irish Australian; a quarter of the Otago population was estimated to be Catholic at this time. In 1869 the Holy See created a new diocese of Dunedin to cover Otago and Southland under Irish clergyman the Right Reverend Dr Patrick Moran. Bishop Moran was strongly associated with the growth of Catholic schools.

The first services in the gold fields were held under calico by visiting priest Father Delphin Moreau (1813- ?) of Dunedin. Father Moreau bought land in Lawrence 1863, on which was built what was known as the iron church (St Gabriels, consecrated in November 1864). According to another local history the church was erected on a site purchased by John Donovan and vested in the names of Father Ecuyer, John Donovan and Brian Sweeney as trustees.

The Lawrence Catholic community discussed the possibility of building a church school in the late 1860s, and one was operating by the end of the decade. The actual location of the first school remains unclear. On 30 May 1871 Tuapeka was the first area to be given a priest by Bishop Moran , and a substantial school was one of the early priorities. In June 1871 the Tuapeka Times reported a meeting held about a day school in connection the Roman Catholic chapel, and a committee was formed to push ahead with the business of organising the building of a school.

Bishop Moran was a strong advocate for state support of Catholic schools, and the issue was debated in the local press with vehemence, during the time that the new school was being discussed. A meeting organised by Father Larkin agreed that all Roman Catholics must accept the judgement of their Church in essentials of doctrine and religious practices; that they must believe the Church to be the channel between them and God; and following from that, to send their children to a school that did not teach their religion endangered them: parishioner Mr Bowes stated that 'he would rather follow their [his children's] dead bodies to the grave than do so.' The meeting petitioned the Speaker praying that Parliament 'shall secure to Roman Catholic schools such aid from the public money devoted to education as justice and equity - their relative numbers considered - may demand.'

Father Larkin called for tenders for the construction of the new school on 23 November 1871. Tenders closed on 1 December. The building was designed by prominent Dunedin architect Robert Arthur Lawson. Lawson was pre-eminently a church architect associated with the Presbyterian Church. This commission is significant, because aside from this building, his church work was all for the Presbyterian Church, of which he was a prominent member. According to art historian Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, Lawson had worked for the Catholic Church in Australia previously, and had designed a Catholic school in Steiglitz near Geelong in Victoria (1857), prior to emigrating to Otago.

The Tuapeka Times described design of St Patrick's School as an 'imposing edifice' accommodating upwards of 450 people. The building was 70 ft by 41 ft [c.21m by 21.5m], interior measurement, the plan consisting of a nave 70 ft by 20 ft [c.21m by 6m], with side aisles 10 ft [3m] in width, of corresponding length. The walls which are arranged for lighting and ventilating purposes, are borne on pillars, showing from the interior, the whole work being carefully braced and stayed, and arranged to be subdivided in centre, with portable partition. The building was to be 'plainly and substantially finished'.

The tender was granted to Mr Mackney, although there were local protests about the fairness of the process. Local feeling was that Mr Mackney had been the favoured tenderer even before the closing date, and that it was not worth bidding. When assured that this was not so by Father Larkin a group of locals put in a bid, but failed to win the tender. They wrote to the Tuapeka Times: 'From what we have since heard, the successful tenderer put Mr Lawson's specification aside, and provided one instead, drawn up by instructions received from some members of Committee according to which he tendered, and his tender was accepted, although it was more than £200 above the lowest.'

Despite local grumblings the building progressed quickly. The foundations were laid on 28 December 1871, with the walls started soon after. The foundation stone was laid on 10 January by Rev. Father Larkin, and in the cavity underneath the stone was placed a bottle with a copy of the Tuapeka Times and a few coins inside.

The importance of religious education to Roman Catholics continued to be debated in the local paper as the school construction continued. Bishop Moran's pastoral was reported in full by the Tuapeka Times: for Roman Catholics 'the battle of the Faith and morality is to be fought in the schoolroom', the schoolroom was the 'holiest and most important place on earth' after the Church itself. His support for St Patrick's School was illustrated by his public lecture in Lawrence and by his attendance of the opening celebrations.

A month before opening the paper reported 'the whole of the framework and two of the walls, which had been previously put together were erected. A number of townsfolk assembled to witness the progress of erecting the framework and walls, and many of them, sinking denominational differences, volunteered their services to expedite the work.'

St Patrick's Church School opened on St Patrick's Day (17 March) 1872, as the official school of the new parish of Lawrence, one of the first schools in the Diocese outside Dunedin. The Cyclopedia records that outside Dunedin the School was the oldest church in the Diocese. The opening of the School saw over eight hundred visitors in Lawrence for the event, and lasted for three days. A fair and sports events were held in the afternoon, with 1200 hundred people attending. Between four and five hundred people sat down to an evening banquet. Parish life centred around the School: mass was held on Sundays and school during the week, as were funerals and weddings.

Locals were proud of the School, writing to New Zealand Tablet to describe the building:

It is built on a rock, is seventy-five feet long by forty-five feet in width; the roof is thirty feet high. There is a tower in front of the building in height thirty-five feet, furnished with a sonorous, well-toned bell, which sweetly invites the faithful three times a day to sound forth through the Angelus: the praises of God for the incarnation and death of his only Son. The building has two tiers of windows, forty-nine in all, well ventilated, and when necessary can be almost air-tight. The main roof is supported by twenty-two substantial pillars, fastened to the building by solid, well-fitted braces. The interior is lined throughout with tongued and grooved Baltic, the floor of same an inch thick; at one end of the building an Altar is constructed, which is screened off at school hours during the week. The whole of the interior is elegantly varnished and painted in tints and colors of chaste variety, not the least of which in excellence shines forth from the vaulted pillars - Emerald green. The building is almost east and west: the backyard is surrounded by an iron fence seven feet high, within which every necessary fitting is constructed. A large tank is fitted in the partition separating that portion reserved for the boys from that allocated to the girls, containing water from the roof, and with a drinking fountain for each department. There is a door in the centre of the yard fence leading to the terraces on the southern aspect. These terraces are fenced with seven feet iron, and well cultivated. They are to be planted with fruit trees this season. The grape vines planted there last season have grown splendidly. To the west is the recreation ground for the girls, tastefully laid out with flower trees and evergreens, surrounded by a hedge of sweet-briar, and a timber fence, the panels of which are surrounded by a perforated top, representing the Shamrock, emblematic of the Trinity. It is said the grounds are so highly cultivated that they produce mushrooms of exquisite flavour in this advanced stage of winter. In front of the school is a square admirably suited for the recreation for the boys, having been pitched with stone and covered with fifteen inches of gravel.

The buildings and fittings have cost something over nine hundred pounds. The clearing, cuttings, filling, cultivating, graveling, and planting have been done by volunteers from the parish - in round numbers, 478 men.

One of the early headmasters was John Joseph Woods (1849-1932). Woods, headmaster from 1874-1876, and prominent parishioner, was a talented musician, able to play twelve instruments. In 1876 he won the competition to compose the music for Thomas Bracken's 'God Defend New Zealand' which would become the national anthem. He married widow and assistant teacher Mrs Conway.

By 1875 St Patrick's was the biggest school in the diocese: 140 pupils as against 113 in Dunedin and 85 in Invercargill. The Member of Parliament Vincent Pyke petitioned for state aid for Catholic schools five times between 1880 and 1890, to no avail. The school sat outside the inspectorate system; instead the children were examined by a visiting priest or the Mother Prioress.

In 1892 the pressure for the use of church buildings was relieved by the opening of the new Parish church, also St Patrick's, on a site on the south side of Colonsay Street, just across the road from the school. It was designed by preeminent Catholic Church architect Francis Petre. At its opening Bishop Moran spoke of the importance of a Catholic education:

Without Catholic Schools there would be little use for churches. If there were no schools, there would be no religion, no morality, no reverence for God, and no respect for laws. State schools blotted out the name of God and returned men to paganism.

In 1893 following the opening of the new church the Dominican Sisters (who had been active in the diocese for twenty two years) took over the teaching at the School. The first community of M.M. Augustine, Sister M. Jordan and Sister M. de Sales was brought to Lawrence by M.M. Gabriel, Mother Prioress on 4 February 1893.

The arrival of the Sisters rejuvenated the school. The roll jumped from 40 in 1892 to 70 the following year. No school fees were charged, the sisters depending of parish support in the form of collections taken four times annually.

The hall was a valued social facility; it hosted card evenings and dancing (with accompanying pianist and fiddler). The school was used for social functions and concerts. By the 1920s part of the floor was suffering from the revelry, and was replaced. The original floor remained on the edges (revealing the knotty nature of the original).

In the 1920s a new school was built across the road, adjoining the presbytery and church. The former Church School now entered its new role as the hall, where it retained the focus for social and community activities: farewelling those in the armed services leaving for war, meetings of the Catholic Women's League, welcomes to Bishops, farewells for priests and parishioners, gatherings after weddings and funerals, concerts and other parish meetings. The building was maintained by the men of the parish. The old stables stood at the top corner of the section (no longer extant).

In 1935 the tower was apparently condemned as unsafe and Father Scanlan engaged Love Construction to pull it down and build the entrance porch.

According to the current owners the Roman Catholic Church put the building on the market in the mid 1980s, but received little interest from prospective purchasers. There was discussion about demolition at this time, but the community objected.

In 1994 the Parish transferred the title of the building to its current owner (OT3B/406). Since that time it has been used largely as a holiday home, or has stood vacant.

Physical Description

St Patrick's Church School is situated in Lawrence, a small town in the Clutha District of Otago. Lawrence was the centre of the first major gold rush in Otago when Gabriel Read discovered gold at nearby Gabriel's Gully in 1861. The town sits in a valley amidst rolling hills. State Highway 8 provides the main axis of the town, with Colonsay Street running parallel to the south.

The former School sits on a north-facing slope one block from the main street, at the east end of Colonsay Street. This end of Colonsay Street forms the centre of a Catholic precinct, with the 1926 St Patrick's School, the Presbytery, St Patrick's Church (1892), and the former convent all nearby. Colonsay Street was also the focus for government buildings, with the former Magistrates and Wardens Court and Post Office at the western end of the street. The hillside forms the backdrop to the township. The former Church School is one of the most prominent buildings of this grouping.

The building sits in amid lawns on the southern elevation; to the north the bank slopes steeply down through long grass and rough ground. The western end of the building is largely overgrown with grape and kiwifruit vines, ivy and large trees.

The building is rectangular in plan, and sits with the length of the building parallel to Colonsay Street (east-west orientation). The main roof is hipped, with clerestory windows below. The roof below the clerestory (and above the side aisles) has three transecting gables on the south elevation, the centre gable provides the vestibule entrance, and is flanked by symmetrically placed gables with windows in their centres. There are two further transecting gables on the north elevation which terminate at the centrally placed plastered brick chimneys. The main entrance is on the south elevation through the gabled vestibule. There are two further doors on the north elevation, one at either end. The western door is largely overgrown with ivy and other climbing plants. The eastern door has a concrete stairway leading to the grounds.

There are substantial stone foundations: the foundations are up to 5 feet in height [c.1.5m], dug into the ground, running under the exterior walls of the building, with three further stone foundation walls running the full length of the structure. These walls are around 500mm thick. In between the walls the structure sits on timber piles, some of which have been replaced.

Entering the vestibule the interior is match-lined. There are two sets of small paired pointed windows in the south wall. Straight ahead the vestibule has been partitioned to provide two toilets. To the right are the main doors into the building. They are four panel doors with what look to be the original sprung door-closers on the inside.

The interior is open. The walls are supported by twenty-two pillars, which are cross-braced, the pillars and the bracing providing the rhythmic structure for the interior. There are forty-nine pointed windows. Those that open (those on the clerestory and the smaller windows on the ground floor) appear to have opened on a pivot and were anchored with cord ties. The cords and pulleys have largely gone, although evidence of how and where they were attached can still be seen. The floors and wall lining are Baltic Pine. The central section of the floor has been replaced. The original floor in the side aisles and around the edge of the space is evident and is so worn that the knots in the timber stand out.

There is a stage platform at the west end, and a choir stall mezzanine at the east end. The choir stall has had its railing and stairway removed. In the north-east corner kitchen benches have been installed. Some timber framing has been erected next to the stage to provide screening from the main space for two beds. There are two fireplaces on the north elevation. A freestanding pot belly stove has been installed near one of them, with its flue using the chimney structure. There is a cupboard in the south eastern corner of the building.

Comparisons and Significance

When this building was originally registered the architect was not known, and the historical context of the building was not assessed.

Lawson is said to have designed over 40 churches. Most were built of permanent materials such as brick and stone, and these have been well documented. Lawson churches built of timber, which were seen by Victorians as temporary structures, are far less common. Only two other Lawson-designed timber churches are thought to survive: Kakanui (1870, not registered) and East Gore (1881, NZHPT Reference Number 2530).

St Patrick's School is exceptional in Lawson's oeuvre in that it was built for the Roman Catholic Church, which art historian Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, who has written on Lawson, considers 'most unusual, given the depth of the bigotry at the time, for staunch Presbyterian to have designed any building for the use of Roman Catholics.' Mane-Wheoki considers that the basic composition of the building is that of a Georgian hall, noting the similarity of its fenestration to the later St Dominic's Priory (F.W. Petre, 1877, Category I).

Mane-Wheoki does mention that Lawson is thought to have designed a Roman Catholic School in the late 1850s at the mining town of Steiglitz, Victoria (Australia, now virtually a ghost town) prior to coming to Dunedin in 1862.

St Patrick's Church School fits firmly into what Mane-Wheoki describes as the broad contribution Lawson's buildings make in Otago where 'nearly every town in the province was graced by his buildings, many of which survive, and remain amongst those most cherished by the populace.' In addition as an relatively early timber Lawson building, a church school (not represented by any other surviving Lawson buildings), and the only known example of Lawson's work for the Roman Catholic Church St Patrick's School is a unique and outstandingly significant example of Lawson's architecture.

As a building type this structure appears rare. It is difficult to assess how many purpose built church schools were constructed, which reflected both the religious and educational functions of the building. St Patrick's Church provides is an unusual and distinctive example in that it provided both those services for its community.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1871 - 1872

Part of floor replaced.

1935 -
Tower removed; entrance porch constructed.

Construction Details

Timber framed, weatherboard cladding, corrugated iron roof, stone foundations.

Completion Date

22nd May 2006

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Bulletin of New Zealand Art History

Bulletin of New Zealand Art History

'From the 'Athens of the North' to 'Edinburgh of the South': The Architecture of Robert Arthur Lawson', 13, 1992:3-14

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, 'Lawson, Robert Arthur, 1833-1902', updated 7 July 2005 URL:

H. Laracy, 'Moran, Bishop Patrick 1823?-1895', updated 7 July 2005 URL:http//

Mayhew, 1949

W.R. Mayhew, Tuapeka: The Land and Its People: A Social History of the Borough of Lawrence and its Surrounding Districts, Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Dunedin, 1949

New Zealand Tablet

New Zealand Tablet

21 June 1873

Lode of Faith, 1971

The Lode of Faith - The Church in Tuapeka: St Patrick's, Lawrence, Centennial Souvenir, Diocesan Centennial Souvenir, Dunedin, 1971

Historic Places in New Zealand

Historic Places in New Zealand

'The Early Designs of Robert Lawson', No. 33, June 1991

Other Information

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.