St James' Church and Clark Sunday School Hall (Presbyterian)

78-80 Tiverton Street And Stromness Street, Palmerston

  • St James Church and Clark Sunday School Hall (Presbyterian) facing Tiverton Street, Palmerston.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Heather Bauchop. Date: 15/06/2010.
  • St James' Church and Clark Sunday School Hall (Presbyterian). Image courtesy of .
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ (Phil Braithwaite). Taken By: PhilBee NZ (Phil Braithwaite). Date: 8/04/2012.
  • St James' Church and Clark Sunday School Hall (Presbyterian). Interior of the nave looking towards the Sanctuary.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Heather Bauchop. Date: 15/06/2010.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3247 Date Entered 2nd March 2011 Date of Effect 2nd March 2011


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Secs 19-20 Blk XV Town of Palmerston (RTs OT 135/107 and OT25/203), Otago Land District and the buildings known as St James' Church and Clark Sunday School Hall (Presbyterian) thereon, and the fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Secs 19-20 Blk XV Town of Palmerston (RTs OT135/107 and OT25/203), Otago Land District.


From a prominent site on Tiverton Street, St James’ Presbyterian Church, built in 1876, and the Clark Sunday School Hall, built in 1905, overlook the township of Palmerston on one side and the rolling hills of its parish on the other. The district’s Presbyterian flock was first incorporated into the parish of ‘Port Chalmers and the North’ in 1858. In 1863 a new parish was created with Goodwood at its centre. It soon became, clear, however, that Palmerston was to be the centre of settlement and in 1864 the congregation moved to the new township. The first Presbyterian church was opened on Gilligan Street in 1865. The arrival of Rev. James Clark in 1871 saw the congregation increase to such an extent that a bigger church was required.

A prime section on Tiverton Street was gifted to the congregation in 1875. Prominent Dunedin architect David Ross (1827-1908) designed a sizeable Gothic Revival Church. The main material was local Waihemo stone, which soon weathered to a soft ginger hue. The Church was opened in December 1876. In 1903 Margaret Monro Clark, widow of Rev. Clark, offered to fund half the cost of a Sunday School Hall. Her offer was accepted and prominent architect John Burnside (1856-1920) designed the new hall. In May 1905 the Clark Sunday School Hall was officially opened.

Small modifications occurred over the following decades, including the installation of the large Arkle Memorial window in 1925. In the mid 1960s substantial modifications took place; including a new entrance way and foyer, a redesigned nave, replastered walls, new windows and floors. Many original features were replaced but some were partially reused.

St James’ Church and the companion Clark Sunday School Hall are landmark Palmerston buildings. The Church’s rusty orange stonework makes a strong visual impression. The architects of these buildings, David Ross and John Burnside were both significant, and their work features prominently in Otago’s architectural history. The buildings’ spacious and impressive designs reflect the hopes and dreams of a small rural community and the confidence they showed in their emerging township and its future prospects. The focus of Presbyterian worship and religious education in Palmerston for 135 years, St James Church and the Clark Sunday School Hall speak to the indomitable rural community spirit which ensured the Church’s aesthetic, historical, architectural, social and spiritual values remain a compelling story today.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

St James’ Church (Presbyterian) has historical significance. The substantial building with its striking design has stood as the bastion of the Presbyterian faith in Palmerston for 135 years. The Church represents the history of the small Presbyterian community in Palmerston and their determination to form their own parish and build a place of worship. The Church’s size and imposing design is also a representation of the hopes and dreams of a small rural community and the confidence they showed in the emerging township and its future prospects. St James’ Church is the second Presbyterian place of worship in Palmerston, replacing an earlier church in Gilligan Street, and so embraces not only the history of the Parish, but the history of Palmerston, dating back to 1865.

The Clark Sunday School also represents the rapid growth internationally in the Sunday School movement in the late nineteenth century. Churches were embracing Sunday School as a religious training ground for future leaders. It provided also a focus for women’s energies and it is perhaps not surprising that it was a woman’s championing of the cause that enabled the Hall to be built.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

St James’ Church (Presbyterian) has special aesthetic appeal. It is a landmark building with an imposing style, occupying a prominent hilltop position overlooking the township of Palmerston and the rolling North Otago hills beyond. This imposing structure was designed to make a strong visual impression and it makes a considerable contribution to the streetscape of the township. Perhaps most notable of all is the remarkable rusty orange hue of its stone work, the effect of weathering on the limonitic sandstone blocks.

Architectural Significance or Value

St James’ Church (Presbyterian) has special architectural significance. The designer, David Ross, was a significant architect in Otago in the nineteenth century, designing a number of important and architecturally unique buildings. His impressive Gothic Revival design for St James’ was in the traditional Free Church style. It was also a large church for a small rural township, indicating the optimistic aspirations of the small community.

John Burnside, designer of the Clark Sunday School Hall, was a well-known architect whose designs included many important Dunedin buildings. His reputation surpassed Otago boundaries and his buildings can be seen nationally. While the Clark Sunday School is a modest Hall there are simple and elegant design features which enhance the structure and elevate the Hall beyond the norm of Sunday School buildings.

Social Significance or Value

St James’ Church (Presbyterian) has social significance. Its existence demonstrates the importance of Christianity in emerging colonial townships. Its rural setting ensured the importance of the church building as a community gathering place for Presbyterian worship and other religious occasions, including marriages and funerals. It provided a place where the community could interact and network, which would have occurred only infrequently. The addition of the Clark Sunday School Hall would have provided further opportunities for drawing the community, particularly its young people, into the scope of the church. The ongoing fundraising work of the congregation and community towards building costs also illustrates the importance of the relationship between community support and the Church.

The Clark Sunday School was socially important for women and children. A Sunday School legitimised women’s nurturing role and promoted its importance. Children were no longer to be seen and not heard but were recognised as the religion’s leaders of a Christian tomorrow.

Spiritual Significance or Value

St James’ Church (Presbyterian) and the Clark Sunday School Hall have spiritual significance as the focus of Presbyterian worship and religious education in Palmerston for 135 years. They continue to be the centre of Presbyterian religious contemplation for Palmerston and surrounding districts in 2010.

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

St James’ Church (Presbyterian) reflects the importance of established religion in nineteenth century Otago, and the community support for providing a formal place of worship. Its stories exemplify the determination and commitment of the faithful in rural districts, such as Palmerston, in their efforts to create the physical representation of their religious convictions. The history of the Church not only speaks to the importance of Christianity, but the development and optimistic expectations of small rural townships as they looked into the future.

The provision of the Clark Sunday School Hall in 1905 can be seen as part of an international movement to provide a religious training ground for children. It also provided women with a recognised leadership role in the church structure, beyond fundraising activities and food and drink providers. As religious education gained a higher profile, so did women leaders.

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

St James’ Church (Presbyterian) is associated with two eminent Otago architects, David Ross and John Burnside. Ross was one of Dunedin’s earliest noted architects designing a number’s of the city’s major buildings. Burnside was also prominent, and his work can be seen nationally.

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

St James’ Church (Presbyterian) is held in high public esteem. It is one of the district’s most special and aesthetically remarkable buildings. Built entirely of local materials it is a testament to the wealth of the district’s natural assets. Palmerston has lost many of its historic buildings and those that remain are often tired and in need of restoration. In contrast, St James’ is the one of the few historic buildings in the township which is still used for its original purpose. The history of community support is evident in the construction of the church and in its ongoing maintenance. Community association with the building was further enhanced as it served as a community meeting place for social entertainments and life events such as baptisms, marriages and deaths.

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

St James’ Church (Presbyterian) has significance as an example of nineteenth century Gothic Revival church design, particularly as it represents the work of prominent architect David Ross. Given its rural setting in an emerging township, it is also unusual that the Church was so large and impressive. The ginger hue of its stonework is also remarkable and gives it a unique position in the context of church aesthetics in Otago.

Burnside’s design for the Clark Sunday School Hall cleverly incorporated aspects of church design, such as the lancet arch windows, and other architecturally and aesthetically interesting features such as the carefully sloping floor. This elevated a functional Sunday School Hall out of the simply serviceable realm and invested the structure with architectural and aesthetic interest.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

St James’ Church has commemorative value. The major window in the Church is to the memory of James Arkle. The Burning Bush window was created to commemorate the centenary of the church. Two marble plaques commemorate the services of two early ministers Rev. James Clark and Rev. James Izatt Clarke.

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

St James’ Church (Presbyterian) is a significant element in the historical landscape of Palmerston. The building stands as a physical representation of diligent efforts during the difficult early period of rural settlement to establish a Presbyterian church. It represents a faithful community who were, from the early 1860s, intent on establishing their own parish and place of worship. More broadly, it represents the entrepreneurial efforts of early settlers to establish and grow their place of settlement into a busy and bustling centre. As one of the few historic places still standing and fulfilling the purpose for which it was first envisioned, St James provides an essential link with those early settlers who staked their claim in the remote hills of Otago.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.

St James’ Church (Presbyterian) and the Clark Sunday School Hall have aesthetic, architectural, historical, social and spiritual significance. The imposing Church structure was designed to make a strong visual impression, and does so through its decorative use of materials. The unusual ginger hue of the structure is especially aesthetically appealing. The Church has architectural significance as one of the designs of prominent Dunedin architect David Ross, and carries with it the history of the parish dating back to the 1863. The Clark Sunday School Hall also has an elegant aesthetic appeal and was designed by noted architect John Burnside. It represents the international cultural milieu of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which gave rise to the importance of women’s work and the evangelical mission to children through Sunday Schools. The structures recall the importance of the Presbyterian Church in early Otago history and show the social significance of the Presbyterian Church for its parishioners as the centre of an active community. They retain ongoing significance to the community as buildings of special aesthetic appeal which provide a unique landmark in the rural township.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Burnside, John Arthur

Burnside (1856-1920) was born in Dunedin and is believed to be one of the first professional architects who were born and trained in New Zealand.

He was articled to the architectural firm of Mason and Wales, remaining with them for two or three years. During this time he won important prizes for designs which he exhibited at international exhibitions.

In 1880 he established his own practice at Dunedin. His buildings include Transit House (1880s), Philips Hotel (now Gresham Hotel, 1882) and the Otago Early Settlers' Museum (1908).

Ross, David

David Ross (1827-1908) was one of a significant number of architects who came to New Zealand from Australia in the early 1860s prompted by the news of the Otago gold rushes. Born in Scotland, Ross worked in Victoria in the late 1850s before settling in Dunedin in c.1862, whereupon he entered into a brief partnership with William Mason (1810-97). After establishing his own practice, Ross designed the Congregational Church (1863-64), Dunedin's oldest ecclesiastical building, Fernhill house (1867) which is now home to the Dunedin Club, and the central wing of the Otago Museum (1876-77).

In the mid-1860s Ross worked briefly in Hokitika (1866) before returning to Dunedin and in 1870 he applied for a patent for the frames and apparatus required for the construction of works in concrete. This application lapsed but it is nevertheless significant as it places Ross at the forefront of the development of mass concrete construction in this country. In addition to his professional responsibilities David Ross was also a member of the first Dunedin City Council (1865-66) and in 1876 he became the first president of the joint Institute of Engineers and Architects in Otago. Ross may have returned to Australia in the early 1890s and it would appear that he spent the rest of his life living in the United States and Japan.

Smith, George

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Maori History

Traces of human occupation in Murihiku can be dated back to around 1250–1300. The first Polynesian arrivals in New Zealand soon found their way early to the eastern and southern South Island, where moa were found in large numbers. By the time of European settlement, however, moa were extinct and Maori were clustered on the coast. Key coastal settlements were at Shag Point, Waikouaiti, and Huriawa (Karitane’s original name). They identified themselves as Ngāi Tahu, and also with that tribe’s predecessors, Ngāti Māmoe and Waitaha.

Circular depressions revealing the presence of Maori umu can be seen inland in the Waihemo area. This was part of a well used route to inland Otago, a rich source of moa and greenstone. Archaeology indicates, however, that these sites were occupied only temporarily. Indeed it has been suggested that from the mid 1830s there were no permanent Maori settlements in inland Otago.

The Waihemo area is connected with the traditions surrounding the wreck of the Arai Te Uru canoe. The canoe was on a return trip from Hawaiki but was wrecked at Shag Point. The canoe’s crew explored the southern South Island giving many place names. If the explorers didn't get back before dawn, however, they turned into hills and other natural features. One of these explorers was a woman, Puketapu, who travelled too far. Dawn broke as she came through the Waihemo Valley. She was turned into the hill Puketapu which overlooks the township of Palmerston. There are no recorded Maori archaeological sites on the land on which St James’ Church sits.


Palmerston lies 50 kilometres to the north of Dunedin at the junction of two major transport routes – State Highway 1 linking Dunedin and Christchurch and State Highway 85 (known locally as ‘The Pigroot’) which is the principal highway to the Maniototo and Central Otago beyond.

The Waihemo Valley was opened up for sheep runs in 1852, one year after Charles Kettle made the first official exploration of the area. Palmerston came into existence in 1862 as a temporary camp site placed at the beginning of the route to the Central Otago gold diggings. The township was mapped in July 1862 and later that year the first Crown grants of surveyed sections were issued. By the late 1860s the district was prospering and settlement had increased.

The Presbyterian Church

In the summer of 1854-1855 Rev. William Bannerman, from the newly founded Presbytery, visited settlers in Waikouaiti, Goodwood, and Moeraki. The visit was favourably received. A subscription of £111 was raised towards the support of a minister and the building of a manse and church. It was not until 1858, however, that progress was made when Rev. William Johnstone was ordained at Port Chalmers. He was assigned ‘Port Chalmers and the North’ which reached from Portobello to the Waitaki River. On 13 August 1863 Rev. John Christie (1829-1930) was ordained and inducted into the newly created Hawkesbury-Goodwood parish.

The Goodwood congregation was small at first and celebrated its services in the local Anglican Church. Additional settlers to the area, however, doubled the attendance within eighteen months. However, changing transport patterns, encouraged by the discovery of gold, meant Palmerston was becoming the new centre of the area rather than Goodwood. Late in 1864 the congregation decided to meet in Palmerston. This move may also have been encouraged by Dunedin’s Anglican Bishop. The local Anglican vicar wrote to the Goodwood congregation in July 1864 stating that ‘the Bishop objects to the leasing of the church at Goodwood for your services…it never entered my head that the Bishop would make any objection to so reasonable an arrangement’.

A site was secured in Gilligan Street and the services of the pre-eminent architect Robert Lawson were secured. On 6 August 1865 Palmerston’s first Presbyterian Church was opened by Rev. Dr Thomas Burns. The Waikouaiti Herald remarked that the Church was ‘the cheapest, handsomest, and most substantial church in the province, out of Dunedin’.

On 30 January 1870 a new Palmerston parish was formed. As Rev. Christie decided to stay with the Waikouaiti parish, T.B. Nielson of Mt Royal Estate took over the organisation and leadership of the new parish. Neilsen ensured church funds were carefully controlled. Interim preachers, following the departure of Rev. Christie, were shared with the Hampden parish. The last debt of £30 still owing on the Gilligan Street church was paid on 31 August 1870.

In March 1871 a ‘unanimous call from Palmerston to the Rev. James Clark, of Riverton, was sustained by the Presbytery’. On 22 April it was reported that Rev. Clark had accepted the call. Surprisingly, the Deacons minutes on 10 May recorded that in view of ‘hearing through the newspapers that the Rev. Clark will soon be amongst us’ a soiree for his induction should be immediately arranged.

Rev. James Clark (c.1832-1897) was inducted on 30 May 1871. Clark was born in Scotland, educated at Glasgow University and licensed as a minister of the Free Church of Scotland in 1863. Clark and his wife Margaret Monro immigrated to New Zealand around 1864 when he was inducted into the charge of the Riverton parish. Clark quickly proved popular in his new parish and it was reported that ‘he soon gathered a large congregation about him - indeed, in the course of a few years his flock had increased to such an extent that it became necessary to dispose of the old church and erect a new building.’

Issues with the Gilligan Street church were not limited to size. Other problems, including access, demanded attention. In 1873 a members’ meeting was called to consider enlarging the Church. While records of this meeting do not survive, the formation of a Building Committee soon after indicates the members’ resolution.

Palmerston Presbyterian Church

John Douglas of Mount Royal Station offered to the Church Section 20, Block XV, previously the site of Johnny Jones’ stockyard. It was in Tiverton Street and considered to be the finest site in the town. A Building Committee was established in April 1875, with Mr Douglas as chairman, and in April 1876 the land was transferred to the Palmerston Presbyterian Church Deacons Court.

David Ross (1827-1908), one of Dunedin’s most important architects, designed the new premises. Born in Scotland, Ross came to Dunedin from Victoria around 1862. After a brief partnership with William Mason he established his own practice. Ross designed a number’s of the city’s major buildings, including the Otago Museum, Union Steam Ship Company’s office, the Octagon Buildings, and the Athenaeum. In addition to his professional responsibilities Ross was also a member of the first Dunedin City Council (1865-66) and in 1876 he became the first president of the joint Institute of Engineers and Architects in Otago. Ross subsequently went to Auckland, also spending time in America and Japan. He died in Auckland in 1908.

Ross’s design was in the Gothic Revival Free Church style. He designed a large church, providing seating for 600 people, with the focal point of a prominent central pulpit. The letters and accounts of the Building Committee indicate that the new church was ‘to be built of bluestone, with white limestone, slated, and to have a tower 74 feet high’. The main material was Waihemo stone, ‘regarded as the finest quality obtainable’.

In November 1875 tenders were called for and on 3 January 1876 a building contract was signed with George Smith of Dunedin. In February 1876 Smith showed the designs to a North Otago Times reporter. He reported the inside measurements of the church would be 65 feet 6 inches by 33ft 6 inches (20 by 10.2 metres). The height of the walls to the eaves would be 17 feet (5.2 metres). The walls were blue stone quarried from the Horse Range and the facing of white stone from Green Valley, about 18 miles (29 kilometres) from the township. The Gothic style, handsome exterior sits with the western elevation facing the road. A tower rose from the north west elevation; the north elevation revealed an entrance porch 10 feet by 9 feet; and the east elevation accommodated a vestry and session room 17 feet by 14 feet. The height of the exterior walls was 37 feet from the ground to the apex of the roof, which included a ‘floriated cross’ on the western elevation. The western elevation includes a traceried window, 17 by 12 feet, with a smaller side light. The tower would be four sided and surmounted by an octagonal spire, finished with a St Andrew’s Cross and surmounted by a weathervane. The top of the tower was designed to have four pointed finials, 16 feet in height, with ‘lapel mouldings, between which are ornamented pediments, with circular ventilating windows in moulded panels, and the centre of the spire is adorned with two strings of mouldings, with trefoil openings’. The height of the walls was 20 feet (6.1 metres) to the spring of the rafters and the north elevation shows a handsome entrance porch, the church being lighted on this side by five single lights. The building was to be roofed in slate and would accommodate 460 parishioners, the gallery at the west elevation providing 100 of those seats. The costings were set at £2,500.

The foundation stone of the new building was laid in March 1876 by Professor Salmond. In May, however, the contractor encountered encountering financial difficulties. Smith described the difficulty of getting stone from the quarries. The stone was harder to work and further away than Smith had calculated and so costing ‘much more than my tender would admit of, but I have to inform you that the stones is good, also the mason and the stone-cutting and the sem [sic] may be said of timber and carpenter works’. He also wrote of procuring 8000 ‘Otepopo sleates [sic] 16” x 10” ‘ from Mr McKerras’ quarry below the Dasher in North Otago. Financial and legal negotiations between the church and Smith ensued. On 10 July Smith’s contract was cancelled.

Invoices indicate that the Building Committee employed subcontractors to finish the partially completed church, using the architect’s plans and specifications to guide them. Edward Clark, of Palmerston, was contracted to finish the carpentry. He completed the work in October 1876 and was paid £700 15s. Accounts also show A. & T. Burt supplied the bell as a cost of £67 19s. Leadlight windows were commissioned at a cost of £102. Other contractors included Thomas Brown who slated the roof, James Arkle who supplied lime and cement, Robert Pearson who did carpentering work, James Dyack the blacksmith, Thomas H. Johnston who supplied the leadlight windows, Thomas Wilson provided downpipes, and F.F. Tootell gilded the weather vane and painted numbers on the seats.

The most special feature of the building was the stonework. William Geddes and William Stewart quarried the limestone, working for 118 days, eleven miles from Dunback on the hill above Green Valley. The limonitic sandstone blocks, were quarried near Horse Range Road where Samuel Lowther and Harry Urquhart were the masons. It was originally grey in colour but soon weathered to a soft ginger colour. The bluestone for the foundations was carted from Puketapu. In describing the new church, a newspaper report explained that it was built of local ‘Waihemo Stone which is regarded as of even better quality than the Oamaru Stone. The church is a very handsome structure’.

The total cost came to over £2,000. Finances were helped by an offer from the Government of £400 for the old church on Gilligan Street, which was then converted into Palmerston’s Court House. The Synod granted another £132. Collectors were appointed to solicit donations from throughout the surrounding district. The remaining debt was paid in April 1901 thanks largely to ‘the ladies with their sale of work’.


At the end of November 1876, the Palmerston and Waikouaiti Times advertised the opening of the Church and printed 400 tickets for the soiree. On Sunday 3 December 1876, Professor William Salmond opened the new Palmerston Presbyterian Church.

The opening was described in a newspaper report – ‘The handsome new Presbyterian Church, Palmerston, from a design by Mr. Ross, architect, was opened on Sunday last The preacher for the morning and evening was Professor Salmond. The church, built to accommodate 600 was full in the morning and a fairly full in the evening. The Rev. Mr. Clark, minister, addressed a large number of children and young people in the afternoon. Collections amounted to £64’. The soiree held that evening was also described. ‘The social meeting on Monday evening was largely attended. By the kindness of the Corporation of the Town Hall was given for the material part of the feast. Under the presidency of the minister, the people met in the church filling floor and gallery. Mr. Douglas, of Mount Royal, read the report of the Building Committee…. [and] Fitting speeches were delivered. The church is substantially built of stone, with tower and steeple, and is carefully finished. The acoustic properties are excellent’.

The Clark Sunday School Hall

In August 1893 Rev. Clark, a diabetic, became ill. He resigned in November. The minister and his family were fittingly farewelled but as the family remained in Palmerston, the ties with the congregation remained strong. Following Clark’s death in 1897 it was written that he ‘…was one of the worthiest of our Otago ministers. He was an excellent representative of the best type of Scottish rural pastors….’

By the twentieth century the church was progressing well with an average attendance of about 300. The Sunday School was also well attended with about 160 students and 14 teachers.

At the Deacons Court meeting on 29 April 1903, a letter was tabled from Margaret Clark, widow of Rev. Clark. She offered to donate £300 towards a Sunday School hall if the congregation raised a similar amount over three years and if the cost of the Hall was less than £600.

Little is known of Margaret Monro Clark (c.1834-1903) although as one author wrote, ‘[b]ehind every successful and useful man is a wife, though little may be known to her.’ She was an admirable and popular minister’s wife, and probably had four children Patrick, Henry, Isabella Jane (1866-1896) and James John (1870-1936). James became a popular mayor of Dunedin and, in 1915, was the first Dunedin mayor to be elected for a two-year term. Margaret moved to Dunedin in the mid 1890s and remained there until her death on 13 December 1903.

James Clark explained his mother’s motivation.

‘My mother was strongly of the opinion that the strength and hope of the Church was in the young people and that the Sunday School was of the greatest influence in a person’s life. She also knew by experience that a few pounds a year was a big help to a country school. It was in the hope of doing something to help the Sunday School in the congregation to which she was so devotedly attached that led her to make the gift’.

With these sentiments, Margaret was reflecting an international movement in the growing importance of Sunday Schools. In England, nineteenth century Sunday Schools evolved for children of the poor. The aim was ‘the inculcation of moral and religious truth, for the reformation of life and manners, which was the great object and final purpose of the Sunday School.’ Studies indicate that Sunday Schools became an important social institution not only for children but for women, who predominantly served as teachers. At the heart of the movement were the feminine philosophies of nurture and guidance and it was here that women found opportunities to use their abilities. Sunday School teaching was a fitting womanly role became central to women’s Christian reform work. It was in the last quarter of the nineteenth century churches adopted the Sunday School as part of the church programme. By 1900, over 5 million children in Britain attended Sunday School. By the early twentieth century a new international movement arose to see the Sunday School as a training ground for future church leaders. Religious education took a higher profile. As a woman and a retired church leader, Margaret Clark took the lead in Palmerston.

The Deacons Court decided to accept Mrs Clark’s offer. They contacted the owner of the land on either side of the Church, who agreed to sell. Section 19 was bought for £25.

John Arthur Burnside (1856-1920) was the architect of choice for the new Hall. Born in Dunedin, Burnside was apprenticed to Mason and Wales. He became a well-known architect whose designs included the Otago Museum, Perpetual Trustees and Agency Company building, Colonial Mutual Life Offices, the Theological Hall, Ashburn Hall, the Bank of New Zealand in Lawrence, the Burns Monument, and many private residences. His reputation surpassed Dunedin and his buildings can be seen further afield, including the Auckland Stock Exchange building.

Burnside used Andersons Bay Hall as a model. The building was 65 feet long and 54 feet wide (19.8 by 16.5 metres). The main hall was designed to be 34 by 34 feet (10.4 by 10.4 metres) but by the removal of folding doors, the length of the hall could be increased to 48 feet (14.6 metres). Aside from the central Hall Burnside designed ten classrooms of various sizes, a meeting room 24 feet by 16 feet (7.3 by 4.9 metres) and a library 16 feet by 12 feet (4.9 by 3.7metres). A fire place was later added to the design.

The cost was estimated at £600. The lowest tender, from Edward Henry Clark (1872-1932, no relation), was accepted. The minutes record, however, constant dissatisfaction with the contractor’s rate of progress and the architect was continually encouraged to investigate the reasons.

Financially the Sunday School benefited again from Margaret Clark, who died in December 1903. Her will contributed an additional £250 to the Church, the revenue from which was designated for Sunday School purposes. Another bequest in 1903 of £200 from parishioner James Douglas enabled an organ to be purchased for the Sunday School. The total cost of the build was eventually £799, more than originally subscribed. To meet the debt a ‘monster sale of work’ was held in September 1907. So successful was this event that the debt on the Hall was completely cleared.

On Wednesday 3 May 1905 the Clark Sunday School Hall was opened. Described as ‘commodious and up-to-date’, the Sunday School was opened by Margaret’s son Patrick. There were speeches also by James Clark, Rev. James Clarke, Thomas Mackenzie (MHR), and E.H. Clark (now Mayor of Palmerston). A tea and public meeting were held in the evening as part of the celebrations. For the opening, two large, framed photographs of Rev. James and Margaret Clark were hung in the new hall. In the 1970s these photographs were found under the floor of the Hall, discarded with the rubbish.


The Palmerston Presbyterian Church continued to grow. In 1878 44 additional sittings were added on either side of the pulpit at a cost of £132. In 1898 a stable was constructed at a cost of £98, to provide for far flung parishioners who used horses as transport to the services.

By 1919, however, the number of worshippers had declined considerably and, in response, the gallery was closed. In 1925 the interior was renovated and a memorial window to former Mayor and congregation member James Arkle (c.1837-1921) was unveiled.

In 1935 the church was renamed. No longer the Palmerston Presbyterian Church, the Presbytery approved the name change to St James’ Presbyterian Church.

In 1961 a Centennial Renovation Committee was established. Repairs were required. The architect for the new manse, Launcelot Lowther (circa 1902-1970), was enlisted to help advise on the renovations as was his new partner, Clifford Muir (1904-1968). They created a new entrance, redesigned the foyer, and seating arrangements. The entrance door way was now at the foot of the tower on the western elevation facing the street. A new foyer was created at the rear of the nave by building a screen under the gallery. The nave was redesigned also to consist of a central aisle, rather than two aisles and three blocks of pews. A new stained glass window was added to the east elevation. Called the ‘Burning Bush’ window, it was designed by John Brock in consultation with the architects. The designs also incorporated new lighting and additional heating. The architects’ designs were accepted in August 1964. Forrest Brothers, Palmerston, were contracted to carry out the work and the date for completion of repairs was set at June 1965.

As renovations progressed, additional problems were uncovered. The interior plaster, for example, was in poor condition. A small section was stripped away to see whether the underlying stonework was suitable to be left exposed. The stonework proved irregular, however, so it was decided to strip the old lime plaster in its entirety and replace it with cement plaster. The original borer-ridden dado was also replaced with cement plaster.

W. Raffills, of Dunedin, inspected the Church’s leadlight windows. Those on the north elevation were found to be irreparable. To ensure the windows matched, all the windows were replaced with the exception of the Arkle Memorial window in the west elevation which was re-leaded.

On the south east corner it was discovered that the Baltic pine flooring was resting on decayed foundations. The entire wooden floor was replaced with concrete ‘raft’ topped with bitumous ‘Flintkote’. As the design included a new platform at the front of the nave, parts of the old flooring were salvaged to be used for the platform. The ornamental woodwork from the old pulpit surrounds was retained although this proved difficult as the wood had become brittle.

The pulpit was rebuilt on the south elevation with a matching organ platform on the north elevation and the communion table in the centre. Converted pews placed at the back and sides of the central platform provided seating for ministers and elders. The new dado was shiplapped timber. The moulding round the Burning Bush window was continued down to the dado, creating a panel on the wall. A large wooden cross, supported by brackets so as to hang clear of the blue panel completed the Sanctuary. The interior was repainted in tones of cream from the sarking timbers and roof rafters, to the walls and down to floor level. The large timber scissors trusses were hand painted in a dark chocolate colour which was also used as a contrast in other parts of the building.

The original kauri pews were stored outside, under tarpaulins, where the elements helped strip off the old sticky copal varnish. The matching marble memorial tablets to the Rev. James Clark and Rev. James Izatt Clarke were moved to a prominent position in the foyer. The baptismal font was remodelled and a new lectern made. The main aisles and platform were carpeted.

On the exterior of the Church, Donald and Stuart and Co. repaired the roof and galvanised iron was used for spouting and downpipes. J. Dooley, of Oamaru, repointed the exterior stonework. The east elevation exterior was replastered. The cement plaster, which had replaced the original lime plaster, was chipped off to reveal the original stonework. Also uncovered were the original flat iron tie bar embedded in the stonework, which showed no signs of rust. This indicated the Church’s recurring dampness problem was not caused from the outside but due to condensation on the inside.

In total the cost of the renovations amounted to around £5000. In mid 1965 a rededication service was held. It was conducted by the Moderator of the Oamaru Presbytery, the Rev. G.E. Brown, assisted by Rev. G.C.M. Angus, minister of St James. The sermon was preached by the Very Rev. Dr J.D. Salmond, an appropriate spokesperson considering his forbear had first opened the church in 1876.

Physical Description

Walking up the gravel driveway, the entry door for St James’ Church is in the west elevation of the tower. Through the door, stairs wind up the west elevation of the tower. To the left of the entrance is the modern foyer, added in the 1960s. It runs the remaining length of the west elevation. The gallery is above. The foyer contains the James Arkle Memorial window which is cut in half by the ceiling of the foyer and floor of the gallery. Entering the nave a central aisle leads down to the sanctuary. At the rear of the nave on the north elevation is a door which leads to the original foyer and double entrance doors. The original entrance way looked north over the rolling hills of the parish. The nave contains rows of the original kauri pews bolted onto the concrete floor. Carpet runs at the rear of the nave down the central aisle and onto the sanctuary. The windows on the north and south elevations are unobtrusive leadlights. The walls are concreted and none of the original dado remains. The ‘bold and attractive’ ceiling is sarking timbers, painted white, with chocolate brown scissor bracing resting on wooden corbels. Between the trusses are unusual wooden semi-circular block struts.

The Sanctuary, stepping up a few steps, contains a pulpit on the south elevation with ornamental surrounds, recycled from the old pulpit. On the north elevation is an organ area with duplicate ornamental surrounds. Chairs sit along the back wall which is lined by a wooden dado, added in the 1960s renovations. Included in the dado is a door. The door appears original although the dado has been added at a later date. Through the door and down two steps is a small corridor with an outer door on the north elevation and an interior door to the right. Through this is a good sized vestry. The vestry also includes another interior door to a small room, perhaps a robing room. This robing room is now a storage area. Included are the three original framed photographs of Rev. and Mrs Clark and John Douglas which originally hung in the Clark Sunday School Hall.

Returning to the foyer and climbing up the staircase there are small slit windows and larger more decorative ones. Unusually, some of these windows are cut across by the staircase. At the top of the stairs on the left is a small foyer with the bell pull hanging from the ceiling. Through an original door on the right is the gallery. The pews and wooden flooring appear original. The gallery cuts across the ornamental Arkle window.

Then exterior stonework is a ginger hue. The north elevation features a small porch jutting out from the main body of the building containing double doors. This was the original entrance. Moving to the rear of the church, the east elevation, the exterior wall has been plastered over and no stone work is visible. The Vestry juts out from the east elevation and its original stone work remains intact. On the south east corner of the church is a toilet block, perhaps added in the 1960s.

Opposite the south elevation, across a small lawn is the entrance to the Clark Sunday School Hall. It is a well proportioned, square, red brick building. Through a set of double doors set in the north elevation, there is a foyer which now includes toilets. Through another set of double doors is the main hall. Immediately noticeable is the gentle slope of the floor. It is highest at the west elevation and lowest at the east. It was possibly designed to provide a ‘stage’ area. The walls of the hall have been lined with plywood to the height of the doors, perhaps in the 1960s. Above that are the original vertical timber boards, painted white, with horizontal board sloping from the wall towards the middle of the ceiling. The ceiling features board and batten timber and is painted white. There are large mesh ventilation screens in the ceiling. There are also doors in each elevation, with an attractive detailing above each door. Originally there were ten small classrooms off the Hall but walls between classrooms have been taken out to create larger spaces. The rooms are now used as classrooms, a library and storage rooms. Each has ventilation shafts as the windows do not appear to open. On the east elevation is the original smaller meeting room. The fireplace has been removed. Beyond this room on the north east corner is a kitchen, perhaps added in the 1960s.

The west elevation features an old sign painted on to bricks proclaiming the ‘Clark Sunday School Hall’. All elevations feature simply detailed windows. Access to the basement is via the east elevation. It reveals concrete piles. Stored there are original pieces of furniture from the hall. In the middle of the south, west and north elevations is a small peak in the middle of the roof line. On the north elevation this peak is above the entrance way. On the west and south elevations the peak is above the middle window. This window is slightly taller than the windows on either side. The window feature ecclesiastical lancet arched windows, with concrete edging around the frames. The concrete framing around the middle window is more decorative. The east elevation also contains the redundant chimney, three windows, one of which has been replaced with aluminium.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1876 -
Palmerston Presbyterian Church opened.

Original Construction
1905 -
Clark Sunday School Hall opened

1964 - 1965
major renovations and remodelling occurred.

Construction Details

Stone: Bluestone, liminotic sandstone; slates; timber: baltic pine.

Completion Date

22nd July 2010

Report Written By

Susan Irvine

Information Sources

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

Gilkison, 1978

R. Gilkison, Early Days in Central Otago Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1978

Griffiths, 1982

George Griffiths, In the Land of Dwindle River: A Waihemo Journal, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1982

Knight, H. & N. Wales, 1988

Hardwicke Knight and Niel Wales, Buildings of Dunedin: An Illustrated Architectural Guide to New Zealand's Victorian City, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1988

Knight, 1993

Hardwicke Knight, Church Building in Otago, Dunedin, 1993.

Thomson, 1998

Jane Thomson, (ed)., Southern People: A Dictionary of Otago Southland Biography, Dunedin: Longacre Press/Dunedin City Council, 1998.

Moore, 1978

C.W.S. Moore, Northern approaches : a history of Waitati, Waikouaiti, Palmerston, Dunback, Moeraki, Hampden and surrounding districts, Capper Press, Christchurch, 1978.

Angus, 1990

Janet Angus and Norman Sheat, Heads, Hearts and Hands: the Kirk in Waihemo: An account of the history of the parish of Palmerston – Dunback, 1865-1990, [Palmerston, The Parish?, 1990].

Anderson, 1983

Atholl Anderson, When All the Moa-Ovens Grew Cold, Dunedin, Otago Heritage Books, 1983

Lyman, 1976

Graham F. Lyman, ‘Palmerston Presbyterian Church’, [Palmerston?, The Church?], 1976.

Merrington, 1929

Ernest Northcroft Merrington, A great coloniser : the Rev. Dr. Thomas Burns, pioneer minister of Otago and nephew of the poet, Dunedin, The Otago Daily Times and Witness Newspapers Co., Ltd, 1929, p. 249.

Palmerston Presbyterian Church, 1915

Palmerston Presbyterian Church Jubilee Souvenir 1865-1915, [Palmerston?], Palmerston and Waikouaitit Times Print, c.1915

Other Information

A fully referenced registration 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.