St James Church (Anglican)

State Highway 6, Waiho Gorge, Franz Josef / Waiho

  • St James Church (Anglican), Waiho Gorge, Franz Josef. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans . Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 8/06/2016.
  • St James Church (Anglican), Waiho Gorge, Franz Josef. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans. Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 8/06/2016.
  • St James Church (Anglican), Waiho Gorge, Franz Josef. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans . Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 8/06/2016.
  • St James Church (Anglican), Waiho Gorge, Franz Josef. Interior .
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 6/11/2002.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4994 Date Entered 28th June 1990 Date of Effect 28th June 1990


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1 DP 703 (RT WS2B/1084), Westland Land District, and the building known as St James Church (Anglican) thereon.

City/District Council

Westland District


West Coast Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 703 (RT WS2B/1084), Westland Land District


The little white and brown church of St James at Franz Josef sits above the banks of the Waiho River and is surrounded by bush. It was designed by architects J.S. Turnbull (1864-1947) and P.W. Rule of Timaru (1888-1953) and built in 1931. Originally known as Waiho, the town of Franz Josef was established as part of the gold-mining rush on the West Coast, but rapidly became dominated by tourists visiting the Franz Josef glacier. The Franz Josef glacier, in conjunction with the Fox further south, are two of the most accessible and low-lying glaciers in the world. By the 1900s groups of visitors were being guided on trips to the glacier and a hotel for the tourist trade had been constructed at Waiho.

The Anglican parish of Ross and South Westland had been established as early as 1867, and by 1910 services were being held every second month at a room in Franz Josef. However, due to the small population, a church for Franz Josef was not considered until 1925. The vicar at the time, Reverend James Young suggested that a church be built from the local river stones and Christchurch architect Maurice Guthrie (1891-1968) drew up plans for such a building. This proved too expensive for such a small congregation, which consisted of nine families at the time and eventually new plans were drawn up by Turnbull and Rule. Turnbull was a prominent Timaru architect with a national reputation, who was joined by Rule around 1920. Rule became the firm's chief designer and was noted for his use of a combination of styles and his use of local materials. He was awarded a gold medal by the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1939 for his design of the Timaru Hospital's Surgical Wing.

St James was erected on land donated by local residents and notable mountain guides Peter (1878-1961) and Alexander (Alec) Graham (1881-1957). The Graham brothers were born at Okarito in South Westland and moved to a farm at Waiho (Franz Joseph) after their father died in 1900. Both Peter and Alec became two of New Zealand's most notable early mountain climbers and guides. From 1911 Alec ran the Franz Josef Glacier Hotel in conjunction with another brother Jim and sister-in-law, Rose. He was joined by Peter in 1922 and they ran the hotel for nearly 25 years before selling it to the government in 1947. They were important figures in the township and the hotel also served as post office, community and first-aid centre.

As designed by Turnbull and Rule, St James is a little church constructed from board and battens on a boulder and concrete foundation. It combines elements of both Gothic Revival and Arts and Crafts styles, with its gabled roof, clearly distinguished transepts and hexagonal aspe, combined with the paired casement windows of bubbled glass set in Tudor arch frames. The entrance to St James is situated under a square crenellated tower. The battens on the exterior of the church are painted brown, in contrast to the white of the boards. The original plan for the church was somewhat modified by the later vicar, Reverend Warren, who was responsible for the general layout and the blue and white colour scheme of the interior. The church was named St James in recognition of an earlier vicar, James Young, and his services to the community. The dominant feature of St James is the three plate glass windows behind the altar, which predate the more well-known plate glass windows in the Church of Good Shepherd at Tekapo (also registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust/Pouhere Taonga). It is said that this idea of framing the natural glories of the world for the congregation to view, rather than installing stained glass windows, was suggested by Archdeacon J.A. Julius (1874-1956) who visited the area in February 1927 and was inspired by the view. At the time the Franz Josef glacier was visible from the church site. In order to incorporate the glacier in the view from behind the altar, the alignment of St James was shifted from the traditional layout where the altar was placed at the east. The church gained national significance when the view from the altar to the mountains was reproduced on the 9d 'Peace' stamp of 1946.

The view of the glacier gradually receded and it was totally lost by 1952. However, it returned in 1994. St James has continued to be used as a parish church. A flood in December 1995 washed away a large portion of the bank on which it sits and it was proposed to move it to a different site. However, after much discussion, a flood protection scheme was put in place instead and the church remains on its original site.

St James Church at Franz Josef is illustrative of the religious history of small New Zealand communities and their desire for a church of their own. Set in West Coast bush, in an area praised for its natural beauty for centuries, the church is visually appealing. It is an example of Turnbull and Rule's ecclesiastical design, a firm more commonly known for its domestic and commercial work. The use of plate glass windows behind the altar is unusual and, since 1994, again frames a view of Franz Josef glacier. This view came to symbolise peace for New Zealanders when it was reproduced as a postal stamp in 1946. St James is also associated with the Graham brothers, among the more notable mountaineers produced by New Zealand. The church is still held in public esteem and this was clearly demonstrated in the discussion over its removal in 1996.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

St James' represents the culmination of years of planning and fundraising by a very small and isolated community which wanted a church of its own. Erected at the height of the Depression at a cost of £1400, the church is held in high esteem by visitors to South Westland.


Turnbull and Rule's church may be compared with the Selwyn style churches erected in the late 1840s, both in its layout and method of construction. The design reveals the architects' sensitivity to the financial constraints of the commission as well as their desire to create an unpretentious building which would complement the unique natural environment in which it was to stand rather than seek to challenge or overpower it.

The use of plate glass to light the apse is an unusual feature of the church and one which pre-dates R.S.D. Harman's use of clear glass behind the altar of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Tekapo (1935) by several years.


St James' Church is splendidly integrated in its setting and conveys an air of seclusion.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Turnbull & Rule

James S. Turnbull worked in a Melbourne architect's office before returning to establish his own practice in Timaru in c.1895. In a career which spanned over forty years, Turnbull designed a wide range of building types in the South Canterbury town, including Chalmers Presbyterian Church (1903-04) and a considerable number of large town houses.

Percy Watts Rule became James Turnbull's partner in c.1920 and subsequently became the firm's chief designer. From this time until his retirement in 1938, Turnbull was largely responsible for writing specifications and supervising the construction of buildings designed by Rule. In 1939 the latter was awarded the gold medal of the New Zealand Institute of Architects for his design of Timaru Hospital's Surgical Wing (1936-40), but little else is known about the junior partner of a firm which made a valuable contribution to Timaru architecture in the early years of this century.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative


The Anglican parish of Ross and South Westland was established in 1867 but it was not until 1925 that definite plans for a church at Franz Josef were mooted. In May of that year Reverend Young, vicar of the parish between 1923 and 1928, proposed a church built from river stones. At the same time a gift of land for the church was made by local residents, Peter and Alex Graham. Four months later Maurice Guthrie's plans for the building were received but these were abandoned as the cost of a stone church would have exceeded the financial resources of the nine Anglican families in the area. The form of the present church was first suggested by Archdeacon Julius after he visited South Westland in February 1927, and in the following year Turnbull and Rule were engaged to draw up the plans of St James'.

The site for the new church was cleared in March 1930 and in January 1931 Bullock and Stewart won the contract for the building's construction. By this time the original plan had been modified slightly at the suggestion of Reverend Warren, James Young's successor (1929-32), who was also responsible for proposing the general layout and colour scheme of the interior. The foundation stone was laid on 3 February 1931 by the Governor General, Lord Bledisloe, and the church was dedicated by Bishop West-Watson on 26 April of the same year.

St James' was named in honour of Reverend Young and the church achieved nationwide prominence in 1946 when the view across the altar to the mountains was featured on the 9d stamp of the Peace issue which commemorated the end of World War Two. By 1953 the Franz Joseph glacier had retreated so that it was no longer visible from the Church but the unique setting of St James' continues to attract visitors to the church.

Physical Description


St James' Church is a small symmetrical building which may be described as Selwynesque in style. Standing in an attractive garden setting, the church is aligned so that the three plate glass windows which light the apse overlook the Waiho River and the gorge in which Franz Josef Glacier lies. Beyond the apse is a gabled nave, flanked by transepts housing the vestry and organ, and a castellated bell tower which serves as the main entrance to the church. The walls are of board-and-batten construction, diagonally braced on the interior. Resting upon the top plate are five king-post trusses which support the roof structure. The chancel is slightly raised above the level of the nave.

In addition to the apsidal windows the building is lit by paired casement windows of bubbled glass which are set into Tudor arched frames. The most distinctive decorative feature of the church, however, is the use of dark brown paint to highlight structural elements such as the exterior battens and the roof trusses. Also highlighted in brown are the louvres set into the upper faces of the bell tower and the miniature cross braces which decorate the transept gables.



Notable Features

Plate glass windows

Clear apsidal window giving a view of mountain scenery.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1931 -
Foundation stone laid by Governor-General Lord Bledisloe on 3 February 1931. Church dedicated April 1931

1928 -

Construction Details

Concrete and boulder foundation, hand-sawn timber walls and galvanised corrugated iron roof. Plate and bubbled glass windows.

Completion Date

3rd June 2003

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Christchurch Press

Friday, 18 October, 1996, p.5

Department of Conservation

Department of Conservation

A.C. Graham Photographic Collection, Department of Conservation, Hokitika. [Negatives No. 126, 3559 (c), 3562 (c)]

Research file, comp. T. McCormack, Department of Conservation, Hokitika

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Jim Wilson, 'Graham, Alexander Carter, 1881-1957; Graham, Peter, 1878-1961', Volume 3, 1901-1920, Auckland, 1996, pp.184-185

University of Canterbury

University of Canterbury

Files: New Zealand Architects File, School of Fine Arts Reference Room

Church News

Church News


Church News, August 1931, Vol. LXII, No. 2, p15


February 1931, Vol. LX1, No. 8, p11

March 1931, Vol. LXI, No. 9, p4

June 1931, Vol. LXI, No. 12, p9

Harrison, 1967

Rev. R V Harrison & Rev. C R Tonks. A History of the Parish of Ross and South Westland, 1867-1967, Parish of Ross and South Westland, Ross, 1967

Other Information

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

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.